We’re still in the afterglow of Daenerys’ Dothraki coup last week, and, perhaps fittingly, tonight’s episode is full of strong women, some poised for leadership. Not all of the women are good, of course. (I mean, come on — this is Game of Thrones.) But, they all wield power.
In “The Door,” Leaf atones for her past mistakes, but, frankly, her atonement isn’t enough.
Unable to learn from his sister’s mistakes with the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant, Tyrion opens the door to a powerful high priestess for R’hllor — and this one looks far more dangerous than child-burning Melisandre.
The Kingsmoot assembles and Yara puts herself forward as queen. Arya holds the power of life or death, not only for a target but also herself.
“The Door” also teaches us a lot more about the beginnings of the House of Black and White. Bran’s greensight reveals the birth of the Others and why Hodor can only speak one word.
Hodor has legions of fans, and for a long time, we’ve wondered why he can only say one word. In fact, French blogger Didymus wrote a great article on this website, “The Mystery of Hodor’s Brain” postulating that he had Broca’s aphasia. Instead, we learned tonight that Hodor’s disability comes not from an unfortunate accident but rather a sacrifice.
Bastard vs. Bastard: Who Will Win the North’s Loyalty?
The North is on the brink of all out war, and Sansa and Jon are making moves to scoop up any aligned houses.
The North storyline begins when Sansa receives word that Littlefinger is in Mole’s Town and meets him there but not without protection. Brienne of Tarth is now her sworn protector.
When she finds Littlefinger in the wreckage from the Mole’s Town raid, the first Sansa demands to know if he knew what Ramsay was like. He claims he didn’t, but she has learned too much from Littlefinger to believe him. She knows him. And, her body is still in pain from Ramsay’s savage sexual abuse.
Sansa lets Littlefinger leave with his life — Brienne would have happily killed him for Sansa. Littlefinger gives her a bit of intel as a parting gift: her great uncle Blackfish Tully has rebuilt his army and retaken Riverrun. Littlefinger advises Sansa to go to him.
Sansa retorts she has an army: Jon’s army. Littlefinder scoffs. And, this is where things get interesting. Littlefinger doesn’t see much value in her half brother’s army. Does Littlefinger know who Jon’s real parents were? Does Littlefinger just shrewdly realize Jon’s army may not be that loyal to his half sister? Or, is he trying to get Sansa away from Castle Black? A little of the old divide and conquer…
Later on, Jon, Davos, Sansa, Brienne, Melisandre, and Dolorous Edd meet to strategize. Ramsay has Jon and Sansa’s little brother, Rickon, and Jon has Ramsay’s wife. Both sides are effectively at war.
Peering down at a map spread out over the wooden table, Jon declares that they won’t survive if they don’t get more men. But Ramsay already has aligned with the two biggest houses: the Umbers and Karstarks. (In fact, the Umbers gave Rickon to Ramsay.)
Sansa thinks that the Karstarks might join them once they find out that they “have another choice.” That choice is a legitimate heir to House Stark: Sansa.
Davos, however, politely points out that the Karstarks know a Stark beheaded their father, so they might not be so keen to ally with one again.
Sansa’s reply is a bit arrogant, or maybe it’s just confident. She challenges Davos, “How well do you know the North, Davos?” Sansa argues the North is loyal.
The dialog that follows echoes the classic real-world debate about late medieval alliances, kinship, and affinities.
“I may not know the North, but I know men,” Davos tells Sansa. “They’re more or less the same in any corner of the world. Even the bravest of them do not want to see their wives and children skinned for a lost cause. Jon’s got to convince them to fight alongside him and they need to believe it’s a fight they can win.”
Some historians who have studied Wars of the Roses have observed that late medieval nobles allied with the side they thought was most likely to win. Others, however, have noted that Richard III’s massive northern affinity was partly due to the exceptional loyalty the North had to his wife Anne Neville’s family. (By this, I mean not so much to comment on Richard’s affinity, but rather on the exceptional loyalty of Northerners.)
Jon believes that if they can slowly garner the smaller houses’ support, it could equal to that of the bigger houses.
Sansa believes that the North Remembers and the northerners will risk everything for the Stark name.
When Davos notes that Jon doesn’t have the Stark name, Sansa states that she does and Ramsay is just as much a bastard as Jon.
At this point, Sansa whips out a game changing bit of intel: her uncle Blackfish Tully has re-formed his army and retaken Riverrun. But, Sansa lies about the source of her information, no doubt because she knows that the others would question its accuracy.
Sansa is manipulating the others, trying to sway them to see things her way. It’s for a good cause: to save her brother and oust the evil Ramsay. But, she’s keeping secrets to get her way, and this might not end well for her.
Will Sansa be a power broker or a fool? Is she doomed to be the “stupid girl, who never learns”?
Braavos: Arya’s Old Life Provides Her Final Test
Arya’s training with the Waif continues. The two spar in a training room in the House of Black and White. Arya still can’t win against the Waif, even when the Waif throws aside her staff and fights Arya unarmed.
The Waif is trying to beat Arya down, erase her identity.“You’ll never be one of us Lady Stark,” the Waif scoffs.
Jaqen H’ghar tells Arya that the Waif has a point. All the first faceless men were slaves out of the mines of Valyria. They weren’t the daughters of lords and ladies.
Jaqen is not happy with Arya’s failure to kill the Thin Man, so he gives her another mission. She must kill an actress at the theater named Lady Crane. If Arya fails to kill her, that will be Arya’s last chance. And, Jaqen tells her ominously they will add another face to the wall, one way or another.
It turns out that Jaqen has sent Arya on the ultimate test. Is she still Arya Stark? Does she still have feelings about her old life? Can she kill without question like a good soldier should?
Unfortunately for Arya, the theater is showing a disturbing production of the last minutes of her life before she went into hiding: her father’s execution.
The play is replete with a wimpy Joffrey, a drunken King Robert, a silly Sansa, a depraved Richard III-like Tyrion, and a fake plaster head that goes flying from the chopping block when Ned is beheaded. In this version of events, nobody looks good, including Arya’s father. They’re all stupid Highborns.
After the show, Arya sneaks backstage, pretending she’s a stage hand, where she spies on Lady Crane who portrayed Cersei. In a bit of art imitating life, underneath Lady Crane’s blonde Cersei wig, the actress has dark hair. As Lady Crane combs her wig, the young actress who played Sansa furiously grumbles she only had two lines.
Later on that night, Arya tells Jaqen her plan for killing Lady Crane. She will poison her rum. Lady Crane is the only one who drinks it.
But, Arya is troubled. Is Lady Crane a bad person? Does she deserve to die? Are they only being hired to kill her because a younger, less talented actress wants her rival dead? (It’s delightfully ironic that fake “Sansa” is trying to kill fake “Cersei.”)
Jaqen warns her it doesn’t matter. The price has been paid.
Does Arya truly want to be faceless? Can she lead this nihilistic existence?
Yara & the Kingsmoot
The kingsmoot has finally come. The ironborn are going to choose their next king.
Yara puts forward her claim to the salt throne. She speaks well — and like any leader, she can certainly inspire. But, a man in the crowd cuts her off. Shouldn’t Theon, Balon’s male heir be the next king? How dare she even speak?
Theon steps before the crowd. We hear the same ominous music that played when Theon made some of his more treacherous decisions. Will he use this moment to seize the salt throne for himself? Has Theon actually grown and learned from his mistakes?
It turns out he has.
He doesn’t betray Yara. Rather he throws his support behind her, not once but twice.
Yara has been all but declared then next ruler. But, then Euron Greyjoy emerges and puts himself forward as the next king.
Yara suddenly realizes who killed her father — and why. She accuses Euron of the murder and announces her first act as queen will be to execute him.
But, Euron sways the crowd away from Yara through his “strength.” He openly acknowledges that he killed Balon, claiming it was because Balon wasn’t leading them anywhere. Worse, Balon had waged two fruitless wars. Euron proclaims he should rule because he paid the iron price for the salt throne. He also proposes a marriage alliance with Daenerys, so they can rule the world.
The crowd loves it, and he’s instantly proclaimed king.
But, Yara and Theon know their days are numbered.
As Euron’s brother Damphair consecrates Euron as king (by drowning him by the beach), Yara and Theon high-tail it off of the Iron Islands.
Theon, Yara, and her followers run to the ships. They manage to get all the best ships and sail away before their uncle Euron has even come to after his drowning.
As soon as Euron can speak, he demands to know where his niece and nephew are. He wants to execute them. When he learns they’ve left with his best ships, he commands that everyone start cutting wood and spinning flax. He wants to build a thousand ships to hunt Yara and Theon out of existence.
Daenerys Gives Jorah a Final Order
Daenerys is at her wits’ end with Jorah. He has saved her life twice. But, she’s still angry from his betrayal. She refuses to let him back into her service, but she can’t send him away.
Jorah counters that she must send him away.
He then lifts his shirt to reveal his forearm, covered in greyscale.
Daenerys’ real feelings come out. She’s devastated.
Jorah admits he has always and will always love Daenerys. All he’s ever wanted is to serve her.
She gives him one last command: he must find a cure for the greyscale, heal himself, and return to her service. She will need him at her side when she rules the Seven Kingdoms.
Jorah then takes his leave of her. He watches from the distance as Daenerys and Daario lead her new khalasar of khalasars out of the Vaes Dothrak.
(Author’s note: I have not been the biggest fan of Emilia Clarke’s acting in the past, but, much to her credit, it has improved significantly in the last two seasons. In this small scene, Emilia knocks it out of the park. I was genuinely moved — and it was largely due to her performance.)
Tyrion Takes a Queue from Real Kings
In Meereen, we find Tyrion pouring himself wine and discussing how to shore up Daenerys’ rule while she is gone. Since Tyrion compromised on emancipation with the slave masters, the Sons of the Harpy’s killings have stopped and there’s peace.
But, Tyrion doesn’t think it’s enough to have peace in Meereen. The people need to know Daenerys is responsible for it. The people must realize that Daenerys has the moral high ground. While the Sons of the Harpy may be resisting the foreign invaders, Daenerys brought about an end to the violence.
Tyrion notes they need somebody the people can trust, somebody they know cannot be bought or influenced. In other words, they need a credible mouthpiece to deliver their story.
So what does Tyrion do? Exactly what so many leaders throughout the ages did. He looks to religious leaders to carry his message to the people. (Let’s hope his collaboration with the leaders goes better than Cersei and Stannis’ did.)
Next thing you know, a new red priestess is in the throne room of the Great Pyramid.
Her name is Kinvara. She’s the high priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis and the First Servant of the Lord of Light.
Kinvara declares she will help the Tyrion and Varys because Daenerys is the “one who was promised.” To Kinvara, Dany’s dragons are “fire made flesh” — a sign of her divine favor.
But, the next part should be a big ole red flag. She declares the dragons will “purify non-believers by the thousands, burning their sins and flesh away.” YIKES! How efficient. This makes Melisandre’s heretic burnings look tame.
Working with Kinvara could be an incredibly dangerous proposition. Those dragons must look mighty tempting to a fire-loving priestess of R’hllor.
Kinvara knows that Tyrion & co want respect while they govern. Kenvara states she will send for her most eloquent priests and priestesses to spread the word that Daenerys is fighting against the darkness.
But, Varys is wary. He brings up the last prince who was promised, Stannis Baratheon.
Tyrion tries to shut Varys up before he alienates Kinvara. Varys is having none of it.
Varys denounces Kinvara and her ilk as “fanatics” who believe they are always right because everything is the lord’s will.
Kinvara merely looks amused and shrugs. Everything is the lord’s will. She attributes the issues to men being flawed and prone to making mistakes.
Varys challenges Kinvara. Why should he trust her to know more than the priestess who counseled Stannis?
Kinvara strikes back. She brings up the voice that spoke to Varys from the flames after he was cut. A voice that still terrifies and haunts Varys. Kinvara not only knows about the voice, she knows what it said and the name of the one who spoke.
Varys looks perplexed — and is likely terrified.
Kinvara then lays down her threat: “We serve the same the queen. If you are her true friend, you have nothing to fear from me.”
And, that’s what’s scary. Why are we suddenly talking about Kinvara’s ability to harm Varys? Just how powerful is Kinvara???
Bran, the Children, and the Others
Bran is still lying in the three-eyed raven’s cave, under the weirwood tree.
He is dreaming with his greensight again, only this time he is seeing the creation of the White Walkers. Leaf (who is one of the Children) turned a man into the first White Walker by stabbing him in the heart with a stone knife, possibly an obsidian dagger.
When Bran wakes up, Leaf defends her actions, explaining that the Children created the White Walkers to protect themselves against his race. The Children were at war with men. Men were attacking the Children and cutting down their sacred trees.
Bran crawls across the floor, illicitly touches a root, and plunges into another vision. This time, the weirwood tree is covered with snow and Bran turns around to see an army of wights. He walks among them unseen, until he meets the Night King and the other White Walkers.
But, the Night King can see him. Not only that, he touches Bran.
When Bran wakes up, he tells the three-eyed raven that the Night King touched him.
The raven tells Bran that he must leave the cave. The Night King’s mark is upon him. The Night King will not only be able to track Bran to the cave, but also enter it, despite its protecting warding. And, he will come for Bran.
The raven also tells Bran that he must now take over from him, even though Bran isn’t yet ready.
Bran keeps drifting in and out of his greensight visions, but Meera senses something is wrong. She runs outside to discover the Night King has arrived with a massive wight army. The wights attack.
Leaf commands Meera “Get Bran and run!”
When Meera reaches Bran, he is still lost in his greensight dream.
Outside the cave, Leaf and the other Children hurl fireballs and light a ring of fire at the tree’s entrance. This barely slows the attack down. The Night King and the white walkers walk right through the flames. Piece of cake.
Meera desperately tries to awaken Bran, who has traveled back in time with Hodor, to when his dad and Hodor were young at Winterfell.
Meera needs Hodor to carry Bran out of the tree — and she needs him fast. Otherwise, the wights — who are now pouring in through the cave’s roof — will kill them.
Hearing Meera’s pleas, he lets Hodor wake up, but Bran remains in the dream.
And, it’s just in time. Meera hurls a weirwood root; it zaps and kills one of the white walkers.
Although Bran’s direwolf Summer tries to protect his charge, the wights overcome the direwolf. Is he dead? Or maybe ~~please~~ just injured?
This gives Meera and Hodor enough time to flee with Bran on his sled. Leaf sacrifices herself, blowing herself up with a fireball as the wights attack, so Bran can get away.
Bran & co. reach the cave’s exit, with the wights in hot pursuit. Meera and Bran will never outrun the wights without somebody barricading the door to stop the wights.
Meera yells to Hodor, “Hold the Door!”
Hodor pushes the door with all the might of his half-giant frame. But, he is beginning to wimper and cry out as the wight’s hack through the door with their axes and blades.
Faintly, through his greensight, Bran can hear the words “Hold the Door” and “Ho… door” blurring into one. The young dream-world Hodor (Willis) is having a seizure. As Willis’ aunt, Old Nan, tries to comfort him, Willis cries, “Hold the door.”
Meanwhile, in the current day, Hodor’s older current-day counterpart is buckling against the crush of wights, as they smash through the root-covered door. Their skeletal hands push through the wood to rip Hodor’s flesh, claw his face, and stab him.
Despite the pain, Hodor is resolute. He won’t stop holding the door. And, young Willis becomes locked into the vocabulary of his future last words: “Hodor.”
Meera and Bran get away. Hodor dies protecting them.
It’s surprising how sad it was when Hodor died. After all, he was a secondary character with so few lines, but his self-sacrifice was quite touching.
I was not happy, however, to hear that Bran must take over for the three-eyed raven. The three-eyed raven lives in a tree, is part of a tree. Is that Bran’s fate?? Is that why Summer may be dead? #notcool (All those direwolves are symbolic/foreshadowing-y beasts.)
On the direwolf front, are all the Starks destined to lose their wolves? So far, Sansa, Rob, and Rickon’s wolves are dead. Nymeria, Arya’s wolf, is MIA. Until tonight, only Ghost and Summer were accounted for.
And, speaking of Sansa, she’s changed. Post-Ramsay Sansa is very adult and determined. Her experiences with Joffrey, Ramsay, and Littlefinger have hardened her. Plus Littlefinger has taught her how to manipulate and wield power.
Sansa’s arc gives us insight into the lives of queens and one of the reasons Cersei is so tough, power-seeking, and manipulative. Cersei had to be to survive not only her father using her like a pawn, but also the disillusionment of discovering her prince loved a dead girl and preferred whores and wine to her.
Medieval princesses and queens had to endure forced marriages, the lethal-stakes power politics, being abandoned with their in-law’s family, betrayal, domestic abuse, and rape. As Cersei once said to Oberyn Martell, “Everywhere in the world they hurt little girls.”
I’m rooting for Sansa and hoping that her plan to ally with Blackfish doesn’t blow up in her face. I don’t want her to be the “stupid little girl, who never learns.”
I’m also rooting for Yara. She nearly became the Iron Island’s first queen in tonight’s episode. And, despite her loss to the felonious Euron, many of the ironborn are still willing to follow her.
Right now, Game of Thrones is full of strong female characters, poised for leadership — and I’m loving it.