We’re in uncharted territory on Game of Thrones. There are no books to work from — even George R.R. Martin might be surprised with what’s happening on the HBO series — and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, our Thrones experts will answer your six most pressing questions.
1. What was Cersei talking about with Qyburn? Ditto Varys’ secret mission?
Ryan: Varys’ secret mission isn’t all that secret. As he said on his way out of Meereen, Daenerys will need support in Westeros so all seven kingdoms don’t unite when she hits the shore in Greyjoy ships full of Dothraki raiders. Seriously, you don’t need a public relations expert to know how that’s going to look. I’m not sure how effective someone as mistrusted as the Spider will be in bringing allies over to her side, but I suppose the webs he weaves have always been invisible to his targets until they’re too tangled to escape.
As for what Qyburn’s little birds confirmed for Cersei, my guess is she knows about the caches of wildfire the Mad King Aerys hid all over King’s Landing — her brother Jaime mentioned them to Brienne when explaining why he stabbed Aerys in the back. If there’s a basement full of that evil green stuff under the Sept of Baelor, we could be about to witness an explosion that will put the wildfire in season two’s battle of Blackwater Bay to shame. But that’s just a theory, and we learned in this episode what our theories are worth.
Josh: They’re as worthless as an extra-small condom for Podrick, but I think you’re onto something. It’s no coincidence that Bran’s visions from earlier this season involved wildfire and a misguided king sitting on the Iron Throne. Tommen isn’t as “mad” as Aerys Targaryen, but he’s not thinking straight. He might want to snap out of it (and snap the High Sparrow’s neck) soon, though, considering Maggy the Frog’s prophecy that Cersei would see all her children die. Joffrey and Myrcella are already gone — could Tommen be next? Speaking of visions and prophecies: remember Daenerys’ from season three, when she’s in the House of the Undying and finds herself walking the destroyed Red Keep? Only wildfire (or an angry dragon) could do that kind of damage…
Ryan: It would be just like Cersei to blow up King’s Landing to save her children, only to blow up King’s Landing and kill her children. This is a woman whose every scheme seems to explode in her face. It would only be fitting if her life ended after her latest ploy does so in literal fashion.
2. What’s next for everyone in the Riverlands?
Ryan: Is it possible that the show is done with the Riverlands? Jaime has captured Riverrun bloodlessly with the aide of the craven Edmure Tully. The Brotherhood Without Banners is getting ready to head north and fight the White Walkers. Could the Freys end up being the only house to come out way ahead as the War of the Five Kings end?
There was so much foreshadowing in the books that a bloody end awaited all those who were responsible for the Red Wedding. But as far as the show seems to be concerned, the Riverlands were just a speedbump on the way to bigger and better things. When the Blackfish threw away his life, you could almost feel the producers crossing him off their list of loose threads. Considering it’s one of the last plotlines to come out of the books, there’s a lot of angry readers out there unhappy with how things were hastily resolved.
Josh: And there are an equal number of peeved Jaime Lannister fans.
The Kingslayer has done a lot of awful things, but viewers were willing to forgive him for being a Lannister because of his relationship with Brienne, and also because he looks like Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Then he had to go and tell Edmure that he loves Cersei, he only loves Cersei, and he’ll do anything for Cersei. His confession was, honestly, kind of pathetic. Are we supposed to pity Jaime, or be impressed by his negotiation tactics? Or both?
Ryan: People want to see character development, and fans are angry that Jaime’s isn’t going the way they’d like. He’s supposed to be waking up to how terrible Cersei is and how all her hate and spite is dragging him down. Instead, he’s doubling down on his crappy relationship just like that friend of yours who keeps ignoring your advice — how frustrating!
Jaime’s growth here is more subtle than people might like, but it’s there nonetheless. Old Jaime would have laid siege to the castle the second the Blackfish refused to surrender, consequences be damned. New Jaime defeated his enemy the way Tywin Lannister would have, and that’s some pretty cool character development to witness.
Even if it doesn’t end in him and Brienne “f*cking.”
3. How perfectly is everything lining up for Yara to save the day for Daenerys?
Josh: Tyrion and Yara are going to get along splendidly. In last week’s episode, she pressured — DRINK — Theon into — DRINK — finishing his mug of beer — DRINK — even though he didn’t want to. In last night’s episode, Tyrion did the same thing to Grey Worm and Missandei, but with wine. The Unsullied warrior didn’t much care for the taste of “turned” grapes, but Missandei’s a giggly fan (although she wishes she was drinking a Corona with family). She even knows how to tell a joke. True, it might be the worst joke anyone’s ever heard (Grey Worm is a harsh critic), but at least she was having fun.
Which, on Game of Thrones, is exactly when everything goes wrong. The Masters are coming, the Masters are coming, none by land, all by sea. But wait, Meereen doesn’t have any boats. They were set ablaze. If only there was someone with a healthy fleet racing there… Tyrion, be prepared to meet your new bisexual best friend.
Ryan: Game of Thrones is famous for throwing curveballs at its viewers. Who expected Ned Stark’s death? The Red Wedding? But you can’t just keep throwing those. Sometimes a nice fastball needs to be delivered straight across the plate, and that’s what we’re about to get with the Masters’ seaborne invasion of Meereen. You don’t need any fan theory to tell you what’s going to happen next. There’s no subtlety to be had in how this is all being set up. They even included a shot of Drogon flying off into the distance to make sure we understood this wasn’t a problem that could be solved with dragonfire.
4. When did Arya have time to watch Casino Royale and become an expert at parkour?
Ryan: She did have a season and a half of Faceless Man training, so I’m willing to believe she may have picked up some of those skills along the way. And like James Bond, she can apparently take damage that would kill other people and still win a footrace across Braavos against a fellow assassin. I was not a fan of how the show wrapped a bandage around her belly and nursed her back to health with soup. Even taking into account the old excuse that more time passes between scenes than we realize, I don’t buy her recovery.
Yes, all of the fan theories on Arya’s survival ended up being wrong and overblown. But there was a reason there were so many: We watched her take fatal wounds to the stomach. We assumed there must be some explanation, rational or ridiculous, for how she survived. Instead, we got some half-baked story about Lady Crane stabbing her crappy boyfriends and then nursing them back to health. I call shenanigans. Although Arya defeating the Waif by cutting the candle and fighting in darkness was pretty cool.
Josh: It was also a clever way of saving money for next week’s super-expensive episode. (That might explain why the Blackfish was offed off-screen, too, unless he’s not actually dead and it’s all… nope, not going down this road again.) But during Arya’s literally high-flying shenanigans through Braavos, I couldn’t help but laugh. Partially because the scene where she’s rolling through fruit reminded me of the cabbage guy from Avatar: The Last Airbender, but mostly because it was a little goofy. The Waif had plenty of opportunities to kill the slow-footed and bleeding Arya, but she refused until they were trapped in a room, for reasons? The Waif was merely adopted by the dark; Arya was born in it (it gets pretty dark in Winterfell).
I also didn’t buy the quick resolution between A Girl and Jaqen H’ghar, who merrily sent Arya on her way back to Winterfell. I think of Arya-in-Braavos the same way I do of Daenerys-in-Qarth: a necessary evil.
5. Was this episode the official end of Lady Stoneheart and Clegane Bowl?
Josh: About midway through the episode, I felt a great disturbance in the Hype, as if millions of voices cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened. And for Clegane Bowl believers, something terrible had happened: The fight was called off. Tommen decreed — with a little sparrow whispering in his naïve ear, no doubt — that trial by combats are officially outlawed. The real victim here: Oberyn Martell. Also, Cersei. She can’t show off her fancy new Mountain toy (now with head-ripping action!) to the Faith, who, according to crackpot fans, was going to choose the Hound as its combatant. So much for that. But what about the other widely popular theory, the one involving Lady Stoneheart?
Well, much like the word “fetch,” Lady Stoneheart is not going to happen.
Game of Thrones is well aware that you — yes, you — have been anxiously awaiting the appearance of pop culture’s most infamous Lady since, oh, the day after the Red Wedding. Hence, all the references to Cat Stark in this episode. Jaime brought up the time he was her prisoner to Edmure Tully, and Brienne couldn’t stop mentioning her to the Blackfish, Jaime, and anyone else who would listen. But Lady Stoneheart was nowhere to be found. It turns out the Brotherhood members who killed Brother Ray were just two bad apples and a rotten lemon, and they were properly punished by the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. In the books (sorry), Beric sacrifices himself to resurrect Cat Stark. Considering, he’s not only alive, but actively planning to wipe out the White Walkers with the Hound, it’s a safe bet Lady Stoneheart won’t be showing up. At least until the rumor mill goes wild again next season, and the season after that.
Ryan: The Lady Stoneheart hype died for me the moment the blue corpse of Benjen showed up and saved Bran. There’s only so many Stark resurrections a viewer can witness before calling bullsh*t, and the show was already pushing it at two. And now we’re watching as things in the Riverlands are being sorted out and everyone’s getting ready to move on. All roads lead to the Bastard Bowl, and anything that doesn’t help everyone get there can be cut.
At least we’re not being teased into expecting these things. Lady Catelyn references aside, the show has been pretty good at not stringing us along and then leaving us with blue balls. The Hound just showed back up last week, and this week Tommen put the kibosh on Clegane Bowl with his decree against trials by combat. It’s almost like the producers let us have a bit of hype fun, but then told us to smarten up and prepare for the real business about to go down. There’s only two more episodes this season, and they want people emotionally invested in the plots that are actually playing out, not the book stuff we wish was happening or the longshot Clegane Bowl fan service.
6. On a scale from excited to excited, how excited are you for the Bastard Bowl?
Josh: Hmm, I think I’m going to have to go with excited. Episode nine is, typically, the best episode of every season. (I say typically because season five’s “Hardhome,” which is possibly the best episode of the entire series, was episode eight). There’s little reason to think “Battle of the Bastards” — TV’s answer to the Battle of the Pelennor Fields from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King — won’t be as much of a CGI spectacle as “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall.” It probably won’t be as tragic as “The Rains of Castamere,” but you never know with Ramsay Bolton. Did he hunt down Ned Stark’s decapitated head so he could use it to taunt Jon Snow and Sansa? I wouldn’t put it past that psycho.
I think he’s going to lose (and when he does, that’s the moment everyone will remember what’s coming from the North is the real enemy), but not without… I was going to write, “…not without slaying Wun Wun,” but I don’t want to imagine that scenario. It would kill my idea for a Wun Wun and Bronn spinoff.
Ryan: I’m hyped. This is the battle that was promised, and it’s directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the same guy who directed the aforementioned “Hardhome.” For all the classic moments we’ve witnessed this season, there’s been a distinct lack of major clashes. The Mountain has only gotten to mangle a few measly skulls. We didn’t even get a siege of Riverrun because of Jaime’s stupid growth and maturity. Ugh. Now we’re finally getting a big-budget medieval war scene.
And let’s take a quick tally of when the show has disappointed us there. Sure, there have been cop-outs. We all remember Tyrion getting hit in the head by a hammer and waking up after his battle. And I don’t think I’ll ever forgive HBO for glossing over the White Walker assault on the Fist of the First Men. But Stannis’ assault on King’s Landing was epic. The Wildling attack on Castle Black? Even more epic. Hardhome? Obviously. I think what we’re about to witness with this Bastard Bowl is going to overshadow any issues or complaints regarding season six. When we look back at the show years from now, the Battle of the Bastards is what we’re going to talk about.