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‘Game of Thrones’ Precap: The Season 5 Finale Is Upon Us!

We ask our Westeros experts how dragons reproduce, what the worst betrayals of all time are, and why Jon Snow and the wildlings walked back to Castle Black.

The Maester List: A Question to Consider Going Into Sunday’s Season Finale

Jason Concepcion:

Nate asks, “Is it realistic to think that only three dragons will be enough to take over the world? Drogon seemed to have taken a beating from the Sons of Harpy before throwing up deuces with Khaleesi on board. That makes me think that these dragons need to start reproducing soon in order to provide the firepower that the Mother of Dragons needs.”

Aegon the Conqueror successfully invaded the Seven Kingdoms with only three dragons and a few hundred men-at-arms. So, it can be done. But Aegon’s dragons — his own Balerion the Black Dread along with his sister-wife’s mounts Meraxes and Vhagar — were fully mature. Balerion in particular was over a century old and as large as a commercial aircraft.

Historical sources on dragons are few and far between, and what does exist is either fragmentary or inaccessible. This is due to the destruction of Valyrian knowledge and culture resulting from the Doom and the fact that the Maesters, who were and are distrustful of magic and may have covertly worked toward the extinction of the Targaryen dragons, are custodians of Westeros’s learning. The Citadel has an incomplete copy of The Fires of the Freehold, Galendro’s much-sought-after history of Valyria, as well as the only known copy, locked away in a vault, of the anonymously written The Death of Dragons. The great Septon Barth, who rose to King’s Hand under Jaehaerys the Conciliator, wrote a treatise on dragons called Dragons, Wyrms, and Wyverns: Their Unnatural History, but all copies of the book were destroyed on the order of King Baelor the Blessed. In the books, one of Tyrion’s self-appointed side quests on the way to Meereen was to search the libraries of Volantis for any dragon information that may have survived the Doom and the purges of Westeros.

Existing dragon research sources are contradictory on the question of the creatures’ reproductive habits. Some Maesters think dragons are/were hermaphroditic, capable of changing their sex as a response to environmental changes. Just as many disagree with that hypothesis, though. Obviously, the creatures lay eggs. The Targaryen royals would put dragon eggs into their children’s cribs. If the cradle eggs hatched, as they apparently often did, this was taken as a good omen in regard to the child’s natural ability to ride dragons. After the last dragons died, numerous attempts at hatching existing dragon eggs were made, many ending in tragedy.

So, assuming Dany’s dragons are mature enough to lay eggs, will they hatch? We still don’t really know how Dany hatched her three eggs in the first place.

Superfan Crazyperson Power Rankings of the Week: Brutal Betrayals!

Mallory “Mother of Dragons” Rubin: Greetings, my little lords of light. How are you? Still struggling to erase the sound of Shireen’s dying squeals from your mind? Me too. Stannis’s kin-slaying turn in “The Dance of Dragons” was an epic bummer, but it was also the latest in a long, lurid line of Game of Thrones betrayals. Which was the worst? Glad you asked.

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This week’s no. 1 may not be a controversial choice, but you know what was? Walder Frey and Roose Bolton colluding with Tywin Lannister to murder Robb, Cat, and a pregnant Talisa Stark. Their liege lords! At a wedding! After offering them bread and salt to secure guest rights! “He killed a guest beneath his roof,” Bran says in the following episode, while helpfully recounting the Rat Cook parable. “That’s something the Gods cannot forgive.” Neither can we. Especially after Filch’s henchmen butchered Grey Wind, too!

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The easily distracted among us might admire Stannis’s relentless commitment to his goals. The human among us are surely horrified by his decision to use his own daughter in a blood magic offering. And Stannis didn’t just betray Shireen, who loved him and looked to him as a source of comfort in a frequently uncomfortable world; he also betrayed his own ideals. What’s honorable about killing your own kid? Of course, we’re talking about the dude who let a vaginally birthed smoke monster stab his own brother, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised.

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The double whammy! Ned’s brief time with us featured myriad mistakes, including two that got him killed. First, and against his better judgment, Ned trusted Littlefinger to help him carry out a controversial succession plan; then, after Littlefinger turned his coat and handed Ned to Cersei, Papa Stark agreed to confess his crimes in exchange for permission to take the black. Joffrey held court, made a douchey remark about the “soft hearts of women,” and then went back on his word, ordering the King’s Justice to cut off Ned’s head.

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It really hurt to see Shae take the witness stand and give damning and humiliating testimony against the man she’d claimed to love. Unfortunately for Our Man T-Lan, Shae’s courtroom betrayal was only possible because of a darker bit of duplicity: She was boning Tywin! And that, of course, is the other layer to this stinking onion: Tywin betrayed Tyrion as well. He spent a good chunk of time shaming his son for fraternizing with whores, then went and bedded one himself. Hypocritical prick. He deserved to die on the shitter.

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It feels a bit mean-spirited to judge Theon now that he’s missing his man bits and his sense of self, but it also feels totally justified to remember that he wouldn’t have become Ramsay’s prisoner in the first place if he hadn’t betrayed the Starks, taken Winterfell for his own, and then alienated his men so quickly and thoroughly that they betrayed him by handing him over to the Boltons. Greed isn’t an attractive quality in a Kraken. Worse, despite some pretty harsh lessons, Theon hasn’t actually learned, proving continually unworthy of Sansa’s trust now that they’re both at Winterfell again.

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It wouldn’t be true or fair to say that Cersei betrayed Robert’s love by encouraging Lancel to ply his King with wine until the libation dulled his senses so badly that a boar stabbed him through the gut. It would be true and fair to say that Cersei betrayed an oath, and in turn the entire realm, by orchestrating Robert’s death. Think of the chaos that has ensued since Robert succumbed to his wounds. The only solace: Cersei had to learn that hard lesson about karma when Lancel turned around and betrayed her, revealing her incestuous misdeeds to the High Sparrow in order to purge his own soul.

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Say this for Littlefinger: He understands that a good honeymoon is built on communication, honesty, and a room with a view. This whole story started because Petyr conspired with Lysa to betray and murder her husband, Jon Arryn. In time, he also conspired with Lady Olenna to poison the King. So it was probably only a matter of time before he conspired with his own heart to push Lysa through the Moon Door for Sansa’s sake. Doing so just days after marrying Lysa and becoming a power player in the Vale was merely a bonus.

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In a way, Dany’s entire journey began with a betrayal, when the Lannisters switched over to the Baratheon side to overthrow her father’s regime. Since, backstabbings have been a near-constant part of her life. I hesitate to call my man Jorah’s moment of weakness a “betrayal,” because he spied on Dany before he came to love her; but still, he was feeding secrets to Varys while acting as her adviser, and that’s not a great look. Of course, Jorah and Dany only met because her own brother sold her into marriage, though she turned the tables on Viserys in time by allowing the aforementioned husband to pour molten gold over the Beggar King’s head. Dany and Drogo’s newfound marital bliss didn’t last long, though: The maegi with whom Dany struck a bargain tricked her terribly, costing her Drogo’s life and the life of her unborn child. I leave it to you to decide whether Dany’s decision to lock Rhaegal and Viserion — two of the three dragons who were previously stolen from her by a handmaiden in yet another betrayal — in the Meereenese catacombs fits the bill; I’m an animal lover, so I think you know where I stand!

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Being the boss is never easy, but the Old Bear got the worst performance evaluation imaginable when a slice of the most rotten scoundrels in his ranks broke off and mutinied at Craster’s Keep. The Night’s Watch doesn’t have an HR department for lodging complaints, so Karl & Co. went ahead and murdered Lord Commander Mormont. Then the sickos drank wine out of his skull. 

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Seriously, if you can’t trust a paid sex worker to keep quiet about your Dorne-shaped birthmark, whom can you trust? Loras wants to know.

Dishonorable Mentions: Are you kidding? Do you want this list to be as long as A Storm of Swords? 

Bonus! Borderline Weird Mallory Rubin Game of Thrones Memorabilia of the Week

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Faces of Heartbreak: Davos and Shireen

Mark Lisanti:

The “Oh, Wow, Even in a World of Endless Suffering and Betrayal, This Is Going to Be a Really Tough One. Man Up, Davos”

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The “My Favorite Person in the Kingdom Is Here! Surely He’ll Be a Ray of Sunshine in My Gloomy Tent!”

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The “Here, I Brought You a Leaving-You-Exposed-to-the-Cruel-Whims-of-an-Insane-Murder-Witch Present. Oops, I Mean a Going-Away Present”

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The “This Is the Kindest Thing Anyone Has Ever Done for Me, and I Look Forward to Eventually Passing Along This Special Gift to My Great-Grandchildren”

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The “I Have to Get Out of Here Right Now Before She Says Something That Will Haunt Me Forever”

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The “I Think I’m Going to Name Him ‘Ser Davos the Eternal Protector of Angelic, Vulnerable Children Everywhere, Especially From Things Like Blood Magic and Fire’”

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The “Perfect, Sweetheart. You’re Really Good at Naming Things”

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Intermission: Game of Thrones on the Radio

[h/t Pitchfork]

How to Do the “Dance of Dragons”

Shea Serrano:

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One for Us, One for Them

Holly Anderson: If I could choose one Watch the Thrones element to repeat and expand into its own show, it would be that time Jacoby came in to ask Mal questions from the perspective of a guy who likes GoT but has a hard time devoting his full attention to it. Because that’s me. There is always a second screen or a book or a petulant cat in at least one hand while this show is on, and maybe that’s why sometimes it runs together for me as just an unbroken chain of uncalled-for deaths? I feel like I barely registered Oberyn’s utility as a character before he got grape-domed. I remember vaguely enjoying the experience of hearing somebody talk to Dany like a person before Barristan meandered into that alley. And even my wandering mind had the distinct impression that Stannis was the only wannabe Westerosi king with a lick of sense, right up to the point when he let Ramsay (?!?!?!) tear up his camp and got all, “Well, it’s a mite chilly out, better thread my heir onto a spit and roast her to a crisp.” When even ClickHole gets too real, you know shit’s gotten dire.

What I did like, last week, was the placement of the Shireen scene relatively early in the episode, so that we got to close things out with several extremely satisfying deaths. Dany’s husband was tiresome, and watching the Sons of the Harpy meet the business end of a dragon felt like the showrunners were taking a swipe at balance for the audience’s sake: one scene of live burning we did not care for at all, followed by one that was quite nice! It’s a strategy I hope the creative team continues to employ as it soldiers on in its quest to outright murder everyone likable on this show. I have the following suggestions for paired deaths in the fifth-season finale, alternating beloved characters’ unseemly demises with pleasing ends for people we do not care for.

One for them: A jealous Daario guts Jorah in an argument over how/whether to go after Dany.

One for us: In his death throes, Jorah sneezes right into Dario’s mouth, infecting him with a fatal and gross dose of greyscale.

One for them: Brienne gets food poisoning at the inn and dies having never reached Sansa.

One for us: Ser Alliser is sat upon by the giant.

One for them: Davos is murdered by wildlings and put in a cookpot while attempting to return to the Wall for reinforcements.

One for us: Stannis conquers Winterfell but is unceremoniously murdered by former Stark vassals after the battle, because fuck a kinslayer.

One for them: Bronn trips drunkenly and drowns in a shallow fountain in a Dornish water garden.

One for us: Melisandre is trampled by the STILL ALIVE AND ON FIRE FLAMING HORSE SHE SO RUDELY NEGLECTED LAST WEEK.

One for them: Jon Snow slips in a frozen puddle that’s been atop the wall since Tyrion’s visit, falls off, and breaks his neck.

One for us: Drogon sneezes, launching Dany off his back and into a fatal plummet. Whatever. At least we’re out of damn Meereen.

The entire sixth season consists of Arya opening a fast casual seafood chain on the Braavosi docks intercut with scenes of White Walker Darth Maul and the emcee from the fighting pits of Meereen staring googly-eyed daggers at one another across the Narrow Sea, like GOD, WE GET IT, YOU ARE REAL PROUD OF YOUR MFAs, while the Sand Snakes croon a sotto voce rendition of “Sandstorm” in the background and are still never given anything to do.

(Note: I’m stuck in the middle of the second book and haven’t seen any screeners, so when all of this actually comes to pass, please know I am not a spoiler enthusiast, merely a prophetess.)

A Walk to Remember

Ben Lindbergh: There’s only one problem with the Wall as a defensive emplacement, aside from its understaffed garrison of conscripted sex offenders and its lack of OSHA-approved safety rails: It doesn’t block boats. A 700-foot-high block of ice is an effective barrier to attackers on foot, whose only option other than all-out assault is to scale the side with ropes and picks, a method with a roughly 40 percent mortality rate. But find something that floats and you can blow by the Wall like Steph Curry driving the lane on a kneecapped Kyrie Irving.

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Historically, this hasn’t been a big problem: The wildlings are too busy fashioning fur apparel to spend time building boats, and the undead, like the Dothraki, don’t believe in bathing-suit season. But all that open ocean does raise a question: Why don’t Jon Snow and the returning refugees from Hardhome do an end around via Eastwatch — the way they went on the outgoing trip — instead of cutting through enemy territory and trusting Ser Alliser and Emo Olly to open the gate? In Episode 8, we see them escaping to Stannis’s fleet. In the next episode, they’re on the north side of the Wall at Castle Black, more than a hundred miles from the closest coastline. Why did they disembark so far from home? A few theories:

The Pirates Peaced Out: Sellswords (and sellsails) are notorious for fleeing when the going gets rough, and narrowly escaping an army of corpses seems like the sort of close call that would convince Salladhor Saan’s mercenaries to ditch the Night’s Watchmen and book it back to the Free Cities. But this explanation only creates more questions. For one thing, Eastwatch is on the way to wherever the sailors would’ve wanted to go. For another, the crew couldn’t have that many warriors go ashore against their will.

The Wildlings Got Seasick: The Free Folk refuse to bend the knee, even if it’s to launch last night’s dinner over the side of a ship that’s sailing to safety. That might seem stubborn, but when you’re seasick, the prospect of standing on solid ground makes exposure, starvation, and death by zombie all seem like acceptable risks.

Wun Wun Wanted to Stretch His Legs: Even Wun Wun couldn’t have waded all the way to the Wall, and cramming half of Hardhome below deck doesn’t leave a lot of legroom for a 14-foot giant.

Jon Didn’t Totally Trust His New Allies: Lord Snow might be a wildling sympathizer, but even he would hesitate to set a small army loose on the south side of the Wall without going through Castle Black customs.

Walking Was More Cinematic: Benioff and Weiss may not agree on the proper pronunciation of “Cersei,” but they recognize the potential for a dramatic moment when they see one. Abandoning ship to walk to the Wall made as much sense as inviting an openly rebellious consort with a grudge against the Lannisters to a sensitive diplomatic meeting with Jaime and Myrcella. But it would’ve been a shame to squander the chance for a long-distance staredown.

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From the Meereen Sports Pages

John Lopez: It began with an execution. Ever since our so-called Mother of Dragons/Beheader of Buddies reopened the pits (nothing like flying cobblestones to help you appreciate the local traditions), you couldn’t take two steps out the brothel door without getting into a fight-to-the-death debate over whether the Great Games would still be, you know, Great. Listen, you can’t just restart an elaborate killing machine without a little rust gumming up the works; besides, minus the promise of manumission hanging over fighters’ heads, wouldn’t the Big Show suffer serious verve-deficiency? For Daenerys and Meereen, everything was riding on these Games. Of course the audience would show, but would what we see quench that bottled-up bloodthirst?

The undercard did not bode well. Billing it as the Strong vs. the Quick was just a cheap way to sell yesterday’s fish. The poorly matched fight lacked any hint of the dramatic elegance a balanced duel should have. Turns out the only thing the Quick was quick at was dying. Blink and you missed it; the decapitation robbed us of even the pathetic spectacle of teary groveling. But, if you can’t duck fast enough to get out of the way of a fully extended broadsword, you don’t deserve a noble exit anyway — and we didn’t deserve such lazy programming.

Fortunately, fresh blood arrived in the form of an old dog with new tricks, the kind of gritty warhorse for whom we scribes love to sharpen our styli. In the leadup to the Games, Ser Jorah Mormont, the Westerosi Wonder, came out of nowhere and caught us all off guard in the lower pits with a lesson in perfection using little more than some precision elbow-work and a spare helmet. Sure, the beatdown was bloodless, but the man showed heart, passion, and guts — his, if not his opponents — the kind of “fuck-if-I-die bravado” the sport sorely lacks these days. You couldn’t wait to see how he’d do with real blood on the line — and no margin for error.

Initially, the transition to lethal combat didn’t suit Jorah. Tired and sloppy, he struggled with his consistency like he’d been dragged from the nearest pub nursing a hangover. He lacked focus and seemed to have forgotten the fundamentals, including “let them come to you.” It took a couple of steps and some educational sucker punches to wake him up, but eventually Jorah settled into his skin and proved that when his back’s up against the sand pit walls, he’ll reach deep inside and find reserves even he didn’t know he had: This guy’s the dictionary definition of “clutch.” True, Jorah stumbled against the saber — he’s always had problems with the lightweight weapons — and frankly he squeaked into the final two on pure luck. But that’s the Great Games for you. The beauty is that sometimes the only difference between finding yourself in this world or the next is another man’s haughty braggadocio. (Just ask Oberyn Martell.) But in close quarters, Jorah buckled down and dug in: This is a knight who can’t do anything less than leave it all on the floor every time he fights. (And his spear-work was a revelation.) Sadly, the Games were cut short by a bloody coup and a spectacular dragon run-in (from which I barely escaped in order to file this story), but if Jorah finds himself without a queen to serve, Meereen should welcome him back with open arms. Who knows, he might even win his freedom.

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