In the wake of last week’s eye-opening - and door-closing - episode of Game of Thrones, Hodor’s demise has been the only thing on people’s lips (one ShortList staffer has even been signing his emails off ‘Hodor’ as a mark of respect to the tragic stableboy). What does his sacrifice mean for the future of the show? How is Bran going to beat the Night’s King?
This week’s episode was a more considered, thematic hour, where we saw alliances solidify, unions crumble and the return of several key characters (and a particularly large dragon). Here are the biggest moments.
Bran met the mysterious Coldhands
Meera’s impressive upper-body strength notwithstanding, it was always looking a bit dire having her drag Bran out into the frozen wasteland after last week’s episode, with nowhere to go, no allies, and the recurring threat of the dead looming.
Luckily, they are saved by a mysterious cloaked figure on a horse, who mows down the wights with a flaming ball-and-chain. He takes his hood down, revealing himself to be none other than Bran’s long-lost uncle Benjen.
This is massive news for two reasons. One: it seemingly confirms that the book character “Coldhands”, a cloaked figure who guides Sam and Gilly, and later Bran and co North of the Wall and Benjen Stark are the same person. This has since been confirmed by the show producers, although confusingly, George RR Martin debunked Benjen being Coldhands in the books. Keep up.
Fans simply assumed Coldhands been cut from the show after he didn’t appear in Season Three and Four, but it’s clear the show knew bringing him back at this point in the story would make the most sense narratively. There’s also the fact that books can conceal a character’s true identity better than a TV show, and this reveal definitely paid off.
Benjen reveals to Bran and Meera that he was stabbed by a White Walker with a dagger of ice, but before the magic could take hold of him, the Children of the Forest saved him by stabbing him in the heart with a shard of dragonglass.
His face is mottled and tinged blue from the cold and he seems stuck somewhere between being very alive and being a bit dead, as he explains that Bran is now the Three-Eyed Raven, and he has to be ready for when the Night’s King descends on Westeros.
Tellingly, Bran’s latest vision saw a glimpse of the Mad King Aerys bottling Wildfire and threatening to burn the city to the ground. This is the same King that Jaime Lannister stabbed in the back, though unbeknownst to the public he did it to prevent him incinerating King’s Landing. There’s a popular theory Bran’s attempts to intervene in the past are what drive the King mad in the first place, so the placement of this scene is interesting.
The faith got even stronger in King’s Landing
As soon as the Lannisters and Tyrells plotted to combine their forces and take Margaery back from the High Sparrow, the assumption was there’d be a load of bloodshed. But it turns out the High Sparrow has been playing his cards close to his chest. Just as Jaime prepares to take the Queen by force, Tommen walks out of the Sept, and the Sparrow reveals he, too, has converted to their cause.
The King and Queen announce that they have agreed to join the Faith and the Crown together so that everybody can avoid going to hell, or something, and Jaime, Cersei, Mace Tyrell and the Queen of Thorns all realise their positions in the city are looking pretty doomed.
Tommen releases Jaime from the Kingsguard for his insubordination, and instructs him to lead the Lannister army to the Riverlands, where (as we learned last week) Catelyn Stark’s uncle, the Blackfish, has returned to Riverrun, booted out the Freys ruling it, and has installed himself as ruler once again.
Cersei, meanwhile, gives him a passionate snog and an affectionate chew on the ear before assuring him she’ll be fine by herself, reminding him that The Mountain is taking part in her trial by combat. In the world of Game of Thrones, though, it’s the confident characters who get taken down a peg. And the last thing she needs is necromancy added to her list of faith-offending crimes.
Arya bails on the Faceless Men
After being instructed to assassinate Lady Crane, an actress in one of Braavos’ theatre troupes, Arya Stark has taken on the pseudonym “Mercy” and watches their performances every day. Her plan: to poison Crane’s rum supply, since the lady enjoys a tipple every day after her stifling performance as Cersei.
But there’s a reason she has been dispatched to kill an actress with ties to Westeros - Arya is having to watch her past life reimagined before her as a way of gauging how capable she is of losing herself to the Faceless Men. Last week, she had to contend with the injustice of seeing her father’s life and legacy played for laughs. And even though she enjoys this week’s performance, which depicts Joffrey’s death and the tragic Purple Wedding, seeing Lady Crane on stage stirs something in her.
Arya didn’t choose a life of knifing and violence - it chose her, after her family were taken away from her. But is killing someone not on her ‘list’ morally right? How does her poisoning the seemingly nice Lady Crane make her better than the Boltons, Joffrey, or the brutal Hound, who are all adept at doing violent things with no remorse? Her struggle ends with her dispensing some ‘mercy’ and knocking the poisoned rum out of Crane’s hand, before cryptically warning her and running off.
Watching the whole thing from afar is The Waif, Arya’s stick-wielding tormentor, who reports to Ja’qen that she failed to carry out her task, before being dispensed to finish her off. Arya might not have finished her training in the House of Black and White, but like Sansa, Jon and Daenerys she has learned invaluable lessons throughout her misfortunes, and it’s time for her to draw on all of those experiences if she wants to survive.
Sam goes back home - and quickly regrets it
We haven’t seen much of Sam, Gilly and the baby this season, and it was a smart decision for the show to keep their storyline on the backburner. This week, they arrive at Horn Hill, the seat of House Tarly and Sam’s massive dickhead of a father.
Sam’s plan is to pass Gilly and the baby off as his own, quietly ignoring the whole Wildling thing and keeping them safe before he goes off to Oldtown to learn how to be a maester. Quite why Sam’s bothering to read stupid books when Bran is literally downloading every single event in history through the Weirwood broadband is anyone’s guess.
During another one of Game of Thrones’ classic awkward dinner scenes, Sam’s father Randyll tells him he shouldn’t eat any more bread because he’s too fat and that his aspirations to read about other people’s accomplishments is foolish. Gilly defends Sam, pointing out that he killed a Thenn clan-member south of the wall and killed a White Walker, but in doing so gives away that she and him were North of the Wall and that she is, in fact, a wildling. Her tragic use of a knife and fork at dinner also didn’t help.
After a tense argument, Sam tells Gilly he’s taking them away from his home, since their absolutely terrible plan fell apart. But before he leaves, he steals his father’s ancestral sword, Heartsbane, which helpfully is made of Valyrian steel, and we all know how rare those things are.
Daenerys plans to sail West. Soon! Honestly
After burning the patronising Khal in their own temple, and being the first female leader of the savage horse lords, Dany has the dubious honour of owning the world’s most progressive Dothraki horde. And this week we see her only briefly, as she unites the woke-rathi with her promise to sail West while intimidating them slightly with a dragon.
As they ride to Meereen, which Daario estimates to be a week away, she senses something in the distance. Is it Gendry? Has Jorah got lost on his way to cure his greyscale? No, it’s something else. She disappears for a few minutes, and just as her men are getting restless, soars over their heads on the back of Drogon, who was apparently just hanging out nearby.
The shot of the black and red dragon eclipsing the huge snaking column of Dothraki is an arresting sight, even if it does raise questions about how quickly the dragons are able to grow in the space of a couple of weeks.
Landing in front of them, Dany delivers a speech that mirrors the one her ex-husband Drogo delivered in Season One, when he promised to make history and take his men to Westeros. Dany is, as Daario notes, much better at rousing people with passionate speeches than she is at actually sitting on a chair and ruling. In fact she’s so excited by their plan to smash all the castles and ravage Westeros that she isn’t even bothered that she needs one thousand ships to ferry them all over.
Who do we know with loads of ships? Well nobody, but last week Euron Greyjoy started building a gigantic fleet, which, given the sporadic timeline in Game of Thrones, should be ready by the end of the season.