This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
Season 6 Episode 2
Guess, who’s back? Back again…
Normally, I like to save the biggest hook of the night—especially when it’s the final scene—for the end of my Game of Thrones reviews. But after 10-plus months of waiting for the moment when we’d see Jon Snow’s eyes flutter, there is no time left for patience. All that remains is the exuberant joy that George R.R. Martin and David Benioff and Dan Weiss dole out with the frugality of a business firm shared by Petyr Baelish and Ebenezer Scrooge. Indeed, there are few moments of sheer giddiness on Game of Thrones, so let us bask here and now for good and all—preferably with a glass of wine at hand—in the knowledge that Jon Snow has looked the Many-Faced God of Death in the eye, and said, “Not today, boo.”
The name of tonight’s episode was “Home,” and it surely felt like a glorious homecoming too with that magnificent Bastard of Winterfell getting the second chance Ned and Robb will never know. For the night is dark and full of terrors, but so is Jon Snow’s coming wrath for those who made him forsake his familial identity with only a belly full of cold steel to show for his efforts.
Yet, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, to savor fandom’s extraordinary victory, let us go to the playback. Admittedly, Jon Snow’s resurrection occurred exactly how everyone and their president predicted it would, but for once that’s a great thing: Jon Snow was freshly risen from his presumed grave by Melisandre and her damnable Lord of Light, and it happened in a scene that felt straight out of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Aye, many who’ve never read what is essentially the first science fiction novel ever penned would be surprised to know that electricity is not mentioned once by Shelley’s pen. Rather it is inferred and implied that Victor Frankenstein, a child of the 18th century enlightened classicalists, returned to the black magic of the Renaissance’s alchemists—using as much the supernatural as the scientific to do the deed that created a monster. So too did Jon Snow’s revival enjoy the ominous creep of the unnatural as Melisandre, Ser Davos Seaworth, and even Tormund Giantsbane gathered in the dark to breathe in the potentially abominable. Seven Hells, Tormund, who it is safe to say has never been a devout man, looked ready to burn Davos and his red witch at the stake just for gleaning such unholy activities.
The only real surprise of how this sequence played out was the reluctance expressed by Melisandre. While it had been previously hinted outside of the series that the Red Woman had never practiced the dark art we’d seen Thoros of Myr use to raise Ser Beric Dondarrion from apparently numerous demises, her recalcitrance to even attempt it felt more like television grandstanding—dragging out the twist of fate to its most grueling and satisfying breaking point.
Nonetheless, it must be admitted we’ll never look at Melisandre the same way again after last week revealed that she has probably spent more than a few nights in room 237 at the Overlook Hotel. Just the degree of weary exhaustion she displayed while staring into her flames when Ser Davos appeared in her room took on a new, almost sweet grandmotherly light. Here is an old woman who has seen enough of life and needs a nice sit. For once, I suspect she wasn’t even looking into the flames to see a vision, but simply to reminisce about past lives lived and mistakes remembered (who knows how many children she barbecued?!). Still, faster than you can say “Double Double,” Davos gave her the pep talk she needed to raise the dead.
The sequence itself included everyone leaving the room, and only Ghost staying to hear him stir. But for once, predictability is working in Game of Thrones’ favor since this is the moment we have all been waiting for. The only thing that could have made it more amusing is if they had gone the full Young Frankenstein, and Melisandre and Ser Davos resorted to this:
And with Jon Snow’s eyes now open, worlds are a-changin’, and I have a hunch that Castle Black will never look the same.
Even in this episode, the Wall saw massive upheaval tonight. We witnessed a battle of sorts break out when Dolores Edd arrived with a flock of wildlings at his back. They made short work of the Night’s Watch—but perhaps too much so.
My one major critique of the night is the tension between Ser Alliser Thorne and the Jon Snow loyalists was far too easily resolved. This is likely due to the fact that we never knew exactly how much support Alliser’s sweet words won in Castle Black’s great hall. It was obvious that Thorne was probably going to get away with his crimes, because anyone strong enough to oppose him locked themselves away with Jon’s body. In their stead, it was just the ineffectual that would bend in whatever direction the wind blew. But did he have the full support of the Night’s Watch to kill Jon’s loyalists? Were all of the remaining Night’s Watch brothers there with Throne, crossbows in hand, when he made his move on Davos and company?
If so, the idea that the wildlings could defeat them in five seconds and with even fewer causalities is almost comical. We just spent an entire episode of season 4 (and it was a good episode too!) focused on the Night’s Watch repelling a similar force. Granted, many a good men died to make sure that giants never breached the Wall, so this particular confrontation tilted more heavily in the wildlings’ favor, but there sure enough would have been a blood bath before the entire Night’s Watch bent to a feral mob.
… But if this was still the same 20 or so guys that were backing Alliser’s treason from the start, it would be more plausible that they would see utter defeat before a giant’s club. The ambiguity of it all is the ultimate problem, pointing to ineffective television shorthand that is used to make narrative shortcuts. In fact, a main difference between the show and the book series is that Martin will spend (too many) years making sure everything has a logic and natural inevitability to it. Here, however, Point A made it to Point B without much concern about what (or who) was standing in between.
Given that it was quickly forgotten by the fact that these traitors will be at Jon Snow’s mercy next week while sitting in the Ice Cells—and that Jon Snow is even back—makes it a far less messy storytelling cheat than anything involving Dorne or the Sand Snakes last week. Still, it should give one pause that such muddying is spreading across the Seven Kingdoms. Hopefully, the Wall will block its momentum completely from this point forward.
For even past that great, towering monument to Bran the Builder lies more tantalizing developments this week: we finally reunited with Bran Stark for the first time in nearly two years. And Isaac Hempstead Wright looks much changed. Allowed to revisit not only his past, but the past of his parents next to the Three-Eyed Raven, the permanently crippled Bran looked quite strapping in a time-bending scene worthy of Bryan Singer’s mutants. With a glimpse into the past, Bran saw not only his father and Benjen Stark as young men, but also Lyanna Stark. The sister that Ned always compared to Arya, she certainly rode her horse with the kind of happy peace that Arya and her siblings knew long ago when Ned still resided in Winterfell. Invariably, Lyanna will prove pivotal to next week’s episode of Game of Thrones since we know Bran will travel into another portion of the past from a new clip—to a time and place when Targaryen men still walked with Westerosi feet.
But more intriguing than obvious foreshadowing of Jon Snow’s parentage was the earth-shattering surprise that Hodor’s real name on the show is Willas and that he could speak more than just his “name” in his youth. Forget the question mark around Jon’s mother. What happened to Hodor?!
But that too will (hopefully) be revealed in time. For now, the scene is just about being reacquainted to Bran Stark’s storyline two calendar years later. Meera seems as impatient as some viewers likely are for Bran to become important to the central narrative, but if we left him as a novice in season 4, he is now definitely up to where Luke Skywalker was by the end of Empire Strikes Back in his warg and time travel capabilities. Patience is fine in that sense, though I have to wonder why there were Wights outside Bran’s great tree in season 4 that took Jojen Reed’s life, but now it’s a great, safe spot to sulk.
Elsewhere in the North, Theon Greyjoy seemed to go his separate ways from Sansa Stark and her new pair of knights (I know Podrick is technically still a squire, but he’s earned the title!). Building off the highlight of last week, their scene tonight was serviceable but slightly disappointing, because Theon has apparently learned nothing from his torments. He is obviously filled with regret because of how he betrayed Sansa’s family, but it is kind of bewildering that he’d elect to leave Sansa in Brienne’s hands and return home to the Iron Islands.
He claims he is not looking for reclamation and feels too guilty for betraying Robb, but the whole point of his arc is that he picked the wrong family (the Greyjoys) over his actual kinfolk in Winterfell. It is why he coveted the seat held by the chilly Ned Stark, and why worse still he could not forsake it when Ramsay Snow’s men were nearing toward the gates. Consequently, he suffered the worst fate imaginable for a father who was never worth his salt. So to abandon Sansa and the Starks again when she could at least get him a place in the Night’s Watch (assuming it still exists after next week) remains perplexing.
Aye, for my fellow book readers I have a little theory that is impossible to verify: this is due to the choice of intertwining Theon’s storyline with the path Sansa currently walks. I do believe that Sansa will inevitably find herself in the company again of Jon Snow and fellow Northerners in both the book series and the TV show, but it is much sooner in the HBO’s case since she left for Winterfell in season 5 while she still sits by Littlefinger’s side, blessedly unmolested (for now) in “A Song of Ice and Fire.”
In A Dance with Dragons, Reek escapes with Jeyne Poole, a girl that is falsely passed off as Arya Stark by the Boltons. Thus when he and Jeyne flee Winterfell—the fifth book ends like the fifth season with the pair on the run—it would make sense for him to cut a path toward the Iron Islands since he has absolutely no friends left in the North. If he cropped up at any house after betraying Robb and being thought of as Bran and Rickon Stark’s murderer, he’d probably be flayed once more. But on Game of Thrones, Theon has a major ally in Sansa Stark, who could find him a warmer hearth to rest his head on (even at Castle Black) than he’ll ever know at Pyke. The distinction thus seems quite arbitrary in the TV series’ narrative.
Luckily, Pyke seems every bit as demonstrable in season 6 as it has been in each previous medium. Thank the Seven that we did not have to put up with the Dornish this week then, because the Iron Islanders are naturally more frustrating. This is unavoidable when the Westerosi equivalent of “the south will rise again” and “make Westeros great again” are on screen. Even with that being their default status, it doesn’t allow “King” Balon to be any more appealing as he laments how the first war he started ended with two sons dead and another hostaged, and how he now whines again that this latest self-imposed conflict has concluded in more failure even after he hardly had to fight any Northerners to keep Moat Cailin and the Deepwood Motte.
Thus we will fortunately be spared more idiocy from Balon ever again now that he has taken a long walk off a short bridge.
This demise was delivered by his pirating younger brother, Euron Greyjoy. Also, consequently, this was the second-to-very-last book spoiler left since Balon met his death thousands of pages ago in the novels. We were never explicitly told that Euron did the deed in print (most Iron Islanders assume he fell on a rope bridge in the storm, because… well, Iron Islanders are stupid), but it always seemed like a good guess to readers. And with Balon gone, soon a Kingsmoot will be held with Yara aiming to turn it into a Queensmoot. Considering she is preaching practicality and measured foreign policy—like not starting wars they can’t win—she’ll undoubtedly be ignored.
But the actual strongest element of the night that did not involve blood magic was the ascension of Ramsay Bolton as Lord of Winterfell. The words cracked my keyboard as I wrote them, yet unlike jarringly rapid power shifts at Castle Black, Ramsay’s betrayal felt organic and inevitable in its swiftness. I suspected ever since Roose Bolton told his son last season that he was expecting a child with Walda Frey that Roose and his wife were living on borrowed time. Nevertheless, my speculations maintained that it would be a family drama expanded upon for several months, reaching its full Shakespearian pathos when Ramsay killed his baby brother and then had to face his father’s wrath—and kill him to overcome it.
But nay, Ramsay straight up gutted dear old dad during the same embrace he congratulated him on having a boy. It’s a murder worthy of Commodus and more than fitting for the slimy cretin that stabbed Robb Stark in the heart with similar frostiness three seasons ago. Also, the unexpected suddeness of the patricide allowed Ramsay’s murder of his mother-in-law and brother by hungry dogs to be all the more grotesque and stomach-churning. Ramsay needed not to kill Walda after murdering his father. First, Ramsay’s claim to Winterfell was ironclad (until Jon and Sansa march south…), and secondly she could even be a hostage to use against Walder Frey, lest he need the Twins’ support for when the Lannisters supposedly come North looking for Ramsay’s wife.
But Ramsay is perhaps the closest television will come to the Antichrist in fiction. Shows like Lucifer and Damien need not bother anymore. Undoubtedly, some will think the violence here is too grim, yet Ramsay feeding his dogs the meat of his brother and mother after a line like “I prefer being an only child” is the only kind of resolution such a character could pursue. And it’s pure nightmare fuel.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, the main takeaway from tonight is that Franken-Mountain is taking care of Cersei’s trolls one mean medieval tweeter at a time. Cersei also reconciled with King Tommen, but the child is so hopeless that the word “Dead Meat” might as well be scrawled on his crown. Also conceding whatever little legitimate power he has to Cersei is just one more in the long list of Tommen’s many, many, many mistakes in such a brief tenure. Plus, I need to ask where in the Seven Hells is Kevan Lannister during all this? Isn’t he now Tommen’s Hand?
The juicier capital scene actually belonged, however, to Jaime Lannister and the High Sparrow finally measuring one another. Mentioning his kinslaying of a cousin notwithstanding—which in George R.R. Martin’s novels would have caused the Sparrows to descend like locusts on Jaime’s self-professed sinning—it is an amazing moment that allows Jonathan Pryce and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau to have some real fun. The disdain both actors relish in sharing in this tête-à-tête is better than a sword fight, especially as all of the high septon’s pieties drop to the floor one menaced metaphor at a time.
His mouth might pay lip-service to the ideas of being a simple man who both fears death but welcomes the salvation of the Seven, yet his eyes idolize a fervor for power and self-aggrandizement every bit as monstrous as that found in the heart of Jaime’s sister-lover. The High Sparrow thirsts to twist the capital until all the Seven Kingdoms bow before the church with a new religious zeal—as well as kneel before his own presence too. He promises reformation by conjuring with rosy words, “Every one of us is poor and powerless, yet together we can overthrow an empire.” But his true desires are every bit as ravenous as Cersei and Stannis Baratheon before him—he would just seek to move the proverbial Iron Throne from the Red Keep to the Great Sept of Baelor.
Tonight, also hinted at more marvelous things to come all the way in Meereen. While the news that Tyrion receives from Missandei is grim with word that Yunkai and Astapor have returned to the clutches of the slavers, Tyrion’s story thread offered hope for viewers and Targaryen partisans alike that the barbarisms of Essos will soon be a distant memory. After all, the dragons are now unchained.
Confirming that Daenerys was likely too cruel on insisting to chain her babies, Tyrion might just have earned the right to call himself an uncle to the hellions when he took their shackles off. Speaking kind words about how in his own childhood, he dreamed of meeting a dragon only to be laughed at by his family, Tyrion might as well have been Sam Neill petting his favorite Triceratops for the first time. But in this case, the tranked-dino are two very alert and fire-breathing creatures of majestic destruction.
Hence why Tyrion’s peace-making will prove to be so crucial in the weeks to come. When Daenerys ultimately crosses the Narrow Sea, it seems impossible to imagine the journey made in any way except with her riding on Drogon’s back. But there are two other dragons that need riders in order for their destruction to be well aimed. How fitting would it not be then that the smallest of Lannisters, and the least respected of lords, be the one to set the Blackwater aflame again while having actual dragon fire beneath his grip? I’m not sure which dragon will be the pet he asked his uncle for so many name days ago, but one shall make quite the addition to a ruined King’s Landing.
Overall, there was plenty of good omens for things to come on Game of Thrones. Tyrion came one step closer to having a dragon to call his very own, and we have seen the last of both Roose Bolton and Balon Greyjoy…. Oh, and that’s right: Jon Snow is back!
Two of those elements are obviously on a collision course. Prior to his death, Roose was right to suggest to Ramsay that his claim on the North will always be considered suspect unless he has an heir of Stark blood to call his own. Roose implied his son as a rabid dog, and Ramsay will prove it so to the realm when he and a sniveling Karstark alliance make a break for Castle Black. But Sansa Stark will get there long first and with any luck, Jon Snow will be ready to join his wildling supporters to her claim for revenge on the Boltons. But first, it’ll be time for Ser Alliser and Olly to come out and take their medicine.
Finally… Jon Snow will probably know something—and he’ll be ready to share it with the world.
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