Game of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 4 “Book of the Stranger”

25 February, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

I always watch the opening credits sequence with interest. I like the music, and I noticed a big difference going from watching episodes on my iPad (via Foxtel Go, their on-demand app – which I could not find any easy way to stream to a TV) to watching on a TV from DVDs. The bass sound is of course much fuller from my home sound system, complete with subwoofer, than from iPad speakers. It really makes watching these episodes more of an experience.

Also, while watching the opening credits, I look with interest to see the various geographical places featured. I noticed Pyke, in the Iron Islands, appearing for this episode. And then I noticed a very odd thing. Normally, in my memory, the map looks flattish, or perhaps curved convexly like a globe, as it should. But in this episode I noticed quite forcefully that the map appeared to be concave, as if the world had been turned inside-out. I wonder if this is merely my memory and eyes playing tricks on me, or if this was indeed done deliberately, to sort of symbolically represent a change in the world order, and perhaps a significant redirection of the flow of events.

Castle Black: Oh. It looks like Jon didn’t simply walk out of the gates of Castle Black, never to return. In the opening shot we see a sword handle, and I think I recognise it as Jon’s sword, sitting on a table in a dim room. Someone comes up to the sword and picks it up carefully. For a moment I think Jon has also left his sword behind in Castle Black, and reflect on what a stupid idea that is – walking off into the snow without his sword. And indeed, as the camera backs away, we see that it is Edd holding the sword. Jon, you idiot!

But then the camera turns and we see Jon is there in the room as well. Either he’s changed his mind, or or walked off into the snow and then suddenly remembered he forgot to take his sword and came back for it. Dialogue clears things up, as Ed begs Jon to stay, saying they were at Hardhome together and saw the White Walkers, and they know they’re coming, and how can Jon leave them now? He swore an oath, to devote his life to the Night’s Watch. Jon points out that he already gave his life once for the night’s Watch. Now he’s back, and he feels no obligation to do it again.

Suddenly there’s a commotion and a call to open the fort gates. Outside are Sansa, Brienne, and Podrick! They walk in, through blowing snow. Jon emerges to see what’s happening, and he and Sansa recognise one another. After a moment of disbelief, he races down to hug her. The scene cuts to Sansa and Jon having some hot soup inside, presumably after they’ve told each other their stories of what’s happened over the intervening years. Sansa asks what Jon will do now, and he says he doesn’t know. Sansa has an idea! They can go retake Winterfell from the Boltons! Jon is reluctant, saying he’s been fighting ever since he left Winterfell and he’s sick of it. Sansa, showing a surprising amount of backbone, declares she’ll take Winterfell with or without Jon’s help.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 3 “Oathbreaker”

19 February, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

North of The Wall: Bran and the Three-eyed Raven are once again in a visit to the past sequence. They see some young men approach a small tower, guarded by two formidable looking men in armour. The approaching group is led by a young Ned Stark, who Bran recognises as his father. The Raven says the man at his side is Lord Reed, father of Meera (and the late Jojen). Okay, that’s interesting. The guards don helmets and prepare for a fight as the group approaches, wielding two swords each.

Ned walks up and exchanges some words with the guards. He says something about the Mad King being defeated, and asks why the guards were not present at the battle. They respond that they were ordered to guard this tower. Ned asks where his sister (Lyanna, who we saw last episode) is. Rather than answer, the guards start to fight. The presumption must be that she is being held in the tower, but for what reason is not clear.

In the fight, pretty much everyone is wounded and falls, leaving Ned facing one of the guards. Bran comments to the Raven that he heard his father tell this story a hundred times, of how he defeated this swordsman at the tower. But Bran is puzzled, because he can see that the guard is a far superior swordsman to his father at this age, and he wonders how his father can possibly win. Indeed, the guard disarms Ned, and is about to strike a killing blow… when the wounded Lord Reed stands up and stabs the guard in the back with a dagger, taking him down. Ned stands with relief as he is surrounded by the dead and dying. Bran is shocked – he realises his father has lied, and that the great foe he bragged about defeating in combat was actually stabbed in the back by Reed.

Ned and Reed start running into the tower. The Raven tells Bran it’s time to leave the vision, but Bran is defiant and calls out to his father – and Ned turns around, apparently having heard his voice, but sees nothing. The Raven grabs Bran and pulls him back to the cave under the tree. Bran complains and says his father heard him. Raven says it was just a coincidence, he probably heard a bird or something. Bran says he wants to see what was in the tower. The Raven goes into Mr Miyagi cryptic mode, and says, “Do you think I enjoyed sitting here and letting this tree grow over me for a thousand years?” Bran asks him why he did it than. The Raven tells Bran that he was waiting – for him! – and that before he can see more visions he must learn more things. Bran asks what things, and the Raven replies, “Everything.”

At least that seemed to be the gist of it. The Raven keeps warning Bran that spending too long in these visions of the past is risky, and he might end up not being able to return. And that he can’t change the past; it’s a story that’s already written and “the ink is dry”. This may be ominous foreshadowing of a time when Bran is tempted to stay in a vision for too long and may end up trapped, at least for a while. The fact that Ned seemed to react to Bran’s shout may also be foreshadowing that the Raven is wrong – maybe Bran can change the past. And what is in the tower? Logically, it should by Ned’s sister Lyanna, but in what state? She’s not present in the story at the beginning of season 1, so presumably she met some ill fate. Comments on my previous write-up pointed out that Lyanna was mentioned in passing near the beginning of season 1 – references which I didn’t note as being very important at the time. I guess more of this story will come out soon. And it sounds like the Raven is preparing Bran for a fateful future in which he will play a large part (a bit like Arya). The kids growing up to continue the story of their father.

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Game of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 2 “Home”

11 February, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

I’ve now sourced a set of DVDs for both season 6 and 7, so I’m ready to continue with the episode commentaries!

North of The Wall: We open with Bran and the Three-eyed Raven sitting amongst the roots of the underground cave where they are sheltering from the snow, with eyes glazed over, apparently in a trance. The scene changes, to Winterfell, and Bran is standing on a balcony, watching some kids practising swordplay with wooden weapons and shields. It could be a scene from Bran’s own life, just before he was crippled, practising with other boys of the town – and at first that’s exactly what I think it is.

But no, someone calls the boys Ned and Benjen. We’re seeing a young Eddard Stark and his brother Benjen, in a flashback to before Bran was even born. A slightly older girl rides up on a horse, named Lyanna (the girl is named Lyanna, not the horse – I didn’t catch the horse’s name). It’s not clear, but this seems to be an older sister of the other two – I don’t recall ever hearing about a sister of Eddard Stark before. So maybe this is the first time we’ve really heard of her? She says something about heading off to the Eyrie. I’m just trying to integrate this into what I can remember… I’m guessing Lyanna was sent to marry a noble over at The Eyrie as part of an alliance. We know Lysa was there, Catelyn Stark’s sister (so Eddard’s sister-in-law). Hmmm… and Lyanna and Lysa would be roughly the same age. So what happened to Lyanna? I’m guessing we’re going to find out some more about her later.

Also joining the scene is a large stable boy, who the boys encourage to start fighting. They call him Wylis, but Bran instantly recognises him as a young Hodor. Wylis speaks, being reluctant to join the noble boys in sparring, but they say that with his size he’d be a great fighter. Wylis’s mother appears and ushers him back to the stables, saying there’s no way she’ll let her son learn how to fight. Bran is astonished that Hodor used to be able to speak properly.

The Raven tells Bran it’s time to leave the vision, but Bran wants to stay. The Raven grabs Bran and pulls him back to reality. Bran wakes up and protests, but the Raven says that too much time spent in a vision will lead to “drowning”. Bran looks at Hodor and tells hi he saw him when he was younger, and he could speak. “What happened, Hodor?” Bran asks, but Hodor merely replies, “Hodor.” This exchange makes me think that Hodor is perhaps the name of the thing that so shocked him that it removed his ability to say anything else. Also, I think we’re going to learn more about Hodor’s background in the future. At least I hope so, because before it was just a low level thing that you didn’t think about, but now it’s become a tantalising mystery. Setting it up like this and then failing to deliver more information would be terrible story-telling.

Outside in the snow, Meera Reed stares into the distance. She is sullen and fed up. The dryad-like figure talks to her. Meera questions what they are doing here, how pointless it all is. Dryad tells her that soon Bran will need her help. Hodor carries Bran out and he speaks briefly with Meera before going back into the cave. Meera returns to her watch.

Well it’s good to see something about Bran again, after so long. And it looks like his story is about to ramp up again. We’ve added three mysteries to be expounded upon in the future: Lyanna, Wylis, and what he’s going to do that Meera will be needed to assist with. Let’s hope we get to them soon, rather than not seeing Bran for another season.

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More updated travel diaries

24 January, 2019

I’ve updated and revamped two more travel diaries, with larger and new photos, updated weblinks, and additional commentary.

Updated Britain 2009 travel diary

19 January, 2019

If anyone is interested, I’ve just completed an overhaul of the diary of my 2009 trip to the UK. A 24-day extravaganza of touring the English and Welsh countrysides, and ending with several days in London. I’ve enlarged the photos from thumbnails to presentation size, added some new photos, updated all of the dead web links, added a little bit more explanatory text in places, and fixed a few typos.

Now showing here.

Game of Thrones, Season 6, Ep 1 “The Red Woman”

17 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon’s body lies abandoned on the snow of the keep courtyard at Castle Black as night begins to fall. Jon’s wolf Ghost recognises that something is wrong and begins to howl. Ser Davos investigates and sees Jon’s body. He calls for help from then handful of men who were loyal to Jon, and they take his body inside. Melisandre comes in, and is shocked to see Jon dead. I think maybe she’ll do some sort of ritual and heal him, and he’ll be right as rain.

But no, she says in a shocked manner that she saw Jon fighting at Winterfell in a vision in the flames. And now this has happened, which contradicts her prophetic vision. She’s clearly shaken, and leaves. Davos and the loyal men discuss what to do. They realise the mutineers led by Alliser will probably kill them, and realise they need help. But there’s nobody there to help them. Davos points out: Isn’t there anyone who owes Jon a favour? The others realise he means the Wildlings, and one of them goes to fetch them. It’s not clear to me why they can’t just all go at this point if one of them can manage to sneak out to get help.

Alliser appears and bangs on the door, but they don’t let him in. Alliser promises them that they are free to leave Castle Black if they surrender by nightfall. But if they don’t… well. The Wildlings better be back before then.

And then in a weird scene Melisandre stares at her reflection in a dull brass mirror. She undresses for bed, but as she does so her body changes from youth to an old crone. She climbs into bed. I guess this represents her failures – to guarantee Stannis victory, and her false prophecy of Jon living to return to Winterfell. She’s a beaten and wrecked woman. The Lord of Light has abandoned her – if indeed he ever supported her in the first place. What she does next is now completely unpredictable. She could wither away meekly, or she could lash out and become very dangerous. I guess we’ll see.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 10 “Mother’s Mercy”

14 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

It’s another season-ending episode. Hang on!!

Braavos: Mace Tyrell’s guard is back in the brothel, with three young girls lined up in front of him. He beats two with a stick, eliciting cries of pain. He beats the third, but there is no response. Trying again gets not a sound. He gets an evil gleam in his eye, says he needs to work on this one some more, and dismisses the other two girls. As he turns to face the third girl, she pulls off a blonde wig and reveals herself to be Arya! She attacks the man, stabbing him in both eyes with a dagger, then a few more times for good measure. When he’s incapacitated from pain, she talks to him.

She says her name is Arya Stark, and he, Meryn Trant, is the first person on her list of people she has to kill. Because he killed Syrio – her swordsmanship teacher from way back in season 1 (episode 8)! Reading back on my notes for that episode, I recall that I never even realised that Syrio was dead. The scene cut before seeing him get killed, so I’d always assumed he may have escaped and we might see him again. Well, I guess I was wrong about that one. Anyway, Arya tells Meryn why she’s killing him, then dispatches him with another thrust of her dagger, about 5 seconds after I learn his name. Characters really do die a lot in this show. And we’re only warming up for this episode.

Arya returns to the House of Black and White, with Meryn’s face peeled off his body, and she goes to place it among the thousands of other faces in the giant hall, but is interrupted by Jaqen and the older girl. He says Arya took a life that she wasn’t supposed to, and that the price for a life is a death. He takes out a small vial, no doubt of poison, and the other girl grabs Arya from behind. I think he’s going to force it down Arya’s throat… but Jaqen drinks the liquid himself! And falls to the floor, dead! Okay, this makes no sense whatsoever.

Arya is shocked, but then the other girl turns into Jaqen, and says that the other person was never Jaqen, he was No One. Arya drops to the floor and peels of Jaqen #1’s face, and someone else is underneath. She repeats this, pulling off mask after mask, until finally her own face is revealed. Shades of Luke Skywalker in the Dark Side tree on Dagobah. All right, so all of this stuff is weird and magical and allegorical. And then the new Jaqen says that wearing a face before one has become No One is like poison… and Arya is magically struck blind!

Whoa. I wonder if this is a reflection of what she did to Meryn Trant, blinding him in both eyes. And also, is Arya going to be blind from now on, or is this a temporary condition? So many questions. I dare not speculate, but I hope Arya isn’t going to be blind permanently. Or if she is, that she becomes some sort of hyper-aware blind fighting master and it doesn’t slow her down.

Body count: 1
Cliffhanger count: 1

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 9 “The Dance of Dragons”

13 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon leads the wildlings rescued from Hardhome back to The Wall. They approach from the North on foot. So, they must have left the ships berthed somewhere on the north side of The Wall. Earlier Stannis lent the ships to Jon on the condition that he get them back. But now they’re stuck in a harbour on the north side of The Wall somewhere. That could be tricky – Stannis would need to march his army back north of The Wall to pick the ships up.

Anyway, they approach The Wall. Ser Alliser is standing on top, looking down at the wildlings with contempt. I think for a minute that he’s going to defy Jon and isn’t going to let them through. It looks like Jon thinks this too. But then, after what seems an eternity, Alliser gives the order to open the gate. Jon looks relieved and leads Tormund and the wildlings through. For a second I think maybe Alliser has set a trap and will slaughter the wildlings inside the tunnel or something, but no such thing eventuates. They make it through and walk through Castle Black, including one huge giant, who looks around curiously.

Alliser and many of the guardsmen watch with obvious disapproval, but defer to Jon’s orders. The boy whose village was destroyed by the wildlings looks defiant and angry. Jon comments to Sam that he failed, thousands of wildlings were killed in the White Walker attack. But Sam points out that he saved thousands who’d be dead otherwise. Alliser comes over to Jon and says, “You’ve got a good heart, Jon Snow. I hope it doesn’t get us all killed.” And walks away.

Well. I thought Alliser would lead a mutiny, but he seems to have resigned himself to following Jon’s orders. The perfect opportunity has passed. If this were any other story, I’d say that Alliser will probably remain loyal from now on, but this is Game of Thrones, so all bets are off. The resentment is still there deep inside, and might surface some time in the future.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 8 “Hardhome”

9 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Braavos: In an intercut flashback/forward scene, we see Jaqen asking Arya who she is, and Arya telling him a story about her being an oyster seller down by the harbour, intercut with images of her dressed as the oyster seller, walking around and observing the people of Braavos. She says she takes a turn onto a specific street, and Jaqen tells her not to take that turn, but to walk a different way. Then we see her do that, and pass a man by the docks, who calls her over and buys some oysters, asking for them served with vinegar. While preparing the oysters, Arya overhears the man’s business dealings with a sailor. She tells Jaqen that the man seems to be a gambler, taking bets that the sailors won’t return hom due to some accident at sea. One of the two (I forget which way around Jaqen/Arya had this conversation) asks why a sailor would make a bet that they have to die to win, and the other answers that the gambler would pay a large sum to the family of the missing sailor. In other words, this is a life insurance scheme.

Then for some reason, Jaqen gives Arya a vial of poison, and tells her to put it on his oysters next time she goes out. Maybe he doesn’t like insurance salesmen? Otherwise I think I missed the motivation here. But anyway, Arya has been given her first assassination job! It’s not clear how she’ll go with it, but I think Arya is tough enough to go through with it. She has motivation to please Jaqen and progress through this training of his. It should be straightforward… which means there’s always the chance that something will go spectacularly wrong and Arya will be caught red-handed or something. But I think the odds of that are low.

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Germany diary, days 9, 10, 11

7 January, 2019

Saturday, 6 October, 2018. 17:32

We slept right through to 07:00 this morning, finally getting past the jetlag on the day when we need to leave. Since we planned to shower just before checking out at midday, we simply dressed and went out to seek breakfast.

We thought we’d try to place next door to CafĂ© Kosmol, which M. wanted to check out. But when we got there the man setting up tables out in the square said they weren’t open for breakfast yet, only coffee. They would start serving breakfast in another half hour. So we went next door to Kosmol and the same man who served us yesterday welcomed us in again for breakfast. We sat at the same table.

This time we ordered with more restraint, asking for just fried eggs with bread rolls, plus a serve of yoghurt and fruit, and coffee for M. and hot chocolate for me. When the eggs arrived it was two eggs per plate and they all had bacon on them! This hadn’t happened yesterday. M. was okay with me taking the bacon off hers. We ate the eggs with the bread rolls by splitting the rolls and using them like slices of toast. The yoghurt and fruit failed to materialise, but we decided we were full enough to not bother.

After paying what seemed like a random amount that they guy made up and had no relation to what was written on the menu, we went off to walk around the town a bit. The sun was emerging through a veil of high fog, and shining directly down some of the east-west streets, illuminating the half-timbered buildings in a yellow morning light. To take advantage of this light, we returned quickly to the hotel to pick up my camera, then walk through the deserted streets up the hill to see the eastern side of the cathedral lit by the morning sun, and then down to the river and along it to the old bridge. Here I got some photos of the cathedral backlit in the fog, reflected in the still river. Yesterday in a shop where M. had bought a colourful woven basket, the woman who sold it to her had spoken about how she walked across the bridge every day and never tired of seeing the cathedral as the light changed throughout the day and the year. She said it never looked the same twice.

Morning on the Lahn
St George’s Cathedral over the Lahn River, in morning fog

Done with the morning light, we walked back into the town. A market was in progress in the town square just outside the old town, and there were also a couple of stalls set up in the small Kornmarkt square where the old town began, and it looked like more would appear soon. Here there was a stall selling various mushrooms, and another with honey or something. Down in the main square were the fruit and vegetable stalls that had been there the past two days, plus several other stalls and trucks, selling cuts of meat, sausages, cold cuts, cheeses, fish, eggs, honey, bread, cakes, and so on. There were no stalls selling cooked food ready to eat though.

Read more: Further exploration of Limburg, the market, the cathedral, the church of St Sebastian, then travelling by train to Frankfurt Airport and flying home