Rewatching ‘Game of Thrones,’ Season 7: On Thin Ice
In the show, Samwell Tarly scores the internship from hell when he goes to the Citadel, but he also obtains some valuable information. (Where dragonglass can be found; how to cure greyscale; the history of Rhaegar Targaryen’s twisted love life.) Sam’s purpose at the Citadel seems simple: Grab the info. There are other novices, acolytes and maesters on hand, but they’re not central to the plot.
That isn’t the case in the books. There, the Citadel is a vibrant hub of activity, with mysteries swirling around and several conspiracies afoot. It appears that a Faceless Man (possibly Jaqen H’ghar, based on his appearance), posing as an alchemist, has tricked a young novice named Pate into stealing a key that can open every door at the Citadel. The man then seems to take Pate’s place — using his face — and becomes Sam’s classmate. What could a Faceless Man want at the Citadel? Readers speculate that he is searching for the only surviving copy of a book known as “Blood and Fire” (sometimes known as “The Death of Dragons”), which is said to be hidden in a locked vault. Sam did steal a number of books before taking his leave, so perhaps we’ll see the show do a shortcut through this plot point and find the sought-after tome in Sam’s possession.
In the books Sam also meets a number of unusual fellow students at the Citadel. One of them, the enigmatic Alleras, nicknamed the Sphinx, might be a Sand Snake named Sarella. (Since the Citadel only admits male students, wearing a disguise to gain admittance would be an ingenious way to study there). The show appears to be done with the Dornish plot, but we only met three of Oberyn’s eight daughters, the ones seeking revenge versus knowledge. Sarella/Alleras is the best of the bunch, and it would be interesting if the show could find a way to incorporate her in Season 8, just to show how women are disrupting previously male-only institutions.
The Sphinx’s mentor, the archmaester Marwyn the Mage, has studied the higher mysteries (a.k.a. magic) and mastered some of them during his travels. Dany’s witch from Season 1? Marwyn met her and taught her the Common Tongue and human anatomy. Melisandre’s old haunt in Asshai? Marwyn also went there and studied shadowbinding. (No word yet on the male equivalent of “birthing” a shadow demon.) Disgraced Qyburn didn’t find the maesters receptive to his ideas, except for Marwyn. Marwyn helps connect these threads, and his “Book of Lost Books” also sheds light on various prophecies.
When Sam arrives, Marwyn sends Alleras to intercept Sam before he can speak to the other maesters. Sam brings them both up-to-date on Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons, on Maester Aemon’s belief that she was the fulfillment of the Azor Ahai prophecy, and his conviction that she needed a maester to guide her and bring her back to Westeros. And not just any maester would do. Marwyn hints to Sam of a vast anti-magic conspiracy stretching back centuries, when the archmaesters helped to kill off the last of the dragons in order to rid the world of magic. The “grey sheep” maesters of the present-day aren’t much better, Marwyn says. The Citadel has no place in it for sorcery or prophecy, and he warns Sam to keep Dany, her dragons and the prophecy a secret, “unless you fancy poison in your porridge.”
So if Marwyn is to be believed (and there’s some debate to this, because some think he is unsound), the supposedly neutral maesters at the Citadel actually have an agenda, and it’s decidedly anti-Targaryen. The dragons didn’t just die out — they were targeted in a scheme to eradicate magic from the world. Now magic is returning, and the anti-magic maesters — who control the flow of information of Westeros — could once again become a deadly force. This is an interesting idea, but the show doesn’t explore it during Sam’s stint at the Citadel, where his maesters appear to be well-meaning, intelligent men who disregard tales of magic because they don’t really believe in it, and fail to act even if they do believe because they don’t see the urgency. But what if there were more to it than that?