What’s in a name? A whole lot, as it turns out. Bran’s visions of the past have been a big story in this season, slowly illuminating a lot of the mysteries that have teased Game of Thrones fans for years (decades, for readers of the books). While young Ned Stark and the fate of his sister, Lyanna, have been the big stars of these flashbacks, another character got a curious amount of screen time. Hodor, the mentally handicapped giant who can only say his own name ad nauseam, was once a relatively normal stableboy named Wylis. What happened to change him? As it turns out, his ward Bran Stark is responsible, thanks to some reckless, inadvertent time travel.
Despite the presence of dragons and zombies, Game of Thrones has generally been very “low fantasy.” Magic is kept on the periphery, and despite how fervent some of the religions are, very rarely does it seem like any god is working in Westeros. That seemed to change tonight — as Varys and a priestess of the god R’hllor debate the existence of the Lord of Light and fate, Bran’s reckless use of his greenseer abilities sets Hodor’s fate from childhood, leading to his sacrifice at the end of tonight’s episode.
But let’s start at the beginning. Bran’s training with the Three-Eyed Raven is progressing, although much to his — and the audience’s — chagrin, he is still only seeing glimmers of the past. Among these is the oddly casual reveal of the origin of the White Walkers. The Children of the Forest, losing ground to humanity in their war a thousand years ago, created the first White Walker as part of a ritual, shoving an obsidian dagger into a human’s chest. One of the most recurring themes in Game of Thrones is that actions have drastic unintended consequences, and it seems this applies even to nonhuman races. The Children wanted to create a weapon that could turn back the tide against humanity. They got one, but it seems it was too powerful to control.
While the Raven sleeps, Bran is eager to continue his training. After trying unsuccessfully to wake the Raven, he decides to explore the visions on his own. Appearing before an army of the undead, he strides through their ranks until he sees their leaders. Unfortunately, the White Walkers can see him as well. The Night’s King grabs his arm, and although Bran escapes the vision in time, the damage is done. His physical body has been branded and, according to the Raven, this means the Night’s King can pierce the magical shield that protects them. The dead are coming.
The Raven tries to rush Bran through more visions, but there is not enough time. An army of wights marches on the Raven’s cave. While Meera tries to calm Hodor and move Bran, the Children of the Forest attempt to hold off the wights using magical grenades. Alas, they cannot hold. The White Walkers press forward using magic of their own and slaughter the Children. As the wights break into the cave and Hodor seems paralyzed with fear, Meera calls for Bran to use his warging ability and possess the man.
Bran does, and uses Hodor’s body to drag his own deeper into the cave. Their escape is not without casualties. The Night’s King slay’s the Raven, and, in a sad bit of symbolism, Bran’s direwolf, Summer, dies trying to fight off the hordes of winter.
Meera, Hodor, and Bran’s body come to the door at the end of the tunnel, the last obstacle in their escape. They break through, and as Meera carries Bran out into the snow, she yells at Hodor to “Hold the door!” Hodor, hold the door — how similar those phrases sound. Meera’s voice is apparently carried back into the past where Bran is still having a vision of the young Hodor/Wylis. Wylis hears her shouts and falls into a seizure, repeating her command over and over as his mind seems to shatter. Eventually, “Hold the door” becomes simply “Hodor.” Bran inadvertently carves this command into Hodor’s mind, leaving him a simple-minded man.
He carries out that command, however, holding the door as the wights slowly chip through it. Wylis’s last words are, in a cruel twist of fate, the last words he later hears as Hodor.
Sansa takes charge
A little further south, Sansa receives a mysterious letter and, together with Brienne, rides out to meet the sender. It turns out to be Littlefinger, who is eager to reunite with her after her escape from Ramsay Bolton’s clutches. Sansa is not so quick to reconcile. She knows that Littlefinger knows everything there is to know about the players in Westeros, and he must have known what Ramsay would do to her after their wedding. She berates him with this fact, and though he tries to deny it, his meekness suggest she is right.
Sansa commands him to leave the North forever, but before he goes, Littlefinger offers a bit of knowledge. Her uncle, the Blackfish, has apparently retaken Riverrun from their enemies, and Sansa ought to seek him out if she needs help.
Littlefinger is always working one angle or another, but Sansa takes him at his word here. She and Jon continue to plot out the reclamation of Winterfell, with help from Davos. When Davos claims they don’t have enough supports in the North to challenge the usurper, Ramsay, she brings up the Blackfish. Davos finds this good news, as a Tully army would give them a fighting shot at reclaiming Winterfell. Sansa, Jon, and their new allies depart The Wall, but Sansa does not tell them her information came from Littlefinger. Whether he was telling the truth remains to be seen.
A new king in the Iron Islands
The long-awaited Kingsmoot finally arrives. When the drowned priest calls for claimants, Yara is the first one to step forward. She tells the Ironborn that they have long been the laughingstock of Westeros, and that she will build a fleet that will enable the Ironborn to spread out across the seas. Some of the onlookers are outraged at the thought of a woman leading them, until Theon, the only male heir to the last king, throws his support behind his sister.
Their alliance works, until their uncle Euron puts forth his own claim. He promises to build an armada, sail to Essos, and wed Daenarys, who hates the lords of Westeros as much as they do. With Daenarys and her army, Euron will return to Westeros and conquer it. His speech proves the more inspiring to the Ironborn, and they choose him as king. While he undergoes the ritual drowning at the hands of the priest, Yara, Theon, and their troops steal the best ships in the fleet, sailing off before Euron can put them to death.
A girl ponders the ethics of contract killing
In Braavos, Arya continues her training to become one of the Faceless Men. Her progress is not great. Although she has regained her vision, she still cannot beat The Waif in their sparring matches, as the latter pummels her brutally. Jaqen gives her a mission to prove her worth to the Faceless Men. She is to assassinate an actress playing Cersei in a local play about Joffrey’s rise to the throne.
The play itself is a farce, depicting Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark as buffoons and Joffrey as a noble prince. Arya observes the actress in question drinking rum after the performance, the only member of the troupe to do so. Speaking with Jaqen later, she plots to poison the rum. She asks whether it is right to kill this woman who seems decent, but Jaqen reminds her that death claims all, decent, wicked, or otherwise. To be a Faceless Man is to be a servant of the Many-Faced God, and servants do not question their orders.
Daenarys gives Jorah a lifelong command
Having brought the Dothraki hordes under her command, Daenarys prepares to return to Meereen. Beforehand, she confronts Jorah. Although she exiled him, he returned to save her life. Jorah confesses his love for her, but also reveals that he is dying of greyscale and plans to take his life. As he walks off toward the desert, Daenarys reminds him that he swore to serve her, and then commands him to seek out a cure for his disease. When she conquers Westeros, she wants him at her side.
Tyrion makes a deal
Tyrion’s peace deal with the other cities of Slaver’s Bay is holding up, but he knows the deal won’t be perfect until people acknowledge Daenarys as the one who brought peace. He needs to spin a fiction that this is the latest of her accomplishments, to further create an image of strength. To do so, he seeks the help of one of the red priestesses, Kinvara, hoping to form an alliance with their group. The red priests, so his plan goes, will spread word that Daenarys is their chosen one, and the peace was one of her works. In turn, they will become the officially endorsed religion of her empire.
The priestess seems enthused, as she claims Daenarys is the Prince That Was Promised (then again, she hasn’t met Jon Snow). Varys is skeptical, however. He reminds her that Melisandre had proclaimed Stannis as their savior, before Stannis lost two major battles and his life. Why should Varys trust their judgment now?
Kinvara is unfazed, and speaks to Varys about his childhood, when a sorcerer castrated him as an offering. She tells Varys that she knows he heard a voice from the flames that day, and that she knows what it said. Varys’s disturbed look hints that she is right. While Varys’s childhood was terrible, she explains, it set him on the path to where he is now, in a position to help Daenarys unify the world. The Lord of Light moves in mysterious ways. It’s an odd parallel to Hodor’s tragedy.
In the real world, Varys’s skepticism would be a normal, even admirable thing. But in the world of Game of Thrones, it seems more foolish by the day. Bran moves through time, accidentally planting an idea in Hodor’s mind that would lead him to his ultimate fate. Likewise, a voice spoke to Varys as a child. Was it Bran, to be revealed in some later episode, or was it the voice of an actual god, quietly manipulating events throughout the world? The Door marks a turning point in this world where the supernatural has always taken a back seat to human drama. Whether it is the work of a boy or a god, magic is working in Westeros, and not for the best. Whatever the extent of Bran’s powers, he ought to master them quickly; the White Walkers loom ever larger over the show, and their designs are still a mystery.
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