We analyze the three new teasers for Game of Thrones Season 6. What are the connections between Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen?
Late in Season 5 of Game of Thrones, the upstart young queen Daenerys Targaryen made this pronouncement to her new advisor Tyrion Lannister:
“Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell. They’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground. I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
As grandiose and arguably untenable as her plan of “breaking the wheel” is, there’s a certain appeal to the idea of all the major power players being equally under attack.
On Friday, the Game of Thrones Twitter account released three teaser videos, one each for Houses Stark, Lannister, and Targaryen. Each video features the voice of a character who is antagonistic to the interests of the House in question; Ramsay Bolton proclaims his ownership of Winterfell, the High Sparrow tells his followers they can overthrow an empire, and a Dothraki leader tells Dany she is “queen of nothing.”
Taken together, the impression is that we should see all three of these great Houses, which up to now have been working at cross-purposes, on similar terms. They are all fighting to survive, all struggling against the aggression of people who were once trusted allies. As of the end of Season 5, these three great Houses have more in common than they understand.
Enemies of House Lannister
The current plight of Cersei Lannister, House Lannister’s default leader, was brought about by her cousin Lancel. To her peril, Cersei underestimated her cousin’s willingness to share the history of their affair, and their conspiracy to kill King Robert, with his new leader. The one crime to which she has confessed is having a sexual relationship with Lancel, while most of the realm also understands that she has engaged in a decades-long affair with her twin brother Jaime. Hence the calls of “brother-fucker” as she did her Walk of Shame back to the Red Keep.
Oddly enough, the only person in Cersei’s life who doesn’t yet know about her affair with Lancel is Jaime, now on the way back to King’s Landing with their daughter’s corpse. When he finds out his beloved sister cheated on him with Lancel, it won’t do anything good for the twins’ relationship. The Lannisters have never been the most loving family, but Cersei always took Jaime’s loyalty for granted, and how does she think he’ll respond when he finds out she hasn’t been loyal to him? House Lannister doesn’t need the Sparrows to destroy their empire; they’re doing a fine job of destroying it themselves from within.
The most perilous breach in the Lannisters’ family cohesion surrounds little brother Tyrion Lannister, whom Cersei and her father treated with contempt and hostility for decades until they finally scapegoated him for Joffrey’s death and tried to have him executed. Instead, Jaime undermined his sister’s plan to kill their brother, unwittingly setting the stage for the death of their father. At the time of Tyrion’s escape, Jaime knew Varys would secure Tyrion’s passage across the Narrow Sea, but probably didn’t know just what Varys planned to do with Tyrion in Essos. Now, thanks to a curious turn of events, Tyrion is serving as Hand of the Queen to Daenerys Targaryen. Here we see a connection between Houses Lannister and Targaryen: they have Tyrion in common.
Saboteur of Lannister and Stark
While the Lannisters are their own worst enemy, they also have Littlefinger to move the process along. According to Game of Thrones: The Noble Houses of Westeros, Seasons 1-5, the mechanism by which Lancel became Cersei’s chief accuser was thus: “After Littlefinger told Olenna [Tyrell, grandmother to Queen Margaery and Ser Loras] of Lancel’s past activities, she used the information to force Lancel to confess his sins to the High Sparrow, who then had Cersei imprisoned.” Littlefinger was the one who introduced Cersei to Olyvar, who helped the Sparrows put Loras Tyrell on trial for buggery. He also helped Olenna get her revenge on Cersei, and Olenna apparently understands that she can only trust Littlefinger as far as she can verify the effects of his actions, which is more than we can say for the Lannisters and Starks.
Littlefinger claims to be an ally to the Throne, but he and Olenna conspired to kill King Joffrey, and now they’ve conspired to put Cersei on trial for her life, and she still has no idea of the role he’s played in her misfortunes. He’s convinced Sansa that he’s helping her get to a place of power, but he has not told her about his plan to have Cersei name him Warden of the North. Neither is she aware of how Littlefinger betrayed her father, which led to his execution. He is not serving the interests of whatever is left of House Stark. He serves no one’s interests but his own.
Allies to Lannister and Stark
The new, most transparent enemy to House Stark is House Bolton, former bannermen who led Catelyn and Robb Stark to early graves and took over their castle. Thanks to Littlefinger’s ambitions, and his ignorance of Ramsay Bolton’s sadistic nature, they soon took custody of Sansa Stark, whom they believed was the last living child of Ned and Catelyn. By doing so, they also ran afoul of Cersei Lannister, who still blames Sansa for Joffrey’s death and wishes to put her head on a pike. Thus, Littlefinger helped arrange the dissolution of the Boltons’ alliance with the Lannisters and their annexation of the (supposedly) last living Stark.
One of the ways that Littlefinger maintained his grip on Sansa in Season 5 was to take control of the conversation with Brienne of Tarth, who approached her at the Inn at the Crossroads. Because Littlefinger got there first, Sansa was inclined to treat Brienne as an agent of the enemy, rather than as a loyal protector. One person who was conspicuously absent during that interaction was Brienne’s squire, Podrick Payne, whom Sansa would remember from her time at the Red Keep, when she was married to Tyrion Lannister. Podrick was his squire. Sansa left King’s Landing to escape the Lannisters, but she remembers Tyrion as a kind man, and whatever interaction she had with Podrick must have been innocuous. There was no way Littlefinger would have ever allowed Sansa to leave his custody without a fight, but if she had seen Podrick alongside Brienne, it might have significantly changed the tone of their introduction.
In the episode after that, Brienne realized she’d been under-utilizing Podrick, and promised to train him in combat. We did not see their training sessions, but the last we saw of Podrick in Season 5, he grabbed his two-edged axe and marched off after Brienne. He was not present as she interrogated and executed Stannis Baratheon, so we are left with a cliffhanger: where did Podrick go with that axe, and what did he do?
Brienne and Podrick represent a web of connections between the Lannisters and Starks. Podrick once served Tyrion Lannister, who was Sansa’s first husband. He’s now serving Brienne, who swore her services to Sansa’s mother Catelyn Stark and is now best friends with Tyrion’s brother Jaime Lannister. Because of his experiences with Brienne, Jaime is invested in keeping his promises to Catelyn Stark regarding her daughters, which inspired him to give Brienne a Valyrian steel sword and his brother’s squire for the task of finding Sansa and ensuring her safety. In the process of searching for her, they happened upon her sister Arya, who rejected their protection and escaped across the Narrow Sea, but the introduction was made, which makes Brienne and Podrick some of the very few people in Westeros who know Arya Stark is alive.
Sansa was told to call on her family’s “friends in the North” by lighting a candle in a tower, but she didn’t know those friends in the North were really her late mother’s sworn sword and her first husband’s squire. While they still have not made that connection, partly because Brienne ill-advisedly allowed another vow to divide her attention, they are still near Winterfell, and Sansa has finally escaped the castle by jumping from the walls with her foster brother Theon Greyjoy.
We still don’t know where Podrick went after Brienne introduced herself to Stannis, or what he was doing with that axe, but if Brienne told him in the third episode that she’d teach him how to fight, then by episode ten, we can assume he could fight. If he marched off with his mentor but wasn’t visible when she executed her former king’s killer, then the most likely explanation is that he joined the fighting, which was thickest near the castle. Podrick was probably not expecting to encounter Sansa while his mentor was dealing with Stannis, but he could still be the one who finds her and Theon after their jump. If Brienne finally makes a connection with Sansa, it will be because Podrick shows up at the castle walls at the right time to protect the surviving Stark from recapture by the Boltons.
The Lannisters and Starks have more in common than they care to admit, but at the center of their connections, and representing the best hope for reconciliation and trust, are Podrick Payne and Brienne of Tarth.
What remains of House Targaryen?
Since her brother Viserys died at the hand of her first husband Khal Drogo, Daenerys has believed she is the last of her family, and by all appearances in Westeros, she is correct. Since her departure in infancy with Viserys, there appeared to be no more living Targaryens in the Seven Kingdoms except for their elderly great-uncle, Maester Aemon of the Night’s Watch, who in Season 5 died of old age. Tyrion Lannister reminded her of the extinction of her family as he tried to convince her to abandon her plans to conquer Westeros.
House Targaryen is gone. There is no one left with any blood relation to Daenerys. The Starks are gone, the Baratheons are her competition, the Lannisters, will never support her. Dany has no one; not her family, not his family, no one to support her claim. Possibly the Tyrells, but realistically, Dany is completely without the noble families’ support in the Seven Kingdoms.
In the new Targaryen-centered teaser, Dany is at the mercy of a Dothraki man telling her she is nobody. She is queen of nothing. The implication is clear: she is all alone in the world, and whatever he does to her, she will have no recourse.
Earlier in the season, we saw Sansa Stark visit the crypts beneath Winterfell and light a candle on the statue representing her aunt, Lyanna Stark. Littlefinger showed up soon enough and told her all about the scandal of Rhaegar Targaryen “choosing” Lyanna over his wife, Elia Martell, at the tourney at Harrenhal. Sansa concluded: “Yes, he chose her. And then he kidnapped her and raped her.” Littlefinger appeared skeptical of this assessment, and brought the discussion to a prompt end.
The odd thing about this conversation is that it did nothing to advance the plot. There was no reason for the show to give us that scene if the writers didn’t want us to think about the relationship between Rhaegar and Lyanna. In that same episode, we saw Stannis Baratheon discussing Jon Snow with his wife Selyse, and he insisted to her that impregnating “some tavern slut” was “not Ned Stark’s way.” The subject of Jon’s parentage was relevant, somehow, and Stannis’ contribution was to cast doubt on the conventional wisdom of Ned Stark having a tryst with some nameless, powerless woman. In that same episode, Melisandre found some time alone with Jon and insisted there was power in him, while attempting to initiate a sexual encounter. We might wonder what it is about Jon that makes him so compelling to the Red Woman. What is this power in him?
Over his wife’s objections, Ned Stark raised Jon in the castle along with his trueborn children, and during that time, Ned refused to tell Jon who his mother was. We know Rhaegar Targaryen carried Lyanna Stark off from her family, Sansa seems to think he raped her, and she died before Ned could bring her home, but her cause of death has never been disclosed.
This is the relevance of Sansa and Littlefinger’s discussion of Rhaegar and Lyanna, and of Stannis and Selyse’s interest in Jon’s parentage: Jon Snow is related to the Starks, but not on his father’s side. Jon’s mother was Ned’s sister Lyanna, he was conceived when Rhaegar “kidnapped” and “raped” her, and his birth was her cause of death. The Stark children are his cousins, not his half-siblings, and Daenerys is his aunt. Last we saw him, his blood was mingling with the snow as his body grew cold, but Melisandre is far too interested in him to let him stay dead. She has magic, she knows people who can tell her how to bring a man back from death, and she will use that knowledge. He’ll be back on his feet soon enough, and then he can learn of his parentage.
The connection between House Stark and House Targaryen is Jon Snow. Daenerys is not the last of her blood.