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Fantasy Fandom: Missions of the Reborn

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Fandom Friday is all growed up now, as the Artist Formerly Known as ichacat moves to the front page.

Another Stark reborn, no?
Another Stark reborn, no?
HBO
Note: For any newcomers to the Fandom series, this article recaps events from the latest episode of Game of Thrones. If you have not seen it and don't want it spoiled, look away.

One of the best things about Game of Thrones is that with its multiple story lines spread across varied landscapes of George RR Martin’s mythical world, some intrigue is always afoot to keep our interest piqued. One of the worst things about Game of Thrones is that with so many separate, loosely interrelated story lines to track, some are bound to clunk along tediously and take us to destinations we don’t really care to visit. Something for everyone, to be sure. But also, too much of this, not enough of that; too rushed in some cases, too interminably slow in others. First, the tedium:

Stories in Neutral

No story line grinds along at a more glacial pace than that of Daenerys and her paradoxical quest to conquer and thereby save the world. Which of the gods did she offend to warrant her sentence of wandering in the wilderness for so long? She has beauty, back story and dragons on her side yet, like Odysseus, she seems farther from home with every episode. After her nomadic trek through the Red Desert, Qarth, Astapor, and Yunkai and a prolonged quagmire in Meereen, now she’s stuck in a house of widowed Khaleesi in Vaes Dothrak. She is is told that life in the house of widows is the kindest outcome she can hope for; the Khals intend to put her to trial for her transgressions and determine her ultimate fate. All of which sets the stage for a smitten knight, an exotic warrior/lover and a dragon or three swooping in to rescue her from the stereotypical mindless savages. Wouldn’t it be nice, after all this time, if Daenerys could be something more than the damsel in distress?

Similarly, Sam and Gilly appear in this episode as if simply to remind us that they exist. Sam tells Gilly she cannot accompany him to Oldtown because the Citadel, like much of the ASOIAF universe, excludes women. Instead, he’ll drop her off at Horn Hill to stay with his beloved mother and his sister. Oh, also his dreadful father, Randall Tarley, who not that long ago made Sam choose between joining the Night’s Watch or dying on the spot so the favored younger son could be the Tarley heir. During the battle of Castle Black Sam had promised never to part from Gilly, but she agrees to this arrangement, saying rather oddly that she trusts the father of her baby. Does this make Sam the titular "Oathbreaker" of the episode?

Since killing Shae and his father, Tyrion seems to lack purpose, as well. He can’t even get small talk from Grey Worm and Missandei. Varys, meanwhile, has wasted no time finding and blackmailing/bribing Valla, a woman who has helped the Sons of the Harpy wage their war on Daenerys’ rule of Meereen. The harpies, it turns out, take their cues from the masters of Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis, all of which have returned to their slaver ways. If Daenerys is ever liberated from Vaes Dothrak, will we have to wait around for her to liberate all of Slaver’s Bay for a second time?

It turns out Varys’ "little birds" were poor children who provided him information in exchange for sweets. It makes sense that overlooked street urchins would overhear conversations. At the same time, it seems far-fetched that they would overhear so many secrets of state. But whatever. Qyburn has now enlisted their services. The kids are not put off by the creepy laboratory with its jars of oddities in slimy solutions, though they cower at the appearance of reanimated Gregor (that poorly-guarded secret is now clumsily dismissed) on their way out. Cersei wants "little birds" in Dorne immediately. She also demands a seat at the Small Council table. With Gregor-stein glowering at the council Cersei gets a seat, only to have the fabulous Lady Olenna and Kevan Lannister lead an exodus of the remaining members. Lannister might is waning.

Tommen confronts the High Sparrow about his treatment of Maergery and Cersei, only to have the meeting devolve into a theology lesson on the Mother’s love (Happy Mother’s Day from HBO, everybody!) and the counsel of the gods. As Ned Stark’s consistent honor was ultimately his downfall, you wonder if Tommen will be undone because he’s just too nice.

Stories on the Move

Ned’s honor was put to the test in his more youthful years, as witnessed by Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven in the long-anticipated Tower of Joy scene. The event had occurred not long after Ned was first married. Robert Baratheon and his forces had defeated Targaryen loyalists at the Battle of the Trident, where Robert bashed in Prince Rhaegar’s skull with his war hammer. After taking King’s Landing Ned, along with Howland Reid and five others, rode to the tower to retrieve Ned’s younger sister, Lyanna, who all believed had been kidnapped by Rhaegar. Ned’s men confronted two members of the Kingsguard, including Arthur Dayne, the legendary "Sword of the Morning." When Ned questioned why Dayne had been absent from the battle, Dayne replied that the Prince had wanted him at the tower. Clearly Rhaegar wanted added protection for something of great importance. The two knights of the Kingsguard defeated all of Ned’s party, and when only Ned and Arthur Dayne remained, Bran realized his father was nowhere near a match for the famous swordsman. He has heard all his life that Ned slew Dayne and found Lyanna dying in the tower. The truth he witnesses is altogether different. Ned lost his sword and would have died—and the entire Song of Ice and Fire saga with him—had an injured Howland Reid not risen up to stick a dirk in Arthur Dayne’s back. Ned merely finished Dayne off, cutting the injured man’s throat. Is this another possible chink in the armor of honor Ned wore?

To the collective frustration of book nerds everywhere, Bran does not get to see what Ned found in the tower. The Three-Eyed Raven pulls him away, though not before Bran calls out to his father and appears to get a response. Back in the cave, his mentor among the tree roots suggests maybe Ned heard only the wind. He reminds Bran, "The past is already written. The ink is dry." We’ve seen enough to wonder, though. Bran may have discovered another extraordinary power. Like Arya, Bran is struggling to let go of his personal past so he can serve his larger purpose. The 3ER assured him he would not have to become an old man in a tree. But he does have to learn "everything" before he can move on. Bran’s impatience and curiosity about his family’s past may stand in the way of his destiny.

Back at the House of Black and White, Arya intermittently tries to convince the Waif that she is nobody and gets beaten about with the quarterstaff. As Arya’s responses become more convincing, she gets better at defending herself. Eventually, she blocks the majority of the Waif’s parries and gets in a few licks of her own. Jaqen H’ghar gives Arya a drink from the deadly pool, saying if she is truly No One, she has nothing to fear. Arya drinks, and her eyesight returns. Is this the end of her training? What missions will the Faceless men give their new, lethal assassin?

At Winterfell Lord Umber meets with Ramsay and Lord Karstark. The three young Lords are allies only in their disdain for the Starks. (The Umbers should hate the Boltons more, incidentally; Lord Umber was still loyal to Robb after Karstark's beheading and was killed at the Red Wedding, a conspiracy Roose Bolton helped carry out.) Umber refuses to bend the knee to Ramsay and makes clear that he knows the truth of Roose Bolton’s murder but doesn’t care. He wants help killing the wildlings that Jon Snow settled south of the Wall, and to win an uneasy trust he presents Ramsay with a gift: Rickon Stark. As proof of Rickon’s identity, Umber tosses the severed head of Shaggydog on the table. Welcome back, Rickon. Sorry you had to land in the worst possible place.

Although Jon appeared in none of the advance photos or descriptions distributed by HBO, the episode began in his resurrection chamber, where last week’s show left off. Mellisandre seems stunned at Jon's revival, though she is quick to assume he is Azor Ahai, the champion of the Lord of Light reborn to wield the flaming sword Lightbringer and to awaken dragons from stone. Jon is not so sure, telling her he saw "nothing at all" in the afterlife. Though not devout, Davos seems to be a better spirit guide. To Jon’s lament that he thought he could solve the world’s problems but had failed, Davos says, "Good. Now go fail again."

The ultimate scene depicted the hanging of the conspirators. Ser Alliser says he had to choose between loyalty to the Lord Commander and loyalty to the Watch when Jon brought a wildling army of murderers and raiders through the Wall. Even knowing he would end up in the hangman’s noose, Thorne says he prays he would have the strength to do it all again. A martyr to his own misguided cause, he will now rest, but Lord Snow "will be fighting their battles forever."

If there was any hope that Olly would express sorrow and beg for mercy, that hope was dashed. Olly says nothing, his countenance conveying only hatred and rage. For a moment Jon appears to fight indecision. Ultimately he cuts the rope and carries out the death sentence. Then he hands his fur cloak to Edd, telling him, "Castle Black is yours." As he stalks away, Jon drops the mic on his prior existence, saying, "My watch has ended."

It has long been suspected that Jon would leave the Night’s Watch after coming back from the dead. The exact words of the pledge are:

Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness, the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.

By dying and rising, he has found the ultimate loophole in the pledge. Carrying out the executions may have appeared to be a ratification of the vows after his awakening. But nobody moves to stop his departure. Whether he believes more pressing business calls or merely views the task of the Watch as pointless after his day of death remains to be seen.

What Now?

A host of questions beg for answers.

Jon Snow: What will he do now that he has seen the other side of life and death? Will he go to Winterfell to deal with Ramsay? Will he follow the guidance of Mellisandre, despite all the ill she brought to Stannis? Did he really see nothing in his time of death, or did he merely have the presence of mind to keep what he saw to himself? Although his hasty departure resonates as a "to hell with this," something enormous must be preying on his mind for him to abandon Edd and his friends when he knows they must soon be the first line of defense for the coming onslaught of the Army of the Dead.

Arya Stark: Is Arya's training complete, or has she merely graduated to a new phase? Has she truly abandoned her personal quest for revenge against those who have harmed her family? After enduring all this hardship, we can't help hoping she gets the satisfaction at least of dealing with Walder Frey.

Rickon Stark: After a prolonged absence from the show, will Rickon serve only as the latest object of torture for Ramsay? He is a bargaining chip, for sure. Look for him to be used as bait to lure Jon in.

Daenerys: Whether she remains in the house of widows isn't really a question. How will she get out? Will her time there matter to her larger mission in any way? Can we at least hope to resolve this tangent in this episode?

Sansa Stark: Will she arrive at Castle Black only to find Jon departed? None of the Starks have interacted directly since the Red Wedding. Though the two of them were not at all close, Jon and Sansa encountering each other would be a monumental development. What agenda could the two of them pursue together?

King's Landing: The Lannisters' power is fading. Cersei's trial will certainly be by combat. Who will fight for the Faith? Lancel? Or, as some suspect, will the Hound reappear to contest his horrible brother? Will Tommen survive the prophecy of Maggie the Frog, or is his demise imminent? Can anyone reign in the power of the High Sparrow?

The Iron Born: Will the Kingsmoot acknowledge Yara as the rightful ruler of the Iron Isles? Or will Euron win the seat? Either way, what mission will they pursue, and how will it impact the larger story of Westeros?

Littlefinger: Where the hell is that guy? Having him pulling strings behind the scenes is all kinds of unnerving.

Bran Stark: Can he influence events through his viewings? Even past events? Will he be able to interact with his siblings through the powers he is learning from the Three-Eyed Raven? Against all odds, Bran's story has suddenly become interesting.

Hodor: Never thought we'd be intrigued by the giant simpleton. But what caused him to lose the ability to speak? Is there a link to what happened to Lyanna? Did Hodor once have the ability to warg, perhaps? So many possibilities now that there is more to Hodor than meets the eye.

Plenty to think about between now and Sunday.