Posted on Monday, May 9th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Game of Thrones‘ sixth season has been moving forward with the force and speed of a runaway freight train. HBO’s flagship series, traditionally a lumbering and patient affair, has been burning story like gasoline and it has been all the better for it. “Oathbreaker,” the third episode of the season, kept the fire bright. The show is officially barreling toward something, maybe a a final seventh season, and it’s as good as it has ever been.
Now, let’s run down the most important stuff that happened last night, shall we?
Resurrected and It Feels So Weird
Game of Thrones spawns think pieces like a family of rabbits spawns children and the main topic of tongue-clucking, disdainful conversation last week revolved around the show bringing Jon Snow back to life after having him stabbed to death by members of the Night’s Watch in the season five finale. It was cheap, some argued, a reversal of the show’s “nobody is safe” ethos. To watch how many people reacted to the events of “Home,” you’d think showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss decided to bring the deceased Lord Commander back on a whim, to reverse his death as a newly thought-up twist.
“Oathbreaker” was a necessary pin that particular balloon. Game of Thrones has spent six seasons rewarding patience and providing slow-burning pay-offs and you’d think the internet would be better at not instantly judging each and every one of the show’s decisions by now. Jon Snow didn’t die and get brought back to life because the writers and producers changed their minds – Jon Snow died and came back to life so the series could explore the implications of that situation, to see how such a monumental supernatural event would change the psyche of Jon and the people in his life. Jon coming back from beyond the grave with a little aid from Melisandre’s “one true god” isn’t a twist. It’s the next step forward for a character on a crash course with destiny. It’s all part of the plan.
In the earliest scenes of “Oathbreaker,” we were able to see this plan at work. Jon came back from “nothing.” He’s traumatized by his death, shell-shocked that his own men would murder him. As Tormund Giantsbane informs him, some of the wildlings have started to wonder if he’s a god…although Jon’s bearded buddy cuts through any potential treacle with a well-timed dick joke. This is Jon’s new status quo. Someone hit the reset button on his very existence and now he’s got to deal with what that means for him. And as we learn later in the episode, it has sent him down a new and completely different path as a character.
The Tower of Joy, Part One
The first of Bran’s big psychic flashbacks took us to a pleasant scene: Eddard Stark and his brother Benjen train in Winterfell, while the oft-discussed but never-before-seen Lyanna Stark makes her grand appearance. As expected, that scene was all about orienting us for something darker and more important. Nothing nice happens on Game of Thrones unless it’s secretly establishing the foundation for something horrible.
And then “Oathbreaker” took us back to the end of Robert’s Rebellion, to the Tower of Joy (although it’s not specifically called that on the show), the Dornish keep where three members of the Targaryen Kingsguard are guarding the abducted Lyanna Stark. The war is all but over. The Mad King is dead. Rhaegar Targaryen fell to Robert Baratheon’s warhammer at the Battle of the Trident. But these three knights, led by the legendary swordsman Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, aren’t backing down. Ned and his four companions, including Howland Reed, the father to Meera and Jojen, will have to fight their way to Robert’s betrothed. They’ll have to fight their way to Ned’s sister.
Because this battle is between five young soldiers and three knights specifically chosen to protect the interests of the Targaryen dynasty, it’s an unfair and nasty fight. Most of Ned’s allies fall and he faces certain death at the hands of Arthur Dayne, who only perishes because Howland Reed ambushes from behind. It’s Game of Thrones at its best. This encounter, which Bran has heard about before, isn’t a romantic battle between worthy opponents, but a dirty and brutish affair that ended with one of the greatest knights in Westerosi history being felled by a sneak attack.
Then Ned hears screams coming from the tower and he heads toward the steps and…the Three-Eyed Raven decides that Bran has seen enough for the day. It’s a maddening moment. Fans have long speculated about what’s inside the Tower of Joy (and this season has seemingly been confirming it step-by-step) but Benioff and Weiss are just bastard enough to hold it back from us. We got an excellent sword fight and our first proper snapshot of Robert’s Rebellion that wasn’t an extended monologue, but any ground-shaking revelations will have to wait for another episode.
Varys Does What He Does Best
While the Westeros storylines have never moved faster, action in Meereen continued at a slow pace this week. That may be appropriate, as the men and women currently trying to govern the city in Daenerys’ stead still have no idea how to approach the debacle that is everything about this place. Although he gets little of actual consequence to do, Tyrion Lannister gets to provide the episode with some much-needed levity, trying to get to know Grey Worm and Missandei over a drinking game where his companions aren’t drinking. As expected, watching the affable and sly Tyrion try to understand and get along with Dany’s oh-so-serious advisors is a lot of a fun and a reminder of just how strange it is to see the Imp hanging out on this side of the world. He’s not gelling with anyone else, but that’s the point. He sticks out like a sore thumb and it’s delightful.
The real action in Meereen this week was pulled off by Game of Thrones‘ secret weapon: Varys the spider, who promises a Sons of the Harpy collaborator a new life and a bagful of silver if she gives up the goods about whomever is footing the bill for the Masters’ little resistance army. Since season one, this clean-shaven spymaster has been one of the most effective characters on the show, a fascinating and enigmatic spymaster whose greatest weapon is his tongue, a man who is powerful because of what he chooses to not say. He’s the perfect companion for the brash Tyrion and it’s a genuine pleasure to watch him work. Unlike so much of Game of Thrones‘ cast, he doesn’t exude menace. He’s not powered by emotion or a desire for personal power. He’s pragmatic. He approaches every situation with one goal in mind: how does this fix my problem and make things better for everyone? He is, strangely enough, the most selfless player in the entire game.