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Is Winterfell the setting for Game of Thrones' next big battle?

Sansa Stark
Sansa Stark
HBO

Every week, three of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, deputy culture editor Jen Trolio is joined by executive editor Matthew Yglesias and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for entries.

Jen Trolio: I see what you're saying about Melisandre, Matthew, but while I agree that her assassination of Renly via shadow baby isn't necessarily any worse than some of the acts we've seen carried out by other Game of Thrones characters, I'm still skeptical of the Lord of Light and his followers. I think it's all the eerie, knowing glances.

In "Kill the Boy," we saw Melisandre throw one hell of a look in Jon's direction as the Stannis contingent set out for Winterfell, and I'm also still struck by the glare of that priestess from a couple episodes back, the one who declared Daenarys the savior as Varys and Tyrion listened in on her courtyard sermon. Everyone's entitled to their own religious beliefs, but the Lord of Light's followers give me the heebie-jeebies.

Given Melisandre's discussion with Jon — during which she hinted that she has plenty of intel on his parents, his bloodlines, and his future before taking off with Stannis — she's got to be up to something. Sure, she could surprise us with something heroic, as you've suggested she might, but as long as she keeps casting such sneaky looks, I don't trust her. I'm thinking that Jon and Melisandre will definitely cross paths once again; I'm just not sure why.

But assuming no one's dispatched a shadow baby to shut me up for throwing shade at their religion, I want to switch gears and discuss what else transpired at the Wall before Melisandre, Stannis, and the rest of their camp set out — as well as what might be in the cards for Winterfell once they arrive.

Since it debuted, Game of Thrones has used the penultimate episode of each season to deliver a gigantic plot development, oftentimes a battle of some sort. In season one, Ned lost his head. In season two, wildfire lit up the sky as King's Landing came under siege from Stannis in the Battle of the Blackwater. Season three brought the Red Wedding. And season four saw the Night's Watch defend its turf against Mance Rayder in the Battle of Castle Black. Every one of these scenarios has served to push various story and character arcs in new directions — by throwing King's Landing and the Stark family into disarray, by forging new alliances between houses, by paving the way for Jon to become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, etc. — and to set up the following season.

I think the events that took place at the Wall in "Kill the Boy" began to lay the foundation for what may be season five's big knock-down drag-out, whether it happens in episode nine or not. Most importantly, Jon made a deal with Tormund Giantsbane that essentially gave the episode its title as he sought advice from Maester Aemon. Meanwhile, Samwell kept up his dragonglass studies and had a brief chat with Stannis, planting a new seed for whatever White Walker madness lies ahead — and possibly a detour to Dragonstone at some point. I get the feeling that Game of Thrones has something bigger in store for Sam. Forget Melisandre; I'd love to see Sam emerge as a hero in this story. At the very least, he's an underdog I think most fans are rooting for to step up and save a(nother?) day or two, should he get the chance.

How will these little snippets come back into play once clashes begin in Winterfell — something that's surely on the docket for the second half of the season? Sansa's already there, with mysterious allies ready to stand behind her the moment she lights a candle in the Broken Tower, Brienne and Pod are in the vicinity, and Stannis is on his way there now. Plus, Drogon the dragon seems to be traveling farther and farther from Meereen; how long can it possibly be before Dany takes a hint from her fire-breathing children and finally hits the road? Could she possibly end up in Winterfell, too?

No matter how many different factions descend on the city, not everyone will happy to see one another. Throw in the unpredictability of the wildlings — we don't know how they'll react to Jon and Tormund's partnership pitch, and if things go awry, it seems within the realm of possibility that they could do some damage in Winterfell once they're south of the Wall — and the stage may be set for Game of Thrones' next big battle, this time in a location we've become all too familiar with over the years.

What do you think, Andrew?

Read the recap. Come back soon for more discussion.

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