In Game of Thrones’ first episode, the world seemed pretty black and white. The Lannisters were evil, rich, incestuous villains and the Starks were the noble heroes. Over the past five and a half seasons, the show’s taken characters who were considered “bad guys,” and turned them good. (See: Tormund Giantsbane.) But last night’s episode, “Blood of My Blood,” showed that in a world where the villains aren’t so villainous, it can be hard to figure out whom to root for.
Of course, the Starks are exempt from this conversation. Ever since Jaime Lannister pushed Bran Stark out of the window episode one, the Starks have and will always be heroes on the show. And last night, the Starks were all…well…heroic.
After last week’s tragic ending where Hodor sacrificed himself, we pick back up north of the Wall as Meera Reed drags Bran’s body through the woods. With undead soldiers hot on their trail, a hooded figure intervenes and saves them. It turns out this hooded man is Benjen Stark, Bran’s uncle. For those who don’t remember (and it would be understandable for you to forget), Benjen was a member of the Night’s Watch when Jon Snow arrived at Castle Black. In the first episode of the show, Benjen went off to investigate rumors about the White Walkers, but never returned. We found out last night that a White Walker attacked him and began turning him into one of them until the Children of the Forest (the weird elves that were throwing fireballs last week) saved him. Benjen seems to know more about the Three-Eyed Raven than even Bran, so he could prove to be a valuable mentor going forward. And he’s like half-White Walker now, which could be problematic.
The only Stark who’s heroism is in doubt is Arya. At the beginning of this season, she ditched her old plans of killing her enemies to serve the Many-Faced God, part of which includes assassinating people without knowing why. However, last week her loyalty began to waver when demanded to kill a seemingly innocent actress. This week, she began the process of poisoning the woman’s drink when she had a change of heart. She saved her potential victim and decided to run away from the Faceless Men. Arya’s either back on her quest for revenge (she dug up Needle!) or she’ll die for breaking her vows to a group of assassins, who are among the worst people to betray.
The storyline with the hardest to define heroes and villains is in King’s Landing. The High Sparrow clearly isn’t a good guy. He’s more or less torturing his prisoners in the name of the Gods, and he’s amassing quite a lot of power with very unclear motivations. However, it’s hard to root for the Lannisters against him. The Lannisters murdered Ned Stark and initiated all the horrible things that happened to that family over the course of the show. And Cersei, in particular, has spent the entire series trying to solidify herself as the most powerful person in Westeros. The show has tried to make the Lannisters more sympathetic, with Jaime and Brienne’s adventures as well as showing how much Cersei suffered while a prisoner of the High Sparrow. But they’re still the ultimate schemers in King’s Landing and will cause many, many deaths as long as they benefit in the end.
Case in point: their plan to save Margaery Tyrell. I thought it was going to be a disaster to bring in the Tyrell army to violently free the queen. And it probably would have gone horribly, but the High Sparrow was two steps ahead. He manipulated King Tommen to ally with the Faith Militant, which avoided bloodshed and (more importantly) made him more powerful than ever.
Cersei and Jaime’s plan was ruined, and he ended up getting kicked out of King’s Landing by Tommen. He will now go to Riverrun to take it back after Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully (Sansa, Bran and Jon’s uncle) occupied it. And Cersei will now be alone in King’s Landing with almost no allies in her fight against the High Sparrow. However, they’re clearly not done with him yet. And he’s not done with them either. Perhaps this is just a case where we all sit back, enjoy the spectacle and cheer for whoever ends up as the winner.
Other things happened this episode that set things up for down the road. Samwell Tarly and Gilly arrived at his home and received a frosty reception, which I enjoyed a lot but I also don’t think is important enough for a play-by-play breakdown. Walder Frey found out his sons lost Riverrun to “The Blackfish,” which we knew last week. But Daenerys Targaryen got the final word.
Last we saw Daenerys, she was leading her Dothraki army to Meereen. And…she’s still doing that. But she also found Drogon, who is bigger than last we saw, and she was able to ride him again. She ended up delivering a big speech to her army about taking them across the sea to invade Westeros.
It seems that Dany has given up her idealistic dream of freeing all the slaves in Essos. Her efforts have been met by resistance and hostility in every city she’s occupied, and I’m guessing she’s getting fed up with it. Based on her speech last night, it appears she’s finally going to take steps towards attacking her homeland. And while Dany has always been a hero in the show, could invading Westeros make her a villain?
I’m not the first person to write about Dany’s villainy, but last night made it more clear. So far, Daenerys has only been going city to city freeing slaves and killing their masters. But now she’s going to take her gigantic army—an army that includes a bunch of violent mercenaries and even more violent Dothraki warriors, who only know how to kill and fornicate, as well as THREE GIANT DRAGONS—to invade Westeros. What will happen to Westeros when Daenerys arrives? Is there any way her invasion doesn’t end with the complete and utter destruction of the land? That’s what happened when her ancestors invaded Westeros many centuries ago, why wouldn’t it now?
While many characters on this show vacillate between good and bad, Daenerys could be the first major hero to go straight villain. If she ends up teaming up with the Greyjoys, who hate everyone in Westeros, Daenerys’ arrival in her homeland could mean horrible things happen to everyone else on the show, even the beloved Starks. Obviously, Daenerys help destroy the White Walkers in the end, but how much of Westeros will still remain when she decides to take on the Night King?
As a final note, I’d like to point out that in one of Bran’s visions at the beginning of the episode, this man appeared over and over:
That is the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen II. Decades before the show began, the Mad King pissed off pretty much everyone in Westeros (because he was crazy, obviously), which led to Robert’s Rebellion (along with other stuff such as his son kidnapping Lyanna Stark, but that’s the general point). When Robert Baratheon and his forces arrived in King’s Landing to dethrone him, the Mad King planned to destroy the whole city by burning wildfire, the same substance Tyrion Lannister used to destroy Stannis Baratheon’s army during the Battle of Blackwater. Before he could do so, Jaime murdered him, thus ending the war. But in Bran’s flashback, we saw the Mad King giving the order to burn the city.
There are many theories floating online about whether Bran’s time travel abilities will play any role in the events involving the Mad King. I won’t divulge any details to avoid future spoilers, but I’m guessing this is not the last we’ve seen the Mad King on the show.
At least we already know to root against him.
Joseph Misulonas is an assistant editor for Playboy.com. He can be found on Twitter at @jmisulonas.