Sorry for the delay, but I wanted to let this last episode before 2019 marinate in the head. In any case, here we go:
Ever since the first moments in Game of Thrones, we have known who the greatest threat to the Seven Kingdoms were. Three brothers of the Night’s Watch came upon them, killed two while and ran for his life. When captured, that man managed to tell the Warden of the North the truth of what was coming. For his troubles, he was beheaded as a deserter and dismissed as a madman. But he knew the truth that was coming.
In many ways, this episode brought home a lot of those truths to the various characters in the Seven Kingdoms. And some would not survive them.
For the Dragon Queen and the King in the North, their entire quest to bring back a wight to King’s Landing meant confronting the Queen in the Iron Throne. This also meant a confrontation between the various characters aligned with one or the other — Bronn met up with Tyrion and Podrick, Theon came face to face again with his uncle Euron, Sandor Clegane confronted his brother, Gregor. But they all paled in comparison to the meeting between Cersei and Daenerys, the rivals for the Seven Kingdoms. The older queen and the younger queen sized each other up at long last before Sandor Clegane dropped a ton of truth on the Lannisters in the force of the wight.
The shrieking spirit took its newfound freedom to try and attack Cersei and, in that moment, the pretense of many appeared to fall away. Euron Greyjoy appeared to turn and run — abandoning Cersei’s cause. Qyburn — a man devoted to bringing things back from the dead — was mesmerized. Jaime Lannister stared in horror at the truth that his brother and his allies had been talking about. But Cersei, despite her shock, never stopped calculating. She used the chance for a truce with Daenerys to demand that Jon Snow keep his troops in the North and never take arms against the Lannisters. Here the vow Jon made to Dany’s cause came back to bite them as he could not make such a promise to Cersei.
Though at first, it looked like a crazy demand from someone who manipulates people, it was but one in a series of moves by Cersei to try and position her claim and status ahead of her rivals should the war against the White Walkers be won. Forced to confront both of her brothers, Cersei appeared to give not just her agreement to a truce, but to uniting her forces with those of Dany and Jon in a front that would face the Army of the Dead. But it was all a lie. While Jon, Dany, Tyrion and their forces were making plans on moving towards Winterfell, Jaime was forced to come to terms with Cersei’s lies. Euron had not abandoned their cause. He had gone to fetch the Golden Company to assist in their cause. And she would not send the Lannister forces north despite having promised so.
This latest set of lies brings Jaime Lannister face to face with the monster that his sister has become. It’s not just that she’s betraying the cause she swore to uphold. It’s not just that she’s attempting to keep her hold on the Iron Throne. It’s that, despite the horror she just got a glimpse of, Cersei is willing to play the old game of thrones against the fate of humanity — including their unborn child. Jaime, at long last, realizes that there is no depth, no horror, nothing more sacred to his sister than her quest for power. Just as the Mad King would have burned King’s Landing to deny his foes victory, so would his lover betray all those fighting against a horde of death if she could be the last ruler in the Seven Kingdoms. Feeling betrayed, Jaime abandons Cersei and heads off by himself northwards — the flakes of snow falling over him a cold warning of the incoming winter and its doom.
Someone who feels as if he’s betrayed all he stood for is Theon Greyjoy. He betrayed the Starks when he returned to take over Winterfell under his father’s banner. He betrayed his Greyjoy nature by being with the Starks. He then betrayed Yara by abandoning her to their mad uncle — a monster in his own right. But with the end of the world possibly coming, Theon decides to confront his monsters head on. First, he asks for forgiveness from Jon Snow, the man who leads House Stark now. Then he heads to the shore to rally Yara’s sailors to follow him in a rescue mission. They’re not as enthused and it takes a tough fight for Theon to win their respect enough that they will follow him. This will bring him face to face with the monster that is his uncle but also the monster that he’s still dealing with — the abuse he faced at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.
Further northward, the Stark sisters appeared set for a showdown — one helped along its way by Littlefinger. He appears to be helping Sansa reach the conclusion that Arya is after her title as Lady of Winterfell because she does not trust her to try and maneuver herself into power above Jon. It seems as if Sansa is set to confront Arya in the Great Hall of Winterfell, surrounded by soldiers and lords, when the rug is pulled from underneath Petyr Baelish and he’s the one charged with treason and murder by Sansa. In that moment, the scheming, backstabbing and treason of Littlefinger came to the light. One of the biggest monsters in the story was confronted by the people he had victimized for so long.
It was Littlefinger who had set the Starks and the Lannisters against one another. It was Littlefinger who had made Lysa Arryn poison her husband, Lord Jon Arryn, and then later murdered her to take power in the Vale. It was Littlefinger who told Ned and Catelyn that the knife used to attempt to take Bran’s life was Tyrion’s — sparking Catelyn’s arrest of the Imp and beginning the war. It was Littlefinger who betrayed Ned Stark to the Lannisters, turned Sansa over to the Boltons, worked with the Tyrells to murder Joffrey and so many more moves big and small. In many ways, the War of the Five Kings was all his doing — he set the pieces in motion and ensured that Westeros fell into carnage and chaos. And it was all done to grow his own power. Petyr Baelish has been one of the biggest monsters in this story since its start.
So it was no small amount of pleasure to see him brought to his knees, begging and pleading for his life, before the children of those he betrayed. His scheming and maneuvering smoked out by the one he claimed to love. Sansa had played the player; outschemed the schemer. When he said to turn to Brienne of Tarth, she sent him away. When he told her to think of what Arya would do, she instead thought of what Baelish would think Arya would do. Sansa knows her sister. Rough, wild, dangerous though she may be, she’s been adamant since her childhood days that she did not want to be a lady, least of all Lady of Winterfell.
So at long last, Petyr Baelish was made to pay for his crimes. Lord Royce of the Vale refused to aid him and, found guilty by the girl he trained, he lost his life via the dagger he used to start the War of the Five Kings. The dagger wielded by the daughter of the man he betrayed and turned over by the boy it had been sent to kill. In a story of big monsters, he fell on the cold floor of the Great Hall and no one shed a tear for him. Not the knights of the Vale. Not the bannermen of the wolves. And certainly not the children of Eddard and Catelyn Stark.
But the biggest revelation was the one that came from Bran and Sam Tarly. That the bastard son of Eddard Stark is neither a bastard nor his son. Thanks to Bran’s visions, we know that Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark, Ned’s sister, and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. Thanks to the private diaries of a High Septon which Gilly uncovered as Sam transcribed for the Maesters, we come to know that Lyanna and Rhaegar were wed in a secret ceremony — making Jon the trueborn son of the Crown Prince and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. (His claim superseding that of his aunt, Daenerys Targaryen). And that his real name was never Jon Snow. He’s Aegon Targaryen.
If only Jon and Dany knew of that prior to finally succumbing to their growing feelings for one another, it might have prevented greater possible dangers down the road. For as Bran was uncovering the full truth of the secret that led to Robert’s Rebellion, the fall of the Targaryens, the Sack of King’s Landing and everything else that has happened since, Jon and Dany were falling into bed with one another. It makes sense: they’re singular figures, alone with the weight of the world on their shoulders and finding in each other a kindred spirit. But how will the truth of Jon’s, excuse me, Aegon’s parentage impact that? How will it impact the tenuous alliance they’ve built and the people around who depend on them to lead?
Or will they even have a chance? For as they were heading northwards, the Army of the Dead finally reached The Wall — that ancient work designed to keep them out of the Seven Kingdoms. And here’s where the folly of Jon’s mission to bring a wight to King’s Landing is fully revealed. For as Tormund and Ser Beric Dondarrion stare in horror, the Night King swoops from on high on the back of the resurrected Viserion. The undead dragon, breathing blue flame, brings down The Wall around Eastwatch by the Sea and creates the opening for the undead horde to march into the Seven Kingdoms.
And this is where the story leaves us: with only the certainty of a final showdown between the Army of the Dead and the armies of the living in Westeros. One monster is dead, one remains in power but growing isolated from anyone who cares for her and one leads its army into battle. The story of Game of Thrones has always revolved around how people respond to great crises and threats both big and small. But it was always leading to these clashes. In classic fantasy, the hero rises triumphantly, slays the final monster at the end and rules happily and in peace. The world of Ice and Fire is not like that though. Heroes may rise and they may slay the monster — but the price to do so will be terrible. And there is no guarantee that whoever does it will live happily or in peace.
If you think this story has a happy ending….