Lightbringer: A theoretical outline of Season 8 Episode 3

If you have not read my previous post on Bran burning down King’s Landing, please go back and read that first, as this will make more sense after. While I plan to do an essay detailing how this will occur in A Dream of Spring someday, this essay will outline how I expect it to play out ON THE SHOW.

Disclaimer: Let me preface this by saying that although I expect Bran to burn down King’s Landing in both the show and the books, I expect the way it plays out to be vastly different between the two mediums. Like most of his story, I expect Bran burning down King’s Landing in the books to be a moment that is highly internalized, and I expect it to primarily revolve around the emotional and spiritual weight and responsibility of taking a life, compounded 500,000 times over. In contrast, the show is unable to depict highly internalized events and moments with the same effectiveness that a book can, and so I expect the burning of King’s Landing in the show to be a far more complex and calculated spectacle, involving far more characters and serving as not only the third “holy shit moment” but the centerpiece of the final season.

Though the show is often hard to predict due, I do expect there to be some narrative logic to the final six episodes, if for no other reason than filming and budgetary reasons. I expect that the showrunners will avoid redundancy, so I don’t see the season 7 budget being poured into multiple straightforward zombie battles in different locations with different cast members that all play out essentially the same way. Contrary to what many are expecting, we’re going to have a bunch of losing battles at a bunch of different locations before ending on a winning battle.

So, I expect each major set piece of season 8 to be structurally different.

Right now I’d like to focus on what I am guessing will happen in Season 8, Episode 3, which I expect will give us the big King’s Landing set piece. Of course, I could be off by an episode, and with the amount of detail in this prediction I obviously acknowledge the chances I’m wrong about a lot of this. So let’s have fun here.

One more time, if you haven’t read this, do that first, then come back.

 

Lightbringer

“The gods have no mercy, that’s why they’re gods.”

– Tywin Lannister

The third episode will begin in the aftermath of an epic battle at Winterfell between the armies of the living and the dead. Though our heroes will have fought the army of the dead to a stalemate and forced them to retreat, they will have suffered heavy losses. Jaime Lannister will have come to the rescue with a force from the Riverlands, which will have been a major contributing factor turning the tide of the battle, but the Long Night will rage on, and the night is dark and full of terrors.

This episode will revolve around the faith of R’hllor and the Mad King’s legacy, and it will serve as the climax of the Lord of Light plot.

drogo pyre animated
Expect another of the Children of the Forest’s ancient symbols drawn in fire.

In the opening sequence of the episode, an injured Beric Dondarrion will find himself inexplicably drawn to the Winterfell godswood. There he will find Bran’s dead body at the base of the Heart Tree. For reasons I won’t explain here, I believe that Bran will have been killed in the battle of Winterfell. Seeing this, Beric will kneel down and pass his life force to Bran, resurrecting him like he did for Catelyn in the books. Bran’s eyes will open and the boy will look upon Beric Dondarrion, watching as the life leaves him and he lays down to die. In his final moments, Beric will glimpse the Lord of Light, and he will die at peace, finally understanding his purpose.

I’m pretty skeptical about that part, and I absolutely do NOT think Bran will physically die and be resurrected in the books. If this occurs at all I think this is a SHOW ONLY development, as it’s become clear that the consequences of death and resurrection in the show are totally different than in the books. I just think that with the constant questioning of the Lord of Light’s purpose for Beric, his final purpose is probably something important, and won’t be anything so simple as being killed by wights, but won’t be something as significant as slaying the Night King. I expect the show is probably preserving Beric’s book purpose of passing his life onto someone else. Though I could see a case for it being Jaime, or how the show cures Sandor of his fear of fire, I think it’s the most fitting for Beric if his purpose ends up being to bring back the Lord of Light himself.

 

Act I – The Fate of King’s Landing

scorched-earth

1 :    a military strategy that targets anything that might be useful to the enemy while it is advancing through or withdrawing from an area… the practice may target food sources, water supplies, transportation, communications, industrial resources, and even the locale’s people themselves.

Following the battle at Winterfell, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon and co. will discuss strategy moving forward. They’ve survived the battle but they have not won the war, and the Night King’s army can rebuild by picking off smaller populations in the south. They will decide that a force should remain to protect the North, while the Tully army should move south to protect the Riverlands along with the Dothraki, and the Knights of the Vale should sail to Gulltown and protect the Vale at the Bloody Gate (which is already a great natural defense, but Dany might pledge half of the Unsullied). Jaime will plan to fall back rally the Lannister Army to defend the Westerlands from the Golden Tooth (the show goes out of it’s way to mention that some of the Lannister army are in the Crownlands, while the other half are in the Westerlands).  They will thank Edmure Tully and Yohn Royce for their aid, and Daenerys will pledge to ride out on Drogon to protect them if and when the time comes. She will have earned their respect and they will take their leave. Then Dany will turn to Jaime, asking him about Cersei’s apparent change of heart.

Jaime-On-The-Iron-Throne-1920x1078
Take note that in his visions Bran has already seen Ser Jaime slaying the Mad King to stop the wildfire plot.

Jaime will answer that though he cannot speak for Cersei, he honored his oath and came to their aid. Daenerys will express skepticism that a man who betrayed his own King can talk about oaths or honor, to which Jaime will reply that he betrayed his Queen by coming, and that Dany’s father had a penchant for burning his people alive, including Jon’s grandfather. Jaime will remark that seeing what Daenerys and Drogon did to his men on the battlefield, one might think the apple does not fall far from the tree. Insulted, Dany will ask if Jaime had such a problem with the Mad King’s burning people why the Kingslayer waited till his father was sacking the city and having her brother’s wife and children slaughtered before finding his conscience. Jon will interrupt that they are grateful to Jaime for his aid and ask if there is anything else they can do for him. He will say there is one thing.

Jaime will ask to see Bran.

Upon entering Bran’s room Ser Jaime will be greeted by name. Surprised, Jaime will ask if Bran remembers him, to which Bran will say yes, at which point Jaime will try to apologize for what he did to the boy, and Bran will respond by saying that he understands, and he forgives Jaime for slaying the King Aerys. He’ll say that he has seen the many lives that were lived thanks to Jaime, and that Jaime did what was necessary in preventing the burning of King’s Landing on that day.  This will leave Jaime speechless, at which point Bran will mysteriously apologize to Jaime for what is to come, but Jaime will not ask what Bran means. Before Jaime leaves Bran will remind him that people do terrible things for love.

Theon for yara
The Return of the (Grey) King

Most likely in episode 2, Theon will track down Euron and the Iron Fleet (probably at Ship Breaker Bay). The connection between Euron and storms is mostly in the books, but even in the show he calls himself “the first storm and the last,” and he attacked Dany’s fleet and kidnapped Yara in ‘Stormborn’, so I expect show!Euron will meet his demise at Storms End, probably falling into Shipbreaker Bay. In this confrontation, Euron will die, and either Theon or Yara will die while the other becomes ruler of the Iron Islands, though I’m still really not sure which. The one who survives will take control of the supposed 1,000 ships in the Iron Fleet, which will play a key role in episode 3.

Jon (staring at King’s Landing): How many people live here?
Tyrion: A million, give or take.
Jon: That’s more people than the entire North, crammed into that. Why would anyone want to live that way?

~ The Dragon and the Wolf

Later, having used his power to skinchange ravens, Bran will watch as a small force of wights ambush half of the Golden Company (the rest of them will come into play in episode 5). Given their lack of dragonglass, the dead will easily overrun the sellswords, their horses, and their elephants. This will either happen on their way to recapture The Twins or Casterly Rock. Maybe at the Trident? Off screen Bran will tell Jon about the ambush, and that the the Night King is going to use his new force to seize King’s Landing. Jon will immediately realize that the Night King adding the 1 million residents of King’s Landing to his army would spell utter doom for Westeros.

Jon: Lord Tyrion tells me a million people live in this city. They’re about to become, a million more soldiers in the army of the dead.

~ The Dragon and the Wolf

KL2
King’s Landing is a jackpot for zombies.

Being the seat of House Targaryen, Daenerys will see it as her duty to defend the city and it’s people from the Night King and so Dany will resolve to fly south to halt the army of the dead before they reach the city.

Tyrion will interject that without time to to get a properly equipped army all the way to the capital, Daenerys cannot hold back the dead with just Drogon (I think Rhaegal will die in episode 2). So instead Tyrion will propose that Yara or Theon (having taken back the Iron Fleet), should be sent with Davos and their 1000 ships to Blackwater Bay. There they can stage an exodus, smuggling the city’s population to more defensible locations (possibly Gulltown, White Harbor, Pentos, Lannisport, and Oldtown) before the dead even breach the city walls. With his connections and his knowledge of the layout of the city, Varys will direct the Unsullied in the evacuating the city, so Daenerys and Jon will only need to stall the army of the dead at the gates. Dany and Jon will agree to this plan, just hoping that Cersei will listen to reason and defend the city with them.

Essentially the plan will be not unlike the plan at Hardhome, only on a much grander scale. Get a bunch of boats, fill them up as much as possible with the people of King’s Landing, send them elsewhere as refugees.

Having spent time in King’s Landing before, Arya will volunteer to help as well, though her secret intention will be to kill Cersei (maybe Sandor will come too for his brother). Gendry will volunteer to join Arya, given that Flea Bottom is his home. One reason why I expect this to play out is that Arya rescuing people from the Others is likely going to be a big part of her storyline in the first half of ADOS, and this gives her a real “Nymeria and the Ten Thousand Ships” vibe.

Also, putting Arya and Gendry on an adventure together is going to be important in contextualizing Arya’s ending and the choice she’ll have to make.

cerseijaime
What does one do when they believe no one else in the world matters?

Jaime: You saw with you own eyes! You saw a dead man try to kill us!
Cersei: And I saw it burn! If dragons can’t stop them… if Dothraki and Unsullied and Northmen can’t stop them, how will our armies make a difference?
Jaime: This isn’t about noble houses, this is about the living and the dead!
Cersei: …and I intend to stay amongst the living.

~ The Dragon and the Wolf

Cersei is fully aware that her armies cannot stand up to the army of the dead, and believes that her only shot at survival is to let Daenerys and Jon defeat the dead for her, so that in the aftermath of the Great War she can overcome their weakened (hopefully dragonless) army. This is exactly the strategy Littlefinger put forward to her in season 5 for dealing with the Boltons. But let’s be realistic, if the dead come for to King’s Landing Cersei clearly has no intent of defending the city she hates against the apocalypse.

Cersei Lannister intends to stay among the living.

So, at the Red Keep Cersei will be informed by Qyburn that the dead have overtaken a force from the Golden Company she had sent into the Riverlands, have added them to the army of the dead, and are not headed south on the Kingsroad. The city cannot stand against them, so having absolutely no intention of standing and fighting against the dead, Cersei will agree, and she will choose to abandon King’s Landing and it’s people in favor of a more defensible position (probably Casterly Rock, but if not then Storm’s End). Cersei, the Mountain, Qyburn, Cersei’s handmaiden Bernadette, and her personal guards will sail away from the city, with plans to eventually join up with the Golden Company. I expect that Euron will have fetched the Golden Company by the first episode of the season, and they will have been sent already (at least partially) to take back the Twins and Casterly Rock (or she could split them up and send some of them south?).

Either way, Cersei specifically plans to use the Golden Company to recover the lands that belong to her (she states this on two separate occasions) so Casterly Rock is a pretty safe bet.

Cersei: That thing you dragged here, I know what it is I know what it means. When it came at me I didn’t think about the world, not at all. As soon as it opened it’s mouth the world disappeared for me right down it’s black throat. All I could think about was keeping those gnashing teeth away from those who matter most, away from my family. Maybe Euron Greyjoy had the right idea. Get on a boat, take those who matter…

~ The Dragon and the Wolf

There is a set up for Cersei leaving King’s Landing in the books as well…

“Would that we could do the same to the rest of this foul castle,” said Cersei. “After the war I mean to build a new palace beyond the river.” She had dreamed of it the night before last, a magnificent white castle surrounded by woods and gardens, long leagues from the stinks and noise of King’s Landing. “This city is a cesspit. For half a groat I would move the court to Lannisport and rule the realm from Casterly Rock.– Cersei III, AFFC

Act II – The Battle for the Dawn

scorched-earth

2 :    relating to or being a military policy involving deliberate and usually widespread destruction of property and resources (such as housing and factories) so that an invading enemy cannot use them

Jon, Dany, Tyrion, Davos, Varys, Arya, Gendry and co. will arrive at a snowy King’s Landing to tell Cersei that she needs to help them evacuate the city. To their surprise they will find the gates unguarded, the city defenseless, the Gold Cloaks AWOL due to lack of leadership, and they will realize that Cersei has abandoned King’s Landing. For the first time in the series, the Iron Throne is vacant.

heart of fire
Enter Melisandre and the Fiery Hand.

Varys: So where will you go?
Melisandre: Volantis.
Varys: Good. If you don’t mind my saying, I don’t think you should return, to Westeros. I’m not sure you’d be safe here.
Melisandre: Well, I will return dear Spider. One last time.
Varys: My lady…
Melisandre: I have to die in this strange country. Just like you.

~ The Queen’s Justice

Instead of Queen Cersei, our heroes will be greeted by Melisandre, who will have returned from Volantis with the Fiery Hand, a holy army of slave soldiers from the Temple of the Lord of Light. The Fiery Hand will have pledged to give their lives to fight in the Great War against the darkness on the side of the Lord of Light’s chosen. Arya and Gendry will be distrusting of Melisandre, but given the dire situation Jon and Daenerys will accept her help, and they will begin preparing for a siege while they await the Iron Fleet.

On the night the of the siege, the Red Comet will appear in the sky once more.

When the army of the dead arrive to siege King’s Landing, Dany will ride Drogon and hold back the dead by burning the surrounded forests, while Jon and the Fiery Hand will defend the city gates. In the books there are Seven Gates, but it’s unclear how many there are in the show since exterior shots of the city show the city to be more surrounded by water than it’s book counterpart. My guess is that in the show it’s closer to 2 or 3. In the battle, Jon will use his blood to set Longclaw ablaze like Beric does, which ill inspire the Fiery Hand. Privately though, Melisandre will tell Jon that she has tricked people with a false Lightbringer before, and that Jon’s blood alone is not enough to banish the darkness.

Kingslanding overview
This is the book layout of the city, but the show layout differs a bit due to practical limitations.

The siege of King’s Landing will be comparable to the Battle of Helms Deep, while the evacuation will be comparable to the Evacuation of Dunkirk. Unlike the battle at Winterfell where the living will ride out and meet the dead, at King’s Landing they will stay back and defend the gates. This is because Winterfell is where the armies of the living will be at their full strength. Since Winterfell is not a choke point, if the living were to hide behind the city walls then the dead could simply go around, picking off smaller populations (not unlike how Robert described a hypothetical Dothraki invasion in season 1). Hence I believe the goal at Winterfell will be to break the Night King’s army right there. By contrast at King’s Landing the armies of the living will not be at full strength, and the city is essentially a dead end, with the narrow sea directly behind it. The goal will be to stall for an evacuation.

If you are looking for a historical parallel, it’s not totally unlike the evacuation of Dunkirk, in which some 300,000 allied troops were evacuated by sea. In this case it’s a million, and it’s civilians being evacuated rather than soldiers.

Euron: Build me a thousand ships… and I will give you this world.

~ The Door

Euron: It’s the greatest armada Westeros has ever seen. With the Iron Fleet, you own the seas!

~ Dragonstone

Davos and Theon (or Yara?) will have the Iron Fleet positioned in the Blackwater Bay to save as many people as possible. Meanwhile Arya and Gendry will go to Flea Bottom and evacuate the most impoverish, and Varys will lead the Unsullied to go door to door, street to street, evacuating the city. At one point during the evacuation Varys will seemingly come to a realization and go missing.

Jon and Daenerys will have things under control at first, but they will begin to struggle holding back the dead once the Night King shows up on UnViserion, or once the undead elephants taken from the Golden Company show up and start ramming the gates.

Screenshot-2017-10-5 HBO NOW®(1)

Serving as a callback to how they met after fleeing King’s Landing with other orphans at the beginning of season 2, Arya and Gendry will lead a group of peasants and orphans from Flea Bottom onto a small boat and take them to the Iron Fleet. These will end up being the only surviving residents of King’s Landing.

Eventually the city walls will be breached, and Jon, Melisandre and the Fiery Hand will fall back.

Act III – The Voice of God

scorched-earth

3 :    directed toward victory or supremacy at all costs : RUTHLESS

As the Battle for the Dawn enters the city, the situation in King’s Landing will devolve into utter chaos. Dead men will swarm the city, clashing with fire wielding religious fanatics, overrunning the Unsullied, and butchering civilians as they try to flee. Dragons will fight each other in the sky while on the ground undead elephants rampage through the streets. Melisandre will tell Jon that he must go to the Queen and their child, and that together they must end the Long Night and bring the dawn. This will shock Jon, who will not yet know that Daenerys is pregnant.

In the sky, Daenerys will panic, realizing that they have failed to evacuate the city, and the Night King is about to take all of her people into his army. Daenerys will find Jon by his flaming sword and tell him that the city has fallen. Jon will join her on Drogon and tell her that their only hope is to kill the Night King, and together they will attack the Night King on UnViserion, stopping him as he tries to raise more dead, and pushing him past the gates of the city. Jon will tell Daenerys to fly up next to UnViserion and stay close. When Drogon gets close to the blue eyes wight dragon, Jon will pull a Daemon the Rogue Prince and jump onto the Night King’s mount, trying to slay him in the sky. The Night King will do what he can to try to throw Jon off, bringing UnViserion down for a crash landing outside of the city. Jon will roll down the hill, ending up a distance away from the Night King.

The Night King will rise first, unaffected by the fall. Jon will stagger to his feet, Longclaw no longer on fire. Struggling to stand, Jon will stare up at the Night King who has begun lifting his arms to raise the dead, just like he did at Hardhome. With the battle still raging within the city, we will watch as dead men throughout the city open their cold blue eyes, beginning to rise, many of whom ironically wearing the banner of the fiery heart of R’hllor. Even Melisandre herself might be raised.

We will then cut to Winterfell, where we’ll see that Bran has been sitting in front of a fire, watching all of this. At this point we will discover what the Three Eyed Raven has been up to.

kinvara

Varys: Isn’t that the point of being a fanatic? You’re always right. Everything is the Lord’s will…
Kinvara: Everything is the Lord’s will… But men and women make mistakes. Even honest servants of the Lord.
Varys: And you, an honest servant of the Lord. Why should I trust you to know any more than the priestess who counseled Stannis?
Tyrion: My friend has a healthy skepticism of of religion. But we are all loyal supporters of the Queen.
Kinvara: Everyone is what they are, and where they are, for a reason. Terrible things, happen for a reason. Take what happened to you lord Varys, when you were a child. If not for your mutilation, at the hand of a second rate sorcerer, you wouldn’t be here, helping the Lord’s chosen bring his light into the world. Knowledge has made you powerful, but there is still so much you don’t know.  Do you remember what you heard that night, when the sorcerer tossed your parts into the fire? You heard a voice call out from the flames, do you remember? Should I tell you what the voice said? should I tell you the name of the one who spoke?

~ The Door

In the original draft of this dialogue, Kinvara was going to ask if Varys would like to know where the voice lives. Note that immediately after the conversation above, we got a cut to the cave of the Three Eyed Raven and witnessed the scene in which Bran became the Three Eyed Raven.

Also, neither Mel, nor Stannis, nor Thoros, nor Beric, nor Jon, have ever claimed to have heard the Lord of Light. The only instances in which people have heard a mysterious voice have been Ned at the Tower of Joy, and Hodor the day he became Hodor.

Anyways…

“Yet I still dream of that night, my lord. Not of the sorcerer, nor his blade, nor even the way my manhood shriveled as it burned. I dream of the voice. The voice from the flames. Was it a god, a demon, some conjurer’s trick? I could not tell you, and I know all the tricks. All I can say for a certainty is that he called it, and it answered, and since that day I have hated magic and all those who practice it.” – Varys (Tyrion X, ACOK)

varys
“I WANT YOU TO SERVE THE REALM!” – Varys

Just like with Hold the Door, we will cut to Bran’s astral projection in the past, watching a boy struggle and protest in a darkened room as he is bound by a strange robed man. The boy is forced by the man to drink a potion, after which he will become unable to really move, but the terror will not leave his face. From the boy we will then cut back to Varys in the present. Varys will have been missing for much of the siege, and we will find that (like an activated sleeper agent) Varys has been in a trance like state, spilling barrels of wildfire, leaving trails of the glowing green substance throughout tunnels underneath the city. In the past, Bran will watch as the sorcerer goes to the fire and holds a blade over the flames, chanting in a strange tongue. It will become clear that the boy is Varys, and we are looking back at the moment he was cut (in fact I believe we may have already seen the casting call for young Varys). The boy will wince in agony as the sorcerer cuts him and takes a bloody mass to the fire, calling out to the fire as it changes color. As the boy stares helplessly into the flickering blue flames, an invisible Bran will stare back at him. As the Three Eyed Raven begins to whisper, we will cut back to Varys in the present. Varys will snap out of his trance, like a sleeper agent having completed his task.

Varys: My little birds are everywhere. Even in the north, they whisper to me… the strangest stories.

~ Lord Snow

As it turns out, the very first little bird to whisper to Varys had three eyes. Varys will finally understand what the voice in the flames had said to him all those years ago. The voice he dreamed of over and over. And with a heavy heart the Spider will utter his last words:

“Burn them all.”

“I was grievous sad to hear about your son. And him so young. The gods are cruel.” – Varys (Catelyn IV, AGOT)

Note: In Bran’s vision of his father in the dungeons beneath the Red Keep, Ned Stark is actually staring at a torch held by Varys. This is where Varys criticized Ned for being merciful, and also where Varys urged him to serve the realm.

We will then cut to Daenerys who is mounted on Drogon, watching as the dead massacre the people as they flee. We will cut to Bran, who’s eyes will go white, and then back to Drogon, who will suddenly turn away from the Night King and fly toward the city. Confused, Daenerys will try to command Drogon, but find that she has completely lost control of her child. At this point Drogon will begin breathing fire down onto the city, setting off a cache of wildfire that will quickly spread out in a spiral pattern matching the patterns created by both the Children of the Forest and the White Walkers, before engulfing the city completely.

cotfradial
Imagine something like this symbol over King’s landing, but with lots and lots of wildfire.

“There will come a day after a long summer when the stars bleed and the cold breath of darkness falls heavy on the world. In this dread hour a warrior shall draw from the fire a burning sword. And that sword shall be Lightbringer, the Red Sword of Heroes, and he who clasps it shall be Azor Ahai come again, and the darkness shall flee before him.” – Melisandre

As the fire spreads, the living members of the Fiery Hand will look up at the sky and in their final moments they will call out “Lightbringer!” as the Red Sword of Heroes descends upon them, illuminating the night and burning away the living along with the dead. Melisandre will fulfill her destiny and die in the strange country of Westeros.

Eddard: Tell me something Varys, who do you truly serve?
Varys: The realm, my lord. Someone must.

~ The Pointy End, written by George R. R. Martin

Beneath the Red Keep, Varys will be engulfed by wildfire, dying alone in service of the realm. The boy raised with actors, who once learned that each man has a role to play will finally understand his, and he will play his role in secrecy.

Throughout the city, the people of King’s Landing will stare up at the Mad King’s daughter as she lives up to her father’s legacy. Grey Worm and the Unsullied will stare up at the night sky as the Queen who gave them their freedom, sentences them to death. His plot foiled, the Night King will retreat north on UnViserion and Jon will watch as flames consumes the city of one million. From the bay, Davos, Gendry, and the survivors from Flea Bottom will watch as their home is burned away. Tyrion will lament the utter failure of his plan to save the city. Worst of all, Missandei will watch as the Queen she has dedicated her life in service to sacrifices the people she had once liberated, including the man she loves.

All the while, Daenerys Targaryen will fly over the city, looking down at hundreds of thousands of her people crying out for mercy as the fire takes them, all while she pleads to her child to stop.

Still, he will not stop. The gods have no mercy. That’s why they’re gods.

Aftermath

uhx7sdu
And then this will be the opening shot of episode 4.

The entire population of King’s Landing, both combatants and civilians, living and dead, Fiery Hand and Unsullied, will be burned away in wildfire (save for the small group of survivors from Flea Bottom who will be evacuated by Arya and Gendry). Melisandre will die. Varys will die. Grey Worm will die. The army of the dead will have their numbers essentially decimated, and the Night King will retreated back to the Lands of Always Winter on UnViserion. The plan to save King’s Landing will be seen as an utter failure. Jon and Tyrion will shoulder the responsibility, but despite Bran’s secret god-like intervention, it will be Daenerys who is blamed for making the call and sacrificing everyone in the city. A grief stricken Missandei will lose faith in her Queen. Unable to face anyone, Daenerys will fly away, horrified at Drogon’s actions and her inability to stop him from burning he city. Thus Dany will send herself to the Wall.

 

 

 

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Bran Them All: The Fate of King’s Landing

Disclaimer: This is a show theory and thus will primarily rely on evidence from the show. But since it’s regarding such a big important moment, I expect to see this play out in the books as well, albeit slightly differently.


“Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York.”

– Richard III

Ever since the post Hold the Door visions Bran experiences upon becoming one with the Three Eyed Raven, there has been a prominent fan theory that King Aerys’ madness was somehow the result of a time traveling Bran. While I’m neither here to support nor detract from this theory, I think the truth about why the Mad King’s wildfire plot and the phrase “Burn Them All!” is repeated in Bran’s visions is neither to setup a time loop, nor as mere foreshadowing Cersei’s burning of the Sept. in the season 6 finale.

Rather, I believe Bran himself will be the one to burn down King’s Landing.

The city that ends in Ice and Fire

dragon-flies-over-kings-landing
All behold the God of Flame and Shadow!

First of all, King’s Landing definitely burns down.

It’s been foreshadowed by the show as early as the season 2 finale in which Daenerys walks through a ruined, snowy Red Keep in the House of the Undying, it appears several times in Bran’s visions, and in the books it’s the entire thematic underpinning of King’s Landing as a location. It serves as the corrupt, dysfunctional cradle of Westerosi government, and as the volatile embodiment of the Targaryen dynasty. For a while now people have wondered whether it would be Cersei who will fulfill this vision as the Mad King reborn, or Daenerys who would burn down the city in some Dance of the Dragons accident. But as far as the show is concerned, the time for Cersei or Daenerys to burn the city is over. Cersei has already expressed a desire to flee the city if things get truly bad, and Daenerys’ invasion on the show has come to an end, and still the city stands. Meanwhile the context of the visions are very specifically setting up the existence of wildfire within the context of the threat posed by the Others.

Though the wildfire beneath King’s Landing is heavily emphasized in Bran’s season 6 vision overload, there is something huge that comes up when Bran touches a Weirwood in season 4’s ‘The Lion and the Rose’ (an episode written by George R.R. Martin himself.) In the S4Ep2 inside the episode, D&D specify that the visions which Bran sees upon touching the Weirwood Tree will all pertain to the destiny laid out for him specifically when he masters the abilities of the Three Eyed Raven. They state that of all of these visions, the most crucial shot is of shadow of a dragon flying over King’s Landing. This shot is seemingly from the perspective of a dragon, and Benioff poses the question; “is this shot from the past, or is it from the future?” He says we will have to find out, which in this context almost certainly means it pertains to Bran’s future.

And yes, literally ALL of the S4Ep2 visions pertain to Bran. Ned Stark is Bran’s father, him cleaning Ice is done before of a Heart Tree and represents the “pass the sentence” lesson from the first chapter/episode, Ned in the dungeons of KL is staring at a fire, the flock of ravens shows Bran’s eventual ability to learn to warg flocks of ravens, the wight and the undead mount represent the undead who eventually come for Bran in the cave, the Night King eventually sees/touches/attacks Bran and becomes his nemesis, Cersei yelling “he saw us” is a reference to the NK seeing Bran, and is also literally in reference to Bran, this is directly followed by Bran falling from the tower. The voice is the Three Eyed Raven telling Bran to go North, the northern landscape is what Bran traverses, the tree is where Bran eventually goes, the roots are what Bran uses to learn to see, and the Three Eyed Raven is what Bran becomes.

This only leaves the ruined King’s Landing and the dragon flying over King’s Landing.

So let’s put this together!

  1. All of the S4Ep2 visions specifically relate to Bran’s destiny upon mastering the powers of the Three Eyed Raven.
  2. The showrunners state that the most crucial of Bran’s visions is a dragon’s eye view over King’s Landing.
  3. Bran can skinchange things at long range.
  4. In Bran’s S6Ep6 visions, wildfire, along with the phrase “Burn them all!” is repeatedly accompanied by visions of the Others.
  5. According to Jojen and UnBenjen, Bran’s purpose has always been stopping the Night King and the army of the dead.
  6. Both Bran and Daenerys have seen visions of a snowy, ruined Red Keep.
  7. In the season 7 finale, Jon brings up the population of King’s Landing.
  8. In the season 7 finale, Cersei has expresses a willingness to abandon King’s Landing if the dead come.
  9. Despite Dany’s war with Cersei, King’s Landing still hasn’t burned down yet.

 

Alright everyone, put away your “Jaime strangles Mad Queen Cersei to stop her from setting off the Wildfire” theories, because that’s not what the story is setting up anymore. But here is what the story is setting up.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
– Fire and Ice, by Robert Frost

At a certain point in season 8 (I’m guessing episode 3), a part of the army of the dead will break off and close in on King’s Landing. This will be after the largest battle sequence of the series has already taken place, and the army of the dead has been greatly diminished, and will thus be seeking out populations to rebuild their forces. Due to Cersei’s refusal to form a truce or aide in the Great War, King’s Landing will not be prepared for the dead. They won’t be armed with dragonglass weapons, they won’t be prepared for a siege by wights, and Cersei may by this point have even sent away part of her forces to retake Casterly Rock. Hell, given Cersei’s single minded fixation to fight off her many enemies, and given her deep hatred for the people of her city, she will likely have totally neglected to prepare King’s Landing with provisions for the harsh winter. We see Sansa taking care of this in season 7, but it’s unlikely that Cersei is putting any of her attention into feeding and warming the people she so literally despises.

In fact, given her dialogue in the season 7 finale about Euron Greyjoy being right and finding a secluded spot to hide away with those that matter, I suspect that by the time the dead close in, Queen Cersei will have fled the city for Casterly Rock (book Cersei is totally headed for Casterly Rock at the end of Winds).

After all, “hang the world” right?

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God I fucking love Cersei…

In the dead of winter, as the icy Others and their legions of the dead reach King’s Landing, it will become clear that there is nothing to stop them from infesting the densely populated city and multiplying their army. Given their lack of care for the people they’d be tasked with protecting and their basic lack of dragonglass to even fight the dead, the show!Golden Company will either turn tail and run or simply be devastated and added to the army of the dead.

The season finale foreshadows King’s Landing coming into play when Jon questions Tyrion about the population of the city, emphasizing how the compact city is more populous than the entire North (in the books there are approximately 500,000 people living in King’s Landing, but the show bumps this number up to approximately one million). By taking King’s Landing, the dead will be able to quickly regain any numbers they might have lost against the armies of Westeros, increasing their force to greater than five times what they started with. It would be a death sentence for all of Westeros.

This is where the Lord of Light comes in (and yes, Bran is the Last Hero is the Three Eyed Raven is the Old Gods is the Lord of Light).

To save humanity, Bran will warg into Rhaegal (or Drogon maybe?), and fly over King’s Landing up to the Red Keep and set off the wildfire beneath the city. Bran will thus sentence 500,000 people to death (a million on the show), and in doing so exercise the moral authority of a god. There is a Robert Frost poem that Martin loves that goes on about how some say the world will end in fire, and some say ice. As for King’s Landing, it will end in both. The city will fall to ice and then to fire.

First it will freeze, then it will burn.

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This is happening people.

While I’ve seen good cases for the burning of King’s Landing being the work of Cersei or Daenerys, I believe it makes the most narrative sense for Bran to be the one to do it. Though both are possible, Cersei destroying King’s Landing has always felt a little underwhelming because no one actually doubts that a psychopath like her would be capable of such a thing. On the other hand Daenerys accidentally setting off the wildfire while she is at war with fAegon feels like a reductive way to depict the death of hundreds of thousands of people. Bran on the other hand is the perfect POV character to bear the burden because how he would handle such a choice has been set up for him from the very first chapter.

 

If you would take a life

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This is the face you make when you watch a man die.

“The morning had dawned clear and cold, with a crispness that hinted at the end of summer. They set forth at daybreak to see a man beheaded, twenty in all, and Bran rode among them, nervous with excitement. This was the first time he had been deemed old enough to go with his lord father and his brothers to see the king’s justice done. It was the ninth year of summer, and the seventh of Bran’s life.” (Bran I, AGOT)

Bran I is the first point of view chapter of the series, and is also the genesis of Martin writing ASOIAF. He literally conceived of the entire story from just writing an early draft of this one chapter. It opens with Bran and his brothers going to witness their father carry out the King’s justice. The central theme of this chapter which not only opens Bran’s story, but begins A Song of Ice and Fire, is regarding the nature of justice and the moral weight of taking a life. In keeping with the Norther tradition, Lord Eddard Stark personally executes every person that he sentences to death, ensuring that he hear out each person before he carry out the sentence so that he never lose sight of the what death really is. In that first chapter Lord Stark must take a life, and for the very first time Bran Stark has to see. From the execution of Gared to the choice to spare and adopt for the orphaned direwolf pups, the chapter explores the responsibility in both taking and sparing a life, and it explores the entangled nature of both fear and courage.

“Yet our way is the older way. The blood of the First Men still flows in the veins of the Starks, and we hold to the belief that the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword. If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die.” Eddard (Bran I, AGOT)

“One day, Bran, you will be Robb’s bannerman, holding a keep of your own for your brother and your king, and justice will fall to you. When that day comes, you must take no pleasure in the task, but neither must you look away. A ruler who hides behind paid executioners soon forgets what death is.” – Eddard (Bran I, AGOT)

That his father’s lesson would come back up for him is promised right there in the first chapter. Just as Bran’s story opens with him witnessing a beheading and learning from his Lord father about the moral responsibility of taking a life, Bran’s story will culminate in the decision to act as a god and take the lives of thousands upon thousands of people. Ned Stark’s advice to Bran was that if he is to pass the sentence, then he must swing the sword. Though being warged into a dragon and burning down the city himself covers that aspect of his fathers lesson, the other part gets a bit more complicated. Bran is also taught that if he is to take a life, he must look a man in the eye and hear their last words, and if he cannot do that, then that person perhaps does not deserve to die. Whether the execution is by Ice or fire, he must not look away, and even in that first chapter, as a boy of seven Bran did not look away. So even though the action will ultimately be to prevent the dead from overcoming the Seven Kingdoms, he is still bound by the traditions of his father to hear out every single person who’s life he would take.

And this is where it gets a little out there…

I propose that as Bran chooses to sacrifice a dragon to light the wildfire beneath King’s Landing and burn the capital to the ground, he will (in the books) use the full extent of his powers and the power of the weirwoods to warg into every single person in King’s Landing. In a single moment, Bran will telepathically connect to and become every single one of the over 500,000 people that he is sentencing to death. He will know who each of them are, he will have the courage to experience their fear, and he will hear each of their final thoughts. Though he will be hundreds of miles away, Brandon Stark as the Winged Wolf will know each life and death individually and simultaneously.

ragnarok_by_valentina_mustajarvi-d4fazyi
art by Valentina Mustajarvi

In essence Bran will create a momentary collective consciousness of every person in King’s Landing. A song of ice and fire. In a mythological sense, this will parallel the bound warg Fenrir devouring the sun during Ragnarok. Though the show has Bran cease to be himself anymore when he becomes the Three Eyed Raven, in the books I propose this will be in this moment that Bran truly becomes a god.

 

God-On-Earth

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This is the face you make when you watch a million people die.

I realize this all sounds a bit weird, but this is very very much the sort of thing that George R.R. Martin writes. Collective consciousness is a reoccurring theme in Martin’s work, from ‘A Song For Lya’ to ‘And Seven Times Never Kill Man’ to ‘The Armageddon Rag.’ The concept is presented throughout Ice & Fire, and is deeply embedded into Bran’s story.

Godlike intervention, is also prominent…

“the nature of the crisis on S’uthlam was such that it admitted to a solution only by godlike intervention.” – Tuf, Manna From Heaven

What I propose here is actually not unlike how GRRM decided to end his Tuf Voyaging series in Manna from Heaven. In Manna From Heaven, Tuf returns to S’uthlam, a planet now at war with seven other worlds, which is also facing a population crisis, and thus mass starvation. Tuf states that the crisis facing S’uthlam is so terrible that should he approach the problem like a mortal man, he would fail. The planet’s salvation requires cruel but necessary divine intervention, and in Manna From Heaven this takes on the form of the forced mass sterilization of the S’uthlamese.

For more on Tuf Voyaging and Manna From Heaven, our boy Preston does a great analysis on it.

The crisis facing Westeros in the final book/season will be comparable in magnitude to the one on S’uthlam, and nowhere is this crisis more clearly reflected than King’s Landing (though the Riverlands are certainly up there). Though the problems facing Westeros are spread out, they concentrate and multiply in the capital city. From the beginning, we’ve seen King’s Landing to be deeply corrupt, overpopulated, impoverish, and even smells like shit. The city is rotten, and like the surrounding continent, over the course of the story it’s ravaged by war, riots, scandal, succession disputes, divestment of faith from institutions, poverty, religious extremism, and eventually with Aegon VI and Jon Connington taking the city we will likely see the a greyscale infection begin to spread throughout the city (though that part is book only). Finally, when winter descends upon the city, the Others and their legions of wights will create a tipping point where the situation in King’s Landing becomes completely unsolvable, and the city must be wiped out else it take the world down with it.

“Now I propose to succeed as the god that S’uthlam requires. Should I approach the problem as a human a third time, I would assuredly fail a third time, and then your difficulties would be resolved by gods crueler than myself, by the four mammal-riders of ancient legend who are known as pestilence, famine, war, and death. Therefore, I must set aside my humanity, and act as god.” – Tuf, Manna From heaven

Though I would certainly not cite the ending of Tuf Voyaging is proof that the same will happen in Ice & Fire, the buildup is already there, and the show has certainly given us major clues that this is where the narrative is headed. As was the case on S’uthlam, if King’s Landing is not destroyed then the crisis in Westeros would be resolved by crueler gods. I would be resolved by the Others, who would add the entire population of the city to their army and proceed to quickly sweep over the entire continent. Hence we are being presented with a very similar moral dilemma, and thus the son of Stark must act as the Lord of Light.

That said, I do not believe that the burning of King’s Landing will end the Long Night, nor do I believe it will actually end the war against the Others. The Others will still need to be dealt with after this, but this will require a whole different sacrifice. I’m only proposing that this will be a major cataclysmic moment in the war. Also that it will serve as the ultimate realization of the lesson Bran learns in his first chapter about the responsibility of taking a life, and it will finalize his ascent into godhood.

“The bleeding star bespoke the end,” he said to Aeron. “These are the last days, when the world shall be broken and remade. A new god shall be born from the graves and charnel pits.” – Euron (The Forsaken, TWOW)

In a way Euron was right, he was just wrong about the identity of the new god. It’s not Euron, it’s Bran. While Euron sees godhood as a way to feed into his own ego, for Bran it will be attained through empathy, responsibility, and sacrifice. Euron’s show of narcissism and opportunism will be undone by Bran’s bravery and conscience. As we have seen in the show, the cost of Bran taking in all of that collective memory is the loss of himself and his individuality. Meera was right. Though he did not physically die when he became the Three Eyed Raven, the boy he had been indeed died in the cave. Bran ceased to be himself when he was overwhelmed by the godhood and became one with the Three Eyed Raven.

“I can’t recall the taste of food, nor the sound of water, nor the touch of grass. I’m naked in the dark. There’s nothing–no veil between me and the wheel of fire. I can see him with my waking eyes.” – Frodo, The Return of the King

Though Bran in the books will be far, far away from the fiery winter graveyard that is King’s Landing, in the books he will never be the same after this moment (in the show Bran has already reached this point of no return). Like Frodo was too deeply hurt to return to the Shire after carrying the Ring to Mount Doom, Bran will be too deeply hurt, his soul too overcome by the pain of the lives he has taken to return to himself or his boyhood. For the rest of the story and the rest of his life he will be an otherworldly entity akin to the Ghost of High Heart or Patchface. For example, though the clever lad that Steffon Baratheon freed in Volantis may be there somewhere inside of Patchface, he has become overwhelmed by the breadth of something much greater. The individual he was has become mostly lost in channeling a greater force. Bran will face a similar fate.

It’s sad. He was such a good kid too.

From here the certain doom of Westeros will have been averted, Bran’s mind will fully disperse and ascend to the astral plane. Then will commence the final act of actually putting an end to the Long Night. A mission in which Bran will act as the ghost in the machine. The force guiding our heroes to the resolution.

 

Why Winterfell must not fall

From a discussion I had yesterday, I am beginning to see that some people believe that season 8 will begin with the Army of the Dead arriving at Winterfell  before Dany and Co. and the Army of the Dead completely massacring the entire Northern, Vale, and Wildling force, with a few main characters escaping while the castle falls.

First, let’s get this out of the way; The show’s inconsistent portrayal of time and distance makes it impossible to logically determine whether the Army of the Dead should or should not beat Daenerys’ army’s estimated two week ETA. All we know is that the falling of the Wall is the last thing that occurs in the episode, but we can’t say how far in the future from the previous scene it is.

Regardless, let me get into why this probably won’t happen, and also what it would mean if it did.

What is Winterfell?

Let’s think about what Winterfell is really. It’s more than just a castle. It’s more than just someone’s home. It’s a seat of power. It’s a physical manifestation of House Stark as a Northern institution. As a family which has presided over and protected the North for countless generations. Winterfell stands at the center of the North and is the central o the lives of the Stark children, and each of them feels connected to it. Each are drawn to it. Nowhere is this made more clear than Bran’s final chapter in Clash, which is one of the most powerful, uplifting, and poetic chapters in the series. The chapter is so good that GRRM chooses to end a book on it.

The ending is just wonderful:

At the edge of the wolfswood, Bran turned in his basket for one last glimpse of the castle that had been his life. Wisps of smoke still rose into the grey sky, but no more than might have risen from Winterfell’s chimneys on a cold autumn afternoon. Soot stains marked some of the arrow loops, and here and there a crack or a missing merlon could be seen in the curtain wall, but it seemed little enough from this distance. Beyond, the tops of the keeps and towers still stood as they had for hundreds of years, and it was hard to tell that the castle had been sacked and burned at all. The stone is strong, Bran told himself, the roots of the trees go deep, and under the ground the Kings of Winter sit their thrones. So long as those remained, Winterfell remained. It was not dead, just broken. Like me, he thought. I’m not dead either.- (Bran VII, ACOK)

In the closing words of A Clash of Kings, Bran himself finds the connection between Winterfell and himself, and in doing so sets up the larger connection between Winterfell and all of the Starks. Just as Winterfell is brought down by the betrayal of Theon (and then Ramsay), the Northern/Stark cause led by Robb is brought down by the betrayal of the Freys and Boltons at the Red Wedding. So it’s quite fitting that in this chapter Maester Luwin with his parting words reminds Bran that he is his father’s son. The castle is Ned Stark’s legacy. The castle is Bran. The castle is broken, but not dead. Just like that legacy. Just like Bran.

While many suspect that the phrase “there must always be a Stark in Winterfell” holds some kind of magical hidden meaning, I’d like to set aside any speculation on ice dragons, active volcanos, a Night’s Queen sealed in the crypts, zombie greenseer Lyanna, magic ice sword in the Black pool of the Godswood, etc. There is political, cultural, and historical significance to having a Stark holding Winterfell. A sense of safety and confidence in a long standing tradition is being upheld.

When the Starks do not hold Winterfell it’s almost like there is a disturbance in the Force. Not necessarily a literal magical disturbance, but a sense of discord in the collective conscious of the North. We literally see this discord in the way Winterfell chapters are written in ADWD. It’s in the tone. While the Boltons rule Winterfell, there is this underlying gloom and misery.

So, when the Starks hold Winterfell once more, whether that Stark is Sansa or Jon or both, that fucking means something. It represents a restoration of confidence in an age old tradition.

Which brings me to the endgame, both in the show and in the books.

The Purpose of House Stark

If the Others come and the Starks hold Winterfell, and then the castle falls… then that means Winterfell fails. This is a bigger deal than most people realize. It wouldn’t just mean that the castle has failed again. The way things are in the show, this would mean that the entire Northern army, the entire Vale army, and the entire Wildling army, are all added to the Army of the Dead (and yes, all of them would be there, Bran knows the Night King is coming and will alert Sansa and have her call the banners if they aren’t already there). It would mean that the people of the North, the people of Wintertown, the people under the protection of House Stark who are taking refuge in the castle.. all those men, women, and children would die. This would go beyond fodder to make the Long Night seem more cataclysmic. This would mean that House Stark has utterly failed as an institution.

If the family who’s words are “Winter is Coming” fails to protect their people when tha promised supernatural winter comes, then House Stark becomes irrelevant.

The idea that even if the castle falls and the North is totally decimated House Stark could still live on if Bran and Arya escape to join up with Jon… totally misses the entire in-world point of House Stark. House Stark are the *protectors of the North.* Even though we as an audience care primarily about the main characters, House Stark protecting their people *fucking matters.* In fact it’s the entire point of House Stark as an institution. The way I see it, the story being set up right now is that Winterfell fell to betrayal, and the Starks fell to betrayal, but both lived on and the legacy was carried forward through the remaining children of Ned Stark (+ Jon). But the reason it matters that the Starks lived on has always been so that when push comes to shove… when winter comes and the dead rise, Winterfell must stand.

The Starks of Winterfell must stand.

And when I say “stand”, I don’t just mean that castle can’t be destroyed. I don’t just mean the Stark children must survive. I mean they must stand for their people. Both Winterfell and the Starks have to be there to stand against the Others and protect the North. To protect the people sworn to them. To uphold their duty as the ruling family in the North. I can’t stress enough how important this is.

Because otherwise it should be the end of House Stark forever. If Winterfell fails every time... If House Stark fails to protect the North when it really counts and winter comes… then what is the point of Winterfell? What is the point of House Stark? If Winterfell falls and the Starks fail to protect the people of the North, then it wouldn’t even matter if a couple Starks survive the apocalypse and come back to retake and rebuild their seat. House Starks wouldn’t actually deserve their seat. If they fail to protect their people when it actually matters then the retaking of their home is an empty, undeserved victory. House Stark would have utterly failed as an institution.

Fortunately, I don’t think this will happen.

“Let me tell you something about wolves, child. When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives. Summer is the time for squabbles. In winter, we must protect one another, keep each other warm, share our strengths. So if you must hate, Arya, hate those who would truly do us harm. Septa Mordane is a good woman, and Sansa … Sansa is your sister. You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you … and I need both of you, gods help me.” – (Arya II, AGOT)

Like I mentioned above, Winterfell represents House Stark, which currently lives on through Ned Starks children. The castle will stand and protect the North when Winter finally comes, and this will be the ultimate realization of Ned Stark’s legacy. In the West, Tyrion and Cersei’s petty, hate filled conflict over the empty (I realize this is a show thing, but I think it will come to pass in the books) Casterly Rock will serve as a symbol of Tywin’s legacy. It’s the same in King’s Landing. The wildfire buried beneath the city, about to go off and burn hundreds of thousands of people will serve as a representation of the fiery, volatile, (maybe sacrificial) and likely soon to be ruined legacy of House Targaryen.

But with Winterfell, I expect the legacy will promise to be a much more positive one. In the end the wolves of house Stark standing together, doing their duty, and protecting the North from harm in the dead of winter will ultimately be the realization of Ned Stark’s legacy, both as a lord and as a father.

 

tldr; If season 8 begins with the Night King and his army arriving at Winterfell ahead of Jon and Dany & Co. and then completely massacring the entire Northern army, along with the Vale and Wildling force, then even if a couple Starks survive, Winterfell becomes utterly pointless and House Stark will have totally failed as a Northern institution. After this any return or restoration of House Stark would be completely empty and undeserved.

 

Death is the Stranger, Arya Stark is not

Please note, it’s possible to enjoy the show and still be critical of it. It’s also possible to point out why something works in the books not out of a desire to have everything be exactly like the books, but to provide a contrast for where the adaptation might have failed. Adaptation is hard, but that doesn’t mean we can’t critique it. Besides, D&D are rich as fuck, so chill.


If Santa Claus could kill

Whether you still like her or not, it’s hard to argue that the popularity of Arya Stark has not taken a hit in season 7, at least within the core fandom. In a strange way, this shift in her character can largely be blamed on the show’s (understandable) exclusion of Lady Stoneheart, and their simultaneous attempt to give Arya the role that the books give to her undead mother

Arya was about my favorite character for the first 4 seasons of the show, yet as soon as she went to Braavos, my enjoyment of her story and my appreciation for her character began to dissolve. Yes, part of it could be the isolation of her character and the formulaic nature of her “assassin training” story arc, but if this were the case, she should have gotten better this season. Yet she actually gets much worse when she returns to Westeros and realizes the vengeance she desired.

I’d argue that the reason Arya was popular and enjoyable in the first place was never about how strong she was, or how good an assassin we expected her to become, but rather how the audience could identify with her feelings. She was the point of view for the death of Ned Stark (even on the show, so much of that scene was about Arya watching her father’s demise unfold). Later, her hopes of reunion are dashed at the Red Wedding (again, a big chunk of the tension of the Red Wedding is knowing Arya was minutes away from reuniting with her family). Arya is essentially placed at the center of two of the story’s biggest tragedies, and so we too felt her desire to exact vengeance upon the people who destroyed her family.

When Arya prayed for the chance to kill her enemies every night, the audience prayed with her. We wanted to see someone take down Walder Frey, King Joffrey, the Mountain, and Queen Cersei. We too wanted that revenge, and like Arya, we were ultimately powerless to do anything to affect it. The story is out of our hands too. Even when Arya is fortunate enough to knock off a few low level names off the list, the big names are still an impossibility. Arya’s prayer to the god of death functioned like a child’s wish list to the Santa Claus, and there was something really charming about that. Not because we expected she would actually complete the list, but because we felt her anger.

 

In a world without Zombie godmothers

There is a reason why the books have Catelyn reanimated into the walking terror that is Lady Stoneheart. It’s fitting that shortly after witnessing the climax of the Red Wedding, Arya has a wolf dream in which she (warged into Nymeria) pulls her mother’s corpse from the water and wishes for her to rise and hunt with the pack. And that’s basically what happens. Arya is an integral part of Catelyn’s resurrection as Lady Stoneheart, and when Beric passes his life over to her, Lady Stoneheart serves as the undead fairy godmother in Arya’s fairy tale of vengeance. While Nymeria and Needle are externalization’s of Arya’s soul and identity, Lady Stoneheart is as much an externalization of Arya’s desire for vengeance as she is a revenant of Catelyn.

The point of Lady Stoneheart is to show us how terrifying and indiscriminate vengeance can become, and hence her presence will be thematically integral to The Winds of Winter. That’s why we don’t get Lady Stoneheart’s point of view like we did Catelyn’s. She isn’t meant to be likable, or relatable, or heroic. Stoneheart is meant to be a monster, that grants Arya’s and the reader’s wishes, but makes us question whether we should have ever wished them in the first place. Despite the wickedness of the Red Wedding, and how righteous it is in theory to bring those responsible to justice the world is messy and vengeance is a nightmare in practice. Lady Stoneheart turns the Brotherhood Without Banners, which under Beric Dondarrion had been a rag tag team of knights, bandits, and kingsmen who served the good of the common folk, into an insurgency for Stark and Tully vengeance and restoration. Lady Stoneheart is an exploration of the collateral cost of vengeance upon the innocent.

Upon her return to Westeros, show Arya essentially becomes a less believable Lady Stoneheart without the core concept. Arya becomes a seemingly unstoppable force of vengeance that is able to sneak into the Twins, murder Walder Frey’s sons, bake them into pies, feed them to Walder Frey, kill Walder Frey, take his face, and then kill every single Frey guilty of the Red Wedding while sparring the innocent bystanders. What’s more she does this all by herself. Even the Lord of White Harbor couldn’t do that. Even Lady Stoneheart, the fairy godmother of death can’t pull that off. In the books Frey Pies was a fucking project. And though we can expect a counter Red Wedding, it too will be a team effort.

What’s worse, the showrunners artlessly throw in the line about how Arya only killed the Freys who were specifically involved in the Red Wedding, and none that weren’t involved, making it so that while Arya is actually more capable of exacting vengeance than LSH, she comes without the drawback of being devoid of mercy.

Like Lady Stoneheart, we don’t really get Arya’s point of view when she kills the guilty Freys. In trying to pull out a big “ta-da” moment for the downfall of old Walder, the showrunners actually end up giving us these scenes from the point of view of the Freys themselves. We don’t watch Arya plan, or sneak, or struggle to accomplish her goals, we have the death of the Freys sprung on us. It becomes about spectacle. It’s meant to be triumphant not terrible. By not showing us Arya’s struggle, the struggle ceases to matter. Like Stoneheart, Arya becomes a force of vengeance that is beyond the audience, and in being beyond the audience we can no longer relate to her in the same way we once did.

Hence why there are limits to the show’s consolidation of characters and plotlines.

 

Why you can’t make Aladdin into a Genie

While many argue that Arya has simply become like Jaqen, I’d argue that is neither fully true nor the point of Arya, nor a good idea. Arya was never supposed to be Jaqen. The whole point of Arya leaving the Faceless Men is that she keeps her identity, but also never becomes the grim reaper incarnate. It’s a trade off. That’s not to say it doesn’t make sense that Arya gained some skills, and learned a thing or two about being stealthy and manipulative, and even how to fight. But at least Braavos, Arya had to run away from the Waif and trick her into a fight where Arya would have the advantage. Unlike Jaqen, we still see Arya struggle.

The reason Jaqen was such a good presence in season 2 is because he was Arya’s mysterious kill genie. The audience was in the same position as Arya with respect to Jaqen. We don’t know how he does what he does, nor what goes through his mind. We only know that Jaqen is death, and death is a stranger. Even without the point of view structure of the books, the show cannot make Arya’s presence resemble Jaqen’s without committing to making her an enigma to the audience. Except the reason the audience became so attached to Arya in the first place wasn’t because she was the kill genie, but rather because she was Aladdin.

All of this leads up to Arya’s return to Winterfell in season 7, and her role in the shoddy Winterfell plot. The problems with the Winterfell plot could be a whole other essay. But in short, Littlefinger is in completely over his head with the super powered Starks, he is a political villain in a post politics story, Bran could seemingly end the conflict upon arrival, it all leads up to a cheap audience fake out without ever making clear at what point the Stark siblings began working together, we aren’t sure if Arya’s psychopathy is an act or a genuine display of murderous intent, it’s unclear what purpose it actually served if it had been an act, and Littlefinger is executed without evidence on a series of improvable accusations (yes they’re true, but the lack of evidence makes it borderline barbaric).

Yet despite all of the bad writing of the Winterfell plot, my empathy towards Sansa as a character is not suspended. Only of Arya. Even though Arya was perhaps my favorite character for four seasons of the show, while Sansa had been nowhere close to that, Sansa still feels believable, and I still feel that I’m watching her struggle and learn and grow as a person. It’s hard for me to say the same about Arya given what came before. It’s not clear whether Arya is still a point of view character like Sansa, Tyrion, Jon, Sam or Daenerys, or has she become an enigma like Bran? And though I’m hoping that the existential terror season 8 promises brings Arya back to being a character who’s struggle we can witness and relate to, the showrunners must choose.

Are we done watching Arya struggle? Has Arya become our kill genie, or is she still our Aladdin?

 

 

Et tu Drogon? Three Treasons for the Mother of Dragons

This is an update to my previous post about Daenerys and the House of the Undying.

 

The Three She’d Never Suspect

While I’m fairly confident about most of the predictions I made, something about the three treasons didn’t feel right to me, so I decided to take another look…

“three treasons will you know… once for blood and once for gold and once for love…” – (Daenerys IV, ACOK)*

Understanding that the treasons happen in order, I anchored my logic in either Mirri or Illyrio. Because we know that there will be a Second Dance of the Dragons, we can assume that there is an Illyrio betrayal coming. To put it simply, if Mirri Maz Duur is the treason for blood, then Illyrio Mopatis would be the treason for love (betraying Dany for the love of fAegon). But if Mirri Maz Duur is not the treason for blood, then Illyrio can be either the treason for blood or love (fAegon being his son).

“The first traitor was surely Mirri Maz Duur, who had murdered Khal Drogo and their unborn son to avenge her people. Could Pyat Pree and Xaro Xhoan Daxos be the second and the third? She did not think so. What Pyat did was not for gold, and Xaro had never truly loved her.” – (Daenerys V, ACOK)

Daenerys thinks that Mirri is the first treason over and over. Her certainty of this fact points to her being incorrect. In fact, it’s not 100% clear that Mirri truly betrayed Dany at all. Did she kill Khal Drogo, or did she merely fail to save him? This is never actually confirmed by the books.

“The Undying of Qarth had told her she would be thrice betrayed. Mirri Maz Duur had been the first, Ser Jorah the second. Would Reznak be the third? The Shavepate? Daario? Or will it be someone I would never suspect, Ser Barristan or Grey Worm or Missandei?” – (Daenerys I, ADWD)

When Daenerys guesses Mirri and Jorah, it becomes clear that her judgement on the three treasons is not necessarily to be trusted. Jorah did not betray Dany for gold, but for a pardon. And since she’s wrong about Jorah, Martin’s writing style indicates that she is wrong about Mirri as well. Which makes sense because Illyrio being the third betrayal felt a bit anti-climactic.

So my guess was that Illyrio was the treason for blood, Tyrion for gold, and Daenerys for love.

Still, something doesn’t sit right about this.

The Mother of Dragons visions are all so significant to Dany’s arc. All such huge moments for her character. While Illyrio’s betrayal has huge consequences in that it sparks a Second Dance of the Dragons, it’s not a very personal betrayal to Dany. Daenerys doesn’t trust Illyrio from the beginning. So for him to be the third treason, or even the first… even if it leads to a war…  it doesn’t really impact Daenerys emotionally, so it doesn’t feel right.

But then again, Daenerys won’t likely trust Tyrion either in the books either.

“No. Hear me, Daenerys Targaryen. The glass candles are burning. Soon comes the pale mare, and after her the others. Kraken and dark flame, lion and griffin, the sun’s son and the mummer’s dragon. Trust none of them. Remember the Undying. Beware the perfumed seneschal.” – Quaithe (Daenerys II, ADWD)

While the books have taken Tyrion down a different road, Quaithe has already warned Daenerys not to trust Tyrion. And Tyrion has allied himself with the Second Sons, who have already turned cloak twice and display dubious loyalty to her. Which made me really start to reconsider all three treasons.

Then I looked at this passage again…

“The Undying of Qarth had told her she would be thrice betrayed. Mirri Maz Duur had been the first, Ser Jorah the second. Would Reznak be the third? The Shavepate? Daario? Or will it be someone I would never suspect, Ser Barristan or Grey Worm or Missandei?“- (Daenerys I, ADWD)

Martin has a particular writing style when he has characters interpret prophecies. Usually when they guess one thing, that thing turns out to be wrong. It’s almost like how announced plans don’t work out as announced. For example, shortly after the Red Wedding Jon dreams a bloody grey direwolf in the crypts and wonders if it’s Summer. But it’s not Summer, it’s Greywind. Melisandre is the same way (for example, she thinks the grey girl on the dying horse is Arya, but it’s Alys Karstark). She’ll see a vision, yet her interpretation is consistently wrong. It’s routine that POVs get prophecy wrong.

So I began to wonder. Dany doesn’t trust Illyrio. She won’t trust Tyrion. And she has already guessed Mirri, Jorah, Reznak, the Shavepate, Daario, Barristan, Grey Worm, and even Missandei… hasn’t she guessed all the closest people to her? has Dany already guessed all of her betrayers? Who’s betrayal could possibly be more devastating than Missandei? Are we waiting for Jon?

And then it hit me.

Daenerys has already considered the thought of being betrayed by the three people most loyal to her. But she never suspects her three children.

The treason for blood will be Rhaegal. The treason for gold will be Viserion. The treason for love will be Drogon.

 

When dragons fly the coop

 

Now, although I sense people will be very skeptical of this theory, I think you should really give it a chance. The three treasons are in a set with the three mounts and three fires, both hugely impactful moments for Daenerys as a person. Moments that shape who she will become. The funeral pyre, riding Drogon, etc. But something feels off about the three treasons being people she doesn’t trust like Illyrio or Tyrion.

It’s also important to note that aside from GRRM writing an explicit pattern of POV characters being wrong every time they try to interpret prophecy, and Daenerys guessing all the people closest to her except her dragons, there is also a precedent for characters being betrayed by the things closest to them.

Lastly, though the show has only recently given us the loss of a dragon through UnViserion, the dragons are Martin’s allegory for WMDs, and the thing about WMDs is that they don’t stay in the same persons hands. And since their birth, Quaithe has warned Daenerys of people coming to take her dragons away from her, or to try to use her for them. Though Dany on the show rides Drogon with two riderless backup dragons, the books will be different. Now that Dany can ride Drogon, Martin will have Daenerys lose her other two dragons to other riders. Euron is one, and Tyrion will be the other.

GRRM has confirmed that a Second Dance of the Dragons is coming. Which historically hints at dragons being scattered among all factions, not one conqueror with two three dragons against a Blackfyre pretender. I propose that ADOS will see Drogon at Dragonstone, Viserion headed for Casterly Rock, and Rhaegal at Oldtown.

From there, they dance.

 

ONCE FOR BLOOD

Rhaegal’s treason for blood will come when Rhaegal is bonded to Euron through the blood magic of Dragonbinder.

“Your brother did not sound the horn himself. Nor must you.” Moqorro pointed to the band of steel. “Here. ‘Blood for fire, fire for blood.’ Who blows the hellhorn matters not. The dragons will come to the horn’s master. You must claim the horn. With blood.“- (Victarion I, ADWD)

The Battle of Fire will conclude well before Daenerys gets back to Meereen in the books, but Victarion Greyjoy has brought Euron’s magic hellhorn to slavers bay with the intent of stealing a dragon for himself. And currently, Rhaegal was last seen flying over the Greyjoy fleet in the Battle of Fire, possibly drawn to the pork stores in Victarion’s ship. Victarion believes that when he blows the horn, a dragon will be his, and Rhaegal is the closest target.

“Victarion would have his due at last. I have the horn, and soon I will have the woman. A woman lovelier than the wife he made me kill . . .”

“Euron was a fool to give me this, it is a precious thing, and powerful. With this I’ll win the Seastone Chair, and then the Iron Throne. With this I’ll win the world.” – Victarion I, TWOW

Except Victarion is the fool. We see very clearly that he is being duped by both Euron and Moqorro at every step of the way, and yet he speaks with a degree of overconfidence that in Martin’s world utterly dooms a POV character. He will not have the Seastone chair, or Daenerys, nor will he ride a dragon. Before he tries to claim the dragon horn for himself, he allows the Euron’s mute “dusky woman” to draw his blood. We’ve been told over and over again, all of Euron’s gifts are poison. Victarion has made a terrible mistake. Victarion is doomed.

“As you command. Would you have me bleed you?

> “Victarion seized the dusky woman by the wrist and pulled her to him. “She will do it. Go pray to your red god. Light your fire, and tell me what you see.”

> Moqorro’s dark eyes seemed to shine. “I see dragons.” – Victarion I, TWOW

When Rhaegal is bound by Dragonbinder, he will be bound to the horn’s owner. The horn must be claimed by blood, and the horn’s owner has not changed. Rhaegal will be bound to Euron by blood magic. This is the treason for blood.

ONCE FOR GOLD

The show has radically transformed our expectations of Tyrion in TWOW.

What, o’ the queen’s little pets?” Brown Ben’s eyes crinkled in amusement. The grizzled captain of the Second Sons was a creature of the free companies, a mongrel with the blood of a dozen different peoples flowing through his veins, but he had always been fond of the dragons, and them of him.” – (Daenerys V, ADWD)

Tyrion Lannister has recently joined up with the Second Sons, a sellsword company led by the former Westermen Brown Ben Plumm, who has a strange affinity for dragons. And clearly they have an affinity for him.

> Her captains bowed and left her with her handmaids and her dragons. But as Brown Ben was leaving, Viserion spread his pale white wings and flapped lazily at his head. One of the wings buffeted the sellsword in his face. The white dragon landed awkwardly with one foot on the man’s head and one on his shoulder, shrieked, and flew off again. “He likes you, Ben,” said Dany.

“And well he might.” Brown Ben laughed. “I have me a drop of the dragon blood myself, you know.“- (Daenerys V, ASOS)

Ben doesn’t seem to be lying either. House Plumm is of the Westerlands, and Tyrion without even witnessing it guesses that the dragons liked Ben, as he has heard stories of Targaryen lineage in House Plum.

“I hear you’re twice a turncloak, Plumm. A man after mine own heart.” – (Tyrion XI, ADWD)

Brown Ben Plumm and the Second Sons have also shown dubious loyalty, starting off on the side of the slavers, the switching over to Daenerys, then switching back to the Yunkai’i when word got out that Daenerys could not control her dragons, and then defecting back to Daenerys at the end of Tyrion II, TWOW. Ben claims this to be a ploy, yet it’s more likely to be a combination of two things. First of all, wanting to be on the winning side. The other aspect of it is that sellswords, and particularly Brown Ben Plum, love gold. And Tyrion has offered them a whole lot of it. The gold of Casterly Rock to be precise, in the form of IOUs. After all, a Lannister always pays his debts.

This is where I’m proposing a massive divergence from the show.

Lets look at the facts. Tyrion, Ben, and the Second Sons have shown themselves to have no true loyalty to anyone but their own interests. It’s often been expected that Tyrion is going to use his information of fAegon to leverage his way into Daenerys’ inner circle by pointing out the Mummers Dragon as a Blackfyre pretender and exposing Illyrio’s treachery. But is that going to be enough to gain Daenerys’ trust? Tyrion is not only a Lannister, but Daenerys is warned by Quaithe *not to trust him.*

“There is blood between Targaryen and Lannister. Why would you support the cause of Queen Daenerys?”

For gold and glory,” the dwarf said cheerfully. “Oh, and hate. If you had ever met my sister, you would understand.” – (Tyrion III, ADWD)

What happens when Daenerys offers him neither gold nor glory nor vengeance? If Daenerys does not allow Tyrion into her inner circle, or if she refuses to allow Tyrion to go take back Casterly Rock… What will Tyrion and the Second Sons do? Tyrion has promised Brown Ben Plumm 100,000 gold dragons and a lordship (and that’s only what he promised the commander). And by his own admission, Tyrion’s whole purpose for joining Daenerys is gold and glory and hate. If he can’t get revenge on Cersei and take Casterly Rock, who’s to say that Tyrion and Ben are not going to turn cloak once more and try their luck with fAegon? And given wha the text has set up with Ben and Tyrion and their love of dragons, who’s to say they won’t take Viserion with them?

Tyrion taking Viserion is setup at the close of Tyrion’s TWOW sample chapter.

The white cyvasse dragon ended up at Tyrion’s feet. He scooped it off the carpet and wiped it on his sleeve, but some of the Yunkish blood had collected in the fine grooves of the carving, so the pale wood seemed veined with red. “All hail our beloved queen, Daenerys.” Be she alive or be she dead. He tossed the bloody dragon in the air, caught it, grinned. “We have always been the queen’s men,” announced Brown Ben Plumm. “Rejoining the Yunkai’i was just a plot.” – (Tyrion II, TWOW)

I propose that rather than sticking around as Dany’s advisor, the climax of Tyrion’s story in TWOW will be stealing Viserion with Brown Ben Plumm and defecting over to Aegon, hence giving the Aegon side a dragon for the Second Dance of the Dragons. The whole “Tyrion as Dany’s trusted advisor and conscience” thing feels like a change developed for the show to put together two major characters that need to get back to Westeros. But in the books, Tyrion and Dany will only intersect, they won’t share a common goal.

“Well, Tyrion and Dany will intersect, in a way, but for much of the book they’re still apart,” Martin said. “They both have quite large roles to play here. Tyrion has decided that he actually would like to live, for one thing, which he wasn’t entirely sure of during the last book, and he’s now working toward that end—if he can survive the battle that’s breaking out all around him. And Dany has embraced her heritage as a Targaryen and embraced the Targaryen words. So they’re both coming home.” – GRRM

This will set up Tyrion laying siege to Casterly Rock in the final book, making use of the experience he gained when Tywin put him in charge of the sewers of Casterly Rock (as we see in the show).

“Ah, if only the Tyrion in the books could fly, what mischief he will… ah… could… ah, never mind.” – GRRM

But the treason is not by Tyrion. Daenerys will never trust Tyrion. The treason is by Viserion.

Viserion the white and gold dragon, will leave Daenerys for gold. Tyrion is the gold.

 

ONCE OR LOVE

The final treason will be the treason for love. And since Rhaegal is the betrayal for blood, and Viserion is the betrayal for gold, it only makes sense that the final betrayal is the most precious of Dany’s children. The one she has bonded with to become it’s rider. Her very own mount to dread, Drogon.

For Daenerys there will be no treasons more personal, than those committed by her own children. And though Rhaegal and Viserion betray Dany to different riders, Drogon’s betrayal will be a bit more complicated. If he betrays her for love, then the love of who? the love of Dany herself? will it be jealousy for Daenerys taking the third mount (Drogon is her second mount of three)? What would make Drogon betray his mother? It’s honestly hard to say.

This is where I leave the rest to you, as this is where we get into endgame speculation that I’m not ready to make in this essay.

 

Why it kinda has to be this way

In a way, Dany’s three dragons as the three treasons is the only thing that makes sense. It provide Daenerys’ story with the three least expected, yet most impactful treasons she can possible have. It ties in with one of the most major plot shake ups of the novels, which is the fact that everyone wants the fire made power that Dany brought into the world, and she is eventually going to lose them.

But furthermore, if makes the prophecy read more consistently with the other sets. Daenerys suffers a lot more than three treasons. Mirri betrays her. Xaro betrays her. Pyat Pree betrays her. Jorah betrays her. The Second Sons betray her. Illyrio betrays her.  This makes the three treasons read differently than the other three. The three fires will certainly be the most personally significant fires that Daenerys lights. The three mounts will be the most significant three mounts Daenerys rides (and probably the only ones). Yet if the three treasons are just three out of many, then why is Jorah’s treason not on there? Jorah is her most trusted advisor. Is Jorah’s treason not more personally significant to her than Illyrio’s?  Than a hypothetical betrayal by Tyrion, who she is unlikely to trust? There has to be something special about the these three treasons to set them apart and place them on par with the accompanying prophecies.

Daenerys is told she will never have children of her own. And whether or not that is true, she comes to see her dragons as her three children. Yet at least two of them cannot stay with their mother forever. For the three treasons to be the most significant to Daenerys, not only in terms of consequence, but in terms of who commits the treason, her three dragons are the most personal possible treasons.

 

 

tldr; The Undying of Qarth tell Daenerys she will know three treasons. Rhaegal will be the treason for blood, Viserion will be the treason for gold, and Drogon will be the treason for love.

Fires, Mounts, and Treasons: Unraveling the Undying

I’ve seen several posts about the house of the Undying lately, and I wanted to take a deeper look, because I think there is a lot of shallow interpretation going on that places too much emphasis on Daenerys as a sex object. But if you really look at the House of the Undying, it actually lays out Daenerys’ entire story.

Now, when interpreting the House of the Undying visions we have to take two major things into account.

  1. Martin wrote the House of the Undying scene around 1998 when he was still planning a 5 year gap. There was going to be a time skip after Storm, where Dany spent 5 years ruling in Meereen, Jon spent 5 years as Lord Commander, Arya spent 5 years becoming a Faceless Man, Sansa spent 5 years as Alayne stone, Bran spent 5 years training with Bloodraven, and Tyrion spent 5 years… I dunno, drunk or something? anyways the plan was scrapped, and we got Feast and Dance.
  2. You have to read the visions together to understand how they are supposed to be read. Each set of three is in an intentional order, and the prophecies are for things that have come to pass as well as things that are yet to come.

So let’s get started and divide this into segments. I really just want to focus on the “Mother of Dragons” segment, because those are the ones that are structurally setup to be read as a unit, and are the most specific to Daenerys.

Mother of Dragons, Child of Three

“three fires must you light… one for life and one for death and one to love… three mounts must you ride… one to bed and one to dread and one to love… three treasons will you know… once for blood and once for gold and once for love…”

These are harder to predict than what follows because they aren’t accompanied by visions. It’s only after hearing these prophecies that Dany (not understanding) asks the Undying to *show her,* and we start getting visual representation of the prophecies. So, I’m going to come back to these.

This will make sense later.

Mother of Dragons, Daughter of Death

“Viserys screamed as the molten gold ran down his cheeks and filled his mouth. A tall lord with copper skin and silver-gold hair stood beneath the banner of a fiery stallion, a burning city behind him. Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman’s name. . . . mother of dragons, daughter of death . . .”

The daughter of death set shows Viserys, Rhaego, and Rhaegar. Now one should wonder, why choose these three dead relatives in particular? Why not the Mad King? or her mother Rhaella? and why are they presented totally out of chronological order in which they died (2, 3, 1). Well because these three dead mean something in particular for Dany’s journey.

These visions are about legacy. These are the relatives who’s legacy she takes up, in this exact order.

“It all goes back and back, Tyrion thought, to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our own children will take up our strings and dance on in our steads.” – (Tyrion X, ASOS)

This is a major theme in the novels, and so these three visions are instrumental to understanding Dany’s story from beginning to end, and failure to understand these visions are why the fandom gets so much wrong about her.

    • The first vision is Viserys. Note that prior to Viserys death, the quest to build an army and take back the Seven Kingdoms was not Dany’s, but Viserys’. It’s a crucial fact, but we often forget this that at the beginning of the story Dany didn’t care about Viserys’ obsession, but just wanted to return to her childhood home. To the House with the Red door. But with the death of Viserys it becomes Daenerys who carries on the legacy of House Targaryen and begins to build an army. While Viserys was remembered a beggar king, in Qarth and Astapor Daenerys succeeds where Viserys failed, eventually leading up to her becoming Queen in Meereen.
    • The second vision is a hypothetical Rhaego, her deceased unborn child. Dany must become the Stallion that Mounts the World in Rhaego’s place. While the end of Storm saw Dany choose to rule and maintain peace in Meereen, the end of Dance sees Daenerys choose war and conquest, resolving to take up Fire and Blood. Now she will unite Dothraki under one Khalasar just like Rhaego was meant to. This is the part of Dany’s journey where she wages war and burns cities.
    •  

    • The third vision is of Rhaegar dying at the trident. This foreshadows Dany’s third act, in which she must succeed where Rhaegar failed, and take up the prophecy of the Prince that Was Promised; the savior of prophecy that Rhaegar believed himself to be, before trying to bring into the world as one of his children. The implications here are huge, and call into question: is Dany the prince that was promised, or is it her child? In either case, there is a sacrificial implication to the third vision. This is the final legacy Daenerys must take up, but she will not take it up until after the second.

The order of each set will continue to be intentional. The lies, the mounts, the treasons, the fires. All of them happen in the order they are given.

Mother of Dragons, Slayer of Lies

Glowing like sunset, a red sword was raised in the hand of a blue-eyed king who cast no shadow. A cloth dragon swayed on poles amidst a cheering crowd. From a smoking tower, a great stone beast took wing, breathing shadow fire. . . . mother of dragons, slayer of lies . . .

These are the lies that Dany will unveil and destroy. Note that this isn’t necessarily about killing these people, but rather about slaying the lies they represent.

    • The blue eyed king is Stannis, Melisandre’s Azor Ahai. The first lie is that King Stannis Baratheon is Azor Ahai reborn. He is not.
    • The cloth dragon is clearly fAegon, the mummers dragon. The lie is that King Aegon VI targaryen is the true son of Rhaegar and heir to the throne. He is not.
    •  

    • The stone beast that takes wing is Euron, binding a dragon and flying from the smoking Hightower. The lie is that King Euron Greyjoy is god over the apocalypse. He is not.

Note that like the previous set, these visions are in order. Daenerys will accept the title of Azor Ahai reborn in Volantis. Particularly since the establishing of a time skip, I think there is no way we’re getting an actual war between Stannis and Daenerys. Dany will learn of fAegon’s illegitimacy in Pentos and dethrone him in the Second Dance of the Dragons at King’s Landing (or maybe Storms End). Just based on geography and basic narrative structure we must assume she will bring down Euron Crow’s Eye after that. Maybe at Oldtown but more likely at Harrenhal, in a dragon duel over the God’s Eye.

Mother of Dragons, Bride of Fire

Her silver was trotting through the grass, to a darkling stream beneath a sea of stars. A corpse stood at the prow of a ship, eyes bright in his dead face, grey lips smiling sadly. A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness. . . . mother of dragons, bride of fire . .

This set has been the most complicated by Hizdahr and the removal of the 5 year gap. Clearly Hizdahr is not the grey lip corpse on the prow of a ship, nor does it represent him. The simple answer is that Martin originally didn’t intend to have Daenerys marry a Meereenese noble, but decided to do so when he introduced the 5 year gap and had to showcase the complexities of Dany maintaining post slavery peace in Slavers Bay.

In any case, these visions are about marriages or betrothals.

    • The first vision obviously represents Khal Drogo. The silver is from him, and he is her sun and stars, and this is on the Dothraki sea. Not much to say here other than that these visions are not meant to be only in future tense, as Khal Drogo is in the past.
    • The second vision represents Euron. Definitely Euron. Not Victarion, not Hizdahr, not Aeron. Euron. You might be wondering why the figure is a corpse, or why he has two bright eyes, or why he’s smiling sadly. and there are two explanations for this. The first is that this was written around 1998, possibly before Martin had a clear picture of Euron. But the better explanation is that the corpse in the vision isn’t Euron, but represents Euron. Jon is not literally a blue winter rose growing from the wall, and Khal Drogo is not literally a horse. But those things represent those two characters. Similarly, the grey lip corpse on the prow of a ship *represents* Euron. Since this was written before the 5 year gap was scrapped, most likely what was going to happen was that Euron would have sent a representative to propose a marriage alliance with Daenerys (Victarion or Aeron), or that Euron himself would come to Meereen to propose a marriage alliance, offering to provide Dany with ships and attack the south in her name, asking for her hand in marriage if he helped her succeed. Even though it’s hard to imagine Dany marrying the terror from the Forsaken chapter, it’s pretty feasible to imagine Dany either marrying or betrothing herself to a toned down version of Euron if he carried himself more like Daario Naharis with political power and status worthy of a queen. Dany would have then arrived in Westeros and eventually encountered Euron again, seeing him for the true monster he is. She would then killed him, widowing herself and opening herself up for the third betrothal/marriage.
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    • The third vision obviously represents Jon. Blue winter rose. Wall of ice. RLJ. Note that again, *the visions are in order.* Jon is presented third and she will get to him third.

Bear in mind this wasn’t intended to be about suitors. Even without the 5 year gap, Dany has had more suitors than just these three men. Xaro proposes in Qarth, and Quentyn proposes in Meereen. This is about men Martin planned to have Dany betrothed to/marry…. before Martin decided to scrap the 5 year gap. That’s why Xaro and Quent aren’t on there. That’s why Hizdahr isn’t on here. Originally Dany was going to be betrothed to or marry 3 men. But then GRRM scrapped that 5 year gap.

Now that we understand that these sets of three are all (intended to be) in order, pertain to Dany’s hero’s journey, and are not exclusively about things yet to come, let’s get back to that first part!

Mother of Dragons, Child of Three: Reprise

“three fires must you light… one for life and one for death and one to love… three mounts must you ride… one to bed and one to dread and one to love… three treasons will you know… once for blood and once for gold and once for love…”

three fires must she light

Daenerys burns things all the time. But the three fires are key moments in her story.

    • The fire for life comes first. It’s the funeral pyre which gave life to her three dragons. This is a fire that brings gives life.
    • The fire for death hasn’t happened yet. But this will be a fire that brings death. I suspect it’s either Daenerys burning the Old Blood of Volantis in their Black Walls (mirroring Aegon the Conqueror roasting Harren the Black and his sons at Harrenhal), or Daenerys setting off the wildfire in King’s Landing and burning down the Red Keep in the Second Dance of the Dragons. Dany is definitely headed to Volantis in Winds, as the city is just waiting to name Dany Azor Ahai and have a massive slave revolt in her name. But then again, setting off a wildfire explosion might be more akin to lighting a single fire than burning the Old Blood in the inner city. We’ll have to see.
    • The fire to love, I’m not sure about. But it’s not a fire for love, but a fire *to love.* Martin intentionally changes out “for” with “to.” Why does Martin do this? is it just like “to love” as a toast? is the fire taking her toward love? or does she love the fire? I lean towards the third. Dany will love the third fire. My guess is that this is the very very end of Dany’s story.

three mounts must she ride.

This is not about a sex position people!

Frankly the reason I decided to make this post was because of how many people think this part is about fucking. This is more significant to Dany’s journey, and interpreting it as just being about sex doesn’t even make sense.

As per the rest of the visions, the mounts have to be in order, and they aren’t only future tense. But looking at this as carnal activity is redundant because one of them is to bed. That’s like having a mount to mount. Does that mean the mount to bed is the man she sleeps with mostly for physical reasons? so Daario? The other visions aren’t future tense, so what is Drogo? is he to bed? In Dany’s mind she loves Drogo? is he to love? but they’re in order. What about Hizdahr? wouldn’t he be to peace? Again, this was written before the scrapping of the timeskip. If Daario doesn’t count would this only count marriages if mount refers to carnal activity? And aren’t marriages covered in the bride of fire segment?

The simpler answer is that this was written before Martin scrapped the timeskip, and it’s not about cowgirl. It’s about riding actual mounts.

    • The mount to bed is the silver. In the books she rides this horse, jumps over some fire, impresses Drogo and then has sex with him. She rides the silver to bed. The moment she rides silver over the fire significant because it’s the first moment in the story in which Dany overcomes fear and begins to take control over her destiny.
    • The mount to dread is Drogon. Drogon is represents the return of Aegon the Conqueror’s Balerion the Black Dread. She learns to ride Drogon at the end of Dance, right before abandoning the peace and compromise that characterized her arc throughout ADWD. She has chosen Fire and Blood. Daenerys will ride Drogon to unite the Dothraki and become the Stallion Who Mounts the World. She is now taking up the legacy of Rhaego. She will now light the fire to death.
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    • The mount to love is… unclear. But based on the last two being literal mounts that she rides, it’s not sex with Jon. Regardless how you feel about Drogo, in her mind Dany loved him. If Dany falls in love with Jon he will not be her first love. So does the mount take her to love, or is mount the thing she will love? Since she didn’t bed the Silver and she likely won’t dread Drogon himself, it’s most likely that the mount to love will take her towards love. My guess is it takes her to light the last fire.

three treasons will she know

This one gets tricky. It’s important to note that these are not the only betrayals Daenerys will face. For example, Brown Ben Plum and the Second Sons betray her in Dance because he learns she cannot control her dragons, but this is neither for blood, gold, or love. But rather that these are three significant betrayals that Dany will suffer for these specific reasons.

“The Undying of Qarth had told her she would be thrice betrayed. Mirri Maz Duur had been the first, Ser Jorah the second. Would Reznak be the third? The Shavepate? Daario? Or will it be someone I would never suspect, Ser Barristan or Grey Worm or Missandei?” – (Daenerys I, ADWD)

It’s also important to recognize that Dany guesses the treasons herself. She guesses that Mirri Maz Duur was for blood, and Jorah was for gold. So she now awaits the third. If she’s right, then Illyrio is going to be the treason for love (he seems quite fond of Young Griff, who I believe to be Illyrio’s son). So we have this wrapped up right?

Except. . . Jorah wasn’t giving information to Varys for gold, but rather for a pardon. Which means she’s wrong about Jorah. And if she’s wrong about Jorah, she’s probably wrong about Mirri too. Which means we have to start from the beginning.

    • Once for blood. Is likely Illyrio. Though he likely loves his son, fAegon being his son makes his treason a treason for blood. Namely his own blood.

Why would you support the cause of Queen Daenerys?

For gold and glory,” the dwarf said cheerfully. “Oh, and hate. If you had ever met my sister, you would understand.” – (Tyrion VII, ADWD)

    • Once for gold. My best guess is that this one is Tyrion and the Second Sons. Quaithe has warned Daenerys not to trust Tyrion (the Lion). While the show has taken Tyrion down a vastly different route, in the books Tyrion’s purpose for siding with Daenerys is not a better world, but rather to reign vengeance upon Cersei. If Daenerys does not accept Tyrion into her inner circle or she does not offer him to take Casterly Rock in her name, and if she punishes the Second Sons for their dubious loyalty during ADWD, then Tyrion and Brown Ben Plum might steal a dragon and go take it themselves, perhaps joining back up with fAegon. After all, the whole purpose of going back over to Dany for the Second Sons was being offered the gold of Casterly Rock.
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    • Once for love. This one will come last. In the above passage, Daenerys considers the Shavepate, Daario, Barristan, Grey Worm, and Missandei. Martin’s writing style dictates that this means it will be none of them. So I have an unusual prediction. The treason for love will be committed by Daenerys herself. In her final act Daenerys will give up any ambitions of being queen or ruling Westeros, and instead sacrifice herself to save it.

 

The Many Titles of Daenerys Targaryen

In conclusion, the House of the Undying is not just crucial to understanding Daenerys, but when you read the Mother of Dragons visions as together it actually lays out the entire three acts of her story. From taking up the cause of Viserys the Beggar King and building herself a Queen’s army, to embracing Fire and Blood and becoming the Stallion Who Mounts the World in place of her stillborn son, to realizing her destiny and fulfilling the prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised.

It’s so much more than the question of queen vs. conqueror. Daenerys Targaryen’s is a khaleesi and a queen. A conqueror and a savior. She is the Mother of Dragons, the Slayer of Lies, the Bride of Fire, the Breaker of Chains, and so much more. When we look at the impact of Daenerys Targaryen, we need only remember the very last line from GRRM’s concluding chapter in the Tuf Voyaging saga, Manna from Heaven.

“Her name was Tolly Mune. But in the histories, they call her all sorts of things.”

Bran is The Lord of Light

More specifically, the Three Eyed Raven is the Lord of Light.

Since I wrote my “Now I am become Death” series on resurrection, the Bran and Bloodraven = R’hllor theory has really caught on, as I think the show is getting closer and closer to making it clear.

In season 7’s “Beyond The Wall” there is yet another conversation between two resurrected characters about why they are alive, what is their purpose, and what the Lord of Light wants from them. This is a theme that is constantly being brought up around resurrected characters and followers of the Lord of Light. That the Lord has a purpose for them, but it’s unclear what that purpose is. Beric believes him and Jon to be soldiers in the Lord of Light’s war.

But in the inside the episode, DnD seemingly let something slip. They compare Benjen to Beric and Jon. They talk about him also waiting to find out what his purpose is. Except Benjen Coldhands wasn’t raised by a Red Priest. He was raised by the Children of the Forest.

This is significant because both the dead raised by the Children of the Forest and the dead raised by the Red Priests are trying to understand what their purpose is as soldiers in the Great War.

Meanwhile, Bran is not a soldier. Bran is not even truly human. Bran is not even Bran anymore. Bran is the Three Eyed Raven, the all seeing time traveling, nemesis of the Night King.

Essentially the show has given us two demi-gods. The Night King, and the Three Eyed Raven. One guides the living, and one guides the dead. The Night King is the Great Other, the Three Eyed Raven is the Lord of Light.

 

Now, some of you are skeptical because you believe I’m conflating different elements. But in the books this will be far more complex. Bran won’t exactly be the Lord of Light in the books. Magic in the books is more complicated, as it seems to be a force within nature that can be drawn upon in a variety of different ways in a multitude of traditions. The commonality is that in the show and the books Bran will be the force guiding the other characters in the third act of the story.

 

Fear and Loathing in House Lannister

lannisters

Welcome back! So I’ve been on hiatus waiting for the Winds of Winter, but it’s looking like that won’t be coming until after season 7. I don’t have much in the way of new theories, but I have a few theories I’ve never gotten around to really writing about. Since this one is a bit of an unpopular opinion, I wanted to first give my thoughts on the Lannister siblings and the mystery of the valonquar. Namely that it’s Tyrion.


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“Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
– Joseph Heller

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Tyrion is the Valonqar!

One of the big questions of asoiaf is that of who will be Cersei’s ‘valonqar’, or, the little brother prophesized by Maggy the Frog who (after Cersei has lost everything to a younger more beautiful queen, and her children have all died) will come to choke the life out of her. Now for Cersei this isn’t really a question, as she has long been convinced that this prophesized murderer is Tyrion. Although many fans have speculated that the valonqar need not be Cersei’s little brother specifically, far and away the most common belief in the fandom is that this will instead be her lover and (technically younger) twin brother Jaime.

But is that really how it will play out?

cersei-eyeroll
Yes. Here we go…

Jaime being the valonqar tends to be seen as the most likely outcome on the grounds of symbolism, narrative symmetry, foreshadowing, and how it would subvert the relationship of the twins that was established at the beginning of A Game of Thrones. Though I will admit it’s not a bad theory by any means, I think that if we apply a bit more scrutiny to it, it may not be as strong a theory as it seems. And if we really look at the way the valonqar prophecy affects the narrative, and the way it affects the arcs of the Lannister siblings, it becomes apparent that all along the valonqar has been Tyrion.

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Golden Boys

“Tyrion slid a hand under his father’s chain, and twisted. The links tightened, digging into her neck. “For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm,” he said. He gave cold hands another twist as the warm ones beat away his tears.” – Tyrion XI, ASOS

One major piece of evidence for why it is expected that Jaime will be the valonqar is the lyric “For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm.” It has been theorized that this reoccurring song lyric from Tyrion’s chapters foreshadows Jaime’s golden hand choking the life from Cersei, much in the same way Tyrion used a golden chain to choke the life from Shae. Others believe that Jaime will use the golden chain of the hand, which after being used to strangle Shae is now in Cersei’s possession. In either case the symmetry that would be established by the two Lannister brothers both using gold to choke the life from their lovers is cited as strong evidence for the theory that Jaime is the valonqar.

jaimewave

Except… Tyrion killing his lover already puts him into a trio with Daenerys and Jon, all of whom had a hand in their lovers deaths (and all of whom killed their mothers in childbirth). Meanwhile Jaime already knows Cersei cheated on him, and has essentially already left Cersei to die. Though the show makes Jaime and Cersei find their way back to each other time and time again(likely because show Cersei is a much more complicated, much less evil character), the books have had a gradual distancing between Jaime and Cersei steadily building throughout the narrative. Cersei’s infidelity is a much more frequent and more significant issue in the books than it is on the show, and Jaime’s growing admiration for and attraction to Brienne seems to represent Jaime’s return to the idea of being an honorable man. With each step Jaime takes towards Brienne and chivalry, Jaime moves away from Cersei and selfishness. Essentially, the symmetry is off because Jaime is already falling for someone else, as his dreams (whether they are being sent to him or whether they are his subconscious), have Cersei abandoning him while Brienne comes to his aide more beautiful than ever before.

Which brings me to the next major part of the Jaime = Valonqar theory.

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Burn Them All… Again

cerseichooseviolencebyrux
art by Rux Dardiror

“Jaime knew the look in his sister’s eyes. … Even in the baleful glow, Cersei had been beautiful to look upon. She’d stood with one hand on her breast, her lips parted, her green eyes shining. She is crying, Jaime had realized, but whether it was from grief or ecstasy he could not have said.

The sight had filled him with disquiet, reminding him of Aerys Targaryen…” – Jaime II, AFFC

When Jaime chose saving the innocent people of King’s Landing and slaying the Mad King over upholding his vows, Jaime earned famously earned the name Kingslayer. The Mad Queen theory is the belief that Cersei (who herself has a fascination with fire and burning) is becoming mad just like King Aerys II, and will attempt to use the wildfire under King’s Landing as a last ditch effort to burn down the city rather than have it taken. This could be because of Danaerys, but more likely it’s Aegon who is coming first. And there are really several ways this could play out. Though Aegon seems set up to succeed in taking the city, it’s been stated by GRRM that the second Dance of the Dragons doesn’t necessarily have to be about Dany’s invasion, so there is an outside possibility that the books and the show are more similar than we think and that Cersei could successfully use wildfire to defeat Aegon leaving Cersei as Queen in King King’s Landing to face Dany’s invasion. I also think that it’s worth considering that the second Dance of the Dragons that GRRM has planned is not simply a battle between Daenerys and Aegon, but rather a war in which two or more factions have dragons.

3061386-inline-cersei

But whether it’s Cersei who will burn down King’s Landing in the same way Aerys attempted to, or Daenerys who will set off the wildfire throughout King’s Landing inadvertently by using dragonfire to take the city, the possibility that Cersei will at least try to use wildfire is certainly there. Plus the foreshadowing for Cersei as a Mad Queen is very overt.

“His sister liked to think of herself as Lord Tywin with teats, but she was wrong. Their father had been as relentless and implacable as a glacier, where Cersei was all wildfire, especially when thwarted.” – Jaime II, AFFC

Though I will note that Aerys was completely mad and expected he would become a dragon, planning on burning down even the Red Keep. On the other hand Cersei’s claim over the Westerlands gives her lands to retreat to. While I could see Cersei killed in a Mad Queen moment as Aegon invades, I could also see Aegon succeeding in taking the city while Cersei flees to Casterly Rock, or I could see Cersei succeeding in repelling Aegon. Regardless of how this shakes out, it’s hard to ignore the potential power of Jaime perhaps realizing that Cersei herself is a monster just like King Aerys, and then having to kill his (former) lover for the greater good, becoming a Queenslayer. History repeats itself.

“And again it’s like poetry, it’s sort of, they rhyme” – George Lucas

Except… now we’re getting our thematic wires crossed a bit. Jaime breaking his vows and killing the Mad King wasn’t about a broken personal relationship or about Jaime realizing that a King he looked up to was a monster. Jaime already knew Aerys was a monster. The Kingslayer moment was about Jaime’s vows being pushed to their breaking point and the complex moral decision to act for the greater utilitarian good rather than to uphold his own personal honor. Slaying Aerys wasn’t an emotional or personal act, but a moral one. Which calls into question just what Jaime killing Cersei would be, because while Jaime stabbed Aerys from behind the valonqar is supposed to strangle Cersei, which seems a much more personal means of killing someone.

longmayshereign

Which brings me to a bit of a problem I have with this theory. If Jaime killing Cersei is primarily a moral act, then strangling doesn’t really fit, nor does the symmetry between Jaime and Tyrion hold up anymore because there was nothing heroic or honorable about Tyrion killing Shae. But if Jaime killing Cersei is also personal, then I’m not so sure that fits with Jaime’s arc.

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Forgetting Cersei Lannister

forgettingscerseilannister
“Because you know what I just realized?! You’re the goddamn devil!”

“I cannot die while Cersei lives, he told himself. We will die together as we were born together.” – Jaime VI, ASOS

If we look at the trajectory of his character arc, Jaime Lannister’s narrative is largely about moving away from the influence of Cersei, his own arrogance, and the shame of having betrayed his King (which although it can be argued was the most moral course of action, is seen by Westerosi culture as terribly dishonorable), and towards Brienne, humility, and a rediscovery (or perhaps a reinvention) of what it means to be a truly honorable person. Away from being a man who values himself primarily on his ability to kill, to a man who values justice. Aside from the example of moving from Cersei to Brienne, it’s interestingly enough the loss of Jaime Lannister’s sword hand which jump-starts his development into a more just person, likely because the lack of his ability to fight has forced Jaime to seek out other means of conflict resolution. Where Jaime once valued himself in terms of his skill with the sword and thus his ability to kill, Jaime must now find another use for himself which doesn’t focus on the ability to fight. Essentially Jaime’s story is one of discovering a new (better) self through the loss of the things that once defined him.

But the other significant symbolism of Jaime losing his right hand is that Jaime was born clutching onto Cersei’s left foot. Thus the loss of Jaime’s hand represents the beginning of the severance of the connection between the Lannister twins. In fact, there is reason to believe that Cersei will soon lose a foot due to it getting cut during her walk of shame in which she steps through all manner of infestations (which would put an interesting spin on the Lannister siblings, with one losing a nose, another a hand, and another a foot).

“An east wind blew through his tangled hair, as soft and fragrant as Cersei’s fingers.”

– the first line from Jaime I, ASOS

As Jaime has grown as a character the bond between him and his twin sister has become a rift, which leaves me to wonder why Jaime’s character arc would lead him towards strangling Cersei to death. Jaime’s arc is not about overcoming Cersei, it’s about untangling himself from her. I think it would be a mistake to assume that Jaime killing Cersei would represent Jaime finally being free of Cersei. Murdering an ex. lover doesn’t show that one is over them, it more often shows that one is still consumed by them. So to emotionally strangling Cersei would be a strange culmination of Jaime’s arc, and an even stranger place to take Jaime without it being the end of his story. If Jaime’s arc is truly moving away from Cersei, then the culmination of it is unlikely to come in TWOW during the Aegon invasion. I would be surprised if Jaime was not going to encounter Bran again in some form or another before his story is through, and ultimately I just can’t see Martin killing off Cersei (and Jaime) before Tyrion even makes it back to Westeros.

Alternatively, while Jaime emotionally distancing himself from Cersei is central to Jaime’s arc, we don’t really get the same thing on Cersei’s end. Though Cersei is in the story as early as Eddard I AGOT, her story truly begins just after Twin’s death with her POV in AFFC, as she obtains the power she always desired but was never afforded to her. So it’s fitting that Cersei’s POV begins with her dreaming she is seated gloriously on the Iron Throne, only to have that dream become a nightmare when Tyrion shows up. Essentially Cersei’s story is framed around her desperate paranoid struggle to keep her power by whatever means necessary, which contrasts Jaime’s first chapter (in ASOS) which begins with him longing to get back to Cersei and ends with him beginning to admire Brienne’s sense of duty.

“Come at once. Help me. Save me. I need you now as I have never needed you before. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come at once.” – Cersei’s letter to Jaime

That’s not to say that Jaime isn’t falling out of Cersei’s favor as he changes into a different man both inside and out. But (in the books) it’s clear that Cersei manipulates Jaime and it’s unclear that Cersei ever truly loved Jaime in the first place, with her cheating on him with her cousin Lancel while he was captured, her continuing to be unfaithful to Jaime well after he had returned, and all of this seemingly without any guilt or hesitation. While Jaime boasts his lifelong faithfulness to his sister, for Cersei sex is about power, often boasting how she uses it as a tool to get what she wants, even trying to rape her informant Taena (she ends up not enjoying it because Taena is too willing for it to be rape).

Furthermore, while a young Jaime Lannister was so attached to Cersei that he joined the King’s Guard partially to stay unmarried and near her in King’s Landing, in Cersei’s POV we learn that as a girl she indeed desperately wanted to marry Rhaegar Targaryen, viewing him as superior to Jaime. Even in the current story she fantasizes about what her life would be like if she were Rhaegar’s Queen and had his children. So while Jaime falling completely out of love with Cersei and then killing her to save King’s Landing represents a shift from where Jaime began his character arc, Cersei’s relationship with Jaime doesn’t really define her.

rhaenyra_targaryen
Cersei before Cersei

While the fandom is largely focused on history repeating itself with Jaime having a second Mad King moment, there is another historical parallel to the relationship between Jaime, Cersei and Tyrion. Cersei’s political unpopularity and her obsessive, destructive desire to for power is very reminiscent of an infamous figure from the Dance of the Dragons: Rhaenyra Targaryen, The Half-Year. Like Cersei, Rhaenyra was proud, petulant, dressed extravagantly, was famed for her beauty, and evenended up gaining a notable amount of weight. She was given the nickname ‘The Whore of Dragonstone’ and is still reviled by history for the destruction she brought upon the realm. Though she was first married to another, Rhaenyra’s lover, second husband, and father of two of her children was her infamous uncle Daemon The Rogue Prince. And though Jaime isn’t a whole lot like Daemon Targaryen, the falling out between Rhaenyra and Daemon is actually quite a bit like the falling out between Cersei and Jaime. Daemon ends up falling in love with the Dragonrider Nettles, and upon receiving a letter that Rhaenyra wanted Nettles executed, Daemon ignores the letter and abandons his niece as her cause begins to crumble. But it’s not Daemon who ends up killing Rhaenyra, but rather the Queen’s death comes when she flees the Red Keep, is betrayed at Dragonstone, and is fed to the dragon Sunfyre by Aegon II, her (now deformed) little brother and nemesis.

cerseiscreamsinternally
Yea, it was a pretty gruesome affair.

I’m not arguing that the parallels to the Dance of the Dragons are necessarily proof of how the relationship between the Lannister siblings will play out. But it should at least serve as evidence that you can find symbolism and historical parallels that lead to all sorts of conclusions depending on which conflict you look to.

A snowflake landed on the letter. As it melted the ink began to blur. Jaime rolled the parchment up again, as tight as one hand would allow, and handed it to Peck. “No,” he said. “Put this in the fire.” – Jaime VII, AFFC

Ultimately while I see the symbolism and narrative symmetry of Jaime being the one to kill Cersei, I’m not sold on it because ultimately it’s not quite as tragic. It’s not like Jon and Yrgitte where Jon was giving up a chance at real love and happiness. In this case Jaime is actually better off without Cersei. It’s not the tragic end for two people who love each other because Jaime doesn’t really love Cersei anymore and it’s not clear that Cersei ever truly loved Jaime. If Cersei is really about to burn down King’s Landing, then Jaime’s actions in silencing her would be morally clear cut and outright heroic.

Which brings us to the case for Tyrion.

cerseimorewine
She’s gonna need it.

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Making a Valonqar

“What do you plan to offer the dragon queen, little man?”

My hate, Tyrion wanted to say. Instead he spread his hands as far as the fetters would allow. “Whatever she would have of me. Sage counsel, savage wit, a bit of tumbling. My cock, if she desires it. My tongue, if she does not. I will lead her armies or rub her feet, as she desires. And the only reward I ask is I might be allowed to rape and kill my sister.” – Tyrion VII, ADWD

The show really obscures this by prolonging Jaime’s attachment to Cersei, while Tyrion seems to be a genuine humanitarian, but from a book perspective we don’t have to struggle to imagine Tyrion murdering his older sister. By the time we get to ADWD revenge is what fuels Tyrion. Murdering Cersei is basically Tyrion’s goal. In a sense Tyrion is already the valonqar. He is already actively plotting Cersei’s undoing. Combined with the fact that Cersei fully believes Tyrion to be the valonqar and scapegoats Tyrion for everything that goes wrong, the idea that Tyrion would end up as the valonqar feels almost too obvious. It almost seems like it would validate Cersei’s hatred.

“I have never liked you, Cersei, but you were my own sister, so I never did you harm. You’ve ended that. I will hurt you for this. I don’t know how yet, but give me time. A day will come when you think yourself safe and happy, and suddenly your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you’ll know the debt is paid.” – Tyrion XII, ACOK

Except it doesn’t. It’s Cersei’s hatred which validates Tyrion as the valonquar. The reasoning I hear most often disputing Tyrion being the valonqar is that it would only prove Cersei right, and Cersei needs to be shown that she is wrong about Tyrion.

But that’s just it. Cersei isn’t completely wrong about Tyrion. Tyrion literally does want to kill her, and he is willing to reign fire and blood down on the Seven Kingdoms in order to do it. The twist isn’t that Cersei is paranoid about the wrong brother, the twist is that Cersei’s paranoia invokes Tyrion’s malice.

making-a-valonqar

Tyrion as the valonqar is the more fitting character arc for both Cersei and Tyrion, and speaks to what I believe is the central idea of A Song of Ice and Fire. Since Tyrion killed their mother in childbirth, Cersei has never stopped hating Tyrion. And when Maggy the Frog prophesized that Cersei would be killed by a little brother, Cersei assumed that it was the deformed little brother she hated. Ever since, Cersei has made an enemy of Tyrion. Cersei hates Tyrion because of what she believes he will do, and through that hatred she has inspired Tyrion’s hatred of her. In treating Tyrion like a monster, Cersei has created a monster. Cersei made her enemy.

Jaime killing Cersei gives us an idea of prophecy which is unexpected (not for the reader) but inevitable. An idea of prophecy where if a witch says a little brother will kill you, then it doesn’t matter what you say or do or who you protect yourself from; a little brother will kill you. If Jaime kills Cersei then the prophecy coming true doesn’t really matter. But Tyrion as the valonqar gives us a view of prophecy that is self fulfilling, where it’s Cersei’s actions in response to the prophecy which are her undoing.

cerseilook
Yes Cersei, it’s your fault.

While Jaime killing Cersei would fill her final thoughts with confusion (but likely not regret. Cersei would never change her mind about Tyrion), Tyrion killing Cersei would fill her with a false sense of validation as she lays dying. The tragedy of Cersei Lannister would be that she never understands or accepts responsibility for the way she treats people. She thinks she was right all along to hate Tyrion, but never realizes that her own hatred is what kills her. The tragedy of Tyrion Lannister would be that in killing Cersei he becomes the monster that she always treated him as.

“There is blood between Targaryen and Lannister. Why would you support the cause of Queen Daenerys?”

“For gold and glory,: the dwarf said cheerfully. “Oh and hate. If you had ever met my sister, you would understand.” – Tyrion III, ADWD

Though Tyrion’s relationship with his family was never anything that could be considered healthy, it undergoes a major transformation culminating in the latter half of ASOS. When we first meet Tyrion he views his relationship with his family as an asset. Though he hated Cersei and she hated him, he viewed the fact that his sister was Queen as something which made him untouchable. He viewed his older brother as someone he could count on to get him out of trouble. He viewed his status as the son of Tywin as a point of pride, even viewing himself as Tywin “writ small.” As a result, during his time as Hand of the King, Tyrion did his part not only to defend the city but also to maintain the rule of House Lannister. He craved acknowledgement from his father for his role in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Somewhat like Jon Snow, on some level Tyrion always wanted to be accepted as a Lannister of Casterly Rock and hoped that he would eventually find his place in the family legacy. To an extent, (though he did have a highly paranoid and antagonistic relationship with Cersei as Hand of the King) despite everything the family had put him through, Tyrion still defended the family.

“That night Tyion Lannister dreamed of a battle that turned the hills of Westeros red as blood. He was in the midst of it, dealing with an axe as big as he was, fighting side by side with Barristan the Bold and Bittersteel,as dragons wheeled across the sky above them. In the dream he had two heads, both noseless. His father led the army, so he slew him once again. Then he killed his brother, Jaime, hacking at his face until it was red ruin, laughing every time he struck a blow. Only when the fighting was finished did he realize that his second head was weeping.” – Tyrion II, ADWD

But Cersei’s hatred has transformed Tyrion. For all the fan expectation of Tyrion as an Other-slaying, dragon-riding savior, it’s often glossed over that the Tyrion we encounter in Dance is fueled by revenge, dreams about killing Jaime with an axe, and openly talks about wanting to rape and murder Cersei. Where the family was once a toxic group of people Tyrion endured and reaped the advantages of, he now sees the rest of his family as an obstacle that needs to be eliminated. In a sense he is becoming more like Tywin, determined to utterly destroy all of those who have insulted him. And while trying to live up to their father’s legacy is a bit of a complex for all the Lannister children, its Tyrion who most fits the bill.

tyrionprostitute
This scene plays out very differently in the books.

“I’ve got to admit I kind of like Tyrion Lannister. He’s the villain of course, but hey, there’s nothing like a good villain.” – GRRM, 1999

This quote is from 1999, so it’s not terribly recent, but not so early that it would be before Martin had a strong idea of where the story was going. While I this doesn’t imply that Tyrion is will team up with the White Walkers, I can’t emphasize enough how separate show!Tyrion is from book Tyrion. While season 5 Tyrion is too emotionally wounded to have sex with a prostitute who he charmed by complementing her intellect, book 5 Tyrion rapes a sobbing prostitute. I expect this disparity is largely a result of the showrunners wanting the mascot character to be funny and likable, but ultimately I think it distracts the fandom from what is going on with Tyrion in the books.

“What do I want, you ask? I’ll tell you what I want. I want what is mine by rights. I want Casterly Rock.” – Tyrion I, ASOS

“If it is useful occupation you require, useful occupation you shall have,” his father then said. So to mark his manhood, Tyrion was given charge of all the drains and cisterns within Casterly Rock. Perhaps he hoped I’d fall into one. But Tywin had been disappointed in that. The drains never drained half so well as when he had charge of them.” – Tyrion II, ADWD

Casterly Rock has been the object of Tyrion’s desires since the beginning of the story. Though Jaime’s ineligibility as a knight sworn to the King’s Guard entitled Tyrion to inherit his ancestral home, Tyrion now understands that his family are an obstacle to the acquisition of his birthright. There is foreshadowing that just as Lann the Clever found a secret way in and swindled Casterly Rock from the Casterlys, Tyrion may end up doing something similar to take the Rock back from his own family, as he is stated to have an intricate knowledge of the sewer systems of Casterly Rock from when he was placed in charge of them by his father. That he may make use of this knowledge when he returns to Westeros with Daenerys is actually quite likely, and would not be the first time in our story that something was taken through this strategy. If this comes to pass, will Tyrion find his childhood home empty, or will he come face to face with his wicked sister one last time?

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A Game of Guesses

Eddard Stark
art by TheMico

“It’s never the person who you most suspect. It’s also never the person you least suspect, since anyone with half a brain would suspect them the most. Therefore, I know the killer to be Phyllis… The person who I most medium suspect.” – Dwight K. Schrute

It can of course be argued that the prophecy doesn’t have to come true. Cersei could be killed by someone who is not a little brother. Or that the word ‘valonqar’ could be genderless. Or that it could be a little brother, but not Cersei’s little brother. It could be Aegon, or Bran, or the Hound, or Jon, or Tommen, or Euron, or even Loras. So long as it’s a little brother who kills her, the prophecy is fulfilled right?

But what would be the point of Martin that? Misdirection? Proof that the author knew where the story was headed? Evidence that the future is already written? What was the point of giving us the valonqar prophecy if the little brother ends up being Aegon? Or if it ends up being Tommen? Or even if it ends up being Jaime? If GRRM throws us a curveball and has Cersei killed by a little brother she never suspected, then how does the prophecy amount to anything more than a guessing game Martin set up himself?

“Prophecies are, you know, a double edge sword. You have to handle them very carefully; I mean, they can add depth and interest to a book, but you don’t want to be too literal or too easy… In the Wars of the Roses, that you mentioned, there was one Lord who had been prophesied he would die beneath the walls of a certain castle and he was superstitious at that sort of walls, so he never came anyway near that castle. He stayed thousands of leagues away from that particular castle because of the prophecy. However, he was killed in the first battle of St. Paul de Vence and when they found him dead he was outside of an inn whose sign was the picture of that castle! [Laughs] So you know? That’s the way prophecies come true in unexpected ways. The more you try to avoid them, the more you are making them true, and I make a little fun with that.” – GRRM

Thus far in asoiaf, Martin uses prophecy in a couple of different ways (which are not necessarily mutually exclusive). Prophecy can influence or manipulate the characters receiving the prophecy, or it can serve as a clue to the reader about events in the story.

“The old gods stir and will not let me sleep. I dreamt I saw a shadow with a burning heart butchering a golden stag, aye. I dreamt of a man without a face, waiting on a bridge that swayed and swung. On his shoulder perched a drowned crow with seaweed hanging from his wings. I dreamt of a roaring river and a woman that was a fish. Dead she drifted, with red tears on her cheeks, but when her eyes did open, oh, I woke from terror. All this I dreamt, and more.” – Arya IV, ASOS

Typically when prophecy is acting as a clue for the reader, Martin gives us a puzzle that we can potentially decipher. For example when the Ghost of High Heart recites her dreams to the Brotherhood, or in the House of the Undying when Daenerys receives several prophecies about events which may come to pass. It’s important to note that those prophecies are never literal, but rather figurative. They serve as a riddle which the reader must seek out an answer to. This is why often times these dreams or visions show us events which have already come to pass alongside events that are yet to come. It’s about using events which the reader knows to establish a legend for how the prophecy is to be read. In these prophecies characters are usually presented using symbols based on house or artifacts of personal relevence. For example a cloth dragon is Aegon. A seaweed covered drowned crow is Euron. A dead woman who was a fish is Lady Stoneheart. A blue winter rose growing from a wall of ice is Jon Snow. A maid at a feast with purple serpents in her hair is Sansa. And the savage giant could be an Umber, or it could be Littlefinger.

The point is most prophecies are meant to serve as puzzles for the reader, and thus are non-literal. Though Arya hears about a seaweed covered drowned crow in her POV, that prophecy doesn’t actually have anything to do with Arya or anything that Arya is directly involved in. Instead it’s intended for the reader to be clued in on something which is coming later in the story.

But in every case these kinds of prophecies contain actual clues. Yes the symbols can have various interpretations, but the interpretations aren’t so numerous that it’s random. So in hindsight the reader can see how the clues to solve the riddle were right there in the prophecy.

The old woman was not done with her, however. “Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” she said. “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” – Cersei VIII, AFFC

The valonqar prophecy is different. We don’t see the valonqar prophecy as a dream or a vision which is open to interpretation, (save for any trick in the use of high Valyrian) Cersei has the valonqar prophecy told to her in very clear terms. She is told she will be Queen. She is told she will lose everything to someone younger and more beautiful. She is told she will have 3 children. She is told her children will die. She is told that a little brother will strangle her to death. It’s important how direct this prophecy is because it’s not actually a puzzle and doesn’t really give the reader clues which need to be deciphered.

Martin tells us that Cersei is supposed to be killed by a little brother, and while there are technically multiple little brothers who could end up killing her, the prophecy doesn’t give us any more specific clues as to who it would be. It’s about as much of a puzzle as if I were to ask you to guess the number I’m thinking of between 1 and 20. Due to the feudal emphasis on producing multiple backup heirs, our story is filled with little brothers. In fact nearly all of our male POVs are younger brothers. Ned, Tyrion, Jaime, Jon, Bran, Theon, Quentyn, Aeron, Victarion, Arys, Areo…. then there is Benjen, Stannis, Euron, Aegon(?), Aemon, Loras, Garlan, Rickon, Sandor, Edmure, Trystane, Tommen, Kevan, Jojen, Bloodraven, probably most of the Others, Blackfish, Edric Storm, Osfryd, Osney Kettleblack, and Moonboy for all we know… “little brother” isn’t remotely specific, and to add to that Cersei makes enemies of almost everyone. It’s not really a riddle, and it doesn’t act as a riddle for Cersei either. Cersei never second guesses her first conclusion. The power of the Valonquar prophecy lies not in any puzzle it creates for the reader, but rather in the psychological effect that it has on Cersei.

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The Gift of the Maggy

youngcersei

Since the beginning, Maggy the Frog’s prophecies have been manipulative and self-fulfilling. Just like Mirri Maz Duur, the other prominent maegi in our story, Maggy the Frog works through a mixture of blood magic and trickery. When Cersei’s companion Melara asks if she will marry Jaime, she is told that she will die that very day and that her death is so near she should be able to feel it’s breath. Sure enough that same day Cersei kills Melara by throwing her down a well. The catch here is that Cersei killed Melara specifically to prevent her from ever speaking the prophecy. It was the act of hearing Maggy’s prophecy which caused it to come true. But Maggy didn’t create hatred or the capacity to murder where It wasn’t already there. She didn’t force Cersei to be hateful, or envious, or vain. Maggy only manipulated those toxic self-destructive qualities where they already existed. With a few words Maggy the Frog was able to turn a spoiled girl’s hatred into fear. That’s not to say that Maggy necessarily doesn’t see the future, or that she doesn’t have some kind of magical power, but that the prophecy is deviously manipulative.

For example, take the part of the prophecy about the younger more beautiful queen:

“Aye Malice gleamed in Maggy’s yellow eyes. “Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.” – Cersei VII, AFFC

This part of the prophecy is particularly noteworthy because it’s practically an inevitability. Not everyone is strangled by a younger brother, but everyone gets old, all beauty fades, and all Queens are eventually replaced. Due to the significance placed by feudalism on child bearing years, this replacement is almost always younger, and being younger is typically associated with beauty. So it’s not exactly an impressive prediction. Predicting a queen will be replaced by someone younger and more beautiful is like predicting that winter will turn to spring. It’s just the circle of life.

cersei-margaery-confrontation
Note: this is not a healthy way to deal with the circle of life.

It has also been argued that this segment refers to Brienne and her inner beauty, which isn’t an invalid prediction at all but only speaks to just how vague and open to interpretation the prophecy can be.

But what is most significant about this portion of Maggy’s prophecy is how it warps Cersei by manipulating her own narcissism and jealousy. Maggy has diabolically taken the basic structural reality that Cersei would eventually need to be replaced, and framed her inevitable replacement as a usurper. As an enemy come to destroy her. So in her unwillingness to accept the end of her reign, Cersei tries to use the faith militant on Margary Tyrell, which only has the effect of worsening her situation. It almost doesn’t matter who the more beautiful Queen is because whether Sansa, Margaery, Arianne, or Daenerys, it has to be someone, Cersei is paranoid about every potential replacement, and her paranoia is what leads her to ruin.

maggythefrog
Game, set, match… point. Maggy. Game over. End of game.

“He is in the walls. He killed Father as he killed Mother, as he killed Joff. The dwarf would come for her as well, the queen knew, just as the old woman had promised her in the dimness of that tent. I laughed in her face, but she had powers. I saw my future in a drop of blood. My doom. Her legs were weak as water. Ser Boros tried to take her by the arm, but the queen recoiled from his touch. For all she knew he might be one of Tyrion’s creatures. “Get away from me,” she said. “Get away!” She staggered to a settle.” – Cersei I, AFFC

Hence why I believe that the valonqar is in fact Tyrion Lannister. Neither Jaime nor Tyrion would actually be unexpected to the reader, but the whole prophecy mainly just exists in Cersei’s mind, and in her mind it has little to do with her relationship with Jaime but everything to do with her relationship to Tyrion. In her utter determination to hold onto power Cersei Lannister’s narcissism and paranoia has created an enemy of anyone and everyone she comes across. As much as I love the character of show!Cersei (and I do love show Cersei, I think he’s by far the best written character on the show), it’s important to recognize how much more evil and selfish she is in the books. It’s clear from reading her POVs that she doesn’t genuinely love anyone, and views everyone around her as either a threat to her status or an object to be used to maintain or elevate her status. Her affection for people like Jaime, Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen really only exist insofar as these people serve as reflections of herself, and we have seen with Jaime that this affection can fade if they cease serving as reflections of herself.

cersei-lannister-oh-well
Well what are you gonna do? Haters gonna hate.

Given her relentless addiction to power and her complete lack of love or empathy, it will be no surprise when someone finally puts an end to Cersei Lannister. But among all of Cersei’s failed and broken relationships, and among all of her well-deserved enemies, Tyrion stands alone. It’s her deep unbridled hatred and paranoia of Tyrion which has been the most obsessive, the most enduring, and the most destructive; for Cersei, for House Lannister, and for the Seven Kingdoms.

 

“I choose violence”

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Well Cersei, maybe you should stop doing that.

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In Review:

  1. The bond between Jaime and Cersei has already fallen apart.
  2. Killing a Mad King/Queen to stop them from burning innocent people is a moral act, but it’s more likely that the strangling of Cersei will be personal.
  3. The loss of Jaime’s hand also represents the severing of his connection to Cersei. Getting Cersei out of his head is central to Jaime’s arc, and killong Cersei is not the best way for him to do that.
  4. Cersei is a complete narcissist who doesn’t really love Jaime. Her arc is framed around the desperate struggle to keep power, and moving away from Jaime isn’t central to her arc at all.
  5. The falling out between Cersei and Jaime Lannister mirrors the falling out between Quen Rhaenyra and Daemon the Rogue Prince.
  6. Cersei’s lifelong hatred of Tyrion has changed him from a misanthropic imp to a revenge fueled monster bent on her destruction.
  7. While most prophecies in ASOIAF are riddles which use symbols that the reader must decipher, the valonqar prophecy is extremely straightforward and thus wreaks utter havoc on Cersei’s psyche.
  8. Maggy the Frog used prophecy to manipulate an arrogant, selfish, and jealous Cersei Lannister into destroying her own life by antagonizing the people around her, first and foremost her hated little brother Tyrion; the valonqar.

S6Ep6: Blood of my Blood, Man in my Mirror

The Blood of my Blood is Myself

The core theme of ‘Blood of My Blood’, and perhaps even all of season 6, is reflection on identity. In this particular episode it’s the question of who a person is within the context of family and dynasty. Tommen is manipulated to fall in line with the Faith by his wife Margaery. Daenerys is nudged toward embracing her heritage as a Targaryen conqueror by Daario Naharis. Sam torn down by his lord father, and built back up again by Gilly. Bran is told of his destiny as the Three Eyed Raven by his reanimated uncle UnBenjen. Jaime is relieved of his position as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard by his king nephew-son, and then called to take up his place as head of House Lannister by his sister-lover. And “Mercy” is inadvertently brought back to her identity as Arya of House Stark by the charismatic actress Lady Crane.

Tommen and Margaery:

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Margaery looks very in control right here…

Margaery really spells out the theme of this episode when she speaks with Tommen about how the High Sparrow isn’t really who she and Tommen took him for, and then reflects on who she has been and who she has appeared to be. “I’ve had lots of time to think about how good I was at seeming good.” Now part of me wonders how genuine Margaery is in all of this, seeing as her “genuine” discovery of piety has really just put her right back to where she wants to be by using her manipulation to bring Tommen into the fold.

But this theme of characters being reminded who they were born to be is played out throughout the entire episode:

Dany and Daario:

bloodrider4life
#BloodOfMyHYPE

Daenerys is told by Daario that she was meant to be a conqueror rather than a conciliator, and she then mounts Drogon and reclaims her former identity as the fearsome Mother of Dragons. This seems pretty true to her book storyline, and the event actually feels pretty believable. Surprisingly, I actually enjoyed this scene quite a bit. The CGI on her riding Drogon was better than it was last time Dany rode him, and the Dothraki extras did a very good job at portraying hype.

Jaime and Cersei:

cerseishowthem
“Stand at the head of our army where you belong, where Father wanted you. Show our men where their loyalties belong. Show them what Lannisters are, what we do to our enemies. And take that stupid little castle back, because it’s ours and because you can.” – Cersei

Jaime is stripped from his position as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard by his own son, and is encourage by Cersei to claim the position he was born into, as the head of House Lannister. This even comes with the same creepy “twincest against the world” attitude that Jaime and Cersei displayed at the beginning. This definitely seems like a divergence from Jaime’s book plotline, but it’s one that works so far for this world. There is a certain chivalry to Jaime’s actions, sticking by the show’s less evil portrayal of Cersei, and doing his best to take care of his last living child rather.

Sam and Gilly:

samgilly
“You’re not what he thinks you are Sam. He doesn’t know what you are.” – Gilly

Samwell comes back home to be berated by his father just as he always was for his softer more scholarly disposition, and for bringing what is secretly a wildling back to Horn Hill. Gilly stands up for Sam, and despite looking completely ridiculous dressed up like a southern lady, keeps a certain pride in who she is and reminds Sam to do the same. It’s perhaps Gilly’s reminder that makes Sam unable to leave her at Horn Hill, and brings him to continue to break his vows by taking what is essentially a wife, fathering a son, and even taking the Tarly family sword.

Bran and Benjen:

Bran is rescued by his uncle Benjen, who is now a wight. Uncle UnBenjen has apparently been “sent for by the Three Eyed Raven,” though it’s unclear which Three Eyed Raven sent for him. Was it Max Von Sydow, or was it Bran? This turn of events is interesting because it implies that in the show and the books, Bran will have the power to animate reanimate the dead.

benjendrink
“A fearless boy. Loved to climb the castle walls, frighten his mother […] You are the Three Eyed Raven now…. so drink this rabbit blood so you can face off against Frosty Darth Maul.” – Uncle UnBenjen
So “ColdBenjen” reaffirms to Bran and Meera that Bran has become the Three Eyed Raven, and that it is his destiny to face the Night King and the army of the dead when they reach the world of men. Bran is himself, but he is also not himself. He has also merged with something that is beyond human and beyond himself.

SIDE NOTE: Benjen is a reanimate corpse. Just look at his face. He died.  The Children did not use the dragonglass to save Benjen’s life, they used it to cancel out the White Walker’s magic and prevent him from turning into a wight. In fact, I find it very unlikely that Brother-uncle Benjen has been casually walking around north of the Wall for 5 years, and more likely that he simply rises from the dead when he is needed. Apparently, Benjen is “show!Coldhands”, but [according to Martin] Benjen is not book!Coldhands. It still leaves the question whether this will be the destiny of Benjen in the books, or if they have something else planned. With Benjen being such a mystery, it seems like it would be a big change for the show. But at the same time, it also seems a bit redundant for Benjen to become Coldhands #2 in the books. We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Faceless Man in the Mirror

Something I have been noticing this season is how the show uses cinematography to connect scenes to one another on a thematic level, from episode to episode and this season to previous seasons. For example, Bran (who is now the rightful Lord of Winterfell), is depicted standing where his lord father stood in the scene he is introduced. Young Ned Training Benjen is shot to reflect Jon training Olly. The S6Ep2 ending shot of Jon’s resurrection was originally story boarded to mirror the S2Ep2 ending shot of Bran’s waking up, but it was later changed to match the S6Ep5 closing shot of Wyllis becoming Hodor. Another example would be the way Arya’s training montage was set up to reflect the injuries taken by people close to her. Or how Melisandre washing Jon’s body before resurrection was a direct call back to how the Faceless Men wash bodies before they have their faces removed so that their identities can be worn by someone else.

In this episode we get perhaps the clearest example of this visual symmetry yet, when Arya is having second thoughts about poisoning Lady Crane, and a girl looks into the mirror.

aryamirror
“What’s your name?… Do you like pretending to be other people?” – Lady Crane, asking all the right questions.

In this shot, having viewed a play to remind herself of who she is and where she comes from, Arya must look at her own face in the mirror as she decides whether she can forsake her own personal code of justice and kill an actress purely in service of the Many-Faced God. The focus shifts from Arya’s face in the mirror to the rum, as she decides between being true to herself or doing what has been asked of her. After this Arya speaks to Lady Crane, and her conversation with Lady Crane causes her to further empathize with the talented stranger, and not to take her life.

fakesansamirror
“Be careful of that one” – Mercy

This shot is even repeated when the actress who plays Sansa looks at herself in the same mirror, indicating her envy of Lady Crane, and her involvement in the plot to poison her.

This mirror gazing moment of self reflection is a direct call back to the ending shot of ‘The Red Woman.’

melmirror

In this shot, Melisandre has failed Stannis Baratheon, and has found herself in a crisis of faith. She finds herself doubting that her Lord of Light has a purpose for her, or whether she is even capable of fulfilling that purpose. At her lowest point Melisandre looks at the woman in the mirror to take stock of who she really is, and takes off her glamour to reveal the feeble old woman that lies underneath the facade of the seductive “Red Woman.”

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The parallel between these two scenes is no accident, and it’s likely not just a stylistic choice since the two episodes have different directors. But in both shots there is a vial on the table which is focused on, the same basic composition, and even the score is exactly the same.

Aryaswordinthestone

In anycase, Arya’s self reflection leads to her sword in the stone moment, where Needle is salvaged, and with it her sense of self.

The last thing I would point out is that the scene between Jaqen and the Waif is pretty interesting. Though the Waif is given permission to kill Arya, is seems that the Waif too is unable to let go of her sense of self. Maybe not her name, but her disdain for Arya seems to be deeply personal and perhaps based on being from a much lower social class. In her conversation with Jaqen the Waif tells him “you promised me,” hence referring to herself as “me,” rather than “a girl,” indicating that the Waif too isn’t truly no one.

From this I get the sense that Jaqen doesn’t really care much if Arya or the Waif dies, as he sees both as tools to serve an agenda or further an ideology. I don’t think there is any chance Jaqen is coming after Arya.

jaqenpeels
“A shame. A girl had many gifts.” – a man

Perhaps the next time he see Jaqen, he may well be wearing the face he was removing from a corpse… perhaps in Oldtown.

Killerbowl = Fucking Confirmed.

Get Hype.

 

 

mirrorsaryamel
“A shame, a girl had many gifs”

S6Ep5: The Door to Infinite Sadness

What an episode huh? For an episode that casually dropped such a huge answer, it left us with far more n the way of questions. As it seems, the Children of the Forest created the Others out of men, as a last ditch effort to combat annihilation at the hands of men. This will likely be the same relationship in the books, and it’s one that throws into question a lot of what we know about the the ancient history of Westeros.

But it’s also a relationship Martin has written before.

 

[Spoilers for Tuf Voyaging by GRRM]

 

The Guardian Connection

In Martin’s short story from Tuf Voyaging titled Guardians, the space trader Haviland Tuf comes to the planet Namor, who’s inhabitants are being plagued by killer sea monsters who are terraforming the planet. Tuf offers his services to the so called ‘Guardians’ of this world, who are at a loss for how to deal with the threat. Being ecological engineer, Tuf wants to fully understand why the sea monsters have suddenly appeared and started attacking, but is pushed by the Guardians to go to war prematurely, so he wages bio-war on the leviathans, engineering his own creatures specifically to counteract the sea monsters.

This strategy works for a bit, but then the sea monsters gain a resistance.

In the end, it turns out that the reason these sea monsters have suddenly appeared and begun terrorizing the planet is that the population had been eating a race of sea clam called the mudpots. Though seemingly benign, the mudpots are actually telepathic hive minded bottom dwellers who biologically engineer sea monsters to eliminate predators. As it turns out, it’s the mudpots are the titular Guardians of the planet Namor. Only by engineering a psychic kitten named Dax (no I’m not kidding), is Tuf able to communicate with the mudpots, and thus a truce is brokered between the mudpots and the humans, putting an end to Namor’s sea monster apocalypse.

tuf2
psychic cats are a thing.

Now our story has taken a slightly different route, but the same concepts are still at play. Mankind is still preparing to go to war against an what appears to be certain doom before truly understanding why the enemy is doing what they are doing… and after thousands of years, why now? In Tuf voyaging, and I suspect ASOIAF, mankind is being killed by their lack of understanding, not their lack of preparedness to kill.

In ASOIAF the Others have turned against their creators. Exactly when and why this turn occurred is unknown, but it’s definitely one of the big mysteries that remain in the series. The other major difference is that the Others have seemingly been dormant for thousands of years. On a practical level, the Others could build their army of the dead out of wildlings in a matter of days, particularly considering how insanely effective their recruitment methods are. So we have to wonder what it is which provoked the Others seemingly within a generation of the events of our story.

Though I think I have a pretty good answer for this in Mirror Mirror Beyond the Wall, I should add that Bran must be considered as a key suspect now. The show has not backed away from the introduction of time travel and the subsequent time paradoxes it creates, and it’s unlikely to be a coincidence that the Three Eyed Raven awaited Bran so very long only to have his chosen one arrive just in time for the war to come. Given that the story is filled with suspicious and seemingly self-fulfilling prophecies, it’s worth considering whether Bran may be the lynchpin of a great self-fulfilling conflict. The root of a time paradox that history has been hurdling towards for ages.

For many this idea may seem convoluted, but a time paradox is an interesting commentary on the self-fulfilling nature of war. Essentially: Our enemies are preparing for the war to come, because we are preparing for the war to come that our enemies are preparing for.

 

 

The Bad Wolf is a Time Traveling Body Snatcher

Bran’s powers only ever escalate.

He has appeared 3 times this season. The first had him watching the past, the second had him communicating with the past, the third had him mentally breaking Wyllis in the past by seizing his body in the future, from the past.

Let’s go over what happened in the show, because it’s a doozy.

In the show, Bran’s mind exists in at least two separate points in time and space. His mind is decades in the past watching his father leave home, and also in the cave of the 3 Eyed Raven at the time of the White Walker attack (we know this because he can hear Meera while he watches Winterfell). This makes it complicated to determine exactly when Bran did what, because Bran’s mind is simultaneously in more than one point in space-time. Even cinematic indicators are a bit unreliable, as Bran is inside Hodor’s mind in the present, while watching Wyllis’ breakdown in the past.

wyllis2

This means that the question of “when” is transcended completely. Bran telepathically subjugates Hodor from the moment he is broken till his death.

 

Martin has also written a story about time travel possession. It’s called Under Siege.

 

 [Spoiler Warning for Under Siege]

Under Siege is a story about a dwarf living in a horrible society, who’s mind is sent back to the past to prevent that society from ever coming into existence (NOTE:  in this story characters actually can change the present by changing the past). Yet the protagonist has anxiety about deleting his own existence, and so he combines his consciousness with someone else’ in the past (basically skinchanging), changes time, and remains combined with his host forever.

There are several connections in ‘Under Siege’ to what just happened in ‘The Door’:

  1. Bran’s mind goes back in time.
  2. Wyllis is broken in the past by Bran
  3. What Bran does from the past effects the present, but also permanently transforms the past.
  4. Bran can likely skinchange people in the past. (the horror of human skinchanging was foreshadowed in the Varamyr chapter.)

 

But has Bran learned his lesson and decided to never warg again? Is Bran going to never touch the past again or warg a person ever again, and spend the rest of his life only using his powers to listen in on important which he can pass on to the able bodied?

Maybe. But probably not. Time travel has been introduced. Time loops are part of this now.

“It is beautiful beneath the sea. But if you stay too long you’ll drown.”

– The Three Eyed Raven

The Three Eyed Raven, Jojen and Meera have all warned Bran about losing himself in another time, place, and identity, and that Chekhov’s gun hasn’t quite gone off yet. Many thought the Night King vision was the culmination of that, but gladly it turned out not to be something so conceptually shallow. I think (but really I hope) that human skinchanging and time travel are only just beginning to be explored.

The concepts are loaded, and allow Martin to explore more of Bran’s inner feelings of inadequacy through escapism, while also exploring the complex and often abusive relationship between the ruling class and the ruled, and the soldier and the general. And beyond that time travel explores the paradoxically self fulfilling nature of war and propaganda.

 

Bran Ex Machina

rider2

In the next episode, it’s likely that we will encounter the mysterious wight slaying horseman from the trailer. Before the season began I actually suspected this would be Hodor, but that’s clearly incorrect. The two current competing theories on this rider are that it will be Coldhands or Benjen. Right now I’m on team Benjen, simply because the Coldhands of the books is very likely being animated by Bloodraven, and the Raven is now dead.

So if it were Coldhands, it would have to be a version of Coldhands animated by Bran.

But if it is Benjen, where has he been all this time? Has he really been hanging out for 5 years in the haunted forest just to pop back up again at just the right moment to save Bran? This seems kind of implausible. Whether the savior horseman in the show is Coldhands, or whether it’s Benjen, or whether it’s both, we may actually be looking at Bran’s second attempt. Just as Bran went into the past and telepathically subjugated and broke Hodor so he would be forced to save Bran and Meera at the exact moment he was needed years later, I suspect that Benjen may be the same way (though perhaps slightly less broken).

We can see that while Meera tries her best to escape with Bran, Bran’s mind is still time traveling and watching the past, while listening to Meera’s distress in the present. So we now have a week to figure out which is the more likely scenario: A rider with the skills to kill wights just so happened to be out there and will just so happen upon Bran and Meera? or that the time traveling Bran, knowing where and when he needs to be saved has set up a rider to arrive at the exact moment he would need it…

Given that time travel and human skin changing is now a potential in Bran’s story, there are some pretty major implications, and it’s worth taking into consideration that Martin is a huge fan of Heinlein and is on record as stating that ‘All You Zombies’ is what he considers to be the last word on time travel paradox. I haven’t read the story, but I’m a huge fan of the movie, so I was happy to hear Martin share the appreciation of this paradoxical story. If you want your mind blown, read the story, or even just read a summary.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.” – (Bran, ADWD)

Bran cannot change what has already happened, but moving forward we have to wonder, how much of what has already happened has Bran caused?

“You could have been a knight too, I bet,” Bran told him. “If the gods hadn’t taken your wits, you would have been a great knight.” (Clash of Kings, Bran II)

In a scene from ‘The Door’, the Red Priestess Kinvara speaks to Varys about predestination, and how everyone is where they are for a reason, and then taunts him with the idea knowledge of the voice that spoke from the flames on the day he was castrated. She asks him if he would like to know what the voice said, or the name of the one who spoke. And in the original leaked audition, she even asks if he’d like to know where it lives.

Then the scene cuts to Bran.

“Now I am become Time who bringeth all to doom, the destroyer time come hither to consume”

– The Bhagavad Gita

The Three Eyed Raven claims to have waited for Bran for a thousand years. Jojen has called Bran “the only thing that matters.” We watched Hodor being broken for 55 episodes before realizing that Bran had done it all along. What else will we find out that Bran has done?  Did Bran shape Benjen’s disappearance? Is Bran the Lord of Light? Who else will Bran become?

Jondor
Two episodes this season have ended on the same composition (notice the matching cuts)…. It’s beautiful beneath the sea huh?

 


We’ll just have to see where this goes, when it goes there…