Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation
Last week, I said that Game of Thrones was still singing a bewitching song, but was slightly off key. The show finally got its rhythm right this week with a well-paced episode that contained some nice surprises. Let’s go over our travelogue:
This episode began right where the last one ended. Jon Snow v 2.0, naked and freshly resurrected, was already back to doing what Snow v 1.0 did best: looking utterly dumbfounded by the situation. He looked so shocked at being alive that I almost thought he would get cardiac arrest and drop dead again, which would have been the single greatest plot twist of all time. Anyway, Snow’s cluelessness was shared by Davos and Melisandre in a horrendously written scene where all three characters repeatedly told us that Snow had died and come back to life, as if they were afraid we wouldn’t pick up on that subtle detail. I’m not exaggerating, behold actual lines of dialogue from the opening scene:
Jon: “They stabbed me. They put a knife in my heart. I shouldn’t be here.”
Davos: “You were gone. The lady brought you back.”
Lady: “After you died, after you were stabbed…”
Davos: “You were dead. And now you’re not.”
Jon: “I did what I thought was right, and got murdered for it. And now I’m back..”
Um, I think we got it, guys.
At least Davos and Melisandre showed some surprise in this opening scene, even if it was sloppily worded. When Jon Snow was subsequently introduced to Castle Black, they seemed to take it pretty much in their stride, which was incredibly anticlimactic. I thought wildlings would drop their knees in reverential wonder, Dolorous Edd would become an inconsolable bag of weeping flesh and Alliser Thorne would look like he’d just seen The Undertaker’s streak ending. Instead, we got Tormund making a penis joke.
Thankfully, this was the only weak part of the show, and it grew steadily stronger afterwards. We even got an intriguing ending at Castle Black itself, with Jon Snow hanging his killers (although a shrewd lawyer would have pointed out that they technically weren’t murderers anymore), only to resign from the Night’s Watch and walk off into winter by himself. Maybe he intends to set up an epic Snow vs. Snow showdown with Ramsay. Or maybe he just wants to backpack across Westeros like every confused twenty-something who quits their job.
A Ship in the Narrow Sea
Sam tries to convince Gilly that she shouldn’t come with him to Oldtown because it wouldn’t be safe for her. Gilly tells Sam that where he goes, she goes, and that she thinks of him as the father of her kid. Sam promptly throws up. Ugh. Men.
From the waters of Westeros to the deserts of Essos. After a respite in the last episode, we resumed Mad Max: Dany Road this week. The Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains and Staller of Storylines found herself in Vaes Dothrak, where fellow widows of khals (called the dosh khaleen) had some bad news for her. Her refusal to join the dosh khaleen following Khal Drogo’s death apparently represented a severe breach of widow protocol, so she can’t just join now that she feels like it. Her fate will now be decided by some council of khals, which probably only happen in the ninth episode so that dragons can fly in and rescue her in the tenth. Somebody put this woman on a damn boat.
After an unsuccessful attempt at socializing with the dragons last week, Tyrion was somehow even worse at socializing with Grey Worm and Missandei. The little man is clearly bored out of his wits at not having a proper storyline, and it’s showing. Luckily, Varys shows up to declare that he has gathered intelligence on the Sons of the Harpy, which should give Tyrion something to do for the near future. Earlier in the episode, we got our first great Varys scene in quite a while, as the crafty spider manipulated a Daughter of the Harpy into disclosing some key information. Conleth Hill was in fine form this week, and I hope we get to see him in a more prominent role this season.
While Varys may be working magic in the east, his spies in the west are under threat of takeover. Maester Qyburn has apparently lured Varys’ little birds into his employ with some juicy goodies from Dorne, and I don’t mean the ones Bronn saw in a Dornish jail. Surely it isn’t that easy to take control of Varys’ intelligence network? I feel sure he would planned for such a contingency, and I hope the show eventually reveals that he has.
Qyburn’s shenanigans were part of some other interesting developments in King’s Landing this week. Tommen, in an effort to be more assertive, tries to command the High Sparrow to let his mother see his dead sister, but said Sparrow effortlessly bounces poor King Volleyball over to his side. This scene contained some wonderful use of body language. The High Sparrow, feigning discomfort with his knees, sits on a bench while Tommen stands, allowing the old man to take the position of power. He then invites Tommen to sit alongside him on the bench, and voila, they are no longer in a confrontational position. The High Sparrow could make a nice living off corporate negotiations classes once he’s done with the whole religious infiltration of government thing.
In other news from the capital:
(a) Still no sign of Queen Margery, damn it.
(b) Now that she has her brother, Zombie Mountain, spymaster Qyburn and for the moment, Tommen, Cersei is back to her menacing best. She anticipates that the Faith will level charges against her, and is already prepared to name Zombie Mountain her champion in trial by combat. Jamie echoes our feelings when he says that’s one trial he’d love to see. I’m going to predict right now that the Mountain’s opponent will be his presumed-dead brother, the Hound. You heard it here first.
(c) Yes, Grand Maester Pycelle farted when Zombie Mountain entered the room. Between that and Tormund’s penis joke, we had end-to-end comedy this week.
We finally had some action in Braavos this week, with an awesome Arya Balboa training montage that saw a girl finally getting the hang of her training. We saw two alternate scenes interspersed with each other: Arya blocking shot after shot from The Waif’s stick, and Arya telling The Waif the names on her famous kill list. As the music swelled up while she was repeating the names, I thought they were building up to a climactic moment where she would perhaps be tasked with assassinating one of the people on her list, but nothing of the sort happened. Did I miss something here? Was there a name that she left out for some strategic reason? Either way, I now have very high hopes from this storyline.
Just when you thought the Starks were finally catching a break, Rickon had to go and get captured by Ramsay, or more accurately by Smalljohn Umber as a gift to Ramsay. My main reaction to this is OMG Rickon Exists, but I have to say I really enjoyed the happenings at Winterfell this week. Unlike last week’s literal overkill, this week’s twist made sense and was actually a surprise. Ramsay shed last episode’s cartoonish villainy for a more toned down menace this time, and the character was better for it. Umber’s hilarious disregard for Ramsay was a fun touch as well. Considering that Smalljohn’s dad Greatjohn (Someone buy me a book of Umber baby names) was one of Robb Stark’s strongest allies, it’s surprising that Umber junior would ally with the Boltons. Could this be an elaborate plan by Umber, Rickon and Osha to take Winterfell from the inside? Rickon FTW.
The Land Beyond the Wall
The scene of the episode. After a slickly choreographed fight scene outside the Tower of Joy, we see that young Ned Stark didn’t best legendary knight Arthur Dayne in combat as he’d always told his sons; Dayne was stabbed from behind by Stark’s ally, Howland Reed. Ned’s sister Lyanna, believed to be kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen, is imprisoned in the Tower that Dayne was guarding. Ned runs up the stairs towards the Tower, and the Three-Eyed Raven promptly yanks Bran out of the vision. “What’s in the tower?” Bran asks angrily….
Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.
For my money, this is the strongest episode of Season 6 so far. There were no forced cliffhangers, but there were still moments of genuine surprise. This episode didn’t drag or give the impression that it was killing time, but it didn’t rush headlong in the other direction either – the pacing was just right.
As the title suggests, this was an episode of broken promises. Jon Snow renounces his vows to the Watch, while Arya renounces her name itself. Gilly reminds Sam of promises he has made and warns him against breaking them. The dosh khaleen assign Dany promises she doesn’t know she has made, and hold her guilty for breaking them. Varys convinces a Harpy to betray her brothers, while Qyburn convinces the children of King’s Landing to betray Varys. Smalljohn Umber completes a betrayal of his own by handing Rickon over to Ramsay. A crack even appears in Ned Stark’s seemingly impregnable honour. It is ironic that it should take an episode of broken oaths for the series to renew promise in itself, but that is precisely what Oathbreaker has done. I’ll paraphrase trusty Davos Seaworth for the final word: While Game of Thrones may fail occasionally, it will resurrect itself and go forth, unafraid to fail again.
Overall Rating: 4 / 5 Stars
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