And so at long last, Daenerys knows that is is no fable or a tale of grumkins and snarks to scare summer children. She has seen with her own eyes the Army of the Dead and what their Night’s King can do. Though there are many who serve R’hllor — either through faith or as unwitting parts of his grand design — The Mother of Dragons now knows that the night is long and full of terrors.
But first, let’s talk about the game of faces.
Since Arya’s return, the situation between her and Sansa has taken on a familiar pattern. The surprise of seeing one another alive and well has worn off and their old enmities have resurfaced. Of course, Little Finger understood this would happen and planned for it. The dagger I expected to see in his back now lands a few rooms away. But his machinations are the least interesting part of the division of wolves at Winterfell. If he was not there, I think Arya’s ability to see a lie would stoke these fires eventually. Maybe not to the point where she would consider giving Sansa the Gift, but enough to question her loyalties and ambitions. The letter from those desperate days prior to Ned’s execution only accelerated an eventual rupture between the Stark women.
Which is tragic because they could serve such important roles in the war to come. Sansa is a good leader, in spite of a childhood wish for pretty dresses. Arya is an accomplished and terrifying giver of death. An important weapon to have on one’s side. Sadly, it seems they can no longer see that value in one another because they cannot see the women they’ve become.
Although, Sansa has some idea of what Arya is and, you have to admit, it is frightening. Imagine if your little sister, all of 5’2′, returned from across the sea as an master assassin with a bag full of her victim’s faces. We only excuse it because the show has always put on us on Arya’s side, but she is a remorseless killer. Beyond that, her experiences in Bravos are so beyond any Northern’s frame of reference that Sansa can only interpret her conditioning as a form of madness. Maybe she would not have seen that if she’d stayed out of Arya’s chambers and forcing the confrontation. Now, Arya’s seemingly made up her mind and you have to interpret everything she said as a threat.
To see them fighting again is not what I wanted. After making so many right calls last year, I’d hoped Sansa would be on guard for more of Little Finger’s manipulations. She seems to be aware when Brienne brings them up. But standing next to him, she seems too lost in her worries about Arya to think that he might be tilting this situation to his advantage. Then again, he suggested using Brienne against Arya and Sansa’s next move was to get her out of Winterfell. I want to believe that she suspects his hand in this and turn the situation to her advantage.
But I suppose that could just be wishful thinking.
Over on Dragonstone, Tyrion makes his most forceful critique of the Tarly burnings yet. Unfortunately, it was met with that Targaryen petulance from Daenerys. As I said last week, that behavior chafes against her stated desire to break the wheel. I was so glad Tyrion brought it up because before her cause is the compelling reason to join her. But in order to break the wheel, she must shatter her own assumptions of ruling Westeros. It cannot be a simple restoration of Dragon banners to the Red Keep. It cannot be the return of the small council and the Wardens administering far off lands in her stead. It must be something so different that only Tyrion may have an inkling of what it would look like. That must be why he started talking about other ways to determine succession. He even brought up the Ironborn’s kingsmoot, which is about as close as one gets to a democratic election in Westeros.
Then again, those considerations may just be academic as there may be nothing left to govern after the war. Daenerys’s impulsiveness took her and the dragons North of the Wall to save Jon, Jorah and the other remaining named people. Sadly, her flight was not swift enough to save Thoros from the ice. Hopefully, R’hllor could reach him in that coldest of places.
On a more personal note, I was glad to see Tormund Giantsbane survive another impossible battle. All his talk of wanting to father babies with Brienne put the target on his back and made the fight far more tense than it might otherwise have been.
The battle was, of course, typical of one of Jon’s ranges north; it all went to piss fairly quickly. Between zombie polar bears, the main host of the dead and the Night’s King, the whole notion of the sample return mission started to look pretty foolish. And it cost the side of light dearly in the loss of one of Viserion. Though, considering his namesake was Daenerys’s crazed brother Viserys, he definitely had a target on his back. His fate was also one of the favorite theories in Game of Thrones fandom. I imagine they’re all cheering about being right and you also have to hand it to producers D.B. Weiss and David Benioff for deciding that the obvious choice was the correct one: the force of plot demanded an Ice Dragon. That said, losing Drogon would’ve packed more of an emotional punch since we care about him. Viserion was, ultimately, an acceptable loss.
Meanwhile, the aftermath brought a new texture to the Dance of Dragons between Daenerys and Jon. As I’ve mentioned before, I find the more courtly, chaste romance between them a compelling element of the storyline. It stands in contrast to their previous experiences and, in some ways, seems to be involuntary on their parts. The work of R’hllor perhaps? No matter what it is, they view each other in a different light now. Her complete lack of anger and his willingness to bend the knee illustrates that change. Also, their shared resolve to defeat the Army of the Dead will be an inspirational part of the saga should any Maesters live to record the war.
Also, you have to love the way the show addressed its tendency to avoid calling the Breaker of Chains “Dany.” I avoid it because I never hear it uttered on the show. In fact, I’d forgotten that it was Viserys who used that diminutive in the first season. While I understand why book readers like to use it — for one, it’s easier to spell — it doesn’t fit the show’s version of the character. That it would it appear again only as a joke before Jon swore his loyalty to Daenerys is one of the better crafted moments in the Dance of Dragons thus far.
And before we consider what will happen when the Dragons, Wolves and Lions treat next week, let’s raise our cups to the survivors. Somehow, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, the aforementioned Tormund and the Hound survived. I was sure one of them would join Thoros in the flames. Also, let’s bid a fond adieu to Uncle Coldhands. It’s great that Jon finally solved the mystery of Benjen Stark — well, sort of, who knows if he even remembers what happened — and that Benjen served House Stark and the Night’s Watch one last time. Even though he lacked the time to tell Jon about his true lineage, he did get to be a good man one last time.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.