After a few sips of the finest Arbor gold and a great deal of bodies hitting the floor, the opening credits roll and the dead come marching out of the cold, lifeless north. Winter is here. What follows these opening scenes was simply one of the best episodes in the entire series. One that gives us an intricate picture of death and what it looks like to triumph over it. Which, of course, it’s not always an easy image to see and come to terms with.
There are but a few episodes remaining in our story. The final two seasons are slated to be shorter in length and they’re guaranteed to close this chapter of Westeros by the end of next year. The end has begun, but so too has the promise of new life. As the darkness closes in, the shades of light can still be found flickering. Fire dances in the ice. And it just feels like a relief, right? Arya is bringing justice, Starks are ruling in Winterfell, Daenerys is in Westeros, Sam is learning… crap. As death continues to march and is still to spread further, we can see the first threads of the future beginning to mend.
The pieces are in place for a heck of a final act, though. And as you can imagine, it’s not going to be pretty. I loved the Hound’s remorse for a father and child long dead in this episode, a quiet moment in the blistering landscape of war. A man who has brought so much death and seen so much destruction still cannot escape the regret of lost innocence. It was, in fact, stolen from him as a child as well. Yet, he lives. He therefore rightfully ponders, as we all have at some point, why some men live and others die seemingly without a passing thought to their morality. Good is not bedfellows with death. To overcome such a thing, the test will surely be great.
“I understand we’re in a war for survival. I understand whoever loses, dies. I understand that whoever wins could launch a dynasty that could last a thousand years.” – Cersei Lannister
The majority of our characters have come to see that they are no longer fighting for a throne. Cersei once said, “in the game of thrones you win or you die.” Now our players see those as two pretty poor options. So, what is the greater goal? Jon Snow has taken up the mantel of honor, though with a bit more wisdom than his family members (hopefully). Arya fights for justice, but it’s really the revenge she has long whispered of. The Hound fights for a newfound goodness, Daenerys for destiny, Cersei for power, the list goes on. But there’s now something greater at stake for everyone. To get it, you only have to conquer the grave.
Death is usually portrayed as coming last in our culture. You are born, you live, you watch HBO, you die. But the Christocentric view tells us that death is never the end. Christ conquered the grave won the war for survival. The spoils are grace and freedom and life that is eternal. No sweat, right? Not quite. As the story of the war for Westeros plays out, it shows us the high cost of defeating death. The song of ice and fire sings of so much agony, pain, loss, and darkness. Much like the cross, the sting is lasting and makes for a dismal present.
This episode made several mentions of the kingdoms of men. Cersei is “Queen” of the seven, no more like three, kingdoms. The houses of Umber and Karstark were nearly auctioned off because of past sin. Castles like Dragonstone and Eastwatch by the Sea stand as crucial points in the war. But unlike before when kings fought for their claims, now there’s a pall of uselessness that accompanies the thoughts of these seats made of stone and iron. There’s a call of something more amidst the freezing onset of winter. You can see it on the faces of Jon and Daenerys and even the Hound. It’s a longing for eternal life, a future brighter than the dark present and not marred by death. It’s a dream of spring to come.