After surviving a brutal siege by the Wildlings, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) attempts to save these invading "free folk" and their stubborn king on "The Wars to Come" (Episode 41), the Season 5 premiere of HBO's "Game of Thrones."
Jon and his Night's Watch brothers would have lost Castle Black if not for the last-minute intervention of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and his troops.
Now the Wildling leader, King-Beyond-the-Wall Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds), has surrendered and faces execution. And Jon, who lived among and respects the free folk, is suddenly a negotiator.
As the self-proclaimed rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, Stannis orders Jon to reason with Mance. By swearing loyalty to Stannis, Mance and the Wildling clans will become citizens of the realm who can live on the much safer and greener south side of the Wall.
"Convince him to bend a knee," Stannis says of Mance, "or he burns!"
Offering a pardon is not an altruistic gesture by Stannis. He needs the fierce Wildling fighters to help retake the northern lands from Lord Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), who owes his allegiance to House Lannister.
But Mance refuses to support a "foreigner's war," even if that means his Wildlings must remain north of the Wall where they'll likely fall prey to supernatural White Walkers.
"This was my home for many years," former Night's Watch ranger Mance says as he's chained to the execution pyre. "I wish you good fortune in the wars to come."
Given the "honor" of setting Mance ablaze is priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the close advisor and mistress of Stannis. As the flames grow higher, Jon abruptly ends the cruelty by firing an arrow into Mance's heart.
At King's Landing, meanwhile, incestuous siblings Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are in danger of toppling from power as enemies draw near.
Tyrannical patriarch Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) lies in state after being murdered by his dwarf son Tyrion (Peter Dinklage). Untested boy king Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) sits tenuously on the Iron Throne. And religious fanatics known as "sparrows" are on the rise.
Also struggling to retain power is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who discovers it was far easier to conquer the city-states of Slaver's Bay than it is to govern them. She rules from the Great Pyramid in Meereen as chaos threatens to overtake the streets.
Dany could assuage the masses by restoring the fighting pits where slaves once battled to the death. But she firmly rejects that suggestion.
"I do not respect the tradition of human cockfighting," Dany insists.
Dany's lover Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) might change her mind, however. He once fought in the pits and fondly recalls how 10,000 spectators screamed his name.
Perhaps the best way for Dany to prevail is by unleashing her dragons. But the largest one, Drogon, has gone AWOL. And Rhaegal and Viserion aren't happy to see Dany after she chained them in the catacombs. They greet their "mother" with a fire-breathing rage.
Finally, Varys (Conleth Hill) endeavors to cheer up fugitive Tyrion, who wallows in guilt and self-pity after strangling his mistress Shae (Sibel Kekilli) and killing his father Tywin with a crossbow.
By helping Tyrion escape King's Landing, Varys strove to bring peace and prosperity to the Seven Kingdoms. Tyrion's political instincts and compassion, Varys believes, might play a role in crowning an enlightened monarch who would "intimidate the high lords and inspire the people."
And that ruler, according to Varys, could be Dany.