Book of the Stranger: Death & Rebirth

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Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones might just have been the most dazzling of the season. The ending is explosive. When we left off last week, Rickon and Osha were in peril, Sansa was en route, Daenerys was about to be judged by the Dothraki khals.

Sansa, Brienne, and Pod arrive at Winterfell. Melisandre may have saved Jon, but she’s still in jeopardy. The Dothraki are reborn. And, Ramsay almost meets his match.

The Lannister family — Kevan and Cersei —  need to fix their relationship to survive. Likewise, the Tyrells must restart their alliance with the Lannisters.

The theme of this episode is death and rebirth.

Named-character body count: 1

Arrivals in the North

Jon Promises to Look After Sansa

Just as Jon Snow is about to quit Winterfell for the South, Sansa, Brienne, and Pod arrive.

But, before the horn blasts heralding Sansa & co’s arrival, Dolorous Ed tries to persuade Jon to stay and continue to fight. Ed reminds Jon of his vows and of what they saw at Hardhome. Sansa’s arrival interrupts Ed’s appeal. And, so it is that even the most heroic becomes reluctant — and then dangerously distracted by his personal desires.

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Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon (Kit Harrington) hug in their first scene ever. (c) HBO.

Jon’s reunion with Sansa is touching – and a little fascinating. The two have never shared a scene before, and we don’t know much about their relationship.

Sansa apologizes for being awful to Jon as a girl. Jon promises to look after Sansa. They will travel together, and Jon will look after her.

Ramsay Sends a Raven: No Pieces of Rickon… Yet

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Jon (Kit Harrington) reads Ramsay’s letter. (c) HBO.

Later a raven arrives from Ramsay Bolton. Nobody else could have penned this message. It’s classic Ramsay.

The message begins by demeaning and demoralizing Jon by calling him a bastard. (Ramsay assumes Jon will find this sobriquet as painful as he does.) In the books, Ramsay makes anyone who calls him a bastard pay.

Ramsay’s message promises his soldiers will rape Sansa, dogs will devour the Stark’s “wild little brother,” and he, Ramsay, will spoon out Jon’s eyes.

We shudders as Jon reads these words. So far, we’ve never scene Ramsay fail to live up to his promises.

Jon — still psychologically scarred after his brethren tried to stab him to death — is reluctant to re-enter the fray. He casts doubt on Ramsay’s possession of Rickon. Do they even know whether Ramsay has Rickon?

Sansa coolly tells him that “yes they do.” The new Sansa is confident. Astute. Assured. And, she knows her husband.

Tormund immediately offers up 2000 men to march on Winterfell. It’s probably not enough though. Ramsay has at least 5,000.

Sansa lobbies Jon to fight for Winterfell  — and it’s inspiring. “A monster has taken our home and our brother,” she tells Jon. “Winterfell is our home. It belongs to our family. We have to fight for it.”

Thinking of Rickon, Jon ultimately agrees. Will this help Jon get back on the right path? Or, are Ramsay’s threats enough to distract Jon from what many of us hope is his destiny — to stop the Others? After all, one nasty noble is nothing compared to the real monsters beyond the Wall.

Davos and Melisandre: The End of an Understanding?

Right now, Davos and Melisandre have formed a truce because Melisandre brought Jon back to life. (Or, maybe Davos is just accepting that he is stuck with her.) But, the peace between them may shatter now that the chaos following Jon’s death is over. Davos wants to know what happened to Shireen.

As Davos and Melisandre stand in the courtyard at Castle Black talking about Melisandre’s new belief that Jon is the Prince That Was Promised, Brienne walks over.

Brienne is not a fan of the Stannis camp. They killed her great love, Renly.

Brienne tells Davos she cannot forget – or forgive, as she warns Melisandre.

Stannis admitted to Brienne that he sent the shadow assassin – and, based on the way Brienne glared at Melisandre, perhaps the late pretender revealed the conjurer of such magic.

Margaery Sees Loras

Margaery has an audience with the High Sparrow.

In dulcet tones, he counsels her to reflect upon what she would do where she released. The Sparrow equates Margaery’s desire to seek out her family with a sinful desire for finery.

The Sparrow also explains how he came to give up the material life – literally, he was a cobbler – and life among the “honest” and desperately poor.

But, Margaery knows how to game him. She appears to take it all in.

After the High Sparrow’s heart to heart, he takes Margaery to see Loras.

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Margaery (Natalier Dormer) implores her brother Loras (Finn Jones) not to let the Faith Militant beat them. (c) HBO.

Loras looks terrible. He just wants his suffering to stop. He begs Margaery to release him from his suffering. Margaery refuses to give in to the High Sparrow’s manipulations.

This is clearly going on a different path than the books, even if it ends up at the same destination. If Margaery confesses to lying about Loras’ homosexuality under oath, what will Loras’ fate be? Will HBO stay true to what happens in the books?

Will Cersei and Olenna form an alliance?

When Cersei and Jaime learn from Tommen that the High Sparrow will force Margaery to do a walk of atonement, they approach Olenna Tyrell and their uncle, Kevan Lannister, about dropping their quarrels and working together.

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Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) appear uninvited at the Small Council meeting to persuade the Hand and Olenna to form an alliance.

Everyone should be motivated to work together on this. Kevan Lannister, who is also the Hand, wants Lancel to come back into the family fold and leave behind the cult-like Faith Militant. Both of Olenna’s grandchildren remain in peril in the Great Sept. And, Cersei is about to stand trial.

When Olenna hears that Margaery might have to do a walk of atonement, Olenna’s resolute. “Oh no. That cannot happen,” she says. “That will not happen.” It’s a great “you go girl” moment.

The walk of atonement would strip the new queen Margaery, who has yet to secure herself in her position, of her dignity and authority. It would erode the Tyrell’s expensive investment in the Lannisters and King’s Landing.

Plus she loves her granddaughter. Olenna’s already shown that she’s willing to kill (Joffrey) to prevent Margaery from undergoing pain.

Olenna may just be the one who can break the Faith Militant. She has the second largest army in Westeros – and let’s face it, it’s Olenna who has the army, not her wimpy son Mace. (He may nominally be the head of the house, but we all know Olenna’s really in charge.)

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Olenna (Diana Rigg) and the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) faced off in Season 5, Episode 7. Olenna tells him to save his homilies she can smell a fraud a mile away. (c) HBO.

Olenna also controls the food supply in King’s Landing. She’s already threatened the High Sparrow she would cut off the food if he didn’t release her grandchildren. He took the moral high ground, but she will burn the city down if she has to.

The High Sparrow, on the other hand, has the interior position in the city. He has valuable hostages. And, he may have the hearts and minds of the people who are sick of the violent, rapacious nobility.

Normally, I would say that the person who controls the food and the armies will likely win. But, the High Sparrow have the advantage of position.

Cersei convinces Tyrells and the Hand (Kevin Lannister) to align with the Lannisters and oust the High Sparrow. This means marching on King’s Landing with High Garden soldiers.

As the Hand wisely acknowledges, if the attempted coup – and it is a coup because the king is no longer in control — doesn’t go as planned, civil war will result.

Theon’s Hard Landing

At last, Theon has come home to Pyke. After all his struggles and mutilations, it’s almost unbelievable the paternally forsaken diplomatic hostage has landed safely on the shores of the Iron Islands.

But, when he walks into castle Pyke, Yara’s greets him with ice. When she tried to save him back in Season 4, he cowered in his kennel and betrayed her. She lost men in his rescue attempt and had to run for their lives from Ramsay’s snapping hounds.

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Yara (Gemma Whelan) listens skeptically to Theon (Alfie Allen) until he weeps and offers his support. (c) HBO.

Theon weeps. He just wants Yara to welcome him home and forgive him. To Theon’s credit, he acknowledges Ramsay broke him “into a thousand pieces.”

Yara suspects Theon is there to compete for the Seastone Chair. He’s not. This poor diplomatic hostage has finally returned home, although not intact. This is a new Theon: stripped down and self-mortified.

Theon wants to atone and support his family. He doesn’t want the throne. He tells Yara: “You should rule the Iron Islands. Let me help you.” But, can he? What could Theon possibly give Yara that she doesn’t already have?

Osha & Ramsay

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Osha (Natalie Tena) was Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Rickon’s loyal guardian who saved their lives from Theon when he raided Winterfell several seasons back. She’s been travelling with Rickon since Bran and Rickon split up. (c) HBO.

When Ramsay’s guards frog-march Osha – Bran’s former Wildling guardian — into his chamber, the newest Warden of the North sits peeling an apple with a paring knife. How menacing.

It’s classic Ramsay: psychological warfare.

When she’s not phased, he asks whether she knows that the flayed man is his house’s trademark.

“Do you eat them after?” she asks without missing a beat.

When he replies no, Osha couldn’t care less: “Then I’ve seen worse.”

Ramsay smirks. Osha’s his kinda girl: fearless, savage, and maybe even a little bloodthirsty.

This is awesome. The two have great chemistry. Osha might even be Myranda II.

Osha lifts her skirt and climbs onto his lap.

Ramsay’s into it. They kiss passionately. But, Osha’s eye never leaves the paring knife, lying on the table.

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Osha fatally attempts to seduce Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). (C) HBO.

Just as her fingers grasp the blade, Ramsay plunges a dagger into her throat.

Even though Ramsay appears to buy it, this is yet another reminder of how sneaky he is.

As Osha stumbles to the floor and bleeds out, Ramsay informs her that Theon told him how Bran and Rickon escaped, how Osha killed the guard while having sex with him.

It’s a shame. I liked Osha. Plus, it would be great to see somebody get the upper hand over Ramsay for a change. But, if Ramsay is anything like his real-world counterpart, this won’t happen anytime soon. (More on that another time.)

Tyrion Compromises on Slavery Like Abe Lincoln

With Dany still missing from her throne in Meereen, the slavers are trying to get the upper hand. Three slavers from the other slaver states meet with Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, and Grey Worm:

  • Mo Eraz who gave Daenerys money and ships to sail away on in Season 3. (Her dragons hissed at him when he tried to reclaim his treasure chests.)
  • Yezzan, who bought Tyrion last year, and remarks on how quickly the dwarf has risen.
  • Belicho Paenymion

Meereen is plunging into a state of guerilla warfare. After recent terrorist acts, like burning Dany’s fleet, it’s clear Meereen will be hard to stabilize and control. The situation now is basically a war. The slavers want the situation to go back to the way it was PRE-Dany: they’re likely Sons-of-the-Harpy collaborators.

Tyrion is hoping to treat with these slavers to stop what’s become a war. Missandei and Greyworm stew silently as he speaks. They clearly don’t approve.

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Mo Eraz (George Georgiou) unintentionally gave Daenerys GO AWAY money and ships.
Yezzan (Enzo Cilenti) bought Tyrion and Jorah last season when their captors auctioned them off. Belicho Paenymion (Eddie Jackson) is the third slaver – not shown . (c) HBO.

To appease the slavers, he offers a compromise – one that showrunner David Benioff likened to Abe Lincoln’s initial approach to slavery in the American Civil War. He wanted to abolish it gradually.

Tyrion proposes that, if the slavers stop the war and aligning with the Harpys – and don’t tell me you’re not – we will let you have seven years to give up slavery gradually and then we will pay you handsome compensation for it. (Historical note: This is also sort of similar to the way Tsar Alexander II compensated the Russian nobility when he freed their serfs.)

This is great bravado on Tyrion’s part. The slavers almost certainly have the upper hand. Tyrion no longer has dragons or ships. Could he lead the Unsullied to Astopor and Yunkai to stop the slavers from reinstating slavery?

But, this might be a huge mistake. With this compromise offer, Tyrion alienates former slaves Missandei and Greyworm. Dany will, no doubt, be livid that Tyrion let her emancipation efforts unravel.

But what choice does Tyrion have? Tyrion is in a tricky position. Not only doesn’t he have Daenerys’ authority, he does not have Daenerys’ charisma, mystique, or dragons. Nobody believes Daenerys is coming back – and her rule is predicated on her person, not law or institutions, as this recent descent into chaos reveals.

As Tyrion explains to the now alienated Missandei and Grey Worm, “Slavery is a horror that should be ended at once. War is a horror. I can’t do both today.”

Grey Worm warns Tyrion that he doesn’t know the slavers. They can’t be trusted and they will use him. This feels ominous. Is it foreshadowing?

Robin and the Falcon

Remember how, at the end of Season 5, Littlefinger cut a deal with Cersei to become Warden of the North if he could defeat the Boltons and Stannis?

Well, the stage is now set – or, rather, Littlefinger has now set the stage. The Master of the Game has all his puppets lined up. Here’s how he did it:

Littlefinger knows he needs soldiers to fight the Boltons and he has no standing army of his own.

When Petyr arrives, he steps down from his wheelhouse and greets Robin – who is ineptly shooting arrows past a target —  by crying, “the Defender of the Vale.” He also curries favor with Robin by bringing him an exceptionally valuable gift: a gyrfalcon. (Robin is delighted to see Littlefinger – and thrilled with the gift.)

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Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli) and the gyrfalcon. (c) HBO.

Lord Royce, however, accuses Littlefinger lying about where he was taking Sansa. Petyr claimed to be taking Sansa home with him to the Fingers. Instead, Lord Royce has heard he married Sansa to the Ramsay Bolton in Winterfell.

Littlefinger lies, claiming they were set upon by a large force of Bolton men – who knew exactly where they were headed. This enabled the Boltons to force the wedding, or some Littlefinger claims.

Lord Royce doesn’t buy it for a minute. Sansa is the key to the North and valuable bargaining chip.

So Littlefinger turns the tables and accuses Royce of betraying them.

Before you know it, Royce is in peril.

Littlefinger appeals to Robin’s bloodlust and next thing you know Robin wants to chuck poor Royce through the moon door, with barely a thought. In fact, Robin hardly takes his eyes off the gyrfalcon when he suggests it.

Littlefinger offers one more chance. If Royce demonstrates his absolute loyalty, he will be allowed to live.

Littlefinger then tells Robin of Sansa’s escape from Winterfell. She won’t be safe at Castle Black. Littlefinger gives Robin the say in what they should do. When the little lord says what he wants to hear, Robin feels validated and rewarded. They will help Sansa – which means military action at Castle Black.

Now, when Petry calls upon Royce for help from the Lords of the Vale, he can’t say no.

Capturing the North seems like small potatoes now that Jon has risen from the dead and Dany has just won a 100,000 Dothraki followers. But it’s worth remembering that the North of England was more powerful than the London during the Wars of the Roses. The North dragged the rest of the country along with their troubles, so everyone tumbled into the war.

Daenerys: Reborn from the Flames

Jorah and Daario break into the Dothraki’s sacred city, Vaes Dothrak, where the Dothraki elders will sentence Dany to life confined to a widow-prison (the Dosh Khaleen) or worse.

As they peer over a cliff into the city, they realize getting out alive will be tough. They discard their weapons so that the Dothraki might possibly believe they are merchants if they are captured. They need to rely on subterfuge. As Jorah advises Daario, they need can’t fight their way out of the city against 100,000 Dothraki.

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Daario and Jorah watch the holy Dothraki city, Vaes Dothrak. (c) HBO.

While they strip off their weapons, Daario learns Jorah has dragonscale on his arm.

Daario is reluctant to give up his favorite dagger so he makes Jorah turn his back while he gets rid of it. But, nobody falls for this. We all know Daario still has it.

Later that night, as the duo creep through an ally, Daario’s illicit dagger comes in handy.

Daario and Jorah get into a fight with two Dothraki warriors. One of the Dothraki nearly chokes Jorah to death.

But, Daario saves his life by stabbing the assassin through the skull. To hide their tracks, Daario smashes the killer’s head in with a rock, so the knife wound wouldn’t be visible.

Daario and Jorah stumble upon Daenerys who refuses to escape with them. Instead, she asks for their help with a plan.

Later that night, when the Dothraki khals summon Dany to the temple in Dosh Khaleen. We are back in the same room where she ate the horse’s heart in Season 1.

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Dany (Emilia Clarke) and the Khals. (c) HBO.

The khals disrespectfully debate whether to rape her, enslave her, or even sell her.

Even though Dany is a tiny woman in a room full of menacing warriors, she is strong, confident, smiling and unafraid.

They mock her belief in Khal Drogo’s promises, her belief in the prophecy that her son would have be the stallion who mounted the world.

As they sneer, Dany walks up on the podium where she once ate the horse’s heart, beside where her Drogo once crowned her brother in molten gold. She rests her hand on a brazier. Nobody seems to notice she isn’t flinching from the burning hot metal on the brazier.

Much to their astonishment, Dany then proposes they should serve her. They should give up their khal-ships and submit to her.

They laugh. To them, it is absurd.

No deal? No problem. Dany tips over the brazier and flames race across the floor to where the khals stand.

Some of them try to escape. But, Jorah and Daario have barred the doors.

When she immolates the last Khal, the one who goaded her, the flames are already nibbling chunks out of her clothes.

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Dany emerges from the burning temple. (C) HBO.

By the time the locked door gives way and she emerges from the tent, the Dothraki have gathered around it to see who, if any, of their leaders survive.

By immolating her opposition, she not only gets her freedom, she has staged a coup.

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Dany emerges from flames no ordinary person could survive. The flames have burned all of her clothes off her body! (c) HBO

The Dothraki hail her as a god and kneel.

Dany is becoming a true queen. She knows how to seize power. When the leaders had her in the tent, they saw an outnumbered victim. She saw an opportunity.

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."

13 Comments

  • Reply May 16, 2016

    hallambaker

    I don’t think the pink letter is definitely from Ramsay. It could be SmallJon Umber who is attempting to force Jon into a fight to retake Winterfell and rid the North of the Boltons. As in the books, the letter uses the word ‘Bastard’, a word book Ramsay will not tolerate hearing.

    Another clue that something may be up is that Osha asks Ramsay if he is a cannibal and he says not. Now why would it be necessary to demonstrate that is a thing Ramsay wouldn’t do. So I think we are due for a helping of Fray Bentos pie.

    What makes the final scene so awesome is that it is a strategy that the audience have all the clues to figure out but it still comes as a surprise. Pretty much the entire audience is expecting a dragon rescue. Instead Dany rescues herself and decapitates the entire Dothraki power elite. And that is after all what she needs to do if she is going to end slavery.

    Another interesting little contrast is that Tyrion and Petyr both use essentially the same tactic to get their political ends. They both box another character into saying something they don’t believe. But Tyrion does it to stop a war, Petyr does it to start one.

    • Reply May 16, 2016

      Jun

      I thought the ending was just saving some CGI money by leaving Drogon out of it. The last chapter of ADWD made it pretty clear that Drogon would never allow Khal Jhago to get near Daenerys.

      • Reply May 22, 2016

        Phill Hallam-Baker

        Burning down the temple would have cost much more than bringing in Drogon. The big cost in CGI is making the model. Once you have the model right you can use it fairly cheaply.

        The fire scene was filmed in two places and joined together. They used every type of special effect. There is live action, full scale sets, miniatures, color separation overlay and CGI in that sequence. Plus a few thousand extras. Probably the most expensive scenes in the series so far this season.

    • Reply May 16, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      By the way, Phil is talking about a British brand of pies, known as Fray Bentos. It’s pretty interesting that the Rat Cook of the Twins shares his last name with this pie.

  • Reply May 18, 2016

    Alayne Stone

    As much as I love Dany, the Dothraki hailing her as a god smacks of white saviorism.

    • Reply May 18, 2016

      Jun

      I agree that the subtext of white saviorism is certainly there and has been since the slave liberation in Season 3 (?). It can also be viewed as Dick Cheney’s fantasy of US army being hailed as liberators on the street of Baghdad. I think ADWD the novel was written precisely to counter that idea, but this was handled awkwardly in Season 5’s adaptation.

      I’ve been thinking about how complex and subtle GRRM’s discussion on slavery and freedom is. But the series have totally gone the blunt and feel-good route.

      • Reply May 21, 2016

        Alayne Stone

        How is GRRM’s discussion of slavery and freedom complex? I never noticed that. Maybe it’s because most of the slavery stuff is from Dany’s POV, and she has a very simplistic way of looking at the whole issue.

        • Reply May 21, 2016

          Jun

          In the first 3 books, I really thought the portrayal of slavery was simplistic and black-and-white. I shook my head at Dany’s liberation of the Slaver’s Bay. But then ADWD changed my mind.

          The important parts are not from Dany’s POV but rather in Tyrion’s chapters, which mirror Theon’s chapters, supplemented by elements from Arya’s chapters in AFFC. I think GRRM is trying to talk about slavery and freedom in the mind. At one point, Tyrion thinks, one always has a choice, even a slave. He can eat the mushrooms in his boots. Death remains an option to a slave, when all choices have been taken away. This echoes the history of Braavos and Faceless Men and the origin of gift of death. True that Tyrion has chosen to stay alive, but it is his choice, not some else’s.

          Conversely, Theon in ADWD shows that the opposite can be true. Even when he is physically free, he is in fact a slave because he has lost freedom in his mind. See this point echoed in the character ironically named Nurse in Tyrion’s chapters. The different ways slaves react and adapt to their situation in the Yunkai camps is quite interesting, from Penny to Tyrion to this character named Nurse. Nurse’s approach to being a model slave is eerily universal and recognizable in our free world.

          I am reminded of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.” The song “Free” is about how freedom can be in fact scary and undesirable, despite all the lip service we pay it. Freedom takes away our excuses and avoidance of our own responsibility. I am particularly impressed because most American artists view slavery only through the prism of American slavery, the Civil War, and racial conflicts that extent to today. Benioff even cited Lincoln in the latest behind the scenes segment. However, GRRM’s and Sondheim’s reflections on freedom and slavery drill deep into everyone, including those not bound in a particular kind of history. No one can escape the question, “Have I relinquished my own mind to be someone else’s mind slave? Have I allow myself to be brainwashed because I’m too weak and lazy to think for myself?”

  • Reply May 21, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    It’s possible that although there can be an argument for show Dany coming across as a white saviour, that it might just be down to logistics. The slave liberation in season 3 was shot in Morocco where the inhabitants do tend to be darker skinned than northern Europeans. I’m not saying it’s universal because there is an sad case where a little British girl disappeared in Portugal some years ago and has been “spotted” in various places in southern Europe and north Africa where the child spotted has thus far turned out to be a pale skinned child from whatever local area the spotting took place in. Spanish people tend to be darker skinned than northern Europeans also – but then there are exceptions. My brother’s mother-in-law is from Spain and while she has very dark hair she is very pale skinned and has to wear a sun hat for protection in the heat. Then again a boy that lived near me when I was a child had an Italian dad who was blonde and an English mum who was very dark so there are exceptions to every rule.

    Possible spoilers if you haven’t read the books.

    Now I’m going from memory from a couple or three years ago now but didn’t book Dany (HOTU) have a vision of being in front of the crones as part of her HOTU hallucinations?

  • Reply May 22, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    This is what I was thinking of Jun
    ‘Beneath the Mother of Mountains, a line of naked crones crept from a great lake and knelt shivering before her, their grey heads bowed.’ The Mother of Mountains is a mountain next to Vaes Dothrak, which is where Dany is right now. The Womb of the World is a big lake also next to Vaes Dothrak. She crones are obviously the Dosh Khaleen. Dany is clearly going to do something to get the Dosh Khaleen to fall in line behind her and unite the Dothraki under her command.”

    I also add a link to a site which mentions it
    http://time.com/4324849/game-of-thrones-daenerys-dothraki-theory/

    • Reply May 22, 2016

      WATCHER ON THE COUCH

      Any words in the above apart from the introductory phrase and the bit about the link that are not GRRM’s belong to the writer of the feature on the time.com site not to me.

    • Reply May 22, 2016

      Jun

      Thanks, Watcher. Makes sense to me.

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