Having surpassed the books in almost every plotline, it seems that they’ve decided to do two things with the remaining seasons of Game of Thrones: fan service and vastly sped up plotlines. There’s a lot to decompact from this episode, the first real episode in the season as the first episode served mainly to remind viewers where every character stood.
The episode picks up Ser Davos’s storyline roughly twelve hours after we last saw the Onion Knight and his small band of loyalists: barricaded in a room about to be killed by Ser Alliser and his men. Suddenly (and literally in the knick of time which is a trope we’ll be revisiting every episode it seems) Dolorous Edd returns with his Wildling army. They capture Ser Alliser and Castle Black is returned to the hands of the loyalists, tieing up that storyline in a neat little bow in less than two episodes.
North of the Wall
Guess who’s back. Back again. Bran is back. Tell a friend.
We last saw Bran at the end of Season 4 where he met the three eyed raven (almost certainly Brynden Rivers a.k.a. Lord Bloodraven for you book fans out there) portrayed this season by Max von Sydow. MAX VON SYDOW! Max and Bran are training in their greenseeing wherein Bran sees his father, uncle, aunt and Hodor (Hodor!) in the past. In the books this was portrayed as Bran seeing through the eyes of the weirwood trees but other than this there are no real changes from the books. Honestly nothing’s happening (yet).
Still nothing much is happening here. Cerci is not allowed to enter the Sept of Balor, by order of The King. The King attends his sister’s funeral with his uncle father Jamie. Jamie threatens the High Sparrow. This comes to nothing, however, and we’re left wondering when the hell Cerci’s trial by combat will begin. The King then apologizes to Cerci, who responds coldly.
There’s actually a lot of story going on here, but it can be easily summed up in a few sentences. Ramsey reports to his father that Sansa got away. He suggests storming Castle Black as this is most likely where Sansa is going, an idea which Roose quickly points out would alienate the Boltons even further from the northmen. They are interrupted by the news that Fat Walda has given birth to a boy. Ramsey decides that this is the right time to strike, and kills Roose, Walda and baby Bolton.
Meanwhile, Theon decides to leave Sansa in the hands of Brienne. Instead, he’s going to return home to his father, the man who didn’t rescue him when he was captured by Ramsay Bolton. Speaking of Theon’s father…
Balon Greyjoy and Yara have a few minutes of exposition dialogue which catches the viewer up to speed on what the may have forgotten since the Iron Islands had no plot points during Season 5. Balon then decides to take a stroll on a bridge atop a rickety tower. There he meets Euron Greyjoy, his brother. The two have some dialogue explaining Euron’s motivation which is interrupted when Euron throws Balon off the bridge. The next day we learn that there will be a King’s Moot and that Yara intends to be the first female leader of the Iron Islands. (Don’t hold your breath, Yara).
Aria is still getting her ass kicked. Eventually one of the Jaqens tempts her with food, shelter and her eyesight again. She refuses and he tells her to come with him.
Quentyn gets burned alive by Rhaegal. Oh wait, I’m sorry. Tyrion does the exact same thing and doesn’t get burned alive by Rhaegal. Let me explain. In the books after Daenerys flies away with Drogon Quentyn Martell (Doran Martell’s oldest son, not shown in the series) who had attempted to marry Daenerys decides to prove his strength/stupidity by releasing the dragons. They award him in the manner most dragons do: by burning him alive. In the show Tyrion decides to free the dragons (because they’re not eating, you see, because they don’t like being chained up, you see) and does not get burned alive. If Martin had written that episode you could be sure that the dragons would be feasting on filet o Tyrion about five seconds later.
Castle Black (again)
For the last few minutes of the episode we return to Ser Davos and Melisandre. He asks her to revive Jon Snow, something we all knew was bound to happen. The only question was whether it would be successful. The show milked this suspense for all it was worth.Melisandre gives up, and one by one all of Jon’s friends leave the room. We wait, and wait, and wait, and finally Snow opens his eyes and breaths in with a look of terror on his face. The only thing they could have done to make it more suspenseful is if they had faded to black and have Snow’s wakening be heard but not seen.
Part of the genius of George R. R. Martin is how he defies standard tropes in story telling and instead has realistic, logical outcomes based on his characters actions. Another theme he follows is having a character rise and fall. Ned and Rob Stark both rose to the highest of positions only to die because of their actions. Cerci became the de-facto ruler of Westeros and foolishly gave The Faith power enough to cast her down.
For Martin, death is either final or has real consequences. In the case of resurrection, there are two characters known to have been brought back to life: Ser Beric Dondarion and Catelyn Stark a.k.a Lady Stoneheart. In each case something is lost in the resurrection. Stoneheart is cold and malicious where Lady Stark was emotional but never cruel. If Martin is going to revive Jon Snow when The Winds of Winter is finished something will almost certainly be lost. Snow will not return as the dutiful, honorable and just Lord Commander that he had been in his first life.
I don’t think the show is going to follow this narrative pattern anymore. For example, in the books it’s clearly shown that Daenerys is the only one capable of controlling her dragons. Everyone else is burned. Literally. Yet Tyrion, fan favorite, survived unscathed and even appears to tame the dragons. As he does so he tells a tale about his wishing for a dragon as a child. It lends credence to the fan theory that Tyrion is the bastard son of the mad King Aerys, a theory which is probably not true. However, is Martin had written that scene Tyrion would be dead. There are consequences to your actions in the World of Ice and Fire, but those consequences seem to be deteriorating.
Brienne of Tarth is another example. In a very Martinesque ending (Brienne’s storyline is completely different in the books) to Season 5 she fails on her task to protect Sansa in order to gain revenge and kill Stannis. She gets her revenge but misses her opportunity to rescue Sansa. The perfect example of a consequence to her actions. These consequences are completely undone in the first episode in a clear example of fan service.
What confused me about the fan reaction to Jon Snow’s return is how excited everyone was by it. Tweets and updates such as “OMG Game of Thrones!” cluttered my timeline as of the show had done something unexpected. But the evidence of Jon Snow playing at least a minor role in Season 6 was plentiful. The only real question was not if Melisandre would raise Snow but when and what the reaction would be. Would he return as a wraith, as a colder version of himself a la Stoneheart, or would the show make a bold move and have the resurrection fail? To be honest the answers to these questions are more intriguing than the obvious answer to the “Will Jon Snow return?” question.
The scenes in Mereen were just placeholders: nothing really is going to happen until Daenerys returns. That being said Peter Dinklage acting during the scene was phenomenal.
Speaking of phenomenal acting: let’s talk about Lena Headey. Her scenes were minimal but her performance was astounding. Cerci is haunted by the prophecy that all of her children will die. Tommen is the only one left and she cannot bear the thought of loosing him. Her cold acceptance of his apology is not because she is angry with him: it is because she cannot bear to open up her heart again only to have it shattered when he is killed. It was written on Lena Headey’s face and her performance in that scene stole the show.
Speaking of acting, I am expecting big things from Max Von Sydow. Replacing Struan Roger who only appeared in a single scene at the end of Season 4, Von Sydow is a heavyweight actor and is almost certainly going to play a major role.
In general this was an excellent episode. My complaints about the show straying form Martin’s vision are not complaints about the show, its a fine show and there’s nothing wrong with fan service. Its just that, the spirit of the books is one of logical consequences, and of eschewing hero tropes such as the hero arriving just i the knick of time. It’s not that these can never happen in a good show or even in the Game of Thrones show, its just that when you have so many instances of it in one episode it gets to be a little much.
Still, this is a solid episode with so much to analyze I didn’t even get a chance to discuss it all. Here’s hoping that next week gives us just as much to talk about as this week’s episode did.