Each and every season of Game of Thrones is ripe with upheavals that inevitably change the playing field for those lords and ladies seeking to control the Iron Throne – especially in season 4. Now, as the fan-favorite characters of HBO’s Westeros continue their journey into season 5, it’s necessary to look back at where we last left off with the many players vying for power over land, sea and beyond.
[WARNING – This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for ‘Game of Thrones’ through season 4]
Beyond The Wall
After again coming agonizingly close to reuniting with Jon Snow at Craster’s Keep, Bran continues his journey beyond The Wall in search of the Three-Eyed Raven – the quest that has consumed his life since fleeing Winterfell in season 2. Along the way, Jojen Reed encourages Bran to practice his warging, but cautions him to do so sparingly, warning that too much time spent outside his self will cut his ties with humanity.
While traveling Bran has also been experiencing visions, another side effect of his growing supernatural powers. It’s these visions that lead himself, Jojen, his sister Meera, Hodor and Bran’s direwolf, Summer to a massive weirwood – the Heart Tree. As they approach the tree, however, dead mean rise from the ice and attack. Meera does her best to fight back but is soon overtaken by one of the rotting skeletons, and Bran wargs into Hodor’s body to help. Unfortunately, Hodor’s strength isn’t enough and Jojen is fatally and repeatedly stabbed.
At that very moment a young child appears from within the weirwood tree and throws fireballs at the dead men, destroying them. Identifying herself as one of The Children of the Forest – magical beings thought long gone from Westeros – she offers Bran and his companions shelter, but tells them Jojen cannot be saved and must remain behind. As Bran, Meera, Hodor, and Summer flee into the Heart Tree, the young child incinerates Jojen’s body.
Once inside the tree, Bran is brought face to face with an old man entwined with the roots of the weirdwood – the Three Eyed-Raven. He reveals to Bran that he’s been watching him and his friends for a long time, and that Bran’s destiny has led him here. When Bran asks if he’ll help him to walk again, the Three Eyed-Raven responds cryptically with no, but that he will learn to fly.
Bran and co. won’t be returning for season 5. Instead, his training with the Three-Eyed Raven will occur off screen, allowing for a more dramatic return as a fully-fledged warg and seer the following season.
Jon and Sam have both returned to Castle Black after their adventures beyond The Wall, where Jon infiltrated the wildlings and Sam escaped from Craster’s Keep with Gilly. Now, they and what remains of the Night’s Watch prepare for Mance Rayder to fulfill his promise and “light the biggest fire the North has ever seen!”
But Mance and his army are only one part of the oncoming invasion. The wildlings who climbed The Wall with Jon – including Ygritte and Tormund Giantsbane – remain south of The Wall, poised to attack Castle Black. But first, after joining forces with another wildling clan – the cannibalistic Thenns – they attack Mole’s Town, where for safekeeping Sam had sent Gilly and her baby. All in the town are slaughtered, but it’s Ygritte who finds Gilly and upon seeing the young babe, spares her.
Gilly manages to escape and makes her way back to Castle Black, but the wildlings aren’t far behind, and moments after she arrives there are two blasts of the horn – wildlings attacking. But these are Mance’s forces, descending on The Wall from the north. As the Night’s Watch scramble to prepare for battle, Sam hides Gilly and her baby. He promises to return and before he leaves, kisses her.
As the battle ensues, Alliser Thorne leads men in defending Castle Black, while atop The Wall, Jon is left in charge once the command is abandoned by cowardly Janos Slynt (former commander of the Gold Cloaks in King’s Landing). The fighting in the courtyard is fierce, and even Sam manages to kill one particularly vicious Thenn. However, Ygritte is on a tear, dropping one crow after another, and it’s she who puts an arrow though Pyp‘s neck.
Pyp isn’t the only casualty, either. Alliser is wounded and must leave the battle. Grenn – who on Jon’s command took men into the tunnel below The Wall to hold the gate – is killed. Yet, by far the most tragic is the death of Ygritte. Shot through with an arrow, Ygritte dies in Jon’s arms, lamenting that they never should have left that cave. Her final words are, fittingly, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.”
As dawn breaks it’s clear the Night’s Watch have held off the wildling invasion – for now. Tormund Giantsbane is captured, Sam reunites with Gilly, and Jon – now the de facto leader – must decide what happens next. Knowing Mance still commands a sizable army, Jon goes to treat with him. But his real plan is to kill Mance, knowing that without him the wildling army would fall apart.
At the very moment that Jon and Mance are meeting, however, hundreds of riders descend on the wildling camp – the army of Stannis Baratheon. The “rightful” King of Seven Kingdoms – accompanied by his Hand, Davos Seaworth – has come north following visions of a great evil Melisandre saw in the flames. Promising aide to the Night’s Watch, Mance and his wildling army are captured.
With a King now residing at Castle Black, matters have become more complicated for Jon and the Night’s Watch. And as they burn their dead, Jon catches the gaze of Melisandre, watching him eerily through the flames. Not all of the battle’s casualties are burned en masse in the courtyard, however. For Ygritte’s funeral, Jon carries her body beyond the wall, burning her remains below the weirwood tree where he took his vows.
Winterfell is in ruins and Roose Bolton is now the Warden of the North. His bastard son, Ramsey has taken custody of Theon Greyjoy, and through torture, humiliation, and mutilation, transformed Theon into a shell of the man he once was. Theon’s sister, Yara Greyjoy, had attempted a rescue, only to find her brother a broken man insisting she call him by his new name – Reek.
Though Yara’s rescue was unsuccessful, there are still many Ironborn occupying The North. Roose has ordered Ramsey to reclaim Moat Cailin from the Ironborn, and to do so, he has Reek masquerade as his former self in order to secure a surrender. When Reek-dressed-as-Theon arrives, however, the Ironborn commander refuses to cede Moat Cailin to the Boltons, even if the son of his liege lord is with them.
The tired and hungry Ironborn soldiers think differently, killing their commander and accepting the Boltons’ offer of safe passage in return for their surrender. They are then rewarded for their acceptance of terms by being brutally flayed and slaughtered, as it was never Ramsey’s intention to let the Ironborn leave alive.
With Moat Cailin now firmly under Bolton control, Ramsey returns to his father. As a reward for his service in securing The North, Roose bestows legitimacy on his bastard son; no longer a Snow, Ramsey is now a proper Bolton. The Warden of the North, his heir, and of course, Reek, then depart to take up residence in House Bolton’s new seat of power – Winterfell.
Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish has whisked Sansa away from King’s Landing to the relative safety of The Eyrie, where her aunt and his new wife, Lysa Arryn resides. Their marriage, however, is short-lived, and after Lysa spies Littlefinger kissing Sansa – a dubious encounter in itself – she confronts Sansa, threatening to throw her out the Moon Door. It’s at this moment Littlefinger comes upon them, and after calming down his erratic wife, shoves her through the Moon Door.
Littlefinger claims Lysa’s death was a suicide, but it’s hard for many to believe she’d abandon her sickly son, Robin. The other lords of The Vale are suspicious and choose to investigate. Sansa is asked to give evidence and during her testimony reveals her true identity, having been living there under the guise of Littlefinger’s niece, Alayne.
Sansa earns sympathy from the lords by recounting how Littlefinger saved her and protected her; she recounts how her aunt loved Littlefinger dearly, but that she was a troubled woman; she admits to Lysa seeing Littlefinger kiss her, though says it was nothing more than a peck on the cheek, but that it drove her aunt mad. Sansa corroborates Littlefinger’s account of Lysa’s death, and does so by telling, for the most part, the truth.
With the lords now convinced of Littlefinger’s good intentions, he persuades them to think of Robin’s future. He accuses of them of complacency and says that Robin needs to be trained like any young boy. Littlefinger suggests Robin should tour The Vale and then be taken on as a ward in some great house, his sickly nature notwithstanding.
Before they leave, however, Littlefinger comes to Sansa and asks why she lied for him. She responds that if the lords of The Vale had executed him, she worried what would happen to her and decided it’d be safer to remain with the man she knows. Finally, Sansa has learned how to play the game, no longer satisfied to be anyone’s pawn. She even insists to Littlefinger she knows what he wants – in a word, her – and Littlefinger is both impressed and perhaps a little worried by what a crafty manipulator Sansa has become.
As Sansa is being tutored in lies and manipulation, Arya has been traveling throughout the Riverlands, most recently with Sandor Clegane, a.k.a. The Hound. After failing to ransom Arya to her family at The Twins, The Hound decides to bring her to her aunt in The Vale. Except, once they arrive at the Bloody Gate they learn Lysa is dead.
Also traveling through the Riverlands are Brienne and Podrick. Charged by Jaime to find Catelyn Stark’s daughters, Brienne’s search brings her to The Vale in the hope that either Sansa or Arya would have come to their aunt for safety. While on their way, Brienne spies Arya practicing her water dancing and approaches her. Arya is immediately struck by Brienne, a woman with a fine sword and in full armor.
It’s a chance meeting, but one rife with potential. That is, until The Hound appears, whom Podrick immediately recognizes. Brienne realizes the young girl must be Arya and pleads with her to come with her, citing the vows she made to her mother to bring her and her sister home. Before Arya even has the chance to hope Brienne’s story is true, The Hound remarks on her sword, recognizing that it’s gilded with Lannister gold.
He isn’t wrong, the sword was a gift from Jaime (and in fact one of the two swords made from Ned’s greatsword, Ice), and when Brienne can’t deny it she loses Arya’s trust. Still pleading that Arya come with her, The Hound steps between them and draws his sword, determined to not let Arya leave with Brienne. What follows is a brutal and physical fight, first with swords then with fists. Neither Brienne nor The Hound are anointed knights, and both fight as if they have something to prove. In the end, however, Brienne is the victor, finishing the fight by throwing The Hound over a cliff face. Battered and bloody, Brienne desperately looks for Arya, only to find that she’s fled.
But she hasn’t gone far. Arya comes to The Hound, who’s lying in a heap at the bottom of a ridge, still alive but terribly wounded. Dying, The Hound pleads with Arya to finish him off, as she’s promised to do so many times before. She refuses, and in an eerily cool and collected manner, robs him and leaves him for dead.
From there, Arya travels to a coastal town. At the dock she finds a ship’s captain and asks that he take her north, offering to pay for her passage. When the captain tells her his ship is setting sail for Braavos, Arya presents the coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar and says “Valar morghulis,” to which he responds “Valar doharis.” The ship sets sail and Arya leaves Westeros for Braavos.
Joffrey is dead and his younger brother, Tommen now sits upon the Iron Throne (with Margaery waiting in the wings for what will be her third marriage). Tyrion has been accused of Joffrey’s murder and his fate will be decided through a trial by combat. For her champion, Cersei chooses The Mountain, while Oberyn Martell volunteers to fight for Tyrion, citing unfinished business between him and The Mountain.
The whole court is in attendance as Oberyn and The Mountain prepare for their duel to the death. Once combat begins, The Mountain struggles to land a hit on Oberyn, the Red Viper is simply too nimble and quick. However, as the fight goes on Oberyn begins to lose focus, repeatedly demanding that The Mountain confess to the rape and murder of his sister, Elia and her children.
Just as Oberyn prepares to deliver the killing blow, he hesitates, again demanding a confession. His momentary hesitation is all The Mountain needs, knocking Oberyn on his back, The Mountain confesses to Elia’s murder and crushes Oberyn’s skull, killing him. Everyone is shocked, to say the least, but none as much as Tyrion, who must now face the fact he will be put to death for regicide.
Meanwhile, The Mountain has survived, though barely, having endured mortal wounds from Oberyn during their fight. Cersei leaves him in the care of Qyburn, the former maester from Harrenhal, and goes to meet with Tywin. They again fight over Cersei’s marriage to Loras Tyrell, which she is vehemently against, not wanting to abandon Tommen. Cersei threatens to reveal the true nature of her and Jaime’s relationship and her children’s parentage to stop the marriage, but Tywin insists he doesn’t know what she’s referring to, remaining completely in denial. Cersei then goes to Jaime, telling him she’s come clean to their father and asks Jaime to choose her over their father, and over Tyrion.
Cersei believes that Jaime has chosen her above all others, presumably because they have sex immediately after. But Jaime is still loyal to his little brother and comes to Tyrion’s cell in the night to spring him. With help from Varys, Tyrion escapes, but makes one last stop before he leaves The Red Keep – his father’s chambers.
Upon entering, Tyrion finds a woman lying in his father’s bed, calling out for “her lion” – Shae. The pain of finding the woman he loved, the woman who betrayed him, in Tywin’s bed is too much. Tyrion attacks Shae, strangling her with a chain necklace bearing the Hand of The King’s seal. He then takes a crossbow off the wall and goes hunting for his father.
Tyrion finds his father relieving himself, which is likely the most vulnerable anyone has ever seen Tywin Lannister. Father and son share something of heart to heart, during which Tywin says he never would have actually had Tyrion killed and Tyrion admits to having loved Shae, and to murdering her only moments before. Tywin doesn’t care, to him she’s disposable, nothing more than a whore. Tyrion then shoots Tywin, twice, telling him, “I have always been your son,” as Tywin dies on the toilet.
Varys arrives, informing Tyrion it’s time to go. He stows Tyrion away in crate that’s being loaded onto a ship bound for the Free Cities. As the bells toll in King’s Landing to declare that the Hand of the King has been killed, Varys boards the ship as well.
Far across the Narrow Sea, romance in blooming between Missendia and Grey Worm. For Daenerys, there’s little time for her growing infatuation with the sellsword Daario Naharis as she sends him off to Yunkai to reassert her rule over the rebelling city.
Jorah, however, doesn’t trust the sellsword and is more than happy to see him gone. Above all others, Jorah considers himself to be Daenerys’ most loyal servant, and this had become a source of tension as more men flock to her side. Like Ser Barristan Selmy, former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, for instance. In a very short time, Ser Barristan has become one of Daenerys’ most trusted advisers, much to Jorah’s chagrin.
And yet, while Jorah has certainly been loyal to Daenerys for much of his time in her service, their relationship began under false pretenses. Initially, Jorah was sent to find the last Targaryens and spy on them for Robert Baratheon. He did this in order to earn himself a royal pardon which would allow him to return to Westeros, having been banished by Ned Stark for selling criminals into slavery.
That pardon has finally arrived, though clearly years too late, and by now Jorah’s opinion of the last Targaryen has changed significantly. Making matters worse, the pardon is delivered to Ser Barristan, who having served on the Kingsguard under Robert knows that Jorah had been spying on Daenerys. Being the honorable man he is, Ser Barristan first comes to Jorah with the pardon, offering him the chance to be forthright with Daenerys but warning, “You’ll never be alone with her again.”
Jorah is then summoned by Daenerys. Her demeanor is cold and distant, and Jorah tries to explain that the pardon must be ploy by Tywin Lannister to divide them. Yet, the pardon is signed by Robert and dated the year Jorah met Daenerys. He then admits his treachery but pleads with Daenerys, insisting of his loyalty, begging forgiveness and confessing his love. It’s all for naught, Daenerys is furious over his betrayal and banishes him, threatening, “If you’re found in Meeren past break of day, I’ll have your head thrown into Slaver’s Bay.”
Jorah’s betrayal is devastating for Daenerys, and it’s only one of the misfortunes she’s endures since taking Meereen. Having freed the slaves she must now find a way to house and feed them. One elderly slave even comes to her asking to return to his master, saying that there he had been well cared for but now he must struggle to survive on the streets. Daenerys allows him to return to his master, but as a paid worker under contract. Ser Barristan warns this may lead to abuse, where men will be slaves in all but name, but Daenerys doesn’t see any other option.
And there’s only more heartbreak for Daenerys. Another of her new subjects comes to her carrying the burnt and blackened bones of a small child – his daughter, killed by Daenerys’ dragon, Drogon. It’s Daenerys’ worst nightmare, that her dragons – her children – would reach a point that they could no longer be controlled. With Drogon still on the loose, Daenerys chains up Rhaegal and Viserion in a dungeon below her pyramid.
There you have it, the places and predicaments where we last saw Game of Thrones’ major players. Season 5 promises to test their convictions even more, and introduce new characters to the game, as well. Who will endure and who will fail? Tune in when Game of Thrones airs each Sunday @9pm on HBO.