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What the Returns of the Hound and the Blackfish Mean for ‘Game of Thrones’


Shouts to my dude Ian McShane, the best middle reliever in Westeros. He came in, threw 98 on the gun over three scenes, then died. The realm will never see his like again.

On to the questions.

Matt asks, “Is Cleganebowl going to happen?”

This is a question I’ve been getting a lot. Obviously, I couldn’t answer without pulling an Ian McShane and spoiling the reveal that The Hound is still alive. BUT, NOW I AM FREE.

“Cleganebowl” refers to the fan theory that Sandor Clegane will volunteer as the champion of the Faith in Cersei’s trial by combat, setting up a duel to the death with his older, bigger brother, the undead Mountain. The theory is supported by the book version of the prophecy that young-Cersei received from the woods witch, Maggy the Frog, which includes a reference to “the valonqar,” High Valyrian for “little brother.”

The argument against the Cleganebowl is that George R.R. Martin rarely provides the kind of satisfying moment — so common in fantasy stories — in which a bad guy is defeated by a good guy in a set-piece showdown. (THEORY: THIS IS PART OF THE REASON HE CAN’T WRITE THE FREAKING ENDING. One of the hallmarks of the story is the way it eschews genre tropes, and now those are the only kind of moves left.) In the books, the villains kill the protagonists in intimate fashion, eye to eye and knife to throat. Our heroes never get to administer justice. It’s not that bad deeds necessarily go unpunished — no character goes unscathed in Game of Thrones. But the repercussions generally manifest in an indirect and dissolute way. Cersei’s walk of shame was the result of her own overreach; Jaime lost his hand because of war, writ large, not because he pushed a child from a window; Joffrey died in satisfying fashion, but his killer and the motives weren’t revealed for a long time; Prince Oberyn showboated on the 1-yard line and got his skull crushed. In the books, even a clear win, such as Theon helping Arya escape from Bolton-controlled Winterfell, is diluted by the fact that THAT ISN’T REALLY ARYA. George R.R. Martin is, if nothing else, a master at generating narrative blue balls.

The best hope for the Cleganebowl, then, is how (for lack of a better term) fanservicey the showrunners, freed from the book’s canonical road map, have allowed Seasons 5 and 6 to be. In short order, Thrones has given us Benjen Stark — missing since Season 1 — and revealed him to be the mysterious character known in the books as Coldhands (George’s scribbled margin notes to the contrary be damned); Jon Snow’s resurrection following his brief stroll through the valley of death; Brienne’s execution of Stannis (after somehow finding him on the battlefield), fulfilling her vows to King Renly; Arya cutting out Meryn Trant’s eyeballs, crossing his name off her kill list; and Dany amassing a Dothraki army in two episodes while somehow finding time to level up her dragon-riding skill tree.

Perhaps the Cleganebowl is next.

Joseph asks, “Why are Jon, Sansa, and Davos going to the smaller houses first?”

With Karstark and Umber, two of the three strongest houses of the North, already declared for Ramsay, Sansa and Jon don’t really have much choice. Visiting White Harbor, the largest city of the North and the seat of the Manderlys, would mean traversing Bolton-held territory. They’re already taking a huge risk simply by appealing for aid in person. It’s a measure of the respect that House Stark still engenders that Robett Glover didn’t seize Jon and Sansa and hand them over to the Boltons.


Paul asks, “Why did Lyanna Mormont accompany Jon, Sansa, and their army on their way to Winterfell?”

That’s just how the Mormont ladies roll. Lyanna’s mother, Maege, went south with Robb Stark when he went to war.

John asks, “How long does it take to get from the Iron Islands to Slaver’s Bay?”

Yara and Theon are actually in Volantis. You can tell by the shot of the Long Bridge, the ancient span connecting the two halves of the city, which contains temples, shops, brothels, and all manner of sundry entertainments. You may remember Tyrion and Varys passing through here in Season 5 before Ser Jorah ran across them in a brothel and kidnapped the Imp. Volantis is closer to Westeros than Meereen, which is located east of the cursed ruins of the Valyrian peninsula. But not that much closer, in a global sense. Sailing south from the Iron Islands, across the Summer Sea south of Dorne, and over to Volantis is still a journey of months. Truncated travel across vast distances looks to be the norm from here on out.

Khalil asks, “Is Volantis the Amsterdam or Las Vegas of Game of Thrones?

Lys in Essos, famed for its “pillow houses,” is the Amsterdam and Las Vegas of Game of Thrones. Volantis is kind of like the Monaco of Thrones but if Monaco were a robust military power.

Sofia asks, “Watching Season 1 again, I was shocked to see that Rickon also sees/dreams of Ned in the crypt in the last episode. Does that mean that he is also a warg/greenseer like Bran? Or did Bran ‘transmit’ the dream to him somehow?”

I’ve always felt the Stark children’s ability to bond with their direwolves meant that they all possess some form of warg/greenseer ability, with Bran’s gifts obviously being the strongest.

Alex asks, “Can you give a rundown of what makes the Blackfish such a boss?”

If there’s one person in Westeros who doesn’t know when to quit, it’s the Blackfish. Brynden Tully, the younger brother of Lord Hoster Tully and Catelyn Stark’s uncle, is a legendary figure in Westeros, famed for his military exploits and infamous for his stubbornness. Perhaps the last of Westeros’s old guard, Tully belongs to the generation of lords and knights — like the late Tywin Lannister and Ser Barristan Selmy — who were middle-aged men at the outbreak of Robert’s Rebellion.

Tully, like his contemporary Ser Selmy, first won renown for his knightly prowess during the Fifth Blackfyre Rebellion, better known by the jaunty title “The War of the Ninepenny Kings.” The Blackfish is wiley and industrious; no one knows the Riverlands better and no one is more beloved by its people. (Stannis could have learned something from Brynden.) As leader of Robb Stark’s scouts, he was the now-deceased King in the North’s most trusted battle commander, the eyes and ears of the Stark army.

Brynden’s sobriquet comes from his numerous public disagreements with his brother, and overlord, Hoster Tully. As a war hero and the brother to the Lord of the Riverlands, Brynden’s betrothal was to be an important vehicle for his family’s advancement. But he refused every match his brother made for him, leading Hoster to call him a “black goat.” Brynden wed the insult to the Tully Trout sigil and renamed himself “the Blackfish.” Then he left the Riverlands for the service of the Arryns of the Vale, where he remained until the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings.

Tully is correct that the Lannisters don’t have time for a protracted siege. An army of 8,000 Lannisters has 8,000 mouths to feed. In stocking Riverrun for a two-year siege, the Blackfish plundered the surrounding lands. This means long, exposed supply lines for the Lannisters and the Freys. Every day of the siege, the Lannister army would lose men to sickness, desertion, and the various armed parties preying on its supply trains. With the balance of power in King’s Landing hanging on a knife’s edge, the realm will be watching events at Riverrun closely for any sign of Lannister weakness.

Ben asks, “Why aren’t the Lannisters more concerned with the Martells and Dorne after they murdered Myrcella?”

The Lannisters simply have more pressing issues than launching what would surely be an expensive and ill-fated invasion of Dorne. With Tommen under the High Sparrow’s sway, the Lannister hold on power is tenuous. The Ironborn are stirring in the west. Winter is coming. DRAGONS ARE COMING. Large swathes of the Riverlands are out of the crown’s control. The Lannisters are hanging on by a thread, and the only reason the Tyrells aren’t moving in with the scissors is they’re in the same position.

Kelli asks, “If Tommen dies before producing an heir, who is his successor?”

Chaos and destruction. Here’s what I wrote about this subject after Episode 2:


Jelani asks, “Isn’t killing all of those hippies off-brand for the Brotherhood Without Banners? I thought Beric and the boys were just out there killing Lannister and Frey forces?”

Who says those dudes are really in the Brotherhood? Words are wind. I’m dubious until I see Beric and Thoros. I’m betting this is an adaption of a similar event from A Feast for Crows — the massacre at Saltpans — and that this trio of murderers is simply a trio of murderers.

Cody asks, “Where do you think the Hound is currently located?”

If the story line follows the books, Sandor is on Quiet Isle in the Riverlands, located at the mouth of the Trident River on the eastern coast of Westeros.

Brian asks, “What did the rose Margaery Tyrell gave Lady Olenna symbolize?”

The rose is the symbol of House Tyrell. By passing that note, Margaery is letting her grandmother know that while it appears she’s been indoctrinated into the High Sparrow’s militant version of the Faith, she’s still a Tyrell of Highgarden. Since Margaery was a child, Lady Olenna has been preparing her to rule — and not the fairy tale version of governance, either. Margaery knows how to use her public image to further a goal while keeping it separate from the backroom machinations necessary for wielding power. In Season 2, Margaery was unfazed by Renly’s inability to consummate their marriage. “Do you want my brother to come in and help?” Margaery asks. “Well, he could get you started?” She understood that the way to secure her family’s hold on power was to produce a male heir; the route taken was of lesser importance than getting there. Margaery is running the same sort of game now, just with higher stakes.