People have all sorts of ways of defining themselves. For some, that definition comes through their jobs or careers; doctors and priests for example. For some, their definition is borne out of their roles within their families or their communities. We still have some of those remnants in the last names many people bear today: Smith, Carpenter, Gardener, Miller and so forth. All of these are shortcuts towards an identity; towards defining one’s self. Eventually, however, people are forced to choose who their true self really is.
For Samwell of House Tarly of Horn Hill, his entire identity had been defined by the disappointment he had been to his father, Lord Randyll. Sam has been carrying all the disappointment for his entire life until it’s become how he sees himself. Even as Sam has become a Sworn Brother of the Night’s Watch, ranged north of The Wall, faced and killed White Walkers and fought in the Battle of Castle Black, Sam is quickly returned to the fat, weak disappointment before his father. His courage and voice are stolen and Gilly, in trying to defend him, exposes the truth that she’s a wildling. Randyll, a man who hates wildlings, deigns this a great dishonor and demands his son leave. At first, it appears that it succeeds in achieving what Sam and Gilly want – she will be safe and her son will be raised as his own bastard. Only that the weak and afraid Sam is not really as weak or as afraid as he appears and he opts to take Gilly, Little Sam and his father’s ancient Valyrian sword, Heartsbane, with him. Samwell Tarly is apparently no longer allowing his father to define him.
A similar transition is occurring for Brandon Stark. The boy who climbed the walls of Winterfell and dreamt of being a knight has had his legs robbed from him and his home taken by enemies. Hunted by wights chasing him and Meera through the snows, Bran is exposed to all sorts of secrets and truths. He’s connected through the network of memories that the great weirdwood trees store. In them he sees his fall, he sees the Mad King Aerys II, he sees past and present both near and far. He’s becoming the Three-Eyed Raven. And as the wights close in, they’re rescued by a dark and hooded figure that turns out to be his uncle, Benjen Stark, resurrected by the Children of the Forest using the same magic they used to create the White Walkers. Bran is not yet capable of harnessing the powers the Three-Eyed Raven wielded, but he will have no choice. So the boy who thought he’d be a knight will end up at the front of the fight between darkness and light.
The man who threw Bran from that tower, Ser Jaime Lannister, has seen himself defined by his duties – scion of House Lannister, knight of the Kingsguard – and by his actions – the “Kingslayer.” Roles of a protector that he has not always been able to embody. His and Cersei’s plan to overthrow the High Sparrow appears to be ready to occur – the Tyrell armies arrive as Queen Margaery appears set to make her walk of atonement. Only it doesn’t happen. The walk was a ruse by the High Sparrow who appears to have somehow convinced both Margaery and King Tommen of his nobler goals. The Tyrells as well as Cersei and Jaime appear to have been defeated and Tommen orders his Lord Commander to travel to the Riverlands and put down the rebellion spearheaded by Brynden Tully. While angry at their loss and his demotion, Jaime is going through a re-discovery of who he is and what he wants. He wants Cersei. Nothing else matters to him. How will that clash with the greater need for vengeance they are both suffering from?
That need for vengeance is what’s driven Arya Stark towards Braavos and the House of Black & White. But as her training with the Faceless Men has proceeded, she’s found the willful nature of herself clashing with the “No One” they are demanding she be. This has led her to a crossroads of sorts. She’s tasked with poisoning the drink of Lady Crane – the actress playing Cersei in a theater play – at the request of the actress playing her sister, Sansa. The play is full of lies as to the characters it portrays – except for showing the love Cersei bore her monster of a son, Joffrey. In that moment, Arya appears to find some common ground with the woman who has been the cause for her house’s fall. Furthermore, she finds herself unable to kill Lady Crane – an innocent who’s done nothing wrong to her. She stops the plot to murder her and, in doing so, reasserts her true self as Arya Stark. The problem with this is that she was warned it would mean her death and the Waif seems desperate to bring the gift of the Many-Faced God to Arya. At least, she’ll have Needle with her.
Whereas Arya is reasserting the self that she was, Daenerys appears ready to embrace a different role than before. She leads the Dothraki back towards Meereen while Daario is asking her how she’s going to go about taking her khalasar across the Narrow Sea. Along the way, she finds the place where Drogon has been laying and growing and goes to claim him. Now, riding the back of her massive dragon, Daenerys Targaryen proclaims her intention to sail westward as no Khal has ever done and conquer the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. She demands her khalasar promise to fulfill Khal Drogo’s promise: to slay the men in the iron suits and tear down their stone houses. It is a moment that seems to shift Dany’s course from one of liberator to one of conqueror. How will this Daenerys respond to the threats from the other cities of Slaver’s Bay? What will she do when she reaches Westeros and finds the Army of the Dead marching?
As our story reaches its crescendo, it is asking its characters, both large and small, to choose which their true self really is from their various roles. Dutiful son or noble protector of those you love? Bound sword or vengeful aggressor? Breaker of Chains or Violent Oppressor? Assassin that cares for nothing or Noble hero? Each and every character will have to choose. And based on those choices lives and deaths will be juggled. For if some are heroes, others will be villains. Conflict is the inevitable outcome when people start to select upon which banners they will march and upon what creeds they will die.