***The post below deals exclusively with the Game of Thrones tv series. There may be spoilers for some.***
‘Eastwatch,’ the fourth episode of season seven of Game of Thrones, was a quiet affair only because it came on the heels of what everyone had been waiting to see since the show began–dragon vs army.
We finally got our fix. Watching Drogon incinerate the Lannister army in the previous episode, ‘The Spoils of War,’ was as badass as hoped and feared. This season promises more. If not more dragons, then more confrontations.
‘Eastwatch’ is the episode getting us to what can probably be thought of as the ‘ice’ counterpart to the ‘fire’ of ‘The Spoils of War.’ Leading this charge against the Night King’s army will, of course, be Jon Snow, the current King in the North. But alongside him will be a ragtag group of warriors who have endeared themselves in one form or another to nearly every faction of Game of Thrones fandom. We have a supergroup.
Fans have already made references to The A-Team and Suicide Squad.
But when I first saw the group staring out into the white north of the wall, all I thought was “This is Westeros’ Magnificent Seven.”
Continuing to ponder this group, I came to realize they all share a certain quality which has positioned them in terms of the series to be the only characters who could possible go north of the wall, who could face the Night King.
Each of them have been resurrected.
1. Jon Snow
The King in the North is the leader of this crew. As one of the few people in the world to have actually seen, fought, and survived wights and the Night King, this mission is on his shoulders. Loss haunts Jon Snow at all times because he has repeatedly failed–he failed in finding out about his parentage, he failed to keep his siblings safe, he failed Jeor Mormont, Qhorin Halfhand, and Ygritte, he failed in his leadership of the Night’s Watch, he failed to survive taking the black, and his patience failed him in his confrontation with Ramsey Bolton.
If there is anything that defines him it is that he is nearly crippled with self-doubt and frustration, but finds a way to overcome it to be one of the bravest characters ever on the small screen. Nearly every time, Jon Snow had to be rescued and what victory came always did so at a profound cost. The brilliance of this character is that he will always put himself in black and white positions, either/or situations allowing his moral compass no leeway. As we’ve seen, he almost always fails. And yet…
He comes back.
Jon Snow rises up the thinking, feeling version of the Night King. Should we start thinking of Jon Targaryen as the Day King?
2. Tormund Giantsbane
The wildling general is perhaps the most traditional character of this cast. He has lost his wildling way of life and had to reinvent himself. But as what exactly?
Strangely enough, Tormund seems to have taken up the cause of the Night’s Watch–its original purpose, to defend Westeros from the evils beyond the wall. To this end, he’s become Jon Snow’s stalwart ally. The loyalty and respect that Tormund offers is perhaps the most genuine in all of the seven kingdoms. Once it is earned, it is sacred; once it is lost, it is lost forever.
Whereas the knights, lords and ladies of the seven kingdoms play at chivalry, Tormund represents the hardscrabble reality of their airy ideal, as such he is a threat to their way of life as his presence reveals and revels in the hypocrisy of their existence.
3. Jorah Mormont
Slaving was what caused Jorah to be expelled from Westeros, to have his family disown him. His nation as well as his family consider him dead. His time in Essos was empty of purpose, hollow. Coming to serve Daenerys gave Jorah a means to enliven himself. But he had to constantly prove his worth and his commitment, not just to Daenerys but to himself.
Coming down with greyscale was Jorah’s second death. Rather than being disowned for his selfish actions as he was in Westeros, in Essos he had to leave in order for others to live. I think nearly all of us had written Jorah off has having died somewhere out in the world from the greyscale cancer, which is why when he appeared this season it was so moving. Cured of greyscale by Samwell Tarly at The Citadel through the use of dragonglass, Jorah makes for a shadow figure of the First Man turned into a wight by the Children of the Forest in episode ‘The Door’ from season six. He is a man given new life by dragonglass to stand against the white walkers.
The bastard son of Robert Baratheon finally reappears after hiding in plain sight for years in King’s Landing. Gendry has now become a man and, thanks in no small part to Davos Seaworth, decided to join the fray on the side of Jon Snow. Whereas Jon Snow fought and defeated the bastard Ramsay Bolton, it seems that this bastard is more akin to himself. So we get the band of bastard brothers or not really.
To see Gendry is to see what Robert Baratheon might have been as a young man when he won the Iron Throne, yet Gendry knows he is no king and will not pretend to be one. More than anything, the return of Gendry is a means for the spirit of Robert Baratheon to right his path. In a strange way, Gendry is a do-over for House Baratheon. His presence gives Jon Snow a connection to the past of their fathers’ and hope to write a wholly new future.
5. Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane
The Hound is perhaps the most emotionally distant member of this troupe. He is also one of the most tragic characters in the series. Sandor has literally been in his brother The Mountain’s shadow and suffered. The melted flesh of his face is a constant reminder to all how from the first, Sandor has been tortured. But he, again, survives.
As Joffery’s bodyguard in the service of House Lannister, Sandor did the bidding of some evil persons. Unlike many characters, he refused to let himself become crippled by guilt or conscience about it. Instead, with a hardness few people in fiction or reality have, he pressed on developing a personal philosophy equal parts cruel utilitarianism, harsh pragmatism, and, oddly enough, redemption. His defeat by Brienne of Tarth and abandonment by Arya set him up to be resurrected in season six.
Bested by only two people ever, The Mountain as a child and Brienne as a man, The Hound feels his defeats viscerally–the burn scars and his limp. Attempting to atone to no judge but himself, Sandor discovered much to his chagrin he couldn’t stay away from a life of violence. Yet, encountering the Brotherhood Without Banners after his spiritual journey attempting to build a sept, Sandor realizes he can control how he lives his violent life and toward what end.
You would be hard pressed to find a voice in the series that is more pragmatic, more to the point, and often, more correct than The Hound’s.
6. Beric Dondarrion
Beric Dondarrion is one of the coolest characters to hardly get any screen time in Game of Thrones. One could easily spin an entire series his narrative alone. But in the series we have Dondarrion is a vital cog.
George R.R. Martin has stated Dondarrion is “a wight, but a wight animated by fire instead of by ice.” Although not the Night King’s counterpart, it would appear that Martin (and by proxy the showrunners) see Dondarrion as the human counterpart to a White Walker, the Night King’s lieutenants. As the first and for the longest time only, character brought back from the dead, he gives us an insight into just what the powers are operating in the world.
If Dondarrion is a fire wight and there are ice wights, it follows he must get beyond the wall to confront the magic that in some way is animating him. Although he sees himself as being on some kind of religious quest or, more rightly, crusade, Dondarrion’s presence gives us glimpses of how to decipher the myths, legends, and actual magic we’ve been seeing throughout the series.
7. Thoros of Myr
Perhaps the least interesting and more expendable member of the unit, the Red Priest Thoros serves as a reluctant prophet. The alcoholic priest seems to know all too well that what power he has is not his own, that he is merely a vessel. Wielding this power in the form of resurrecting Dondarrion again and again has not just taken its toll physically and emotionally on Dondarrion but corroded Thoros as well.
Once a jocular, portly clergyman, Thoros is now a husk. However, he has been reborn in his faith. Discovering his religion is not just an apparatus to control masses or a means to provide succor, but actually real with a mighty power behind it has left Thoros burnt out. He is a man that has come to the end of his journey or, at least, is hoping to soon.
The magic and lore surrounding the fire god R’hllor have had a much more significant impact on the lives of those in our story than any other religion. The Faith of the Seven has turned out to be complete artifice, an oral history that turned into myth that became a controlling religion. The Red God however (and to a lesser extent, the Many Faced God) have actually been present. With Melisandre out of the story (for now), it is Thoros who must provide exegesis.
His presence in the group seems to suggest there will be further resurrections (perhaps of not just Dondarrion).
Each of these characters have come back to life, been born again either literally or figuratively, and it is that trait that binds them. Also, each of them embodies an element of a moral code that has yet to coalesce into a single person. If we take them all together, then we see the true face of honor has it is touted in Westeros. When you live an ideal, this is the reality, what it looks like to be authentically, genuinely honor bound and where it leads. In this way, I see a parallel with The Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven.