Walder Frey. Most remembered for his role in the so-called Red Wedding – the slaughtering of much of the Stark family under the guise of a wedding feast – he is surely one of the most reprehensible men in the 7 Kingdoms.
He’s gathered the whole of the Frey clan for a feast, and stands in front of them proposing a toast to their bravery. It’s a fine wine, much too fine for him to waste on a woman, he tells his wife, who looks around 15 at most.
Considering that when we last saw Walder he was having his throat cut by Arya Stark you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a flashback, but as he continues to talk we get the sense that something else is going on here.
“Brave men, all of you. Butchered a woman pregnant with her babe. Cut the throat of a mother of 5. Slaughtered your guests after inviting them into your home.”
But they didn’t kill all the Starks.
“Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.” they are told, as the poisoned wine begins to take effect.
Lady Frey looks on in shock as the dozens of men die before her eyes, and Arya pulls Walder’s face away from her own.
“When people ask what happened here, tell them the North remembers. Tell them winter came for House Frey.”
And opening credits roll! What a badass opening scene!
Arya has exacted her revenge in a way that only she could, and it’s great to finally see some pay off for what is widely considered one of the more boring story arcs in the past couple of seasons.
That said, to me “Winter is coming” has always been a word of warning to prepare not only for the general hardships of the season, but also for the evil that most characters now know is very real. Arya’s statement that Winter came for House Frey draws a concerning parallel between her and the White Walkers, and I worry that she might be losing herself to her new-found skills.
This scene is reminiscent of something we heard from Bran in series 3, when we are introduced to the tradition of guest right. The idea of guest right is that if someone eats and drinks as a guest under your roof, neither party can harm each other for the duration of their stay. In Bran’s story, a Night’s Watchman who violated guest right was turned into a rat and forced to feed on his own young. When Walder Frey murdered the Starks under his own roof, he thus doomed himself to an all too similar fate.
An icy cloud blows towards us. We’re a long way North judging by the frozen, barren landscape. As the cloud approaches, figures slowly emerge. It’s the Night’s King, followed as always by his reanimated cohorts known as Wights.
This is bad, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before…right? Well no, this is worse than bad.
Remember those giants that we’ve seen with the other wildlings as far back as series 3? Remember how much damage we’ve seen them do, breaching the gates to both Castle Black and Winterfell?
Remember how they have enormous bows and arrows, and ride mammoths into battle?
Well it seems the Night’s King has brought at least 3 of them along for the ride as well, so I’m sure the Night’s Watch will be super pleased about that.
In Winterfell, Sansa, Jon & his newest advisor Davos are sat at a table hosting a meeting with the Northern Houses who came to their aid to battle Ramsay.
Jon tells them their priority is to find & mine dragonglass, the substance that kills White Walkers. Additionally all men and women aged 10-60 will train daily with spears, pikes, bow & arrow.
Lord Glover (one of the many Lords who turned Jon down when he called his banner-men to fight Ramsay) questions why he should send his granddaughter to fight.
The dissension in the ranks reminds me of series 1, where Lord Jon Umber (known as Greatjon due to his size) argues with Robb (the King of the North at the time) over who will lead Robb’s army in battle. His anger gets the better of him to the point where he draws a knife on Robb, and it’s only when Robb’s direwolf takes off two of his fingers that the Greatjon stands down and realises that the Stark boy is not to be crossed.
Lord Glover is spared a maiming, but it is put in his place as everyone’s favourite Lady, Lyanna Mormont, steps up and gives him a good talking to. She doesn’t intend to sit knitting by the fire while the men fight.
Boom, girl power.
Jon sends Tormund and the rest of the Wildlings to The Wall, as there’s not nearly enough men to defend it. They’re going to Eastwatch by the sea, (the castle where The Wall meets the ocean) since this is closest to where they last encountered the White Walkers.
The next 2 castles South of the Wall belong to the Karstarks & the Umbers, two of the largest northern families. The Karstarks abandoned Robb in season 3 after he beheaded their Lord for treason, and after the Greatjon Umber died, his son (inventively named Smalljon Umber) handed the youngest Stark boy over to Ramsay Bolton. Both houses fought for Ramsay in his “Battle of the Bastards” against Jon Snow.
Northern family history is confusing, right?
Sansa thinks that the castles should be handed over to loyal families, saying in no uncertain terms that Jon need to punish treason and reward loyalty.
There’s grunts of agreement from the men around the room, but Jon stands strong and enforces his will. After all, the leaders of the two houses both died in battle, so would it be fair to punish the next in line for the actions of their elders?
He asks the heads of the 2 families to step forward and suddenly the ramifications seem clearer.
A boy, no older than 10 and named Ned after the Stark father, steps forward, followed by a young girl with hair as red as Sansa’s. These are innocent children.
They swear fealty to House Stark, “now and always” and the rest of the men cheer. They’re a fickle bunch aren’t they!
And who is all the while standing silently in the corner watching Sansa repeatedly question Jon’s authority? Who else but Littlefinger. And he’s ready to stir the pot some more.
Jon & Sansa have a private discussion after the meeting. She says that he ought to listen to her more, but he’s more concerned that she undermined him in front of the men. Both have a point. A raven arrives from King’s Landing. Cersei is demanding that they bend the knee to her, or suffer the consequences.
Sansa, having lived around Cersei and seen how she operates, knows that if you’re her enemy she will find a way to be rid of you. She points out that Ned & Robb both made mistakes and it cost them their lives. “We need to be smarter”.
For the most part she’s right. Apart from a few key characters, Cersei has killed pretty much anyone she wants.
But Jon points out that the Lannisters are a southern army who have never come this far north, and winter has already come…
The scene shows us they each need to learn from each other, and a degree of unity is needed if they’re going to survive.
In King’s Landing, Jaime finds Cersei examining a map of Westeros that she’s had painted on the floor.
“It’s ours now, we just have to take it.” She says. As a viewer I have to say, she sounds pretty deluded at this stage as she goes on to point out that they are surrounded by enemies.
Jon to the North, the Tyrells in West, Ellaria Sand to the South, and Daenerys preparing to land at Dragonstone to the East.
Word has reached them that Tyrion is advising Daenerys, and Cersei is quick to lay the blame at Jaime’s feet for releasing the dwarf after his harrowing trial by combat. (You remember, the whole skull-crushing incident?)
Of course Tyrion went on to kill their father, so relations between Cersei and Jaime are pretty much at an all time low.
Things seem pretty bleak for the Lannisters, but that’s when Cersei reveals her plan.
It turns out that Cersei has invited Euron Greyjoy to King’s Landing with the intention of using him and his ships in battle. Euron Greyjoy was a new character is season 6. He’s uncle to Theon Greyjoy and his sister Yara.
Euron murdered the Ironborn leader, so a new one must be elected. Just as the islanders were chanting Yara’s name and were about to proclaim her the new leader, Euron steps up. About 30 seconds later they’ve all changed their minds. (Seriously, SO fickle!)
With Euron not wanting any competition, Theon & Yara were forced to flee. They took as many ships as they could, and allied with Daenerys. With the Dragon Queen promising to support Yara’s claim as leader of the Ironborn, Cersei is Euron’s next best bet to achieve power in Westeros.
It seems that on his way to Kings Landing some of the Ironborn got bored and gave Euron a makeover. Donning a tight leather jacket and smokey eyeliner, he reminds me more of this guy than a King…
But alas, standing at the bottom of the steps to the Iron Throne, he certainly makes a convincing speech.
Both he and Cersei feels they’ve been betrayed by family members who have allied with Daenerys, so the alliance makes sense. And the power of 1000 ships excites Cersei.
Jealous, Jaime tries to belittle Euron, but the Ironborn has the last word when he proposes marriage to Cersei – “here I am with 1000 ships, and 2 good hands.” Ouch.
Still unable to convince Cersei that he’s trustworthy, Euron promises to bring her “a priceless gift” to win her over. Now why does that sound familiar?
In series 5, Jorah Mormont kidnapped Tyrion and presented him to Daenerys to serve as her advisor. Could we see history repeat itself? Or could Euron be intending to capture another of Cersei’s enemies? Olenna Tyrell perhaps, or more likely Ellaria Sand, who poisoned Cersei’s daughter Myrcella.
Leaving King’s landing, we head south-west to the city of Oldtown, and the Citadel – the tower where Samwell Tarly is training to become a maester.
Maesters are the most educated of people and serve as the doctors, historians and scholars of Westeros. Sam is here to try to learn more about how to defeat the White Walkers. He was never much of a fighter anyway…
The first shot pans down, reminding us of the gigantic library that Sam was in awe of when he first arrived.
But Sam has quickly learnt that this life isn’t as wonderful as he once thought.
Between shadowing the maesters, he also has to do all the menial tasks in the Citadel, and we’re treated to the grossest montage you’ve ever seen. There’s a good 90 seconds of Sam collecting and emptying bed pans from sickly patients, retching, and serving suspicious brown stew at dinner time.
There’s a wonderful nod to the Harry Potter universe in the next scene, as Sam is assisting the archmaester with some of his duties.
Sam asks if he could have access to the restricted section of the library, just like Tom Riddle does in J.K. Rowling’s work. Eagle eyed viewers will also have noticed that the archmaester is played by none other than Jim Broadbent, the very same actor who played Professor Slughorn in the Harry Potter films.
Sam probably won’t end up making horcruxes, but ignoring the archmaester’s rebuttal, one night he steals some keys from a sleeping maester and makes his way through the locked gate to the restricted area, cramming several large tomes into
Hermione’s bag of holding a sack before making a hasty getaway.
Back in Winterfell, Brienne is helping an audibly frustrated Podrick practice his swordsmanship. Lessons from Brienne are often learnt the hard way and he takes a hit from her each time he charges. But then we are treated to a rare sight in Westeros. Podrick Payne, a lowly squire, lands a hit on Brienne’s armour as she is distracted by Tormund approaching.
For this great feat Pod is treated to a punch in the gut, and thrown face down in the snow. Hardly a just reward for managing to strike arguably the greatest warrior in Westeros (more on that another time).
The ever charming Tormund remarks that Pod is a lucky man. He’s practically begging for Brienne to slap him around a bit.
As Arya is riding through the forest a familiar voice sings.
“For she was his secret treasure, she was his shame and bliss. And a chain and keep are nothing, compared to a woman’s kiss. For hands of gold are always cold, but a woman’s hands are warm”.
Ed Sheeran’s cameo wasn’t the finest piece of acting and it took me out of the moment a bit, but there’s not really anything else to say about him.
I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s some deeper meaning to his song.
I’d guess it’s something to do with Jaime and Cersei for obvious reasons, but that’s all I’ve got. If anyone has any more ideas of what it could mean, let me know in the comments.
As the group of Lannister soldiers address Arya, I was initially expecting lechery, as one of them tells her “It’s going to be a cold night”.
As it turns out, there might be some pleasant people left everyone in Westeros. Their offer of food and wine turns out to be genuine, and despite silently noting that none of the soldiers are within reach of their swords, Arya only engages them in conversation.
It echoes Jon’s decision from earlier – why should these young men pay for the crimes of their House? Maybe she hasn’t completely lost herself after all.
Of course, she hasn’t forgotten her list of names, and when they ask where she’s headed, she tells them she’s going to kill the Queen. They laugh.
Speaking of Arya’s list, next we meet the Hound (who formerly featured on the list) travelling with the Brotherhood Without Banners. The two significant members of the Brotherhood are Thoros of Myr (A red priest) and Beric Dondarrion. Remember these guys?
Back in season 3, Beric challenged the Hound to trial by combat after Arya accused him of murder. (He did kill her friend in season 1 after all)
As followers of The Lord of Light, the Brotherhood believed that if he was guilty, the Lord would give Beric the power to beat him in a fight.
Alas, Clegane aced his trial and cut deep through Beric’s shoulder, killing him.
It’s only when Thoros of Myr, empowered by their god, resurrected Beric that we were led to believe the whole group has a part to play in the future of Westeros.
We were reintroduced to the Hound (whose real name is Sandor Clegane) last season where he was trying to live a peaceful life among a religious group. His friend was brutally murdered and when Clegane found the culprits, he discovered that they were disgraced members of the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood promptly hanged the men for their crimes, and Clegane joined them after they convinced him it’s not too late to do some good in the world.
Back to present day, the group come across a cottage and decide to stay the night.
As Thoros lights a fire, Beric notes the blood-soaked remains of a father and daughter in the corner, a knife at their feet. Starving, it seems the father ended it for them both rather than see his child suffer. We realise that this isn’t the first time Clegane has been here.
In series 4, he and Arya met the father and daughter on their farm whilst travelling, and were taken in for food and shelter. The farmer says a prayer to each of the seven gods before they eat. He speaks of the Red Wedding, and guess what? Guest right.
The next morning, Clegane knocks the man to the floor and steals his bag of silver, predicting that they’ll be dead come winter.
Now though, he feels remorse, and he buries the bodies in the night before attempting to recite the prayer to the seven gods to honour the dead.
“We ask the father to judge us with mercy, we ask the mother to… fuck it, I don’t remember the rest. I’m sorry you’re dead.”
I love the fact that he and Arya have inherited some of each other’s traits.
One of the things we know about Clegane is that as a child, his brother Gregor Clegane (also known as The Mountain) pushed his face into a fire as a punishment for playing with one of his toys. It left him with a disfigurement to his face and a fear of fire, both of which he carries to this day.
Considering this, it’s quite a feat that the Red Priest manages to convince Clegane to look into the flames of the fire he has built. As we know from the Lady Melissandre’s prophesies, this is how servants of the Lord of Light find out his divine will.
Sure enough, despite his cynicism, Clegane sees a vision.
“A wall of ice. The Wall. Where the wall meets the sea. There’s a castle.” This would appear to be in reference to Eastwatch by the Sea where the Wildlings have been sent.
“There’s a mountain, looks like an arrowhead. The dead are marching past. Thousands of them.”
Whilst I can’t say exactly what this is referencing, it doesn’t sound like good news. Considering what we’ve learnt about guest right, expect a big moment, more redemption from Clegane, and then a swift exit from the realm of men. I don’t expect he’ll survive this season.
Back in Oldtown, we find Sam flicking through his stolen books. He tells Gilly that the Targaryens used Dragonglass to decorate their weapons, without even knowing what it could do. That might be worth knowing…
As he flicks through the pages, keen-eyed viewers will have spotted a familiar dagger. It’s the same dagger that was used by an assassin hired to kill Brandon Stark as he lay in a coma way back in series 1. We’ll talk more about this event and what it meant for the plot of the entire show another time. Right now, the relevance is that the dagger is made of Valyrian Steel, the only substance other than Dragonglass known to kill White Walkers.
Bearing in mind that it’s on the page immediately before a map of Dragonstone, there’s clearly a link between the two that nobody has quite cottoned on to yet, and if the army of the dead is going to be defeated then the living are going to need a whole lot of weapons to fight them with.
The book shows a “mountain” of Dragonglass underneath Dragonstone.
Stannis had mentioned this to Sam already back in season 5, but he didn’t think it was important. (You dropped a bollock there mate). He sends a raven to Jon.
Still with Samwell, we see him walking down a long corridor of what look like prison cells, collecting empty food bowls. Coughing and hacking are heard from within, so this looks to be some sort of quarantine for the most contagious of patients treated by the maesters. Suddenly an arm reaches out from one of the cells and tries to grab Sam. He jumps back and a familiar voice asks from the darkness, “has she come yet? The Dragon Queen?”
As we get another look at the protruding arm we see that it’s blackened, and scaled. None other than Lord Friendzone, Ser Jorah Mormont, has come to the Citadel seeking a cure for his Greyscale.
It’s a good job that the health & safety manager in Oldtown runs a tight ship and Sam was wearing gloves…
Speaking of the Dragon Queen, we cut to her next, landing at her ancestral home of Dragonstone. It’s an epic moment as her three fully grown dragons circle the towers. She’s finally made it, after all this time.
There’s a feeling of power as she reaches down and touches the sand, as if connecting with her Targaryen heritage. Just East of King’s Landing, this is a base from which to plan and mount an attack, much as Stannis did when he rallied here before the battle of Blackwater. Her companions give her space, not saying a word. She pulls down a banner bearing Stannis’ newest sigil, a flaming Stag, and walks up the steps of her family’s Throne room, determined as ever. She pauses by the throne. But she doesn’t sit. She has things to do.
Marching past, she wipes the sand from the abandoned war table where Stannis once planned his attacks.
“Shall we begin?”
Thanks for reading my first blog post! Please let me know what you think in the comments!