The queen who sits atop the Iron Throne continues to amass strength through her cunning and military victories as the white-haired Mother of Dragons suffers more damage to her armies and ambition in the process. All the while the Night King and Army of the Dead press forward bringing the true and terrifying winter closer and closer as political claims are questioned, contemplated, and fought for. The King in the North persists to intensify and prepare for the reality of death among the living while the war in the south remains to be what’s visible to those around him. As this epic conundrum continues to unfurl, the staunched wounds must bleed out renewed change as the first time the White Walkers were a threat, in the hope of preserving life within the Seven Kingdoms and beyond.
Episode Four opens with the Lannister army moving their newly-acquired riches and resources towards the Red Keep. Another duplicitous victory for Cersei has provided her with all that she needs to secure the Iron Bank’s favor and amass more allies. While the men continue to march, Jaime stops the wagon pregnant with a mammoth’s weight in gold, removes a heavy sack filled with it, and hands it to Bronn. Jaime seems reluctant in their triumph despite the tangible accomplishment in it all. Bronn, in Bronn fashion, teases him about his demeanor, while reminding him that his full debt has yet to have been paid. Bronn’s aspirations include castle ownership and that of a beautiful wife. While he has his gold now, the other two remain a distant dream. As he suggests Highgarden as payment, Jaime rebukes the idea mentioning that a prime stronghold during wartime is not a favorable place to own as it can be taken away at any moment. He also mentions the upkeep, “The more you own, the more it weighs you down.” Important to note this nugget of wisdom as the Lannister army has now come into a vast amount of capital. Jaime’s a skilled strategist and dedicated soldier, it’s possible his demeanor is a result of an ominous intuition regarding their latest conquest and what’s to follow.
As the Iron Bank’s gold is being transported, Cersei convenes with the bank’s representative, Tycho Nestoris, discussing what’s to follow after the payment has been made. Tycho seems to be rather giddy over the prospect of such a large debt being paid back so quickly and in one installment. He compliments Cersei, noting that she’s superseding the reputation of her father. The flattery is not without purpose as the Iron Bank intends to forge new business with the crown, now confident of Cersei’s power and capabilities. The queen mentions that she will indeed need outside contribution to help with her expansion, noting her one and only goal is total takeover. While the queen discusses development with the help of an institution that’s yet to have been paid, Bran is provided with a gift that he seemingly has no interest in.
Back in Winterfell, Lord Baelish is up to his old schemes as he presents a Valyrian Steel dagger to Bran in an effort to gain favor. The dagger featured is the high-priced item that was used in an attempt to kill Bran when he was a boy. The dagger’s original ownership has always been a question, information that may be the only worthwhile aspect of the blade in Bran’s eyes. While Little Finger sings songs of his allegiance to Catelyn and his hope to honor her through protecting her children, Bran examines the weapon, paying no mind to the manipulative banter his gift-giver spews. He asks Lord Baelish who the dagger belonged to, and of course Petyr says he has no clue. Probably not a wise choice to withhold any information from the Three-Eyed Raven. Little Finger makes one last attempt to get in Bran’s good graces, sympathizing:
“To go through all of that and make your way home only to find such chaos in the world, I can only imagine…”
But Bran quickly cuts Little Finger’s backhanded venture short by quoting Baelish himself:
“Chaos is a ladder.”
This chills Little Finger to the core, giving him serious pause. The infamous line is the same he spoke to Lord Varys moons before, a sinister statement showing his true-natured affinity for ascending to power while others are suffering and scrambling. A line that Bran could have never been witness to. This moment is another instance of the Three-Eyed Raven flexing his skillset illuminating further the power of Bran’s growing insight.
The uneasy moment is cut short as Meera enters, giving Little Finger a fortuitous out. Bran’s now in a wheelchair, which she recognizes and mentions before telling him she’s leaving. But she doesn’t have to tell him anything. Bran, being the Three-Eyed Raven, is well aware that she’s departing and doesn’t have much to say about it, while Meera is enveloped with emotion. She explains that she needs to be with her family when the long winter finally arrives. She also mentions that he’s safe, as safe as anyone can be, and that he doesn’t need her anymore. Bran coldly replies, “No, I don’t.” Meera is visibly shaken by his lack of emotion. She’s incredibly hurt and expresses her feelings noting her brother’s death, Hodor’s, and Summer’s, that they all died for him and she damn near did several times. She pleads with him, calling his name. But Bran replies, stating that he’s actually not “Bran” anymore. Citing that he remembers what it felt like to be Bran, but that he remembers so much more now. To this, right before leaving, Meera replies:
“You died in that cave.”
And the fact of the matter is that he did. Bran is no longer. He’s undergone a metamorphosis. Dead and alive with a new purpose, carrying a burdenous responsibility that no one can fathom or relate to. Not Little Finger, Not Meera, not even his sisters.
As a sister-like figure of Bran’s makes her exit, a true sister approaches. After a tireless journey filled with death and growth alike, Arya Stark makes her return to Winterfell, a home that is, like her, completely changed. She makes her way to the gate to be greeted by a pair of dimwitted guards that initially deny her claim and entry. She easily makes her way through the elementary obstacle and finds herself in the crypts of Winterfell, standing in front of her father’s statue. As Arya takes in the moment, the guards inform Sansa of the imposter at the gates, but in telling her about the girl’s mention of Maester Luwin and Ser Rodrik, Sansa knows that her sister has come home. And she knows where to find her.
The two women meet one another beneath the castle in the sacred space of their ancestors. They both have grown significantly, ascending to honorable versions of what they aspired to be as children. This is mutually felt and the loving respect is tangible between the two sisters as they embrace for the first time in years. Through their exchange they learn a few things about one another. They learn they’re on the same page in many respects, that their allegiance is mostly with their father and family. They both wished they could have been Joffrey’s death dealer and understand that each one has been on treacherous journeys to get to where they currently are. They also learn of distinct differences. Sansa is a governing woman who has earned her position while Arya is a skilled killer whose family allegiance is second to “completing” her list of names, a concept introduced to Sansa during their reunion. While they haven’t quite navigated how to be with one another, as adult women, as Stark warriors, they understand that they’re both still here and that their stories are far from over.
Sansa, before the close of their encounter in the crypt, informs Arya that Bran too has returned home. Arya’s face lights up upon the news, although the person she’s about to reunite with is as far from the brother she used to know. As the two sisters make their way to the Godswood, it’s uncertain if Bran knows of Arya’s approach as she’s made an adjustment to her once-certain destination. Arya spots Bran in front of the Heart Tree, almost taken with the sight while Sansa displays a look of uncertainty. She’s already experienced the deep change within Bran, but mentions nothing as Arya moves toward him. As she sees her brother for the first time in ages, he’s immediately interested in her homecoming. He notes seeing her at the crossroads. Arya’s slightly confused; Sansa mentions that Bran has visions. Bran continues, stating that he assumed her journey would take her to King’s Landing. Arya concedes while Sansa questions why she would ever go back to that place. Bran mentions that Cersei is on her list of names. This moment does a few things. It causes Sansa to take Arya’s list a bit more seriously while also illuminating for Arya, the reality of Bran’s new ability. In a way it kind of sows a mutual thread between siblings, one that seemed to have been severed so long ago.
Bran, as if he knew all along the rightful owner of the dagger, presents it to Arya. She questions where it came from and Bran explains the exchange he and Little Finger had previously. Sansa warns him of the implications of accepting a gift from a man like Baelish while Arya reacts to the news of his presence at Winterfell. Bran seems to pay no mind to Sansa’s warning as he exclaims that none of it matters, as he doesn’t want it. He offers it to Arya. She’s a bit taken aback and asks if he’s sure. She recognizes that it’s Valyrian steel. Bran replies, “It’s wasted on a cripple.”
A powerful moment as Bran gives the dagger to his sister, but he, and I believe she too, both know that’s not the real reason. He gives it to her because Arya Stark is a true warrior and formidable force, a woman strong enough to exploit the strength of the weapon, utilizing it to its full potential. Important to note that Valyrian steel and dragonglass are the only two weapons known that can destroy a White Walker, and Bran’s just armed his killing sister with the power of one.
After three lost siblings unite at their father’s sacred place of prayer, they poetically enter Winterfell from the Godswood and the castle takes notice. Brienne and Podrick spot the trio, all matured, alive, and together. Podrick commends Brienne for fulfilling her vow to protect Catelyn’s children, and while she objects, saying she’s hardly done anything at all, her faithful squire reminds her that she’s often too hard on herself. Albeit her initial instinct to object, she stops, feeling the warmth from her companion and the honor in the moment. And while two onlookers share in a moment of virtue, Little Finger observes with a slightly different feeling. He has much to hide and much to lose, and the Stark children have not only gained their own strength and power individually, but have now regained each other.
Meanwhile back at Dragonstone, the queen and her trusted advisor descend the stone steps towards the shore as Missandei worries about Greyworm aloud. Dany insures Missandei that there will be word soon and that his homecoming is certain. In the moment the two women proceed to share a brief yet somewhat unfiltered dialogue regarding Missandei and Greyworm’s new dynamic, a playful exchange that illuminates Missandei and her queen’s closeness. Before the details of their discussion flower into the erotic variety, Jon Snow approaches, calling on Dany to observe the dragonglass mine. Jon, Ser Davos, Missandei and Daenerys enter the massive cave decorated with clusters of obsidian, a humbling, beautiful sight. And as if the sheer magnitude of the crystal wasn’t breathtaking enough, Jon leads Dany deeper into the cave to reveal a plethora of hieroglyphics, all forged by the Children of the Forest. The enigmatic spiral presents itself again, a symbol we’ve seen as a calling card of the White Walker’s after a slaughter. It can now be deduced that they’ve adapted these symbols from their creators, a chilling mystery that’s yet to be unearthed. As the haunting illumination continues, Jon reveals lastly, the engravings of White Walkers, eyes colored ice blue.
The scene is intensified with reflection and introspection. Jon uses the energy of the moment to convey the reality of what they’re up against and the importance of their coming together. And Daenerys is completely receptive; she understands the gravity of the situation and believes in the northern king. But in the true spirit of her queenship, she offers her total empire and seemingly even more, but demands first that his knee is bent. Jon’s guard seems to be crumbling, as he pleads to her that his people won’t accept a southern ruler. She reminds him, much like he reminded Mance Rayder when trying to join wildling and northern forces, that they would accept and fight if they’re king did. It seems as though a deep, sensual connection of ideologies is made before they exit the cave.
The four who entered now emerge from the cavern, greeted by Tyrion and Lord Varys. The queen’s hand delivers the news of Casterly Rock with immediacy and whispers of shame. This is the second massive error in Tyrion’s plan and he’s well aware the damages his failed strategy has cost the queen. Since landing on Dragstone the queen has not only failed to achieve progress in her fight for the seven kingdoms, but her armies and navy have been decimated and demoralized. Her position is starting to change as she’s born witness to the failure of the strategy of men. She’s asked for their advice and even proceeds to ask Jon in this moment. And he, like Tyrion, like Varys, all suggest against her instinctual vision to ride her beasts into the fold and take back what’s hers. As she listens yet again to the same counsel she’s heard many times before, Lady Olenna’s words may be starting to take shape, as we see the dragon start to emerge.
There’s no shortage of powerful women in Westeros and while one contemplates her method of attack, another teaches her squire to defend against one. Lady Tarth has continued to mold her attendant into a capable fighter and has kept her promise well into their stay at Winterfell. As she engages in a lesson, seemingly overpowering him in every way, Arya comes upon the training session. She observes and clearly has admiration for Brienne, as it’s without question that Lady Tarth’s skill and strength demand respect from those who’ve born witness. Arya has seen her fight not just now, but back when she battled the hound, a fight in where she won not only the battle, but also Arya’s admiration. Since then, Arya has amassed quite a unique strength of her own, and asks Brienne to train her. Brienne, reluctant at first, submits to her request as Arya reminds her that her vow was to serve not one, but both of Catelyn Stark’s daughters. During this exchange, Sansa and Little Finger come upon the scene, on high, overlooking. What proceeds to take place is an eye opening fight between two unlikely opponents. Brienne, clearly shocked by the skillful movement and effectiveness of Arya’s ability, progressively heightens her effort after being bested a few times. Tarth’s power seems to win out towards the end as she disarms Arya’s sword after knocking her to the ground. Dagger still in reach, Arya whips her body up in an acrobatic motion using the blade to strike. Brienne shows equal cunning and the two women find themselves to be at the mercy of each of their respective weapons. A tie. This pivotal moment shows Sansa and Little Finger that Arya and her list of names, is anything but a joke. It also shows Arya’s ascension into a fully trained faceless assassin who still possesses a name. Brienne of Tarth seems to be pleased by what she’s just witnessed and asks the little warrior who taught her to do what she just did, to which the clever Arya replies, “No one.” The girl has become the teacher.
After the epic duel takes place we’re taken briefly back to Dragonstone where it’s king Jon and his advisor’s turn to descend the stone stairs towards the beach. Ser Davos proceeds to ask Jon rather playfully what he thinks of the Mother of Dragons. And while Jon tries to stay political, his attraction to Daenerys is palpable and Davos comically points it out. As they get closer to the water they run into Missandei and we feel another palpable, yet innocent attraction from Davos himself. The three share in an interesting conversation about the meaning of a bastard, as Missandei’s culture doesn’t have marriage, therefor the concept is foreign to her. As they continue to speak honestly, the two men inquire with the queen’s advisor as to why she’s loyal to Daenerys. Missandei expresses to them a very honest answer that shows the grace and power of the queen and her ability to amass a kingdom of people that choose to be there with her. The sentiment is not lost on either man. They’re both starting to see the magic of the southern queen. Davos comically lightens the mood, as he does ever so pleasantly, asking Jon if he’d forgive him if he switched sides. The peaceful moments are to be cherished in this epic tale, but in true Game Of Thrones fashion, we must remember that they never last long.
The seas have brought one of the last surviving vessels of the queen’s armada back to Dragonstone. Jon correctly identifies the distant ship as that of a Greyjoy and the three make their way to the shore. They come upon a group of men pushing a tender onto the sand and Jon recognizes a face he hasn’t seen in ages, the face of Theon Greyjoy. Jon stares in disbelief as he looks at a man who he used to share a home with, a man who betrayed his surrogate family so blasphemously that it caused wounds that still bleed today. And before Theon can strike up any kind of real dialogue, Jon forcefully grabs him and makes sure that he knows that the only reason he’s keeping his life is because of what he did for Sansa during her torturous stay with Ramsay Boltin. After the king in the north asserts his dominance over Theon, Davos questions the result of the attack on the fleet. Here Missandei, Davos and Jon learn from Theon that Yara is still alive but captured and that he’s seeking the queen’s help in rescuing her. There’s a pause and the waves of the ocean seem to magnify the stillness. Finally Theon asks where Daenerys is, to which Jon replies, “the queen is gone.” His once brother of a sort looks up questioningly remarking, “Where did she go?”
The audience is immediately taken from a mysteriously vacant Dragonstone to the territory surrounding the Keep where Jaime’s informed by Lord Tarly that the gold has been safely transported through the gates of King’s Landing. At this point it seems as though Bronn and Jaime are riding on home stretch of the great conquest they’ve just undergone. Lord Tarly’s son, Dickon, meets the two men on horseback and the experienced soldiers ask him of his experience during the battle. Dickon reveals that it was a bit painful for him to slaughter men whom he’d been aligned with peacefully his whole life, mentioning that he personally knew some of those that were slain. Jaime reminds him that the men they killed didn’t deserve to die, and reiterates the narrative that Lady Olenna’s betrayal cost the people of Highgarden their lives. Dickon mentions the smell, and Bronn, crass and raw as ever, explains that men shit themselves when they die. He proceeds to continue to throw the spoils of war in Dickon’s slightly naïve face when his attention is stolen by a faint but ominously familiar sound.
It takes Jaime only a few seconds to identify what Bronn has picked up and his focus shifts immediately. He calls oh his soldiers, relaxed from the victory and a laborious journey, to assemble promptly manning both their spears and shields. Bronn and Lord Tarly, both seasoned men of war, know too well what’s upon them and follow in suit by amassing the army into a defensive line with the upmost haste. As the Lannister soldiers assume the position, the distant rumblings Bronn spotted become clearer as the sound of galloping hooves and grow louder. As the front line prepare for a shocking turn of events, thousands of Dothraki soldiers appear from behind the hillside, Arakhs in hand riding passionately into battle. A terrifying sight for the polished soldiers of Westerosi who’ve never born witness to a people quite like the Dothraki. Bronn urges Jaime to get back to King’s Landing but Jaime, a valiant commander, refuses to abandon his army in this critical time. Albeit his clearly displayed fear he exclaims to Bronn that they can hold them off only to be jolted into reality by the scream of a beast he hasn’t heard in years. The sound is bone chilling and both men and the entire Lannister military stare in terror as a full grown dragon, mounted by her queen, come into view, rapidly approaching. Daenerys’s face is focused and raw as she looks at her enemies’ army and commands the magic word, “Dracarys”.
In an instant the front line is incinerated by Drogon’s dragonfire and the Dothraki have impregnated the formation. From that moment the destruction spreads through the soldiers of Westeros like a disease, as the Dothraki slaughter and Drogon torches. Wagon after wagon, soldier after soldier. Obviously on the brink of a stunning defeat, Jaime commands Bronn to use the Scorpion, the name given to Qyburn’s massive crossbow created for the soul purpose of killing dragons. Jaime’s unfit to operate the machine because of his dismemberment, so Bronn takes a proverbial one for the team and rides through death to man it.
As the Lannister army is decimated, Tyrion looks on from afar, clearly panged with emotion as he watches his brother scramble on the brink of death. He urges him, under his breath, “Flee, you idiot” as Qhono casually remarks to him, “Your people can’t fight.” At this point Bronn has uncovered the massive weapon, deflowering it by killing a Dothraki soldier, then taking his first attempt at Drogon. As the first shot misses Daenerys’ dragon by an inch, she and Drogon both become aware of the unexpected threat. Circling around they reposition themselves flying straight towards Bronn but before Daenerys can finish speaking the command to fire, a spear penetrates Drogon in the shoulder area, causing the massive beast to shriek in pain. Drogon, however, is persistent and engulfs the machine that did him harm with fire, Bronn barely escaping the fiery path of Drogon’s attack. Amidst all of this chaos, with Daenerys on the ground focusing on removing the spear in Drogon’s shoulder, Jaime sees a vulnerable Dany in his sights. He rides toward a spear embedded in a soldier, grabs it, and charges toward Daenerys. Close to his target, Jaime is suddenly met with the open mouth of Drogon, protecting his mother. Just before fire is unleashed, we see Jaime pushed off his horse and into the water, fire hovering over him as he descends deeper into his potential watery grave. Bronn, once again saves the day, but can he save Jaime from sinking?