The Symmetry in the First Episode of the Last Season

This is a very late recap-ish post because I was sick with bronchitis on Sunday night. But, despite nearly hacking up a lung, I loved every minute of Sunday night’s show.

Every season, I have a debate about whether I want to write a book or continue blogging. And every season I vow that I will limit blogging and write a book. At 376 posts, many of which are 2000-5000 words, this website has a lot of content (not all of it written by me), so clearly I’m not good at keeping my promises.

I personally have a lot more to say about Game of Thrones (and ASOIAF) that I have not published on this site. Sadly, copyright violations makes me nervous about publishing my best ideas.

So hopefully I will get a chance to write down what really matters in Game of Thrones. We will see.

But in the meantime, is this blog back for the next six weeks? Maybe. Apparently, I miss blogging sometimes… I’ve been secretly hanging out on Quora.

So here are my thoughts on the first episode of the ultimate season…

Overall, I loved the reunions and the homecomings. I’ve been betting for years that GoT/ASOIAF would end as a tragedy, but this episode made me cautiously optimistic that maybe this wouldn’t be the case.

But, maybe I should rethink this… After all, this joke exists for a reason:

grrm-140-characters-twitter

Winterfell

I loved the way the episode had symmetry – both in music and events – with Season 1, Episode 1: well played Dave & Dan. There’s a little Bran-like boy climbing to the tallest tree to watch the royal procession arrive, but this time for Targaryen royalty and not Baratheon.

Daenerys reminds me of nothing so much as Elizabeth I the way she is styled in some of these shots with the white fur coat and long white hair. I’m not quite sure what it is. Or maybe Jadis from Narnia. But in case, you’ve forgotten what I’ve been saying for years: Daenerys is a villain.

When she rides into Winterfell, she smirked smugly at her dragons. I have yet to add up all of the bad things Daenerys has done but conquerors are not heroes in George RR Martin’s universe. We just lose sight of this because she is a point of view character — and that’s deliberate.

Lyanna Mormont, one of my personal favorite characters, made an appearance in the counsel. Like Sansa, she is less than impressed that Jon Snow (aka Aegon Targaryen) gave up his crown to bend the knee to Daenerys.

Finally, Sansa and Tyrion are reunited. I don’t ship a lot of characters, but I have been secretly shipping these two ever since they were married, so it was gratifying to finally see them together.

What’s more intriguing though is how my “Does Sansa Suck?” article now lies in the dust.

Sansa has gone from being the gullible dupe to the “smartest person” Arya has ever met. Wow. I guess all that private tutelage from Machiavelli (aka Littlefinger) pays off.

And Sansa, by the way, hates Daenerys. Case in point.

King’s Landing

Pregnant Cersei (Lena Headey) is in full defensive mode. (c) HBO.

Cersei reveals her true colors when she hears that the Army of the Dead broke through the Wall. Her main concern is her mercenary army’s lack of elephants.

The elephants, by the way, instantly reminded me of Hannibal, the Carthaginian general, who famously took the elephants over the Alps during the Second Punic War (218 BC). As I once wrote in my other secret life on Quora:

Hannibal likely brought them for the shock and awe factor as they charged against the enemy (Rome) — and it worked in the first battle he deployed them in but not the second. (The Romans did not scatter and flee or break ranks the second time they encountered them.)

hannibal-elephants-charge-chaos

Elephants are not a very practical animal for battle since they will generally avoid charging at and trampling over people. (However, I suspect the Indian mahouts developed ways to overcome this when they were used in India.)

Hannibal’s elephants ended up dying on campaign. This was probably due to improper food and care. If memory serves, they were given enormous amounts of wine to drink.

Cersei probably wanted the elephants because Daenerys has dragons: let’s wage a battle of the beasts.

Maybe it’s just because I have bronchitis, but I can’t quite make sense of what Cersei’s going to do next. I keep thinking she will redeem herself. But maybe it’s as simple as she’s the evil queen.

Euron’s Boat

While Euron is away bedding Cersei in King’s Landing, Theon finally gets his moment and rescues Yara from his ship. Yara hasn’t lost any of her spunk and soundly head-butted Theon the second he rescued her – and rightfully so (at least from her perspective).

Flights of Fancy

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Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke (c) HBO.

Daenerys and Jon went exploring the North on her dragons. Yet more proof that Jon is a Targaryen. Admittedly, my inner romantic loved this and my inner cynic wondered how the CGI would hold up in 10 years.

Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne

Randyll and Rickon Tarly met a nasty end.

Daenerys’ impulsiveness in killing the Randyll and Rickon Tarly may have sown the seeds of her own destruction though. While Sam’s family treated him like dirt, they were still his family. And Daenerys isn’t going to get away with “it’s nothing personal Sam. It’s just business” that I killed your family.

Sam is an emotional guy; he’ll never accept this.

Interestingly enough, Bran pushes Sam to reveal Jon’s parentage immediately after he learns Daenerys killed his parents. This is not a coincidence.

Jon finally learns his parents’ identity – and that his real name is Aegon Targaryen, true heir to the Iron Throne.

Even if nice-guy Jon doesn’t vie for the crown, his supporters – Sam and Sansa – will pressure him to challenge Daenerys. (And this is very medieval by the way: those below the noble would always push him to increase or at least maintain his status.)

Already Sam is saying to Jon: “You gave up your crown to save your people. Would she do the same?”(49:40)

And this is not the type of conflict needed now. This will be a true challenge to Jon Snow in the days to come.

Night’s Watch & Free Folk: the Night King’s Progress

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The Night King left this message on the castle wall to mark his progress. (c) HBO.

While searching what is presumably Last Hearth, Tormund and company encounter a message from the Night King: the body of the young lord Umber on the wall in a spiral pattern.

This is a marker of the Night King’s progress in what appears to be a day.

Final Reckoning

This isn’t quite the right image of Bran. This is him when he spoke to Sam. (c) HBO.

In terms of symmetry, the last episode of the season ends with Jaime’s encounter with the boy he crippled all those years ago: Bran.

In retrospect, when Jaime pushed Bran out of the tower years ago, it was one of the worst things he’d ever done. Possibly worse than killing the Mad King – which was actually a heroic act.

Now for Jaime to fulfill his heart’s desire of being a hero: he will have to come to terms with one of his most shameful deeds and secrets.

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

8 Comments

  • Reply April 18, 2019

    q

    Glad to see you are back, Jamie, and sorry about the bad health which I hope improves. I liked this episode although from things I’ve read on others’ opinions the old saying about not being able to please all the people all the time comes to mind. Can you think of any real life “hidden in plain sight” heirs to a throne like Jon (I can’t think of him as Aegon)? I read something but it’s a while ago on a blog about Rome that there was an heir to the empire that lived incognito for a time. I’ll have to see if I can remember what it was.

    Being something of a sucker for a sword and sandal book/film/TV show, I say please do press ahead with your book.

  • Reply April 18, 2019

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    I lost a post – but just to say, please do press ahead with your book but I’m glad to see you are back with this blog also. Sorry about the bad health you have had and I hope you improve.

    Can you think of a real life “hidden in plain sight” heir like Jon (whom I can’t think of as Aegon). I’ve a glimmering of a memory about something in Roman history but I’ll have to do some sleuthing to try and find it. I liked the episode though there are of course naysayers. Well, everybody is entitled to an opinion and I’ll stick to mine.

    • Reply April 22, 2019

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks Watcher! I hope I can press ahead with a book. re: hidden in plain sight Well, I was saying to a friend of mine this weekend that there are certainly a lot of “Prince and Pauper” types of plots in history where there is an heir to the throne that everyone thinks is a commoner. (I guess these stories are appealing because they are certainly a nice fantasy for us little people I think. ;>)

      In the Middle Ages, pre-reliable birth control, many kings had quite a few bastards. Henry I of England had 19 or 20 natural born children if I remember correctly. Plus there was always the possibility of pretenders to the throne — claimants from lines believed to be dead that resurface. The Princes in the Tower are a classic example of this. There have been theories that they were alive and working in Flanders, etc. I think there was a theory that Richard III had a bastard that was a bricklayer or something.

      I can’t think of any “hidden in plain sight” heirs, but there are lots of things that touch on ideas related to this. Maybe it’s a fear or a fantasy that fuels them. (Fantasy: a bloodless coup where everyone just lays down their swords and says hurrah we’ve uncovered a new king or a fear that war will erupt when a pretender pops up.)

  • Reply April 18, 2019

    Wallers Arenberg

    Hi Jamie welcome back.
    As a non specialist ive really enjoyed your take on GOT. great point about Samwell.
    One thing that i noticed was that during the scene beyween Cersei & Qyburn he gave her a look that seemed to be shock at her response at news the wall had fallen, a sort of “you’re mad” look, from the mad maester. Wonderful.
    GWS.

    • Reply April 22, 2019

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks. I noticed that look between Qyburn and Cersei. It really says something when Qyburn — the one who created Mountain 2.0 — gives somebody a look like they’re crazy. ;>)

  • Reply April 19, 2019

    Em E

    This episode reminded me of how prevalent incest is in this show and so I looked up some historical examples. I’d love to hear your take on this.

    In my 21st century brain it seems so strange and downright harmful to intermarry, but that’s just because we have so much insight on the genetic consequences of incest (not to mention the emotional/ psychological). I think it’s ironic that royal families guaranteed their extinction by intermarriage due to their greed and desire to consolidate their power.

    I know the Egyptian pharohs did a lot of brother-sister marriage, and the Hapsbergs had a lot of uncle-niece pairings. The demise of the Hapsbergs has been written about a lot, but have the genetic consequences of Egyptian incest been documented at all?

    • Reply April 22, 2019

      Jamie Adair

      Incest is a curious thing. In Western society, most of us respond with “yick” just hearing the word. But, it seems that different cultures have had different reactions to it at various points in time. I’ve read that researchers think that incest was also common among everyday people in Ancient Egypt (https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2018/08/16/consanguinity-and-incest-in-ancient-egypt-2/) — maybe because it was good enough for their leaders?

      When I looked into incest years ago when writing about Richard III and Elizabeth of York’s possible relationship, I read some articles about the likelihood of first cousins having babies with genetic issues — very low. And also this phenomena wherein people are overwhelmingly attracted to opposite sex family members whom they never previously met. (Dany and Jon might be a case in point.)

      In the Middle Ages, the Church had a lot of prohibitions against marrying people within four “degrees of consanguinity” — that is fourth cousins. When you think about what we know about the unlikelihood of birth defects with first cousin marriages, and the fact that many of us don’t even know our second cousins forget our fourth cousins, this seems extremely strict. Not being an expert in medieval incest, I can’t tell if medieval people were obsessed with incest or not. It’s certainly a trope in the medieval/medieval fantasy genre — and genre expectations are important for making your audience happy.

      I do think it is very possible that incest was prevalent in the Middle Ages due to the sleeping arrangements. Many families shared one bed. Beds were irregularly shaped — not the standard Twin, Full, Queen, and King — and could accommodate 5-6 people. As a result, English people had a very strict convention as to the order in which people slept so that pubescent boys and girls did not sleep beside each other. Likewise guests and even (recommended) male strangers would share the bed and they would not sleep beside the wife. (English people would be very cross when foreign visitors didn’t understand the customs for sleeping order since the English (incorrectly) assumed these customs were universal/global.)

      There has been some research into Egyptian pharaohs and King Tut. They think his club foot was a result of his incestuous bloodlines. https://blogs.ucl.ac.uk/researchers-in-museums/2018/08/16/consanguinity-and-incest-in-ancient-egypt-2/

      I found myself wondering tonight whether incestuous marriages were common among Egyptians because they would reduce civil war over succession, but I think some Ancient Egyptian royalty had numerous siblings so this theory might be poppycock.

  • Reply April 23, 2019

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    Jamie, you will probably have guessed that “Q” was also me (I must have pressed the wrong key on my computer) – and no, I haven’t got involved with QAnon which I think is a swizz. The blog where I read something about an heir to the Roman Empire living incognito (even to himself) was “Ancient Rome Refocused” by Rob Cain but said blog seems to be dormant now and when I clicked on the sound file links I got the 404 message so I couldn’t find it unfortunately.

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