First of all, apologies for the delay in getting this piece out. Let’s just say that life’s circumstances have gotten in the way in a very burn-y, molting way. Add all the rush to get things done before the Independence Day holiday and, well, something was bound to suffer. All the same, what an episode and it helped to have more time to digest it all down. With all that said,
“He won’t be a boy forever….and winter is coming.”
The Stark words have always appeared as both a mantra and a warning. “Winter is coming.” It’s their clarion call that, no matter how good a time is being had, they should always be getting prepared for the inevitable return of dark days. Summer is pleasant but winter is coming. The harvests are plentiful…but winter is coming. There is peace in the Realm. Winter is coming. This is why it behooves whoever hears those words to be ready for whenever winter eventually arrives. Though it may not be soon – it may even be years down the line – the smart person works towards being ready. They plant the seeds that will be the harvest to see them when winter eventually comes. For many of the characters embroiled either directly or indirectly in the game of thrones, the time finally came to harvest; to see their seeds bear fruit. Unfortunately for them, that fruit was quite bitter.
For Margaery Tyrell and the High Sparrow, they had each made the climb to power through the means they knew best. For her, it was the scheming and conniving ways her grandmother had taught her. She had wed three kings in the span of two years and had fought against Cersei Lannister to reach her position of power. For him, it was the wave of religious fervor pushed by the War of the Five Kings which had allowed the Sparrows movement to take over the Faith of the Seven. He had used his piety and the need for a power greater than the petty kings to seize King’s Landing and he too had fought against Cersei Lannister to reach his position of power. And for both the Queen seeking to supplant her as well as the Leader of the Faith seeking to judge her, the trial of Cersei Lannister was set to be their moment when they would each triumph.
Only that their schemes and plans came undone by the willingness of Cersei to go where they didn’t know she could go. Cersei has shown herself capable of doing anything in order to claw back the power she feels its hers. She oversaw the destruction of House Stark and the end of its head – literally. Having been humiliated and brought low by Margaery and by the High Sparrow, there was nothing she wasn’t willing to do to stave off his judgment. And with Qyburn telling her of the vast caches of wildfire left behind by the Mad King Aerys, Cersei used them to plant a bomb underneath the Great Sept of Baelor. In one epic explosion, Cersei destroyed the High Sparrow and the leadership of the Faith of the Seven as well as the core of House Tyrell – Margaery, her father, Lord Mace, and her brother Loras, moments after he had forsworn his land and titles. Along with them go her uncle Kevan, the current Hand of the King, her cousin and former lover Lancel and many of the court’s highborns. In one move, Cersei removes all those standing in her way to power. And she couldn’t help but revel in it by unleashing her undead Ser Gregor on Septa Unella, her onetime tormentor, to repay her in kind.
“You’re boys, still- and come the winter, you’ll die… like flies”
But in her moment of greatest joy, Cersei forgot how her plan would impact the one person she loves above all: her son, Tommen, the king. A child who was rushed to the Iron Throne after his brother’s murder, Tommen was sweet and pliable and easy putty in the hands of schemers like Cersei, Margaery and the High Sparrow. He has tried to navigate these turbulent waters – how to feel about his mother’s walk of atonement, his wife’s imprisonment, the High Sparrow’s maneuvers to spin himself as an ally – and he got to watch in horror how it all ended in a blast of green fire. Unable to deal with this latest fresh nightmare, poor, sweet Tommen opted to exit all the burdens and responsibilities that came with sitting the Iron Throne and threw himself from his high window in the Red Keep. Cersei, in an ironic twist, had achieved both her greatest triumph and her greatest tragedy. In the moment she removed her enemies, she lost her last son.
At the same time, let’s not discount the hand of the Tyrells in this tragedy. For it was Ser Loras, who convinced his lover, Renly Baratheon, to take up his claim for the Iron Throne instead of working to ally him with Stannis, his brother. Nor that it was Lady Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, who worked with Littlefinger to poison and murder Tommen’s older brother, King Joffrey. Without Joffrey’s death, sweet, innocent Tommen would not have ended up on the Iron Throne and a plaything tossed between his mother, his wife and the High Sparrow. In that regard, they bear as much responsibility for what happens to Tommen and what happens to them in the Great Sept. Their schemes brings to an end both House Baratheon and House Tyrell.
“Half this city will starve when winter comes, the other half will plot to overthrow you.”
The result of it all is that, as Ser Jaime returns from his victory in the Riverlands – bringing House Tully to bear under the odious Walder Frey – he finds Cersei being crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. This is a result of the lack of viable alternatives. Robert Baratheon and all three of his recognized children with Cersei are dead. The Hand of the King – her uncle Kevan – is dead. Robert’s brothers are both dead as is the only recognized heir Stannis had. Even the long-time Lannister lackey, Grand Maester Pycelle, is taken out by Qyburn and his child spies. Cersei has achieved all she has coveted and the only person who is left of House Lannister to share it with is the brother who stares at her uncomfortably as she gains her crown and sits the Iron Throne. Jaime gained his moniker of “Kingslayer” for cutting down a mad ruler who wanted to blow up the city with wildfire. What will he do when he finds his sister did something similar?
Far to the South, however, those whom Cersei has hurt are uniting against her rule. Lady Olenna, the last remaining force for her house, travels to meet the new rulers of Dorne, Lady Ellaria Sand and her daughters. They both seek to destroy what remains of House Lannister and, in order to do so, will ally themselves with the power that is rising to the East – Daenerys Targaryen. Lord Varys arrives to treat with both ladies in order to bring them into the growing fold that is Dany’s kingdom. Their navies will help ferry what the Iron Islanders and the former slavers cannot and their armies will join the Dothraki and the Unsullied that already follow her. And in the new world they make, Queen Cersei will not live long.
But those who will follow Dany into Westeros will not include Daario Naharis and the Second Sons. By Dany’s command, they will remain behind to help ensure Meereen has a chance to build a new way for itself. For the sellsword captain and lover, this is ill news. He’s not a politician nor is he a statesman. He’s a warrior who takes what he wants. He recognizes the hand of Tyrion Lannister in Dany’s reasons for leaving him – after all, an unmarried Dany offers the possibility of a marriage pact with a potential ally. Daario is forced to accept the fact their time is over and Dany uses this latest proof of Tyrion’s skills and service to declare him her Hand. In his short time of service, Tyrion has proven he can maneuver to bring peace, to create allies and to counsel wisely. Daenerys inspires people and Tyrion’s service is but the latest proof of Dany’s growing power. The young girl who was sold to a Dothraki khal by her brother now sails to reclaim her family’s kingdom with an army of her own, allies of her own and three massive dragons of her own. Her long journey is finally bringing her towards her ultimate goal.
“The Starks understand winter better than we ever will- the cold won’t beat them.”
She’s not the only one who is bringing retribution with her, however. For after the feast to toast the Lannisters ended, Walder Frey came face to face with the Faceless Men-trained Arya Stark. After years of fleeing for her life – of hiding behind aliases and false faces – Arya uses all she has learned and her own name before slitting the throat of the man who butchered her mother and brother. However, she doesn’t just kill him. First, she feeds him pie made out of the two sons directly in line to inherit all he has gained from him, Lothar and Black Walder. Unlike most other houses in Westeros, the loss of Walder and his two immediate heirs won’t end House Frey. Instead, they have the opposite problem – too many heirs. Too many sons and daughters borne from the lust of the lecherous old man. Too many Freys coveting the old lecher’s seat. But none of them have the wit or the talent for planning that Walder Frey had. With a slice of her knife, Arya Stark may have doomed the house of the man who took her own family away as well as the Riverlands. And with years of bloodshed and chaos behind her, what does this act indicate for the young daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark?
As for her siblings, Sansa comes to terms with her decision to not reveal the offer from Petyr Baelish to Jon. She admits she should have stated the Knights of the Vale were willing to join their cause. However, she also admits that only a fool would trust Littlefinger. In that moment, Sansa reveals the lessons that her years of torment and misery have given her – a lesson her father never could learn. She is the daughter of the honorable Eddard Stark and the noble Catelyn Tully, but her tutors have been Joffrey Baratheon, Petyr Baelish and Ramsay Bolton. From them she has learned the depths of depravity, scheming and manipulation that men can sink into. While she’s aware of them, she does her best to reject them from her relationship with Jon. She will be a true Stark with him.
Littlefinger tries to play her once again but, this time, she proves ready for him. After six seasons and countless scheming, we find what Petyr is truly after from his own mouth: the Iron Throne. He seeks to rule all of Westeros. And he wants Sansa to be his queen and bride. But Sansa rejects his advances and his promises. She rejects his entreaties and his warnings to worry about her half-brother. As the power of so many noble houses has waned, Littlefinger has risen in both position and authority. But he wants more. And Sansa knows the truth of him. So though at long last his schemes are bearing fruit, he finds they’re not enough to convince the young daughter of his beloved Cat to throw in with him. Does that mean Sansa has made an enemy? Or will Baelish continue to linger in the background, waiting for a weakness to appear to claim what he covets?
“Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.”
For his part, Jon was slowly coming to terms with the fallout from his triumph against the Boltons. His position of leadership was solidifying around him and he was taking the chance to ensure that things would be ready for the council of Northern lords that would follow. First, however, he had to pass judgment on the person who brought him back from the dead. Having found the burnt stag he had carved for Princess Shireen amidst the remains of her pyre, Lord Davos confronted Jon and Melisandre with the truth of her actions. Melisandre, desperate to have the Lord of Light’s help in the moments after Ramsay had ravaged their camp, had burnt the young, innocent princess to harness the king’s blood running through her veins.
Melisandre had, since she convinced Stannis and his wife, been adamant that the former Lord of Dragonstone was Azor Ahai reborn; the hero that would lead the forces of light against the Other’s forces of darkness in the great war that was coming. To that end she had helped in murdering Stannis’ brother, Renly. She had used his bastard nephew as a source of king’s blood to curse the other kings. And when things proved most dire, she had sacrificed the last trueborn Baratheon left in the Seven Kingdoms to her god. In the end, Stannis was dead and she had switched her allegiances to Jon Snow. But Davos, who had never trusted the Red Woman or her magic, refused to allow her to escape by placing the blame on the princess’ dead parents.
This proved a moment for Jon to assert what kind of leader he would be. He owed Melisandre his new lease on life. But she had admitted to killing an innocent girl. Jon chose to be wise and banished the Red Priestess out of the North. It was that kind of leadership that had led the Old Bear, Jeor Mormont, to consider him for future command in the Night’s Watch. It was that kind of leadership that led to him being chosen as Lord Commander when the Old Bear was killed. And it was that kind of thinking that led to some of his men to strike him dead when he chose to make peace with the wildlings.
“Winter has come. If the Maesters are right, it’ll be the coldest one in a thousand years.”
It is these qualities – his ability to command, to see the bigger picture, to bridge divides amongst enemies – that eventually lead to him being selected by the lords of the North as the new King in the North. Not that it comes easy. It takes the smallest, but most honest of the nobles, Lady Lyanna Mormont to speak the truth to the other lords. She speaks of his bravery, of his capacity and of his ability to be the king they lost when Robb Stark fell. The other lords, cowed by her words, agree with this truth and elevate the former Bastard of Winterfell into the position of King in the North. Just as Robb Stark was the Young Wolf, so will Jon Snow now be the White Wolf. For the child who grew up knowing he’d inherit nothing and had opted to seek out the Night’s Watch as a way to make something of himself, this has to be the most amazing of turnarounds. It now falls to him to unite the North against the coming threat of the White Walkers.
Or might he be uniting more than just the North? For beyond the Wall, his half-brother Bran makes a startling discovery: Jon is not his half-brother. He’s not a son of Eddard Stark, least of all a bastard as he has been described all his life. He’s the son of his sister, Lyanna Stark, who had been kidnapped – according to Robert – by Dany’s older brother, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. While we don’t yet know who Jon’s father truly is, what happened at the Tower of Joy is the start of much of what has happened in Westeros both before and after Robert’s Rebellion. Everything from lines of succession to the life of the new King in the North would be significantly different had Lyanna not forced a deathbed promise from Ned to keep Jon’s true nature a secret. And the former Lord of Winterfell, for the love he bore his sister, took the stain on his honor and raised the child as his own.
How will that revelation help or hurt Jon in the wars to come? How will knowing he is a true Stark and not a Snow change his view of himself? How will his newly-crowned position be affected by the actions of Queen Cersei to the South and by those of Arya in the Riverlands and by the coming of Daenerys from Essos? His longtime friend, Sam Tarly, finally arrived at the Citadel of the Maesters in Oldtown just as the white ravens were flying to declare to all great and small houses that winter was indeed at hand. “The Starks are always right,” said Maester Aemon a long time ago. “Winter is coming.” And Jon understands more than most that it will take an united effort to face off the demons of ice coming to end them all.
But as we leave the Seven Kingdoms, it’s important to remember that things are most dire. Winter has arrived after years of warfare. The people are scattered and whatever crops have not been burnt or harvested will die on the fields. The noble houses that have led the Seven Kingdoms are leaderless or involved in their petty games. And as armies march from both the North and East, the person who now leads the Seven Kingdoms may be the most dangerous person of them all. The bitterest of fruit may be all that is left on the field for any who manage to win the game of thrones.