“I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
History is essential in the Game of Thrones world. It’s a world in which your lineage determines your standing, in which people are bound by the wheel of history at every turn. Although many have tried, breaking the wheel is an extremely difficult task to accomplish because you’re essentially fighting against powerful forces, forces that have congregated over the years to be what they are now. As we move into the final two episodes of season five (and beyond), the clash between past and future is moving to the forefront.
Daenerys, the person behind the quote I used to open the review, is attempting to figure out what she wants for her future, and the show does a fantastic job of exploring her dynamic with Tyrion in this episode. It’s a pairing that has been a long time coming, and their central conversation strikes at many of the major themes of the hour. “There’s more to life than Westeros,” Tyrion tells her. “Perhaps this is where you belong, where you can do the most good.” He then later refers to Dany and himself as “two terrible children of two terrible fathers”. Tyrion’s appeal is an acknowledgment of history, but it also leads to an encouraging view of the future, to a new way of looking forward.
The other major exploration of history vs. future revolves around Jon Snow and the wildlings, and what makes this more effective than last season’s **“The Watchers on the Wall” is the fact that this scenario seems grounded in more lead-up characterization. Whereas that episode seemed to mainly be focused on the battle, this one zeroes in on the central conflict for the wildlings–join with the Night’s Watch or not–before unleashing hell on the world. It’s an intriguing set up because it pits a history of conflict versus a hope for survival in the future, and it’s the latter that Jon attempts to appeal to. “This isn’t about friendship; this is about survival,” he says. “I’m not asking you to forget your dead. I’ll never forget mine. I lost fifty brothers the night Mance attacked the Wall. But I’m asking you to think of your children now. They’ll never have children of their own if we don’t band together now.” It’s a tough call for them, but it’s a conflict that plays out in some form for many of the characters in the show. And here, the episode is asking whether the wildlings can break the wheel.
Of course, the destruction that ensues is just a big “Fuck you” to all those themes. The White Walkers and their zombie/wight army are a legitimate threat to this universe, and they take the show by storm at the end of this episode. It’s the most masterfully crafted and most exhilarating fifteen minutes this show has ever produced, and it’s truly a marvel to watch stuff like the giant destroying shit or Jon killing a White Walker with his Valryian steel sword or the Night’s King resurrecting the dead. It’s a propulsive, ambitious, and brilliant final sequence, and it’s sure to completely shake up the dynamic of the show. Winter just came, folks, and nothing will ever be the same.
**Not that that episode was bad, of course. It was my favorite episode of season four.
-If this is the 8th episode, then how the hell are they supposed to top this next week? It’s their famous penultimate episode!
-The aerial shots are breathtaking.
-That sequence in and of itself trumps anything The Walking Dead has ever done.
-The last two episodes were, in my opinion, two pretty mediocre episodes. Well, this one just saved the season.
– “Sometimes a man has to make hard choices,” Sam tells Olly, and this conversation certainly ties into the themes mentioned above.
-It’s Cersei’s history right now that’s leaving her in the position she’s in. Sometimes, you don’t even have a choice when it comes to staying locked in the wheel of history.
-Nice scene for Sansa and Theon/Reek in this episode (certainly a significant step up from the way the storyline’s been handled so far). It’s a pretty important reveal as well, so I’m a bit more interested to see how it all plays out.
-Arya’s taking on a new identity as Lana, the oyster cart girl. A change in identity is, of course, a struggle between history and future.
Photo credit: HBO, Game of Thrones