This may be the perfect episode for it evokes in the viewer – at least this viewer – a faint replica of feeling the events evoked in its participants. As the series marches towards its finale, I find myself filled with sadness and a desire to linger, just like the lovers and old friends who spent their last night together before death marches on Winterfell.
For the last two episodes, I’ve been struck by how much this feels like CS Lewis’ final Narnia novel: The Last Battle. And that’s also fitting because it’s always been my least favorite Narnia novel.
By the end of The Last Battle, all the characters you’ve grown to love in throughout the Narnia series die – except Susan. (Lewis describes Susan as too consumed by lipstick and boys and being self-important and grown up or something like that to present during the train crash — a characterization Neil Gaiman denounces as misogynist in his delightful but troubling un-fan fiction “The Problem with Susan.”)
The Last Battle is a weird novel because the characters all go to heaven, and you feel like you’re expected to be happy about it. But it just really blows.
I think that’s how I’m going to end up feeling about the final battles in Game of Thrones – and note that I did say battles because I *think* there might be too. But already I’m changing my mind. After all, this is GRRM: anything could happen.
Also, be prepared: I trash Daenerys a lot in this recap. As long-time readers of this blog know, I hate Daenerys. She’s a villain. We all should hate her. She’s based on at least two different conquerors: Alexander the Great and Henry VII. She’s Conquest personified and is the Mother of War (symbolically speaking) – and we should all hate war. Right? Right?
Well, if I ever write a book, you’ll hate war by the time I’m done. But I’ll bite my tongue for now. Read on, gentle reader.
Despite some misguided choices (defenestration, incest), Jaime is a man of honor.
To fight in the most important battle in Westeros history, Jaime must perform his biggest act of personal bravery: facing those whom he has wronged.
The episode opens with Jaime standing in front of a panel in Winterfell’s great hall. Seated behind the head table are Daenerys, Sansa, Bran, and Jon.
None of them trust Jaime, especially after he reveals Cersei lied about sending her army. They suspect he is trying to trick them.
It’s only after Brienne vouches for Jaime that Sansa relents and agrees he can fight.
Daenerys still isn’t convinced. To me, this is another strike against Daenerys. On one hand, Jaime’s assassination of her father irrevocably altered her life. Fair enough. She had to live a bit like Henry VII: girl on the run. Well, sort of. On the other hand, at this point, she doesn’t seem to mourn her family life as much as she feels robbed of her birthright to be queen. (But if Jaime hadn’t killed her father, queenship wouldn’t be her birthright.)
Bran even forgives Jaime for leaving him paralyzed for defenestrating him from an old high tower at Winterfell.
Daenerys and Tyrion
Dany threatens to fire Tyrion for incompetence. Specifically, for making yet another mistake and believing his sister’s lie about sending an army to support him.
Click here to jump over almost certain spoilers.
Winterfell Makes Ready
There’s a lot of invasion prep going on at Winterfell. Those who are too young to fight will shelter in the crypts: where all the dead are buried. Hmmm…
It’s simply too juicy not to annihilate the GoT warriors’ “precious cargo” with a 1950s-style Monster Mash style of ending with skeletons climbing out of the graves.
Also, when the show (or was it video?) played Jenny of Oldstones while depicting Sam, Little Sam, and Gilly curled up in bed, it evoked those tragic images from the movie Titanic of the elderly couple and the Irish mother in steerage tucking her children in while telling them a bedtime story. (The elderly couple was loosely based on this true story.)
This cannot be a good omen.
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At this point, it’s unclear whether Arya will ever regain her identity as Arya Stark, young woman, and not victim of war.
Back in Seasons 1 and 2, after witnessing baker’s boy’s death, her father’s execution and the slaughter of her Wall-bound traveling companions, Arya became obsessed with revenge.
In Season 2, the Night’s Watch recruiter Yoren told a sleepless Arya about his obsession with avenging his brother’s death by killing his murder, a man named Willem. Yoren hated Willem so much that he uttered his name every night before bed. When Yoren finally buried his axe in Willem’s skull, he felt so remorseful he took the black.
Arya misses the point of this story and instead uses Yoren’s tale like an instruction manual. Every night, she repeated the names of the men she wanted to kill. As we know, this sets her down a dark path wherein she almost loses her identify (“faceless-ness”) like the faceless assasins with whom she trained in Braavos.
Arya’s direwolf is still missing. As I discussed before, all of the direwolves have names that symbolize their master’s destiny. (Sansa’s direwolf “Lady” is killed at the beginning of her journey, symbolizing the self-mortification of her princess/lady-like drive; the name of Rickon’s direwolf “Shaggydog” symbolizes his tragically short and pointless life, etc.)
Arya’s direwolf is named Nymeria, after the warrior queen Nymeria of Dorne who lived 1000 years earlier. I believe Nymeria represents Arya’s deepest longing. She yearns to be a fierce warrior like Nymeria. But where is she now?
Arya has almost completed her list: only Cersei lives. (I think.) Arya is assassin, not a warrior – and this is a very different thing in GRRM’s world.
Assassins are sneaky and possibly even dishonorable.
Assassins are not warriors. Being a warrior implies openly waging war against an enemy.
This episode might be as far as the major characters’ arcs go. If they die in battle in episode 3, their arcs stop.
The Internet abounds with theories that Arya will attempt to assassinate the Night King. But maybe she is just using the spear Gendry made her to wage war against the army of the dead. Either way, I’d say she might be on the verge of going from assassin to warrior.
Does this mean redemption? Does Arya need to be redeemed?
A key theme of both the late medieval Yorkist period and Game of Thrones is the search for justice. You cannot have peace and stability without a strong justice system. From this world view, assassination is likely wrong.
Even if you don’t agree with this take, Arya will likely fulfill her dream of being a warrior next episode.
Arya is preparing to die. She sleeps with Gendry in case she never gets to experience any joy again after the Night King’s attack. Gendry also reveals that he is Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Will this end as Dany & Jon fighting against Gendry & Arya for the Iron Throne?
I, of course, keep hoping for a happy Bollywood ending where everyone ends up coupled off at the end and holds hands and dances together. Why couldn’t there be two couples who rule Westeros?
Oh wait I forgot. GRRM’s War and Peace-esque magnus opus is likely a tragedy.
And whether Arya or anyone else will survive the battle anybody’s guess.
Sansa and Daenerys
Dany attempts to build a bridge with Sansa by evoking their shared love for Jon. But, it all falls apart when Sansa asks Dany whether she would let the North stay independent if the dragon queen won the Iron Throne.
The tragedy with Dany is there is never any growth –not yet. I keep hoping that she will redeem herself, but I shouldn’t hold my breath. (Conquerors are evil in this world – and in our world.)
Daenerys is a foil for that other mother of monsters: Cersei. (Or perhaps it is the other way around.) In either case, there’s no evidence that Dany will be a better ruler than Cersei or any other self-involved tyrant that came before her. Well, maybe I’m not being entirely fair to the “Breaker of Chains,” but episodes like this one make it hard to believe that Dany feels anything beyond her sense of entitlement.
Sansa wisely senses that Dany’s only interest is in making sure that Sansa bends the knee. And Sansa suspects that she might be replacing one blonde despot with another.
Theon returns to Winterfell to fight for the Starks against the Army of the Dead. Few characters have suffered more for their mistakes than Theon.
What’s interesting here is there was a bit of a spark between Theon and Sansa when she saw he’d returned to fight for them. In fact, Sansa got kinda teary eyed.
Bran: The Three-Eyed raven
Because the Three-Eyed Raven is the world’s memory, what enables the world to retain its humanity, he is a target for the Night King. The Starks and the other defenders of the Living intend to use Bran as bait.
They will plant him near the heart tree in the godswoods with Theon hiding in the background to protect him.
The Night King wants to kill Theon because he is the world’s memory, its humanity.
If Theon fails, the Long Night will succeed.
Old Friends Sit By the Fire
Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and others sit by the fire and sing songs.
On the basis of being a knight, Jaime makes Brienne a knight – well deserved indeed. Earlier in the episode Brienne vouched for him as a man of honor. Then Jaime told her he wanted to serve under her command. Given how wrapped up both Jaime and Brienne’s identities are in honor, service, duty, protection, and valor, this is even more powerful than a declaration of love.
Podrick’s fireside song – with its refrain of never wanting to leave – is what carries the episode’s mood. It’s beautiful, haunting and reminds me of an eighteenth century ghost story or something I can’t quite identify – maybe the kind of story I used to read as a child in my aunt’s basement.
This is the last time we will see our old favorites together: we should savor it.
Arya and the Hound
Arya finally talks to the Hound. She is baffled that the Hound will risk his life in the battle against the dead. She claims he has never done anything for anyone but himself. But he points out he has fought for others: he fought for her. It’s gratifying to see them finally talk and for Arya to (sort of) acknowledge her debt to him.
Lyanna and Jorah Mormont
In the spirit of reunions, Jorah finally reunites with his cousin Lyanna Mormont. Quite delightfully, he is trying to talk the small bear into taking a back seat away from the battlefield. She’s having none of it.
Despite her tiny stature and young age, she swore to fight for the North. And she won’t let her men down.
The Targaryens: Jon & Daenerys
Finally, Jon reveals his real identity to Daenerys in the crypts of Winterfell, in front of his mother’s effigy. Daenerys learns that her brother wasn’t a rapist like she’d always believed. But, she also learns that her lover is her nephew and has a stronger claim to the throne than her.
Now, I was really hoping that she would be more horrified that she was sleeping with her nephew and upset their romance might be over. (In fairness to her, she might have batted an eyelash since creepy brother Viserys talked about marrying her at one point.)
But she all can think about is the fact somebody might be trying to steal her throne. She is immediately suspicious that Jon’s brother and best friend are plotting to put him on the Iron throne.
I think Dany’s desire to rule is now so much a part of her core identity that it has become being the rightful claimant is the only way she sees herself.
But before she can talk about this anymore with Jon, the three horn blasts indicating the White Walkers’ approach sounds.
In Dany’s defense, she may be assuming that she can beat the Night King by incinerating the army of the dead with her two remaining dragons. I’m hoping it’s still possible that Dany will see the horrifying losses in the battle with the Night King and realize her throne quest isn’t what matters right now.
But I still strongly suspect, as I’ve suspected all along, that Daenerys is the ultimate narrative mind f*ck. We think she is a hero because of her sympathetic personal circumstances (exiled hunted orphan). But Daenerys may just be a case of narration from the perspective of the anti-hero or villain. It’s classic Reservoir Dogs where we sympathize with murderers because the story is told from their point of view.
This is George’s mega commentary on historians simply repeating the narrative handed down from the victor’s publicist. The biographer who falls in love with his subject distorts history just as much as narrative point of view impairs our ability to evaluate whether or not a character is evil.