Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation
After a slow and steady season opener, Game of Thrones abruptly morphed from tortoise to hare this week, unleashing a manic flurry of plot developments. Let’s visit our travelogue while the hare naps:
They might as well release an Arya Vine each week instead of teasing us with these maddeningly brief sightings. This week, we saw the Artist Formerly Known as Stark eat a fresh beating from the Waif. However, Jaqen H’gar showed up post-beating to taunt Arya with bribes of food, shelter and eye transplants. A girl was smart enough to decline, and H’gar smiled like a proud, faceless father. The implication is that Phase I of her training is complete, and now we must wait for next week to see which of her organs will be disabled next.
Let’s stay in the east for a moment. Tyrion clearly heard great things about Dungeons and Dragons from his chess club, but I think he may have misunderstood their meaning slightly. Nevertheless, we got some nice chuckles from his little adventure with Daenerys’s pets: “I drink and I know things”, “I’m friends with your mother”, “Don’t eat the help”. The dragons’ comfort with Tyrion has been a major talking point about the episode. It could just be that the creatures are intelligent, as the Imp himself said, but it might also signal that a persistent book theory is still in play. Given the number of other theories that are being hacked away each week, it’s certainly something for the readers to hold on to. I must say that I am eager for Tyrion to get a more substantial storyline – he has been wandering about a bit since Season 5, and I think the show will be better once one of its best characters returns to the thick of the action.
The Iron Islands
I always groan whenever I come to an Iron Islands chapter in the books. Greyjoys who still have their genitalia intact are not George R R Martin’s strongest suit, and I wasn’t complaining when several island-related story threads were seemingly cut out of the TV series. Now it looks like maybe they weren’t cut out at all, but merely delayed. Events that happened relatively early in the books have just now begun to take shape on the show. I can only assume that this is happening because the Greyjoy family drama is somehow important to the show’s endgame, so I will give it a chance.
“Euron a rickety bridge in a thunderstorm, you old man. Eur asking for it.”
The city, not Balon Greyjoy hitting the sea. We didn’t hear from Dorne this week, but poor Myrcella was laid to rest. There’s something about the funerals of his illegitimate incest-children that brings a gleam to Jaime Lannister’s eye. After getting it on with his sister at the last one, this time he almost got it on with his sister’s enemy, until sense prevailed. The Lannisters vs. Tyrells/Martells/Church Bells angle intrigues me. Neither Jaime nor Cersei are brilliant strategists, and with idea men Tyrion, Varys and Littlefinger all out of the capital, I am curious to see if anybody shows up to mastermind the twins’ revenge. Ah well, who needs brains when you have Zombie Gregor Clegane on your payroll.
Also: More than Dany, Dothraki or Dornish women, I missed Dormer in this episode. Where is poor Margery Tyrell, and will we get to see her do a Walk of Shame too? Asking for a friend.
The developments at Winterfell were definitely my least favourite part about this episode. I understand that with a finite number of episodes and an infinite number of people to kill, liberties must sometimes be taken, but this was a little too much. I don’t buy for an instant that Roose Bolton would not have seen this coming, and would be so naive as to allow himself to be “Et tu, Ramsey”d in such an absurd fashion. Even if the Roose that laid the trueborn egg had to be cut open, couldn’t it have been done more subtly? Perhaps the “I am Lord Bolton” line could have been used as the reveal that Roose had died rather than simply being used to tell us something we already knew. This was clumsy storytelling, even though we got a decent line out of it with Ramsay expounding on the benefits of being an only child. With Ramsay’s murder of his father and what can only be described as an excessive pampering of his hounds subsequently, he has attained maximum supervillainy. The show has intentionally built him up to be an irredeemable bastard, because well, it takes a bastard to beat a bastard…
All the speculation on Jon Snow’s fate reminded me of what Albus Dumbledore said to Harry Potter: it was a complete secret, so naturally the whole world knew. Well, as Joleon Lescott would say, it is a weight off our shoulders. He is Risen. The Lord took three days, the Lord Commander didn’t even need three episodes. Apparently all Jon Snow really needed was a tantric facial, because Melisandre cut some hair, snipped some beard, muttered some incantations, and voila.
I can’t say I liked the way the Snow resurrection was handled, but I have sympathy for Weiss and Benioff, because it was a lose-lose situation. Yes, they went with the most obvious route and they went with it far too quickly, but they couldn’t possibly have manufactured any more surprise and suspense about something everyone knew was going to happen. They probably wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible, and they did. It’s a massive albatross off their necks, and now we can move on to more interesting speculation. Poor Alliser Thorne will think he’s on Scare Tactics next week, but the biggest question for me is whether Jon Snow will be the same now that he’s back. We’ve seen this more in the books than in the series, but people aren’t quite themselves when they come back from the dead. Will Jon snow be the nothing-knower that we knew and loved, or a rasping, ominous shadow?
The other question the Snow saga raises for me is the question of predictability. Game of Thrones thrived so much on being unpredictable, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to achieve as the series goes on. It’s another precarious Catch-22 for the showrunners: make it too predictable, and it doesn’t have the GoT edge anymore – this is the complaint many people have with the Jon Snow scenario. Conversely, the show’s unpredictability itself is now predictable, so they are forced to find new ways to be unpredictable. Sometimes it works, as in the case of last week’s Melisandre reveal. Sometimes it doesn’t, as in the case of this week’s Bolton jumble.
The two dilemmas I just outlined can be called the Jon Snow problem and the Ramsay Bolton problem. This is fitting, because the solution might involve a key figure who is likely to be involved when Snow and Bolton inevitably go head-to-head in the series – Sansa Stark. While it may seem obvious that Jon Snow is going to recapture Winterfell and slay Ramsay, the show can throw in a twist by having Sansa be the one who finishes off Ramsay. I don’t yet know how this may be accomplished, but I have a sneaky feeling something like it may happen. This would be a return to the thrilling and unpredictable storytelling that has made this show so special. Sansa is one of the most beautifully developed characters, and how the series handles her going forward is for me a kind of barometer of the show’s storytelling as a whole. I almost feel Sansa is a dark-horse candidate for the Iron Throne itself.
Anyway, bye bye Theon. I hope you have a safe journey so that you can make the Iron Islands storyline more interesting.
The Land Beyond the Wall
Make no mistake about it, the most significant part of this week’s episode wasn’t Jon Snow’s revival, it was Bran Stark’s time traveling visions. My theory is that the entire character of Bran Stark is an elaborate deus ex machina to reveal important events from the past (and possibly future) without resorting to flashbacks or exposition. His journey over the past five seasons was essentially timepass; now his watch begins, literally. If you aren’t aware of some of the things I’m hinting at, get ready for some earth-shattering revelations. Also,
“Whachoo talkin’ about Wylis?”
Get Nolan started on Hodor Begins right now. That’s an order.
In summation, while too little happened last week, too much seemed to happen this week. At multiple points in the episode, things that felt like setups for longish story arcs earned their resolution almost instantly. The show gave its characters a hint of trouble, only to get them out of it immediately. Melisandre’s confidence is ruined and the magic needed to raise the dead is immeasurably complex. Oh wait, Davos is giving her a pep talk, it’s fine now. Arya’s going to get beaten up for quite a while to come. Oh wait, the test is over, it’s fine now. Roose had a son, Ramsay’s going to come up with a diabolical plan to regain his inheritance. Oh wait, he’s killed his dad and stepbrother already, it’s fine now. Last week was slow, this week was quick. The Song of Ice and Fire is still an unforgettable one, but its slightly off tempo. While it’s still early days, 20% of the season is already over, so I hope Game of Thrones is asking – “Are we rushing, or dragging?”
Overall Rating: 3/5
PS: In case you think I overdid it with the Jesus imagery, I present to you this 17th century painting by Phillipe de Champaigne:
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