And so the war heats up in a literal sense. Forced into a corner, Daenerys unleashed her hoards and a third of her Dragon force to crush the tail of a Lion. In doing so, her side also learned the truth about their presumed superiority in the air in an exciting episode of Game of Thrones.
But first, let’s talk about the reunion of the wolves.
There was meme I used to see on my Facebook feed from time to time featuring the faces of all the named Starks from the first episode and the Taylor Swift song title “We are never getting back together” emblazoned over their faces. The effect was a palpable one as the message seemed so certain and true for so long. Though they might be victorious in separate parts of the world, it was easy to believe the Stark children would never see one another again. And yet, Game of Thrones not only brought them back together, but earned the right to do so.
As proof, consider that shot of Arya riding up the hill and seeing Winterfell in the distance. It echoes the establishing shot used for the fortress in the early days. But in adding Arya to the foreground, you immediately recall all she has been through before approaching her home.
And if you needed any more reminding, her dressing down of the gate guards proves how far she’s come. Where a younger Arya might have scurried, she defiantly claimed her rights. Then she Batman-ed away from them simply because she could. Only then could we actually see her reunited with Sansa in the family crypt. It was perfectly realized from their dialogue, to the lighting of the crypt, to the way Sansa slowly inched up to Arya. Even the hugs were placed in the right places as the two had to suss out what was the same and what was different. In the end, they both became what they always wanted to be, but the reality of that is staggering to see.
Then there was Arya’s slightly unhinged laugh when Sansa reacted to the kill list.
But let’s head to the Sentinel Trees and Bran’s reaction to Arya’s return. Almost a viewer of Game of Thrones himself at this point, his consideration of Arya’s choices at the crossroads mirrored our own. But she chose family in the end. And while we can be relieved and charmed, Bran — now somewhere between himself and the spirit of the green earth itself — was less effusive in his glad tidings. Or, perhaps, he deduced the best way to welcome his sister home was with a Valyrian Steel dagger. The very one meant to kill him so long ago and one that may yet prove to bring a well-deserved end to the man who put it in an assassin’s hand to begin with.
No, we really need to stop here and talk about Little Finger’s gift of the dagger. Last week, I referred to a metaphorical dagger already reaching for his back. I never expected it to a literal dagger or part of his own collection. The gift also suggests he has no idea how much Bran can see. But he must be feeling the sting of that error now as Bran’s response to the visit was a simple four word sentence: Chaos is a ladder.
For those who may not recall, “Chaos is a ladder” was Little Finger’s retort to Varys’s stated belief that chaos is a pit. It underscores Lord Baelish’s entire philosophy. While never really covered in the television series, Petyr Baelish was not exactly highborn back in the Fingers. He was noble enough to know Catelyn Tully from a young age, yet not noble enough to be considered a suitable husband. But as a man of ambition, he always saw the possibilities for advancement in uncertain times. Certainly, aiding the Lannisters in the cover-up of Jamie’s first sin on the show would aid Little Finger’s ultimate aim. And this part might be surprising, but his aim was not comforting a grieving Catelyn. Instead, to paraphrase Varys sometime after their chaos conversation, Petyr Baelish would sit a throne of ashes if it meant he was king.
But I’m sure one of two specific Tully ladies would be part of that dead kingdom in Little Finger’s thinking.
Nevertheless, the passing of the dagger from Little Finger to Bran to Arya suggests my metaphorical dagger will literally be in his back before too long. While he’s not on her list, he is most certainly on Sansa’s. And once his usefulness in regards to the Vale comes to an end, he will be undone.
In the meantime, Arya will find use for it, like in her fight with Brienne of Tarth. While just a great bit of sparing in its own right, it offered Arya a chance to best the Hound in a way. I also hope it began a bond between the two warriors that will ultimately prove useful when the Army of the Dead arrive. Or when the remaining men on Arya’s list — now all traveling as a pack — come to Winterfell for shelter.
Okay, I’m assuming they’ll come to Winterfell.
Over on Dragonstone, the romance has commenced. One would be tempted to say “Get Hype” for this dance of dragons, but the unstated way Daenerys and Jon are beginning this courtship makes for a pleasant change from the way they usually start their affairs. Of course, Davos picked up on it immediately. Not that it’s difficult to see. The scene in the dragonglass cave was lit by their attraction. I mean, there’s more to the scene — important stuff even — but it’s hard to ignore what’s happening between them.
Setting that dance of dragons aside, the cave featured the return of the strange geometric symbols the White Walkers are fond of making. At least one is clearly the design Sam and Edd saw at the Fist of the First Men. Which makes sense as the story Jon tells Daenerys in the cave concerns a coalition between the Children of the Forest and the First Men during the first Long Night. But to get back to the dance of dragons, it’s clear Jon’s notions of an alliance may have more than a political connotation. His prideful refusal to bend the knee already speaks to it, even if he frames it as the desire of the North to never be ruled by a Southerner again.
Boy, won’t Westeros be stunned when everything is out in the open.
As someone who comes to understand how Daenerys is different, Jon counsels discretion in her next move. But she’s clearly tired of discretion and goes for a tactic we’ll call shock and awe. On the strategic front, though, I think Randyll Tarly put it best: a crushed tail cannot resupply fast enough. The two terms of war merged into the most satisfying dragon scenes ever realized on the show. Between her riders, Drogon rising over the horizon and “Dracarys,” it will be tough to beat this sequence going forward. It is war unlike we’ve seen on the show until now and it underscores how different it is by pausing to show Jamie’s terror as Lannister forces turned to ash.
Not that the terror would stop him from fighting. In fact, the Lannister troops remained remarkably composed for facing a dragon and the Dothraki. It wasn’t enough to stop the oncoming storm, though. Neither was Qyburn’s anti-aircraft weapon. Bronn proved to be a good operator, but could not deliver a deathblow. Even if the dragon is injured, Daenerys and Tyrion are now aware of the weapon. One wonders how useful it will be in the future. Assuming, of course, that Qyburn mass-produced it.
The battle also taught me how much I am on Daenerys’s side now. I was ready to let Bronn and Jamie die in the same episode. More than that, I wanted Bronn to die for hitting Drogon. By leaving his payment behind to reach the weapon, Bronn has committed himself to the Lannister cause. Sure, there is the future promise of any of the prominent castles in the Seven Kingdoms, but leaving the gold illustrates a changed Bronn of the Blackwater. And that, sadly, puts him on the wrong side in this War of Two Queens. Well, at least the wrong side from my point of view.
And while you consider whether or not Bronn is lost to us, consider who will draw Jamie from the water. I suppose it’s possible that this was his undignified death, but does that seem like something the show would really do? Instead, I expect he will be saved. Possibly by Dickon, who seemingly pushed him out of Drogon’s path. Maybe it will be Drogon himself. Wouldn’t that be a shocking encounter?
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.