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Category Archives: Game of Thrones
“Dragonstone” is a homecoming. For Game of Thrones, that means something very different than for the standard alma mater. In Westeros, it means throne rooms, dead bodies, and lush locales in which to do the same thing we do every season — try to take over the world. But the show starts its seventh season with an episode about being away, coming back home, and reflecting on what’s changed, within and without, since you left.
Game of Thrones, as a series, franchise, and brand, is always going to stand in the shadow of The Red Wedding. More than Ned’s beheading, more than Joffrey’s demise, more than the battles of Blackwater Bay or The Wall or Hardhome or the bastards, the Red Wedding is the event that defined the series in the popular consciousness. For a long time, it felt like everything in the show up to that point had been building to that moment, and everything that came after was a consequence of it. The third season in particular was a focal point of the larger story Game of Thrones show was telling, with that mortal matrimony as its zenith.
Season 6 of Game of Thrones has felt more like a sequel to Season 3 than an extension of the work that the show did in Seasons 4 and 5. It is the season of resurrection, one where we’ve witnessed the returns (and, just as often, the demises) of those we knew long ago: The Brotherhood Without Banners, The Blackfish, Osha and Rickon, Benjen Stark, Walder Frey, and more. Whether it’s the freedom that comes from no longer being constrained by George R. R. Martin’s novels, or the knowledge that the end is nigh, Game of Thrones spent much of its sixth year tying off loose ends that been dangling for years, often in a characteristically lethal fashion.
The culmination of that spirit comes in “The Winds of Winter,” a season finale of beginnings and endings. It is the close of one epoch of the show — the one which spun out from the Red Wedding, scattered our heroes across oceans, and brought more and more characters into the fold — and the beginning of another. The monarchs from the War of the Five Kings are dead. Winter is here. And now it’s the future that’s coming.
Game of Thrones is a show that thrives on violence. Its past installments featuring that sort of visceral thrill — from Ned Stark’s beheading to the various battles that have made up the series’ “special event” episodes — certainly tell complete stories, but they don’t skimp on the swords and sangre to help fill them out. Westeros is a world founded on violence, one where those in power gained it and kept it by waging war, killing, and trafficking in the kind of brutality that wins kingdoms and helps break ratings records.
So when Dany mounts Drogon and leads her tripartite crew of dragons off to destroy the slavers’ fleet, it initially feels new and different, since the winged-beast confrontations in the show so far have largely been limited in scope. It is, however, part and parcel with the show’s standard M.O. when it comes to death and destruction. The dragons’ attack on the fleet works well as a fist-pump moment, not only because it’s the first time the show’s depicted all three of them engage in this type of badassery (give or take a Qarth), but because the audience largely believes in Dany and her cause. Flames raining down from the sky, dispatched to guarantee that Meereen never again becomes a land of slavers, feels righteous.
But then there’s that little voice in the back of your head, the one that says the people on those ships are probably slaves too, not devoted perpetrators of evil. The attack may be a necessary evil. It is a show of force to ensure that the other masters of Slaver’s Bay don’t get any ideas and meant to guarantee that they think twice before challenging Dany’s regime.
We don’t know who’s pulling the strings that tie the different corners of Westeros together. It may be the Old Gods; it may be The Seven; it may be the Drowned God; or it may be the Lord of Light. Septon Ray suggests they may all be different names for the same thing. But whoever has that power has left any number of those in Westeros and beyond in some sort of weakened state. They’ve taken away people’s strength, sapped them of their power and position, and left them, in a word, “broken.”
“Blood of My Blood.” The title gives it away. Though Game of Thrones is frequently centered on the idea of familial legacy, this episode in particular focuses on the bonds of family, the connections between parents and children and the other ties of kinship that can both pull us into place and break our hearts. These are the people who can save us, help us, make us stronger, but who also have a unique capacity to wound us, to frustrate us, and to unravel us.
Nowhere does “Blood of My Blood” explore the different sides of this idea more than in Sam’s return to his childhood home. Despite the smaller stakes and lack of major reveals as compared with the rest of the episode, Sam’s homecoming proved to be the best part “Blood of My Blood.” Game of Thrones spends most of its of time focused on the larger machinations of the plot in one form or another. Even when it’s not devoting time to the dragons or magic or other fantastical elements of Westeros, the show anchors itself around the titular game of thrones, as different players vie for power and an the existential threat comes from the north.
Despite this, Sam’s visit home has the feeling of something apart from the major story arc that drives the series. There’s no magic at play in Horn Hill. And while this brief stop is intended as a respite for Sam, Gilly, and Sam Jr. on the way to the Citadel, where Sam intends to earn his maester’s chain and ostensibly help Jon, there’s also little larger relevance to the detour when it comes to the show’s overarching plots. Instead, these scenes with Sam’s family offer a quiet character study, one whose chief purpose is to tell us more about who Sam is, where he came from, and what he’s become since he left home.
It’s easy to reduce “The Door” to its big reveal. For all of the mysteries and unanswered questions floating around in the background of Game of Thrones, sometimes the most moving reveals are the ones that fill in gaps you didn’t even realize were there, in surprising and unexpected ways.
The battle lines are being drawn in Game of Thrones, not between the Starks and the Lannisters, or between the good guys and the bad guys, but rather between the old and the new. The side of history, of tradition, of the way things have always been, stands poised against the onslaught of the novel and disruptive ideas that threaten to “break the wheel” and introduce a new order. “Book of the Stranger” sets up these conflicts between the past and the future as it darts across Westeros and beyond.
“I fought. I lost. Now I rest…You’ll be fighting their battles forever.” Alliser Thorne’s last words hang over “Oathbreaker.” The grand stories we tell both eschew and crave finality. A good journey has a beginning, a middle, and an end, but when we’re truly invested in it, we don’t want the ride to stop. We crave the spills, chills, and surprises. So heroes come back from the dead, siblings thought long lost reappear, and like the white walkers headed toward the gate, the story marches on.
Be kind to your dragons. Be kind to your giants. Be kind to your enforcers and lieutenants and underlings. Be kind to the nobodies, to the downtrodden, and to the “little people” who, unbeknownst to you, can loom quite large. Because these individuals have power–power that you may not recognize, power that you may take for granted–but power that may be turned against you or that, at some difficult moment, you may even sorely need.
No one is kinder, if still cautious, on this front than Tyrion. His quiet scene with Dany’s two remaining dragons was the highlight of an eventful, action-packed episode because of its simplicity and tension in the moment. Perhaps Tyrion is uniquely suited for dragon taming, particularly attuned to earning the trust of superior beasts. He is, after all, someone who has had to get by on disarming the powerful with his wits and charms rather than with his sword (though he’s occasionally used his pocketbook instead). And as Tyrion noted when we first met him, he has a particular appreciation for the unique and broken things across Westeros.