Game of Thrones new episode reveals mysteries, revels in the supernatural
Philosophical-minded mid-point of the season tackles the question: are all characters mere pawns of fate?
NOTE: The following story contains major spoilers about Episode 5, Season 6 of HBO's Game of Thrones
"Everyone is where they are and what they are for a reason," says the newly introduced Red Priestess of Meereen to Varys. "Knowledge has made you powerful, but there's still so much you don't know."
The famously well-informed Master of Whisperers may still have some things to learn, but the Game of Thrones viewers walked away with more than a few tidbits of information (and likely with a few tears shed) after the episode that artfully wove in the show's trademark supernatural elements to advance the narrative arcs of several major characters. The questions answered included: "Who created the White Walkers?" "What happened to Hodor?" and "Will we ever see full frontal male nudity on Game of Thrones?" (to save you the suspense: yes, courtesy of a nameless actor in a dressing room that Arya spies on).
Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven and the Night's King
Bran Stark's importance to the overall direction of the story this season has been hinted at time and again by the show-runners: he appears in almost every trailer from this season, and we've already watched him reveal to us some moments from his family's history through his ability to see the past.
But in this episode, we learn that the young Stark wields such power, while he's made an enemy of none other than the Night's King, the leader of the White Walkers. In one of his visions, Bran learns that the icy-eyed, icy-hearted monsters were created by the Children of the Forest, to defend them from humans. In another, Bran comes face to face with the Night's King, who grabs his wrist, imprinting a kind of a White Walker GPS on it. Now, says the Three-eyed Raven, the Night's King can find Bran in real life, which he does, alarmingly quickly, as Bran falls into another one of his visions.
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What proceeds is a desperate fight where all kinds of creatures, human, lupine and otherwise throw themselves at the oncoming White Walkers to protect Bran (RIP Summer the direwolf, unnamed creature of the forest, the Three-eyed Raven. and finally, Hodor. We'll miss you).
We also learn how poor Hodor got his name. As the present-day Hodor is pushing back the door of the cave of the Three-eyed Raven, with white walkers and zombies inside fighting to get out, Meera is dragging Bran away and screaming: "Hold the door!" We hear the same scream in Bran's vision, where young Hodor is having what appears to be a seizure, and likewise screaming "Hold the door." When young Hodor comes to, "Hold-door" or "Ho-dor" is all he can say. He's been forever rendered a blubbering idiot by none other than Bran, who basically altered the events of the past to change the present (he controlled the mind of the younger Hodor and so got the older Hodor to hold the door). Yes, Bran can affect the past, something that might be both mind-blowing and headache-inducing — think Westeros-style Inception — as the plot around him continues to sprawl in the episodes to come.
Theon and Yara
In the Iron Islands, fulfilling your destiny means different things for different people. For Theon's brave sister Yara, it's putting her foot forward to become the leader of the Iron-Born. For Theon, it's continuing to atone for his bad choices in the past by backing his sister. And for their crazy uncle Euron, it means admitting to killing his own brother, and proposing a plan whereby he'll woo and marry Daenerys, and become the King of Westeros (she's got the dragons, he's got the ships, what could go wrong?).
Because the Iron-born appear to be people of alarmingly little regard for rational plans, they go for Euron's proposal, and, according to their custom, ritualistically drown him so he can be "reborn" as their leader. As he comes back to life and coughs up water, the first words out of his mouth are those old Westerosi chestnuts of familial love: "Where are my niece and nephew? Let's go murder them!" Fortunately, Theon and Yara have already made off with much of the Iron Islands' fleet.
Daenerys, Jorah, Tyrion, Varys
When it comes to sacrifice of characters for bigger leaders or causes, few come close to what can only be described as the pilgrimage of love of the poor Jorah Mormont. When the stoic Jorah finally admits to Daenerys that he loves her, it's a moment that doesn't need dragons or fire to pack an emotional punch. And if that didn't get you welling up, Dany ordering him to go find the cure for his grey scale surely will (you know he'll do it, just because she told him to).
Meanwhile in Meereen, Tyrion and Varys are trying to secure their "fragile peace" with the Masters by looking for a sort of reliable PR person who can spread the word of Daenerys' greatness to the people. Their choice is: a religious leader! Sure, this new Red Woman speaks highly of Daenerys, but so far, any alliances of secular leaders with religious ones have only brought about disastrous results (see also: Stannis and Melisandre, Cersei and the High Sparrow). Can this one be any different?
Sansa and Arya
One of the show's most satisfying new developments is the evolution of Sansa into a fierce avenger of her own family. She confronts Littlefinger about giving her away to Ramsay, spelling out for him the horrible things her husband did to her in unnerving detail (we learn it involved mutilation, not just rape). As Jon strategizes how to rally the houses of the North against the Boltons, it is she who speaks the loudest, shushing even Davos.
And while Sansa is busy carving out a path of non-victimhood, it seems that the usually single-minded Arya is doubting her choice of becoming the servant of the many-faced God. She is sent to assassinate an actress in a play re-enacting the events around her father's execution—a moment where, thanks to some fine acting by Maisie Williams, we realize, without a single word being uttered, that she's not ready to leave Arya Stark behind.
No matter what comes their way, it seems both Stark sisters are no longer content to be pawns of anyone, man or God. How their hard-won self determination will play out against the generally fatalistic world view of the show will be interesting to watch.