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Game of Thrones Recap Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

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Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Helen Sloan/HBO

Game of Thrones Recap: Season 7, Episode 2, “Stormborn”

Once upon a time on Game of Thrones, Oberyn Martell made an oath to Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), promising that her daughter, who'd been sent to Dorne as part of a marriage treaty, would be treated well: “We don't hurt little girls in Dorne.” After Oberyn's death, however, his vengeful lover, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), did precisely that, poisoning the innocent girl. Now, months later, Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) calls Ellaria to account for that, passionately arguing before Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) that they be more than indiscriminate murderers. It's one of many callbacks to past actions that are brought up in “Stormborn,” an episode that's not only packed with intrigue, intimacy, and insanity, but also with a richness of history.

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 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 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).

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.