A Dream of Winter
Updated: Oct 5
Despite its hype and glamour, The Battle of Winterfell fell short of its promises. Has the show strayed too far from its origins, or is there more left in store for us in the remaining three episodes?
Let’s wind the clocks back a couple seasons. These writers (read: George RR Martin) wouldn’t dare fail to punish a character for making a careless mistake. What happened? Did the showrunners run out of book material? You see, a guy like me misses the true essence of Game of Thrones. It was never about the dragons. It was never about the massive battles. It was about the viewing experience. It was about going into an episode knowing that one misstep could result in the death of a favorite character. It was the unprecedented viewing experience that would elicit authentic, emotional reactions. Confusion when Ned's head goes. Pure anger when Catelyn unveils Roose Bolton's chain mail. A sense of pride when Arya says she's going home. Raw emotion during the Tower of Joy. On and on the list goes. Yet the one that encapsulated the ethos of the show the most, I believe, was fear- fear that we could lose our favorite characters at any moment, fear that we didn't know what was coming next, fear that I no longer feel.
The Beginning of the End
As the Night King raised his arms in Season 5 Episode 8 titled "Hardhome," so too did the stakes of the show. This moment signaled that a seismic shift in the narrative of the story was occurring. We saw the endgame. That singular moment rendered all of the petty squabbles among families that we believed to be important completely irrelevant. That narrative was all true until Sunday.
After S8 E3, it's hard for me to reflect on Hardhome and not see it as the biggest mistake in Thrones history. Ultimately, it raised the bar to an insurmountable level. It (apparently) implemented a misguided narrative that we now know the show's eventual climax cannot live up to.
The Hope That Was Promised
However, I'm not here to bitch and moan about the (it would seem) massive, massive letdown of the Night King and the Army of the Dead. I'm doubling down. As a logical optimist with a stubborn attitude, I have 8 points of reference as to why there's still hope that the threat in the North remains.
I. Convenient Prophecies:
Mythology and prophecies are as central to the story as direwolves and dragons. They have shaped the course of action for many characters. Stannis Baratheon gave his life believing he was the The Prince that was Promised, a destined hero who would defeat a great darkness and bring the dawn. Rhaegar Targaryen, a character who has been shown once in the show but is as central to the plot as any, dedicated his life to this same prophecy. Even Dany holds onto the belief that she was born to rule the 7 Kingdoms.
While the The Prince that was Promised prophecy plays a more prominent role in the books, it has been regularly mentioned in the show. Here's Melisandre as recently as S7 E2:
And before, here's Kinvara echoing the same sentiments in S6 E5 (in Meereen nonetheless, on the other side of the world):
It is not a coincidence that the show reintroduced this prophecy in S6 and S7. With the Army of the Dead looming, it seemed apparent that this Prince/Princess that was Promised would play a prominent role in the battle against the dead. Both Melisandre and Kinvara are enamored with the idea that Dany and/or Jon are the Prince/Princess that was Promised. After the events of S8 E3, how would either Red Priestess feel now? Was it Arya all along? Is it Jon? Dany?
If either Dany or Jon are the Prince/Princess that was Promised, it is the ultimate letdown that in the living's moment of greatest need, neither stepped up to plate? It took Arya clutching a 1 ½ vs. 1,000 in the Godswood to win (more on this later so don't get triggered). If that's truly the end of the great threat in the North and the dawn has been truly brought, it is downright depressing to think that Theon played as big of a role in the victory as Jon or Dany did.
It'd be negligence on my end if I didn't mention that Melisandre in the first clip, Melisandre admits that prophecies can be dangerous. But are the words of the prophecy themselves dangerous, or is it the people who wrongly believe those words pertain to them and act on them dangerous? I think it's the latter. Stannis was a casualty of his own false belief.
Confounding the matter, however, is that prophecies with correct interpretations have come to fruition in the show:
No offense to Arya or Cersei, but a prophecy concerning someone who brings the dawn sounds much more vital to fulfill than someone losing their children or killing some people. How is it that the insignificant, and honestly more detailed, prophecies come true, and The Prince that was Promised prophecy gets thrown out of the window?
Optimistically speaking, I refuse to believe that this is the resolution a mystery that has been embedded since the beginning of the story.
II. Wasted Character Arcs
Another depressing thought is contemplating the legacy that characters will leave/have left following the conclusion of the show.
1. Ned Stark/All Starks Ever
“Winter is coming” was the phrase that Ned couldn't stop uttering all of S1. Well, winter and the "Long Night" came and went in…one night. All it took was one deft sleight of hand trick (shoutout to Arya though because that was dope) for the entire threat to be dealt with. Does that not feel so unsatisfying?
2. Rhaegar Targaryen
In the books at least, Rhaegar's love for Lyanna stems from her beauty, but also the sense of duty he feels to fulfill the Prince that was Promised prophecy. In a Clash of Kings (book #2), Dany had a vision of Rhaegar in the House of the Undying that seemed to confirm this:
My logical side needs to step in for a second. Rhaegar was noticeably omitted from Dany's vision in the show, so it's not correct to automatically assume that Book Rhaegar = Show Rhaegar. Furthermore, the show has emphasized that Rhaegar loved Lyanna, but they have never mentioned that their romance stemmed from a higher purpose like fulfilling a prophecy.
Where I fail to comfortably assume that Book and Show Rhaegar are different is because of the mere presence of the prophecy in the show's story and the tarnished legacy that Rhaegar would have left behind if his relationship with Lyanna was not predicated on something more than love.
From what we've been told in the show, Rhaegar was a benevolent man. It makes ZERO sense that the prince to the 7 Kingdoms would throw away not only his life but condemn the country to years of violence, just for some good sex. The fact that Lyanna Stark would let him do that ruins her legacy just as much, especially given the fact that Rhaegar's dad burned Lyanna's brother and dad. The fact the show keeps mentioning that Rhaegar was this decent person let's me assume that he had a moral compass, and thus his relationship with Lyanna was more than romance and lust. It was to serve a higher purpose. And that higher purpose was not to rule the 7 Kingdoms.
This will be the one of many more times I'll say this, but it makes ZERO sense that Rhaegar, who would've been a fantastic king from everything we've been told, would know that his children with Elia Martell, who were toddlers at the time, wouldn't be good and just rulers. Essentially, the show would be inferring that Rhaegar had no trust in his parenting skills. All these terrible plot holes leads me to believe that the child Rhaegar and Lyanna had must have had a greater destiny than sitting on an uncomfortable chair.
3. Jon Snow
And that child was, of course, Jon--the hero apparent to the story. A noticeable non-factor in E3, Jon rode around on a dragon for 40 minutes, slashed up some extraneous wights, then yelled at a dragon. Not the best showing from him.
To be clear--in no way am I mad that Arya succeeded in killing the Night King instead of Jon or Dany. Plot-wise, it makes all the sense in the world that a person who trained to kill people succeeded in killing someone. It was a great way for Arya's arc to come full circle. Now, she can turn her attention to King's Landing and Cersei, or settle down with Gendry. Whatever she wants to do, she's earned it.
Where I can't connect the dots is the enormous letdown in all this buildup to Jon's story. Using the Prince that was Promised prophecy and the underlying motivations of Rhaegar & Lyanna that I just expanded on, it makes absolutely no sense that Jon wasn't at the center of the actual battle of the "Great War".
Now, if you want to argue that Jon fulfilled his arc by gathering this great army together as one of my friends argued, you wouldn’t be wrong. I just refuse to believe that Rhaegar and Lyanna risked and paid their lives so they could have a baby who would grow up to have a good sales pitch.
And if you want to argue that Jon was at the center of the battle because he was riding Rhaegal and fighting the Night King, whatever. It didn't seem right to me, especially given everything Jon has been through (remember, he had been dead before). It's honestly painful to think that the Lord of Light's greater purpose for him was to be a glorified recruiting coordinator.
4. Bran Stark
Let's take a gander at the journey of the young Three Eyed Raven. He escaped Winterfell, trekked north, and transformed into this omniscient figure who was supposed to be vital in defeating the Night King and his army. But how did Bran and all his knowledge aide in the fight?
The flashbacks in the show have shown us:
1. That Bran can affect the past. Sorry Hodor.
2. Dragonglass had an effect on white walkers.
Too bad we already knew this! Shoutout to Sam the Slayer.
3. Jon’s true parentage.
Important to the political aspect of the story, sure, but how did it help in the Great War? Jon flew a dragon before he even knew his heritage, so Bran's knowledge of Jon's parentage didn't motivate Jon to get on a dragon.
And when it comes to the politics of this knowledge, Westeros, as Dany brought up in S8 E2, is supposed to accept the word of a shroomed-up kid who just went through puberty, the diary of a deceased High Septon, and Jon’s gut feeling when determining who has a claim to the Iron Throne? Granted, reinforcement in Jon's claim to the throne is easily happened upon in the form of Howland Reed.
But another fact contradicting that point--Bran never would have found out that Jon had a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne if not for Gilly stumbling upon the annulment. Let's remember though that none of these facts even matter because Jon DOESN'T EVEN WANT THE THRONE. He's told people he never wanted power or titles as often as we were told the crypts were the safest place in Winterfell. Jon suddenly having an ambition for the Iron Throne would be as short-sighted as killing off the main villa…. Oh wait.
Essentially, what I'm trying to say is that this is an absolute shit-show. There are still so many unanswered questions that I, personally, would love to see answered regarding Bran:
1. Why show us glimpses of these visions if we never get an explanation?
2. If Bran's "endgame" all along was to reveal Jon's parentage, why have Jon be MIA during the supposed Great War?
3. Why wasn't he of any help during the Great War?
4. What is he supposed to do now? Sit around weirwood trees and creep on people?
If we don't get any of these answered, it makes me think that our time with Bran and caring about his journey was completely wasted.
But wait! I promised this was the optimistic section. My working theory that I would pay so much money to see any part of:
During the battle, we saw Bran warg for the first time since S6. I have convinced myself that Bran came to the realization that the White Walkers and the source of their power still remain.
My intuition behind this theory comes from the next two sections.
III. The Mystery of the White Walkers
Since the first scene of S1 E1, we've been teased with the White Walkers. If they are truly defeated, we hardly know any more about them in S8 as we did in S1. Here are just a few of my frustrations with the current direction of the show:
1. Why show Craster admitting his baby to White Walker day care in S4?
2. What happened to this baby? Did he fall with the Night King? Was he just a baby white walker?
3. Why did the White Walkers return now?
4. Why does the Night King/White Walkers leave symbols and patterns?
5. What gives the Night King the power to raise the dead?
6. Do they have any motivation besides an endless night, because that is trashhhhhh reasoning.
7. If they don't, why did the Night King take so long to kill Bran?
8. Where the hell do they come from?
IV. The Lands of Always Winter
But really, where do the White Walkers come from? In the books, it is theorized that the White Walkers come from the Lands of Always Winter.
The Lands of Always Winter are another phenomenal mystery that the show has yet to dip into. We may have seen these lands in the Craster baby clip above, but it was never officially confirmed. Anyways, I want to start with my logical reasoning behind why we’ll see the Lands of Always Winter.
Thrones is predicated on winning Emmy’s. The showrunners would really pass on the opportunity to have the highest stakes scene in the show’s history in a setting that would be so visually stunning? And to continue with my working theory, the stakes of that scene would (hopefully) be along the lines of this:
After Bran realizes the Night King was only a cog in the machine of a greater power, The Prince that was Promised, whoever it may be, travels north to the Lands of Always Winter to fulfill his/her destiny of bringing the dawn.
It makes too much sense. In a show that has constantly tried to out-epic itself, imagine a hypothetical scene of this hero, let’s assume Jon and Ghost (ok that may be too hopeful) solos a mission north into the depths of the unknown to defeat the true evil once and for all.
This all makes sense from a character standpoint, too. Bran would only tell Jon about this mission because Jon, having gone north of the wall more than anyone but Tormund, is the most qualified. Plus, Jon is the only one stupid enough to actually follow through on this plan. Dany gets to go take HER throne (emphasis on her) with the full force of the northern and Unsullied army and two dragons. Arya’s slaying of the Night King isn’t pointless either. By sticking him with the pointy end, she bought our heroes time, and now allows her to go to seek revenge on someone she has wanted to kill forever. Sure, even give us Cleganebowl too. Give us Jaime deciding between Cersei and Brienne. As long as it’s not everyone concentrated in one setting with one plot-line. Because that is not what Thrones has ever been about.
I mean, that sounds like a grand finale to me that is consistent with every character’s arc and feels right for a show of this magnitude. You know what doesn’t make for a grand finale? Keep reading.
V. Cersei vs. Everyone for 3 Episodes
Spoiler: Cersei is not going to win (if the plot continues the way it is headed). At best, she takes out a couple of characters who definitely should’ve died last episode. She is surrounded by a cast of Mr. Irrelevants such as the sexually self-conscious pirate, the pure sketchball, the dude whose name we just learned but has exquisite hair, and the undead UNIT. (Bronn doesn’t count because we all know he’s going to choose friendship over money).
No one cares about the people around Cersei! They’re all expendable. There will be little tension in these scenes since we’re all rooting for the team up north.
Alleviating the tension even more is the fact that Dany could take the throne whenever she wants (yes, even though she has less men). BOTH dragons survived the Great War! Here’s Drogon from the trailer for S8 E4:
And now Rhaegal in the same trailer:
As Jon mentioned last season, Dany could’ve taken the throne the moment she stepped foot on Westerosi soil. They are Dany’s trump card. Cersei undoubtedly has been scheming the entirety of the past two episodes but the likely way her plan unfolds is she plays out her couple of tricks, maybe takes down a few of the good guys, but ultimately falls to Jaime, Arya, or Tyrion.
VI. Dany as the Mad Queen
The way the show gets a little more intriguing in these last three episodes is if Dany turns into the villain. For her to go “bad”, that means she needs someone to turn on, aka Jon. And that heel-turn is supposed to be predicated upon Jon’s sudden ambition for the Iron Throne?
If you didn’t read what I said before, JON DOESN’T GIVE A DAMN ABOUT POWER AND TITLES. I refuse to even type out my thoughts if the showrunners think that Jon making a play for the Iron Throne is a good twist.
VII. It's All Way Too Obvious
In the same trailer for S8 E4, Dany exclaims that "The Great War is won."
Isn't that the classic Thrones mistake--a character believes in a false sense of security?
The showrunners furthered the notion that the Night King was dead (which he definitely is) in the Inside the Episode for S8 E3 as well.
There is precedent for the showrunners/cast adamantly denying the return of a character. But Jon came back because Jon always comes back. The showrunnners wouldn't technically be lying here either saying that the Night King is dead. It's more of a matter if he'll return. Plus, coming back from the dead is kind of the Night King/Army of the Dead's thing.
Why should we believe the showrunners that we've seen the last of the Night King when they've lied to us before?
VIII. The Staredowns
The End of an Era
Unfortunately, every optimist has a pessimistic side as well, so here are 4 reasons why the threat in the North is finished for good:
I. It’s Not George RR Martin's Story. It's HBO's
It's an impossible task to land a show of this magnitude when you didn't even create the story. That's not a slap in the face to Benioff or Weiss. It's a completely ridiculous task to ask of anyone.
What has concerned me Benioff's and Weiss's track record since passing the book material hasn't been something to write home about either. The shows have contained battles, CGI, fan service and plot-holes. That's the antithesis of Thrones (minus the battles and CGI).
It may seem like I'm coming as as arrogant or spoiled, but the show was able to captivate nerds (like me) and regular folks alike because there were so many levels to the story. Now, the show seems like it's appealing to the masses and kicking their devoted fans to the side. It would seem that the decades of history and backstory are being thrown out for the cringy bar videos.
II. The Lack of the Great Other
Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but I do not believe that the Great Other has been mentioned in the show before. The closest reference we get is Melisandre/Kinvara preaching about Dany/Jon defeating a “Great Darkness”, which we all assumed to mean the Night King.The Lord of Light, meanwhile, has been prominently featured thanks to Melisandre, Beric, and Thoros. From the books, the Great Other this is the detail we receive regarding the Great Other:
It seems way to rushed to introduce the Great Other with 3 episodes left. One can hope at least (please do something Bran. You're our only hope)
III. The Failure of the Crypts
Mallory Rubin wrote an extensive and phenomenal article about the potential secrets or items lying in the crypts of Winterfell. And yet, all they amounted to were some unrecognizable Stark skeletons who failed to attack the main characters? There was so much potential there.
IV. This Perfect Twitter Thread
Read it. The 60 seconds it takes to read are worthwhile for all Thrones fans who want something deeper from the show like we do.
The Faith of the Kevin
At the end of the day, I believe a show's greatness can be effectively measured by the impact it has on someone's day to day life. The more people it affects, the better the show. This show is unprecedented in the amount of people who tune in.
Personally, Sunday night’s are what I look forward to most in my week. During the workweek, my free-time is anticipating, in an extremely Littlefinger way, the possibilities about what could happen in the next episode because it’s fun! In prior seasons, there would be some earned payoff.
During the last 5 episodes (including the episode that should not be named), it seems as if years of history and backstory are being abandoned for the sake of being shocking, or because as the showrunners put it, “it didn’t feel right.”
Here's to hoping Episode 4 gives us fans, both casual and devout alike, something to get excited about before the series ends. I still have faith, because I'll always have faith in this show.