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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”

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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 6, "Blood of My Blood"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood”

After the emotional closure of last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, it was almost inevitable that “Blood of My Blood” would take a more subdued step back to reset the table for the next big event. The largest problem with tonight’s episode is that it either changes course so abruptly or restates certain theses so redundantly that it feels like a bit of a tease, especially for those who aren’t too invested in Samwell Tarly’s (John Bradley-West) storyline.

After a tense dinner in which Sam’s father, Randyll (James Faulkner), sternly judges his disinherited son and wildling “whore,” Gilly (Hannah Murray), Sam apologizes for not standing up to him, and then departs with his new family (Gilly and her son) in the middle of the night. “I’m angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it,” remarks Gilly, and while awful fathers aren’t anything new in the world of Game of Thrones, the show gains little by dwelling on them. Sam’s heroism and love for Gilly has already been well demonstrated up to this point, so these scenes seem like nothing more than a needless opportunity to reiterate Westeros’s cruelty.

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 4, "Book of the Stranger"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 4, “Book of the Stranger”

According to the Book of the Stranger, the religious tome of the seven-pointed star from which this episode of Game of Thrones takes its name, death makes strangers of us all. Some, like the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), take that to mean that there’s no point in the luxuries of life, and that we must instead do our best to simply live in peace. Others, like the masters of Slaver’s Bay, take the other extreme, finding meaning only by intensifying the anonymity of their slaves and thereby elevating themselves.

Game of Thrones Recap Season 6, Episode 3, "Oathbreaker"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 3, “Oathbreaker”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 6, Episode 3, “Oathbreaker”

The first thing Vala (Meena Rayann) does upon being brought to Varys (Conleth Hill) for interrogation in tonight’s Game of Thrones, “Oathbreaker,” is to explain that she won’t betray the Harpies, and that he might as well begin torturing her. This, however, isn’t Varys’s way; he insists that he much prefers to make her happy, which is to say, he wants to find an amicable way to console her perspective of reality—that she’s helping her people fight off those who would destroy her city and its history—with his own somewhat rosier view of the Unsullied. That his threats against her son are more implied than spoken doesn’t make them any less real, and this is the way the world works: such that fundamental rules—of leadership, of power—are the fiction of mass consensus rather than any sort of god-given fact.

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 9, "The Dance of Dragons"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons”

The title of tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones comes from a book of Westerosian history, the so-called Dance of Dragons, which, as Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) points out to his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram), is an awfully poetic way of putting things. From a safe distance, these moments in history might look quite beautiful, filled with ominous foreshadowing and eerie parallels, but on the ground level, things can be quite horrific.

So it is, for instance, with Stannis’s own situation. The episode begins with a fire breaking out across his camp—an act of sabotage from the Boltons in Winterfell—which in turn leads to Stannis caving into the black-magic demands of Melisandre (Carice van Houten), as he allows the witch to burn Shireen alive in a blood sacrifice to the Lord of Light. And while it’s easy to allow such necessities in the abstract, as Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald) is at first able to do, when a mother hears her daughter screaming for help within the billowing flames, the cost seems too high. This may explain why Stannis chooses to share a fatalistic philosophy with Shireen in his last conversation with her. If it’s true that his history has already been written, then he has no choice and can absolve himself of this murder: “He must become who he is meant to be, no matter how much he may hate it.”

Game of Thrones Recap Season 5, Episode 7, "The Gift"

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Gift”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Gift”

A great many gifts are at the heart of tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones. As Jon (Kit Harington) heads north to liberate the Wildlings with Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), Sam (John Bradley-West) hands him the dragonglass dagger with which he slew a White Walker. Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) presents Sansa (Sophie Turner) with the flayed corpse of the elderly woman who swore to protect her, Reek (Alfie Allen) having betrayed her and the Starks once again. Melisandre (Carice van Houten) promises Stannis (Stephen Dillane) certain victory in Winterfell, but only if she’s given royal blood—specifically that of his daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram). Bronn (Jerome Flynn) gets exactly the sort of crazed flirtation from a Dornish woman when Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) withholds the antidote to her dagger’s “Long Farewell” until he admits that she’s the prettiest woman he’s ever seen. After success in the fighting pits, Jorah (Iain Glen) is able to present Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). And finally, Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) presents Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) with the same sort of gift that he provided Cersei (Lena Headey): the poisonous confession of a young man, in this case, that of the incestuous Lancel (Eugene Simon).