1. Can you roll back religious fundamentalism? One of the most significant themes of this season of “Game of Thrones” was the rise — and impact — of fanatical religious beliefs. In King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) makes the mistake of thinking she can control a new and much more militant High Septon (Jonathan Pryce), while in the North, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has to reckon with the consequences of following his faith in the Lord of Light to its logical and violent conclusion. It makes a certain amount of sense that people would turn to harsh, judgmental and prophetic doctrines in turbulent times. But what happens next? Will Cersei be exonerated by the Faith, or find a way to restore secular power in King’s Landing? How will a devastated Melisandre (Carice van Houten) reckon with the failure of her vision, which sent Stannis and his men to their (apparent) deaths?
2. Is there any force, be it a long winter or the threat of ice zombies, that can make humans set aside their differences? If “Game of Thrones” is, at least in part, a story about how humans define themselves, this season was decidedly mixed on the question of unity. In the North, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) couldn’t convince the Night’s Watch that humans, no matter what side of the Wall they were born on, had more that united them than separated them, even given the imminent threat of the White Walkers. And in Meereen, Dany (Emilia Clarke) discovered that the violent spectacle of the Great Games was the only thing that could bring together former slaves and masters in a temporary orgy of bloodlust. Maybe the best we can hope for is a continent free of humans and ice zombies and populated only by purring, napping dragons.
3. What are the long-term costs of revenge? Both Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) appeared to get things they badly wanted last night. Arya dispatched Meryn Trant (Ian Beattie), who had killed her dancing master (Miltos Yerolemou) in the first season, in a sadistic fashion. And Brienne got to fulfill her oath to avenge Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) at a moment when his killer was humiliated, defeated and suffering an acute loss of faith. Arya pays an immediate price for her vengeance, going blind back in the House of Black and White. And it seems likely that Brienne may discover that she has missed a chance to help Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner). But they’re only two of the many characters on the show who are motivated by revenge, from Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who wants to repay his family, meting out humiliations to equal all those they’ve made him suffer, to Dany (Emilia Clarke), who wants to win her ancestors’ kingdom back. Can anyone move from retribution to forgiveness, or to statesmanship? If not, Westeros and Essos may drown in blood.
4. Does isolationism work? What about terrorism? While “Mother’s Mercy” left us with lots of questions about the fates of individual characters, some big geopolitical uncertainties remain to be resolved. Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) spent the whole season insisting that he won’t let Dorne be pulled into war, but will Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) assassination of Myrcella Baratheon (Nell Tiger Free) bring a conflict to his doors? And in the North, Roose (Michael McElhatton) and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) have succeeded in maintaining their hold on Winterfell through grotesque and terrifying violence. But if even Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) can rediscover his humanity and rebel against the Boltons, how long can the center hold in the North?