WARNING: This post is dark and full of spoilers for Season 6 Episode 3 “Oathbreaker.”
The first two episodes of Season 6 moved at a breakneck pace, with a shocking moment or two every few minutes. Episode 3 did not maintain that energy. While “The Red Woman” and “Home” were uncharacteristically jam-packed with action and revelations, “Oathbreaker” brought viewers back to the slower, more expository sort of early-season episode Game of Thrones usually provides.
That said, this was still an episode that delivered. We got to see some old faces for the first time in a while (years for a couple), with some delicious plot-thickening scenes along the way. There were some big moments for the Stark siblings in particular, including one heck of a tease that’s sure to antagonize the book readers amongst us -- it had me grunting in frustration, to say the least.
Without further ado, let’s jump in where we left off last time, with an insignificant and unimportant plot twist.
Of course that sentence was a filthy lie; JON’S BACK FOR OLD GODS’ SAKE. Ser Davos can’t believe what he sees when he opens the door to find Jon Snow gasping for breath. Even Ghost doesn’t seem so sure about what’s happening.
Not that many of us are real experts on how people react when they’re, you know, brought back from the dead, but Kit Harington nailed what it’s like to be resurrected. He’s not screaming or bouncing off the walls in terror; instead, he’s shaken and confused, especially as he feels the gaping wounds on his body from the stabbing.
Melisandre walks back in astonished to find that she did do something right and, most importantly, that the Lord did not abandon her. Davos wants to know what Jon remembers about his murder, but Melisandre wants to know what happened after.
Jon’s answer isn’t optimistic. “Nothing. There was nothing at all.”
Melisandre rebounds from that quickly, though, and is once again firmly in the Lord of Light super fan club. She begins to go on about how Stannis wasn’t the savior promised, but someone (cough, cough) has to be, but Davos cuts her off. He shoos her out before she can throw too much heaviness onto Jon’s mind -- he just realized he’s back from the dead, red woman! -- and he tries to calm Jon down and shake off the shock.
The betrayal by his men is still fresh on Jon’s mind, though. “I did what I thought was right, and I got murdered for it,” he says, a sentence one rarely expects to hear on a show. But this is 'Game of Thrones,' and we throw on our cloaks and get on with our lives.
A little later, he and Davos go outside where a crowd of Night’s Watchmen and wildlings are waiting together. This week’s Manhood Joke of the Night goes to wildling poet Tormund, who says, “they think you’re some kind of god. ... I know [you’re not]. I saw your pecker. What kind of god would have a pecker that small?” He then gives Jon a bear hug (aww, back to being besties).
Out on the Deep, Dark Sea
Somewhere on the ocean, we see Gilly and Samwell Tarly on a lovely evening cruise heading south. Well, Gilly is having a nice time at least; Sam is too busy vomiting into a bucket. They’re on their way to Oldtown, where Sam plans to train as a maester for the Night’s Watch, still unaware of what’s happened to Jon.
As Gilly speculates what she’ll do in her new home, Sam drops the news that she can’t stay with him in the Citadel and that she’s not going with him to Oldtown. Rather, he’s sending her and baby Sam to live with his mom and sister -- every young woman’s dream -- at Horn Hill, the seat of House Tarly. After a little nudging, she’s surprisingly okay with it. Her faith and trust in how much Sam cares for them is touching, even for the cynics amongst us.
So, we might get to see Sam’s old stomping grounds and his legendary man’s man of a father. Might this be the mystery role that Ian McShane plays this season? I can only hope so; Lord Tarly treated Sam terribly, so seeing a man like McShane as Sam’s dad would definitely make for an interesting reunion.
The Land of Bran
Physically, Bran Stark is in a quaint, root-filled cave north of the Wall. But with the Three Eyed Raven, he takes us far away to Dorne, decades ago.
Six Stark men ride up to a small fortification on a hill: the Tower of Joy. Among them is Ned Stark. He’s not the child we saw last episode, but not yet Sean Bean. This is soon after the fall of King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion, and Ned has come there to rescue his kidnapped sister, Lyanna.
They’re met by two members of the Kingsguard, including Ser Arthur Dayne, the most legendary fighter in Westeros. Despite their king’s death, the Targaryen loyalists will not let Ned into the tower without a fight.
The pivotal battle that follows is as good a medieval sword fight as one could ever expect. The Kingsguard more than hold their own, cutting down Stark men left and right, and props to Luke Roberts for showing how one-to-four odds are nothing for Ser Arthur.
As a fighter, Robert Aramayo was a spitting image of Sean Bean as Ned Stark, with his movement mirroring exactly how I’d expect Bean to move. One on one, Ned is disarmed by Arthur -- much to Bran’s surprise, since it’s well-known how his father defeated the knight. Just as things seem dire, Ser Arthur is stabbed from behind by a Stark man, Howland Reed.
The decades-old image of Ned as Mr. Honorable is tarnished for Bran (and us), since Ned did nothing to correct the widespread belief that he’d defeated Arthur in a fair fight.
Before Bran can think hard on that, a woman’s anguished scream can be heard from the Tower. Ned runs to go inside as the Raven tells Bran it’s time to leave. Bran’s not ready, though, yelling “father” at Ned (who may have heard his son, we aren’t sure) before the Raven pulls him out. Bran’s not ready to see the rest yet, and apparently neither are we.
Years of speculation among viewers -- and decades for book readers -- have swirled around what happened at the Tower of Joy. While I had thought we’d get to see what really happened to Lyanna inside the tower (and if the biggest theory is true) tonight, it’s not surprising that this particular scene would end in a tease. There’s a lot of story left to go this season, and a lot of development on Jon Snow’s part to be had, so letting the uncertainty live a little longer may make sense from the storyteller’s perspective. Still, though, what a friggin tease.
On the road again! It’s so bad to be on the road again!
The khalasar of Khal Moro is on the move, and poor Daenerys is still walking all the way. Unfortunately, though, they reach their destination: the Dothraki city of Vaes Dothrak. There, Dany is welcomed into her new “home” with the Dosh Khaleen, the widows of other khals.
The former khaleesis aren’t very kind, and their leader (hereby known as Head Khaleesi in Charge, or HKiC) puts Dany in her place, not caring how many titles Dany tosses at her. She tells the Queen of Meereen that the other khalasars are assembling in the city to discuss which cities and tribes will be sacked and enslaved that year (who knew the Dothraki had that much organization between them?).
Further, since Dany broke the rules by not coming to Vaes Dothrak immediately after Khal Drogo’s death, HKiC tells Dany the meeting of the Dothraki will also decide her fate. If she’s lucky, she’ll get to stay with HKiC and the Dosh Khaleen. Looks like throwing all those titles around actually got you in a little trouble, Dany. Now what are you to do?
All together now:
Three episodes in, we finally get a scene for Varys to show his talents -- and it’s just a treat.
While Varys tries to stay cool in the throne room, some unsullied bring in a woman: the prostitute who gave the Sons of the Harpy a helping hand last season. He goes to town on her with his interrogation, throwing out that he knows her name (Vala), her reasons for helping the insurgents, her son’s name and even that her son has a breathing condition.
Knowing that torture and threats aren’t the way to go, Varys offers Vala safe passage out of the city and money to start a new life -- if she tells him all she knows about how the insurgents operate.
Meanwhile, Tyrion tries to have fun with Missandei and Grey Worm, and we have no fun. “A wise man once said the true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms,” he tells them; this is not one of those conversations. I hope, somehow, that these few minutes are important for down the road. Otherwise, for a show with so much material to cover, this is some pointless filler and a waste of screentime.
Not soon enough, Varys returns with what he’s learned. The Sons of the Harpy have their strings pulled not by local powerbrokers, but by the masters in Astapor and Yunkai and slavers in Volantis. For this insurrection to be stopped, our Fearless Foursome and their army will have to take on three major, hostile cities. Now, how on earth is that going to work?
Varys’ former little birds -- the children who spied for him -- have found a new bird whisperer in Qyburn, the odd dude behind the FrankenMountain that Cersei appointed the Master of Whispers. He promises candied fruits galore if they bring him information, perhaps the creepiest thing we’ve seen on this show.
Cersei, Jaime and FrankenMountain drop by his Candyland/workshop. Cersei isn’t satisfied with little birds in King’s Landing alone; she wants them everywhere, from the tip of Dorne to the snows of Winterfell. If anyone so much as giggles at the thought of her walk of shame, she wants to know about it. Whether they be lords or drunk storytellers on the streets, Cersei wants revenge on all her enemies.
She also wants her place on the small council back. Minus Qyburn, they make their way to where Kevan Lannister (acting Hand of the King), nasty old Maester Pycelle, Lord Tyrell and Lady Glenna Tyrell are conducting a meeting. The arrival of FrankenMountain quite literally scares the gas out of Pycelle, one of the few farts in Game of Thrones history.
Cersei and Jaime, at their brattiest yet, think they’re owed a place at the table. Their uncle couldn’t agree less. With serious matters at hand, namely Queen Margaery’s imprisonment, Kevan & Co. would rather leave the council chamber and move their meeting elsewhere than let the twins listen in. Kevan: 1, Team Twincest: 0.
Meanwhile, King Tommen marches into the High Sparrow’s prayer chapel with four Kingsguard at his back. Finally, we think, Tommen is figuring out how to stand up for himself. Did that happen? Of course not.
While Tommen went in there to secure the right for Cersei to see her daughter’s burial place, the High Sparrow plays him like a fiddle with talk about motherhood and the faith. Before long, they’re both sitting on a bench looking like grandfather and grandson.
Cersei isn’t the only person angling for influence over the king. C’mon Tommen, think like Joffrey for once!
Back in the House of Black and White, Arya is still getting beaten up. Now, though, she’s putting up a fight. With “Eye of the Tiger” blasting in the background, we get shots of Arya taking blows, testing poisons and taking tests with the Waif.
When answering questions about her death list, Arya reveals to the Waif (and herself) that the Hound was no longer on her list when she left him, confronting the inner turmoil she felt at the time. Before long, Arya’s got her game together, smarting off to the Waif and even enraging her adversary/teacher during a staff fight.
The nameless man who would be Jaqen once again asks his go-to question, which Arya knows by now to always answer “a girl has no name.” Evidently, he just needed to ask that one time. He tells her to come over and gives her a drink.
Just like that, Arya’s sight is restored and Arya Stark is now No One.
While before it’s been questionable how serious Arya was about becoming “no one,” it’s now a real possibility that she’s embraced the death of her identity. It’s hard to imagine that she’ll let go of her lust for revenge against the Freys and Lannisters, but for now her time with the faceless men is starting to bear fruit.
-- Minor aside -- There’s something I noticed upon later viewing of “Home” about Ramsay during his little usurpation. It’s not that he hesitates to kill Roose, Walda and his newborn brother. Rather, the expressions he makes as he kills each aren’t the typical signs of glee we’re used to: he shows pain, doubt, dare I say shame? He doesn’t even look Roose in the eye as he stabs him, and while the hounds attack Walda and her son, Ramsay seemingly has to force himself to watch. Ramsay is learning more about his inner demons. Will that hinder his bloodlust and madness, though? I rather doubt it; it might make him worse.
Anyways, we’ve got Ramsay business from this episode to discuss. The new Warden of the North is meeting members of House Umbar. The new Lord Umbar isn’t one for formalities, as he rightly (and bluntly) guesses that Ramsay killed daddy Roose to get his new position. That doesn’t bother him, though; Lord Umbar has a wildling problem, now that Jon let them south of the Wall. So long as the Boltons will help him deal with them, Winterfell has his house’s loyalty.
Rather than kneel and do any silly oath-swearing, Lord Umbar presents Ramsay with a gift: the wildling Osha and Rickon Stark, the youngest of the Stark family. We haven’t seen the pair since they left Bran & Co. in Season 3 (evidently the actor that plays Rickon spent that time growing a few feet taller).
To prove the boy’s identity, Lord Umbar drops the head of Shaggydog, Rickon’s direwolf, on a table, smashing our collective hearts in the process. Ramsay is gleeful with his new hostages; this can only end badly.
Fun fact: Have you noticed how each episode has been bookended by Castle Black scenes so far? With Jon Snow back from the dead, though, this likely won’t keep up for long.
Speaking of the Lord Commander, he’s got unfinished business to settle. Out in the courtyard, with the wildlings and Watchmen assembled, four men stand with four nooses around their necks, waiting to die.
These are the main conspirators behind Jon’s murder, a crime where not even being a child can spare you from justice. Yes, all you anti-Olly viewers out there, the little brat is about to be executed.
One by one, Jon asks if they have final words. Thorne gives a perfectly Thorne-like speech about how he has no regrets for his actions. Gotta hand it to the man: he means what he says and he does what he thinks is right. He’s prepared to die with his head held high.
When Jon gets to Olly, though, he struggles to look the boy in the eyes. Perhaps to hide how the actor has grown in the course of a year, Olly doesn’t say a word. He just glares down at Jon with piercing eyes and clenched jaw. Where there was once admiration and respect, now there’s just hatred.
The old Jon might have hesitated to execute the men like this, or at least considered sparing Olly. Indeed, he doesn’t immediately cut the rope keeping the men alive. But he doesn’t spare the boy in the end, and he lets Olly strangle to death with the other traitors.
With that, Jon has had it with the Night’s Watch. He gives Edd his heavy cloak -- and control of Castle Black. Marching away from the hanging bodies, he declares, “My watch has ended.”
The oath of the Night’s Watch says that each man is only released from his vows by death. Jon definitely died, so there’s a strong argument that he’s no longer attached to the oath he gave. That’s clearly not lost on Jon.
Before he was killed, he thought he knew exactly how to handle the problems thrown at him by his job. With the harsh revelation that he was never in control, Jon sees no purpose in repeating old mistakes by remaining Lord Commander. He’s quitting this wretched order.
There are plenty of ways Jon can be useful beyond Castle Black. There’s a host of wildlings that now will likely look to him for guidance. There’s also his sister, Sansa, on her way up from Winterfell. Throw in the numerous houses refusing to ally with the Boltons, and Jon could soon find himself in a position to organize a revolt against Ramsay and his allies. Lest he forget, death still marches on the Wall, so the North must be ready.
Will that be the course of action Jon takes? We’ll hopefully find out next week. In the meantime, somebody bust Daenerys out of that tent. We’ve only got about 20 episodes of the show left, so she better not spend one more as a prisoner listing out all of her titles on repeat.