I wanted to change the format of this type of review a little. Typically, in the past I would just write up a summary rather than a truly thought provoking process. I felt that while it would help people wanting to catch up with what’s going on, that format wasn’t conducive for a more fluid writing style for myself. In turn, that would take a long time as I would try to capture every little detail rather than attempt to disseminate what was going on in a more meaningful manner. So I’m going to try a new format out that breaks out the things I felt were important to allow me to better focus.
The first thing of note in Season 6 Episode 6 is that Benjen Stark is back. He saves Meera and Bran from the White Walkers and reveals himself to them. We see that he has changed in terms of appearance and he talks about how the White Walkers found his ranging party, explaining his long disappearance from the Night’s Watch. Obviously, this scene is a huge payback in terms of bringing a huge story arc to a close. It also differs from the books as the person who rescues Bran and company is called Coldhands. In one of the drafts from Winds of Winter, George RR Martin denied the connection between Benjen and Coldhands, which has made this scene controversial to people who follow every single word, especially the source material as absolute canon.
Now, originally I believe I wrote up a blog talking about the likelihood of Coldhands being Benjen Stark and after seeing this scene I feel justified. Because the books have yet to come out affirming or denying Coldhands’ identity, I want to just say that the show’s revelation makes the most sense in this scenario. From a story point of view, I see no reason why Benjen Stark could not be Coldhands. The explanation in this episode connects things together in an elegant manner where Benjen is brought back with the aid fo the Children of the Forest and the Three Eyed Raven to aid Bran Stark.
In the books, the encounter with Coldhands occurs prior to Bran discovering the location of the Three Eyed Raven, which probably threw a lot of book readers off. But the manner in which the show re-introduces him still plays out in a logical manner. I suspect that in both cases the Three Eyed Raven simply wanted to provide an insurance for Bran to locate his cave and that eventually Coldhands would reveal his true identity.
Of course, the show is also known for merging characters/storylines together. It’s entirely possible in the books that Coldhands is a random ranger from the Night’s Watch who the Three Eyed Raven rescued to aid Bran and his friends. But it makes less sense from a closure point of view as leaving such major characters off in such an obscure fate is wasteful.
Yet the more important thing isn’t whether or not Coldhands === Benjen Stark but that the Three Eyed Raven had him rescued for the purpose of saving Bran. On top of that, Benjen reveals to Bran that Bran IS the Three Eyed Raven, which has some huge implications. Obviously, the scene where Bran is receiving all of the Three Eyed Raven’s information is important because it demonstrates how the Three Eyed Raven mentally merges with Bran. Yet because of the time loop concept introduced in episode 5, I’m beginning to question whether or not the Three Eyed Raven is truly Bran manifested as an older version of himself.
My theory at the moment is that a huge theme of the story involves history repeating itself. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that George RR Martin borrows from our own history of wars to bring to life this world. When you look at many of the children from the prominent families, you see most of their values instilled into them from their parents. The books essentially show the passing of one generation to another whether it’s Tywin to Tyrion, Ned to Robb, Catelyn to Sansa, or the Mad King to Daenerys. Do not forget Daenerys’ speech about the great wheel of families and how on and on it goes. Also, look towards the introduction where we see the symbols of the four main houses on a wheel at the beginning of the show. Again, these are not coincidences.
So with Bran having this ability for time travel and this idea of history repeating itself, I hypothesize that the Three Eyed Raven was actually Bran. There are a large number of Brans in the story’s history. Are all of these characters the same where it’s one set of consciousness passed to another in attempt to halt the tragedy of history? Why does the Three Eyed Raven impose such a daunting task onto Bran of attempting to learn “everything?” Does knowing “everything” allow one to make better choices? Or is the ink truly dry once it’s written?
The next major reveal in that scene with Benjen is how the Children of the Forest are able to somewhat reverse the process of one’s fate at the hands of the White Walkers. Benjen tells Bran that showing another piece of Dragonglass through his heart he was brought back to a degree. Obviously, he has been changed as we can see his physical appearance being altered. But what else does this mean for him? Is he in a state of undeath? Does he have other supernatural powers? Also, in being slain by the White Walkers, does that imply he has become privy to knowledge of their purpose?
As with any rebirth scene in the show, we have come to expect some form of alteration not just physical but perhaps mental as well. We have witnessed two major resurrections but both happened as a result of supposed divine intervention through the Lord of Light. In this case, it was more akin to Terminator Salvation where Christian Bale’s character receives an artificial heart transplant from a half robot. It’s almost as if the Children of the Forest have tampered further with nature, despite seemingly being proponents of it. In short, it doesn’t feel right.
Next, I want to discuss the Samwell/Gilly/Tarly family reunion. As much as I like Sam, without Jon or being North with the Nights Watch he’s a pretty boring character. At any rate, this is your typical stringent, high expectations father/lenient mother setting and we get to see the disapproving disposition of Randall Tarly that has caused Sam so much emotional grief. The main plot point here was for Sam to retrieve the family Valyrian sword as Sam understands its efficacy against the White Walkers. However, Gilly hints that their family will probably go after him as a result of this theft. Unfortunately, Sam already made his purpose known to his father and his destination so he’ll have to figure out a way to protect Gilly and himself if his father and brother decide to hunt him down.
Arya’s scene in Braavos was a great one in terms of character development. Up until now, she has held a list of people she wants dead out of blind vengeance for those who wronged her family. The expectation at this stage is that Arya merely is training to become a badass assassin so that she can kill Cersei. However, the scene with Arya meeting the actress playing Cersei makes Arya openly admit how Cersei probably feels. It’s a huge moment of self-reflection and an important one because Arya only wants people dead of spite. Older now and a little more mature, she can understand death a little better.
My idea is that Jaqen’s purpose to Arya isn’t just to turn her into a killer. His purpose is to make her understand what death really is about. Up until this point, Arya has been utterly desperate in learning how to kill that she has given up her soul. Hence becoming No One. A true servant of death has no prejudice in providing death to anyone. Arya still has a consciousness at this point but she lacks real self-awareness to control her feelings. She’s still impulsive but she has a good heart at the center and she is able to discern those with virtue versus those with cruel intents.
In addition, with the way she discusses how Lady Crane ought to portray Cersei, Arya may gradually cross Cersei’s name off her list, at least out of sheer hatred. Arya, at that moment, in effect became Cersei mentally and emotionally, a talent most people lack (empathy). We heard from Varys in a previous episode of how everything is about perspectives. That speech was meant as an overarching way to tell viewers that there truly isn’t good nor evil, just a manner of which side of the fence you’re on and how you end up reacting to events. With Arya assuming the name Mercy, does that mean she will eventually grant Cersei the benefit of a doubt if she ever meets her again?
I wrote a blog indicating that at the end of the day, it would be Arya who handles Cersei’s fate. These scenes further confirm my belief that the two will encounter but under far different circumstances. Arya may, indeed, be the one who slays Cersei but it won’t be out of utter, spite. Instead, she will sorrow for Cersei because of her madness and loss of everything.
Next, we go back to King’s Landing where we see Maergery about to do a Walk of Atonement but gets out of the situation via Tommen merging the crown with religion. In short, the High Sparrow has been able to take control over Tommen through effectively capturing the queen. Tommen is, of course, played by the High Sparrow because Tommen wants so badly to be approved by everyone. Here, the way I see it, Tommen effectively absolves himself of blame by deferring more of the decision making process through the abstract will of the Gods.
Naturally, the High Sparrow never indicates once how or when he receives his answers from these gods and Tommen is too stupid to question the High Sparrow’s faith. Yet the scenario is an easy way out for Tommen to accept the hardships of rulership. People rarely question religion except those with real power who understand that concept. Yet he merely needs to have peace in King’s Landing and most importantly to gain Maergery back.
That leaves Jamie and Cersei severely discontent especially as Jamie will be forced to return to the Riverlands to deal with the Blackfish, which is Walder Frey’s current problem. Effectively, we’re returning to his story from A Feast for Crows, especially as Brienne is supposed to also be sent to gain support from the Riverlands on behest of Sansa’s request. Somewhere in the middle of all this will be the Brothers without Banners. Of course, the real big question is whether or not Lady Stoneheart makes an appearance at all.
Some people have conjectured that Sansa merely assumed Lady Stoneheart’s story but this reunion of Jamie and Brienne’s storyline in the Riverlands may suggest otherwise. On top of that we’ve had a lot of returns to this season such as Benjen, Walder Frey, Osha/Rickon, etc. It’s not out of the question that Lady Stoneheart can make a return too.
Lastly, we have the Daenerys scene with the Dothraki army and the return of Drogon and her riding it. Most of the scene was a callback to the scene of Khal Drogo’s speech and promise to take the Seven Kingdoms. Of course, that ended up going nowhere once Khal Drogo got killed. This time though it’s obviously going to be different, especially with Daenerys riding a huge dragon, which commands a lot of respect.
That said, this scene was awful. It felt redundant and just another affirmation of Daenerys as a potential tyrant. Yes, she has the loyalty of the Dothraki army but the way Daario suggests to her as being a conquerer and Daenerys haughtily stating that she will reclaim what is hers, you get the sense that none of this will end very pretty. For me she needs a major ego check. I was hoping that she would get one as a result of her being taken prisoner. I was elated in that she did not use Drogon to conquer the Dothraki and that she showed a sign of goodness towards Jorah. Still, this scene makes her come off as self-important and relying on dragons and others rather than figuring things out on her own.
I suppose this was Daenerys’ version of Aragorn’s now often duped great speech to inspire his army. But it just came off very weak. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we’re seeing this side of her nor that the emotion in these scenes make you feel a bit uncomfortable. One could argue that as a male, I feel distant because this is female empowerment. Yet I don’t see it that way at all. I see it as someone who is ready to massacre and become mentally insane just like her father.
On top of that, we rarely see scenes of Daenerys just being the teenage girl that is in the books. All her scenes usually involve some asshole alpha male getting pwned because they can’t stop bragging about how big their dick is to Daenerys. So naturally, these scenes may feel like some fan service towards feminists to a degree.
But how does Daenerys handle a Cersei, Queen Ollena or a Maergery (if they survive this season and meet up)? What happens if Daenerys meets Sansa, Arya or Jon Snow? Most of Daenerys’ encounters have been with lesser people, mostly asshole, self-entitled men. So she comes off like a bully on her own trying to show she’s got backup with her dragons. Yet like anything dragons are just a tool and if they’re gone, what else do you have?
I’m not saying Daenerys is stupid. Far from it. She is witty and we’ve seen her handle herself without advisors, armies and dragons. But those scenes are just rare. The issue is making decisions for herself and standing on her own two feet more often rather than having snap judgments and being able to see a larger picture.
Again, her personality still reminds me of that scene of history repeating itself. Her destiny is not a destiny at all but a sense of entitlement. Whenever she talks about, “taking back what is mine,” I have to refer to Tyrion’s old quote about how possession is an “abstract concept”. What makes the Seven Kingdoms hers? By what right? Because of lineage? Lineage alone offers nothing. Look at how her brother ended up. Sheer show of force? Oppression can only go so far before people eventually rebel. That’s the story of her failed leadership with Meereen.
Despite being someone who wants to “break” the wheel, Daenerys has offered no concrete plan beyond outright demolishing forces in the abstract then putting her ass on the Iron Throne as the solution. She only gives vague, lofty suggestions as to how things operate. But if we look at Jamie Lannister’s situation, we see that life often is oxymoronic, leading us to go against the things we’re taught to believe in or obey. We can look at Tommen’s current reign and how one, in an attempt to please everyone, ends up pleasing no one and helping no one because of his unwillingness to make hard decisions and choosing the lesser of two evils. She has yet to really handle these things in a successful manner. All she has worried about is conquest for the most part.
At any rate, this show was a bit of bummer to me considering that the pacing up until this point has been excellent. You could say that this show was a midway setup for the last few episodes and possibly others to come. I did feel that some things were a waste such as the need to give Jaqen and the Waif their own little scene to explain Arya’s fate. That part felt gratuitous and could’ve better been used with a one liner as the Waif attacks Arya. Probably, that scene was just used to shock viewers in seeing how the Faceless Men really get faces off a cadaver. But allotted time like that feels best spent elsewhere.
One thing I want to talk about before concluding this blog is the concept of rebirth for this season. I did mention earlier how we’ve seen a lot of returns. A lot of stories are concluding (for better or worse). And I did mention there are more hints about a potential Lady Stoneheart appearance. First, with regards to Lady Stoneheart, one thought is that her story may never manifest and that the references are just nods to her character. Also, from my point of view, it might be a little late to introduce that character and possibly Michelle Fairly might have other obligations or perhaps simply does not want to deal with the hassle of such a character.
From what I’ve heard Brienne and Jamie will encounter this season in the Riverlands but under slightly different circumstances. Here, Brienne is sent by Sansa Stark to the Riverlands to gain aid. And since Sansa is seen taking over a bit of the Lady Stoneheart character, you could say that the orders came from her. In addition, I’ve read rumors that The Brotherhood without Banners will make an appearance (here we go with these character returns again) and that Podrick eventually gets killed somehow during the siege of the Riverlands. No word yet on how he dies but it’s out there.
On the other hand, I have a different theory about the Starks that go hand in hand with this season’s various returnees. With Benjen back as a half-dead looking character, I wouldn’t put it past the show to bring Lady Stoneheart in. Before I chalked the show’s refusal to have her show up as a result of the distaste for the use of the mystical as much as possible in this series and keeping everything grounded. Jon’s resurrection pretty much broke that trend and Benjen’s revelation pretty much sets the tone. Add to Jon Snow’s original, “You Starks are hard to kill” comment during the first season and everything becomes fair game.
My theory is that House Stark will return. But it will be in a very twisted manner. We still don’t know how much of Jon has changed or if there’s something internally that’s keeping him alive (Ghost?) Catelyn Stark could return as a zombie as Lady Stoneheart. I’ve seen pictures of Robb Stark mounted on a throne with the head of his direwolf, Grey Wind, appended to him. Could he come back as a cursed body to deal vengeance against the Freys? And how about Ned even? Recall Arya’s plea to Thoros of Myr to essentially bring back her decapitated dead father. Even if Thoros of Myr stated, “It doesn’t work that way” we may not necessarily see “normal Ned Stark.” It could be a zombie, headless Ned Stark. After all, his remains were returned to Catelyn and assumedly buried back in the Winterfell crypts.
So why this macabre imagery with the Starks? Why even go this far as a theory? First, up until now, most people have assumed that the Starks are the perennial good guys of the story. George RR Martin has stated there really isn’t any “good” vs “bad” guys in this story. And we’ve seen thus far that the story really is about perspectives (hence Varys’ overt speech and the point of view chapter device). The Starks just have more viewpoints and that we identify with them because they have the closest code of honor that most Western regions ascribe to.
However, let’s look at one major odd bit: their sigil of the Direwolf. In most fiction, the Direwolf tends to have negative connotations, if not a certain evil feeling. Just the prefix “dire” describes ominous ideas. And what other things are associated with wolves? Werewolves perhaps? Wolves aren’t friendly creatures and the show maybe gives some anthropomorphism qualities to these creatures (or at least a bit sympathetic). I mean, why isn’ their house sigil of something like a dove, a white pigeon, an eagle?
So if the Direwolf sigil is meant to subconsciously make us view the Starks as discomforting what else can we say about the Starks? Merely calling them less than perfect/ideal is too simplistic. The thing though is that first, they’re dumb. Littlefinger, who probably is one of the best psychologist in the realm, openly describes them that way in the first season. A lot of shit happens because these people make bad decisions. Bran, the impulsive little bastard, climbs up a tower, looks where he shouldn’t then becomes a huge impetus for starting a war. Bran, again being impulsive and bored, looks where he shouldn’t and brings down a cave, kills his pet wolf, his best friend, etc. Catelyn Stark, not a true Stark by blood, does horrible things to her son-in-law, which makes him feel like shit to take the Black and cause more shit to happen beyond the Wall. Ned, without seeing all the cards and sticking to his code of ethics, doesn’t give some leeway to an abused, unloved woman that further triggers her sense of self-defense and plunging a realm into war. Robb Stark, being the alpha male of the story, plunges his dick where it doesn’t belong because he uses that to think rather than his lacking brain power, leading to the collapse of his family household.
I could go on and on and on. But you get the point.
But why tell things from their point of view? Why make the readers sympathetic to a bunch of dolts who are slightly above the intelligence of the special ed bus? It’s because again this story is about perspectives. Maybe the true “good guys” of the story are the Lannisters. Maybe they’re the ones we should feel sorry for and that they’re the victims in all of this. Maybe if Ned Stark wasn’t a selfish dick he could’ve helped raised Joffrey with Cersei, gave Catelyn to Littlefinger to shut him up, married Cersei and all would be well.
But that’s just the general what if realm. The bigger question is within the narrative itself in asking what their real role is. We’ve only thus far seen them from the perspective of being generally what we call “good guys” (I prefer the term protagonist). Yet the story can completely flip its head given the Lady Stoneheart deal. Lady Stoneheart is an unfeeling killer. She’s practically the venomous, hateful side of Catelyn that could not manifest because of her remaining code of honor.
And what about Jon Snow now that he’s resurrected? We know he’s changed. We a few tiny glimpses of his changes after his resurrection. He’s finally funny and a bit selfish. That isn’t the Jon Snow we’re used to. That’s a Jon Snow who sees something new and has something else driving him possibly.
Or how about the Dark Sansa that everyone is anticipating? People since Season 4 have been waiting for Dark Sansa to “fuck shit up.” Is that a good thing? We see her anger in how he treated Littlefinger in Episode 5 this season. We see that she’s manipulating Jon Snow for her own purposes, despite him being the closest, truest family she has now. We’ve seen the actress playing Sansa being jealous and wanting to kill Cersei. You tell me if these aren’t small hints of foreshadowing of Sansa’s character. After all she’s been through, she’s probably really fucked up in the head. What happens when she and Jon reclaim Winterfell? Will she turn her eyes to King’s Landing once she hears of the chaos that ensues after the Faith Militant, the Tyrells and the Lannisters clash? Will she use the “chaos is a ladder” philosophy to plan her own invasion with the seeds of purpose planted by a still scheming Littlefinger who wants to help her continue to take revenge? She has learned from those in King’s Landing, including Cersei who is damaged goods.
What if we talk about Robb Stark and if he makes a comeback? Can you imagine a werewolf version of him? Arya talked about Robb’s more beastly form when he was fighting the Lannisters in season 2. I don’t think it’s just a metaphor to scare Lannisters but a vision for when he does return and how he’ll slaughter the Lannisters. Or what if he comes back with Nymeria as co-pack leaders?
There’s this gut feeling I have where the story about the Starks inverts on itself (and Daenerys). Currently, our assumptions about these characters have been more or less one sided due to how their stories mostly have been told through certain viewpoints. I think that will swap (and we see a bit of it in the books) where ultimately the Starks and Daenerys will come into conflict.
We see the showdown for the North with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark reclaiming that region. We see Daenerys abroad gaining her massive army. The White Walkers have yet to cast their swords in for a leader outside of the Night’s King. But according to Leaf, they were created to protect the Children of the Forest against men who were butchering the trees. Will they become tools to aid against Daenerys’ invasion? Will we see another massive war that leaves the world torn apart as a result of the egos of these rulers?
But let’s look at another viewpoint. The common person. The hidden, blank, abstract masses who endure the politics of the ruling elite and powerful. The suffering incurred by the rulers are mostly slights against their haughty positions. Sure, they endure casualties, but what about the people at the bottom? Look at Hodor/Wylis. He was completely innocent as a literal bystander who was robbed of his life because some kid decided to get bored and triggered an invasion. Look at the butcher’s boy who was rode down by Sandor Clegane because he happened to be hanging out with Arya at the wrong moment. What about all the soldiers in the service of these rulers? Do they even have a choice in the matter? Is honor the only thing people care about in this realm?
I see the Starks as being this stupid bunch who are unable to forgive. They hold onto this existence of being a Stark which causes them to fall into an endless cycle of bad karma. Only Jon Snow, who is half Stark, made any move for forgiveness. He’s the closest person on the North’s side who has done something to make amends and trying to unite people because of a larger issue at stake. He still knows little but he’s improved which is better than the mental conditions of other Starks.
Arya’s lessons about death and not giving it out easily are important. She is one of the most vengeful people in the story and her learning mercy is a key turning point for her character. Her blindness was symbolic of her inability to see the larger picture. She had to go through this development to understand how other people feel. So we she be merciful in acting as a negotiator if the day comes when the Starks battle the Lannisters again (possibly) or Daenerys if Daenerys is uncompromising?
Anyway, there’s a lot of questions posed at this point and this show sets them up on top of answering a few. But it gives some major clues towards the direction of the overall story.