‘Game of Thrones’ delivers a big plot twist this week that, to be honest, is both disappointingly predictable and leaves me feeling conflicted about the direction the series is taking. I expect that it will divide a lot of the show’s fandom. The episode also brings the return of a storyline I half hoped would be forgotten for another season. The real shame is that these things have to happen in an episode that has several really great moments as well.
Bran Stark was absent from the show during all of last season and I couldn’t have been more relieved about that at the time. The last we saw him was the intensely cheesy showdown between walking skeletons and little girls throwing magic fireballs in the Season 4 finale, which I still consider to be lowest point in the entire series to date. As I understand it, Bran’s storyline caught up with the last-published George R.R. Martin book at that point, which is why the show’s writers gave him a season off so they could figure out what to do with him next.
We pick up with Bran again now, and the actor has visibly had a significant growth spurt. These days, he spends most of his time underground, tangled in the roots of the magic tree. He practices his warging power with the old Gandalf wannabe known only as the Three-Eyed Raven (now played by Max von Sydow, which is a welcome upgrade), who’s been teaching him how to control and direct his psychic visions. In his latest flashback, Bran sees his father Ned Stark , his uncle Benjen and his aunt Lyanna as children – as well as young Hodor, a stable boy whose real name is Wylis and used to be able to talk. Bran is greatly amused by this and wants to spend more time watching them when the Raven extracts him from the dream.
Afterwards, Bran is excited to tell his friend Meera about the dream. He finds her looking out over the vast frozen wasteland of the North. She’s bored and unhappy, and worries that they’re wasting their time here when a great war is coming.
I assume that this sudden focus on Lyanna, whom we’ve heard about previously but died long before the events of the show’s first season, is intended to lead to a revelation about Jon Snow’s parentage. I suppose that’s a bit of foreshadowing as to what will happen at the end of this episode.
The deadline that Alliser set for Davos to surrender and turn over Jon Snow’s body is up. With archers and swordsmen at the ready, Alliser commands his men to break down the door. Davos and his compatriots prepare to fight, when suddenly everyone is distracted by a loud crashing noise. The giant from Hardhome smashes through the castle gates and a horde of Wildlings led by Tormund Giantsbane swarm in after him, greatly outnumbering the men of the Night’s Watch. Davos obviously must have sent for them as soon as he discovered Jon Snow dead.
Alliser orders his men to fight, but they recognize the futility in it and all put down their weapons – except for one moron who shoots the giant with an arrow and gets smashed into a bloody smear for it. Tormund takes Alliser prisoner and hauls him away. After centuries of defending the Wall from the Wildlings, the Night’s Watch has fallen.
In the slums of the capital, a drunk tells ridiculous stories about sexually conquering Queen Mother Cersei. Later, as he stumbles into an alley to take a piss against a wall, The Mountain steps up from behind and pulverizes his head.
Cersei is prevented from attending her own daughter’s funeral. A group of apologetic Kingsguard soldiers, looking very nervous as The Mountain hovers over her, inform Cersei that her son, King Tommen, has ordered that she remain in the Red Keep. Cersei is displeased but chooses not to make a scene.
Only Tommen and Jaime stand over Myrcella’s body. Jaime chastises the boy for the way he’s treated his mother. Tommen tells him that the Sparrows demanded that she not be allowed inside the church. He admits to being scared and weak, and feels like a failure for being unable to protect either his mother or his wife. He doesn’t know what to do. Jaime tries to give him a pep talk and assures him that they’ll set things right together.
When the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) enters the church, Jaime sends Tommen away to go apologize to his mother. (That the king still takes orders from his uncle is a sign of his weakness.) Jaime threateningly exchanges words with the High Sparrow and ties to intimidate him, but has to stand down when a large group of Sparrow thugs appear from all sides around him.
As he was told, Tommen talks to his mother and apologizes for being so useless. He asks for her help determining what to do next.
Tyrion, Varys and Missandei discuss the current state of their kingdom since Daenerys went missing. Cities are revolting, the slavers are returning to power, and the two dragons chained up in the basement refuse to eat. Tyrion suggests that it’s time to set the dragons free. Historically, dragons have fared poorly in captivity. That’s what caused their extinction the last time around. When Daenerys returns, her power is largely predicated on being the Mother of Dragons. How will she maintain rule if her dragons die?
In the episode’s best scene, Tyrion and Varys nervously head down to the dungeon. Varys waits at the door as Tyrion slowly inches further into the darkened room illuminated only by his torch. The dragons reveal themselves, menacingly. Tyrion speaks to them soothingly, tells them a story about how much he wanted a dragon when he was a boy, and insists, “I’m here to help. Don’t eat the help.”
Tyrion releases both dragons from their chains and backs out of the room, telling Varys to punch him in the face if he ever tries something so foolish again.
Blind Arya is once again accosted by The Waif. Her attempts to fight back are completely useless. The Waif then morphs into Jaqen, who asks her to tell him her name. Arya immediately recognizes that the only correct answer is, “A girl has no name.” She repeats this as Jaqen offers her food, shelter, and even to give her eyesight back if she will speak her name. Having passed this test, Jaqen tells her to follow him back to the House of Black and White. She can leave her panhandling dish behind. She won’t need it anymore.
Roose Bolton once again expresses his disappointment with Ramsay for allowing Sansa to escape. Surmising that she must be heading to her brother’s protection at Castle Black, Ramsay wants to attack the Night’s Watch there. His father reminds him that doing so would cost them the support of many houses in the north, but Ramsay insists they’re powerful enough that won’t matter. Roose chastises his son for behaving like a mad dog.
Their conversation is interrupted by news that Roose’s wife, Lady Walda, has given birth. As expected, she had a boy. Ramsay, recognizing the threat to his inheritance this represents, deferentially congratulates his father. Roose tells Ramsay that he will always be his first son. Ramsay thanks him for saying so and moves in for a hug, but pulls a blade and stabs his father to death. As Roose’s body collapses to the ground, Ramsay orders the maester to spread the news that Roose Bolton was poisoned by his enemies. He then calls to see his stepmother and new little brother.
Pretending to lead them to see his father, Ramsay brings Lady Walda and her baby to the kennels. Not being a total idiot, she knows that something is wrong and begs Ramsay not to harm them. Nevertheless, he coldly releases the hounds to viciously maul the woman and child to death.
En Route to Castle Black
Brienne tells Sansa about the last time she saw Arya (who was with The Hound at the time). Theon is afraid that Jon Snow will kill him as soon as they enter Castle Black, and furthermore that he would deserve it. He tells Sansa that, now that she has Brienne to protect her, she doesn’t need him anymore. He can’t go with her on the rest of the journey. When Sansa asks where he’ll go instead, he replies, “Home.”
Even though they still have a powerful Navy, the Greyjoys are losing territory because they can’t hold a position on the land. Patriarch Balon Greyjoy argues with his daughter Yara about who’s to blame for that. He accuses his ship captains of being traitors for disobeying his orders, and criticizes Yara for her useless mission to rescue her brother Theon from Ramsay.
Later that night, Balon crosses a rope bridge in the pounding rain when he’s confronted by a man he recognizes as his estranged brother Euron, a pirate Balon accuses of having gone mad at sea. They argue and Balon pulls a knife, but Euron tosses him over the bridge to his death. (Apparently, family murder is a prominent theme this week.)
The next day, Yara casts her father’s body off to the sea in a funeral service, swearing that she’ll avenge his death. Although she assumes that she’s the new head of the family and will succeed her father on the throne, her other uncle Aeron Greyjoy reminds her that the next king must be chosen in an election ceremony called the “kingsmoot.” This is all undoubtedly a power play by Euron to seize control of the kingdom.
Back to Castle Black
Davos asks Melisandre if Jon Snow could be resurrected by magic. We’ve seen earlier in the series that this is possible, but it’s a power that Melisandre believes should not be in the hands of mortal men (or women). Nonetheless, despite being depressed and disillusioned, she agrees to try, though she doesn’t believe she’s powerful enough to pull it off anyway.
Melisandre washes Jon Snow’s body, then cuts off some of his hair and tosses it in a fire. She speaks the resurrection incantation, but nothing happens. She tries again. Still nothing. After a few more attempts, she gives up and everyone leaves the room disappointed.
After they leave, Jon Snow suddenly wakes up gasping for air.
That Jon Snow would be resurrected is something fans have speculated about ever since the moment he was killed. It doesn’t seem like a surprise at all. If anything, the only shock here is how quickly it happens. He’s only been dead for two episodes. Hardly any characters on the show even know he died at all!
I suppose it’s a good thing that the writers get this out of the way early rather than string it along until the season finale. Unfortunately, it still feels like a cop-out to me. While it’s true that the show established the possibility of magical resurrection in an earlier season, witnessing it happen to a major character like Jon Snow cheapens his death. What was the point of killing him off at all? It also opens the door to more characters coming back. Could Melisandre resurrect Stannis next? Or Robb Stark? Or even Ned? What’s the limit to this power?
‘Game of Thrones’ has long been lauded for the way that even seemingly-essential characters can be killed off at any moment. No one is safe, or so we were led to believe. But that’s not true anymore, is it?
How much this development affects the show will depend on how well it’s handled in the next few episodes. Will Jon Snow be changed at all? What impact will the knowledge of his death and magical resurrection have on the other characters? Was this just a cheap plot twist to toy with viewers, or will it have a legitimate value to the story? I can’t answer those questions yet. Unfortunately, I’m left feeling uneasy about the likely possibilities.