This week: Mel does not throw away her shot.
It is beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long you’ll drown.
Somewhere in London, probably on a balcony after, let’s say, several beers, Kit Harington is screaming in relief. He no longer has to try miserably to keep the worst-kept secret in television (well, second to the Margulies-Panjabi feud): Jon Snow is BACK, baby. Melisandre just came out of the locker room like Willis Reed, and pulled one last trick out of her ridiculously long (yet fashionable) sleeves when no one, especially herself, really believed she could.
For almost a full calendar year, the mystery wasn’t “Is Jon really dead?!?” or “Will he stay dead?!?”, because those answers are obvious to anyone with eyes, an understanding of storytelling, or access to Belfast spy photos. Rather, the most fascinating question was simply HOW. And, clearly, we were right about that too, but that doesn’t make the way it was executed tonight (pardon the pun) by director Jeremy Podeswa — who after last season’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” could really use the win — any less dope.
I’ll get into the nitty-gritty, as well as what it could all MEAN, in a bit. Let’s run down the rest of the hour first, shall we?
“Home,” as written by Dave Hill, was an episode dark in palette, but not in tone. Truly, some of these sequences were hard to make out on my TV, but for once I didn’t mind, because there was a lot of great, positive storytelling (or tracks laid for future storytelling) taking place. Showrunners Benioff & Weiss may have once said “themes are for eighth-grade book reports,” but you can’t give us a vague-as-the-flames title like that and NOT expect recappers like me to work off it, can you? Indeed, the idea of returning, if not to literal home (Theon) or to alive-ness (Jon), but to some degree of normalcy (Arya, Sansa, Cersei) was all over the episode.
Bran — remember Bran? Remember Hodor?! — actually gets to visit his, in his first appearance since Season 4. When we last left him, he had made it all the way to Ser Keebler (now played by the legendary Max von Sydow) of the great weirwood, and as we quickly learn here, it would have been dull as seven hells to include all that preamble last year so the writers probably made a good move. Now, he’s not only able to look through the eyes of the trees all around the realm, but into the past — look, it’s his dad! And Benjen! And Lyanna! And Hodor, whose name is actually Wyllis, and he can talk!!! “They were all so happy,” Bran beams, striding through the grounds on his magical legs. “So were you,” remarks the Raven (thanks for that, bro). But these are just Bran’s first steps into a very deep pool, and the destination is unknown. Meera, for her part, is bored out of her mind (and who could blame her), but the little tree girl suggests that Bran is going to need her when the war comes, and Bran must head south again. Whenever that will be. Put a pin in this, because next week we’re really going to get the goods.
Keeping it in the family, and continuing with what seems to be, for now and the foreseeable future, the least consequential subplot (even more than Dorne!): having finally convinced Jaqen that she means business, Arya’s blind ninja training is over, and she can now resume her regularly scheduled ninja training. While the sight of the feisty Girl With No Name haplessly swinging her stick at an invisible piñata was a solid sight gag, questions abound as to just where Arya’s story is headed. Like Dany, she can’t be long for Essos, but her role in the series’s endgame is hazy at best. Will she return to her homeland with a specific mission, or end up in the right place at the right time to help her family reclaim their slot in the Seven Kingdoms’ wheel?
Meanwhile, further east, Tyrion is having his evening wine (following his afternoon wine, late afternoon wine, and early evening wine) and making power moves. Things are pretty bleak in Slaver’s Bay. All of Meereen’s ships have been burned, and Grey Worm (dressed like he’s doing a Prince tribute) has no leads; Dany’s dragons aren’t eating; those cities she spent several seasons freeing have each fallen back into the hands of the Masters–wait, what’s that about the dragons? It’s no surprise they’re unhappy down in their makeshift pit, and one wonders if, like sharks, their growth is being stunted as a result. But Tyrion happens to be the only real expert around — “That’s what I do; I drink, and I know things” — and if they’re going to be useful down the line, somebody should probably go make friends with them now.
As a book reader, about eleven alarm bells went off in my head. If the writers were about to pull a Quentyn Martell with Tyrion, I would probably never forgive them — but for once, I shouldn’t have worried, as the first meeting seems to go okay. You get the sense the dwarf wishes he could take a moment and just bask in the dragons’ majesty, but he’s got work to do…like not getting roasted. “I’m friends with your mother! I’m here to help! Don’t eat the help!” he calls, as one of them (let’s say Rheagal) smolders threateningly in his face. Tyrion keeps calm, and, while telling them about how he always wanted a dragon as a kid and seriously, you guys look great, very fit, very handsome, he slips off their shackles and scurries away. “Next time I have an idea like that,” he moans to Varys, “punch me in the face.” It’s the least Varys could do after all the eunuch jokes Tyrion has made.
If only Cersei could see him now; she’d be so enraged at how her murderous little brother had walked up to two living dragons and lived to tell the tale, she’d have incinerated him herself. Alas, she’s still dealing with her own problems, like drunk dudes saying not-so-nice things about her in bars (“Robert Strong” takes care of that, graphically), and how her son, the King, is keeping her under house arrest during Myrcella’s funeral. At first it seems like the smartest decision the kid has made since adopting Ser Pounce (whither Ser Pounce, a nation wants to know!), but it turns out, unsurprisingly, that the Faith Militant is still strong-arming him. Uncle-Father Jamie tries to get him to grow a pair, but Tommen doesn’t think he can: “If I can’t even protect my own wife or my own mother, what good am I?” He’s right, of course. But what makes Tommen special, and unlike the rest of his family (save Tyrion), is that he does actually know his own weakness. Which will make his eventual downfall (one assumes) all the more tragic.
Anyway, after some prodding, he does return to his mother in an attempt to reconcile. He knows he should have stood up to the High Sparrow when he had the chance, but he DOESN’T know how much of it was Cersei’s fault in the first place. “I want to be strong,” he whines, and no mother can stay mad at that pitiful, perfectly round face.
Back in the Sept, Jamie threatens the High Sparrow: “What about MY sins?” he asks, flashing his sword. “What atonement do I deserve?” The High Sparrow basically dares Jamie to attack, but the sudden, silent encircling by Faith Militant lackeys convinces the Kingslayer to not become a Septonslayer. “Every one of us is poor and powerless,” the Sparrow warns, “yet together we can overthrow an empire.” Yeah, good luck with your theocratic revolution, buddy. Those always stand the test of time.
Speaking of theocracies, the Iron Islands made their long-overdue return to the credits tonight! Remember how, way back when, Melisandre used her leech magic to curse the other four kings in the War of the Five Kings? It didn’t quite work out for Stannis in the long run, but until now, the crotchety Balon Greyjoy was the only one that remained. Not that the war went well for him, either; in the first of his two scenes, he’s grappling with the fact that all the strongholds the Ironborn captured while the North was, ahem, preoccupied have fallen back into enemy hands. So he insults his daughter Yara one last time, and heads out to to the Bridge of Foreshadowing. There, we meet our first major new character of Season 6: Euron Greyjoy, pirate and scalawag, but not the fun kind. The kind that will rip out his crew’s tongues because he “needed quiet.”
Euron is played with skittery menace by Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, and it doesn’t take him long to make his presence felt, tossing his elder brother over the side and directly into the Drowned God’s watery halls. Now, with no obvious male heir (PAGING THEON GREYJOY; THEON GREYJOY, CALL FOR YOU AT THE TICKET COUNTER), the Islands are set for their first Kingsmoot in centuries, and Yara is going to have to do some serious pandering if she wants to bust through that ironglass ceiling and beat out her crazy uncle for the Salt Throne. The Iron Islands: the most democratic kingdom in Westeros, full of warlike nativists and demagogues. This will go great!
Euron has a lot in common with good ol’ Ramsey Bolton (he said, to the groans of the viewing audience). Both are prone to making grand declarations of identity: “I AM the storm,” said the pirate; “I AM Lord Bolton!” said the bastard. Both have cultivated reputations as sadists and all-around “mad dogs.” And now, both are going to get away with murdering the authority figures in their lives, as the night’s other big shock comes when Ramsey, in what seems be a fairly predetermined strike, sends Papa Roose his regards. He has brought the free agent Karstarks (who have no love lost between themselves and the original owners of Winterfell) over to his side, and is itching to make an even bolder move: attack Castle Black, recapture Sansa, and kill Jon for good measure. “Murder the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch?” Roose scoffs. Ha! Like THAT’LL ever happen!
But with the announcement that Lady Walda has given birth, and that it’s a boy, Ramsey has had enough of Roose’s veiled threats of delegitimization, and stabs him. (How many of you were really hoping that it was the other way around? The blocking certainly let us wonder it for a hot minute.) “He was poisoned by his enemies!” Ramsey cries to the Maester, who was totally in the room for the whole bloody thing and is probably wishing he had applied for that job opening at Castle Black. But because we can never have too much of a good thing with Ramsey, he leads the new mother, and her baby, to the kennels, where the obvious thing happens. No room for subtlety with this guy, it seems.
As for his wife, who is running toward the half-brother (OR IS HE) she doesn’t know is dead (OR IS HE??), she has a few regrets. Namely, not going with Brienne when she had the chance. “It was a difficult choice, my lady,” Brienne replies, diplomatically. But as bad as Sansa feels, Theon has it worse; finally coming to grips with all that he’s done in his miserable life, he’s decided not to head north with them after all. “I don’t want to be forgiven,” he bleats. “I can never make amends to your family for all I’ve done.” Well, this was a start, Theon. Hopefully he hasn’t completely outlived his usefulness, but let’s not get too optimistic.
Okay, you’ve waited long enough: let’s talk about Jon. Really, let’s talk about the massive onions on our Onion Knight, who was ready to take on Thorne and his goons before getting granted a miraculous reprieve by Wun Wun, Edd, and the whole Wildling Army. (Head smash count tonight: two.) It doesn’t take much to get the Watch to fold like a row of deck chairs, and an indignant Thorne, Olly, and the other traitors are hauled off to the ice cells. But it’s a rousing victory for Davos, who should be rising quickly in your “Next Lord Commander” office pools if there is any justice in the world. (Being Westeros, there is none, but boy wouldn’t it be awesome? Please please please?)
But before Jon’s body can be formally burned, Davos quickly finds Melisandre, who is gloomily staring into a normal fire and probably thinking thoughts about death. “I assume you know why I’m here,” he opens. “I will when you tell me.” (HAHAHAHA!) Look, Mel. Do you know of any, like, magic, that could, I don’t know, bring the Lord Commander back? Well, she replies, she did meet this guy who had done that kind of thing once (or seven times), but her confidence is pretty much blown to smithereens right now, and life is meaningless: “Everything I believed…all of it was a lie. You were right all along.” A lesser man would bask in the schadenfreude, but not our Davos, who basically says f–k the gods, I’m asking YOU. Okay, so we’re doing this.
Of course, director Jeremy Podeswa has to keep us on tenterhooks as long as he can, so not only does her hair-burning and mumbo-jumbo not seem to work, one by one they all leave the room, frustrated. Every beat as the camera holds on Jon’s corpse is a taunt. The door shuts, and only Ghost remains. AND THEN. AND THEN.
OH, IT’S ON NOW.
Big questions to answer next week: hasn’t Jon’s oath, you know, expired? Can he basically do whatever he wants now? If he leaves, who will leave with him? And how badly will Olly crap his smallclothes? I cannot wait. Seriously.
Next week: AYOOOOO IT’S THE TOWER OF JOY, IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.