You gotta hold it, man.
Does death come only for the wicked, and leave the kind behind?
We’ve seen a lot of death on Game of Thrones. It has come on the battlefield. It has come via fire, and via sorcery. There have been shocking betrayals and acts of vengeance. Tywin Lannister, most ignominiously, took a crossbow bolt while using the toilet. But in what is now five and a half seasons, you’d be hard-pressed to name a more wrenchingly sad exit for a character than for Hodor tonight. I’m not mad at the show for it. It made narrative sense, and even allowed the writers (Benioff & Weiss this week, as it seems to be with all the best episodes) to tie up a few loose ends. But man, did it suck.
Now the Great Deku Tree is gone, and with it the Bloodraven and all of the forest children, the latter group slaughtered by the things they themselves created in their war with the First Men centuries before. Similarly, Hodor sacrifices himself for the boy who, unbeknownst to either of them, made him what he is. Though we’re still waiting on that one big, important thing to be revealed, “The Door” — like last week, a sensational episode on every level — still had a few surprises up its sleeve.
After witnessing the transformation of a Walker (the Night’s King himself, or just a random one?) on one of his magical mystery tours, Bran makes the classic mistake of getting a little too curious, somehow alerting the army of the dead to his whereabouts in the very real present day. Great job, Bran. “The time has come for you to become me,” the Bloodraven intones ominously. “Am I ready?” asks Bran. “No.” Ha!
But apparently Ser Keebler’s idea for “getting Bran ready” means wasting time in another Daddy Stark flashback while the weirwood gets besieged, and all of the forest babies’ magical grenades can’t hold them off for long. (Meera, though, is able to take out a Walker with a dragonglass spear, which seems like a smart thing to hold onto.) Worse, we go down another direwolf: just a few episodes after Shaggydog’s murder, Summer falls defending his master in heroic fashion. (That leaves two, now.)
But that’s only the beginning: as Meera gets Bran out a conveniently-placed side exit, she orders Hodor to “hold the door.” Which he does, to the end. Because that, as we learn in devastating fashion, is always what he was meant to do, ever since Bran warged into him across space and time while trying to answer Meera’s call, permanently scrambling his faculties until the only word he could say was a garbled version of what would be his final command. The moment we saw young Wyllis’s eyes go white, I knew, and I could only repeat “oh no, oh no” until it because its own unintelligible string of syllables. It’s the old bootstrap paradox, Thrones-style. So clean, and so cruel. (You also have to admire the genius of a show that turns a longtime happy-fun catchphrase into a shorthand for unspeakable tragedy in the span of a single episode. Wow.)
And what will Bran do now? Having made a mortal enemy of the Night’s King, he has nowhere to go but south to a Castle Black that is more empty than ever, now that Team Jon has ridden off to reclaim the Stark ancestral home. They may only be able to count the number of remaining loyal houses on Davos’s hand, but if they can convince the others that they have a real chance against the Boltons, more may return to the fold. Sansa volunteers information about Uncle Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, who has recently retaken Riverrun from the treacherous Freys. She does not, however, tell them that she heard this from Littlefinger’s own mouth just earlier that day.
This episode was directed by Jack Bender, a veteran of Lost, but a first-timer on Thrones. Thus, he’s no stranger to scale and spectacle (and time travel), but has also exhibited a deft hand at smaller character moments. And that incredible scene in Mole’s Town, which packs so much weighty interaction into a scant five minutes, builds on Sophie Turner’s current hot streak as she eviscerates Littlefinger from sternum to navel and still leaves him feeling like he got off easy. She has no time or interest in his apologies or his explanations: if he didn’t know about Ramsey before dropping her off, he’s an idiot. If he did know, he didn’t warn her, and that’s worse. “What do you think he did to me?” she asks him, over and over again, until Littlefinger can only stammer and stare at the floorboards, because he knows, but can’t bring himself to say it.
When he last saw Sansa, she was still a girl in his eyes. Now she’s a vengeful woman, violated and victimized but still strong, and still bearing the face of his beloved Catelyn. “I made a horrible mistake,” he rasps. “I’m… so… sorry.” (Really convincing there, Baelish.) Sansa doesn’t care, nor is she finished: “You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family, and you gave me to monsters who murdered my family.” She can still physically feel the scars of Ramsey’s abuse. Littlefinger, for seemingly the first time in his life, has no response to that, except to basically beg for her forgiveness — or at least for his life. But instead of having Brienne strike him down, Sansa just orders him to leave. And sure, it’s nice to know that her uncle re-took Riverrun, but she’ll pass on the help of all the armies of the Vale if Littlefinger’s fingerprints are on them. The North remembers, and so does she.
Before leaving Castle Black, Sansa gives Brienne a heads-up that she’ll be the one sent to the riverlands. Brienne, naturally, isn’t thrilled by the idea of leaving her new liege lady behind so soon, especially with “that Wildling fellow with the beard” who keeps making bedroom eyes at her. (Jon she correctly, and hilariously, classifies as “brooding, but trustworthy.”) But Sansa has done everything right to get them to this point, so she’s earned that decision.
“The Door” continues to build off of last week’s theme of “sisters makin’ it happen for themselves” as we return to Braavos, and Arya earning a second chance to take a life on behalf of the Many-Faced God. At any rate, it’s a better use of Arya’s time than continuing to get hit over the head by the Waif, sight or no sight. This time her target is an actress, in town with a troupe performing what is obviously a critically acclaimed one-act play centered on the fall of Robbie Baratheon and the War of the Five Kings. (Standing room only at the Braavosi waterfront! It’s hotter than Hamilton!)
But it probably should have come with a trigger warning, which may have been Jaqen’s plan all along: not only does she have to watch her father, portrayed here as an ignorant oaf, get executed again and her sister be molested (and one must assume this, as far as the plebeian public is concerned, will become the definitive account of events), Arya can’t reckon why the actress in question is marked for death to begin with. But if Arya truly is “no one,” she doesn’t need to ask those questions. And while this is a much needed change of pace for the Arya arc, I can’t begin to guess yet how this connects to the rest of the story, unless she is also planning to revitalize Westeros’s flagging theatre industry.
Dany Targaryen, Breaker of Chains and Overturner of Braziers, used to have that problem. The infamous “Meereenese Knot,” as George R.R. Martin calls it, had her character well and truly stuck in a dead-end plot, and it’s only now that Benioff & Weiss have broken loose of the books that we can see how those dots will eventually connect. Tyrion works tirelessly to keep the peace in the city and attribute said peace to Dany, this week enlisting the red priestess Kivara as the new head of PR. And oh, here we go again — the woman is more than happy to help because Daenerys is “the one who was promised.” Varys has heard this before, and uses the late Stannis Baratheon as an object lesson. “I suppose it’s hard for a fanatic to admit a mistake,” he cracks, but Kivara shrugs. People are still people, and terrible things happen for a reason…including what happened to you, Varys, all those years ago. “There is still so much you don’t know,” she stage whispers, leaving our favorite eunuch deeply, deeply unsettled. But, for now, at least, they’re all on the same side.
Now that Dany has secured the loyalty of the entire Dothraki population (in addition to the Unsullied and Daario’s Second Sons), all that remains is to get them all across the Narrow Sea so she can get to conquerin’ — and, as I’ll get to shortly, there’s a plan for that, too. But first, she has to make up with Jorah, who has helped save her for the second time since she banished him from her sight. “I can’t take you back, and I can’t send you away,” she remarks ruefully, as Daario looks on in barely-veiled jealousy.
That decision, however, becomes a little easier when Jorah rolls up his sleeve to reveal the
track marks greyscale. “I’ll always love you,” he tells her, preparing to leave her for good. But she gives him one last command, knowing he’ll follow it: find a cure for his disease, and return to her. “When I take the Seven Kingdoms, I’ll need you by my side.” (Awww.)
As Dany surveys the endless desert expanse of her new (temporary) domain, for the Ironborn of Pyke there is only the Sea. And though that is the source of their strength, power, and spirituality, every generation of reavers has trawled the coast of the mainland looking for more. Yara Greyjoy knows this, which is why she makes “build the greatest fleet anyone has ever seen” the central plank of her platform. And, despite the fact that she’s a woman, she in fact begins to win over the (surprisingly small) Kingsmoot audience, especially when Theon steps up to the plate. “We will find no better leader,” he tells them, in a show of support that even Yara didn’t really expect until it was actually given. That moment is played nicely by Gemma Whelan, who is making the most of the meaty material she’s been handed.
And then, inevitably, Uncle Euron strolls up to make his own claim for the Seastone Chair. He even admits to killing Balon, with pride: “He was leading us nowhere; no one wanted to follow him!” Normally, this would be enough to disqualify a godless man like Euron from contention for rule, but these are strange times, and the Ironborn are shortly won over by his pandering: the Islands used to be winners! Why don’t we win anymore? I’ve seen more of the world than the rest of you put together, and let me tell you, there’s a dragon queen in the east, and we are going to make the best deals with her. It’s time to make Pyke great again!
When faced with the choice of either this belligerent strongman or a woman, the #NeverEuron movement dissolves as swiftly as it was formed. Even the local priests break in Euron’s favor (big surprise there), and as Euron is ceremonially
drowned inaugurated, Yara and Theon seize the moment to flee with all of Pyke’s best ships. And good for them — wherever they go, I hope it has single-payer healthcare.
Next week: Samwell’s parents don’t take kindly to immigrants; Margaery takes a walk; Dany rides a horse.