This is the fourth post in a series, discussing what elements of season 5 Game of Thrones were mirror-like reflections on season 2. Previously, I talked about the Baratheon/Targaryen stories and the Starks’ persecutors House Lannister. Now, it’s time to discuss the Starks. (And Stark-relations.)
Season 2 Starks were still rebounding from the shakeup of Lord Eddard’s death in season 1, and of course there were more Stark deaths that continued to cast a shadow into season 5 over the seemingly cursed family.
Maybe it was a blessing that Bran and Rickon were absent from season 5 (since they were unlikely to be killed off-screen.) But there were plenty of difficulties for the remaining children.
What echoes of season 2 were in Arya’s story this season? (Spoiler: a lot of echoes.)
- Arya was on the run after the purge in King’s Landing. It was not safe for her to be recognized as Arya Stark, so she concealed her identity.
- She started her prayer list, names of people she was determined to kill. For killing her Braavosi sword instructor, kingsguard Ser Meryn Trant’s name was on that list.
- She saved the mysterious Jaqen H’ghar and two others from a fire, and ended up captured by Lannister troops.
- Forced to serve in Harrenhal, Arya was the cupbearer to suspicious Tywin Lannister, who quizzed her constantly looking for lies.
- She was reunited with Jaqen at Harrenhal, who offered his services as a Faceless Man to repay her for the three lives she had saved. She could say three names and he would do the rest. He would kill them.
- Arya went beyond the bounds of the standard Faceless Man contract to compel Jaqen to help her escape from Harrenhal. Once that was accomplished, he invited her to come to the assassin school in Braavos, then magically changed his face into that of a stranger’s. That Jaqen!
- Arya journeyed to Braavos, looking for Jaqen and hoping to get a Death Dealing Diploma. She was originally denied entry into the House of Black and White, until the sour-faced doorman decided that the prank had gone on long enough and changed his face into Jaqen! That scamp! Jaqen!
- Arya was put to work, sweeping up and washing corpses. At other times, she was quizzed and expected to convincingly lie. (It turned out that Tywin had been a good life-coach for Arya.)
- She was instructed to put aside her identity as Arya Stark, to become someone else, to become No One eventually.
- Given an assignment to assassinate a Braavosi running a nautical insurance scam, Arya instead went outside the bounds of Faceless Man protocol and killed Meryn Trant, one of the first people on her list.
- As punishment for the unsanctioned hit (or for other inscrutable reasons) Arya goes blind. Cliffhanger!
TL;DR: A growing death list, a personal murder genie, a game of lies, joining Murder Genie University, more games of lies, a shrinking death list… Arya’s season 5 was a nice rewind of season 2.
Popping Meryn Trant’s name off her list was clearly the big arc for Arya this year. It’s not exactly a tight dark mirror image of season two (I really tried to work in some analog for the blindness, but I can’t stretch any metaphors that far.) But clearly all of her Braavosi storyline was the direct result of her interactions with Jaqen during her Harrenhal sojourn.
Arya’s older sister Sansa had always been a contrast to her younger and wilder sibling. Her storyline’s adaptation from the books to the show was handled very differently than Arya’s.
Arya’s experience in Braavos was largely faithful to her chapters in A Feast for Crows, including the emphasis on her becoming someone else.
Sansa’s book storyline also had her under an assumed identity (that of a girl named Alayne) but in the showrunners setting aside her story and dropping her into Theon’s book storyline, they literally had her in the role as someone else, Jeyne Poole. Maybe Sansa is secretly in Faceless Man training too!
Look, just read the books. I’m moving on.
Her re-adapted storyline in the fifth season became not so much a mirror image of her journey in season 2, but a rerun of the journey. With some differences.
- Sansa was a captive of the Lannisters, who had previously killed her father. She was bethrothed to Joffrey Baratheon, a monstrous young king.
- Sansa endured humiliations in front of the court, since Joffrey took out his frustrations with news of Robb Stark’s victories by abusing his helpless Stark hostage.
- She had something like an ally in Sandor “the Hound” Clegane, who seemed gruffly sympathetic to her and saved her from being raped during the city riot. But Clegane also betrayed her to the queen when Sansa needed his silence. (Sansa had been trying to conceal the onset of her menstruation, a condition required for the marriage to proceed.)
- That wedding was on hold since a more pressing antisocial engagement was looming: the attack of King’s Landing by Stannis Baratheon.
- Sansa placed her hopes in Stannis prevailing and freeing her from Lannister captivity.
- The Hound, fleeing from the flames of the battle, tried to convince Sansa to escape with him, but she refused.
- Off in the Riverlands, Catelyn Stark was ordering Brienne of Tarth to exchange Ser Jaime for Sansa’s release. The Lady of Winterfell was taking a leap of faith by trusting the dishonorable Kingslayer and that he would make things right and save Sansa.
- A fugitive from the Lannisters (accused of murdering Joffrey) Sansa was the ward of Petyr Baelish, the man who betrayed her father.
- He arranged a bethrothal between Sansa and Ramsay Bolton (a monster and the son of the man who betrayed and murdered her brother.)
- In her home of Winterfell, now a Bolton stronghold, Sansa endured provocations by Ramsay’s disturbed and jealous lover, Myranda. And awkward Bolton family dinners. She was reunited with Theon “Reek” Greyjoy, the man accused of killing her young brothers, Bran and Rickon.
- Sansa was told she had allies, but none could save her from Ramsay and his wedding night demands.
- She hoped that she could have an ally in Theon, since he was technically her foster brother, but Reek betrayed her to Ramsay.
- With Stannis’ army of Stormlanders and sellswords threatening Winterfell from the north, Sansa hoped that she could be saved from the Boltons. But Ramsay burned Stannis’ supplies, and Stannis burned his daughter as a futile sacrifice.
- With Stannis’ army destroyed, Sansa accepted Theon as a partner in escaping from Winterfell. They literally took a leap of faith and jumped off the walls, aiming for a snowbank. (We can only hope Brienne had wandered over to Winterfell after dispatching Stannis, and was there to catch them. I’d accept that.)
TL;DR: It seems like Sansa is always stuck in a formidable castle, hoping Stannis Baratheon will save her. And he always chokes. Her story is not like the reverse of the previous season, but a bizarro replay.
Although her season 2 and 5 storylines were very similar, at least she had learned to get away while the getting was good. That is, if she survived the fall from the wall into the (probably ROCK HARD) snow bank. If I were in her shoes and broke both my legs from that fall, I think I’d still gamely run away from Ramsay. Like the wind.
Theon “Reek” Greyjoy
Wait? Theon’s being featured as a Stark???
Yes he is. As Ned Stark’s ward, he held a position very similar to the role as foster son. Sansa even pointed out that Bran and Rickon were Theon’s brothers and Ramsay had Theon give Sansa away in the wedding since Theon was the closest thing she had to family. So we’ll consider Theon an honorary Stark relation. Sorry about that.
It’s been some time since we’d seen Theon lounging about in lovely Winterfell. The last time was season 2, when he was inexpertly beheading old men and hoisting up murdered orphan boys as a display of strength. The golden age for Theon, relatively speaking.
- After getting Robb Stark to send him as an envoy to treat with his father Balon, Theon was pressured into betraying Robb and joining the Ironborn invasion of the North.
- Exceeding Balon’s orders, Theon took the initiative and led his raiders over the walls of Winterfell, capturing the citadel.
- Although Theon hoped that having Bran and Rickon as hostages would be enough to secure power, their escape pressured Theon into committing atrocities, faking the deaths of the two Stark boys.
- Eventually, Theon was betrayed by his countrymen, who turned Theon over to the Boltons for a promised safe conduct. (They ended up being flayed.)
- Reek, Theon’s shattered identity after Ramsay Bolton’s extensive reprogramming efforts, was back in a rebuilt and terrifying Winterfell. Reek had previously posed as Theon (don’t argue with my wording) to convince the Ironborn holding strategic positions in the North to surrender to the Boltons. Who flayed them. Like they do.
- Reek observed Ramsay’s methods of securing his power in the North. It was reminiscent of Theon’s previous actions in Winterfell, as well as the tortures he has endured.
- Reek was forced to apologize to Sansa Stark and take responsibility for the deaths of Rickon and Bran, again pretending to have killed them. Reek betrayed Sansa’s request to signal for help, rationalizing that he was doing Sansa a favor.
- Observing Sansa’s example of bravery in the face of their tormentor Myranda, Reek killed Ramsay’s lover and with Sansa in hand, leapt over the walls of Wintefell. Walls that he had previously scaled in conquest.
TL;DR: Theon betrayed the Starks and came over the walls of Winterfell a conqueror before becoming a captive of the Boltons. He has now betrayed his master Ramsay, and went over the walls of Winterfell assisting a Stark in escaping.
Leaving Sansa and Theon on their fall to the snow, it’s time to check in on a different Snow…
- Jon Snow accompanied Lord Commander Mormont and the large ranging expedition north of the Wall. Their purpose was to investigate sightings of the Others, get some eyes on Mance Rayder’s movements, and maybe come across the missing ranger Benjen Stark.
- Jon got into trouble at the keep of Craster the Wildling (and begrudging collaborator with the Night’s Watch.) Jon glimpsed one of the mysterious Others take a sacrificial offering (aka Craster’s newborn son.)
- Off on a ranging mission with legendary ranger Qhorin Half-hand, Jon fought wildlings and was ordered to execute the lovely enemy combatant Ygritte. Jon could not carry out that order.
- Pursuing the escaping Ygritte, Jon got separated from his brothers and endured continuous temptation from the impish Ygritte, who relentlessly tried to get Jon to violate his vows.
- Jon was eventually led into a Free Folk trap, was captured and marched off by the grouchy Lord of Bones.
- Qhorin was also a captive of surly Rattleshirt’s squad. Knowing that he was a walking dead man (figuratively) Qhorin convinced Jon to kill him in a duel, to earn credibility with the Free Folk as a Crow killer. Jon did so.
- Jon was led off to the encampment of King Beyond the Wall Mance Rayder, to receive his justice and hopefully mercy.
- Mance Rayder, the captive King Beyond the Wall, refused to cooperate with the occupying king, Stannis Baratheon. Stannis’ justice was to burn Mance alive. Jon’s mercy was to put an arrow into Mance’s heart and allow him a dignified death.
- Jon was elected Lord Commander, and had to endure temptations from King Stannis (with offers of legitimacy to be Jon Stark) and from Melisandre. She had differently-legitimate offers.
- Exercising his Lord Commander duties, Jon assigned shady Janos Slynt reconstruction duty of Grey Guard. Slynt refused, and Jon executed him. (Janos couldn’t hold a candle to Ygritte in cuteness.)
- Feeling responsible for the routed Wildlings, Jon organized an expedition to Hardhome, along the northern coast beyond the Wall, hoping to bring back as many Free Folk refugees as possible.
- The expedition got into trouble at Hardhome, as an army of the dead, led by some of Craster’s sons (THAT’S WHAT I’M SAYING) massacred the northern freedom-loving violent non-vegan hippies.
- Jon and the surviving Free Folk trudge to Castle Black.
- Since Jon had lost all credibility with some of the Night’s Watch (at least with the brothers who had not gone to Hardhome and had not seen the true King Beyond the Wall with an army of literally walking dead men) because of his pro-Wildling policies, grouchy Ser Alliser Thorne convinced a group of the Crows to murder their Lord Commander. And so they did.
TL;DR: From being steward of the Lord Commander to being Lord Commander, from fighting Wildlings to saving them, from killing a black brother to being killed by the black brethren, Jon’s season two story echoed through season five. It was at both times a repeat of Jon’s trip in season two and his story in reverse. Sometimes that happens.
Okay, enough character storyline comparisons from seasons 2 and 5. Is there a point to all this?
We’ll find out (allegedly) in the following, concluding post.
(Comments are always welcome. Super welcome! But if you want to talk spoilery Game of Thrones talk with me (also welcome) I’d invite you to visit my Safe Spoilers page on my backup blog. That way my non-book-reading friends won’t be shocked with foreknowledge.)
Images from HBO’s Game of Thrones (obviously.)
I make no claims to the artwork, but some claims to the text.
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