Welcome to the weekly followup for non-readers, where we try to squeeze some context from the ever so dwindling source material. There’s still plenty to cover, so hold tight!

Since we’ve missed the followup last week, time to make up for it with a double feature. This followup will cover both episodes at once, location by location. To make things clear, for the very first time in… a long time, I will be using straightforward titles instead of forced memes.

The Wall

I like the wolf bitJon Snow, in the most positive Stark quote we’ve had for YEARS

Starks getting back together. Somebody pinch me.

Fun fact: This is actually the very first time Sansa and Jon talk to each other in the whole series. Go ahead, check the first episode. And the one after that. Sansa doesn’t interact much with her brothers in the pilot anyway, but it’s still an interesting detail to note.

It’s a great piece of TV original script that I really doubt had any basis in the books whatsoever. A Feast for Crows features three chapters of Sansa courting at the Eyrie, with the sample chapter from the upcoming The Winds of Winter still occurring in the Vale, so it’s safe to say Sansa will not meet Jon until his and Stannis’s (still alive in the books dammit!) campaign in the North is over. Littlefinger’s absurd teleportation skills aside, Sansa’s storyline has wrapped up nicely and provided a significantly better experience than what watching her sit around doing pretty much nothing would.

That goes without saying for Brienne, too. Having her wander through the Crownlands and the Riverlands aimlessly wouldn’t be necessarily worse than watching Stannis storyline get butchered to the point where it was just rubbing salt in the readers’ wounds (“in the name of Renly, the RIGHTFUL king”, Stannis’s “crime” being killing his usurper brother before Renly got to do it first), but at least we got some really good scenes out of this exchange (her fight with the Hound, and now the table scene with Tormund).

But let’s put the book alternative reality aside now and take a look at what’s at play here: Sansa and Jon want to take back Winterfell. To do so, they obviously need an army, and all they have are a bunch of wildlings. The most logical move, then, is to call for support of the Stark bannermen.

The political situation in the North goes as follows: Two of the three greatest houses in the North, Karstark and Umber, have already declared support for the Boltons. As stated in Episode 2 this season, those two together with Manderly make a force to be reckoned with, easily matching all the minor houses combined. You’ve met the heads of house Karstark and Umber already. As for house Manderly, their seat, New Castle in White Harbor, serves as the main port in the North and the point of cultural contact with the South. We don’t know yet who will the Manderlys fight for, but the Boltons are focused on gaining their support and Jon haven’t even named them as potential allies.

One particular detail about houses Karstark, Umber, Manderly and even Bolton is that their seats are located in the eastern part of the North. That means they’ve all been spared from the Ironborn invasion started by Theon in season 2. This is a pattern that repeated through history and might be part of the explanation why the houses to the east grew stronger than the houses located to the west – while western houses were exposed to the raids from the Iron Islands, the eastern houses had a naval access to the Crownlands and the Free Cities.

Now, the minor houses Jon named (Glover, Hornwood, Mormont and Cerwyn) are located, well, all over the place. Castle Cerwyn is pretty much right next to Winterfell, and Lady Cerwyn is already at Winterfell, swearing fealty to Roose Bolton. Their loyalty is doubted by the Boltons, though, as part of the Cerwyn army already fights for Stannis. I don’t know if the show is going to address the fact that the geographical proximity of Castle Cerwyn requires a very clear declaration of fealty before any other houses, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the show decides to ignore that for the sake of the plot. As for house Glover, it’s an open book – in the books, Stannis liberates Deepwood Motte from the Ironborn, winning the Glover support and gaining respect in the North, but considering the invasion of the North is considered over – and there is no Yara Greyjoy in Deepwood Motte for Stannis to capture – we can expect just about anything to happen, if we ever get there. Last but not least there’s the Bear Island, seat of house Mormont. The very same house Mormont that gave us Lord Commander Jeor Mormont and his son, Jorah “Jorah the Andal” Mormont. Currently its acting head is the young girl Lyanna Mormont, whose handwriting we’ve seen last season – she declined support for Stannis, writing “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is STARK”. Lyanna’s mother, Maege – Jeor’s sister – is supposedly in hiding, having escaped from the Twins with two of her daughters. Jon also mentions house “Mazin”, a show only name, which is… odd.

There are many other minor houses in the North, but one is worth recalling: it’s house Reed, located in the elusive Greywater Watch, a castle on the swamps, built upon a crannog and supposedly moving from place to place. If we ever get to see Meera’s and Jojen’s father, Howland Reed, he is the only living witness of Eddard’s journey to the Tower of Joy, so that’s surely something worth looking forward to.

All the Northern houses are weakened by the war. There was even an instance where Roose Bolton, planning ahead of his betrayal, sent Karstark, Glover and Hornwood forces into Battle of Duskendale, attempting to bleed out Robb’s army before the Red Wedding. That is why the forces in the North are counted in much lower amounts than what Stannis and Renly used to work with.

There’s also the issue of the deserters from Stannis’s army. In theory, there’s two thousand of ex-Baratheon troops and sellswords wandering around the North – but this plot point is very unlikely to be ever brought up by the show, as in the books it is Stannis who unites the Northern houses, and Jon does not get involved until a letter from Ramsay – most likely fabricated – heralds the defeat of the Baratheon hold.

Last but not least, it’s worth mentioning that while the Tully forces led by Blackfish should be very busy keeping the Riverlands, the other player on the board is nothing to scoff at. House Arryn is just about the only power north of Dorne untouched by war. Knights of the Vale have been held back from the fray by Lysa Arryn, partially based on her overprotective attitude towards Sweetrobin, and partially because that was part of Littlefinger’s master plan. Honestly Sansa rejecting to accept the Arryn support was a pretty short-sighted move, driven by personal prejudice – it wouldn’t hurt to at least pretend to accept it, that’s what playing the game is about.

Oh, and if you look back at the map, Knights of the Vale are already blocking the only possible way Tullys could have come through if Blackfish decided to send some help.

Shaggy Dog Story

I served a long time. Didn’t get no wages. Way I see it, I’m owed.Osha the Wildling, realizing that “filling the portfolio” was not worth it

The name of Rickon’s direwolf might be one of the numerous jokes Martin put into his books. A “shaggy dog story” is an absurdly long-winded anecdote finished with an unexpectedly shallow, unsatisfying punchline. The humor comes from the contrast between our built-up expectations and the utterly disappointing finale.

Rickon’s story might just be it. The youngest of the Stark siblings, looked down upon by his family and the audience alike, has been put aside for quite some time now. With so much focus on his point-of-view siblings and ther adventures, Rickon was supposed by some people to be the wildcard, a plot device just waiting to be used. Some readers have even made the connection between the gods in Faith of the Seven and the Starks: Eddard is obviously the Father, Catelyn is the Mother, Robb is the Warrior, Sansa is the Maiden, Bran is the Crone and Arya matches the deadly aspect of the Stranger. That leaves the Smith for Rickon, making him the Stark who is allegedly supposed to rebuild Winterfell and the Stark domain once the dust settles and the story comes to its end.

Turns out, no, that doesn’t necessarily have to be true. Osha gets killed off immediately after reappearing on screen (hands up if you thought for a second Ramsay’s plot armor could be penetrated). Shaggydog is dead. Rickon’s fate has no guarantee of confirming to writing cliches… which is pretty standard for Game of Thrones.

King’s Landing

It was all a part of a story. A story I was telling myself about who I was. A collection of lies that would disappear in the light.High Sparrow, in a quote that might become highly entertaining in hindsight

High Sparrow’s identity is a mystery. He’s “no one” in the perfect meaning that Arya will never be – nothing about him or his actions reveals his origin, and, if he has it, his hidden agenda. For every character in ASoIaF universe, there’s been some tinfoil hat theories – the most infamous one being “Daario Naharis is Benjen Stark”, also occuring in the “Benjen Stark is Euron Greyjoy” variant. Some of these theories are well-founded and the most likely answers – like Three-Eyed Raven being Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers, which isn’t that much of a theory considering he gives that name himself. With High Sparrow, it’s a bit of a stretch – you have to assume first that the character is not a genuine religious fanatic, but a man with a mission to sabotage King’s Landing and collapse the Lannister family from below.

If we were to assume High Sparrow is not who he seems to be – if – the most popular theory was… Howland Reed. High Sparrow is first seen by Brienne in the Riverlands marching south, with body features (small posture, dirty feet, brown hair knitted in the same manner Meera Reed had it) resembling those of a crannogman. It’s a crackpot theory, one much less sound than something like Cleganebowl, but if there was a second nature to the High Sparrow – if – that’s the most likely answer. And Howland being the last living survivor of Tower of Joy makes his whereabouts a pretty important matter in the grand scheme of things.

Both solutions – either High Sparrow being a hypocrite, or a truly honest force of nature – have their parks here.

With the confrontation between the Crown and the Faith being right around the corner, we’re steering onto uncharted waters, and there’s only one broken piece in this mechanism: Jaime. Jaime is, well, in a peculiar state where he knows Cersei has been imprisoned and trialed for her crimes – but what were her crimes, exactly? Let me remind you: fornicating with Lancel Lannister. The TV Jaime is not supposed to know that yet, and it would be a pretty big deal to him. Tyrion proclaiming to him on his way out that Cersei has cheated with “Lancel, and Osmund Kettleback, and Moon Boy for all I know” is a key part in Jaime’s development, something that has been put on hold for quite a while now. It creates this weird situation where the audience knows something the main characters don’t, but should – something that does not happen in the books written from points of view of specific characters. There’s a very similar situation in the North, where Davos doesn’t know Melisandre has burnt Shireen yet – though sometimes the alternative to ignorance is an awkward moment like the one where Davos and Melisandre confront Brienne about the fate of Stannis. Davos acting sorry for supporting Stannis earlier is pretty much out-of-character for him.

Vaes Dothrak

You were dumb enough to believe himKhal Moro, dumb enough to not smell whatever flammable material was the floor covered with

Aggo, the man stabbed to death and mauled with a rock by Daario, was actually one of the riders sent forth by Daenerys at the beginning of season 2, before they found Qarth; meaningless detail, considering it played no part in the confrontation at all, but one point stands – Jorah could have been easily recognized by some of the former members of Drogo’s khalasar.

I’m repeating this on a weekly basis by now, but I have to: Back in Qarth, remember Quaithe, the mysterious woman in that weird red mask covering her face? Dany still sees her in her dreams when she’s at Meereen. Quaithe is actually one of the very few people who seems to bear no ill intentions towards her, and she brings some peculiar prophecies. Back in Qarth, she says “To go north, you must journey south, to reach the west you must go east. To go forward you must go back and to touch the light you must pass beneath the shadow.” This means that Dany’s journey back to Vaes Dothrak might actually be exactly what she needs to fullfill this prophecy. There are many other events in the works that make the readers think Dany’s “impossible” prophecies are just about to fullfill, such as the guest list in Meereen lining up perfectly with what Quaithe says.

Long story short, Dany is going back to her roots. She tried being a wise ruler, a benevolent conqueror, a peaceful liberator. But it might not be working out for her all that well. The Targaryen words are “Fire and Blood”, and the ruthless conquest might be just what her nature demands.

If only she had any ships to cross over the Narrow Sea with…

Food for thought: Would you follow a ruler from an ancient name, silhouette surrounded by fire, who comes from the East with a horde of barbaric reavers and a few flying drakes, coming to the West to conquer the medieval European civilization, with possible support of ships provided by pirates?

Congratulations, you have just signed up for the case of Sauron.


Footnotes

But wait, that’s it? Where’s Meereen? Where’s Braavos? Where’s the Kingsmoot? And WHERE IS HODOR?

I’m terribly sorry for missing last week’s episode, and making up for it is no easy task. I’ve simply decided to divide this followup in two parts – with one coming today, and one tomorrow. This is very similar to what George R. R. Martin has done when the scope of planned fourth book has grown beyond the wildest expectations – A Feast for Crows covers the events in the souther part of the Seven Kingdoms, while A Dance with Dragons fills up with the rest of the world (Essos and the North). It was quite frustrating when the promised waiting time (a year) increased fivefold (…making ADWD come out after the show has already aired).

So see you guys… tomorrow! (Or, in two days. You know how it is with this Westeros and writing.)