I don’t know if I’m going to do this regularly, but I do have plenty to say about Game of Thrones: Dragonstone, so at least right now, I’m going to do this. If I have something to say about other episodes, I’ll continue; at the least I’ll include them in my “Watching” updates.
As usual with a show of this magnitude, a lot of people are making observations about this episode. I’m not here to parrot them (although some, such as the joy of Lyanna Mormont, I agree with), but to add my own observations that don’t seem to be all over the place.
I want to draw particular attention to two scenes that everybody seems to be talking about, but for the least interesting reasons. The two scenes are the argument between Jon and Sansa, and the encounter between Arya and Ed Sheeran.
For those who don’t remember (or are, for some reason, reading this without watching the episode), the conflict between Jon and Sansa comes from what to do with the Karstarks, the Umbers, and their respective ancestral homes. Sansa wants to punish the families for their late parents siding with the Lannisters and the Boltons; Jon chooses not to, believing that the deaths of the traitors in battle is sufficient punishment.
The reason why I find this to be of particular significance is the reason for the defection of the Karstarks. I had believed the Umbers to be included in this, but if the Game of Thrones wiki is to be believed, the cause of the Greatjon’s death is unknown, so I’m less certain about this. In Seasons 2 and 3, Catelyn and Robb Stark had a series of disagreements with Lord Rickon Karstark; the latter demanding revenge for the deaths of members of his household and the Starks more or less ignoring this for their own reasons. This eventually led to Karstark murdering two Lannister prisoners and being executed in turn by Robb.
Considering the nature of this conflict, it’s only natural that the Karstarks would expand the cycle of vengeance to include the Starks. Sansa’s decision would have continued punishing the Karstarks, causing them to seek the Starks out when they least expected it. Jon’s decision has the potential to end the cycle – if it’s reciprocated. More on that later.
There’s also another factor in play here. Jon mentions not punishing a son (or daughter) for their father’s actions. He speaks from experience here: every time he was called “Snow” or “Bastard” or treated as lesser than his six adopted siblings (yes, lesser even than the Prisoner of War), he was being punished for his father’s indiscretions. This has stuck with him, and he will never forget it, or choose to pass that punishment onto another.Game
For Arya’s scene, she runs into a small band of soldiers. They were sent by her enemy to keep the peace, and when she was still recognized and known to be alive, they would have also been instructed to kill her if they found her. She is wary, but after they share their food and drink, and she sees their rookie earnestness, she warms, giving the soldier who made the wine a smile and complimenting him before deciding to be honest.
Last season, my biggest concern with Arya was that she would no longer be recognizable as a complete person: that any traits of empathy, kindness, or passion would be gone, leaving only Ned’s honor, the Hound’s rage, and Jaqen H’gar’s cold and merciless skill. This scene counters that: while Arya is cold enough to butcher a villain’s sons and feed them to him, then pretend to be him long enough to find the guest list to a past event, call everyone back, and kill them, she’s also warm enough to have kindness for a stranger who bears her no ill will.
These two sequences are mirrors for one another. Both are acts of kindness that would normally be unforgivable in Game of Thrones; yet, as we’ve begun to see, acts of cruelty are just as punishable. In Arya’s scene, she is told “be kind to strangers, and strangers will be kind to you.” Sansa tells Jon to be “be smarter than [Ned and Robb]”. These lines, coupled with the actions in these scenes, lead me to think that these may be the two most important decisions in the season when it comes to the survival of Jon and Arya. I’m not sure if Arya will meet these one-off characters again and their actions will decide her fate, or if the theme of “strangers helping strangers” will recur, but that moment had power to it that I couldn’t ignore. Similarly, time will tell if the Umbers and the Karstarks repay Jon for his kindness with their own, or punish him for it.