After last week’s big revelation, ‘Game of Thrones’ settles down with a new episode in which, quite honestly, not a lot happens of significance except attempting to justify that plot twist.
Jon Snow is alive. He’s as surprised as anyone to discover this when he wakes up on top of a table in the buff. (You might say he’s Stark naked, har har…) Ser Davos is the first to find him. Melisandre looks shocked that her spell actually worked. The first thing Snow says is, “I shouldn’t be here.” When Melisandre asks him what he saw in the afterlife, he replies that he saw nothing, nothing at all.
Nonetheless, Melisandre insists that the God of Light must have allowed him to return for a reason. She believes that Jon Snow is the fabled “Prince That Was Promised,” a messianic figure that legend says will be reborn to fight the coming darkness. Jon Snow doesn’t feel like a messiah. He feels like a failure. Davos has to give him a pep talk before revealing his resurrection to the rest of the Night’s Watch.
Jon puts on some clothes and walks out to the courtyard, where all the Wildlings and the brothers of the Watch are suitably shocked, impressed and scared of him. Many believe he must be a god. Tormund the Wildling breaks the tension by joking with him and giving him a hug. Snow’s friend and loyal brother Dolorous Edd asks, “You sure that’s still you in there?” He responds that he isn’t sure yet but thinks so.
Still traveling south, Sam and Gilly are stuck on a boat in rough seas. Gilly isn’t so bothered by this, but Sam is sick to his stomach. When she asks what they’ll do when they get to Old Town, Sam regretfully informs her that women and children are not allowed inside the Citadel, and he has no friends there that can bend the rules for him. Instead, he’ll send Gilly and baby Sam to live with his family. He assures her that, although his father may be a dick, his mother is quite nice. Gilly refuses to leave his side and insists that she’ll stay with the father of her child. Aww…
This is a lovely character moment, but it’s also something of a placeholder to remind us that these characters still exist and haven’t been entirely written off the show yet.
Bran Stark continues to delve into the past with visions guided by the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). In his latest, he visits the Tower of Joy in Dorne, the site of a battle his father had regaled him with stories of. The time is shortly after the end of Robert’s Rebellion. The Mad King and Rhaegar Targaryen are both dead. Two knights stand guard at a castle when young Ned Stark, Howland Reed (Meera Reed’s father) and a small contingent of men arrive. Ned believes that his sister, Lyanna, is being held in the castle. He orders the knights to stand down but they refuse and draw their swords.
One of the knights, Ser Arthur Dayne, is a legendary swordsman. Although Ned takes out the other knight, Dayne single-handedly makes quick work of the rest of Ned’s men. The two then face off. Remembering the stories his father told him about his glorious triumph over Dayne, Bran is surprised to see that Dayne is actually a vastly superior fighter and disarms Ned easily. He’s only defeated when Howland Reed, wounded but not dead, sneaks up behind him and stabs him in the back of the neck.
Ned hears a woman’s screams and runs for the tower. Bran (who can walk in his visions) attempts to follow but is blocked by the Three-Eyed Raven, who tells him that what happens next is not for him to know yet. Bran yells for his father, who stops and turns around as though he heard something. When he doesn’t see anything, Ned continues on. When Bran asks the Raven how his father could have heard him, the Raven dismissively brushes off the question as if it doesn’t matter. “The past is already written. The ink is dry,” he insists.
According to the official history, Lyanna’s kidnapping by Rhaegar Targaryen was the event that instigated the rebellion. However, a number of hints were dropped in previous seasons that Lyanna wasn’t kidnapped at all, but was in love with Rhaegar and secretly married him. Assuming that’s true, the screaming Ned heard was most likely Lyanna giving birth to Jon Snow (the theory being that Ned claimed Jon was his own bastard in order to protect the boy). This would mean that Jon has both Stark and Targaryen blood.
Daenerys is marched past a gigantic towering statue of two horses into the Dothraki capital. In contrast to the great cities of Westeros, this one is comprised entirely of huts and single-story buildings. I guess the horde doesn’t have too many great architects.
Still defiant, Dany is stripped and forced to dress in humbler clothes. (The scene is entirely chaste. Emilia Clarke is apparently enough of a star now that she won’t do nudity anymore.) The other Khal widows aren’t impressed by her. They inform her that being stuck there with them for the rest of her life is actually a best case scenario. Leaving the horde after her Khal died was a great crime she must be judged and punished for. Well hell, Dany’s situation just went from bad to worse.
Varys interrogates a prostitute named Vala known to be an accomplice to the Sons of the Harpy. She refuses to answer his questions, stating that the Harpies will kill her if she talks. Rather than torture her, Varys offers safe passage out of the kingdom and a new life for the woman and her son. He’s playing a different game than she expected.
In the episode’s best scene, Tyrion waits for Varys with Missandei and Grey Worm. Having absolutely nothing to talk about, he struggles to make chit-chat. His suggestion that they play a drinking game to bide the time is thwarted when they tell him that neither drinks and both believe that games are only for children (or rapists).
Finally, Varys arrives with news that the Harpies are being secretly funded by the slave masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volatis – who have risen back to power since Daenerys went missing. (These slavers might want to take a lesson from Cersei about the dangers of allying themselves with religious fanatics.) Ever the soldier, Grey Worm wants to immediately go to war. Missandei thinks that’s a bad idea because it would leave Meereen unprotected. Instead, Tyrion asks Varys to use his “Little Birds” (his network of children spies) to send the slavers a message.
Speaking of the Little Birds, crazy master Qyburn lures the children Varys left behind in King’s Landing to work for him with candy and promises of food. Cersei is eager to use them to gather information from all over Westeros. She wants to know exactly who’s plotting against her or even just saying bad things about her so that she can crush them. Basically, she’s still rather bitter over her recent humiliation.
Cersei, Jaime and The Mountain intrude on a meeting of the Small Council, on which Lady Olenna Tyrell now sits. Cersei insists that, as Queen, she has every right to attend the Council. Lady Olenna snidely reminds her that she is not the Queen; Margaery is. Jaime argues that he should have a place on the Council as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, but Grand Maester Pycelle (who’s practically pissing his pants about The Mountain being in the room) dismisses that suggestion as well. Nevertheless, Cersei and Jaime take seats and demand that they discuss what to do about Ellaria Sand in Dorne, only for the rest of the Council to walk out.
Tommen, desperate to prove he has some backbone, stands up to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and demands that his mother be allowed to visit Myrcella’s grave. Rather than argue, the Sparrow puts on airs of being a kindly father figure and talks to Tommen about the power of a mother’s love and the need to obey what the gods want. The weak-willed boy, who never had much of a father of his own, folds.
Although no longer on the streets, Arya continues to get beaten a lot by The Waif. Jaqen orders her to tell him about her life story and her kill list (which seems a lot shorter than it used to be), and hits her anytime she lies or omits a fact. Over time, Arya learns to fight back. All the while, she continues to repeat the phrase, “A girl has no name.”
Eventually, Jaqen tells her to drink from the fountain that she has seen poison others. He tells her that she has nothing to fear if she has indeed truly forsaken her old life and identity. Arya drinks and her eyesight is restored. She has become No One.
His father now dead, Ramsay has already aligned himself with Harald Karstark, the son of Rickard Karstark (a former bannerman for the Stark family who was executed by Robb in Season 3). This week, he also forms an alliance with Smalljon Umber, head of a family from way in the north. The Umbers are pissed at Jon Snow for letting Wildlings through the Wall.
Smalljon has a rude, abrasive personality and refuses to bow to Ramsay. However, he’s brought along a gift to seal their alliance. He presents him with Rickon Stark and Osha, who were captured in his territory, along with a decapitated direwolf head to prove the boy’s identity. Ramsay gloats, “Welcome home, Lord Stark.”
Castle Black Again
Ser Alliser and the other traitors (including young Olly) who stabbed Jon Snow are strung up for a lynching. Snow does not relish this as revenge but understands that it’s necessary to maintain order. Alliser is unrepentant and says he would do it again, because it was the right thing. With great remorse, Snow cuts the rope and hangs them all.
As their lifeless bodies dangle, Snow takes off his cloak and hands it to Dolorous Edd, passing command of the Night’s Watch over to him. He leaves the courtyard declaring, “My watch is ended.”
While it may seem like this episode is packed with story points, most of them consists of just moving game pieces around the board. The only truly notable events here are Jon Snow quitting the Night’s Watch (technically, he only ever swore his loyalty until death, so…) and Ramsay taking possession of Rickon and Osha. Even though I’m sure both of those will have repercussions, it’s unclear right now what will come of them.
Bran Stark’s storyline has long been my least favorite part of the series. However, I like the idea of using his visions to take a deep-dive into the show’s elaborate backstory and mythology that have only been hinted at or casually referenced up to now. These are events that may have been written about at great length in the original book series but couldn’t be dramatized until now. I feel like Bran finally has a purpose, which is nice, but I still dread the next time he has to fight a bunch of stupid magic skeletons. Also, for as much gravitas as Max von Sydow brings to the role of the Three-Eyed Raven, it’s difficult to take seriously the ramblings of an old man tangled up in a bunch of tree roots.