Tonight’s episode has some interesting moments ripped right from the pages of history about chivalry and Richard III. Shakespeare lovers and Ricardians will be thrilled. This recap also contains some fun George RR Martin tidbits that Jun Yan brings to us fresh from this weekend’s Balticon.
The episode focuses on Sam and Gilly, Arya, the Lannisters, Tyrells, and Faith Militant, Daenerys, Riverrun, and Bran and Meera. This episode picks up right where the last one left off – with Meera and Bran on the run. Although not a lot happens in this episode — it appears to be setting up events to come, it has some great funny lines. (In writer’s speak, it’s a classic “sequel” episode – e.g., scene vs. sequel.)
North of the Wall: Rebirth and Return
When the episode begins, we find Bran and Meera slowly fleeing the cave. And, slowly is the key word here.
Meera trudges through the snow, bearing the weight of Bran’s sledge by herself, weeping and grunting with the strain. She can no longer run because of its weight. As she staggers and falls, Bran takes a trip into his greensight. But, he is now the three-eyed raven – which means he isn’t fully human anymore – and his greensight is like the news of the world, past and future.
Bran’s fall, young Ned at the Tower of Joy, Ned’s execution, King Aerys burning them all (see historical counterpart in Henry VI and Charles the Mad), Daenerys’ dragons being born, the Night King, and the wights – all flash through his mind, converging in one vision.
Bran pulls out of the vision and pronounces, “Meera, they found us,” a second before the wights pounce on them.
All seems lost – Meera even apologizes to Bran. Out of the darkness, a hooded warrior emerges on horseback brandishing balls of flame.
“Come with me. Now,” the warrior commands. “The dead don’t rest.”
It turns out that the warrior is none other than Jon and Bran’s long lost uncle Benjen Stark. Benjen disappeared earlier in Season 1 when he went north of the Wall with a ranging party. What happened to him was a mystery… until tonight.
The White Walkers attacked and killed Benjen’s ranging party. One of those White Walkers stabbed Benjen in the gut with its ice sword. As Benjen was dying — or worse turning into a White Walker, the Children found him and stopped the White Walker’s magic from working by plunging a shard of obsidian into his heart.
Benjen confirms that Bran is the three-eyed raven. Bran needs to learn to control his powers before the Night King comes.
Sam & Gilly: Who’s the Warrior Now?
Sam decided to take Gilly and little Sam to his family’s castle in the south, so they would be safe and little Sam will get an education.
As they sit in the wheelhouse en route, Sam rehearses Gilly’s story with her. Sam conveniently omitted Gilly’s heritage in his letters home. His father hates Wildlings. He sent his son to the Wall hoping that Sam would kill some Wildlings, and it would make a man of him.
As Sam explains to Gilly, in the best line of the episode: “After my father made me renounce my title and inheritance and threatened to kill me if I didn’t. A person just doesn’t feel welcome at that point.”
When Sam and Gilly arrive in Horn Hill’s courtyard, his mother and forcibly betrothed sister run to greet him. Just like Sam told Gilly, they are delightful and all kindness.
Sam’s mother doesn’t give a fig that her son fathered a bastard. The lad is her blood: marriage decree and Night’s Watch vows are moot. And, Sam’s sister, Talla, doesn’t even blink at Gilly’s rough-and-raggedy gown –- or its implied lower-class provenance. Talla simply weaves her arm through Gilly’s and asks her what color of gown looks best on her.
These are nice people – which isn’t surprising because Sam certainly didn’t get his kindness from his iceberg of a father.
Later on at dinner, we meet Ser Randyll Tarly and Sam’s younger usurping brother, Dickon –- and I know Dickon is a medieval nickname for Richard, but you’ve gotta think that’s a pun.
Ser Randyll Tarly is a marcher lord, a military leader who, in the past, protected the Reach (and rest of Westeros) from Dorne.
In the real middle ages, marcher lords governed the “march” or border and were a rank above an earl. A medieval parallel for border conflicts might be the conflict between Wales (or even England and Scotland) and its surrounding areas. Marcher lords received crown funds to staff their armies. The marcher lords’ armies made them powerful, and their repeated testing in battle made them the best warriors in England. Their military might – not to mention possible shortfalls in the money the crown owed them – combined with other factors to cause the first conflict phase in the Wars of the Roses.
Dinner goes downhill fast when the conversation turns to Randyll and Dickons day of hunting.
In the Middle Ages, hunting was seen as the most appropriate off-season hobby for warriors since it let them keep their skills – and their knives. They practiced it in a highly ritualized way. In late-medieval England, the nobles had hunted the dangerous boar into extinction so they considered hunting deer the next best thing.
Sam makes his first blunder when he compliments them on the venison, assuming it’s from that day’s hunt. (WRONG: Medieval nobles hung their venison for easily a week to tenderize the meat.)
His brother asks him about the hunting at the Wall. Sam then reveals he hunts rabbits and squirrels. Rabbits?!? Real (noble) men don’t hunt rabbits –- not unless they are using a falcon. This is hardly on par with deer hunting. Rabbits are peasant food. Hunting them with traps and snares does nothing for your martial prowess. And, even worse, it was mainly Jon, Edd and Gilly who caught them.
It gets worse.
Randyll sneers his disgust when he learns Sam is going to the Citadel to become a maester. “I thought the Night’s Watch might make a man of you…” Instead, Sam is “spending his life reading about the achievements of other men of better men. I’ll wager you still can’t sit on a horse or wield a sword”1 .
This speech represent the classic clash between the new men and the old nobility in Henry VIII’s day. The warrior-type nobles put little stock in literacy and book learning. Real nobles fought with swords and waged wars. They didn’t spend their time with books.
Sam’s mother, Melissa Tarly, stands up for him – and then so does Gilly. Gilly tells them Sam killed a Thenn and a White Walker.
Dickon scoffs, “There’s no such thing.”
Gilly isn’t bowed. Gilly’s indignation gets the better of her and she forgets Sam’s warning. “I saw it with my own eyes on the way down to Castle Black. He’s a greater warrior than either of you will ever be.”
Talk about a shot across the bow.
For a moment, Randyll almost appears to look at her with respect. He isn’t even remotely distracted by her impertinence.
But, Randyll caught Gilly’s slip-up.
“You’re way down from Castle Black?” Randyll asks. Just how far North were they?
Everything begins to unravel.
Randyll quickly pegs Gilly as a Wildling.
To the border-defending Randyll, bringing a Wildling to his table is the ultimate insult.
He’s so fired up he even goes on about how Sam would never wield Heartsbane, the family’s Valyrian steel sword.Whoops! The only thing that Sam might want almost as much as Gilly would be a Valyrian steel sword – he knows how well they kill White Walkers. Sam’s gotta be drooling at this prize.
As a marcher lord, his role is to protect the kingdom from incursion. He sees the Night’s Watch as his spiritual brethren in the North; they are supposed to do the same.
How could Sam bring one of them into his home, to dine at his table? Sam lied and he broke faith. Randyll can’t bear how much his son has disappointed him yet again. He denounces Gilly as a Wildling whore and an “it.” Gulp.
Randyll forever banishes Sam.
Melissa Tarly is no shrinking violet. She leaves the table, but not before telling Randyll he dishonored himself.
To the great warrior’s credit, this doesn’t anger him for a second. He respects his wife’s spirit, telling Sam that his mother is a “fine woman.”
Later, Sam can’t bear to part with Gilly and the babe who is effectively his stepson. After Sam kisses her goodbye in her chamber, he comes back, declaring they have to leave together.
They sneak off in the night, but not before he snatches the candy from above the mantle: the Valyrian steel sword.
Margaery’s Atonement Walk and Its Consequences
Before Margaery’s walk is scheduled to occur, Tommen meets with the High Sparrow. Tommen’s nervous about Margaery’s safety. The High Sparrow reassures him that the Faith Militant take those who overstep very seriously. This is all so sickening.
The High Sparrow lets Tommen visit with Margaery.
Margaery persuades Tommen that the High Sparrow is good and godly. They should fall in line with him.
When Margaery’s day of atonement arrives, Jaime, Olenna, and Mace Tyrell show up with High Garden soldiers, prepared to seize the Sept by force.
But, then, su-ppr-rise! The High Sparrow says there is no need for force. Margaery won’t be going on an atonement walk today. She has already atoned.
What happens next reeks of a quid pro quo deal.
Tommen walks out of the Sept, holds hands with Margaery, and gives a speech talking about his renewed alliance with the Faith, how they are twin pillars of the kingdom, etc. etc. Barf, barf, barf.
Checkmate. The Lannisters and the Tyrells can’t beat this move. The game goes to the High Sparrow.
Does this mean the High Sparrow softened Margaery’s sentence because he now has the king on his side? Does this mean the High Sparrow is corruptible?
And, what about Loras?
Did the Queen of Thorn’s granddaughter orchestrate this whole thing to try to get the High Sparrow to go soft on her brother?
Later on, in the throne room, Tommen calls his uncle/father to task for attacking the Faith. “When you attack the Faith, you attack the Crown.” Tommen then strips Jaime of his title as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.
Jaime isn’t amused – this is his son giving him the dressing down – and Jaime’s been a member of the Kingsguard before Tommen was born. (In fact, there probably wouldn’t even be a Tommen if he wasn’t a member of the Kingsguard.)
Tommen hangs tough and doesn’t relent on his decision.
Jaime, however, mocks him. Will he have to do a walk of atonement? Be cast into the Great Sept’s dungeons?
The answer is no. Tommen orders him to Riverrun to take back the castle from the Brynden “Blackfish” Tully.
Later on, Jaime rants about this demeaning errand– the Blackfish only seized the castle because 400-year old Walder Frey couldn’t hold it. Besides, Jaime wants to be near Cersei for her trial.
Cersei tells him not to worry. She will request a trial by combat and appoint the Mountain as her champion. Oh oh. I smell some poetic justice coming.
Walder Frey is Back!
After not seeing the disgusting old lech for quite a few seasons, Walder Frey is back and as ornery — and horny — as ever.
We find him Walder at the head of his banquet table with wife #64 beside him. He is giving his sons, Black Walder and Lothar, a dressing down for a) letting “Blackfish” Tully slip their grasp in the first place and b) losing Riverrun, the Tully stronghold they won after the Red Wedding. The Blackfish seized it back.
More than the strategic loss of the castle, Walder hates this humiliation and blow to his pride. The Freys were Tully vassals for years. Now, the other houses will laugh at them.
Actually, the other houses have started to abandon them. His sons inform him that the Mallisters and Blackwoods have risen against them. The Brotherhood Without Banners is rallying the commoners against them.
Even if they didn’t have the problem of enemy combatants, Riverrun can withstand a siege for a year – and the Brotherhood is raiding their food (supply trains).
Just when the Frey boys think all is lost, Walder pulls out his trump card: the Blackfish’s nephew, Edmure Tully.
The first thing I thought of when I saw this was King Stephen threatening to put the five-year old William Marshall in a catapult and hurl him against a castle when the diplomatic hostage’s father angered him. Let’s hope Walder Frey doesn’t get any similar ideas.
A New Face of Arya?
Arya has limited options. She has to strike down the thespian Lady Crane – or become one of the faces on the wall in the House of Black and White. The problem is she likes Lady Crane and is enchanted by this new way of getting outside of her own head.
To enact her scheme, she goes to yet one more performance of Joffrey’s death. At a minimum, she loves rewatching a moment she would have loved to have orchestrated: Joffrey’s death. This is the third time Arya’s seen the theater troupe portray the Game of Thrones’ version of the Princes in the Tower.
The play is Shakespeare pre-Shakespeare so it’s not in blank (un-rhyming) verse like most of his plays. Fittingly given GoT’s medieval-esque world, the lines rhyme — and this gently mocks the troupe’s interpretation of the play’s events.
In the play’s upside-down world, Joffrey is good and loving to his bride, Cersei is sympathetic, and Tyrion is the villain. Is this George RR Martin commenting on Shakespeare’s take on the last Yorkist king? Why yes it is.
History Behind Game of Thrones contributor Jun Yan reported that, at this weekend’s Balticon, George RR Martin confirmed that he deliberately created this play as a comment about Shakespeare’s distorted depiction of Richard III. According to Jun, Martin all but confirmed that he is a Ricardian. Bawawawaha…
The Richard-III-like Tyrion character even does an aside, when he poisons Joffrey’s cup, which is as over-the-top as Shakespeare’s Richard III: “The last drink he shall ever take//And vengeance shall be mine.”
“I am determined to prove a villain”—Richard III
The performance winds down when Lady Crane, in her role as Cersei, gives a tearful soliloquy as Joffrey dies.
After the show, Arya sneaks backstage and dumps poison into Lady Crane’s rum bottle. Yet, Arya likes Lady Crane and loves her performance.
As Arya tries to slip out, Lady Crane spots her. The pair bond. Arya gives Lady Crane real-life ideas for how to rewrite Cersei’s soliloquy. Lady Crane takes a maternal interest in Arya, whose love of the theater reminds the thespian of a younger version of herself.
Just as Lady Crane is about to drink the poisoned rum, Arya smashes it from her hand. Despite the potential cost to herself, Arya can’t bear to see her new heroine die.
But, the Waif lingers in the wings, where she witnesses Arya’s betrayal. The Waif returns to the House of Black and White, where she reports back to Jaqen — and reminds him that he promised Arya would die if she failed her mission. He gives his consent and tells the Waif not to let Arya suffer.
Arya knows that she’s in great jeopardy. Arya retrieves her sword Needle, which she hid in a pile of rocks. Before Arya goes to bed that night, she tucks Needle in the sheets beside her and blows out the candle.
If Arya survives, will her arc turn into the writer’s journey rather than the warrior’s journey (proving the pen really is mightier than the sword)? Will Lady Crane, who is named Lady Stork in the [spoilers] excerpt from Winds of Winter, be poised to become a mother to Arya Stark? (Get it? Stork/Stark. Storks give birth to babies. Stark is Arya’s last name. Lady Stork/Crane may help Arya be reborn – if Arya survives.)
The Dothraki Follow Strength
The Dothraki follow strength – and what better show of strength is there than doing a flyover on a dragon. And, so it is that Daenerys persuades the Dothraki to board ships and follow her across the poison waters of the Narrow Sea.
It probably doesn’t hurt that Dany tells her men that they can all be her bloodriders — what every Dothraki man dreams of. The implication (to me at least) is they get this honor without having to die with her when she dies.
Where Dany is going to get these ships is a mystery. She isn’t going to be happy when she returns to Meereen to find her fleet has been burned to the ground. After all, even though Dany has the man power to seize ships from just about anybody at this point, not many cities have 1000 ships just lying around.
This episode feels like it is setting up lots of very intriguing events.
Will Arya survive the Waif’s attack? Will she even see it coming? The Waif has always beaten her when they’ve gone mano-a-mano.
Will Randyll Tarly come for the family sword? If he does, can Sam take him down? It seems unlikely Randyll will stand for the insult of his soft disinherited unworthy son sneaking off in the night with his precious sword. And, from Randyll’s point of view, worst of all, Sam didn’t even challenge him face-to-face for it. Why it’s akin to stealing the family legacy itself. Not to challenge this would not be honorable or chivalrous in the truest possible senses of those words.
Will Franken-mountain be able to fight off the Faith’s champion? When the intact Mountain fought Oberyn Martell, he would have lost if Oberyn hadn’t gotten cocky. The Mountain lost not just because Oberyn was faster but also because he was smarter. Oberyn knew to wind him. Franken-mountain doesn’t look all that clever. So, Cersei might be getting some poetic justice.
The aftermath of the hateful High Sparrow’s triumph should prove interesting. I loved the Riverlands plot in A Storm of Swords – don’t ask me why. I’ve even had fantasies of playing Gemma Lannister – if I didn’t suffer from debilitating stage fright. So, while Jaime is dreading his trip to the Riverlands, summer is coming and I can’t wait for a swim.
- ~20:49 [↩]