Note: The Maester, our resident Game of Thrones expert, will not spoil anything from the new season. But all previous seasons will be discussed.
Shhh. Can you hear it? That galloping minor-key ostinato, still just a whisper, but rising, even now, from every hill and vale and website and Internet forum until eventually, it becomes a pounding gyre of death rattles, crashing swords, dragon roars, wolf howls, clinking coins, arterial spray, raven quarks, sex moans, and wine gulps surmounted by a mournful, wailing cello? After a 202-day shoot spanning multiple countries and involving the largest cast on television and a custom 15-foot remote-control flame-throwing crane, Game of Thrones is back! I mean, it’s almost back. Close enough, anyway, to kick things off with a special-edition Ask the Maester column before the show returns Sunday night.
First things first: So where is everyone now, going into the Season 5 premiere?
Let’s do this geographically. [Clears throat.]
At the end of last season, Stannis Baratheon, his army flush with sellswords paid for with the coin from a fixed-rate loan from the Iron Bank of Braavos, had smashed the Wildling host of Mance Rayder at the foot of the Wall in the battle of Castle Black. One imagines that Stannis’s whole happy crew — including Melisandre the Red Woman; Ser Davos the straight-talking Onion Knight; Stannis’s super weird wife, Selyse; and his ashy-skinned daughter, Shireen — is with him.
When last we saw Jon Snow, whose life King Stannis very likely saved with that cavalry attack, he had become a de facto leader among his sworn goth brothers of the Night’s Watch. Jon is the last living member of the Stark line whose whereabouts are publicly known, making him an important figure militarily and, if he wants it, politically.
Bran Stark and his super-friends are straight chilling deep in a cave under a weirwood tree somewhere north of the Wall. He’s there to hone his powers as a warg under the tutelage of the three-eyed raven alongside the thought-to-be-legendary Children of the Forest, the original inhabitants (as far as we know) of the continent of Westeros. We will not see him this season.
Last we heard of the youngest Stark child, Rickon, he was on his way to Last Hearth with his direwolf and Osha the Wildling. Last Hearth is the seat of the Umbers, whose most famous member is (was?) Greatjon Umber, the dude who first proclaimed Robb Stark the King in the North in Season 1. Whether Rickon and Osha actually got there is unknown. Both he and Bran are thought to have been killed by Theon Greyjoy during the sack of Winterfell. Only Lord Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, and Theon know that’s untrue.
As a reward for his service in facilitating the Red Wedding, former Stark bannerman Roose has been named Warden of the North. This makes Roose the governor of the largest constituent region of Westeros, which just so happens to be filled with numerous noble families whose kin, friends, and leal servants lost their lives in the aforementioned orgy of nuptial treachery. Roose is at his family seat, the Dreadfort, with his serial-murdering son Ramsay (who was bastard-born but legitimized by royal decree) and the decrepit husk of Theon.
After sending his new wife, Lady Lysa Arryn (she of the excessive breastfeeding and full-throated orgasm screams), on a one-way sightseeing trip to the valley floor through the Moon Door, Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish became the Lord Protector of her son, Robin Arryn, the future Lord of the Vale. With Baelish is Sansa Stark, pretending to be his niece. As the last (as far as anyone knows) living daughter of Eddard Stark, Sansa, whether she realizes it or not, is an important and potentially powerful player. Should her presumed-dead brothers never resurface, Sansa’s future children will be the heirs to Winterfell. Littlefinger is in a potentially strong position: He holds the key to the North in Sansa Stark and the impregnable fortress of the Eyrie, and the Vale is one of the few regions (along with the Reach and Dorne) to have escaped the depredations of war.
Tywin Lannister is dead after taking two crossbow bolts to the gut, courtesy of his son Tyrion, while in the thick of dropping a nighttime deuce. He was the most powerful man in the realm. Without Tywin’s juice to back the throne, the alliance with the Tyrells and the peace won at the Red Wedding are in jeopardy. And that’s before mentioning that Cersei Lannister — now a full-blown Kathie Lee Gifford–level all-day wine drunk who has the power to put people to death — is acting as Queen Regent to the young and impressionable King Tommen. Cersei’s brother Jaime has to live with the fact that he is indirectly responsible for Tywin’s murder after having released Tyrion from the dungeons the night before Tyrion was to be executed for the murder of King Joffrey. Oh, yeah, and the Lannisters are also secretly broke. Good luck, Cersei!
I would imagine that the murder — OK, legally sanctioned death resulting from trial by combat — in King’s Landing of yet another member of the Martell family at the hands of the Lannisters will go over really, really poorly in Dorne. Which is inconvenient, because Princess Myrcella Baratheon — legally the daughter of King Robert and Queen Cersei; biologically one of the Jaime-Cersei twincest triumvirate — currently resides in Dorne as a ward/hostage/future wife of Prince Trystane Martell.
Various cities and regions of Essos
After feathering his pappy’s groin with arrows, Tyrion fled to the eastern continent in the company of Varys, former Master of Whisperers. Arya Stark sailed east, too, using the coin of the Faceless Men given to her by the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar in Season 2 to book passage to Braavos.
In Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen is finding that ruling is harder than conquering. Freeing the slaves of the cities of Slaver’s Bay was a good and noble thing to do. But doing so also made enemies of the people who benefited from the regional slave trade — i.e., all the powerful people.
Mark asks, “Why was Myrcella in Dorne? Can you explain the concept of warding from one noble house to another?”
In a land without lawyers — where the power of the state is embodied in noble families and passed along hereditarily — agreements are necessarily sealed by oaths, warding, and marriage. Oaths are fine for smaller-scale things like personal service contracts, such as agreeing to never have sex and to live in a shitty castle in the shadow of the Wall with a bunch of criminals, or that you’ll guard the king with your life and never own lands. Marriage is for the big-picture stuff; it’s how houses forge alliances and how great houses reward the lesser nobles in their service. That’s why Walder Frey was so wroth when Robb Stark spurned the marriage pact with his daughter. Robb’s children would’ve been part Frey (an awful fate, it’s true), and old man Walder would’ve seen his family elevated to the upper echelons of Westerosi power. Just look at what Tywin managed to accomplish once he got Cersei married off to King Bobby B.
Warding is something of a middle path for forging agreements. It’s more secure than a person’s word but less permanent than a marriage pact. A ward, in many ways, is a glorified hostage.
In the early days of Robert Baratheon’s reign, Balon Greyjoy — who longed to return his people to their traditional reaving-and-raping ways — declared himself King of the Iron Islands. Kraken ships struck Lannisport, burning the Lannister fleet in port. King Robert, with Stannis commanding the royal fleet, put the rebellion down in less than a year. The price Balon had to pay for peace, for his head, and for being allowed to continue to be Lord of the Iron Islands was to send his only surviving son, Theon, to ward at Winterfell with the king’s trusted ally, Eddard Stark. The implicit understanding being: Try that shit again, and we send your son’s head back to you in a box.
Dorne has always been a restive region with an independent culture. Its particular geography — rocky passes through the mountains leading south from the Reach giving way to vast deserts; a rugged coastline of cliffs and hidden reefs, unsuitable for seaborne landings in force — makes it easy to defend. Even the Targaryens and their dragons found Dorne difficult. It took nearly 200 years and thousands of lives, including the life of King Daeron I Targaryen, to bring Dorne into the realm, more than a century before the events of the series. Some time after that, Prince Daeron (the future King Daeron II) was wed to Myriah Martell1 and Daeron’s sister Daenerys2 was married off to Prince Maron Martell.
Many noble houses were unhappy to see Dorne suddenly elevated to such a lofty position. Distrust of Dornish influence at court and jealousy of Dornish autonomy were contributing factors to the civil war known as the Blackfyre Rebellion.
More recently, Mad King Aerys’s son Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell, Prince Oberyn’s sister. Then Gregor Clegane, the Mountain, probably acting on the orders of Tywin, raped and murdered Elia during Robert Baratheon’s rebellion and subsequent sack of King’s Landing. Since then, the relationship between Dorne and the realm has been understandably tense. Myrcella Baratheon’s residency in Dorne and betrothal to Trystane Martell were an attempt to reestablish good relations between Dorne and the crown.
Joey asks, “In the ‘Seth Brings Jon Snow to a Dinner Party’ video, we see at the 4:19 mark that Jon Snow is about to announce who he is positively certain is his mother. One, have they already revealed who the mother is in the books? And two, why would this be important to our story?”
The identity of Jon’s mother has not been revealed, but there are several compelling theories. From a purely narrative structure standpoint, the fact that it has not yet been revealed makes it important. In many ways, Jon’s lineage is the central mystery that drives the entire story.
Chris asks, “Are we going to hear from Brynden ‘Blackfish’ Tully again? He disappeared after the Red Wedding, but has not been mentioned since.”
I would imagine we will. And let’s not forget the actual groom, Edmure Tully. That dude was in the middle of consummating his nuptials in some upstairs bedroom at the Twins when the knives came out. Where’s he at?
Where’s the best place in Westeros to live?
This is something I’ve been giving a lot of thought. First, let’s assume you’re choosing to reside in a region of Westeros contemporaneously with current events in the show. So, post–War of the Five Kings, with winter coming.
The Best Places to Live in Westeros Power Rankings
1. The coast of Dorne
Lots to like here, especially if you’re into spicy food and quality wine. Dorne’s particular cultural history means Dornish society is a lot more open. There’s relative — compared with the rest of Westeros — gender equality. Bastard-born children are accepted according to their merits and can rise to high society along with pureborn noble kids. The treacherous coastline means little to no threat of Ironborn attacks (and I’m out on any place where the sea reavers can come and kill me and steal my stuff). Also, with winter coming, southern real estate is going to be a sound investment.
2. Oldtown, the Reach
Fertile lands, unspoiled by war, comparable to southern France; easy access to the river Mander for trade; and the ancient knowledge of the Citadel — all of these make Oldtown a great choice. For me, what keeps the Reach from the top spot is Tyrell’s association with the Lannisters and King’s Landing. It just feels like trouble.
3. The Vale
Kind of like Austria meets Colorado. On the upside, Lysa Arryn kept the Vale out of the War of the Five Kings, so the beauty and bounty of the land is untouched. This is going to be important when winter hits. On the downside, Littlefinger is there and Robin Arryn is a weak leader, making the governing situation there tenuous going forward.
Too rainy and too close to King’s Landing. If things get really bad, you could always escape across the Narrow Sea to Essos.
The land of the Lannisters took some hits during the war, what with the battle of the Golden Tooth taking place there and Robb Stark campaigning throughout the northeastern portion of the region. Plus, the Ironborn have a long history of raiding the coast.
Because of its role as the crossroads of the entire continent, shit always goes down in the Riverlands. The various armies, bandits, and thieves who have been operating throughout the region have basically picked the place clean. The Riverlands is where you live in the south if you really want to starve to death, have your skull caved in by highwaymen, or be devoured by the huge pack of wolves roaming the countryside. Plus, the Freys hold sway there now.
7. The North
Too cold, too many ice zombies, and Roose Bolton is Warden of the North. Hard pass.
Jason asks himself, “Of the dozens of Game of Thrones parody videos that my editor, Mark, has sent me the links to over the past month, which one is the most gratingly annoying?”
The Nerdist-produced parody of Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space” done from the point of view of George R.R. Martin. No contest.