(WARNING: The following contains major SPOILERS for the fourth episode of Game of Thrones' sixth season. If you aren't yet all caught up on the show, then proceed with whatever level of caution the Three-Eyed Raven suggests to you is wise...)
Now, we might only be four episodes in to Game of Thrones Season 6, but the show already seems to be building up to its traditional midseason stride. What's more, with its key plot strands already knotting together intriguingly, and many fans' biggest problems with Season Five seemingly eliminated (or at least notably lessened), Season Six looks well on its way to being something pretty darned impressive. Which, of course, is doubly true when you consider just how much of the show's greatness lies hidden well below the surface. Here, then, are...
7 Things You Might Have Missed In Game Of Thrones Season 6, Episode 4
(Note: This is where those aforementioned SPOILERS really start to kick in...)
7. Some Emotions Have To Be Earned
For a show that has long been centered on the adventures of Stark, Lannister and Targaryen siblings, Game of Thrones has actually invested relatively little time reflecting on the nature of those relationships. Cersei and Jaime have spent much of the show apart, Viserys didn't make it out of Season One alive and the Starks' separation has been a continual theme.
Episode 4, though, finally brought some catharsis for two of the most traumatized figures in Westeros — Jon and Sansa — and allowed them a moment of genuine, something-in-my-eye-just-give-me-a-minute-inducing emotion. Which, aside from prompting some pretty big plans, was also an excellent example of how emotions have to be earned, both for the characters and for the audience. We cared about Jon and Sansa reuniting because the show had spent so much time building up the possibility and raising the emotional stakes on both sides. With Theon and Yara, on the other hand, the buildup was minimal and the effect accordingly muted — despite the reunion carrying with it a similar potential for momentous consequences in future episodes.
You can buy excitement, and you can borrow laughs — but even in Westeros, you still have to earn emotion.
6. You Can't Go Home Again (Or Can You?)
A potentially prescient moment — especially in the light of Bran's recent realization that he can, at least to some extent, make himself heard in the past — came in the form of Sansa musing to Jon:
"Don't you wish we could go back to the day we left?"
Now, that could simply be a sneaky red herring for those fans who're beginning to smell the first wafts of a time travel subplot — one designed to throw us all off the scent of what's really going to go down with Bran and the Three-eyed Raven. Alternatively, though, it's possible that Sansa's wishes will in fact one day be granted — with Bran going back to the past and enabling his siblings to change things somehow. Even if he could, though, it's difficult to imagine his headstrong brothers and sisters listening to their younger brother — so what that would lead to remains very much up in the air.
5. The Prince (Or Princess) Who Was Promised
Now, this is likely to prove a recurring theme in Season 6, so it's probably best not to dwell on it for too long, but it's notable that Episode Four emphasized both Jon Snow and Daenerys's hypothetical claims to be the Prince That Was Promised. With both characters now having been reborn "amidst salt and smoke," as was prophesied for the Lord of Light's great mythic champion, it seems we could soon see the show pit the two against one another in a battle for R'hllor's love and patronage.
Or, alternatively, the show may well just be messing with us (and Melisandre), positioning the pair as potential promised princes with no real intention of having any sort of prophesy come true. Either way, though, Melisandre could well be set for a whole new bout of existential doubt when she hears about Daenerys's latest rebirth...
4. Uncle Petyr
Petyr Baelish might be someone it's never wise to trust, but from the sounds of our brief visit to the Vale, he may well be about to force the Starks to do so anyway. With Westeros's only well-rested and unscathed army at his back, Baelish could prove decisive in whatever Sansa and Jon have planned — unless his involvement causes more problems than it solves.
The bigger question, however, might be what Sansa will do to the man who essentially sold her to Ramsay Bolton. Will she draw him into an alliance — or have him beheaded by a sure-to-be-eager Brienne? We could soon find out...
3. Masters With Silver Hair
It might have been put to Tyrion in a particularly unpleasant fashion, but it's difficult to dispute the logic of the Wise Masters of Yunkai when they point out that:
"Just because your master has silver hair and tits doesn't mean she's not your master."
Game of Thrones has always had a lot of interesting things to say about the awfulness of slavery — but it's rarely dwelled on the parallels between the distinctly undemocratic Westerosi political system (largely based on lords owning peasants), and the particularly nasty form of bondage practiced in the cities of Slaver's Bay. For anyone raised in a post-Enlightenment democracy, it's inevitably tough to see monarchs like Daenerys or Tommen as being all that different from slave owners on a national scale — and the likes of the High Sparrow (and perhaps Tyrion) seem to be increasingly aware of that.
We've all assumed that the show will end with someone taking the throne — but is it possible that it could instead conclude with an overthrowing of the established order in favor of rule by the people, for the people?
2. The Smoking Pyre
Considering the episode's final moments, we didn't actually have to wait all that long to see them come to pass, but it's still worth noting that Daenerys's fiery adventures at the Khalar Vezhven were actually heavily signposted earlier in the episode. Not only did Daenerys herself note that...
"I will never run from Dothraki."
...but her new pal Lhazareen made sure to remind Daenerys (and us) that:
"I can never leave Vaes Dothrak, until I rise as smoke from the pyre on the day I die."
Which, it seems, Daenerys took very much to heart, seeing as she almost immediately put into action a plan that could largely be summed up as rising as smoke from the pyre on the day she "dies," in order to not have to run from Dothraki. Listening, in Game of Thrones, is a rarely utilized yet incredibly effective skill — and one that Daenerys uses as proficiently as anyone.
1. Female Agency, And A New Westeros
One of the biggest changes thus far from its widely criticized fifth season has been Game of Thrones' willingness to actually allow its female protagonists to have their own individual agency. Where the show once seemed to revel in making its strong, well-defined female characters suffer endless indignities in the face of cruel fate (and cruel men), with their every plan being scuppered by the actions of a man, Season 6 has gone to great lengths to shine a light on an alternative vision of the world. Specifically, one in which the likes of Cersei, Daenerys and Sansa are not simply anachronistically strong female protagonists doomed to suffer by their medieval surroundings, but are instead, y'know, real people, with the ability to actively impact upon the world around them.
After all, the world of Game of Thrones may be even more firmly set up to advantage men over women than our own is, but the idea that the ruthlessly intelligent Cersei and Daenerys would be foiled by the hideous men around them no matter what they did got old long before Season Five came to its walk of atonement-shaped conclusion. It's far more plausible — and entertaining — to watch our female leads find ways to shape the world around them, despite the misogynistic cruelty of the men who believe they hold all the cards, and to make decisions, both good and bad, that actively impact the fate of Westeros.
Which, of course, doesn't help Osha, who came up against what seems to be the one exception to that new rule: Ramsay Bolton (who, it seems, has now become both the living embodiment of the Westerosi Men's Rights movement, and the one truly irredeemable man in Westeros). That, though, is an oddly important element to the changing fates of Game of Thrones' female characters. It's not that they're now invulnerable, or somehow Mary Sues, but rather that they're finally being treated with something closer to the level of agency and respect that the show's male characters are — and sometimes that means being brutally murdered by Ramsay Bolton.