Well, that was eventful.
“Home” opens with some unfamiliar sights. Revisiting Bran and Meera after so long was never going to be completely smooth, but both actors looking like post-grads instead of the adolescents they were 2 years ago is fairly jarring. Along with the redesign/recasting of the Child of the Forest and the Three-Eyed Raven, it leaves Hodor as the only part of this corner of the world that actually looks the same as when we left it. I’m not holding this against the show, of course, as its just a niggling reality of mounting such a sprawling production over a timeframe that is more extended in our world than storytime. At the end of the day, the GOT creators can always go commiserate with the showrunners of LOST and Breaking Bad about the illegality of feeding child actors drugs to retard growth spurts. Nor am I against recasting a role that appeared as briefly as the 3-eyed raven, particularly if it gives us a Von Sydow in the exchange. It’s more jarring that they ditched the decrepit overgrown hair and nails look, and he now appears to be just a clean shaven old man sitting in a tree. They seem to have normal-ed him out while making the Child of the Forest look more fantastical, which is an oddly split decision. It could just be that Von Sydow wouldn’t deign to undergo elaborate make up or prosthetics, but I also noted that he and Bran appear to be wearing the cloak and black leather jerkin that Lord Commander Mormont and Jon, respectively, wore in seasons past. Which makes me wonder if in his pre-immortal-warg-treehouse days, he began as a man of the Night’s Watch – perhaps even the first Lord Commander?
Anyway, the Bran sequence presents us with unfamiliarity that goes beyond faces. It also features a flashback, which we’ve only ever seen in the S5 cold open, and that flashback contains…happy people? This is a very strange look for GOT, but it must be said that the casting on young Hodor (and muttonchopping on young Rodrick) is on fricking point. To the fanatics, this is significant less because it gives us Hodor backstory than because it provides a method for learning the truth about Jon’s parentage, should fan theories on that score prove true (they totally are, by the way).
“Home” was on more familiar ground as a Lannister acting showcase across two continents. In Essos, Dinklage reaffirms his star status, with his charm selling the deference of Dany’s senior cabinet members (never hugely formidable as a braintrust, but still) to a dwarf who had only shown up on the scene one episode prior to the khaleesi disappearing. He also holds his own ably opposite dragons that are bigger and better looking than ever, his voice and face doing as much as the CGI to renew a sense of awe and respect for these creatures that we have been watching for 5 years now. The only thing he can’t sell is pantomiming the removal of giant steel pins that should weigh about 40 pounds, which fall away at the lightest brush, as though he was entering a command on a touchscreen. That’s a nitpickers’ nitpick, but they rendered the dragons in such exquisite detail, would it have been so hard to have him yank twice and drop in a rusty sound effect?
Anyhow, back in King’s Landing, Cersei bides time while sending her attack dog out on field trips to grotesquely/hilariously silence the loudest mouths keeping her humiliation trending among the hoi polloil. It shouldn’t be technically possible to simmer icily, but Headey has somehow invented and mastered it in her portrayal of the queen/regent/whatever. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, meanwhile, is immediately handed better material than he received in Dorne all last year, as Jaime takes his turn threatening the High Sparrow, only to be brushed back by his populist support. Coster-Waldau and Jonathan Pryce’s back and forth is prime Game Of Thrones threatneuvering, somewhat reminiscent of the (initially) reserved antagonism between Jaime and Ned way back when. But Jaime also does a surprisingly credible impersonation of his father while advising Tommen at the bierside of his other sibling that was poisoned by the matriarch of a powerful Southern house they were to marry into.
Predictability is a larger issue when it comes to Jon’s resurrection. Many if not most of us have been predicting this since last year, in the exact manner in which it occurred. But if I’m being honest, I did start to get nervous when Davos just started point blank asking Melisandre to bring Jon back (wait a minute, Game Of Thrones is never this straightforward…what is going to go wrong???). I was most relieved to see our favorite bastard start breathing again, and while I want to be annoyed that they drew out such a non-mystery for two out of a scant ten episodes, I enjoyed all the Castle Black material while he lay in state so much that I never really got around to getting upset. But I also never really understood the people that took it personally that the showrunners played coy about this development, or Harrington’s continued participation over the hiatus. No, it wasn’t particularly convincing misdirection, but what were they supposed to do? Come out the night of last year’s finale and say “don’t worry, he’s definitely coming back?” Move the murder and resurrection to both be in the opening of a season, where the impact would be even duller?
But did you think that we were going to move on to other storylines now? That it was enough that we saw him kill his father and send for his mother-in-law and newborn brother, with his character and murderous intentions beyond established? Then you underestimated Benioff and Weiss’s looooooove of Iwan Rheon, because of course we get another several minutes to luxuriate in another drawn out sequence of elaborate sadism. I’m trying not to be repetitive and one note in my complaints about Ramsay’s scenes, but repetitive and one note is exactly how those scenes are, so it’s kind of hard to come up with new ways to take note of it. Even if all of this is laying the groundwork for him to lose horrendously to Jon in the brewing Bastard Bowl, there is no way I needed to spend quite so many minutes (a precious resource in this sprawling show, as the list of characters at the bottom of the page can attest) watching him slowly open kennel doors, or eat, or bathe, or shave.
Having essentially no screentime since early season 2, and the extremely sudden introduction of his brother/killer, makes it hard to feel any particular way when Balon gets literally overthrown. I guess this is good because he was a hateful old shithead? But it’s kind of bad because it interferes with Yara’s ability to take control of the Iron Islands and put the brakes to a pointless, hopeless war? I’m certainly interested to see the Ironborn version of succession-based intrigue, which I imagine involves more sanctioned hatchet fights than in the other kingdoms. Yara seems like the most reasonable leader the Ironborn could hope to choose at their upcoming kingsmoot, but she’s got her work cut out for her. With her relation to a prior ruler counterbalancing the difficulty of breaking the glass ceiling to the nation’s highest executive office, not to mention trouble courting the evangelical vote, she is basically the Hilary Clinton of the Iron Islands. And she’s going up against a crazy, orange-haired political outsider with delusions of grandeur who is most famous for captaining commercial enterprises to disastrous results, and who unceremoniously offed the establishment figurehead standing between him and the Big Seat.
That Martin, who is still calling these major narrative shots even if the show has mostly surpassed the books in terms of plot, is still so devoted to this sense of narrative entropy this late in the game is impressive but also a bit worrisome. We’re all pretty much assuming that some relatively sane people (a combination of Jon, Dany, Bran, Sansa, and Tyrion, presumably) will eventually come through all this tumult and tragedy to start putting Humpty Dumpty back together again, but then again nothing about the manner in which the story has been told thus far dictates that has to happen. That we still presume, after 6 years of stabbings in so many hearts, that things have to correct themselves for the end, is a testament to how deeply these narrative preconceptions are ingrained. Game Of Thrones keeps zigging and zigging and fucking us over, and we keep telling ourselves that it’s all just bumps in the road before the final zag rights the ship. The resurrection of Jon Snow is about the first time the series has gone for a broadly predictable crowd-pleasing moment. I wonder, though, if we should be quick to let that convince us that Sansa and Bran are going to promptly join up with him to beat back the White Walkers, feed Ramsay to Ghost and live happily ever after. At some point, should we start taking the lessons that Game Of Thrones has taught us about how Game Of Thrones operates more seriously than a few centuries of narrative tradition have taught us that it must operate? I’m starting to wonder if that’s even possible.
Because really, that has to be where things end up with Ramsay, right? All this crap with his dogs has to be setting it up, right? RIGHT???
Wargin’ – B+
The North: B (Sansa and Theon’s farewell counteracts my disappointment at Roose going out so perfunctorily, but not another needlessly long sequence of Ramsay being Ramsay)
Castle Black: A+ (Wun Wun, mother*****s)
King’s Landin': A (this grade was guaranteed just between the head smush and Coster-Waldau’s face after Tommen insists that, yes, his mother would totally have the prince of Dorne killed if she felt like it)
Braavos – B (I haven’t talked about Arya’s scenes in the body of either recap this year, because there’s not much to sift through yet. It’s promising that her assassin training is starting to include a practical element after a season spent on a survey of Faceless theory, but it’s still moving at the characteristically languid pace of an Essos storyline, compared to all the tumult across the Narrow Sea)
Iron Islands – B (the wonderfully gothic atmosphere of Pyke deserved better, but misplacement within the episode hurts, and I’m not sure about the casting for Euron)
Season Morghulis: Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, Areo Hotah, Roose Bolton, Walda Bolton, Balon Greyjoy, (-Jon Snow)
MIA: Dany, The Sand Snakes, Osha, Rickon, Littlefinger, Olenna, Bronn, Grey Worm, Margaery, Loras, Sam, Gilly, Pycelle, Kevan Lannister, Gendry, the Blackfish, Walder Frey, Edmure Tully
Death Watch: By the steady-hands-must-die logic outlined above, Olenna Tyrell would seem to be next on the block. But also, now that she has demonstrated an ability to destroy the fundamental stakes of the show, Melisandre needs to be either taken off the board pronto or some serious limits need to be placed on her ability to do this again and again and again. Since she still needs to walk the walls of Winterfell to fulfill her vision, I’m guessing the Queen Of Thorns goes first.