Jon Snow (Kit Harington) makes the toughest decision of his short tenure as lord commander of the Night’s Watch in “Kill the Boy,” Episode 45 of HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Jon knows the biggest threat facing Westeros is not the existence of wildlings/Free Folk who battled the Night’s Watch for thousands of years. Instead, it’s the Army of the Dead -- the supernatural White Walkers -- who would wreak havoc if they invade the Seven Kingdoms.
So, Jon ponders, should he let the wildlings be slaughtered and then absorbed into the Army of the Dead? Or should he make peace with these Free Folk and let them settle south of The Wall?
To help him decide, Jon taps the wisdom of century-old Maester Aemon Targaryen (Peter Vaughan).
“You will find little joy in your command. But with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done,” Aemon counsels. “Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born!”
Jon the man emerges when he turns his prisoner, fierce wildling warrior Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju), into an ally. Now Jon and Tormund will transport the wildlings to safety on ships borrowed from wannabe king Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane).
As for Stannis, he leads his army south from Castle Black with the intent of conquering Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton) and his supporters in northern Westeros. Roose is already preparing for the onslaught.
“He [Stannis] wants the Iron Throne. And the road to King’s Landing comes right through Winterfell,” Roose says to his son Ramsay (Iwan Rheon). “He means to take the north. But the north is ours -- yours and mine!”
A wary “guest” of the Boltons is Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), whose mother and brother were murdered by Roose’s treachery. Making matters worse, the Boltons occupy Sansa’s ancestral home of Winterfell, and she’s engaged to marry sadistic Ramsay.
Fortunately for Sansa, most northerners still respect the Stark legacy, and mighty swordswoman Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) stands ready to rescue Sansa should the need arise.
Meanwhile, Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) continues his journey to Meereen with hostage Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage). Jorah hopes to regain the trust of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) by offering her this member of hated House Lannister as a prize.
Jorah and Tyrion are savagely attacked, however, while sailing through the ruins of Valyria. Their assailants are Stone Men, wretched creatures afflicted with greyscale, a usually fatal disease that renders the flesh hard and cracked.
Tyrion is saved from drowning by Jorah, but Jorah isn’t so lucky. He’s touched by one of the Stone Men and the highly contagious greyscale starts to grow on Jorah’s wrist.
As for Dany, she confronts a rebellion after her soldiers were ambushed by the Sons of the Harpy, masked insurgents determined to restore slavery in Meereen.
Boldly asserting her authority, Dany rounds up the leaders of Meereen’s most prominent families and shows them what happens when they try to topple the Mother of Dragons.
“They will eat you if I tell them to,” she says to the frightened aristocrats as two of her dragons roar. On Dany’s order, they incinerate a hapless prisoner and rip him to pieces.
Then, to placate the masses, Dany says she’ll reopen the fighting pits where slaves once battled to the death. But, she emphasizes, the gladiators will be free men only.
“Slavery will never return to Meereen,” she vows, “not while I live.”
Finally, Dany announces she will wed a prominent former slave master. The surprised groom-to-be? He’s Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), who quivers meekly at Dany’s feet.