Game of Thrones: Book of the Stranger Recap

Strangers and familiar faces meet in an episode that pours more gasoline onto the fire.

Last episode, Jon Snow told everyone he’s done with the watch, and just as he’s about to leave Castle Black, visitors appear that will definitely give him pause.

Finally! Jon and Sansa Stark are reunited, throwing another — and welcome — wrench into Jon’s plans. The former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was due for some good news — not counting the whole coming back to life thing. And where Dolorous Edd failed to convince him to reconsider leaving the Watch completely, Sansa’s presence and future plans for Winterfell will likely keep Jon, the Night’s Watch, and the many wildlings working together for the foreseeable future.

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Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker Review

With a title like Oathbreaker, you know things are about to go down.

And picking right up after last episode’s cliffhanger ending, I expect a lot of things to change in Game of Thrones as characters react to the new development.

Jon Snow is back, to the surprise of just about everyone, including Melisandre. Even Snow is surprised — his thoughts after coming out of death go right back to the traumatic moment he was betrayed by his own brothers of the Nights Watch.

But the best reaction goes to Ser Davos — the one who commissioned Melisandre to try and bring Snow back from the dead. Seeing the Lord Commander alive and as well as he can be, given the circumstances, is likely shaking up everyone’s notions of faith.

For Melisandre, it’s affirmation that the Lord of Light is on her side — likewise in part for the agnostic Ser Davos. For Snow, his faith has been broken having seen nothing of the afterlife while he was dead.

Snow’s faith in humanity has been damaged as well. For all the good he thought he was doing, for all the honor — it resulted in a Cesaerian death by his own soldiers with Olly playing the part of Brutus a little too well.

After Ser Davos gives one of the best inspirational speeches in the history of Westeros, Snow walks outside and greets his men.

“They think you’re some kind of god,” Tormund Giantsbane says.

Castle Black has been one of the most humorless locations, but even Giantsbane can’t hold back from cracking a joke now that Jon’s returned. Even Jon tries his hand at being funny — he smiles more this episode than all of the other seasons combined.

Moving on from Castle Black, Samwell Tarly and Ginny travel to safety by boat. Samwell confesses he’s actually taking Gilly to his father, and I have a feeling this plotline will be crucial to the story later on. For now, it’s nice to finally see how they’ve fared since last season.

Zooming back to the past — yup, we’re going on another excellent adventure with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven — young Ned Stark and a small rescue team fight their way to the Tower of Joy where his sister has been held captive. The Mad King and Rhaegar are dead, but some are still loyal to the former crown — among them Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.

Ned had told Bran stories of Dayne, calling him the best swordsman he had ever seen. And while Ned claimed to have bested him in combat, we now know the truth. I wonder whether the Three-Eyed Raven intended this visit to dispel some of the legendary mythical stories he’s been told — in addition to treating audiences to one of the best action sequences in the show’s history. It’s immediately clear that Dayne was the better swordsman — and the culmination of the fight proves Ned a liar, concerning the outcome.

When Ned rushes to the tower, Bran instinctively tries to follow and shouts his name. Inexplicably, Ned turns to see who had called him.

What. A. Trip.

It looks like Bran might have the power to affect the past, but before he can do anything else, Three-Eyed-Rufus pulls him away. Bran isn’t happy being denied by the Raven, and the old bird seems averse to admit Bran was able to reach out to his father — even if the boy knows that’s exactly what happened. The Raven also warns Bran about spending too much time in the past, but I think the Raven is hiding something.

Could it be that Bran’s penchant for time-hopping will be what causes him to bind to the tree?

In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about — in season three, Jojen appears in a dream and tells Bran he is the Raven. It seems that’s been bothering Bran a bit as they have an exchange which leads to some discourse about the Raven and Bran’s future. The Raven explains he has been watching the world for 1,000 years while he waited for Bran.

“I don’t want to be you,” Bran says.

“I don’t blame you,” the Raven replies, “You won’t be here forever. You won’t be an old man in a tree. But before you leave, you must learn.”

So Bran doesn’t become one with the tree? Perhaps Bran is a type of Raven, or maybe the future — or past — can be changed. I don’t know, and I’m too caffeinated — but I can’t wait for the rest of the episodes in order to find out what’s going on here.

At Vaes Dothrak, Danaerys meets the Khal widows who’ve been sequestered away. And back in Meereen, Varys gives us a glimpse into how he uses those influential powers by convincing Vala to give up information about the Sons of the Harpy. Elsewhere in Meereen, Tyrion tries to make friends with Missandei and Grey Worm, only to find out they are worlds apart.

The last few scenes take us to King’s Landing, the House of White and Black in Braavos, and then back to the North. Each of these scenes is important to the story at large, and I think we’re going to see these ripples resonate into huge waves.

Cersei Lannister is obviously still upset at her shaming, and she’s ready to declare war on the High Sparrow and his followers. She storms a Small Council meeting with Jamie to propose a plan that will send House Tyrell’s army to disrupt the city before Margaery takes her walk of shame. This could be all-out war, and where the Lannisters scheme, lives end up being lost.

In Braavos, Arya Stark continues her training and then regains her eyesight when she rejects Jaqen’s temptation and drinks from the poisoned well. I didn’t think Arya would ever get her vision back, and I wonder whether it hurts the plotline a little because it undermines the sense of loss — but it’s only a minor gripe, considering everything else going on. Is it just me or do I sense a multitude of layers within Arya. I don’t think she’s made a heartfelt decision to follow Jaqen — I think she’s proven herself to be a very capable liar.

Back to the North, Ramsay and the Karstarks have allied themselves with intent to take on Jon Snow and his Nights Watch. The Umbers have come now to also pledge their support, and they offer a gift: Rickon and the head of his dire wolf.

While many have offered up theories about the Grand Northern Conspiracy, I wonder whether this plot point is another cog or evidence to the contrary. Will the North remember, or will Jon Snow have an uphill climb as he — presumably — fights for home?

And if anything can be assumed after watching this episode — I think Snow will take on Snow for the fate of Winterfell now that Jon’s watch has ended. The last scene brings us full circle to the first season of Game of Thrones when Ned taught his sons a valuable lesson — a ruler should be the one to mete out punishment.

As Jon’s final act as Lord Commander, he hangs Alliser Thorne and the remaining betrayers. This also includes Ollie, who remains defiant in the face of judgment. Though he hesitates, Jon remembers what has been done and cuts the rope, staring into Olly’s face and looking upon the dead.

Once the deed is done, Jon hands over his coat and Castle Black to Dolorous Edd before telling everyone, “My watch is ended.”

While some might say Jon is breaking his oath, I’m of the opinion he’s been released from it through death. If there’s any oath he’s breaking by leaving the Watch in Edd’s hands, it may be something much deeper. I’m thinking death has had a pronounced effect on him, and he may have broken from many of the values he’s kept — or he’s finally broken through the ceiling that has kept him from reaching his full potential. Perhaps now, he has finally killed the boy within and has become a man.

And looking back on the other plotlines, we see how untruth is threaded throughout the episode. From Samwell admitting he wasn’t truthful with Gilly to the Umbers breaking from tradition and swearing fealty to an outsider — Oathbreaker uncovers the lies while shining a spotlight on the truth. We may yet see what the Umbers and Karstarks have planned — I don’t doubt that many of the “truths” are actually red herrings. Arya may still have ulterior plans and may backslide once again, and Danaerys won’t be content to be placed in widow jail.

There’s a storm coming, and it’s only a matter of time before it hits Westeros. I’ve been expecting a lull to come — these episodes have been running at breakneck speed, and I don’t know whether the the entire season will be a race to the finish. Not that I mind, but the show might benefit with a momentary deep breath before the season finale, which is set up to be a doozy. We know a full-scale war will take over the continent, but it looks like several major battles will lead up to it — from Winterfell to King’s Landing.

I’d venture to say Game of Thrones may now be my favorite show of all time. If it can keep it up all the way to a finale that doesn’t disappoint, this one may go down in the history books.

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Game of Thrones: Home Review

Well, that was fast.

Instead of going the route of some shows which spend an entire season building up to something, only to end with a brief scene and a disappointing cliffhanger, Game of Thrones isn’t wasting any time.

So let’s just get it out of the way — Jon Snow is alive! He’s alive!~!

Of course it was predictable. Of course it was expected. For the past several days, I’ve been reading reviews about the episode after having seen it twice, and while most have been ecstatic about the show’s current direction, it seems hip to be sour as some reviewers have taken to putting the episode down because they weren’t surprised enough.

I mean, come on. Are you serious?

So, let’s get to it. The second episode, titled Home, brings us back to Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Crow who have been hard at work learning how to save the world. Vision-walking through historic Winterfell where a young Eddard and Benjen Stark spar, Bran looks on with a smile on his face. He’s going to be the happiest person this entire episode, so it is literally all downhill from here. Take in the happy feels while you can, because this is one heavy episode.

The scene should give audiences a bright flash of deja vu. In case you missed it, rewind back to the very first scene in season one which opened with Bran learning how to shoot a bow as he’s flanked by his family.

The brothers’ sparring session is interrupted when Lyanna rides in masterfully on a horse. Lyanna has only made appearances in statue form, so it’s good to finally put a face to the legendary name. Her appearance is evidence enough that a huge amount of lore is about to be explored tracing back from Bran to his namesake — Brandon, the eldest of the Stark boys — who was executed with he and his father Rickard failed to rescue Lyanna from Rhaegar. The kidnapping was the spark that led to the war that would place Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne and Eddard Stark as heir to Winterfell.

The rest is known history.

We also get our first glimpse of Hodor as a young boy. Curiously, he’s named Wylis, and he can also talk. No reason has been given yet for why Wylis changes his name to Hodor or why he’s unable to say anything besides “hodor,” but it’s a compelling mystery that thickens the plot.

The three-eyed crow brings Bran out of the vision, and the ward laments it’s the first awesome thing he’s been able to experience so far. It’s proof he still has a long way to go in his training as further evidenced by the following exchange when the three-eyed crow tells Bran: “It’s beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you drown.”

“I wasn’t drowning. I was home,” Bran says, missing the point entirely.

You were drowning Bran, and you were sucking in water like a fish. 

At Castle Black, Alliser Thorne and his men get ready to storm the room where Davos and Jon Snow’s friends wait for Dolorous Edd and his rescue force. As the door is breached, the main gate bursts open with wildlings flooding into the courtyard. Instead of killing off the traitors, Dolorous Edd sends them all — even the little jerk Ollie — into the cells. I’m curious as to how Jon will handle the traitors.

Will he forgive and forget? Or will he hold them accountable? The choice will determine the status of his return and set the tone for his ongoing character development.

In King’s Landing, the Lannisters continue dealing with the fallout from Cersei’s shaming. Franken-Mountain has been patrolling the streets, hulk-smashing people who dare throw shade at the Queen-Mother, while King Tommen the Overwhelmed summons the courage to ask his mother for help and forgiveness, leaving father-uncle Jaime to threaten the High Sparrow with violence during Myrcella’s funeral. The High Sparrow has the upperhand for now, and we have the makings of an epic showdown.

But who will win?

Will Tommen cause his own downfall by putting his future in his mother’s hands? Is he another thread to be removed from the story the way Cersei fixes her dress at the beginning of this scene? I’m starting to wonder more about the endgame of the series — especially in challenging my own assumptions. It really shouldn’t be a given that the Lannisters will be around at the end of the show — or even after this season — because, surprise-surprise, anything can happen. The High Sparrow and his crudely-armed followers could wipe out all of King’s Landing in one brutal sweep, and that would be the end of that chapter.

Speaking of chapters, the political situation in Meereen continues without Danaerys anywhere close to coming home. Tyrion works at maintaining peace in the city, and the liquid courage has given him a crazy idea — free Danaerys’ chained-up dragons.

Tyrion knows enough about dragons — he’s wanted one ever since he was a child — to know that a captive dragon is a weak one. The Queen of Dragons will need all the help she can get with everything else burning down around her, so it would be wise to make sure her symbols of power don’t wither away like her clout.

The return of Jon Snow might get the bigger headlines, but Peter Dinklage’s performance is the real highlight of the episode. Tyrion braves the presence of two fire-breathing dragons by telling them a story — one about his childhood wish to have his own dragon. Tyrion finally gets to lay his hand on one, and it’s a beautiful moment that contains a bevy of emotions — fear, loneliness, and newfound hope. Considering that Dinklage was probably working this scene with props, I appreciate his ability to create a nuanced and expression-filled performance.

Back home in the tumultuous North, Ramsay Snow gets news of a rival heir when the maester announces Roose Bolton’s baby boy. Assume the worst, then multiply the awful factor by ten.

The Karstarks are working with Snow now, but I have a feeling — based partly on the “Last week in Game of Thrones” intro — that there’s more to it than we’re seeing. The North remembers, and I think the Karstarks would rather have one of their own sitting as warden rather than some sociopath who’s basically cut down the roots, the trunk, and the branches of his own family tree.

I think Ramsay will find himself attracting a lot more subjects before getting the ending he’s due. That or he’ll win the Game. We shall sees.

Theon leaves Sansa for the Iron Islands which are also in a newfound state of flux after Balon Greyjoy’s murder at the hands of his brother Euron who’s returned from being missing at sea. Euron is no hero — it’s said he cut the tongues from sailors because he wanted quiet. Yara won’t automatically ascend to the Iron Islands throne due to her father’s death, and Euron’s presence could be an enormous obstacle.

And that brings us to the big elephant in a Castle Black room — Jon Snow. Rising from the dead like I do when I forget to set my alarm, Jon has a bit of catching up to do now that Castle Black is in disarray.

But more important at the moment is Melisandre’s motivation. While she still has faith in the Lord of Light, she doubts whether her steps have fallen within his plans. It’s a tough place to be — we know what she did to Stannis and his family, but that could just be tip of the iceberg. How many other kings has she put her powers behind only to fail repeatedly?

With Snow alive, what will she do — and will Ser Davos let her off the hook when he finds out how poor little Shireen was sacrificed?

More awaits next week on Game of Thrones.

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Game of Thrones — The Red Woman Review

After months of tense waiting, Game of Thrones has finally returned for its sixth season. We’re about three — counting this one — seasons away from the show finale, so every episode is going to count. Hopefully!

Last season for me was a bit of a letdown. Episodes seemed a bit flat as the show spent a considerable amount building up momentum. Sure, we had a major, major death at the end of season five, but Stannis’ failed invasion of the North, which came to a sudden halt with not so much as a squeal, felt more like an aside or bridge to the other plot points that took a backseat. The writing also seemed a little blunted — where past seasons felt like juggernauts firmly en route, season five felt listless and reaching.

But even when not at full strength, GoT is still one of the most captivating shows on any channel and still capable of winning a crazy amount of Emmys. As fans counted down the days until the season six premiere, articles about potential spoilers and speculation filled the Interwebs. With bated breath, we waited to see whether season six would be a return to form.

The premiere began right where the last episode ended — Jon Snow’s corpse lies frozen in the snow at Castle Black next to the traitor sign his Nightwatch brothers made for him. When your kids ask you what the world was like before texting and emotes, show them this scene.

“And that is how we used to throw shade, son.”

Ghost’s howling calls Ser Davos outside, and Melisandre appears to view the lifeless body. News spreads quickly about the fallen commander. While Alliser Thorne holds a meeting to discuss the assassination and defend his actions, Davos and Snow’s closest friends barricade themselves in a room to plan their exit.

I was a little disappointed that Alliser’s speech won over the crowd — it was my impression that killing a brother of the Night’s Watch constituted a punishment in kind. But if Edd gets his way, we might get another battle between the wildlings and the less-than-honorable-Watch members. It’s worth noting that no matter who wins, someone is going to lose a considerable amount. Death to the Night’s Watch only opens the path for the White Walkers, and crushing Davos and Snow’s friends will remove the underdogs fighting for truth, justice, and the Westeros way.

Further south in the Westeros North, Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy run for their lives, having escaped from Ramsay’s fortress. Ramsay is not happy, having come home from a victory to find Myranda dead and his wife and plaything gone.  Without Sansa, the Boltons have no leverage to shore up forces against a Lannister army come to bring the North back in line after Roose’s treason.

The hounds eventually catch up to Sansa and Theon after a freezing trip across a river, but Brienne of Tarth along with her trusted squire Podrick come to the rescue. Theon performs the killing blow on the last of Ramsay Snow’s men, and it’s a bit of relief — we’ve spent season after season waiting for Theon’s redemption, and it looks like he’ll just about it reach it before getting brutally killed off. Don’t forget: Good guys finish last in the game of thrones.

Vows are made, and Brienne becomes Sansa’s protector. I can’t help but feel each of these vows will be tested to a breaking point, and I can’t wait to see what happens. I desperately want a huge win for Sansa, but I also know the very thing that brings me back to the show is the unpredictable nature of it — and how it rarely gives us what we want.

Back in Westeros, Cersei Lannister rushes excitedly to the port to receive her daughter Myrcella. As the rowboat comes to shore, Cersei becomes distraught when she sees Jaime’s expression and a shrouded body. Lena Headey’s performance is amazing — the subtle facial changes relay a quick succession of emotions that don’t need words because they’d just get in the way. Headey moves from excited to crushed and then to anger before she ends the scene with a bitter scornful smile.

Vengeance is coming for you, Dorne. Best be ready.

You might be thinking — Prince Doran is a diplomat who’d rather talk it out than get into it with King’s Landing. He didn’t act when his sister was raped and killed, and Oberyn’s death wasn’t avenged in the slightest. He’ll probably try to explain how it was all the act of one angry and bitter woman who overstepped her bounds. Trust that she’ll be put to death as a traitor.

Fear not. Fans know good guys seem to consistently finish last in GoT, and Doran is no exception. If you’re not going to play the game, your game piece gets taken off the board. When news of Myrcella’s death reaches him, Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes move unimpeded to change the government. Doran dies as his guard stand watch, and his son is easily dispatched when he fails to understand the treacherous situation of the coup.

Danaerys would know. She’s spent every season fighting for independence with the hopes of building up an army to storm Westeros and get her crown. Drogon left her in a field last season, and she’s been taken prisoner by a Dothraki horde who has no idea who the white-haired woman is. If only they knew they were in — you’d expect their language to show a little bit of tact, at least by Dothraki standards.

It’s up to Khal Moro to investigate, and we’re treated to a scene that’s basically High Fidelity in an ancient time within a different dimension.

“Top five favorite awesome things for Dothraki. Go!”

It’s a good bit of levity for an incredibly bleak premiere, and just in time. The episode takes an even darker turn as Daenarys finds out all Khal widows must live in seclusion with the other widows in the Dothraki capital. Just when the young queen’s about to make headway into conquering Westeros, she’s forced to fight her way back into the game.

To make matters even worse, the entire shipyard has been set ablaze back in Meereen.

The episode saves its last two scenes for its most compelling characters. We begin with Arya Stark who’s been left to beg in the streets.

Sent away and left destitute, Arya must feel helpless with no recourse. Fortunately — and I have to mention that’s it’s also, in a way, unfortunate — the Waif makes an appearance, but it’s no simple visit or charity. After throwing Arya a bo-staff, the Waif makes quick work of the young Stark girl before parting with the words, “See you tomorrow.” So begins the next chapter of Arya’s training, and it’s not going to be easy. Such is the price for vengeance.

The last scene gets us to the episode’s titular character. Alliser gives Davos and his men amnesty until nightfall and puts the fate of the Red Woman in his hands.

“What’s one redhead gonna do against 40 armed men?” one of Jon’s friends asks.

“You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do,” Davos replies.

As nightfall nears, Melisandre sits alone in her room, contemplating another failure. I say another because it’s obvious after the premiere’s final reveal that the Red Woman has been around for a very, very long time. Staring wistfully at her image in a dull mirror, Melisandre removes her clothing and jewelry to be replaced by an ancient crone with sad eyes who must endure another day, who must search for another champion.

Despite the episode’s title, we don’t see much of the Red Woman besides the last scene. But looking back at the one other time she’s mentioned, a line from Ser Alliser to Davos about taking the Red Woman or leaving her at Castle Black which rings ominously now, it’s possible the season or a huge plot point will hinge on her character. Whoever she chooses or is forced to follow may hold her as the key — or become embroiled in desperate tragedy.

I have to say the premiere is everything I wanted — The crisp writing has more than its fair share of quotable lines, and the scenes have been trimmed with precision. The premiere episode picks up right where it needs to and sets the stage for things to come with lots of crackling energy, and the way forward is filled with compelling plot points. Credit director Jeremy Podeswa for the episode’s strong start, middle, and finish. It’s a great jumping-off point for the rest of the episodes this season, and if it’s any indication of where things are headed, fans may be treated to the best season yet.

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[Recap] Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster — X-Files S11E03

A pair of paint huffers discover a monster attacking an animal control officer deep in the woods, and it leads to an investigation that will restore agent Fox Mulder’s faith in the X-Files.

Feeling the effects of the startling revelation in the first episode that the existence of extra-terrestrials was a government conspiracy, Agent Mulder spends a day poring over the X-Files, which no longer hold up to his newfound scrutiny — through new lenses, he sees it all as nonsense explained away by common sense. Scully offers him some sort of consolation — the duo are needed for an investigation of a suspicious lizard-monster.

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