Since the ascension of Aegon the Conqueror to the Iron Throne, there have been periods of war and of peace; times of plenty and of famine. There have been invasions, attacks, pretenders to the throne and other conflicts both large and small. However, none were as dire or as profound as the time when Targaryen fought Targaryen for the right to rule the Seven Kingdoms. 170 years before the death of Lord Eddard Stark and the start of the War of the Five Kings, Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen fought her half-brother, Prince Aegon Targaryen, for the right to sit the Iron Throne in a war that would be called “The Dance of the Dragons.”
Their civil war lasted two years and resulted in both their deaths along with the deaths of countless others, highborn and low. Most crucially, the chaos of the Dance resulted in the death of the Targaryens’ fabled war mounts, the dragons which they were used to conquer and were identified with. After the war was over, only sickly and stillborn dragons would be born until even those stopped appearing. The desperation over bringing dragons back to life would consume many a Targaryen heir until their line was cast down by Robert Baratheon in his rebellion. That’s one example of precious things that can be lost in the chaos of war. Chaos fills even kings with desperation.
Ramsay Bolton and his 20 infiltrators knew the North better than the foreign army of King Stannis Baratheon. They managed to slip in, set fire to the food stores and horse pens and leave before anyone knew what was happening. Creating discord in the ranks of the Baratheon army, the Northerners do more damage than a large army could. By morning, Stannis’ army was in effect stranded in the North – incapable of moving forward towards Winterfell due to the winter, unwilling to move back to Castle Black due to its king and guaranteed certain death if it stayed where it was. The rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms commanded his Hand, Lord Davos Seaworth, to return to the Night’s Watch and demand food stores, fresh mounts and more from the Lord Commander.
Even if Jon Snow is willing to aid the king, it may not be enough. They are facing desertions, hunger, cold and treachery. In all of this chaos, Stannis has always turned to the one certain thing he has: Melisandre, the Red Priestess of R’hllor. It was her magic that took out his brother Renly and gave him an army. It was her magic that led to the murders of Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon. It was her magic that let him see in the fires and perceive the coming of the threats on the North and bade him march on The Wall. So he turns to her power once more to see him through a desperate moment and sacrifices something even more valuable that his seed, his honor or his brother. He has his own young daughter, his heir, burnt alive at the stake. There’s power in king’s blood Melisandre says. And Stannis cannot turn back from that power in his hour of greatest need. It’s the only thing that can make sense of the madness and chaos that surrounds him.
Is Jon Snow willing to break another of his vows to assist the King though? The Night’s Watch is supposed to take no part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms. But the chaos caused over the coming of the White Walkers has driven Lord Snow to take the help of Stannis in sailing to Hardhome to save as many wildlings as he could. He sees the 5000 or so he saved as not enough, but the Sworn Brothers who had defended The Wall from these very same men and women see them as too many. Dissention fills the air and the rancor over Jon’s decisions sits uneasily in the yard of Castle Black. Jon is desperate for the men under his charge to see the bigger picture, but for many of them, it’s impossible to move beyond their petty hatred. Ser Alliser Thorne recognizes this far better than his Lord Commander can.
In that they’re not alone. All season long, Arya Stark has tried to convince the Faceless Men that she is ready to become “No One.” That she is ready to cast aside it all – her self, her identity, her past – in order to learn their secrets. Her next task was placed before her: poison the insurance agent in the docks of Braavos. And he had given her the opening to do so as he called for more of her oysters. But at that moment, she saw the arrival of Lord Mace Tyrell and his bodyguard, Ser Meryn Trant, as they came to speak to the Iron Bank about the Iron Throne’s debts. The mission is set aside by the assassin in training as she desperately tries to find the right chance to take out one of the names on her list. Meryn Trant, after all, killed her dancing master, Syrio Forel. Using her training, she finds a possible opening: Ser Meryn Trant is a man who lusts after young girls What will she do with this information? And what will happen if she is found out by the servants of the Many-Faced God for a liar?
With his own secret mission blown open, Ser Jaime Lannister is expecting any number of punishments from Prince Doran Martell of Dorne. What he isn’t expecting is that Prince Doran would be open and accommodating. Doran’s willing to let Princess Myrcella return to King’s Landing, as he was hoping. He’s also willing to let his heir, Prince Trystane, go with Myrcella to smooth the passing and to take the seat at the small council which had been promised to Dorne. Even the acidic Ellaria Sand, who makes her disgust at Jaime’s presence known, later speaks to the Kingslayer and tries to make amends by finding common ground in the taboo nature of their true loves. But is this an honest attempt at peace from the woman who wanted Myrcella carved into pieces? We see that Doran demands Ellaria submit to his will or be executed and the Red Viper’s paramour has no choice in the matter. Why is Doran so willing to make peace with the Iron Throne? He tells Jaime this is to spare Dorne the madness and chaos of war, which the Dornish have – save for his brother Oberyn.
This has been Daenerys’ mission as well for all this season: to spare Meereen further bloodshed after her conquest. In order to do this, she willingly allowed the Great Fighting Pits to be reopened and she took on Hizdahr zo Loraq as her future king. She even wills herself to sit there and watch, clapping to order men to fight for the entertainment of the crowd. She’s finding herself in more and more desperation over how to pacify her city. But if she thought that bringing games back would bring order to Meereen, she was sadly wrong. The Sons of the Harpy take the chance to attack Dany and her retinue. In that instance, it’s the return of two former friends – Ser Jorah Mormont and Drogon – that turns the tide for her. Jorah saves her from the first assassin and Drogon manages to spirit her safely out. She leaves a city tearing itself apart though. A city where the power that held it together – her – is gone away. Tyrion, Jorah, Daario and Missandei can only watch as their Queen flies off: the first dragon rider in close to two centuries.
The Targaryens of old fought and feuded for the right to sit the Iron Throne and it cost them dearly. One thought drinking wildfire would turn him into a dragon. Another thought he could use magic to bring them back. Both ended in death and tragedy. For their one remaining heir and the others who fight for their old throne, it’s no different. War is a time of chaos, a time of desperate men and women. All of whom are vying for the same goals: power, wealth, peace. Each one of them driven by desperate need to acts of valor or acts of cruelty. Each one of them knowing that the price of their desperation may be a sacrifice greater than their own lives.