Well, we finally got a look at what happened when Eddard Stark climbed the Tower of Joy, and it confirmed what many of us have long assumed: Jon Snow is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Now, the question of whether he is a bastard is up in the air. Maybe the lovers eloped, or maybe Rhaegar really did just kidnap her. I am leaning toward the former. I think Lyanna was dissatisfied with her betrothal to Robert Baratheon and allowed passion to carry her away. Rhaegar was apparently beautiful and charismatic and unattached romantically, though he was considered as a match for Cersei Lannister, before the Mad King Aerys Targaryen declined the offer of betrothal by Tywin Lannister.
It didn’t work out well for anyone. The rebellion that ensued ended the Targaryen dynasty and put Robert on the throne with Cersei as his wife…until she orchestrated his death. She’s the last one standing from the whole affair, aside from Jon, whose identity was concealed for obvious reasons. (He would not have survived infancy if he was known to be the union of the South and the North.)
And now, having reclaimed Winterfell, the northern houses that turned on the Starks are vanquished while those who were neutral are now contrite. While King’s Landing is in chaos and the southern houses are tearing each other apart, the supposedly boorish northerners are showing great aplomb, humility and devotion to the larger cause: preparing for the Long Winter and the war with the Night King.
And as usual, Lyanna Mormont is the one who whips everyone into shape. I fear that the final seasons will feature very little of my favorite wit in the show, Olenna Tyrell. In a show where there is so much smirking duplicity on the one hand and laconic bumbling on the other, her barbs always gave the dialog a much needed zest. However, if instead we get the suffer-no-fools, half-pout, half-scowl severity of Lyanna more frequently, we’ll be just fine. Without her prompting, the old men in the room might have mumbled sheepishly without fully committing to support Jon’s claim of Winterfell and call him the King in the North. They do this in spite of his bastard status, not realizing that as the union of Stark and Targaryen bloodlines, he’s like SUPER royal.
Happily, all of this threw a wrench in the works of Littlefinger‘s plotting. He was counting on the lords to reject Jon, leaving Sansa to lead Winterfell while she was politically weak. She would need him (and the armies of The Vale) to secure her position, even though he admits freely that all he’s ever craved is to have the Iron Throne for his own and her as his queen. Scum. Bag. Please die next season, Lord Baelish. You’re the worst parvenu of them all.
We at least got to bid farewell to one of the shows biggest scoundrels. Walder Frey was no parvenu; he was an utter bumpkin who was content to revel in his perfidious, lecherous crapulence, so long as he could still punish those who slighted him. His ambitions stopped short of ruling much beyond The Twins, but he couldn’t even do that very effectively, thanks to his pettiness.
No more. Arya Stark serves him the flesh of his own sons before cutting his throat and watching him bleed out with a smile on her face. That’s our Arya, alright…and that’s one more name she can cross of her funny, little list. Cersei Lannister is still on it, too, but I think Jaime may get the honor of taking her out when the time comes.
Arya’s arc in Braavos with the Faceless Men was overall disappointing, and this moment didn’t help matters. We can buy into the idea that her skills as a fighter and assassin have been remarkably improved, but nothing suggested she was fully initiated into the mysteries and techniques of stealing faces. When she left the House of Black & White, she wasn’t carrying a sack of them with her, so we must presume she is making her own… a macabre notion, seeing as she assumed the identity of a young maid. As usual, the writers seem to expect us to just say, “It’s magic!” and never actually explain much.
What is interesting is that the austere rituals and rules that Jaqen H’ghar imposed on Arya while she was training apparently are not integral to making the techniques work. They merely ensure that the techniques are kept secret, and it’s all much simpler than it first appeared if she can take this show on the road. If the writers intended to elaborate on how it all works, then they would have already, so we just have to accept MAGIC as the explanation and move on. However, if we ever learn more about the Many-faced God allegedly behind everything (authoring matters of fate that even exist in a non-linear sense a la Bran Stark and Hodor), perhaps how it all ties in will be better revealed. I’m not asking for midi-chlorians nonsense…R’hllor forbid. I just want good world-building, and I know I’m not alone.
Still, it’s the people that matter most, and we still have plenty of empathy for these characters. With Arya at The Twins and Bran Stark about to cross The Wall, all of the surviving Stark siblings are back in the north and we may soon have a Stark family reunion. Hopefully, they will spend less time talking about beans and pies and more about getting shit done and (now that Bran has had his vision of the Tower of Joy) their real familial connection with Jon Snow—a cousin, not a half-brother.
Maybe Lyanna Mormont should be present, too, to make sure they stay on topic.
Read my take on Daenerys’ big naval push, which probably won’t go as smoothly as expected.
Read my take on Cersei’s coronation as the Mad Queen.