With Game of Thrones closing out its fifth season this past week, many questions have arisen. And not just the obvious questions that are to be expected following a finale full of cliffhangers and curiously timed cut-aways. Yes, “Mother’s Mercy” left the fate of a number of major characters in question, but season 5 went even further in keeping things vague on a number of fronts.
From The Wall to The Riverlands to Dorne and beyond, there are at least ten major questions left unanswered by Game of Thrones season five. The hope is that they will be answered in the next season, or perhaps even the next book.
What follows is a discussion that includes spoilers through the end of season 5 of Game of Thrones. It does not include any books spoilers.
Here are the questions that plague me following the finale of season 5:
1. What really happened to Benjen Stark?
The “Previously On” segment of “Mother’s Mercy” was perhaps the most epic of trolls by the show’s creative team. For a moment, they made us think that we might finally unlock one of the great mysteries of Westeros: the fate of Benjen Stark. He has been missing since the first season, when he went ranging beyond The Wall and has not been seen since. At one point, his horse returned to The Wall, sans rider.
Benjen, just like his brother Ned before him, had one of those classic “we’ll talk about it when I return” conversations with Jon Snow. He is one of the only remaining characters that is alive (or at least not clearly dead) who might be able to answer the pressing questions about Jon Snow’s parentage. The show may eventually have to answer these questions, as they’ve long been rumored to be very important. That is, assuming Jon Snow isn’t simply dead and gone, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Another sub-question: why did the show remind us of Benjen? Was it simply a cheap trick to get us (and Jon) off track before the mutinous final moments of the last episode? Or is the show using some of its very precious narrative real estate to keep Benjen fresh in our minds for a return in the future. It has me very curious, both as a show watcher and a book reader, as the fate of Benjen has always been a very interesting mystery.
2. What is Happening in The Riverlands?
Since the end of season 3 – and more specifically, The Red Wedding – not much has happened in The Riverlands, one of the most war-torn areas of Westeros. Early on in the show we know that Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane and his band of terrible men had been looting, raping and burning their way through The Riverlands in the name of the Lannisters. During The War of the Five Kings, The Riverlands was a hotbed for conflict between the armies of Robb Stark and Tywin Lannister. We got to visit some of the finest places in The Riverlands, including the ruins of Harrenhal, the ancestral Tully home at Riverrun and the seat of the Freys at The Twins.
During season 3, perhaps the most Riverlands-centric season, we met The Brotherhood Without Banners, the traveling group led by the oft-resurrected Ser Beric Dondarrion and his red priest buddy Thoros of Myr. They were instrumental in showing off the power of The Lord of Light (most notably his ability to bring people back from the dead), capturing Arya Stark and her buddies, then handing over Gendry (and his abs) to be penis-leached by Melisandre. Back then, galavanting around The Riverlands was all the rage.
Since The Red Wedding, we haven’t seen much of The Riverlands. What has The Brotherhood been up to since last we met them? Who is ruling at Riverrun, the former seat of power in The Riverlands? Did Catelyn’s uncle Brynden “The Blackfish” escape The Red Wedding by having to pee before the big murder party? Did he make it back to his family’s lands? And what of Walder Frey and his gross collection of offspring at The Twins? Does he still have poor Edmure Tully locked away, or was he killed following The Red Wedding? And how is it that Littlefinger gets between The Eerie, Winterfell and King’s Landing without having to deal with the Freys or any bands of marauders in The Riverlands?
3. Is Gendry Still Rowing?
Now that Stannis Baratheon is presumed to have been executed by Brienne of Tarth (I’m saying “presumed” until we see him on a funeral pyre), is the true Baratheon line dead? Tommen remains a Baratheon in name only, his siblings are now all dead (bye, Myrcella) and both Stannis and Renly lost their battles unceremoniously.
This leaves the last remaining bastard of Robert Baratheon (as far as we know), Gendry. The last time we saw Gendry was in season three. After being seduced and leached by The Red Woman, he was smuggled out of Dragonstone by Ser Davos and sent in the direction of King’s Landing on a rowboat. Since then, he’s been lost to the show. Even actor Joe Dempsie tweeted in June 2014, following the finish of season four, that he’s “Still rowin’.”
Where did Gendry end up? Did he make it back to King’s Landing? Is he still rowing many months later? And if so, is his upper body significantly larger than the rest of his body, a la Popeye? Did not being able to swim come back to bite him on the choppy waters of The Narrow Sea? Or did he perhaps make a break for the Free City of Braavos across the Narrow Sea, where he may one day reunite with his BFF Arya Stark? That last one is fan fiction at its worst, especially where Game of Thrones is concerned, as it includes a hope for a happy ending.
4. What are the Ironborn up to?
Guess who won The War of the Five Kings by default: Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands. And he didn’t even have pay the Iron Price for it. He paid the Isolation Price and it seems to have worked in his favor. The last time we saw Balon was in season three, when actor Patrick Malahide returned for one very scowl-filled scene in which Balon receives a package containing Theon’s manhood from Ramsay Bolton. Even further back, the last time the show spent any significant time on Pyke, the capital island of The Iron Islands, was in season two, when Theon was still a whole male specimen so tuned up that he was inadvertently feeling up his own sister.
Speaking of his sister Yara, the well-established most revered warrior of The Iron Islands and one of the show’s most badass female characters. The last time we saw her was at The Dreadfort in season 3, running away from Ramsay Bolton and his dogs. Upon returning to her boat very quickly (because dogs are scary), Yara reports that her brother is dead. Which is mostly true, as he has fully become Reek by that point.
While the Ironborn storylines in the early seasons were mostly uneventful and there purely to act as a catalyst for Theon’s betrayal of Robb Stark, I’m still curious as to whether the show will ever revisit these characters. Surely they have more to do in the grand scheme of things. Is Balon still ruling The Iron Islands? Does The Drowned God have anything to say about the magical war happening between The Lord of Light and The Great Other? What does Yara do with her time now that rescuing her brother can be crossed off her to-do list? And will we ever meet any of Theon’s badass uncles, Euron, Victarion or Aeron? Not to spoil anything from the books, but they have the potential to be a lot of fun.
5. Where is Rickon?
We know that Bran, Hodor and Meera Reed made it to the Three-Eyed Raven and his little village for magical orphans under the great Weirwood tree, but what ever happened to the other remaining Stark, Rickon? It seems as if we may find out in the future, as Sansa seemed pretty interested in locating her brothers upon discovering that Theon didn’t really kill them. Her chances of finding Bran seem slim, but assuming she and Theon survived the 80-foot drop from the outer walls of Winterfell in the season 5 finale, it’s possible that they could go looking for Rickon and his best-named direwolf Shaggydog.
When last we saw him, Rickon and Osha parted ways with Bran and co. and were headed toward Last Hearth, the seat of House Umber. The Umbers were some of the last remaining loyalists to House Stark. We’ve met their lord, Greatjon Umber, before. He was the large, loud and brash general of Robb Stark’s who had his fingers bitten off by Grey Wind in season one. He led Robb’s armies heroically during the War of the Five Kings and was not present for The Red Wedding, so it’s possible that he made it back home to Last Hearth.
Did Rickon and Osha make it to the Umbers? Will we ever see The Greatjon again? Is Last Hearth the only safe place for Sansa now that Winterfell is lost to the Boltons and her half brother at Castle Black is bleeding out in the snow? I’d venture to guess that if we ever see Rickon again, he will be recast. At this point, actor Art Parkinson is 14 and the character would still be much younger. Shaggydog will likely still be played by CGI, though.
6. Is there more to Dorne than bending the knee?
I’ve spent a number of words on the futility of the show’s jaunt to Dorne in season 5. Filled with frustration over the mishandling of the Sand Snakes, the elimination of key characters from the books and the very rushed nature of it all, I can’t see how this could be saved in any way by the show. In the end, the entire trip to Dorne showed us that (a) Prince Doran is just a gout-ridden pacifist and (b) Myrcella and Jaime had to have one nice moment before she died.
It’s not a book spoiler to say that in George R.R. Martin’s text, there’s far more to Dorne than this. There’s more to Prince Doran, his family and the lore of the Sand Snakes, who are more than action figures who sometimes wear sundresses over their regular clothes.
We now know that Dorne is going to be in trouble with King’s Landing, as they have just murdered one of Cersei’s two remaining children. And even though Cersei is down, she’s not out. She’s got a new friend (who is very familiar with killing the Dornish) to help her get revenge on her enemies. Will there be more from Dorne in season 6? Does Prince Doran ever want revenge for the death of his brother (and his sister Elia)? Will his son’s life be the price for what happened to Myrcella? And most importantly, will Jaime turn that ship around and immediately go back for some revenge? The Dornish storyline was haphazard and sloppy this year, but there are fascinating questions that remain.
7. Why is an army of ice zombies afraid of the water?
At the end of the Massacre at Hardhome, the army of the dead stood on the shores watching as Jon Snow and the survivors very slowly rowed away. From a narrative standpoint, it’s easy to see why the show needed the ice zombies to stop here, as it delivered one of the show’s most impressive and terrifying moments – the raising of the dead with a hand gesture by The Night’s King. But it also raises some fundamental questions about this undead army.
It’s clear that this Army of Winter is not one that uses any caution. A large portion of them rained from a high cliff in front of Jon and Edd, only to get up and continue the slaughter moments later. We’ve also seen them climb walls, put out fires around them, and change the air temperature pretty rapidly. So what is it about water that stops them? Are they just not good swimmers? Would they freeze and subsequently become stuck in the water? These questions may be irrelevant, but their explanation would give us a reason why The Wall is so important. If the Army of Winter were able to travel via water, they could simply go around The Wall, which is flanked by bodies of water at its Eastern- and Western-most points.
What’s most important is that a lot of the rules around this “big bad” have not entirely been established. As we learn more about them, we’ll know more about how they can be vanquished. At the moment, it’s dragonglass daggers, rare Valyrian steel swords, and just maybe dragon fire. Death by drowning could make four ways to kill a White Walker.
8. How does the Faceless Man skin changing process actually work?
The act of The Faceless Men, the resident assassins guild of Braavos, changing faces is something that was introduced to us at the end of season 2. As Jaqen H’gar says farewell to Arya and her companions, she watches him change faces. The way it was shot kept the actual act of changing a mystery, a trick the show would later employ when the old man at The House of Black and White was revealed to be Jaqen in disguise.
Since then, season 5 showed us the basement full of faves at The House of Black and White. These are physical faces that have been removed from the many who have come to receive the gift of death from The Many-Faced God. It can be presumed that these faces are cut off and preserved in some way, saved for a later time when a Faceless Man must use them on a quest to give the gift.
This is where it gets confusing, especially during the season finale. Arya uses the face of the little girl she mercifully killed earlier in the season to infiltrate a Braavosi brothel and slay Meryn Trant. We then see her returning a physical face to its place among the inventory. But then, during her emotional punishment for taking a life that wasn’t her to take, we see her very easily (and with no physicality) removing numerous faces from the body of dead “Jaqen,” ultimately revealing her own face. Is the face-changing something that has a physical element, or is it completely magical? If its the latter, why do they need to store the physical faces? And how did they get an Arya face? I suppose the easiest explanation is that Arya was hallucinating, all part of the toxic results of using a face before she was ready. That makes it easy to explain away, but it doesn’t really help me understand how all of this face stuff works. And I want to know, as that’s easily the most interesting thing happening in Braavos these days outside of Lord Mace Tyrell’s street serenades.
9. Are they stalling to allow George to finish the next book?
I love theories, second-guessing and even some mild fan fictioning when it comes to Game of Thrones. Anyone bold enough to listen to me on the Storm of Spoilers podcast knows this very well. My new favorite real world theory is that the show expended a lot of energy this past season bending over backwards to end up in essentially the same position as George R.R. Martin’s most recent book, A Dance With Dragons. Even the “major” changes to the story still fit within the confines of major moments that occurred in the books. And instead of unleashing a slew of spoilers for upcoming books, the show went out of its way to keep us occupied with Dorne, frustrated with Sansa the victim and giddy over a meeting between Tyrion and Daenerys.
In the end, the books weren’t really spoiled. This leads me to believe that show lords David Benioff and Dan Weiss were intent on buying George one more year to finish The Winds of Winter, the book that will undoubtedly answer a lot of these questions. I don’t know if Vegas is taking bets on this or not, but I’d put money on Winds hitting shelves sometime in between now and when Game of Thrones season 6 airs in the spring. A March 2016 release date sounds about right for the book, which will fly off the shelves in anticipation of the next season of the show. For all their blustering about changes and going off book, it’s become clear to me with season 5 that the show’s creators and the man behind their source material are more on the same page than they let on. And the sooner they get that next book out, the sooner they can all stop lying to us about our final question…
10. Is Jon Snow really dead?
Typing this question into Google will lead you to numerous think pieces on the subject, as book readers have been obsessing over the fate of Jon Snow since A Dance With Dragons was released in the summer of 2011. At this point the noise around a resurrection of some kind is so loud that Jon’s fate seems like the worst kept secret in television. Every Game of Thrones blog, podcast and recap show has told you with impressive certainty that there’s only one answer to this question: Of course Jon Snow isn’t dead.
The show’s creators, alongside actor Kit Harrington, have doubled down to the contrary, saying that yes, he’s absolutely dead and gone and never coming back.
We must keep ourselves open to the possibility that Jon really is dead, despite how silly that seems within the context of the larger story. There are too many legends and theories, too much talk about his parentage and too many allusions to the fact that Game of Thrones might have a “chosen one,” and Jon is a very strong candidate. But it’s possible that all of that was one of the great misdirects in the history of literature. “Oh, you thought that all of this subtext around Jon Snow mattered,” George could tell us someday soon. “Well, it didn’t and he’s really dead.”
I’m holding on to the personal belief that Jon Snow will be back in some way, shape or form before it’s all said and done. The books haven’t answered this question either, which makes it that much more frustrating. But perhaps the reason why the show hasn’t provided any real answers about Jon has something to do with question #9 above. The reveal of a Jon Snow return would be massive, even if it is expected. And perhaps the show isn’t ready to play George’s hand for him.
I suppose we’ll have to wait and find out via season 6 or the next book, whichever comes first.
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