‘Game of Thrones’: Promises, promises

Game of Thrones
May 8, 2016

So, last week we were teased in the previews that Game of Thrones was going back to the past, to the Tower of Joy to finally confirm that theory — you know, THAT theory — once and for all. The Tower of Joy, “R +L = J,” you know nothing Jon Snow, THAT theory. I mean, now that Jon Snow is magically back to life, we might as well get on with it, and learn about who he is and where he came from and what makes him so special, right? RIGHT? Surely they aren’t going to take us all the way to the Tower of Joy, the most anticipated location in all of Game of Thrones history, and NOT tell us what happened there.

… They wouldn’t do that, would they?


On the Narrow Sea:



Oh, hey! It’s Sam and Gilly and Little Sam, remember them? Well they are stuck on a boat somewhere in the Narrow Sea …



… but Sam doesn’t exactly have his sea legs nor his flippie floppies, and he spends most of the trip bent over a bucket. Gilly is excited to see Oldtown, but between heaves, Sam is like, “Yeah, about that…” He explains that there’s been a change in plans: since Oldtown doesn’t exactly have an open door policy for women and children, she’ll be going to live with his family in Horn Hill instead. His father’s not a treat, but his mother and sister are just lovely and will be kind to her while he studies to become Jon’s Maester. Sam just wants her to be safe because she and Little Sam are the only things he truly cares about. So she agrees to do whatever he thinks is best, calling him “the father of [her] son.” Awww, that’s sweet. Factually inaccurate, but sweet.

Vaes Dothrak:



As for Daenerys, she’s brought to the Dosh Khaleen sorority house where the sorority president is like, “WELL WELL WELL, LOOK WHO SUDDENLY WANTS TO RUSH.” As the other widow-sisters strip Daenerys of her fancy dress and put her in some shapeless rags, the High Priestess tells Dany that she remembers her: what with the horse heart and the eating … so, what happened? Why didn’t she join them after Khal Drogo died? Daenerys explains that she had chains to break and dragons to raise, but the High Priestess is unimpressed. Her place as the widow of a khal was here in the sorority house; galavanting around in the outside world like a nation-conquering hussy was strictly forbidden. High Priestess then explains that the khalasars have come together for their annual convention to decide which cities to sack, what the theme of their fall formal will be and whether or not Daenerys will receive a bid to join Dosh Klahleen. So cross your fingers, rushee, because a good hazing is probably preferable to the other option.




So, do you remember that one prostitute in Meereen who literally cuddled that one Unsullied to death? Her name is Vala, and Varys has her brought to the pyramid to ask her a few questions about working with the Sons of the Harpy. When she is reluctant to spill some details lest the Sons of the Harpy kill her, Varys offers her and her son safe passage out of Meereen and a bunch of cash.

In another room, Tyrion tries to convince Grey Worm and Missandei to play beer pong with him, but needs to find better drinking buddies. I am totally available. Eventually, Varys joins them and reveals that the slave masters in Yunkai, Astapor, and Volantis are financing the Sons of the Harpy, so Tyrion instructs Varys to send the leaders of those cities a message using his little birds.



King’s Landing:



Speaking of Varys’ little birds, it turns out they were children all along? And once Varys left town, Creepy Maester Qyburn takes them under his wing by offering them sweets in exchange for information. DO NOT TAKE CANDY FROM THAT MAN, CHILDREN. Cersei, Jaime and Frankenmountain arrive in Creepy Maester Qyburn’s chambers, where Jaime somewhat dangerously teases Frankenmountain before wondering why he hasn’t crushed the High Sparrow’s head yet. Cersei urges patience: she is awaiting formal charges to be brought against her, so that she can defend herself via trial by combat using her Zombieguard friend here.

In other news, Cersei would like Creepy Maester Qyburn to send spies to the North, Dorne and in the Reach (where the Tyrells are from, in case you, like your trusty blogger, had forgotten). Wait, are the children his spies? How does Creepy Maester Qyburn get an eight-year-old all the way up to the North to spy for him? I’m very confused by these logistics.

Cersei, Jaime and Frankenmountain then march into a small council meeting, just as Maester Pycelle is indulging in a little rant about Qyburn and Frankenmountain and how they need to destroy “the beast.” When he realizes Frankenmountain is in the room, Pycelle lets out a teeny terror fart.


Also in attendance at the meeting is our beloved Lady Olenna Tyrell, Queen of Thornes, who explains that she’s there to discuss the Queen’s imprisonment — the REAL queen, hunty, the one married to the king. She knows how confusing familial relations can be for the Lannisters.



Jaime and Cersei demand a seat at the meeting, since Jaime is the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard and all. But when they plop themselves down and demand to know what the King’s Hand, their Uncle Kevan, plans on doing about Myrcella’s death and the fact the Sand Snakes have taken over Dorne, Uncle Kevan’s like, “SMALL COUNCIL OUT,” and they all get up and scurry out of the room.

Meanwhile, Tommen pays a visit to the High Sparrow to demand that Cersei be allowed to see Myrcella. The High Sparrow explains that she can’t until she stands trial. He then gives Tommen a long theology lesson on the Mother, and the power of the Gods, and how we have to let them work through us or something.




Even though Arya is back in the House of Black and White, she’s still blind and still being beaten about the head by the Waif. The Waif demands to know who The Girl was before she arrived, and Arya tells her about the Stark family, all of whom may be dead now for all she knows. The Waif then demands to know about The Hound, whom Arya claims is dead (O RLY? R U SURE?). Arya tells the Waif that The Hound had been on her list, but she took him off of it because she both wanted him dead and not dead.

The role of Schrödinger's Cat will be played by The Hound.
The role of Schrödinger’s Cat will be played by The Hound.

The Waif asks for the other names on the list, and all that remain are Cersei Lannister, Gregor Clegane, and Walder Frey. The Waif and I believe this to be an awfully short list so Arya asks her who else The Waif thinks should also be on it. Maybe a b-hole who keeps hitting her about the head with a pole? Hmm?

After more training, Arya is finally able to ward off the Waif’s blows, which is when Jaqen H’ghar arrives and offers to give her her sight back if she tells him her name. When Arya sticks with the “No One” routine, Jaqen H’ghar brings her to the poison well and offers her a drink: if she truly is No One, she has nothing to fear. So Arya drinks, and her eyes come back, and when asked for the UPTEENTH TIME who she is, she replies, “No One.” But seriously, dude.




Over in Winterfell, Smalljon Umber, head of the House of Umber, shows up to insult the Boltons and the Karstarks for a few moments before asking Ramsay for help. Seems Jon Snow’s been letting Wildlings through the Wall, a whole lot of them, and Smalljon can’t kill them all on his own.

Smalljon explains that he’s totally cool with Ramsay murdering his father — whatever, Ramsay’s father needed some killing. When Ramsay’s like, “He was poisoned by our enemies,” Smalljon is all, “Sure, whatever, ok. The point is: Wildlings.” Ramsay demands that Smalljon swear loyalty to him: take a knee, kiss his hand, something. But Smalljon is like, “What, take an oath like your dad did to Robb Stark? NOPE. Instead, I’ve brought you a present…” And in are marched two hooded figures who are revealed to be OSHA and RICKON STARK and OMG, THEY CUT OFF SHAGGYDOG’S HEAD. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO




The Wall:



So, Jon Snow’s naked and alive and Davos and Melisandre are both like, “NO WAY.” Way! Melisandre asks Jon what was on the other side, but Jon Snow’s got some disappointing news for her: a whole lot of nothing.



Melisandre is undeterred and pretty sure that this means he, not Stannis, is The Prince That Was Promised.

Davos shoos her away to explain to Jon that he was dead — for like, a long while — but he’s not now, so he should use his time to fight for as long as he can.

Jon Snow puts his furs on and heads out to say hey to the Night’s Watch and Wildlings, who now think he’s a god. As they greet him, Tormund and Edd make fun of Jon Snow’s sense of humor and penis size because the undead love nothing more than a good peen joke.

Later, Jon has Thorne, that little weasel Olly and the rest of the traitors strung up in nooses. Jon Snow then personally cuts the rope to hang them because screw those guys. And with that, Jon Snow takes off his fancy Lord Commander coat and hands it to Edd, because Jon Snow has HAD ENOUGH. His watch is over and he is out the door.


Beyond the Wall:



ALRIGHT. SO. Back Beyond the Wall, Bran and The Three-Eyed Raven are on another one of their vision quests, this time in Dorne, face- to-face with a young Ned, Lord Howland Reed and some other Northern men as they arrive at the Tower of Joy. It’s the last days of Robert’s Rebellion, and the tower is guarded by a few remaining Targaryen Kingsguard, notably Ser Arthur Dayne, known to be the greatest swordsman of the time.

Ned tells Ser Dayne that the Mad King and Rhaegar Targaryen are both dead. Why has Dayne been hanging out here in the middle of nowhere instead of protecting his prince and king? Ser Dayne explains that his prince ordered him to stay there. When Ned asks where Lyanna is, Ser Dayne announces that “it begins.” Objection, non-responsive.

FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT, and it’s true, Ser Dayne really knows his way with a sword, killing almost all of the Northerners single-handedly. But just as the knight is about to kill Ned, Howland Reed sneaks up behind him and stabs Ser Dayne in the neck. And then Ned chops off his head with Dayne’s sword, The Sword of the Morning, because that’s Ned’s thing: he chops off heads.

Just then, there is a woman’s scream from the tower. As Ned goes running up to investigate, The Three-Eyed Raven declares to Bran they’ve seen enough and it’s time to go. Bran and the audience are NOT AMUSED, and Bran calls out to his father who seems to hear … something.

And with that, The Three-Eyed Raven raven blocks Bran and the audience and we are all back in their root cave, where Bran is HELLA MAD. His father heard him! The Three-Eyed Raven insists that Ned just heard the wind: “The past is already written and the ink is dry.” The Three-Eyed Raven warns Bran again that he can’t stay in the past too long, lest he get stuck, but Bran’s like, “and that’d be worse than becoming an old man trapped in a tree?” The Three-Eyed Raven promises Bran he will not be in the cave forever, but before he can leave he must learn “everything.”



So, like Bran and all of the book-reading audience, I’m not a little frustrated that we didn’t get to see what is in the tower. As we discussed last week, Game of Thrones‘ most popular theory, “R + L = J” is that Jon Snow was born in the Tower of Joy, the love child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and that Ned Stark claimed him as his bastard to protect him. This makes Jon a Targaryen, and possibly one of the “three heads of the dragon,” with a claim both to the North and to the Iron Throne. However, this theory is still completely unsubstantiated in the texts and show. Though we inched closer to it being revealed this week, I should have known better than to think they were just going to reveal the truth about the most important Game of Thrones theory this early into the season.

So what’s going to happen the next time we see this tower (whenever that will be)? My best guess is that Ned and Howland Reed will enter the Tower, find Lyanna post-birth and dying, and she will make them swear an oath to her that they will protect Jon and never reveal to ANYONE his true identity — which would help explain why Ned never told his wife the truth, even though it drove Catelyn to hate (and mistreat) poor Jon.

What is also interesting to note about this scene is that Howland Reed is a key part of it. Howland is Ned’s best friend, but we’ve never seen him on the show (or in the books*) save for this scene. He, being the only other person alive who knows the truth about what happened in the Tower, has some role to play in the revelation. Will he be the one to tell Jon Snow who he really is?

*UPDATE: I’ve just been informed by my nerdier-than-thou husband that there is one other scene in the books with Howland: “FYI, Howland Reed does have another scene in the books — he is the kid who gets set upon by bros at a tournament and is defended by Lyanna and Brandon Stark. That’s how he and the Starks become BFFs.” So there you go.

Also important to note about Howland Reed is who he is related to: he is the father of Meera, Bran’s companion beyond the wall. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this theory, though I don’t believe it myself, but there are some who wonder if Lyanna didn’t give birth to twins, a boy and a girl: Jon and Meera. In this theory, Howland takes the girl child and raises her as his own in the swamps, while Ned takes Jon and claims him as his bastard. Some of the details shake out: according to the books, Meera and Jon are born in the same year, and in the show (but not the books), they bear a certain resemblance, particularly when it comes to their curly hair.

My biggest problem with this theory is that it would make Meera a Targaryen, maybe even the proverbial third head of the dragon. And yet … she doesn’t really seem all that important? She’s not a point of view character, she doesn’t have any interaction with anyone but Bran, and while she will certainly serve some purpose in protecting or helping Bran, I’m not seeing much more of a role for her. Which, considering this theory would make her a Targaryen-Stark — a pretty remarkable combination — that would just be … disappointing. Still, I wanted to put the Meera speculation out there for you to consider.

Before we move on to other theories that I actually subscribe to, I want to put a pin in that curious moment when Ned hears Bran call out to him. The Three-Eyed Raven clearly believes that it doesn’t mean much: the past is the past, and whatever happened, happened. Presumably Bran always calls out to Ned and Ned always hears him before he enters the Tower. But I’m left to wonder why even broach the subject of the past’s immutability if we’re not going to test it later?

Bran is clearly “special” — the Three-Eyed Raven says that he’s been waiting for Bran for years, and is training Bran by showing him the past so that he can change or influence the future. Now, in most time travel stories, it’s understood that one can not go back and change events in the past lest you create paradoxes that could have disastrous and unpredictable effects on the present and the future. It’s called the grandfather paradox, it’s what the Syfy adaptation 12 Monkeys is all about, it’s a standard time travel rule. And so I find it curious that the show went out of its way to show Bran interacting with events in the past before flatly asserting that the “ink is dry” on history. While the writers may just be assuring us that Bran’s powers are not going to be used to change events as we know they happened, it is possible that they are hinting that Bran may have had (and always had) an influence on those same events in some way that we have not anticipated.

That or he’s going to completely change the past and nothing that we’ve seen for the past five seasons will have happened and Robb and Grey Wind will be alive and everyone will have a happy ending, hooray! (But probably not.)

And I just want to note that this whole time travel thing also brings up the issue of prophecies and the idea of being able to read the future — or misread the future, as the case often is in Westeros (right, Melisandre?). Daenerys, for instance, was warned by that mysterious woman, Quaithe, that: “To go north, you must go south. To reach the west, you must go east. To go forward you must go back, and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.” And as we see now, she is back east, back in her past, imprisoned by the Dothraki. But she’s not just with the Dothraki, she is with the Dosh Khaleen, the high priestess of whom once prophesized that Daenerys would be the mother of the stallion that mounts the world. I’m pretty sure what we will see is that Drogon will come rescue his mother, the Dosh Khaleen will recognize him as the “stallion,” and the Dothraki will agree to help her “mount the world.” The east will take her west.

But then again, as Tyrion Lannister once said, “Prophecy is like a half-trained mule. It looks as though it might be useful, but the moment you trust in it, it kicks you in the head.” We will certainly have to come back to this issue of prophecy at a later time.

So let’s talk about this oath breaking business as it relates to the title of the episode. In Westeros, taking an oath, whether to a Lord or a group like the Night’s Watch or Kingsguard, is Serious Business. It’s not merely a promise staked to honor, it’s also a religious act. Breaking an oath is not merely a crime, or considered a blight on one’s character — it’s sacrilegious and often punishable by death.



For instance, desertion of the Night’s Watch, as we learned in the very first episode of this series, is punishable by having your head lopped off by a humorless Stark. So for Jon Snow to announce that he’s done with the Night’s Watch and just walk out of Castle Black is kind of a big deal. That said, he isn’t technically breaking his oath: when a member of the Night’s Watch dies, the final words of his eulogy are traditionally, “And now his watch is ended.” Jon Snow died. His watch is ended.

Other candidates for our titular Oathbreaker include a number of characters in this episode:

There’s Jaime Lannister, who is perhaps the most famous oathbreaker in Westeros, and whose oath breaking led to the end of Robert’s Rebellion;

Not seen on screen, but alluded to is Rhaegar Targaryen, who broke his oath to his wife when he kidnapped (ran off with) Lyanna Stark;

Kinslaying is a form of oath breaking (and considered the most heinous form, in fact) which Tyrion is guilty of;

Though it’s not an oath to the Westeros Gods, Daenerys broke an promise of sorts when she did not join the Dosh Khaleen after Drogo’s death, the consequences of which she is now facing;

Members of the Night’s Watch swear to “father no children,” so it’s “light” oath breaking for Sam to be Little Sam’s “father” (in fact, Sam’s entire relationship with Gilly is exactly what the Night’s Watch’s vows are meant to discourage — a loyalty to something other than the Brotherhood);

It could be argued that Arya is breaking something of an oath to herself by letting go of her kill list to become No One;

And then there is Smalljon Umber who breaks his oath to the Stark family by betraying Rickon Stark.

Or does he?



Look, it is entirely possible — likely, even — that Smalljon Umber is in fact breaking his oath to the Stark family by handing Rickon over to Ramsay Bolton just as it was shown to us on the show. In this scenario, Rickon doesn’t have long for this world, as it is vitally important for Ramsay to kill anyone that might have claim to Winterfell (those whom he can’t impregnate, that is). Ramsay will then have support from the Karstarks and the Umbers against any challenges for Winterfell he might face; like a recent defector from Castle Black, for instance.

Jon Snow, who is now done with any and all obligations to the Night’s Watch, is going to have one mission: unite the North to face the looming White Walker threat. After Hardhome, Snow knows that the Wildlings and the handful of Night’s Watch that’s left are not going to be nearly enough to defeat this foe. Instead, he is going to need to rally the entire North around the one Stark that he knows to be alive: Sansa. I am convinced he is going to leave Castle Black and serve as the commander of her forces to take back Winterfell from Ramsay and unite the North. He will lead his Wildlings who believe him to be a God, along with the other houses who swore loyalty to the Starks (although maybe not all of them, as I suspect some will be unimpressed with Snow’s plan to settle Wildlings on their side of the Wall).

The point being: it would be a lopsided fight if it were Jon Snow and the entire North vs. the Boltons and the Karstarks. So for storytelling purposes, the Boltons need more allies if there is going to be a real battle for Winterfell, and the Umbers might be just the boost that Ramsay requires.

But, but. There’s also the possibility that the Umbers are setting Ramsay up here, and plan to betray him — a theory my Game of Thrones obsessed husband suggested and I haven’t been able to shake.

In the books, the Umbers are FIERCELY loyal to the Starks, Robb in particular. They are the ones who subdue Lord Karstark when he kills Robb’s Lannister prisoners (which in turn leads Robb to kill Lord Karstark — which leads to his son joining Ramsay against the Starks), and they are in attendance at the Red Wedding. There, they are betrayed by Roose Bolton: Smalljon himself is killed and his father Greatjon is taken prisoner. Also killed at the Red Wedding, in both the books and the show, is Wendel Manderly, a member of another North house loyal to the Starks. (We’ll get back to them in a moment.)

However, the Umbers are not killed/taken prisoner at the Red Wedding on the show: Smalljon is obviously alive and well and betraying Starks, and he says that his father Greatjon died “on his own.” So, now that his father is dead and Robb is dead and Jon is bringing Wildlings down to his territory, it is possible that he has no love left for the Starks, and no particular hatred for the Boltons. It’s possible!

That said, in the books and early seasons of the series, the Umbers are extremely loyal to the Starks — which is the very first thing Ramsay says to Smalljon when he arrives at Winterfell. In fact, in the first season on the series, Greatjon Umber has his feathers ruffled when Robb Stark announces the Glovers will lead the vanguard to march on King’s Landing to free his father. Greatjon Umber threatens to take his men and go home if he’s not put in charge. Robb calls Greatjon an “oathbreaker” and threatens that if he leaves, he will march on the Umbers after King’s Landing. Greatjon pulls his knife, at which point Grey Wind bites off two of Greatjon’s fingers. Instead of alienating Greatjon, this makes him much more loyal to Robb. In fact, after Ned’s death, Greatjon is the first lord to suggest that Robb become the King of the North. The Umbers are so loyal that on the show — but not in the books — Bran instructs Osha to take Rickon specifically to the Umbers for protection — that’s how confident he is in their devotion to his family.

Which is curious because in the books, the Stark brothers just separate and we don’t have any idea where Osha and Rickon went off to. However! there is a storyline in Dance of Dragons involving Rickon and the Manderlys. In the books, Davos goes to the Manderlys hoping to forge an alliance with their house and Stannis. Instead, they “kill” Davos, and make a big show of sending Davos’ head to the Boltons as proof of death, while pledging their allegiance to the Boltons. In reality, they fake Davos’ death and send him on a mission to find Rickon Stark in a secret ploy to rise against the Boltons and the Freys.

SO! Is it possible that the showrunners are telling the story of the Manderlys’ secret betrayal of the Boltons, but using the Umbers instead of the Manderlys? In this scenario, Umber brings Rickon to Ramsay as a gift — but convinces Ramsay not to kill him, instead to use him as a pawn to get Sansa back from Jon Snow. Meanwhile, the Umbers are playing a long con against the Boltons, and a Live Male Stark! is back inside Winterfell, giving the North — who remembers — reason to take up arms against the Boltons. Remember, it was just an episode ago that Lord Karstark warns the Boltons that their “hold on the North will never be secure as long as a Stark can walk through that door.” And who should walk through that door?

It’s a long shot, I’ll grant you,  but there are a couple of things that nag at me about this scene: for one, why bring Rickon back to the series after being gone for two entire seasons only to have Ramsay promptly murder him? (And why wouldn’t Ramsay promptly murder Rickon as he is a direct threat to his claim on the North?) Yes, it would reinforce Ramsay’s brutality, but he just fed a baby and his mother to a pack of dogs, I don’t think we need reminding that he’s a bad dude who will do anything to get rid of anyone who stands in the way of his ambitions. And yes, bad things happen to Starks, heaven knows, but it would be awfully anticlimactic for Rickon’s story to end in such a whimper.

But there’s a bigger issue with this scene that’s been bothering me and it goes back to the title of the episode: “Oathbreaker.” Presumably, the title is in reference to Jon Snow, as we discussed. But as we also discussed, Jon Snow’s obligations to the Night’s Watch ended with his death: he broke no oaths. What if this idea of the “oathbreaker” who breaks no oaths also extends to Smalljon Umber? What if, like his father, he is an “oathbreaker,” but … not really. Remember, Umber refuses TWICE to swear an oath to Ramsay Bolton, he will not kiss his hand nor take a knee. Why not? If it’s as meaningless a gesture as he claims it is, why not just go through the motions for Bolton’s benefit?

However, if an oath is something that is deeply meaningful to Smalljon Umber, he is neither going to make one he can’t keep — nor will he break one so callously as he apparently does to the Stark family by turning over Rickon. What if, like Jon Snow, Umber is breaking no oaths at all, but instead is protecting an oath his family made to the Starks by betraying the Boltons from the inside? What if the title of the episode is meant entirely ironically?

As for Shaggydog? Maybe that was just a giant dog or big wolf’s head. Remember how people kept bringing Cersei imposter dwarf heads when she put out a bounty on Tyrion? And how in the books the Manderlys’ use Davos’ head as “proof” of his death and their allegiance? I don’t want to be a Shaggydog truther, and yes, I saw that the actor who plays Rickon claimed that Shaggydog is dead. But it’s not as though actors on the show haven’t lied to us before, right?

NOPE. (tumblr.com)

Status of Jon Snow: STILL ALIVE! And ANGRY!

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Game of Thrones airs on HBO and will return in the summer of 2017.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site chron.com.

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