Another week, another episode of Game of Thrones that proves both that the show really is capable of doing some things right and that the show’s writers have no clue what those things are or how to replicate their successes in any kind of consistent fashion. It’s the great moments—albeit few and far between—that keep me coming back to this show even though I know that, objectively, it’s the worst kind of trash programming, made even more offensively bad by the fact that they’re spending like $10 million and episode to make it happen. That said, most of “Home” isn’t extraordinarily bad or good; it’s simply boring, and nothing happens that isn’t expected, either because its demanded by the (ridiculous) narrative that the show’s writers have created, or because it’s so obviously exactly the sort of nonsense that we know the show for that one can’t possibly be truly surprised by it.
Spoilers, obviously, under the cut.
The hour starts off with Bran stuff, which is almost by necessity mind-numbingly dull. I’ve always found Bran’s chapters to be the most boring in the books, largely because his journey is so disconnected from the paths of every single other character that it’s not always easy to even see why Bran’s story is very relevant other than that he is a Stark kid and not dead. The simple answer to the problem of Bran’s chapters in the books, of course, is that George R.R. Martin is playing a very long game and that there is going to be some kind of grandly satisfying payoff for our patience with Bran’s stuff in the end. I fully expect for Bran to become a significantly important figure in The Winds of Winter, and I suspect that his abilities as a greenseer will figure largely in the resolution of events north of the Wall.
The show has also struggled to find a place for Bran in its narrative, and last season he was absent entirely and mostly not missed, especially since season four Bran stuff was some of the worst garbage adaptation D&D have ever done—which is saying something. A year (or, really, almost two years) off from Bran and his mysterious, mystical journey will have given most of the audience some time to forget (or at least gloss over in our minds) the worst aspects of season four, and it gives the show some opportunity to reinvent the character and his story in a very different show landscape than existed two years ago. While I’m not entirely sold on what the show is making of Bran, I have to admit that they made relatively smart use of him this week in order to introduce what passes for an overarching theme of the episode.
We see Bran first (sort of—it’s very poorly lit) wrapped in the branches of the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree, and the eyes of both Bran and his new mentor are white to show that they’re doing their magic thing. They’re at Winterfell, in the past, and Bran is fascinated by seeing his father, uncle and aunt as children. It’s a nicely conceived, thematically appropriate flashback, but it doesn’t actually convey any important information. Probably it exists to reintroduce us to the Starks and to give us some idea of who Lyanna is ahead of the likely revelations involving her character later in the season, so I suppose it works at that. Certainly, it’s the smartest use of a flashback so far on the show, and I can kind of see where they’re going with this.
The one concrete fact we learn from this flashback, however, regards Hodor, who it turns out was once a boy of seemingly average capabilities who was called Willas. Here’s the thing, though: Hodor’s name was never Willas, at least not in the source material. His name was Walder, and if I remember correctly, Hodor is just a mispronunciation of that. You know who was named Willas, though? Willas Tyrell, who GRRM has publically lamented being cut from the show. In light of that, this decision feels almost like a not-so-subtle jab at the author of the source material, who has distanced himself considerably from the show in the last couple of seasons. If that’s the case, it’s beyond petty and childish of the writers, and this disclosure (kind of) of Hodor’s backstory isn’t very relevant or interesting to, well, anything. Even worse, it creates the potential for a narrative about disability in which I could easily see either Hodor, Bran, or both being “cured” of their respective afflictions. At the very least, it feels as if the audience is being primed to care more about Hodor because we now know that he wasn’t always disabled, as if that is the greatest tragedy about the character. The ways that Hodor was utilized in the books weren’t always the best, but I’ve always felt the GRRM has a very real sympathy and respect for the character’s basic humanity and that he tries to explore that and get into the ethics of Bran’s warging into him and so on. The show has never done anything to suggest that it’s capable of that kind of nuance, but it’s still disappointing that it can’t be bothered to even attempt it.
What I found most infuriating about the Bran segment of “Home,” however, comes at the end of it. Hodor carries Bran outside to see Meera, who seems to still be deeply grieving her brother’s death and suffering from the trauma of her experiences. She’s also clearly tired of being stuck beyond the Wall watching Bran have visions day in and day out while unable to really do anything herself. For a young, active woman with some combat skills, it must be incredibly frustrating feel so helpless. Don’t worry, though! The show has recast the Child of the Forest, Leaf, so that she can explain to Meera that all Meera needs to do is give up her own ambitions and forget about having feelings or desires of her own because Bran needs her. Because it’s not enough that Meera hasn’t left yet, in spite of her own frustrations and misgivings. She needs a lecture and a guilt trip to keep her in her place and make sure that she and the audience know that it’s bad for her to feel resentful or doubtful about the usefulness of what she’s doing with Bran. Thank goodness that’s all cleared up now.
At the Wall, Alliser Thorne is trying one last time to sweet talk Davos and company into coming out without a fight. “Nobody needs to die tonight” doesn’t sound very convincing, though, with a bunch of crossbows pointed at the door while you take a sledgehammer to it. Just in the nick of time, though, Dolorous Edd shows up with the Wildlings and puts an end to that nonsense. It’s a scene that is basically equal parts ridiculous and kind of cool. I love the show’s giants, top to bottom, so I was thrilled to see them make use of one here—the show hasn’t named him, but I’m calling him Wun Wun regardless—but the actual conflict kind of fizzles in one of the worst anticlimaxes the show has given us to date. After all the buildup last week and this—with Alliser and Davos negotiating and endless meandering shots of Jon Snow’s body and Edd having to go get the Wildlings to save the day and Davos making a show of pulling out his sword and Ghost growling up a storm while a guy is beating down the door—it’s all over in a moment. Wun Wun smashes through the gate, Tormund kills one dude, everyone stands around looking nonplussed for a minute, a guy shoots an arrow at the giant and gets smashed against a wall, and then Thorne and Olly and a couple of other guys are easily disarmed and sent to crow jail. It’s not altogether terrible, but it definitely feels far too easy for everyone involved.
Oh, also, they are totally going to burn Jon’s body finally. For real, obv. Definitely this isn’t one last fake-out—complete with a lingering shot on Jon’s bloody corpse. I guess it’s a good thing he didn’t turn into a zombie during all the time they were dicking around with stuff, which feels like at least a couple of days, although the lighting situation at Castle Black never changes. It’s pretty much always so dark that I can barely see what’s happening.
In King’s Landing, zombie Gregor Clegane does not appreciate a guy telling lewd stories about Cersei and smashes the guy’s head against a wall. I’m not sure how zombie Gregor even knows that this is happening, to be honest—Is Cersei just letting her zombie roam around town on his own instead of guarding her?—but this is a thing that happens. It’s a strange act of random violence that, frankly, wastes time that could have been better spent elsewhere, and while I ought to be used by now to the show squandering time and resources, this is a particularly egregious case of it. It doesn’t show us anything particularly new, and it’s not tied to the episode’s bigger themes (such as they are). I suppose it could be a sly—so sly that it would be easy to miss for book readers and nearly impossible to catch for those who aren’t familiar with the source material—reference to the way Gregor Clegane is supposed to have kill the infant Aegon Targaryen during Robert’s Rebellion. However, unlike with the source material, there’s not even the smallest pretense of mystery surrounding the identity of this new Kingsguard. It might not be entirely known to the populace of King’s Landing, but it’s always been completely clear to the audience. I suppose the show could be setting up some kind of situation where Cersei faces some kind of consequences when it becomes widely known in King’s Landing what she and Qyburn have done, but that level of subtle foreshadowing and plot development is usually beyond this show. It’s much more likely that someone in the writers’ room thought this would be cool and no one said no because of course they didn’t. So Shocking™.
It’s the day of Myrcella’s funeral, and Tommen has Cersei grounded to her room, which is actually kind of a dick move on his part, even if he thinks she did have Trystane killed. Two things about this: I’m still not clear on exactly how the Sand Snakes managed to kill Trystane and escape so entirely, and Tommen should definitely not take any advice from someone as hopelessly naïve as his uncle father Jaime. Sure, Cersei didn’t have Trystane killed, but Tommen is right; she definitely would if she had the chance, and probably definitely would have actually done it if Obara and Nym hadn’t gotten to him first. In any case, this whole conversation between Tommen and Jaime is a total burning garbage pile of toxic masculinity and Jaime giving awful advice.
Tommen has all kinds of reasons to be angry with his mother, and so does Jaime for that matter, but instead of an uncle father and nephew son bonding over their love for a difficult woman or their shared frustration with Cersei’s manipulation or her day drinking or her suicidally ill-advised ambitions, poor Tommen gets a guilt trip about any negative feelings he might have, has all his toxic-masculinity-fueled feelings of shame validated and encouraged, and is told to go beg his mother’s forgiveness. At the very least, Jaime should be completely familiar with Cersei’s emasculating tendencies, but he sends his son right back into that lion’s den just as Tommen seems to be making some decisions for himself that might actually improve his situation and enable him to accomplish his goals on his own. I can’t help but feel sorry for the poor little guy, and when he actually does go to his mother, you can already see the wheels turning in Cersei’s head as she calculates her new options now that Tommen is back under her power.
Speaking of dick moves, Jaime’s conversation with the High Sparrow after Tommen leaves the sept is moderately interesting. Sadly, though, it’s a battle of wits, and Jaime is obviously outmatched. What I found most interesting about this scene, though, is that it looks like the show might actually be trying to incorporate at least some small portion of what the Sparrows and the Faith Militant were about in the books, albeit in a completely half-assed and backwards fashion. It’s still not clear what exactly they are trying to get Margaery to confess to, and there’s no update on Loras, but there is some talk about how everyone is equally horrible and deserving of death in the eyes of the gods or whatever and the High Sparrow does talk about being poor even if he doesn’t seem to have any agenda for helping actual poor people. Mostly what this scene proves, though, is that the High Sparrow has much bigger balls than Jaime. Or just that Jaime doesn’t understand how populist movements work. Little of column A, little of column B, probably.
In Meereen, Tyrion’s first line of the night is joke about eunuchs because D&D think this is hilarious comedy. It’s not. It’s boring and low brow and even the actors look like they hate it. It’s okay, though, because Tyrion is sure that Varys thinks dwarf jokes. Hahahaha. Haha. Ha. Let’s give this show another fucking Emmy.
Moving along, though, it’s nice to see Missandei and Grey Worm again in spite of their having to sit around and be insulted to their faces by Tyrion. The line that was teased in one of the pre-season trailers—when Tyrion tells Missandei, “I drink, and I know things”—is every bit as obnoxious as I found it when I first heard it. More context doesn’t really help, and Tyrion is absolutely insufferable throughout the scene as the small group discusses the current state of things in Slaver’s Bay and Meereen before moving on to the topic of what to do about Viserion and Rhaegal, who are still chained under the pyramid and have stopped eaten since Daenerys left. Tyrion decides that he’s going to go down and release the dragons himself, which makes very little sense, but okay.
In spite of how ill-advised this idea is and how much it continues to add to Tyrion’s characterization on the show as the worst sort of Gary Stu, I actually kind of love the following scene. The dragons are legitimately gorgeous, and I’ve always liked the story that Tyrion tells them about how he wanted a dragon when he was a boy. When he finally gets to lay hands on one of them and he’s moved almost to tears, it’s a genuinely nice moment. I’m nothing if not a sucker for characters getting to live out, even in a small way, childhood dreams, and I really like stories that deal with people encountering things that they once considered mythological.
Arya is still blind and begging on the streets of Braavos this week, and she gets another nonsensical beating from the Waif, although Arya is able to land a couple of hits of her own this week. There’s a profoundly silly moment where Arya is just spinning and swinging her stick around wildly, and then Jaqen H’ghar is there trying to get her to say her real name. When Arya insists over and over again (well, three times) that “a girl has no name” Jaqen I guess decides that she’s learned her lesson and invites her back to the House of Black and White. She’s “not a beggar anymore,” but it remains to be seen what becomes of Arya next. I doubt she will get her sight back right away, but there’s really no telling with this show. Arya’s punishment already seems silly, and it’s difficult to say exactly what she’s supposed to have learned from her experience so far this season. Her chapters were never my favorites in the books, and I’ve always felt like she gets bogged down in Braavos. Though the show has handled things very differently, it has the same problem. In two episodes now, nothing much has happened for Arya, and with her scenes so light on meaningful dialogue, there’s not a lot to analyze about them.
Next up, we’re taken to Winterfell, where Ramsay is trying to convince Roose Bolton that they should march against Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch because that’s probably where Sansa is heading. It seems strange that they wouldn’t have heard of Jon’s assassination yet, but okay. This is happening. Ramsay insists that they don’t need the whole North to follow them, since they have the Manderleys, Karstarks and Umbers on their side, even though those guys haven’t been mentioned since Robb Stark died and much was made of Roose requiring the support of the Lannisters since his role in the Red Wedding burned all his bridges with the other Northerners. Also, that was part of Littlefinger’s deal with Roose, to provide additional help from the Eyrie, I thought. I don’t even know anymore, and it doesn’t matter because right as Roose is tearing Ramsay apart for having such clearly terrible and antisocial ideas, a maester pops in to let them know that Lady Walda has had her baby.
Ramsay promptly congratulates his father, hugs him, and stabs him in a move that is nicely reminiscent of Roose’s own murder of Robb Stark at the Twins, which wasn’t entirely unexpected. Ramsay’s next move—to secure his position as Lord Bolton by doing away with Walda and the baby—is also not unexpected, but the way in which these events are all torturously dragged out is gratuitously awful even for this show. There are at least five full minutes here that could have been cut after Ramsay told the maester to send for Lady Walda, and the manner in which the show forces us to watch her death unfold, including the baby crying and Walda begging for their lives as Ramsay slowly and methodically unlocks the kennels, is downright unpleasant. It’s condescending to the audience, who could easily intuit Ramsay’s intentions towards his stepmother and infant brother, and it’s, frankly, a colossal waste of screen time when there is so much story to be told and so much of the source material is left unadapted. This is all made worse by the contemptuous way in which Walda has been treated all along, so that her final fate is adding injury to a great deal of insult. Even Ramsay’s final line to her—“I prefer being an only child”—is one that seems weirdly calculated to put the audience on Ramsay’s side and turns Walda’s brutal and entirely undeserved death into a joke at her expense.
Elsewhere in the North, Sansa and company are taking a break from their journey to the Wall so they can ill-advisedly build a fire (I mean, come on. That’s going to give away their position to anyone for miles around!) and so they can talk. I’m glad that Brienne finally told Sansa that she saw Arya, though I’m disappointed that she didn’t mention the Hound by name. It also doesn’t make much sense that, if Brienne was aware that Arya didn’t want to leave the Hound, Brienne would try to kill the guy, but my expectations for this show to make sense are getting lower and lower every week. I also hate that, though Brienne doesn’t say “I told you so,” there’s a distinct tone to that effect when the conversation turns to Sansa’s decision not to go with Brienne when they first met. It’s vaguely and insidiously victim-blaming, and that sucks. Still, I definitely enjoyed seeing Sansa speak lovingly of Arya, even if it is just for a moment.
The other important conversation that happens here is between Sansa and Theon, and this one is less problematic. I’m not hugely into Theon’s redemption arc in the show, mostly because it’s a gross bastardization of Theon’s arc in the books, but they manage to inject it with some amount of nuance in this conversation. It’s good to see that Theon seems to be cognizant of the magnitude of his sins, and there’s both a sweetness and a maturity in Sansa’s attempts to comfort him and her sadness at his decision not to go to the Wall with her. She appreciates that he’s helped her, and she wants to help him in return, but she also recognizes, at least on some level, the futility of it. Unfortunately, Theon’s decision to try returning to the Iron Islands instead of taking the black kind of ruins the moment because it makes almost no sense. I guess that’s happening, though.
Theon’s voicing of his choice, nonsensical as it is, does let the show segue right into a segment in the Iron Islands, where Balon and Yara Greyjoy are arguing/expositing about the things they’ve done in previous seasons. Balon threatens to make a new heir if Yara pisses him off too much, and then he decides to go out walking on a rickety bridge during a hurricane, where his estranged brother throws him off onto the rocks below. Asha is such a great character in the books, but I find myself struggling to care about Yara on the show, mostly because I have no faith whatsoever in D&D’s ability to adapt this material in a coherent way. The introduction of Euron Greyjoy is deeply silly so far, from the too-young actor, to his too-posh accent, to his insane-sounding dialogue that sounds as if he is supposed to be a sort of amalgamation of all three of Balon’s brothers from the books. The introduction of the Kingsmoot idea is equally absurd and poorly executed. Somehow the show contrived to make sure that they got across the point that Yara would be the first woman ever to rule the Iron Islands, but they failed to convey that the Kingsmoot is an ancient tradition that is only being revived in order to keep Yara from inheriting (as has been the practice for hundreds of years) specifically because she is a woman, which kind of misses a big part of the point of the whole exercise.
Finally, we return to Castle Black, where Melisandre is moping in front of the fire when Davos shows up to ask her to do something about Jon Snow. Listen, we all know what’s coming. We’ve known since the end of last season. Those of us who have read the books have known for even longer. It’s so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing, but at the same time the show seems determined to get to the point in the most circuitous, nonsensical way possible while completely ignoring characters’ history, personalities, and repeatedly stated feelings.
Before I get into what’s so completely wrong with the way that Jon Snow’s resurrection goes down, I should first say that Carice van Houten is mostly excellent as Melisandre, and she definitely makes the most of some garbage material this week. Melisandre’s crisis of faith is convincingly portrayed, and while the events that led to it have definitely been painted in broad strokes and with copious hand-waving, it works here. Unfortunately, Melisandre’s dejection over Stannis’s death and what she sees as proof that her god and her faith have been false all along is about the only thing about this whole mess that feels at all believable.
A probably non-comprehensive list of ridiculous things that we are supposed to believe about the current events at Castle Black:
- Davos has basically forgotten entirely about Stannis. I’d have to watch both of these first couple episodes a third time each to be totally certain, but I don’t think Davos has even said Stannis’s name this season, much less expressed any grief or sense of loss over the king he loved. I don’t even have to rewatch the episodes to be sure that Davos hasn’t mentioned Shireen Baratheon at all.
- Davos has become deeply embroiled in the affairs of the Night’s Watch, and in just a few days since Stannis’s death has become a strong partisan of Jon Snow in spite of the fact that they barely knew each other previous to this.
- Both the loyal-to-Jon members of the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings under Tormund defer to Davos’s judgment and are willing to stand with and fight for him unto death in order to I guess protect Jon’s legacy or something?
- Although almost everyone at Castle Black must have now had at least some first- or second-hand experience with a zombie by this point and at least one man of the Night’s Watch has come back as a wight within the very walls of the castle and it’s customary for both the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings to burn their dead as soon as possible after death, Jon Snow’s body has been kept, and not even under watch or guard.
- Even when Tormund finally says he’s going to go get things ready to burn the body, early in this episode, no one actually does it, which gives Davos plenty of time to go and convince Melisandre to try and resurrect Jon somehow.
- Davos knows that there is at least an outside chance that Melisandre can resurrect someone, even though at no point in the show has he been exposed to this information. Melisandre’s side trip in which she met Beric and Thoros, which is where she would have gotten the idea if it was truly something she didn’t already know was possible, was a journey she took alone, and we’ve never seen her speak about it to anyone, much less Davos, who has never had any love for the red priestess.
- Davos, though not a devout man, has for some reason decided to put his faith in Melisandre, even though he has long been a critic of what he considers dark and evil magic that she performs and skeptical of her religious claims. If anything, recent events seem like they would make him more distrustful of her, not less.
- We are also to believe that Davos holds no ill will towards Melisandre over the deaths of Stannis, Shireen, and thousands of men—a fate which Melisandre only escaped by fleeing on her own right as shit hit the fan. While it’s possible that Davos doesn’t know any of the particulars of how things went down, especially about Shireen’s death by burning, Davos’s previous mistrust and dislike for Melisandre would more naturally and believably lead him to feel resentment towards her for leading Stannis to his death and failing to protect Shireen.
- Davos, a man who is not devout and who is not highly educated (was actually illiterate until very recently) is capable of making impassioned theological arguments to a priestess and suggests magical solutions to problems that Melisandre was unable to think of on her own.
- Everyone is totally okay with a mysterious foreign priestess of a god they have likely never heard of prior to meeting Melisandre perform magic rituals over the dead body of their beloved Lord Commander in order to try and raise him from the dead. Even though most men of the Night’s Watch follow the Faith of the Seven, which would consider Melisandre’s magic heretical, and the Wildlings are almost exclusively believers in the Old Gods of the North and are distrustful of more organized religions. And foreigners. And women. Also, the only experience that the Watch and the Wildlings have had with risen dead so far has been with terrifying zombies that try to murder them all. But they are completely cool with Melisandre raising Jon Snow from the dead.
- Because Jon Snow is so popular and well-liked and effective as Lord Commander that the Night’s Watch, now inexplicably led by Davos, Edd, and Tormund, just don’t feel like they can do without him, even though Jon has not achieved anything of note during his time as Lord Commander and opinions on his decisions have been polarizing enough to motivate an assassination.
In any case, the only thing I’m surprised at in all of this is that we got to see Jon actually wake up before the credits roll. I was certain before the season started that we wouldn’t see it in the first episode, and when it was left so late in this one I rather thought that they’d milk the “suspense” until at least the beginning of the third one. That we don’t have to wait that long is really a testament to how quickly the show is burning through story this season. There were several major events in this episode alone, and I expect more are to come next week.
All things considered, though, this episode definitely could have been worse. So far, I have to admit the season is off to an okay start, and I think the show benefits from having somewhat more freedom from the source material. At the same time, there was a lot of stuff here that was either part of A Feast for Crows or A Dance with Dragons or that could be easily extrapolated from one of those novels. For all that much has been made of the show surpassing the books, we’re still firmly in that territory and, honestly, being more faithful to at least some tiny portion of the spirit of the source material than the vast majority of the last two seasons was.
- In the opening credits, they call it Pyke, not the Iron Islands, but Pyke is only one of the islands, not all of them. On the one hand, they might have thought it would be confusing. On the other hand, this is not confusing at all, and the audience isn’t nearly as stupid as D&D think we all are.
- Why does Lyanna look older than Eddard?
- “It is beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long you’ll drown” could be a lovely line in a better-written show.
- I actually hate that the show has decided to portray the lands north of the Wall as just a sort of bleak, Antarctic-looking wasteland. Sure, it’s symbolic or whatever here with Meera glumly looking out at it, but it’s definitely hitting the audience over the head with that symbolism. Plus, it doesn’t actually make sense, just, you know, for how worlds are put together.
- I also dislike how monochromatic all the cities are. King’s Landing is all sort of warm beige-y tones, Meereen is cool beige-y tones, and Braavos is more neutral beige-y and brown tones. I guess it does give each place a distinctive character, but only a distinctively beige one, which is exactly as visually boring as it sounds.
- How is there literally no one at Myrcella’s funeral?
- I love the way the dragons look, but I do wish they had managed to give them some brighter coloration as described in the books, or at least some differences that would let us tell them apart.
- I definitely want to see Yara feed someone to sharks.
- I feel like D&D probably came in their pants when they finally got to write Melisandre telling Davos that he was right all along.
- I guess on the bright side at least Melisandre didn’t have to get naked to do her magic on Jon Snow.
- I bet the smell of all the burning hair was vile, though.