Last night as much of an emotional rollercoaster as TV is going to give you. If you have a beating heart and a soul, your couch should still have marks from your fingernails digging into it in suspense, a dent from punching it in anger at another direwolf down, and tearstains for poor old Hodor. I’ve said it every week and I’ll say it again here; the quality of this season of Game of Thrones is unbelievable, and if they if HBO is able to sustain this level of drama until the show’s conclusion, Thrones will be a serious contender in any “Greatest TV Show of All-Time” discussion. But before we get into the ending that everybody is talking about, a lot of other critical developments happened in the Game of Thrones universe last night that require our attention.
The show opened with Sansa not having the happiest of reunions with Westeros’ resident friend-who-will-go-to-comfort-your-ex-girlfriend-the-day-after-you-break-up-then-hook-up-with-her Petyr Baelish. Sansa did something that you rarely see happen for people like Petyr, which is confront what he has done. Baelish isn’t a solider, he doesn’t have to look in someone’s eyes as he stabs them or order a friend into battle only to watch him die. He’s a schemer, a planner, someone who will set up the chess board then move on to the next square, not having to see the pawns behind him get knocked down. The victims of Baelish’s plots often happen off-screen and away from him because of his actions but never directly due to his hand, allowing him to maintain the emotional distance needed to execute them in as cold-blooded and calculated a way as he does. However, Sansa made him take a cold hard look at his handiwork this time, and for the first time ever, we saw him flinch. We know that the only moral center Petyr has ever had is his love for Catelyn Stark, and he sees some of Cat in Sansa Stark (as manifested by his palpable, and creepy, sexual attraction to her). Does this cause Petyr to feel genuinely sorry for Sansa and show remorse for his actions for the first time, or is this merely a performance he put on to save his life and he’s as uncaring for Sansa in his insatiable climb for power as he is everybody else? After giving Sansa a nugget of information that causes her to send Brienne to seek help in the Starks uphill battle to reclaim the North, our favorite lady who looks like a linebacker is about to find out the answer to that question the hard way. Some may think Baelish has been disarmed by Sansa, but the more cynical Game of Thrones viewers smell a trap (and how can you not be cynical watching this goddamn show?).
Sansa’s sister Arya is also fighting her own battle across the sea in Braavos. After getting beat up with sticks like Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai, Arya is told “You’ll never be one of us, Lady Stark” to which Jaqan agrees “She has a point.” I think they’re right as well. If you’ve been reading my blogs, you know I’ve been banging the drum since the Season 5 recap that I think Arya’s destiny is to run from the Faceless Men. She remembers and feels her past too much and her individualism has been to essential to how we’ve come to understand her character for her to comply with the complete loss of identity needed to be a Faceless Man. The fact she saw a bastardized version of the history of the War of the Seven Kings that portrayed her father as a traitorous rube and was clearly troubled by it to me is direct evidence of this theory: Arya remembers what happened to her and her family, and is still deeply troubled by it. The fact she is coming to understand that the Faceless Men are willing to take a life of a person undeserving of it if the price is right, and maybe this religious order isn’t quite the highly noble, principled servant to a higher purpose as they claim to be, will trouble Arya’s profound sense of justice. I still think eventually, she’s out of there, and it’s going to happen sooner rather than later.
Also in Essos, another religious sect is coming to our attention. In a characteristically shrewd observation, Tyrion recognizes the intrinsic tie between religion and politics, and appeals to the High Priestess of the Lord of Light in order to gain popular support with the people. And just like we saw Petyr Baelish knocked off his feet for the first time, his former Small Council colleague Varys was floored by the one thing he hates the most, religion and magic. Now some would say Varys’ hesitance to use the High Priestess to control the Mereen masses is a symptom of his childhood trauma about magic, and an uncharacteristic irrational, emotional response to an otherwise sound political plan. But maybe he’s right to be a little hesitant. Watch that scene again and pause when the Priestess is on-screen; she’s wearing the same necklace and amulet as the Lady In Red who so unforgettably took it off Episode 1 and treated us to what we thought was going to be the worst nude scene of all-time (the cockshot of the uncircumcised, warted penis from this episode probably topped it. Classic Game of Thrones, one-upping itself). We know that this amulet is symbolic of the smokes and mirrors and magic tricks masquerading as God that the Lady In Red is so fond of. If this High Priestess is also willing to resort to the same type of deception, what other kinds of deceptions is she willing to use? Religious figures in Game of Thrones routinely cling to more powerful people in order to serve their own purposes (**cough cough Lady In Red Pycelle Undying Warlocks in Qarth cough cough**) until their purposes are served and they can make a power play of their own (**cough cough High Sparrow Undying Warlocks in Qarth again cough cough**). Maybe Varys’ skepticism is a little more rational than we think.
While Tyrion holds court for the Khaleesi, like any popular girl talking to her less attractive friend at her high school graduation, she says goodbye to an old frenemy with an odd mixture of sadness, respect, contempt, and pity. Jorah might be sent for a cure, but I hope he doesn’t find one. In a world as brutal as the Game of Thrones universe, a sweet and fitting death is as good as you can really ask for, especially if you’re a member of the solider class. Jorah dying after a heroic rescue mission for Daenerys is the best death he can ask for, and his Greyscale affliction led to him standing across from her in a scene that was a perfect metaphor for his relationship with her: Unable to physically touch her, but fully capable of showing his incredible level of devotion to her, fully capable of moving her, fully capable of dying for her. I’m not one of the fans whose heart bleeds for Jorah, but I hope the writers give him the ending he deserves instead of dragging his story on.
And finally, we get to the biggest and best part of the episode, the Bran storyline. Poor fucking Hodor. I expect everyone who loves Game of Thrones enough to take the time to read this to go to their local corner store, liquor store, bodega, whatever, buy a 40, and pour a little bit out for Hodor. In fact, I want you all to do that, tweet at me a picture, video, or Vine of you doing it @CharlieWisco with the hashtag #PouringOneOutForHodor . Let’s create a Hodor revolution, he fully deserves it. And want to know why? In Game of Thrones, one of the huge themes is that there are no true innocents; everyone is guilty of cruelty, murder, deceit, or just plain old awfulness to at least some extent, even the good characters. Jon Snow killed a boy. Dany claims to seek revenge against the Baratheons for being usurpers, then conquers cities herself in Essos. Like Godfather 2, everyone is part of the same hypocricy. But not Hodor. Hodor was the good one. Hodor was innocent. Hodor was fat, which makes anyone roughtly 67x more likeable. Everyone loved him, and we find out he made dual sacrifices not just in his death, but also in his life as an incompetent. Literally his entire mental well-being for years was all done in the service so Bran could live, and it all would’ve been avoided if Bran didn’t break the cardinal rule of fiction, disobeying the wise old man who tells the young curious whippersnapper to STAY AWAY FROM THE ______ . I don’t know if I can ever fully forgive him for that.
Now that we were able to cathartically grieve together, what does this mean for the rest of the show? For one, it’s unclear if Bran has learned how to still time travel via greensights without the benefit of the trees, so how we are going to see more flashbacks of the past to give us insight into the nature of the White Walkers, what happened in the Tower of Joy, and things like that is now unclear. I am confident eventually we will get a window into all that, but there where and the when is now a bit of a question mark. What exactly Bran learned from the Three Eyed Raven, what his missions purpose is, where he goes next, what the relationship between the Three Eyed Raven and the Nights King (there clearly was one) was are also question marks. The Bran storyline was predicted by many to be a clarifier into the history of Westeros and how the magic of Westeros works, but frustratingly, it seems to have raised more questions than answered them. So let’s list what we have learned and what it can mean going forward:
-Bran clearly has some capacity to influence the past when traveling back. He was able to switch the consciousness of Hodor while warging, causing Hodor to lose his mind and live as a nitwit. This means when Bran cried out at the Tower of Joy, Ned Stark most likely heard him. If Bran travels again, what type of Interstellar-esque ripple effects his actions cause will be fascinating.
-The White Walkers are creations of Children of the Forrest. That doesn’t tell us what exactly they want, but the fact they were used as a weapon against the First Men does let us know that destroying the human race is probably somewhere in their plans. Why they are assembling now, who is the Nights King, and what their relationship with The Wall is are all open questions where your guess is as good as anybody’s.
-Direwolves stay steady taking L’s. #DirewolvesLivesMatter needs to become a movement and key discussion point of the 2016 Presidential election.
-Bran is a threat to the White Walkers and they are actively seeking to kill him. Why? Again, to know that we’d have to know what the purpose of Bran is the first place, which is something only the Three Eyed Raven seems to understand.
-Bran has a higher capacity for magic that is yet untapped. We’ll probably discover more and more powers and capabilities of Bran until the show ends or he dies.
The point is, Bran has more open ends and possibilities than any other character. Because his story arc is rooted in magic, it’s unavoidably going to be the most confusing and most abstract of anyone’s. This is going to require of us as viewers a lot of patience and faith in the writers than they will do all the proper hand-holding with us to adequately explain the questions we have, as make sure things don’t get TOO wavy to the point where they lose us. But if they’re going to use Bran to deliver heavyweight episodes likes they did last night, I think we owe them that as an audience.
And there’s your Game of Thrones recap for the week. Follow me on Twitter and send me a video or picture of you #PouringOneOutForHodor @CharlieWisco . Also buy this shirt because it’s awesome and wearing a Game of Thrones shirt is a great way to let people know you’re in tune with pop culture and aren’t self-conscious.
And listen to my podcast I host weekly with my buddy Clem (@TheClemReport), Postgame of Thrones. We have Barstool legend Numero Two (@Numero_Two) on this one who has read the books like 7 times through so is capable of clearing up a lot of questions you may have about what the hell you just witnessed.