Season six of
has really stepped it up for the ladies. Sansa Stark is on a war path, Queen Margaery is still pulling the strings, Brienne of Tarth is just as awesome as ever, and Arya Stark, well, we'll see what happens if she makes it to the next episode.
But there's now a new young badass on the scene and she's quickly becoming everyone's favourite character (and mine): 10-year-old Lady of Bear Island, Lyanna Mormont.
Lyanna (played by Bella Ramsey) stole the whole show when Jon Snow and Sansa came to plead for her allegiance in the forthcoming battle to reclaim Winterfell. She is officially sass master numero uno.
Lyanna stepped up to rule Bear Island after everything fell to pieces with Robb Stark for ''King of the North'' campaign. She is also the niece of Jeor Mormont the former Lord Commander of the Nights Watch, which is why Jon and Sansa go to her for help, recounting the rejection letter she had sent to Stannis Baratheon in season five: "Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark".
And she does help them, eventually, but not before taking a few jabs at the half-siblings, calling them out for not really being Starks. "As far as I understand you're a Snow," she says to Jon. "And Lady Sansa is a Bolton. Or is she a Lannister? I've heard conflicting reports." Ouch, burn!
Lyanna is truly fierce, and though she is only 10, she rules Bear Island as if she'd been doing it for decades. She's filled the gap for the rebel-youngster previously held by Arya.
When Lyanna can only offer 62 men for battle, Jon becomes obviously disheartened.
"We're not a large house, but we're a proud one," she tells him, "and every man from Bear Island fights with the strength of 10 mainlanders."
"If they're half as ferocious as their lady," Davos replies, "the Boltons are doomed."
Well put, Davos of the hot new house Seaworth. Bless him for getting Lyanna onside.
You can't help but see a little bit of Shireen Baratheon (Lord rest her sweet soul) in Lyanna when he speaks to her.
The internet is also in love with Lyanna as much as I am:
It's extremely rare to see
bust out a pre-credits sequence: this episode is only the third to do so. But this one deserved it, with the episode's big revelation - that Sandor Clegane, the Hound, is still very much alive - gaining a lot of its impact by hitting before the theme music. After that, everything else in the episode is gravy, (although, as Hot Pie once so eloquently put it, you cannot give up on the gravy).
Clegane was always highly likely to return because A) nobody as hard to kill as him is really dead until their body is totally destroyed on screen, and B) he still has to face off against his awful zombie big brother for the Cleganebowl. But to see him stride onto the screen with a log in one arm isn't just confirmation of yet another long-running fan theory, it's confirmation that The Hound is back, and he has work to do.
And yet, for a good portion of this episode, it looked like he had a shot at some peace and quiet. The whole episode was fairly optimistic for the most part, with new alliances and friendships formed, and a distinct lack of bloodshed, (although Arya is looking pretty rough). Under the patient charm of the mighty Ian McShane, Sandor Clegane looked like a man ready to make a new start.
But this is still Game of Thrones, and the terrible massacre of the final few minutes shows that it's still a harsh and cruel world, and that the work The Hound needs to carry on with involves a bloody big axe. As sad as it is, it's what he does best. There should be peace, but there will be violence.
Siena Yates: Here's a list of reasons I'm not worried about Arya Stark: 1. She's Arya Stark. And that's where it ends. Because Arya Stark is pride, she is power, she is a badass mother who won't take crap from anybody.
Did I nearly fall out of my chair while repeating, "No, no, no" with my hands over my head when she got stabbed? Maybe, maybe not. It's irrelevant. When she threw her head back and launched herself off the bridge, I knew she'd be okay.
A tonne of fan theories are flying around in which Arya is playing everyone, and staged the whole attack to make a clean getaway (and more theories in which Arya is suffering from some kind of split-personality disorder, but that's a whole other kettle of fish).
Regardless, I firmly believe Arya will make it through the Game of Thrones, and if she does die, it'll be in a way that is heroic and fittingly hardcore, like riding Nymeria into battle against Drogon or something. Not by some under-handed trickery by the Regina George of Braavos.
Speaking of Mean Girls, let's all bow down to Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old we all want to be when we grow up. May she face off against the other child lord, Robin Arryn, and chuck him through his own moon door.
And while we're on a feminist roll, let's acknowledge the honourable mentions of episode 7:
First, to Yara Greyjoy, the woman who stole a fleet of ships in a race to win over Dany, who is helping her brother with a bit of tough love, and who charms women better than her whole crew combined.
Second, to Queen Margaery, who plays the game better than anyone we've seen so far.
And lastly, to Lady Olenna, who gets the Academy Award for throwing shade. She calls Cersei the "most vile person" she's ever met, rubs it in her face that: "You lost, Cersei. It's the only joy I could find in all this misery" - all while the Mountain's standing there. She's the Maggie Smith (in any role) of Westeros, and I pray she returns from High Garden soon.
Chris Schulz: He plays brazen baddies. And two-faced crooks. And gravelly voiced villains. Why? Because he's bloody good at it.
Ian McShane has a face like thunder and a voice to match, and every time he's on screen, no matter what he's in, I can't take my eyes off him. I even sat through the absolute stinker Death Race because he was in it. I don't recommend it.
But the 73-year-old veteran character actor was, is, and always will be Al Swearengen to me, Deadwood's foul-mouthed brothel owner who turned swearing into a Shakespearean art form in a role he, or anyone, is likely to top.
So when McShane finally, and as promised, showed up in Game of Thrones last night, I was taken aback. He appeared to be playing some kind of feel-good cult figure picking up troubled strangers, dusting them off, feeding them up and enlightening them on his Eat Pray Love attitude towards life. WTF?
Was he even building a yurt? Possibly. I hope he got the appropriate council approvals for the structure, avoiding recent issues that cropped up around Miriama Kamo's yurts on Waiheke Island.
Still, it doesn't matter now. As we all know, McShane's Brother Ray was soon hanged in his yurt, his eyes bugging out, his feet dangling lifelessly and his followers lying around him in permanent sleep pose, while The Hound picked up an axe and headed off to avenge his death.
I do love a good yurt but, sheesh, that was grim telly. The moral? Eat Pray Love doesn't have a place on Game of Thrones. And neither, now, does McShane.
Stephanie Merry: The Hound's alive! And, yes, we totally saw that coming, but it was still thrilling to see the hulk of a man back on screen.
What could this mean? Will he exact vengeance on his brother, the new and improved Mountain? Will he reunite with his favorite sidekick, Arya? So far, his trajectory is a little hazy.
Avid watchers knew something was up with this episode right away. Rather than launching right into the theme music after snippets from previous episodes, viewers got one scene before the title sequence began. The reason? Seeing Rory McCann's name would have spoiled the big reveal.
That first scene captures the kind of idyllic society that probably had Game of Thrones watchers wondering if they had inadvertently flipped to the wrong channel. Men and women are working together on some kind of hippie commune in a picturesque verdant mountainside settlement.
This is where Sandor Clegane has been living ever since the group's leader (McShane) stumbled upon the Hound on the verge of death where Arya ditched him. Ever since, he has been living among peaceniks, recuperating from nearly fatal wounds and using all that brawn to do more than his fair share of work. His sword-fighting days are apparently behind him, although he can chop logs with a vengeance.
He's also clearly been doing some introspective work. The commune leader - a former warrior who has forsworn violence - says the gods must have plans for The Hound. Otherwise, why would he have survived?
The former Kingsguard isn't buying it, though. He has done horrible things in his day. Remember the butcher's son? That was just the tip of the iceberg.
"If the gods are real, why haven't they punished me?" he asks.
The Hound is not so different from Theon at this point. Both are just shells of their former selves. We're used to seeing The Hound either killing people or unleashing withering one-liners, and we don't get either of those things this episode. But that could change with the right pep talk and a good reason to once again take up arms.
In the case of The Hound, that reason presents itself at the end of the episode. His little slice of life looks delightful, right? And GoT fans know what that means: benevolent things - and characters - are inevitably doomed.
While the Hound is off chopping wood, the entire commune gets massacred by members of the Brotherhood without Banners. Men, women and children are all dead, shot with arrows, and their leader hangs from a makeshift gallows.
The episode ends with The Hound grabbing an axe and marching off to do what he does best. And although he does chop wood awfully well, we're thinking of something a little bloodier. (Washington Post)