HOUSE OF BLACK AND WHITE AND WHAT ARYA FOUND THERE
First and foremost, she found the loss of identity. And with it she will find the loss of her humanity. In order to become the Faceless Man, Arya must renounce her identity as Arya Stark of Winterfell. In order to achieve that Jaqen orders her to get rid of the Arya’s material possessions, including Needle.
This was one of the hardest moments (as for Arya who had to do it, as it was for me who had to read it) of Feast for Crows, fourth book of Martin’s saga. In order to understand the importance this sword has for Arya, you need to understand just how close and alike Jon and Arya are, but also that the Needle is the only thing that keeps her identity at bay.
This is evident from the following quote: Needle was Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa. Needle was Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people. Needle was the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room. Needle was Jon Snow’s smile. He used to muss my hair and call me ‘little sister’, she remembered, and suddenly there were tears in her eyes.
The fact Arya could not find the strength in herself to get rid of the Needlee, which was painstakingly restored from the hands of Pollyver and Tickler (who, with the help of the Hound, got removed from her list in the last season), tells us that her identity, regardless of the upcoming events and changes in the future, will in fact prevail.
HERE COMES ANOTHER, YOUNGER AND MORE BEAUTIFUL
High Sparrow, just like the previous episode, goes back to the question of prophecy revealed in the prologue of Game of Thrones‘ fifth season. In it, if you remember, the witch tells Cersei that in some not yet determined time frame, a new queen, younger and more beautiful, will replace her. Since we still don’t know whom she was referring to, Maergery, Sansa or someone else completely, we cannot be absolutely sure that the time she spoke of is now. However, since the focus of the fifth season’s prologue was everything but a coincidence I will take the liberty in believing that the focus of this whole season will, for most part, be placed on Cersei, her past failure, consequences of that failure, her downfall, rivalry with Maergery, not only over the position in the kingdom, but also for the dominances over Tommen and of course, last but not least, there is the rise of Sansa as the new powerful female character. Therefore, I am writing concurrently about both Maergery and Sansa because, as you could see in this episode, the former has just became the queen by the means of marriage, while the latter will, by the same means, become the Wardeness of the North. With this in mind, we cannot ignore the fact that both of these ladies are slowly by surely, ascending in the kingdom once ruled by Cersei. Which one is the one responsible for her downfall is yet to be seen. My wishes and my money is on Sansa who has gotten the short end of the stick once and again.
The title (lady of Winterfell) that belongs to her by birthright and right family name, will, unfortunately belong to her again but by the right of marriage accomplished in the newly formed alliance between Petyr Baelish and Roose Bolton, who mean to marry her to Ramsey. I am not sure if there is any point in me telling you that Sansa’s faith is not as cruel in the book. In the Song of Ice and Fire Sansa stays in Vale while Ramsey marries “Arya Stark”, who is in fact Sansa’s best friend Jayne Pool, who only poses as Arya. With this change, the stakes in the show are now a little bit higher, since Sansa is the last surviving child of Eddard Stark and Catelyn Tully. Sansa was also the means for Lannisters who were planning to, through her marriage to Tyrion Lannister, claim North for themselves. Speaking of which, what audience needs to forget, yet again, is the existence of aforesaid marriage and the fact that Sansa is, a part from being a married women, also wanted for complicity in the murder of the former king, Joffrey Baratheon. And just to be clear we are talking about the king whose family still rules the kingdom of Westeros. So, what is Littlefinger’s plan exactly? And how can this work? How can Sansa – who is still married (her marriage to Tyrion was not annulled as far as we know), and to a Lannister no less (keep in mind that the Lannisters are the ones who gave Bolton’s the North, which is why the Red Wedding happened in the first place), who is wanted for the murder of the king, and is a daughter of a known traitor – marry a son and heir of the current Warden of the North and Lord of Winterfell? She can of course, but not without causing a major incident, and a possible war. And moreover, if we are to add the fact that Cersei is currently on the quest to find Littlefinger, asking yourself what is his endgame and motif (besides Winterfell and North as a carefully planned punishment for Lord Eddard Stark, which was initiated with the death of Jon Arryn, event that marks the beginning of Game of Thrones) is not naive, not at all.
Whatever I think off, the only plausible outcome that comes to mind is that Littlefinger will surely die this season, unless Cersei dies first. But just to be clear, this is all speculations and not a spoiler, since I, just like you, have not a single clue as to where this story can possibly go. In fact, none of if makes sense to be perfectly honest. Whatever his plan is, one parameter he hasn’t accounted for is Ramsey, the biggest psychopath currently living in Westeros, a boy Littlefinger knows nothing about, which strikes me as odd considering that Baelish we know is always, but I mean always, several steps ahead of everyone else, especially his enemies. His rash decision to give Sansa’s hand in marriage to a known psychopath he knows nothing about seems like a big oversight in narrative plot and recklessness in development of Petyr Baelish’s character this season. Well, it is not the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. On the other hand, if Ramsey is to hurt Sansa, and everything points into that direction, then her whole character development is a complete waste of time and is, in the end, altogether pointless. I say pointless because I just cannot fathom why would they waste four years into her transformation from the naive, at times even foolish little girl, into a strong woman who, a part from her newly discovered perceptivity and her intact generosity, truly is one of the strongest, bravest and most enduring female characters of this story.
And indeed, it takes courage and strength to bow, with the smile on your face even, before the man responsible not only for the slaughter of your family that was so horrific it got labeled as the Red Wedding, but also for the loss of your home in which you are now invited as his guest. I am sorry, but I just cannot see the point in this transformation if they are planning to push her onto a road of more torture, despair and now even a possible rape. The only positive outcome I can see emerging from all of this mess is the new Sansa, who, through the aforesaid transformation, grew into a girl clever enough to manipulate Ramsey. However, we are talking about Ramsey, who just like Joker, is the epitome of madness and chaos. Predicting his demeanor is hardly a possibility.
What gives me hope are actually two things. With Jaime in Dorne, Brienne and Pod are there, every step of the way. Brienne is carrying the Oathkeeper, forged form Ned Stark’s Ice.As seen in the previous season, Oathkeeper is a gift from Jaime and a promise that Sansa will be protected at all times and any cost. Them being in the North means only one thing for me – now that Mance is dead, the two of them are going to assume the double role of both Mance Rayder (as spies in Winterfell) and unnamed hero known as the Ghost of Winterfell (as executioners in Winterfell). And if this turns out to be the case, I promise you, it will be grand.
Second thing that gives me hope is the old maid Sansa encounters in her former home who greets her with the following words: “Welcome home Lady Stark. The North Remembers.” Now excuse me while I scream.
These words are a clear reference to Lord Wyman Manderly, Lord of New Castle, seat of White Harbor, who unfortunately won’t appear in this season (this change is truly the only change that really hurts me because millions of fans across the globe won’t have the opportunity to meet one of the biggest legends in the North, and who a part from his crucial role in the upcoming war for Winterfell is also an extremely talented chef who specialized in the unique pie making). This reference, the way I understood it, is also an indication that the theory about the Northern Conspiracy actually exists.
The North Remembers Lord Manderly. And the mummer’s farce is almost done.
EDD, FETCH ME A BLOCK
In the previous review I have mentioned Ned and Robb Stark in the context of the rule tied to Winterfell and the North according to which, the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. However, as we have seen in the last episode, The House of Black and White, this is not Danerys Targaryen’s way. Instead, she inevitably leaves her dirty work to one of the members of her loyal entourage. Accordingly, this time, instead of connecting her with Ned and Robb, I will connect her to Jon Snow. In order to understand the parallel between Daenerys and Jon which I will attempt to draw here, we will have to go back to the very end of the last season that depicts the execution of a boy, former slave, now reformed child of Meereen’s Mhysa. In the aforesaid scene, Danerys orders Daario to behead the boy responsible for disobedience and disrespect of her direct order.
In Castle Black, this same narrative – revising the methods of punishing those who violate a direct order – gave us a vastly different outcome. Of course, we can now argue how Janos Slynt was in fact a terrible human being who deserved to die, and how his nature, cowardice and immorality came as a great help to Jon Snow during his decision-making, which can hardly be said for Danerys since her perpetrator was more likeable as a character than Slynt could ever be. However, arguing this would just mean that you have fallen into Martin’s trap. As a writer, and a good one at that, he skillfully manipulates his audience (regardless whether we are talking about his readers or viewers) into thinking that their focus is aimed at the right problem, when in fact it is not. Instead, the focus of our attention should be placed onto something far more important than the morality or likeability of the executed character.
But before we get into that I would like to go back to the first season of Game of Thrones, to discuss Viserys’ death. We all know that towards his end, Viserys, the arrogant, pretentions, entitled and obnoxious prince, started loosing his grip and descending into madness which primarily manifested through the aggression aimed at his younger sister and her unborn child, i.e., the weaker characters. Immorality, the lack of ethics and the absurdity of his violence were in this manner emphasized by the show creators and with one single goal – to achieve the more powerful effect and impact on audience who was tasked with putting logic aside while sympathizing with Daenerys, the sole victim of this relationship. Things were pretty much black and white here, and as a consequence things have lead to the point in which Viserys was, due to this treatment done on their part, stigmatized as a bully, crybaby and a sick man who deserved his golden crown. What the show did not provide us with was yet again the context, the context of Viserys’ world, his character and motivation. Without it Viserys is the bully without a cause, he is the madman and everything else you want to label him with. Furthermore, without a reminder of the deal struck with Khal Drogo it is no wonder everyone sided with Drogo in the end. The tendency of one-sided treatment in some cases, like in the case of Viserys, is one of the main problems this show has. You are probably wonder what does Viserys has to do with Slynt (executed by Jon Snow), Will (executed by Eddard Stark), boy from Meereen (executed by Daario on behalf of Daenerys), or Karstark (executed by Robb). The answer is simple. Janos Slynt, Will, the boy from Meereen and Karstark were all guilty of something, either disobeying a direct order or breaking their previously given word, which was in itself enough for execution, regardless of the importance, quality or motivation of them as characters. Viserys was not. The only thing he was guilty of was the fact that he, unlike his sister, knows exactly what he had lost. He remembers his father (Aerys), he remembers his mother (Rhaella), he remembers his brother (Rhaegar), and he remembers Westeros. He remembers the horror that befell his family. He remembers the moment when he fled to Dragonstone, accompanied by his pregnant mother and Ser Williem Darry. He remembers what it feels to be a refugee. He remembers the moment when his mother died giving birth to his sister, Daenerys. He remembers the moment when he was left all alone in this world; with no one but the newborn baby he had in his arms. He remembers. Because in that moment he was eight years old – old enough to remember, not old enough to do anything about it.
From that moment onward, Viserys Targaryen, the boy that lost everything, started a life no child should ever have. In the constant struggle to evade King Robert’s mercenaries sent from Westeros, Viserys, together with Daenerys is on the run. He has no peace…just fear and hatred slowly growing inside of him. The fact that he grew up to be the obnoxious person we have met in first season, without the given context, turns him into a monster, which he certainly was not. On contrary, Viserys is the most tragic character of this saga. Khal Drogo’s disrespect, not only of Vsiserys as a fellow human being, but also of their agreement, is what brings Viserys into a state of panic, which, as a result, consequently leads towards his imminent transformation. The one thing that makes this situation more tragic is that Viserys, just like majority of the characters we root or have rooted for (Arya, Robb, Sansa, Tyrion etc.), wants only one thing – to go back home.
But as fate would have it, Khal Drogo is not an honorable man. In fact, he is a savage that pillages, burns and rapes everything that stands on his way. Using this marriage, Daenerys, his wife, is finally able to set herself free from the influence of her terrible brother. Using this marriage, she is finally able to find the identity within this new society that labeled her with the title of a khaleesi (wife of a khal and not a princess or a queen as many would argue) due to which she is gifted with much-needed voice. It is this voice that is the turning point crucial for Viserys’ demise. With the newfound voice she gained power and with the newfound power she gained strength to finally kill him.
Yes, you read it right. Daenerys Targaryen is indirectly responsible for the death of her brother, same way she is responsible for the death of the boy in Meereen. I say indirectly because she is never the one to actually hold the murder weapon in her hands, as we have previously established. And despite the fact that she does not perform the killings, she is the one that says yes to them. Yes Viserys was annoying, he was a bully, a madman, he was obnoxious. I couldn’t stand him. But, does this mean that he deserved to die, especially the way he did? Is his murder really justifiable? Many would argue it is because he threatened the unborn child. I am not sure if I should point the obvious but it was an empty threat of a desperate man, desperate to get home. If Drogo followed his end of the agreement like Viserys followed his, this would be another story. But this is not that story. Viserys ended up dead for wanting what was promised to him. Ranley ended up dead for rebelling against his older brother. Viserys sold Daenerys to Drogo. Ranley did nothing to Stannis a part from accepting the gift of Storm’s End from Robert. One good. One mad and evil. Both dead. At the hands of their siblings. According to a belief in Westeros murdering a member of your family (Robb, Daenerys, Stannis, Tyrion) and a violation of the guest right (Walder Frey and the Red Wedding) are two biggest sins a man can do, which almost certainly lead to a grim future. Robb Stark met his at the Red Wedding. Daenerys probably met hers the day she lost both Khal Drogo and her unborn child Rhaego. When will Stannis and Tyrion meet theirs is still unknown to me. But I am getting sidetracked.
Whatever the future might hold we should now go back to the initial argument in which I said that there is something far more important in analysis of the Castle Black execution than Slynt’s character or his lack of morality (when compared to the Meereen‘s execution). It is in this context I compare him to both Viserys and the boy in Meeren. I could’ve compared him to Tyrion (who murder Tywin, yet another horrific character) but that would be besides the point since Daenerys had nothing to do with Tywin’s death. So, I had to use Viserys in order to do it. And I did it not out of sympathy for the character (I do not sympathize with Targaryens unless they are Maester Aemon) but in order to argue a point. Anyhow, in this particular case (Castle Black execution) the focus should be placed on understanding that here the modality of the death sentence execution is in fact established as the mechanism of the narrative, which separates Jon from Daenerys. This is the key. And what the show achieved with this particular episode is to establish, for the very first time, the dichotomy not only between these two characters but also the houses they come from (which are curiously the only two magical houses in Westeros), House Stark from House Targaryen, ice from fire, and direwolf from dragon.
On the other hand, the posture and the stance of Jon Snow, during the final moments of Slynt’s pathetic life, has, from my point of view, brought to us as a fantastic, and I would even dare say a genius reference to the posture and stance of Lord Eddard Stark as we have seen it in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones, during Will’s execution scene. Jon’s connection, loyalty and identity construction through his relation towards Winterfell and House Stark is perhaps the most important lesson we can take from this scene, marked by many fans as single best moment of the whole saga. In it the scene is mildly different, perhaps even better or more important, however, what matters in the end – its essence – in the show remains intact.
In the book, Janos Slynt disobeys Jon’s direct order as well. As the consequence he is sentenced to death by hanging in the Castle Black‘s courtyard. There, mere minutes before the hanging, to my shock and disbelief, Jon changes his mind. His boyish nature is just one of the reasons why I fell for it. However, right after the initial shock came the following sentence: Edd, fetch me a block, which is marked as the most important order ever given in the Song of Ice and Fire. The importance of this sentence is multilayered but for the purposes of this review I will single out three: 1) with it, Jon Snow was finally able to kill the boy and let the man be born, 2) by accepting and applying the Winterfell code (the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword), this order carries the confirmation of Jon’s true identity, that of a Northerner which places 3) Jon in direct opposition, as an antithesis of everything Daenerys Targaryen stands for.
And even with the omission of the sentence every living book fan has been eagerly awaiting since the day one, the show was able to convey the very essence of this scene in which, regardless of his legitimacy, descent, blood or family name, it was Jon Snow who had to die so Jon Stark would be born.
Then, he looked at the King. And the King nodded.
ADDITION: Since some people failed to understand the comparisons I have brought here, I will try to write them out more clearly. The reason I used Viserys’ execution was to demonstrate how, in ASOIAF or Game of Thrones, oftentimes characters wildly considered as good (in this case Tyrion and Daenerys) end up being directly or indirectly responsible for a demise of characters wildly considered as evil (Tywin and Viserys). In the show Tyrion killed his father because he slept with Shae, while Daenerys killed her brother because he threatened her unborn child. And while their reasoning could be viewed as valid, it also doesn’t mean it is right. Quite the opposite, especially when this act of foolishness (the killing) places them directly into the group of worst sinners in Westeros, since, after all they are now considered kinslayers, something not many citizens of Westeros can say about themselves. Robb was one and Stannis was one. The difference between Robb/Stannis and Daenerys/Tyrion is that the people Robb and Stannis killed were actually good people, while Tywin and Viserys were anything but. It is in this context that I compare Viserys to Janos Slynt, another terrible human of Westeros. Arguing that Slynt deserved to die because he was immoral or lacked ethics is highly problematic, because that is not why he died or why he deserved to die. He, just like Karstark, died because of disobeying a direct order, and unlike Renly or Viserys, who died so their siblings could ascend the throne mush easier. Comparing Slynt to the boy in Meereeen is a whole other matter, which I used to paint the very clear picture the show was, unlike the books, able to paint – the difference between Jon and Daenerys, which will further down the road hold a considerable significance.
Best Quote: It should’ve been Edd, fetch me a block but since Edd only fetched Janos and Olly (Satin’s replacement) fetched his sword I have decide to chose something that wasn’t in the books but will become extremely important in the future. It is something Davos says, something I agree with wholeheartedly while many of the book fans don’t.
Olly: I am the sword in the darkness. The Watcher of the Walls. The shield that guards the realms of men.
Davos: The shield that guards the realms of men. That’s what you swore to be. I am not a learned man but the best way to help the most people might not be sitting in the frozen castle at the edge of the world….you might want to get your hands dirty and do what needs to be done.
Jon: And what needs to be done?
Davos: As long as the Boltons rule the North, the North will suffer. Just one man’s opinion.
And one girl’s, Ser Davos, and one girl’s.
Text written by: Monika Ponjavic