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Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 1, “Dragonstone”

Whenever Jon Snow (Kit Harington), the newly minted King of the North, seeks guidance, he thinks back to the words of his deceased father, Ned Stark. When it comes to whether he should punish the disloyal houses of Karstark and Umber, who fought against his rightful rule in last season's Game of Thrones episode “Battle of the Bastards,” he chooses not to hold the children responsible for the mistakes of their parents, and bulldozes his way past the more vengeful desires of his sister, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). Yes, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) has seized control of King's Landing and summons Jon to take a knee before her, and yes, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) has finally returned to her ancestral home at Dragonstone, but “Yesterday's wars don't matter anymore,” Jon announces. Winter is here, women and children will learn to fight alongside men—a prospect fully backed by the fiery young Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey)—and gold is irrelevant. Only dragonglass (and Valyrian steel) can slay the marching armies of the dead.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 10, "The Winds of Winter"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 10, “The Winds of Winter”

The first three minutes of this week’s season finale of Game of Thrones set a somber mood—and with not a single word uttered, just the ominous tolling of a bell. That’s because words are somewhat beside the point. The trial of Cersei (Lena Headey) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) has begun, and if one believes the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), everything about this moment has been predestined. And so director Miguel Sapochnik wisely echoes that sense of fate, orchestrating every shot to the gradual crescendo of a classical choir, and providing hawkeyed viewers with an abundance of foreshadowing.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 9, "Battle of the Bastards"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 9, “Battle of the Bastards”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 9, “Battle of the Bastards”

“Battle of the Bastards” opens with a pitch-covered cannonball being lit afire and then launched at Meereen, suggesting the vast number of pieces and the human effort that goes into an epic battle. It then cuts between a calm dragon’s-eye view and chaotic stabbings in the streets, demonstrating how violence is merely a matter of perspective and proximity. The culminating sequence isn’t the ululating horde of Dothraki charging the city, nor all three of Daenerys’s (Emilia Clarke) dragons beginning to immolate the Masters’ fleet, but rather Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) informing a Masters triumvirate, including his former owner, Yezzan zo Qaggaz (Enzo Cilenti), that as a result of breaking of their pact, one of the three of them will now have to die. “It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it?” Tyrion asks. “Other people dying.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 7, "The Broken Man"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “The Broken Man”

Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) have come to Bear Island, home of the Mormonts, to ask them to honor their pact with House Stark and to aid them in reclaiming Winterfell. The scene could be set as a sad comedy, what with Jon, the former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, reduced to humbly petitioning a 10-year-old, Lady Lyanna (Bella Ramsey), for troops—and there’s a grim humor in the fact that she has but 62 soldiers to pledge. But that’s not at all how writer Bryan Cogman and director Mark Mylod establish the scene, for they understand that war is a serious thing, regardless of the ages of those involved. Lyanna is impatient, but not impetuous, and though she’s reluctant to endanger the men and women she’s found herself responsible for, she understands Davos all too well when he warns her of the undying who will split a divided North. “This isn’t someone else’s war,” he tells her, not as a superior, but as an equal comrade. “This is our war.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 5, "The Door"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 5, “The Door”

There’s been much talk of prophecy on Game of Thrones, but it’s usually in an abstract sense. After all, those who follow the Lord of Light, like Melisandre (Carice van Houten), have been wrong before, and the newest Red Priestess, Kinvara (Ania Bukstein), might be wrong about Daenerys being the chosen one. But she’s right when she tells a skeptical Varys (Conleth Hill) that God is never wrong, only sometimes misinterpreted by his messengers. Even more accurate is her observation that “Terrible things happen for a reason.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 1, "The Red Woman"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 1, “The Red Woman”

Previous seasons of Game of Thrones have played a precarious dance between the past and present action detailed within George R.R. Martin’s series, but the season-six premiere episode, “The Red Woman,” provides viewers with their first glimpse of what the future looks like, and it’s disappointing. Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the sorceress from whom this episode takes its title, stands over the bloodless corpse of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and remarks that “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell.” Magic may yet play a role in some sort of resurrection, but this episode focuses only on the weary, bitter state of affairs in Westeros.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 10, "Mother’s Mercy"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

It’s long been a given on Game of Thrones that “All men must die.” The question, then, is less a matter of whether they will, but how they will. Those who accept death, like those in the service of the Many-Faced God, are ironically those who manage to find agency in the time they have left. On the other hand, those who break the rules and customs of the land are those most likely to suffer most before their last breath.

To begin with, there’s the fall of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). As foreshadowed a few episodes back in the advice given by Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), those who kill the people most devoted to them rarely inspire future devotion. Stannis has broken several natural laws in his determined, mindless quest to recapture the Iron Throne, most recently when he commanded his beloved daughter be set ablaze as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Though his actions may have broken the bitter winter that threatened to destroy his army before he could even besiege Winterfell, they’ve also divided his army, with half of his forces committing mutiny and running off in the night. (His wife also chooses to flee, albeit at the end of a noose.) But it’s not Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) who gets him in the end. Instead, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) tracks him and lands the killing blow—not because he dared to challenge the Boltons, but because he murdered his own brother, Renly, with blood magic. Perhaps realizing the depths of his own horrible actions, Stannis confesses, accepting the consequences of his actions: “Go on and do your duty.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 6, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

The Game of Faces, as taught to Arya (Maisie Williams) by her fellow corpse-scrubber (Faye Marsay), isn’t as simple as claiming (or meaning) that you are no one. It involves thoroughly convincing someone else that you are someone—just not the person that you were. Like the Game of Thrones, this task of self-effacement and reinvention for the sake of survival is played—whether they’re aware of it or not—by most citizens of Westeros, and those who fail generally end up dead. As Arya’s trainer, the man once known as Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), might put it, it’s a game that “we never stop playing.” In the case of the monastic assassins dwelling in the House of Black and White, it’s doubly true, for as Arya soon discovers, the dead bodies passing through their temple are preserved beneath it, their faces—entombed in the mausoleum wall for future use—continuing to serve long after they’ve passed on.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 4, "Sons of the Harpy"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “Sons of the Harpy”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “Sons of the Harpy”

Niccolo Machiavelli once wrote that “It is better to be feared than loved, if you cannot be both.” A corollary to this, as taught by Game of Thrones, is that it’s better to be respected than powerful, because power is nothing but a currency used by the especially clever. Considering how many people are neither feared nor loved in “Sons of the Harpy,” respect is all that matters—that, and the dangerous Dangerfield-ian consequences of not getting any respect.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 3, "High Sparrow"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “High Sparrow”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 3, “High Sparrow”

Despite being home to the Faceless, the House of Black and White is filled with a variety of visages: statues to the various gods of Westeros. These are at once examples of the Many Faced God whom the Faceless worship and a pointed demonstration that the one true god is the one god who doesn’t need to be memorialized in stone—because that god, Death, is already everywhere. It’s a fitting setting for Arya (Maisie Williams) as she begins training under No One, the mysterious assassin currently wearing the face and name of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). It’s here that she can begin reclaiming her independence, after seasons of fear and flight, though—ironically—she can only do so by first figuratively murdering herself, casting off all her possessions in service to the god of Death. (There’s still a trace of the defiant girl from previous seasons when she chooses to hide her sword, Needle, rather than to throw it into the ocean.) It’s a perfect example of the erosive effects of tragedy, in that a person can only survive by becoming something else, and not for nothing does Arya spend the majority of this episode silently doing menial tasks, scrubbing away the past.