Tradition speaks that, after any major battle, animals of all sorts will come to pick clean the flesh of the defeated and dead. Vultures, wolves, coyotes and crows are the most common, but they’re not the only ones. Carrion-eaters, they are called. Animals who take advantage of an opportunity. Chaos provides for those who cannot hunt, but must feast with the chance which to do just that very thing. Obviously, this is a literal interpretation, but it can also apply to the people who battle and campaign across Westeros and Essos for power, wealth, love and even survival. Just as the crow and the wolf will seize on an opportunity, so will men and women seize it to feast.
Arya’s training with the Faceless Men has shifted and brought her face to face with one such opportunist. Jaqen H’gar calls him a gambler, but what he is is an insurance agent — a man who hedges the chances of a ship making it to its destination and back versus the chances that it is sunk by a storm or taken by pirates. As Lhara the oyster seller, Arya gets to see the man in action and later learns that he is not known for paying on the claims of families if the ships don’t make it safe. So Jaqen gives Arya the opportunity to bring the gift of the Many-Faced God to this gambler. But is he setting her further on her path as a Faceless Man or setting her to die at the hands of a cruel man who makes his fortune on the lives and deaths of others?
Similar opportunitists walk inside the walls of Winterfell; none bigger than Roose Bolton and his son, Ramsay. They see the approach of Stannis Baratheon as somoene coming to take their ill-gotten gains and know they must deal with him. In this they are similar, but in action, they’re quite different. Roose wants to consolidate his position while Ramsay sees a chance for earning greater power. So he proposes a daring attack with a small band against Stannis’ superior force. He hopes to leave a feast for the crows. Will Roose allow it?
Meanwhile, another opportunist is having to come to face with his crimes before his former foster sibling. Theon Greyjoy once saw Winterfell as his right to earn power and, while the Northern armies were south with Robb, he marched his ironborn on a defenseless Winterfell and captured it. Then, to prove his mettle, killed and torched two children. But as he finally reveals to the irate Sansa, those were not Rickon and Bran, as he’d let the world to believe. This gives Sansa hope, but it further leads the creature now dubbed Reek into further despair. He sought to build himself mighty atop the bones of dead children and has been brought low, beyond the point of breaking.
One person who may soon join him in such a broken state is Cersei. The former Queen is not having a good time as a prisoner of the High Sparrow and the Faith. All she gets is visits from a septa telling her to confess her sins — which she angrily rejects to her detriment. When Qyburn arrives, it is with equally hard words. Pycelle has summoned her uncle Kevan back to King’s Landing and he serves as the new Hand of the King. Given how he left angry with her, it’s unlikely he will give her any aid. Likewise, her sweet Tommen has taken to a sullen, angry and fruitless hunger strike of sorts. Just as she had deftly moved to seize the opportunity to rule when Robert died and when Tywin died, so now others have taken the chance to take over while she languishes in her prison cell. And perhaps this is what will break her more than her thirst or the smacks of the septa’s spoon.
Meanwhile, a world away from Cersei, her brother Tyrion finally stands before the much-coveted Danaerys Stormborn. And few people can read a situation as well as The Imp. He acknowledges the natural mistrust and enmity that stems from their last names, but he also quickly shifts it to be able to stand in judgement of poor Ser Jorah Mormont. He sees that Dany’s anger is not against the man she’s never known, but the one she trusted, befriended and loved in a way. He manages to strike at the heart of their issue — his betrayal and unwillingness to trust Dany with the truth. But he also turns it so that he can show his abilities and finds a way for the lovestruck Ser Jorah to leave Meereen with his life. Unable to leave Daenerys behind, however, Jorah runs back to the slave fighter and allows himself to be taken — just so he can fight for Dany in the Great Pits of Meereen.
As for Tyrion and Dany, they come to an understanding of sorts. Tyrion reveals much to Dany about Varys’ machinations and presents her with the difficult comparison of her conquest of Slaver’s Bay against the future conquest of Westeros. He isn’t wrong to say that she could stay in Meereen and be queen and do good there. But Dany is set on returning to her ancestral home and breaking all the old power structures and mechanisms there as well. Just as she has on Essos, she would undo the old ways of doing things in the Seven Kingdoms and create a better world; where the common folk are not the chattel for highborn to use at their whims.
If she’s thinking that, she better hope that there is a Westeros to return to. For as she is worried about the lives in Slaver’s Bay, Jon Snow reaches the far flung wildling refuge of Hardhome. He’s come to try and make a peace of sorts with the Night’s Watch long-standing enemy, the wildlings. It goes about as well as could be expected: some recognize the need to unite against the White Walkers while others are unable to set aside thousands of years of shared enmity and hatred. Just as he had a hard time convincing his brothers — and by Olly’s questions with Sam show, they’re not all convinced — Jon has a hard time convincing the free folk.
That is until the White Walkers and their army of dead men descend upon them with the cold winds. At that point, the promise of safety in the ships of the Night’s Watch becomes way more appetizing. But it is too late for many of them and the wights tear into them with fury and madness. Even as Jon and the new leader of the Thenns try to find the bag of dragonglass, they are no match for a white walker. Not until Jon recovers Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword gifted to him by Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. It blocks the walker’s weapons and shatters him on contact. Valuable information to have — if they all had Valyrian steel weapons.
Instead, Jon, Edd, Tormund and the rest get to watch as the Night’s King calmly walks to the edge of the pier and lifts his hands, unleashing his magic. With a calm breeze, the recently-dead arise to serve him as new members of his army. For there are none who are as opportunistic as the lord of the White Walkers. He can throw untold numbers at any foe and, thanks to his powers, replenish his forces from those who died trying to stop him. Jon may be a fine warrior and wield a blade capable of killing any White Walker, but he cannot take on an army alone. And, as he told the council of Elders, even the combined strength of the world may not be enough to stop the Long Night.
Without knowing it, the lords and ladies of Westeros have created a great opportunity for the White Walkers to conquer all. The War of the Five Kings has depleted or diminished just about everyone. The Seven Kingdoms are splintered. If anyone actually tried to unite them into a cohesive, fighting whole, who would that be? Too many opportunists — too many vultures and wolves and crows — have picked at the flesh of Westeros. Now here comes a power that can reanimate the dead and is coming for all that is left. And the few who can stop it are outnumbered, out-armed and scattered. Such is the fruit of chaos.