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Bran’s Visions of the Past (and Future), Samwell’s Asshole Father, Benjen’s Return, and More Questions From ‘Game of Thrones’


If you want a taste of what Bran Stark experiences when surfing the treeternet, revisit Season 1. Ned was the hero, Bran was at Winterfell, the direwolves were puppies, Arya didn’t have a kill list, Joffrey seemed bratty but mostly harmless, Theon had his cock, and Jaime was definitely a villain. Only you can see the fates that await them.

In retrospect, Season 1 was the most elaborate head fake (pun intended) in television history. It was as meticulously arranged as the gears of a watch. Now, with years of setup paying off all at once, the pace of the reveals has become dizzying. Benjen Stark, returned after five years as the character known in the books as Coldhands, is a church bell of a revelation — so big and loud that it’s easy to ignore the smaller chimes in Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood.” Such as: Was everything that Bran saw in his visions from the past?

Ian asks, “Could Aerys have been speaking of the White Walkers when he said ‘Burn them all’?”

I doubt it.

Intercut with flashes of King Aerys the Mad screaming “Burn them all!” were scenes of pyromancers preparing the famously flammable substance known as wildfire. This is in line with book canon. In the last days of his reign, the Mad King hatched a plot to nuke King’s Landing rather than allow it to fall to Robert Baratheon. Caches of wildfire were hidden throughout the capital — under each of the city gates, under Flea Bottom, even under the Red Keep — ready should Aerys give the word. When Tywin Lannister turned his cloak and sacked the city, Aerys knew the moment had arrived. He gave the order: “Burn them all!” But before Rossart, the Hand of the King and Grandmaster of the Alchemist’s Guild, could relay the message, Jaime Lannister cut him down, then stabbed Aerys in the back, ending (for the time being?) the reign of the Targaryens. In the chaotic days that followed, Jaime hunted down the remaining pyromancer saboteurs.

Some of the wildfire stores have been discovered and much of the realm’s known reserves were used during the Battle of the Blackwater. Surely, though, some of the Mad King’s stock remains in place. King’s Landing, in other words, may be sitting on a bomb. And Bran’s visions may be showing us that bomb going off.

The other possible glimpse of the future: The shadow of a dragon gliding over the red rooftops of King’s Landing. In that fragment of a scene — a longer version of which first appeared in Season 4, during another of Bran’s visions — the Red Keep, completed about 255 years before the events of the show, is visible. Dragons have flown over King’s Landing in the past, of course. But the last dragon in Westeros, a sad, shrunken beast that never flew, died about 150 years ago. If the shadow is from the past, it’s from between 45 AC and sometime in the 130s AC. The juxtaposition of the shadow with exploding wildfire, though, makes it feel like a glimpse of what’s to come.

Jake asks, “How did Benjen, a.k.a. Benny Coldhands, survive five-plus years in the lands of Always Winter?”

Strictly speaking, he did not survive. Though he retains his personality and intelligence, Benjen is basically a wight. In the books, Coldhands is described as having been killed “long ago” and Summer thinks he smells of dead, rotted meat. Bran and Meera never see him eat or drink and his breath never mists in the frozen air. It’s possible that the show changed his identity,* along with swapping his elk mount for a (non-CGI-intensive) horse. (My pick for book Coldhands: Ser Duncan the Tall.)

*Until GRRM makes it canon, he can always change his mind.


Matthew asks, “Isn’t a part of the Night’s Watch vows that you will ‘father no sons’? Seems like an awfully poor plan on Sam’s part to admit this to his father. Wouldn’t his father be obligated to execute Sam for oath-breaking like Ned did with the deserter in S1?”

The brothers of the Watch vow to “take no wife, hold no lands, father no children.” Those things appear in descending order of importance. Many, many, many members of the Night’s Watch are celibate only in theory. The economy of Mole’s Town (RIP) is entirely dependent on Night’s Watchmen paying for sex. Which they did, with alacrity, for many thousands of years, surely producing innumerable bastards. The vow is not a code of behavior; it’s a pledge to forswear all claims to legitimacy within the realm. That’s why the Night’s Watch has functioned, for much of its existence, as a place of exile for powerful figures who are too dangerous to ignore and too notable or beloved to execute.

Sam left Castle Black with the Lord Commander Snow’s blessing, so he’s not a deserter.

Nick asks, “What is Randyll Tarly’s problem?”

In the books, Stannis refers to Randyll Tarly as “an able soldier,” which is the most effusive, and possibly only, praise the Season 5 Father of the Year ever gave. Tarly is a famed hard-ass and a respected military leader. He defeated Robert Baratheon at the Battle of Ashford, the only military loss of the future king’s career. (Mace Tyrell, then as ever good for nothing, took the credit.) Like many fathers with sons who didn’t follow in their footsteps, Lord Randyll isn’t really mad; he’s just disappointed.

As Randyll’s heir, Sam was set to inherit the castle of Horn Hill and all its attendant titles and lands — everything except, of course, his father’s famed martial ability. Randyll hired numerous masters-at-arms and even a pair of animal-sacrificing Qarthian warlocks in an attempt to awaken Sam’s inner soldier. But it was no good; the boy’s love for books and cake was too strong. (And who can blame him? Both books and cake are dope.) In Sam, Randyll glimpsed the potential ruin of House Tarly and the loss of the 500-year-old Valyrian blade Heartsbane. He gave Sam an ultimatum: Take the black so that his younger brother, Dickon Tarly, can become heir, or suffer a tragic hunting accident. As Randyll sees it, Sam’s return threatens the stability of the family succession.

Sam asks, “Sam’s dad didn’t think much of the nerdy role of Maester for his son. As a pretend Maester, how does that make you feel as a man?”

Randyll Tarly’s leathery old ass can come get these hands.

Eric asks, “How many Valyrian swords are there and who owns them?”

These are all the known Valyrian weapons seen on the show:

  • Longclaw (bastard sword): gifted to Jon Snow by Jeor Mormont
  • Heartsbane (two-handed greatsword): the Tarly family sword
  • Oathkeeper: one of the two swords forged from Ice, the Stark family blade; currently owned by Lady Brienne of Tarth
  • Widow’s Wail: the other sword forged from Ice; formerly King Joffrey’s, the sword is likely in the possession of King Tommen
  • Unnamed dagger: formerly owned by Littlefinger; used for the attempted assassination of Bran Stark in Season 1

And these are the ones mentioned in the books:

  • Red Rain: allegedly stolen from the Reynes (formerly of Castamere, now all dead); it is the current house sword of the Drumms of Old Wyk in the Iron Islands
  • Nightfall: sword of House Harlaw of Ten Towers in the Iron Islands
  • Lady Forlorn: the sword of Lyn Corbray of the Vale
  • Rare Valyrian Steel Arakh: the weapon of Windblown sellsword company captain Caggo Corpsekiller
  • Valyrian axe: rumored to be part of the treasure horde of House Celtigar of Claw Isle

There are also several Valyrian weapons with unknown fates. These include Aegon the Conqueror’s sword Blackfyre; his sister-wife Visenya’s sword Dark Sister (last owned by Brynden Rivers, a.k.a. the Three-Eyed Raven); and Lamentation, house sword of the Royces and lost during the Dance of the Dragons.


Kyle asks, “Does Jaime being relieved of his duties as a member of the Kingsguard free him up to be Lord of Casterly Rock?”

Yes, and not a moment too soon. The Lannister line is hanging on by a thread. Tyrion is a kinslayer. Kevan is old and his son and heir, Lancel, has a seven-pointed star carved into his forehead. What the Lannisters need, long term, is for Jaime to get married and start producing legitimate children. Otherwise, the family seat, which Lann the Clever winkled from the Casterlys during the Age of Heroes, will pass to Tommen, legally a Baratheon, through Cersei. Of course, the king could pass the Rock’s lands and titles back to some anonymous Lannister cousin, except that Tommen has suddenly gone all pious and no one knows what he could do next.

Max asks, “Is the Mountain the only member of the Kingsguard now?”

No. When King Tommen made his wrestling heel turn on the steps of the Sept of Baelor, he was flanked by four members of the Kingsguard, the seven-pointed star already etched into their breastplates. (Shouts to the artisans on the Street of Steel!) Three of them are known. In Season 4, Jaime mentions Ser Preston Greenfield and Ser Boros Blount by name while making the security arrangements for the Purple Wedding. And then there’s Ser Arys Oakheart, who accompanied Princess Myrcella to Dorne and returned to King’s Landing in Season 5. The fourth is probably Ser Pounce warging into Bronn. (KIDDING.)

Chris asks, “What is the going rate for a Faceless Men hit?”

The price shifts in accordance with the means of the person asking for the service and the prominence of the target. Early in the books, Littlefinger, then Master of Coin, says that hiring the Faceless Men to assassinate a lowly merchant would be twice as expensive as hiring an entire army of sellswords, adding, “I don’t dare think what they might ask for a princess.” The assassins would charge much less to take out an actress at the request of her struggling colleague, but the price would still be steep.

Billy asks, “Are the Lannisters and the Boltons still in alliance?”

No. It’s been off since Littlefinger told Cersei that Sansa Stark would soon marry Ramsay Bolton. “I will skin [Roose Bolton] and his bastard like that wretch on their bloody sigil,” Cersei hissed. You have to admit, that particular piece of chaos-dealing betrayal was one of Littlefinger’s better moves. Revenge will have to wait, though; the Lannisters have plenty on their plates, including a resurgent Blackfish at Riverrun, a religious insurgency in the capital, and an ongoing cold war with the Tyrells.