As Jon Snow awakens and gasps for air, he slowly sits up and scans the room. He then looks down and is horrified by his stab wounds. Davos Seaworth, having returned to the room on hearing the noise, is shocked but relieved and quickly helps Jon as he struggles to walk. Davos asks Jon if he remembers anything. Jon, still shocked, says yes, he remembers getting stabbed by Olly and Alliser Thorne for bringing the Wildlings to Castle Black. Melisandre enters, shocked that the resurrection has worked. She then goes to Jon and asks him where he was after his death. Jon replies he saw nothing, much to Melisandre's disappointment. Seizing on whatever hope she still has, however, she says that the Lord of Light brought Jon back for a reason; that Stannis was not The Prince That Was Promised, but "someone must be." Davos asks Melisandre to leave them alone so Jon can adjust to his revival.
After he has recovered somewhat, Jon dons his Night's Watch armor and the Lord Commander's cape, and walks into the courtyard, seeing many of the fellow Brothers arrive before him. Jon, still struggling to walk properly, comes down and greets the dumbfounded Tormund. Tormund jokes with the resurrected Lord Commander before hugging him tightly which slightly pains Jon due to his stab wounds. Jon then greets the relieved Eddison Tollett and they embrace.
Some time later, Jon oversees the public hanging of the traitors responsible for the Mutiny at Castle Black: Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, Alliser Thorne and Olly. Jon asks if any of the men have last words to say. Bowen says Jon shouldn't be alive, stating that it's not right. Jon coldly replies, "Neither was killing me.". Yarwyck pleads Jon to write his mother in White Harbor that he died honorably fighting the Wildlings. Alliser says he had a choice: to betray his Commander or the Night's Watch. He then says that Jon bringing the Wildlings was a dangerous problem and had to be stopped, and warns him that Jon will be fighting their battles forever. Jon gives his respect to him, in that Alliser would follow his convictions despite the cost because he believed he was doing the right thing.
Jon then moves on to Olly, who says nothing and glares furiously at Jon. Jon reluctantly cuts down the rope, killing all four traitors. Jon looks at Olly's lifeless body. Afterwards, Jon takes off his cloak and hands it to the confused Edd. Jon then says Edd can do whatever he wants with the cloak, unofficially designating Edd as the 999th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Jon then leaves the courtyards and declares his watch has ended, leaving the rest of the Brothers look on in shock.
In the Narrow Sea
Samwell Tarly, Gilly, and her baby son Sam are sailing on a ship to Oldtown. Gilly and Sam have never been on a ship before. Samwell is seasick and begins throwing up into a chamber pot. Gilly assures Samwell that it won't be long and says that she can't wait to see Oldtown. Gilly tells Tarly that the ship's captain says that Oldtown is the most beautiful city in Westeros. While Samwell had originally planned to go and study at the Citadel, he changes his plans since he cannot bring Gilly and her child along as the Citadel only allows men within its walls.
Unwilling to abandon Gilly and Sam to the streets, Samwell decides to take them to his ancestral home of Horn Hill. While he does not get on with his father Randyll Tarly, Samwell assures Gilly that his mother and sister are very kind. Samwell wants to do everything to protect Gilly and her child from harm. Despite some unease, Gilly promises to follow Samwell and let him decide what is best for them.
Beyond the Wall
Bran has a vision of the past again. He and the Three-Eyed Raven are at the Tower of Joy in Dorne, shortly after the end of Robert's Rebellion. The last two of the Targaryen Kingsguard stand before the Tower and block the way of a small party of Northmen led by Eddard Stark himself. The Three-Eyed Raven identified one of Ned's companions as Howland Reed, Meera's father. Eddard tells Ser Arthur Dayne and Lord CommanderGerold Hightower to stand down, and asks why they weren't at the Trident. Ser Arthur states that Rhaegar Targaryen ordered them here to guard the tower, so there they remained, even as Rhaegar and the Mad King both died. Eddard asks where his sister Lyanna is, but Dayne simply wishes Stark the best in the wars to come. The two Kingsguard draw their swords, with Ser Arthur saying, "And now it begins," to which Eddard replies, "No, now it ends." The two sides clash, with Dayne making short work of a few of Ned's northmen. Ser Arthur slowly cuts down the number of northmen, but Ser Gerold falls to Ned's blade. Eventually, Ser Arthur duels Eddard one-on-one. Bran expresses his shock at Ser Arthur's skills, with the Three-Eyed Raven confirming that the Sword of the Morning is better than Ned. Dayne easily gains the upper hand and kicks Ned's sword away from him, but is unprepared for Howland stabbing him through the back of the neck. Eddard seems visibly uncomfortable at winning this way, but unhesitatingly delivers the killing blow to the incapacitated Ser Arthur. Bran is shocked, as he had heard tales of this duel and never expected his father to stand for such things.
Eddard runs towards the tower, having heard a woman's scream come from one of its windows towards the end of the duel. Bran runs to follow Eddard, calling out, but he is told it's time to go by the raven. Ned looks back for a second, seemingly hearing Bran, but then runs into the Tower. Bran tries to follow, but he is forced out of the past and back into the cave by the Three-Eyed Raven, saying he had stayed in the past for too long. Bran is both angry and sad at this, but the raven asserts it was for his safety, and again sternly reminds him that the past cannot be changed. The raven further states that he's waited a thousand years for Bran to arrive, and that Bran will not share the raven's destiny. But before he can leave the cave, Bran must learn everything.
At King's Landing
Qyburn is in the company of the little birds, children who used to spy for Varys. Qyburn tries to win the favor of the children by attracting them with candied plums from Dorne. Shortly afterwards, Cersei, Jaime Lannister and the reanimated Ser Gregor Clegane enter. Cersei wants Qyburn to gather information from Dorne, Highgarden, the North and wherever people are trying to take advantage of their losses and plotting against them.
At the Small Council meeting, Grand MaesterPycelle complains about Qyburn and his experiments. Ser Kevan Lannister, now Hand of the King - is heading the Council – which now consists of himself, Pycelle, and Lord Mace Tyrell – with Lady Olenna Tyrell in attendance to lobby for Margaery and Loras Tyrell's release. Cersei, Jaime and Ser Gregor enter the room, startling Pycelle and Mace. On being questioned about what they are doing at a small council meeting, Cersei replies that she is the Queen, only to be corrected by Olenna that the rightful queen is the one married to the king and that Margaery is the one who fits that description. Jaime then argues that he, as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, also has a right to attend. Pycelle admits that Ser Gerold Hightower once sat on the council, but dismisses this due to the Mad King's eccentricities. Cersei accuses Kevan of not caring for her daughter Myrcella, while Jaime appeals to the bigger picture and urges Kevan to take action against Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes who have taken over Dorne after eliminating House Martell. Displeased with the newcomers, Ser Kevan and the small council leave the hall.
Meanwhile, an angry King Tommen Baratheon and his Kingsguard visits the High Sparrow to secure permission for Cersei to visit her daughter's resting place in the Great Sept. The High Sparrow replies that Cersei cannot visit because she still has not been cleared for the other sins that she is accused of. Tommen criticizes the High Sparrow for his self-righteous treatment of Cersei after she had atoned for two of her crimes. Despite their differences, the High Sparrow claims admiration for the deep love that Cersei has for her son, Tommen, which he attributes to the divine love of the Mother.
When Tommen asks the High Sparrow why he wants to put his mother through more trials, the Sparrow replies that he is merely carrying out the will of the Seven. He urges the young King to turn to the Seven for wisdom. Before Tommen leaves, less angry and more uncertain, the High Sparrow tells him that the Seven have worked through his grandfather and mother even though they may not acknowledge it.
In the Great Pyramid, Varys holds court when the Unsullied bring in Vala, a prostitute who is in league with the Sons of the Harpy. She had seduced and murdered several members of the Second Sons and Unsullied. Vala is defiant and states that she opposes the new regime imposed by the Unsullied and Second Sons as illegitimate. She became a prostitute out of patriotic fervor for the old ways. Varys assures Vala he has no interest in torturing her and decides to strike a deal. In return for revealing who is funding the Sons of the Harpy, he offers her and her son safe passage on a ship bound for Pentos with a bag of silver to start a new life. Varys warns her that if she doesn't agree to the offer, she will be executed for her crimes, leaving her son orphaned.
Meanwhile, Tyrion passes the time by engaging Missandei and Grey Worm in small talk. Tyrion offers to play games with the pair but they are not interested. Before Tyrion can embark on a drinking game, Varys returns and informs them that the Wise Masters of Yunkai, the Good Masters of Astapor, and the Free City of Volantis have been secretly funding the Sons of the Harpy. While Grey Worm advocates attacking the cities, Missandei advises against it since that would leave Meereen unprotected. Using this information, Tyrion asks Varys to use his little birds to send them a message.
In Vaes Dothrak
Daenerys Targaryen walks with the Dothraki towards Vaes Dothrak and is ushered into the the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen by Khal Moro's bloodriders. The High Priestess of the Dosh Khaleen orders the bloodriders to leave and strips Daenerys naked, giving her a robe which the dosh khaleen wear. As Daenerys puts on her new clothes, she tells the high priestess that she will soon regret what she has done as she was the wife of a great khal, the Queen of Meereen, and the Mother of Dragons. The high priestess retorts that she herself was the wife of a previous Great Khal, Savo. Just as Daenerys thought she would conquer the world at Drogo's side, so did the high priestess think she would conquer the world at Savo's. But Savo was slain, and she joined the dosh khaleen. She is now content, just as Daenerys would be in time, if she is in fact allowed to join them. When Dany expressed confusion, the priestess points out that khaleesi are supposed to return to Vaes Dothrak immediately after their khal's death... but Daenerys went out into the world. She explains that all the khalasars have gathered to decide which cities will be sacked and which tribes will be enslaved, and now they will have to decide what to do with Daenerys for not coming to the dosh khaleen after Khal Drogo died - allowing her to join the dosh khaleen being the best outcome.
A blind Arya Stark resumes her training with the Waif and Jaqen H'ghar, the former of whom beats her repeatedly when she lies. Meanwhile, Jaqen has her mixing potions blindly. During her training, Arya continues sparring with the Waif while answering questions about her family and the Hound. Arya admits to leaving the Hound to die instead of killing him, despite wanting his death. The Waif then interrogates Arya about the people on her list: Cersei, Gregor Clegane and Walder Frey. The Waif voices her disbelief that Arya's list is so short, but Arya counters by asking which name she wants added. When Arya insists that she is no one, the Waif does not believe her and tries to hit her. However, Arya is able to deflect her blow and leap out of the way, surprising the Waif. After confirming that Arya has mastered blind sparring, Jaqen approaches Arya and offers to give back her sight if she tells him her name. Arya replies that "a girl has no name." Jaqen then leads Arya to the well where he scoops up a bowl of water, which he offers her. She is reluctant, as others have drunk from it and died, but he says that if she is truly "no one" there is nothing to fear. Arya drinks from the bowl and her sight is restored. When Jaqen asks Arya who she is, she replies that she is no one.
The Umbers led by Smalljon Umber travel to Winterfell to meet Ramsay Bolton, the new Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. Smalljon and Ramsay chat about their experiences with their fathers. Smalljon mentions that his father Greatjon Umber is dead but admits that he would have killed him if the opportunity arose. Ramsay denies murdering the late Roose Bolton and claims that he was poisoned by his enemies, but Smalljon doesn't bother believing him.
Smalljon has come to forge an alliance with the Boltons against Jon Snow and the Wildlings. However, he refuses to bow to Ramsay; citing the late Robb Stark's betrayal at the hands of Roose. Smalljon then reveals that he has a "gift" for Ramsay, who asks if it is a girl, hoping for Sansa Stark. Smalljon replies otherwise and Umber guards enter the room with two hooded figures. The first turns out to be Osha – the second is Rickon Stark, Ned Stark's youngest child. Osha and Rickon appear uncomfortable to find themselves in Ramsay's presence. When Ramsay asks Smalljon to verify Rickon's identity, an Umber retainer enters the room carrying the severed head of the direwolfShaggydog, and Rickon's expression of dismay confirms this was his pet. Satisfied, a gleeful Ramsay sarcastically welcomes Rickon home.
Vaes Dothrak returns to the Title sequence for the first time since season 2. Braavos drops out of the sequence despite being a major setting for the episode while Pyke remains despite not being in the episode. As the producers explained there are only so many locations they can fit within the 90 second opening credits while still having the camera zoom around. Pyke is between King's Landing and Winterfell and this made it easier to fit in. Of course, Braavos is also between the Wall and Vaes Dothrak, but actually appears in this episode.
The title of the episode may refer to Jon Snow leaving the Night's Watch, Smalljon Umber breaking his oath of loyalty to the Starks, or Daenerys Targaryen having broken her oath to join the dosh khaleen after Drogo's death.
This episode features the Showdown at the Red Mountains between young Eddard Stark and the remnants of the old Targaryen Kingsguard, particularly on Ned's final face-off against the legendary swordsman Ser Arthur Dayne. Ser Arthur actually was mentioned in dialogue in the TV series before, back in the Season 4 premiere when Joffrey was skimming through The Book of Brothers which records all of the great deeds of past Kingsguard members. Joffrey also read a few lines about how Dayne wielded the sword Dawn. The rest of the page was clearly visible in closeup, and it indeed recounted that Arthur Dayne died fighting against Ned Stark and his companions at the end of Robert's Rebellion.
In the books, the final showdown between Ned Stark and the Targaryen Kingsguard was actually recounted in flashback by Ned himself, during the first novel after he was wounded in his confrontation with Jaime Lannister. He grew feverish from his injuries, and through vivid narration his mind turned back to when he confronted the former Kingsguard.
The exchange between Ned and the Targaryen Kingsguard was much longer in the novels, though it would have been difficult to fit every line in due to time constraints and pacing issues. The opening lines about how "I looked for you at the Trident" and the closing lines of "And now it begins"/"No. Now it ends" are still the same as the opening and closing lines in the book. One of the more famous passages from the novels, it is presented as an almost ritualistic moment: each side sounds like they are taking turns reciting lines from a funeral dirge, waiting for the other to give the response line instead of rushing to attack. The Kingsguard know that the Targaryens have been overthrown and that this is their last stand, but are resigned to face the end with sword in hand.
Some of the cut lines actually tie in with other characters who appear in this episode, and what they were doing at the same time as the flashback: young Ned also recounts that these Kingsguard weren't there when their sworn brother Jaime Lannister killed the Mad King during the Sack of King's Landing (a few weeks before), and that they weren't with Mace Tyrell at the Siege of Storm's End. Ned also says that the loyalist knight Willem Darry managed to flee from Dragonstone to the Free Cities with the Mad King's two surviving children (Viserys and the newborn Daenerys Targaryen).
The TV series avoided using flashbacks of any kind before Season 5 - and even then only had one brief flashback to Cersei's youth. Thus Ned's flashback to his fight with the Targaryen Kingsguard did not appear in Season 1. David Benioff explained in the "Inside the Episode" featurette that the showrunners dislike flashbacks, not so much because they think the audience isn't smart enough to keep track of them, but because they feel that it is a "lazy storytelling device" - i.e., that it was more dramatic to have Jaime recount how and why he killed the Mad King back in Season 3's "Kissed by Fire" and see how it affected him, rather than to simply present the whole event as a flashback. They went on to explain, however, that they felt that Bran Stark's visions really turned out to be a great way to introduce flashbacks and they thoroughly enjoy them, because it allows a character from the present to witness the flashback events, and the scene can play off of Bran's emotional reactions to events as they unfold.
In the novels, there were actually three Targaryen Kingsguard at the tower, and Ned Stark faced them with six other companions (a total of seven men). In this episode, however, it is presented as only a two versus six fight. It's possible that a larger number of men would have made the stuntwork far too complicated to successfully choreograph. Either way, Eddard Stark and Howland Reed were the only survivors of the fight. The three Kingsguard members in the books were Arthur Dayne, Gerold Hightower, and Oswell Whent. Of these, only Arthur is identified by name in the TV version. The entry in The Book of the Brothers which appeared on-screen in the Season 4 premiere did use the novels' version, that all three Kingsguard died fighting Ned at the tower.
Although its reasonable to believe that the actor Eddie Eyre was playing Ser Oswell Whent, given that he says some of the lines that Oswell gave in the book, Eyre stated in his official Twitter account that he was portraying Gerold Hightower. This is strange as Hightower is described as both older and taller than Dayne in the books and the one with the authority as the current Lord Commander of the Kingsguard (though even in the books, while Gerold is still one of the most formidable knights in Westeros, Arthur is even better).
The Kingsguard has seven members at any given time. In the novels, of the old Targaryen Kingsguard, Prince Rhaegar took three with him to fight at the Battle of the Trident, the other three were left at the Tower of Joy, and the seventh was Jaime Lannister. Jaime wanted to go with Rhaegar to the Trident but the Mad King insisted he stay behind, essentially as a political hostage to deter Tywin from siding with the rebels - though ultimately Tywin did anyway, and Jaime killed the Mad King at the foot of the Iron Throne as the Lannister army raged through the city outside. Of the other three Kingsguard members, the ones who went to the Trident, two of them were killed - Jonothor Darry and Lewyn Martell (Oberyn's uncle) - while the third was Barristan Selmy, who was gravely wounded and captured but ultimately survived.
Two of these last seven Targaryen Kingsguard, Ser Arthur Dayne and Prince Lewyn Martell, were somehow related to Prince Rhaegar as his great-grandmother and second-great-grandmother (second- and third- in the books) were respectively a Dayne and Martell by birth. Prince Lewyn was likewise descended from Rhaegar's distant aunt, who was a Targaryen by birth, and he was an uncle and great-uncle to Rhaegar's wife Elia Martell, and their two children, Rhaenys and Aegon.
Prince Lewyn and Ser Arthur also most likely shared a common ancestor in Nymeria, the warrior-queen who unified Dorne with the aid of Mors Martell, who she married first and with whom she had a daughter. Sometime later, however, Mors died and Nymeria remarried Davos Dayne with whom she had a son.
The current novels have not specifically described the fight at the Tower of Joy itself, as Ned's flashback focuses on the dialogue he exchanged with the Kingsguard members and ends as the fight begins - not including a blow-by-blow description of what happened. It hasn't been specifically said - yet - that Howland killed Ser Arthur by stabbing him in the back, after Arthur thought he was mortally injured. In the books, the most Ned ever actually told Bran about the fight was that Arthur Dayne was the finest swordsman he ever saw, and Ned openly admitted that Ser Arthur would surely have killed him "if not for Howland Reed." This phrasing does strongly imply that Ned and Howland had to double-team Ser Arthur in order to defeat him - and thus it is entirely possible that a wounded Howland stabbing him in the back is what actually happened in the book continuity as well. Bran in this episode says that he has heard the story a hundred times about how his father killed Arthur Dayne in this skirmish - but even in the TV series, at other points Bran has said that Ned never really talked that much about what happened during the war (as he tells the Reed children when he meets them in Season 3). Therefore, Bran in the TV series apparently "heard" the story from other people, who weren't even there, and the stories surrounding Ned's final duel with Arthur grew to mythical proportions.
In the "Behind the Thrones" featurette for this episode, director Daniel Sackheim gave several insights into the Tower of Joy fight sequence:
The way Sackheim framed the buildup to the showdown at the Tower of Joy was influenced by Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West - building anticipation through anticipation of what's to come. He could have started the flashback by immediately cutting in to when young Ned starts talking to the Kingsguard, but chose not to. Instead, we first hear the hooves of the approaching horses, then a Kingsguard sharpening his sword, then one slowly putting on his helmet, etc - gradually teasing the scene out to the audience, which Sackheim felt helped build up the feeling that a much-anticipated, near-mythic event was about to happen.
There was some confusion about whether Arthur Dayne wields his legendary sword Dawn - the books never describe Dayne as duel-wielding two swords. On closer inspection, however, there is clearly a morning sunburst on Dayne's primary sword - a sunburst for Dawn. In the featurette, the production team's swordmaster Tommy Dunne openly states that Dayne is wielding his legendary pale-bladed sword Dawn, and that Dayne simply chose to also use a secondary sword along with it for this fight. Apparently they didn't make Dawn literally as pale as milk as in the novels because it would take too much screentime to explain that it is an exotic sword made from the metal in a meteorite (giving it the same strength and sharpness as Valyrian steel, but an unusual coloration). In the novels Arthur is only described as using Dawn alone: using two swords is actually twice as complicated for a swordsman to do effectively, but the TV version of Ser Arthur is simply such a master swordsman that he is indeed capable of effectively using two swords at once when outnumbered by multiple opponents.
In a Reddit AMA soon after the episode aired, Sackheim was directly asked why the decision was made to have Dayne duel wielding two swords, and he said, "We were looking for something that Arthur Dayne could do that would exhibit almost superhuman prowess. While we tried, we could not achieve that using one sword."
Coincidentally, Arthur Dayne is first mentioned in the episode "Two Swords" and in this episode he is shown to fight dual wielded in the flashback sequence.
Notice that Ned Stark actually is not wielding the ancestral Stark sword Ice during the fight, which is a large two-handed greatsword. Nor is this an inconsistency of the TV series: George R.R. Martin himself has pointed out that a large greatsword like Ice is impractical for day to day combat: it is meant to be used ceremonially, most often for beheadings (which the head of House Stark would do frequently, given their strong belief that the man who gives the order must carry out the execution himself).
Several aspects of the fight scene between young Ned and the Targaryen Kingsguard mirror the fight between Ned and Jaime Lannister. The same fight music plays during both scenes. Both scenes consist of Ned fighting a member of the Kingsguard, and consist of Ned gradually losing the fight (though he gave Jaime a lot more trouble, likely due to being Ned being older and more experienced than when he fought Arthur Dayne), but then just as Ned's opponent is about to move in for a dramatic killing blow, the fight gets abruptly interrupted by a second person: in the flashback, it was Howland Reed stabbing Arthur Dayne in the back, while in the Jaime/Ned fight, a Lannister guard intervened and stabbed Ned in the leg with a spear - Jaime then thought it would look cowardly to simply finish off a wounded opponent on the ground, so he left.
Just before their battle, Arthur Dayne tells Ned Stark, "I wish you good fortune in the wars to come." This is a call back to "The Wars to Come" where Mance Rayder tells Stannis Baratheon the same thing just before Stannis has him executed. Ironically, both Ned and Stannis were later betrayed and beheaded.
In their exchange, Ned says to the Kingsguard that Prince Rhaegar Targaryen - Daenerys's older brother - is dead and "beneath the ground." Like their Valyrian ancestors, House Targaryen actually practiced cremation at funerals. After Rhaegar died his captured followers (like Barristan) implored Robert Baratheon to grant him a proper funeral, and he grudgingly agreed (it would have been very dishonorable not to), after which Rhaegar's corpse was burned. There are two ways to reconcile this line: first, Ned might just be speaking loosely - particularly given that this line is actually a retort to what one of the Kingsguard says, that Robert would be "under the ground" if they were at the Trident - Ned simply turns around the phrase to make the retort that "Rhaegar is under the ground," and might not have been concerned about accuracy. Second, for some time it wasn't clear what the Targaryens actually did with the ashes of the cremated, but the World of Ice and Fire sourcebook later confirmed that they are interred in the crypts under the Great Sept of Baelor - thus Rhaegar's ashes are indeed "under the ground."
The Three-Eyed Raven tells Bran Stark that he has been waiting for him in the cave for "a thousand years." Though it is not yet confirmed, much evidence in the books indicate that he is a certain notable figure in Westeros's history, in which case he has actually been in the cave for about fifty years. Possibilities are that either the TV writers made a decision to change his entire background, or, that he was just speaking loosely/poetically (sort of like saying "I've been here for eons"). Given how much the Three-Eyed Raven uses Greensight to witness events in the past, even centuries ago, his sense of time might also be a little more loose (he has experienced a thousand years' worth of visions).
In the "Behind the Thrones" featurette for this episode, director Daniel Sackheim explained that when deciding how to frame Jon Snow rising up from his resurrection at the beginning of this episode, he studied a lot of classical artwork depictions of the resurrection of Jesus: ultimately the way he framed the shot was strongly influenced by the versions done by the Baroque Italian painter Caravaggio. Like Caravaggio's resurrection paintings, Jon Snow's naked body in these scenes is framed heavily uses chiaroscuro effect - light/dark contrast, with the broad planes of his muscles reflecting the weak light but the gaps between his muscles in heavy shadow, etc.
Jon Snow notably has no memory loss after his resurrection - in contrast with Beric Dondarrion, who explained that being resurrected from death carried a heavy burden: pieces of his mind were lost, and after being resurrected six times he had completely lost all memories of his life before his first resurrection. This may be a key plot point which will play out in subsequent episodes.
In "Mother's Mercy," Jon Snow was stabbed by at least six different people. Several others look on, about a dozen people in all. In this episode, however, Jon Snow executes only four mutineers: Olly, Alliser Thorne, Bowen Marsh, and Othell Yarwyck. It is possible that the other two mutineers that stabbed Jon were simply killed offscreen, or they were granted clemency while Jon focused on the main culprits.
Dolorous Edd points out the color of Jon's eyes as a sign he is alive: had Jon become a wight, his eyes would have been glowing blue.
It is the second time, following Catelyn's story about Jon in "Dark Wings, Dark Words", that someone says Jon has brown eyes. The novels make a point he has gray eyes, matching Ned's eyes.
Tormund teases Jon about the size of his penis. In the novels moreso than the TV show, Tormund frequently makes ribald jokes, though he means them in a playful, good-natured way. In the third novel, when Jon is reluctant to have sex with Ygritte due to it breaking his vows, Tormund jokingly says that if a man doesn't use his penis often enough (like the celibate Night's Watch) it will shrivel away from lack of use.
Othell Yarwyck says that his mother is still alive and living in White Harbor. White Harbor is a city in the North. However, House Yarwyck is a minor house from The Westerlands. So it is possible that either the writers forgot this and the location of House Yarwyck has changed from the novels, or, that his mother simply later moved to White Harbor by herself.
The "Behind the Thrones" featurette also confirmed that no CGI effects needed to be used for the hanging scene at the end: as is a common technique in television and film, the actors are wearing harnesses hidden under their clothes, which carry their body weight across the chest instead of the neck so they won't actually be harmed.
Gilly says the ship's captain told her that Oldtown is the most beautiful city in Westeros: this isn't a mere boast, as in the novels it is also broadly believed to be true. Oldtown is only slightly smaller than King's Landing itself, but it is also literally the oldest of the five major cities in Westeros, founded by the First Men well over 6,000 years ago. King's Landing, meanwhile, was quickly constructed as the new Targaryen capital city after the War of Conquest only three centuries ago: as a result it grew haphazardly as a boomtown without much careful "urban planning," leading to dirty slum districts such as Flea Bottom. In contrast, Oldtown had thousands of years to carefully plan out its street network and gardens, resulting in a much more beautiful city famed for its elegant cobblestone streets.
Samwell didn't exactly lie when he said he's taking Gilly to Oldtown - they are going to Oldtown, but he lied about her staying there. House Tarly's castle at Horn Hill is also in the Reach, a relatively short distance inland from Oldtown (which is a major port). He intends to travel to Oldtown by ship, continuing inland to Horn Hill to drop off Gilly, then return to Oldtown in order to begin his studies towards becoming a maester.
In order to play Arya Stark as blind, Maisie Williams wore special 16 millimeter contacts which she actually couldn't see through. She only wore these for stationary shots with heavy focus on dialogue and acting, but for the extensive fight scenes with the Waif - particularly in this episode - she switched to another set of contacts which had small pinprick holes in the middle which she could still see out of. She used these stunt contacts when she was in motion and the camera wouldn't make them noticeable anyway. This was done due to the fear that if she really couldn't see in these scenes, she might end up accidentally hurting herself or the other actor.
She never added Littlefinger, Roose and Ramsay Bolton, or the Greyjoys to the list because she wasn't aware of what they did to her family.
Ser Ilyn Payne was also on the list in earlier seasons but due to the actor developing near-terminal cancer he has not reappeared since Season 2, at which apparently even last season his name was quietly removed from the list. It is unknown if the actor will reappear before the TV series finishes.
In Season 4 Arya had added Melisandre, Beric, and Thoros for taking Gendry away - in the novels she never met them and they weren't on her list, but in the TV continuity she apparently removed them from her list, along with the Hound, by the time she arrived in Braavos. Some of her anger toward Beric and Thoros related to their letting the Hound walk free, so her confused feelings about the Hound may have softened her murderous inclinations towards them.
In the books, Walder Frey is not explicitly on Arya's list - though she states that this is only because she intends to kill all of the Freys responsible for the Red Wedding, and it would take too long to say all of their names (that and she isn't sure yet which ones were specifically the most responsible, such as Lame Lothar Frey).
The only people on Arya's kill list who are still alive in the novels at this point are Cersei, Ilyn Payne, Meryn Trant and one of the Mountain's men named Dunsen. In the books she named several of the Mountain's men on the list, among them Polliver, Dunsen, and Raff, and she actually hasn't been able to kill Meryn yet. The TV version condensed these side characters into the others instead of introducing them: Arya kills TV-Meryn the way that she killed Raff in the books, while the other Mountain's men such as Dunsen were simply condensed into Polliver.
The Sons of the Harpy are in fact being funded by an alliance of slavers from powerful foreign cities: the Wise Masters of Yunkai, the (revived) Good Masters of Astapor, and the slave-masters of Volantis. In the novels this was a much larger subplot as Yunkai'i send their slave armies and three mercenary companies - the Windblown, the Company of the Cat, and the Long Lances - which are joined by armies out of Mantarys, Tolos, Elyria, and New Ghis, to reconquer Astapor and then march on Meereen, where they are to be joined by the Volantene army. In the TV series, for the moment at least, it seems that this was condensed to sending money to fund the insurgent group. The recapture of Astapor was also briefly summarized by Varys in the preceding episode. This episode also strongly highlights what Tyrion and Varys briefly alluded to in the previous episode, that there must be one central leader of the Sons of the Harpy.
A behind-the-scenes video was posted to the HBO Viewer's Guide for this episode which adds much greater insight into the scene between Tyrion Lannister, Grey Worm, and Missandei. It makes it clear that Tyrion's attempts at conversation with them are supposed to be awkward, and his jokes are meant to fall flat and fail. The writers wanted to highlight that Tyrion is now mixed in with a very different and alien culture in Meereen, so his usual routine of witty repartee around the council table wouldn't be expected to automatically work. Grey Worm and Missandei were slaves and are used to a culture in which they do what they are told without any further small talk, and even the ruling elites they're used to in the region are more formal and don't banter like in Westeros. For their part, as their actors explain, Grey Worm really doesn't know what to make of Tyrion and is baffled by his odd attempts at levity, while Missandei isn't impressed with Tyrion and his drunken humor - though she does appreciate that he saved her life in the attack at the gladiator games.
Obviously the point of the scene was to show the culture clash Tyrion is facing with the more serious characters in Meereen, but of minor note is that he keeps asking if there are any "games" they can play. In the novels, Tyrion in fact learned to play the board game Cyvasse as he journeyed to Meereen, which is somewhat like chess. Even after he reaches Meereen he plays cyvasse with several sellswords to pass the time.
Varys says he doesn't actually speak the local language perfectly when trying to pronounce the name of Vala's son "Dom," though he spoke it well in the previous episode when he corrects Tyrion's incomprehensible grammar. Of course, either Varys could have just been saying this sarcastically, or he's just having some trouble with the local Ghiscari Low Valyrian of Meereen - Daenerys herself had enough trouble with it that she kept Missandei as a translator, despite speaking Valyrian quite well. The production team described the local Valyrian accent as similar to the difference between an American English accent and a heavy Scottish English accent - the same language, but at times the pronunciation is quite different.
Given that both Varys and Vala have been shown to comprehensibly speak Valyrian, it is unclear if Vala is meant to know the Common Tongue of Westeros, or if the scene is "translated" into English/Common Tongue for the sake of the audience.
This episode suggests that there is no secrecy or ambiguity about the identity of the newest member of the Kingsguard, who is openly identified as Gregor Clegane. This is in contrast to the books, where the alias "Ser Robert Strong" is used, but this name has not been mentioned at all in the series. In this episode Qyburn calls him Gregor in front of Jaime and Cersei, and Pycelle openly calls him Gregor Clegane to the other Small Council members as well. That being said, in the novels, characters openly suspect that it is really Gregor (there aren't many seven to eight feet tall men in Westeros), and Kevan in his inner thought monologue outright thinks it must be the "dead man" Gregor. In the books, the Mountain is stated (or perhaps, claimed) to have died - his skull is even sent to Sunspear in an attempt to appease House Martell - whereas in the show he is simply subjected to Qyburn's experiments while in agony.
Despite the heavy impending charges against Cersei, she is free to walk around and do as she pleases. In the book, following the walk of atonement, Kevan has her stripped of all henchmen and authorities, including her seat in the Small Council, and she is confined to her rooms under guard all the time. The TV version is stretching out the final chapter of A Dance with Dragons across much of Season 6, however, and apparently she will be given more freedom to move afterwards: the TV version is just condensing later chapters, and Kevan is still ostracizing her from the Small Council. In the next episode after this, dialogue makes it clear that Cersei is in fact under house arrest in the Red Keep and can't leave without permission.
Olenna Tyrell does not have a seat at the Small Council in the books - though, apparently, she hasn't been made a formal "member" of the council in the TV version either. In both versions, the council can appoint new members who are simply "advisors" that don't hold any formal seat (i.e., Oberyn Martell in Season 4), or for that matter, Olenna in the TV show might not even be a "member" of the Small Council, just invited as a guest to share information (similarly, Janos Slynt reported to the council in Season 1 even when he wasn't a formal "member" of it). Even in the TV version, it seems that some lip service is paid that Olenna is there due to her son actually having an office on the Small Council (nominally his assistant, etc.).
Jaime states that he has the right to a seat on the council as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Officially, the Lord Commander is indeed one of the seven permanent seats on the council. The TV series kept Barristan Selmy absent from the Small Council in Season 1 ("The Wolf and the Lion"), so he wouldn't instantly know that Jorah Mormont was spying on Daenerys Targaryen when he joined them in Season 3, due to condensing some other subplots (in the books, Barristan was at the meeting in the parallel book chapter, heard Jorah was a spy, and along with Ned objected to assassinating Daenerys). In Season 3, the TV series explained his prior absence by having him say in "Kissed by Fire" that he indeed had a seat on the Small Council as the Lord Commander, but was excluded from the council meetings because Robert did not any advice from a former Targaryen loyalist - and he didn't mind, because he just disliked politics (for that matter, other episodes said even Robert didn't attend the meetings frequently).
In the TV series, Jaime has actually never invoked his right to sit on the Small Council before, even though he has been back in King's Landing since the beginning of Season 4. Even in the novels, however, he (not Selmy) has no interest in politics and rarely tries to attend the council - though he does try to discuss matters with Kevan in private. The only time he attended the council (in the third novel), he soon got bored and his mind went elsewhere, thinking about regaining his fighting skills. Before the meeting was over, he excused himself and walked away, leaving to his uncle to take care of whatever was discussed. When he is given a military assignment outside of King's Landing, he is glad to leave the company of the lickspittles and fools who surround Cersei, since he feels more comfortable amongst soldiers in the field than he ever has at court.
Jaime directly states at the Small Council that "the same women who murdered Myrcella have now overthrown House Martell and taken control of Dorne." Again, Ellaria Sand's coup in Dorne is a massive departure from the novels, in which Doran is not only alive but only feigning a desire for peace so he can betray the Lannisters later. The dialogue in this episode seems to establish that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes in the TV version didn't seize control of "House Martell," but are considered to have overthrown the ruling Great House of the region. The TV show didn't introduce Doran's other two children from the novels, thus when they killed both Doran and Trystane in the TV version it rendered "House Martell" extinct - as opposed to Oberyn's bastard daughters somehow claiming rule despite being illegitimate (or perhaps, in this scene Jaime simply feels they overthrew the "real" House Martell).
Jaime's dialogue indicates that he openly thinks Ellaria killed Doran - when in the preceding episode, Tommen said he suspected Cersei of killing Trystane because he was killed on his ship in the capital's harbor, when in truth it was the Sand Snakes who snuck in and killed him. The point of this earlier scene was apparently to set up that Ellaria was going to publicly blame the death of Trystane on the Lannisters as a pretext for war. It's possible she meant to blame the Lannisters for Doran's assassination as well - which is more difficult to do if she has seized power upon his untimely death. On the other hand, Jaime would know this is a lie and suspect Ellaria in fact killed Doran, given that the Lannisters themselves know they never sent assassins to kill him. In this case, Ellaria might publicly present this as her and the Sand Snakes stepping up to assume control after Doran's "tragic assassination by the Lannisters." Ultimately Jaime's line can be interpreted broadly enough that it doesn't add any significantly new information, more will be known when Dorne reappears.
This episode sheds light on the fates of Rickon Stark, Osha, and Shaggydog, who have been missing since Season 3's penultimate episode "The Rains of Castamere," showing that they did in fact arrive at Last Hearth as planned. In the books, an eyewitness saw them heading for Skagos. This deviates significantly from the novels - while Rickon has not returned yet, he probably won't be presented as a captive to Ramsay Bolton. Though otherwise this might not be an "invention" of the TV series but a "condensation" with a similar plotline from a future novel.
This subplot about the Umbers deviates greatly from the books: the Greatjon is not dead, but instead was taken hostage during the Red Wedding, while the Smalljon, his eldest son and heir, was killed while protecting Robb. Hother "Whoresbane" Umber, one of Greatjon's two uncles, who is in command of half of the surviving Umber troops, collaborates with the Boltons but it has nothing to do with Jon - he does that reluctantly because he fears for his nephew's life. Meanwhile Mors "Crowfood" Umber, Hother's brother, who is in command of the other half of the surviving Umber troops, joins Stannis, and he is the one who holds a grudge against the wildlings because his only daughter was kidnapped by one - but he does not resent Jon, and is still loyal to the Starks.
Unlike Smalljon's show character, Hother supports the Boltons only nominally. Lady Dustin comments that he (and probably more of the guests at Ramsay's wedding) would have gladly killed the attending Freys as a payback for his great-nephew's death at the Red Wedding, but does not dare to do so as long as Greatjon is held captive.
Shaggydog is still alive with Rickon on Skagos in the books, implying that this doesn't happen in the novels. On the other hand, "shaggydog" is a writing term for a plot thread which is set up as misdirection but ultimately doesn't result in anything significant (the opposite of a Chekov's Gun)...which may have been a hint from George R.R. Martin himself that the direwolf was in fact a "shaggy dog" story this entire time, a misdirection so readers would think House Stark has a future male heir even if Jon Snow stays permanently dead - only for Jon to be later resurrected and Rickon captured.
TV writer Bryan Cogman curiously insisted that Greatjon Umber wasn't even at the Red Wedding, so he was neither captured nor killed there in the TV version - even though this would be a convenient way to write out the character, instead of introducing that he died under mysterious circumstances...and perhaps a hint that Smalljon is lying to the Boltons, and - among other things - the Greatjon is still alive.
After the episode aired, numerous major critics began theorizing that the Umbers delivered Rickon to Ramsay Bolton as a ploy, and they are planning to betray the Boltons. In the novels, there is actually a major plot point that House Manderly's army is grudgingly marching with the Bolton's forces but plans to turn on them in the near future, probably in the midst of a key battle. This may have been condensed with the Umbers in the TV version.
Some critics have speculated if Shaggydog is actually dead, or if the Umbers are planning to betray the Boltons, and just passed off a regular wolf's head as Shaggydog. Several cited that the prop used for the direwolf's head seems relatively small compared to his brother Ghost's head this season. Interestingly, director Dan Sackheim himself thought the head was too small. In a subsequent reddit AMA the week after the episode aired, someone asked Sackheim about the head seemingly being too small to be a direwolf, and Sackheim recounted:
"Your right it does seem small. I had the same question, but I was assured by the creature maker that was responsible for crafting the head that it was the correct size. Good question.
Mutiny at Castle Black: Conclusion
As the leaders of the Mutiny at Castle Black are hanged, they re-iterate that their primary motivation in the TV series was due to Jon letting the wildlings through the Wall. In the novels, it was due to the Boltons threatening the Night's Watch with destruction, and Jon deciding to break his vow of neutrality to fight them. This condensation significantly affects several parts of the storyline and introduces several unaddressed plot holes. For more information, see the main article on the "Bastard letter."
Gilly's baby and the TV timeline
A major issue regarding the Timeline comes up with the return of Gilly's son in this episode: the TV writers might not have been keeping as strict track of the in-universe timeline as the novels did (the index to every book lists how old the current child characters are). In the books, roughly two years pass between the first novel and the Red Wedding, in the middle of the third book. Because it is the longest book, the TV series split the third novel into three seasons (Seasons 3, 4 and early Season 5), with the Red Wedding at the end of Season 3. Either way, on-screen dialogue in the TV series established that one year had passed in-universe by Season 2, and it was directly stated on-screen that just prior to the Red Wedding, the war had been going on for two years (since late Season 1).
From Season 4 onwards, however, the TV series actually hasn't stated how much time has passed within the storyline: whether it is still proceeding at a rate of one year per TV season (in order to match the younger actors aging at a normal rate), or if the narrative slowed down without clearly announcing it. Gilly's son in the TV series was born in Season 3, thus if time in the TV series is progressing at a rate of one year per TV season, he would be nearly 3 years old in Season 6 - and thus not really a "baby" anymore like in the source material but more of a toddler.
On the other hand, it has never been stated that the rate at which time passes suddenly slowed down, and other comments vaguely implied that it still progresses at the same rate: in Season 5, Myrcella says she has been in Dorne for "years" since Season 2, which would seem to imply closer to at least three (even assuming that Season 2 to 3 was one full year as stated elsewhere). The only other direct hint about the passage of time is that Roose Bolton stated at the Red Wedding that he was going to marry Fat Walda Frey, and she announced she was pregnant in Season 5 - though it is unclear when exactly they married or when she conceived, only that she eventually gave birth in Season 6. Thus, at the very least, around nine months to one year must have passed since the Red Wedding by this point. Gilly's son was born slightly before that in Season 3 (the last season in which a dating was definitively given), thus he must also be at least one year old.
The episode itself was somewhat ambiguous when Gilly's son actually appeared: the actor-baby clearly is not around one year old as the actor-babies playing him were in prior seasons; instead he has a full head of hair and looks much more like a toddler between two and three years old. Other statements about exactly how much time has passed since Season 3 have not yet been made.
George R.R. Martin never physically produced his own illustrations of what every piece of Heraldry that is mentioned in the novels looks like: there is obviously more than one way to draw a lion (for the Lannisters) or a wolf (for the Starks) - potentially in infinite variation. When the TV series began, graphic artist Jim Stanes said that he researched hundreds of alternate medieval designs to produce the official in-universe design of the Lannister lion sigil in the TV series, which is very specific. The specific Lannister lion design used in "the TV continuity" isn't necessarily what it looks like in-universe in "the book continuity".
In this episode, notice that the large clasp on Howland Reed's cloak is shaped like the sigil of House Reed, a lizard-lion (a type of crocodilian). The design of the lizard-lion is an exact replica of a very specific fanart production of the Reed sigil, which has been used as infobox art on the "House Reed" article on Westeros.org's A Wiki of Ice and Fire since November 2012 (over three years before this episode was produced). Notice that it is an exact replica of even the smallest details: from the circular shape of the lizard-lion, to its long flaming tongue which bends at the same angle, and three toes on each foot. The leather of the clothes that are held by the clasp are also apparently made of crocodile skin; in the same way that the Starks wear clothes made from wolf pelts, the Reeds seem to also incorporate their sigil into the material of their clothes.
Similarly, recently in Season 5, observe that the embroidered sigil of House Stokeworth that appeared on Lollys Stokeworth's dress is of a lamb holding a cup: this Stokeworth sigil in the TV series is also an exact replica of an unofficial fanart version from AWOIAF and used as the infobox heraldry on the House Stokeworth page. It is actually the most recent version of the AWOIAF Stokeworth sigil - looking at its history tab reveals that the current version used in 2015-2016 was first loaded in February 2014. The current version is exactly like the one used in the TV show in Season 5: a resting lamb (passant), facing left, with its arm holding the cup. Illustrating that there is more than one way to draw a design, the previous versions on that page had the lamb facing right, striding on its legs.
The only conclusion that can be reached is that from around Season 4 onwards, the TV production team must be actively reading A Wiki of Ice and Fire to research what in-universe heraldry is "supposed" to look like (and by extension, possibly even Game of Thrones Wiki).
That being said, the fanart wouldn't have been posted to AWOIAF unless it was of high quality, and often the only difference between "fanart" and "official" art is if Martin has directly given it permission to be used in one of the official publications or art calendars.
The episode is adapted from the following chapter of A Game of Thrones:
Chapter 39, Eddard X: The showdown at the Tower of Joy is recalled, in which Ned stark and his companions tried to save his sister Lyanna from the Kingsguard.
The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Feast for Crows:
Chapter 24, Cersei V: Cersei orders Qyburn to send his whisperers to spy on the kingslanders who mock the Lannisters.
Chapter 45, Sam V: Sam tells Gilly he intends to send her and the baby to Horn Hill, and pass the baby as Sam's bastard son.
The episode is adapted from the following chapters of A Dance with Dragons:
Chapter 12, Reek I: Ramsay meets with the leaders of Houses Karstark and Umber.
Chapter 45, The Blind Girl: After passing the Faceless Men's test, Arya is given her sight back.
Epilogue: The Small Council, headed by Ser Kevan Lannister, discuss the political situation and their course of action. Ser Kevan is weary of the mute giant of a man recently added into the Kingsguard.
The remaining material appears to be based on what will come in the sixth novel, The Winds of Winter, particularly the storylines of Jon Snow's resurrection, Daenerys Targaryen with the Dothraki, and the return of Rickon Stark.
Arthur Dayne: "Lord Stark." Eddard Stark: "I looked for you on the Trident." Arthur: "We weren't there." Gerold Hightower: "Your friend the Usurper would lie beneath the ground if we had been." Eddard: "The Mad King is dead, Rhaegar lies beneath the ground. Why weren't you there to protect your prince?" Arthur: "Our prince wanted us here." Eddard: "Where's my sister?" Arthur: "I wish you good fortune in the wars to come." [He and Gerold don their helms.] "And now it begins." [The two Kingsguard draw their swords.] Eddard: "No, now it ends."
Smalljon Umber: "Your father was a cunt." Ramsay Bolton: "My beloved father, the Warden..." Smalljon Umber: "Your father was a cunt, and that's why you killed him. I might've done the same to my father if he hadn't done me the favor of dying on his own." Ramsay Bolton: "My father was poisoned by our enemies." Smalljon Umber: "Mmm." Ramsay: "Why have you come to Winterfell, Lord Umber?" Smalljon: "The bastard Jon Snow led an army of wildlings past the Wall. We're farther north than any of you fuckers. Wildlings come down, we always have to fight them first. I like fighting wildlings. Been doing it all my life. But there are too many of them for us to beat back alone." Ramsay: "So now you've come seeking help?" Smalljon: "We need to help each other. The colder it gets, the farther south those goat fuckers will roam. Won't take them long to get here." Ramsay: "You think a horde of wildlings can take Winterfell?" Smalljon: "If they got Jon Snow leading them, maybe. He knows this place better than we ever will." Ramsay: "Pledge your banners to House Bolton. Swear loyalty to me as Warden of the North and we will fight together to destroy the bastard and all his wildling friends." Smalljon: "I'm not kissing your fucking hand." Ramsay: "Traditionally a bannerman kneels before his lord." Smalljon: "I'm not doing that either." Ramsay: "Why would I trust a man who won't honor tradition?" Smalljon: "Your father honored tradition. Knelt for Robb Stark. Called him King of the North. Was Robb Stark right to trust your father?" Ramsay: "Then it appears we're at a bit of an impasse." Smalljon: "Fuck kneeling and fuck oaths. I've got a gift for you."
Jon Snow: "If you have any last words, now is the time."
Bowen Marsh: "You shouldn't be alive. It's not right." Jon: "Neither was killing me." Othell Yarwyck: "My mother is still living in White Harbor, could you write her? Tell her I died fighting the wildlings." Alliser Thorne: "I had a choice, Lord Commander. Betray you or betray the Night's Watch. You brought an army of wildlings into our lands. An army of murderers and raiders. If I had to do it all over again knowing where I'd end up, I pray I'd make the right choice again." Jon Snow: "I'm sure you would, Ser Alliser." Alliser Thorne: "I fought, I lost. Now I rest. But you, Lord Snow, you'll be fighting their battles forever." [Jon approaches Olly, who refuses to speak and glares furiously at Jon.]
[Jon walks toward Eddison Tollett after publicly hanging Alliser, Bowen, Othell, and Olly.]
Eddison Tollett: "We should burn the bodies." Jon: "You should." [Jon hands his black cloak to Edd.] Edd: "What do you want me to do with this?" Jon: "Wear it. Burn it. Whatever you want. You have Castle Black. My watch has ended."