Benioff & Weiss decide now is the time to stomp on the brakes.
What does it matter? You go on. You fight for as long as you can.
This is probably going to be a short one — well, “short” being relative, as I’ve been easily pushing 2000 words on each recap thus far — because “Oathbreaker,” while a collection of good individual scenes, barely moved the story forward at all. Characters arrived at places, had meetings, and made decisions to do things, but I’d count the number of actual events at two: Jon quitting the Watch, and the ignominious (and genuinely surprising!) return of Rickon Stark. We were probably due for a “deep breath before the plunge” episode, but I doubt this will make anyone’s best-of list. Didn’t help that the big Tower of Joy flashback that had the rumor mill churning ended before we actually got the reveal we were all waiting for.
We’ll start with Jon first, I guess: after watching him breathe heavy for a while, wild-eyed, and check out his cool new scars, Davos and Mel are able to quickly answer one of our Big Burning Questions: how much of Jon’s innate Jon-ness remains after that little trick? Enough, it seems. He remembers being murdered, and, unsurprisingly, he’s pretty sad about that. He can’t care about Mel’s “the prince that was promised” nonsense because his tenure as Lord Commander was such a catastrophic failure. But the plainspoken Davos can’t put it any plainer: “You were dead; now you’re not.” And if the Lord of Light or the Old Gods or the Flying Spaghetti Monster brought you back, it’s for a reason.
Jon emerges into Castle Black courtyard to what can only be described as “Jesus music,” and the crowd dutifully parts for him. Tormund, however, doesn’t bat an eye: “They think you’re some kind of god,” he offers. All Jon can say in return is that he isn’t one. “I know that,” Tormund replies. “What kind of god would have a pecker that small?” Heh. But if you were hoping to see the reactions from Thorne and Olly to the news, you’ll be disappointed, because it happens off screen.
The decision to hang the traitors, while fulfilling the letter of the law, seems like a tactical blunder to me — though I’ll cut Jon some slack because of the whole back-from-the-dead thing. He hesitates before slicing the rope, but if he gives any thought to his recent stance of “we need every man we can get against the white walkers,” he doesn’t share it. Also, if he had already planned to walk away from the Watch, keeping Thorne and the others alive doesn’t actually put him in any personal risk. Also also, apparently all the remaining brothers are either too stunned or too loyal to point out that since he, you know, died, his watch has technically ended, and doesn’t have the authority to do what he’s doing. Would anyone have brought it up if Jon hadn’t done it himself? Once again, we’ll never know.
At any rate, and in keeping with the spirit of the show, the deaths of Thorne and Olly aren’t exactly satisfying. His “Make the Night’s Watch Great Again” campaign in flames, Thorne sings the same sad song in justifying his actions: “I fought; I lost. Now I rest. But you, Lord Snow, will be fighting [the Wildlings’] battles forever.” Olly, on the other hand, doesn’t say a word. He’s still barely a child, who just wanted to avenge his family — which Jon, of all people, can relate to — and this is how it ends for him. For that reason, I never really ascribed to the Olly Hate that burned in some corners of the internet, and, judging from how director Daniel Sackheim holds on the closeup of his lifeless face, we’re not meant to.
Edd’s in charge now, at least until the Watch can have another vote, but I doubt they’ll get around to it. And I also wonder how significant Castle Black will actually be going forward, especially once the Wildlings, Davos, and Mel catch up to Jon. (One assumes.) That would be the only reason for the show not to bother keeping Olly alive, at the least.
Ever since the preview for this week’s episode (and well before, in some circles), nothing has been more anticipated — not even the reaction to Jon’s rebirth — than the mysterious “Tower of Joy.” If you’re not a book-reader, that refers to a secret location near the border of Dorne where Rhaegar Targaryen held Ned Stark’s sister (and Rob Baratheon’s betrothed), Lyanna. The story has always been that she died in captivity, though Ned fought through a group of Kingsguard — including Arthur Dayne, the famous “Sword of the Morning” — in his attempt to rescue her. That’s all Bran knows, anyway. And, frustratingly, that’s all we’ll know, as the Bloodraven cuts Bran’s little trip to the past short before we can learn just what Ned finds up at the top. BOOOOOOO.
It’s not all a waste, though; it’s a cool fight scene, as Dayne wields double swords like a boss, and the entire encounter is tinged with melancholy as all parties involved set about it with grim professionalism. Ned has nothing but respect for Dayne, who’s just following the recently deceased prince’s orders, but as Dayne is guarding Lyanna, what happens is entirely tragic and entirely unavoidable. And Bran, at least, realizes that his father didn’t tell the whole truth about the fight: he may have struck the killing blow on the superior Dayne, but only because Howland Reed (Meera and Jojen’s dad, the crannogman) incapacitated him first. If Ned lied about that, what else might he have lied about? Hmmmmm? (Also, we see how Bran can indeed sort-of communicate across time, though his target in this case just thinks it’s a trick of the wind. Interesting.)
The night’s other reveal went to the long-forgotten littlest Stark, Rickon, last seen fleeing Winterfell with the Wildling woman Osha back in Season 2. (Ironically, while Bran seems to have aged a decade between two seasons, Art Parkinson looks exactly the same.) The plan there was to seek asylum with Stark bannermen the Umbers, and while that may have worked for a time, Ricky is evidently more useful now as bargaining chip. They even killed his beloved direwolf, Shaggydog, THE MONSTERS. (As an aside, that leaves three wolves alive by my count: Ghost, Bran’s Summer, and Nymeria, who Arya banished to the woods out of fear way back in the show’s second episode.)
We still don’t know if the Greatjon, last seen at the Red Wedding, was killed or captured, but whoever speaks for the Umbers now is considerably more pragmatic; he knows Ramsey killed his own father, and he’s not going to kneel or kiss any ring, but proposes uniting their armies simply to fight off the Wildlings beginning to swarm their lands. Even Ramsey understands that the threat of a Jon Snow-led force is a serious one, and they don’t even know yet that he died and rose again. Clearly, this is the big battle we’re heading to this season. Stay tuned.
Down in King’s Landing, it’s a comedy of awkwardness as Cersei and Jamie — with the Mountain in tow, whom Qyburn actually addresses as Ser Gregor, in case you somehow hadn’t put it together yet — try to take over a Small Council meeting, causing someone, probably Pycelle, to let out a nervous fart. The twins almost immediately start pushing for war against Dorne, but given the state of things (including Cersei’s pending trial), Kevan is smart to just take his ball and go home, leaving his niece, his nephew, and their pet alone at the table, wincing with embarrassment. The council may not be anyone’s dream team (except, of course, for Lady Olenna), but there aren’t going to be any more rash decisions made on Kevan’s watch, no sir! Which means Kevan is certainly doomed. (It’s also worth noting that Zombie Mountain isn’t quite as brain-dead as we’ve been led to believe, judging from his reaction when Jamie insults him. He can’t speak, but he can feeeeeeel!)
The aforementioned trial is certainly an inconvenience, but it’s not going to be any worse than what Cersei has already suffered — especially since she’ll just name “Robert Strong” as her champion and that will be that. Tommen, in a rare show of testicular fortitude, has even decided to take on the High Sparrow directly (look at the swagger with which he orders his Kingsguard to stand down!), but the Sparrow just turns on his Pope Francis charm: “It’s not what I want,” he notes, “it’s what the gods want.” He knows exactly how to throw Tommen off the scent, calling back to Tywin’s speech about the value of wisdom and prudence, only with more gods. Thus Tommen is once again lulled into complacency, at least until the next time one of the women in his life yells at him.
Across the Narrow Sea, Arya is — oh, come on — still blind. Still getting beaten. Still answering questions about her life. But one montage later, she is finally able to block a strike with her staff, and the Waif just…gives up. Somehow, this actually, for real this time convinces Jaqen that Arya is ready to get her sight back, which she does. Finally. I don’t understand why Arya’s scenes from these first three episodes couldn’t have been combined; we’re not obligated to check in with her every week just because she’s Arya, especially if absolutely nothing happens. The only item that might be worth making a note of is the discussion of the Hound, which she apparently left for dead even though he was no longer on her list. Why mention this at all? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…
Let’s wrap up our remaining plotlines, where even less happened, if you can believe it:
- Dany makes her way to the Vaes Dothrak Retirement Community (Assisted Living With An Independent Spirit!™), where her resume gets her as far with the crones as it did with Khal Moro. They saw her eat that horse heart, and did she end up conquering the world? No, so have a seat. Besides, if the other Khals vote against her, she might not even get to stay. Not entirely sure why, but sure.
- In Meereen, Tyrion tries to get a game of Never Have I Ever going with Grey Worm and Missandei, the world’s worst party guests. But Varys interrupts the awkwardness with some news, having acquired some new little birds and paid off one of the locals: looks like the Sons of the Harpy are actually being funded by the Masters of Yunkai and Astapor. Team Dany agrees they need to get a message to them. And…that’s it.
- Sam and Gilly! Remember how they were heading south to Oldtown, so Sam could become a Maester? Psych! They’re actually heading south to Horn Hill, the Tarly homestead, where, Sam believes, Gilly and Little Sam will be safe. It’s a betrayal, but Gilly knows he means well. Then Sam pukes into a bucket some more. I guess we’ll put a pin in that, and in everything else. See you next time!
Next week: It’s a Greyjoy family reunion; Jorah gets a-punchin’; Littlefinger has some catching up to do.