I purposefully avoid reading any other reviews of Game of Thrones before writing my own, so I’m not sure exactly what is being said about this episode yet, but I can already imagine the breathless joy with which “Oathbreaker” has been received. It seems like every episode this season has been getting rave reviews, in my opinion due to a mixture of the fact that it’s not nearly so bad as season five and that a lot of viewers seem to be under the impression that we’re somehow getting a sneak preview of what’s going to happen in the final two books. You might think that this would be faint praise, but mainstream reviewers all seem to be united in writing paeans to the show now that it’s quote unquote “moved past the books.” Sadly, though, all I can say in this episode’s favor is that it’s not the worst hour of Game of Thrones I’ve ever seen, even as I struggle to think of any particular highlights. Kit Harrington’s butt, I guess. That was nice. But that’s within the first two minutes, and then there’s another fifty or so minutes of sheer fucking nonsense to get through.
Spoilers, as always, under the cut.
“Oathbreaker” opens, fortunately, as there would probably have been riots otherwise, right where it ended last week, with Jon Snow waking up, naked, on a table at Castle Black. I could have sworn that everyone had left the room entirely, but apparently Davos was there the whole time, and there’s a really long reaction shot of Davos bug-eyed and breathing heavily when he sees Jon sitting up. In a show that was better-written overall, this might be fine, but it’s slightly risible here, where it feels, frankly, like a cheap and heavy-handed way to try and inject some extra drama into an event that was the worst-kept secret in television and surprised literally no one who has paid any attention to the show at all. Unfortunately, while there is some lip service paid to exploring Jon’s trauma (having been murdered) and confusion (having been resurrected), this is relatively quickly moved past.
Melisandre, for her part, first asks Jon about what he saw while he was dead. Nothing, apparently, which is interesting and actually could be related to themes in the books related to exploring the veracity of various religions and their claims, but because this is a D&D-penned episode, this is completely ignored as Melisandre steamrolls right past the moment in order to inform Jon that someone has to be the chosen prince now that Stannis turned out not to be. Because any prince in a storm I guess? There’s not any real explanation for why the simple fact of Jon’s resurrection would cause this reaction in Melisandre. When she met Beric and Thoros, she didn’t seem very impressed by the feat, and she certainly didn’t give any indication that she considered Beric to be of any special significance. It’s not out of character for her to tell Jon that the Lord of Light brought him back for a reason, but believing him to be a sort of messiah figure is a pretty big leap in logic without any other evidence. Sure, the show’s audience (and readers of the books) have good reason to believe in Jon’s importance due to his prominence in the narrative, but Melisandre doesn’t have that meta perspective, being inside the show herself, and inside the show, pretty much the only thing she knows about Jon Snow is that he’s not a virgin.
It doesn’t really matter what Melisandre thinks, however. Now that she’s done her part and resurrected Jon, she’s obviously totally unnecessary. Davos, once again treating Melisandre with some disdain, shoos her out of the room so he can give Jon a vaguely anti-Melisandre pep talk that isn’t actually very encouraging and is actually pretty dishonest. He opens by telling Jon what has happened, not in specifics or with any sense of accountability, but just in broad strokes and without any of the salient details—Jon was dead, and no he’s alive, which seems “pretty fucking mad” to Davos even though Davos was the one who orchestrated the resurrection and talked Melisandre into doing it. Jon is understandably upset about having been murdered for doing what he thought was right, although one could argue that that is a gross oversimplification of the murderers’ motivations. It’s not like they were like “this Jon guy is too good and righteous; we must kill him.” The conspirators had some serious objections to Jon’s decisions and major concerns about his continued ability to lead the Night’s Watch, but okay. Jon was killed for just doing what he thought was right.
In any case, this barely registers with Davos, who is much more concerned with basically telling Jon “YOLO.” I feel like D&D thought this speech was really deep and insightful, but it’s really, really not. It’s as shallow and meaningless as an eight-grader’s middle school graduation speech, and seems intended only to undermine Melisandre’s assertions that Jon is some kind of Chosen One by convincing Jon that his resurrection is not significant or meaningful in any way and that Jon should just go on with his life now as if this was no big deal. This is then somewhat contradicted when Jon steps outside for the first time after his resurrection and is informed by Tormund that the men think Jon is some kind of god—but not Melisandre, who actually did the resurrection magic and is conveniently out of sight now so we can focus on all the characters who are really important—but Tormund knows Jon isn’t a god because Jon has a small dick. Hahaha. Ha. Ha. Give these guys another Emmy!
Seriously, I can’t overstate how angry I am about the treatment of Melisandre in this episode. She’s shuffled off unceremoniously and, frankly, disrespectfully once she’s served her purpose. Her own personal arc of overcoming her shattered faith and her self-doubt in order to accomplish something great is completely ignored in favor of focusing on Jon’s feelings and showcasing his relationships with other men so we can all know what a great guy he is and how awesome it was of him to get resurrected. I’m sure I shouldn’t be surprised by the lack of credit D&D give to Melisandre, but it’s never not disappointing to see the way that this show uses and casts women aside and how the writers consistently think nothing of subordinating female character development to men’s. The unintended consequence of this, for people who don’t hate women, that is, is that it makes Davos in particular look like a colossal asshole at best and deeply stupid at worst. He spent a good deal of time last week trying to convince Melisandre to make the resurrection attempt, but now that she’s accomplished it all he wants to do is push her out of the room and then demean the momentousness of what she’s done? And what is Davos’s motive here, anyway?
If Davos just wanted Melisandre to bring Jon back because he was too young to die or something that would be a profoundly silly reason to dabble with dark magic. If Davos wanted Jon brought back because of some belief that Jon could accomplish great things, that hasn’t been indicated and has in fact been explicitly denied by Davos’s own insistence that Jon should just go back to living a normal life and doing his best. It’s possible that Davos could be concerned about the stability of the Night’s Watch and wants to preserve the institution in order to protect the realm, but it doesn’t follow that Jon is the solution to the Night’s Watch’s problems. In fact, one could argue exactly the opposite and that Alliser Thorne has as good a chance as anyone of uniting the Watch and keeping them on track. Even if we ignore Thorne, a better candidate might be someone more moderate who hasn’t played a big role in recent events at the Wall and with the Wildlings. And still, the question about all of this is why Davos even cares so much in the first place. It would have made sense for Melisandre to resurrect Jon for her own reasons and for her to play a major role in shaping events at the Wall following Jon’s coming back to life, especially if she thought that he might be Azor Ahai or otherwise important to the Lord of Light, but the more I think about it the more I have a hard time finding any reason for Davos’s actions and involvement in any of this. It’s as if D&D just really like Davos and want to sideline Melisandre from her own story, which would definitely fit into their ongoing pattern of cutting women characters out of their own plots and giving their character development to men. I’m not sure what’s worse, though: that they do this over and over again or that they manage to do it without even bothering to have any of it make sense.
While Jon is busy coming back to life, Sam and Gilly are well on their way towards Oldtown. Gilly is enjoying the journey, her first by ship, but Sam looks like he wants to die. He’s not, obviously; he’s just seasick, because of course he is, but he does manage to, at least momentarily, dampen Gilly’s spirits when he informs her that she can’t go to Oldtown with him because the Citadel doesn’t allow women. Instead, Sam tells her, he’ll be taking her to his family at Horn Hill. Gilly is disappointed and tries to call him out as a liar since he said that they’d be together always or whatever, but she’s quickly mollified when he insists that this is a good option. This stuff is fine, I guess, and it’s pretty close to how things went down in the books, at least on the surface, but without the baby-switching, Aemon’s death en route, and the urgency of the need for Sam to become a maester as soon as possible, the best that can be said about this is that it’s inoffensively boring. Instead of a fraught journey with important character growth for Sam, it looks like we’re going to get some dull and contrived family drama in order to tie up the Gilly loose end. It beats having Gilly die tragically or just disappear from the story altogether, but I can’t get very excited about seeing Sam return to his childhood home, which feels like a regression rather than any kind of progress for the character.
With no warning and no initial indication that what we’re seeing is a flashback, we’re next whisked off to the Tower of Joy, where Bran is watching Ned Stark, Howland Reed and a few other guys confront Arthur Dayne and another member of the Kingsguard. Ned is at this tower looking for his sister, Lyanna, but instead of actually finding out what happened to her, we’re treated to a stupidly long fight scene with some Sand Snakes level choreography as Arthur Dayne awkwardly wields two plain longswords (instead of the one iconic and possibly magical greatsword, Dawn, that he carried in the books and which was forged from a fallen star) and kills everyone except Ned, who he disarms. Right as Dayne is about to kill the Stark patriarch, we find out that Howland Reed was only seriously injured when Reed pops up behind Dayne and stabs him in the back. Though Dayne is obviously dying from his severed spine or whatever, Ned nonetheless takes the time to cut his neck. Suddenly there is a woman’s scream from the tower, but before Bran can follow his father inside to find out what that’s all about, Max von Sydow ends the vision.
The biggest problem that I have with this scene, of course, is just how much D&D seem to have no idea what it is that the viewers actually care about. No one knows, except for book readers, who Arthur Dayne is, and we’re given no reason to give a shit in this scene. If he hadn’t been named at all, it wouldn’t have mattered, because he’s nothing but an obstacle in Ned Stark’s quest to rescue his sister. As it is, there’s nothing very notable or interesting about him, and his two-weapon fighting style looks like garbage, not the stuff of legends. We don’t even get to see Lyanna in this episode, with the scene ending with the revelation that Ned Stark, for who personal honor was of the utmost importance and who wouldn’t lie even to save his own life, apparently spent years lying to his kids about how he killed one of the greatest knights of all time.
It’s extremely well-established, both in the books and the show, that Ned Stark would not lie except in a case where the lie was in service of some greater honorable cause. It’s heavily implied that Ned lied about Jon Snow’s parentage because Jon is Lyanna’s son by Rhaegar, who she likely ran off with rather than was kidnapped by, and Ned promised Lyanna to keep her son safe. Claiming the boy as his own allowed Ned to keep that promise, and the lie protected Jon from Robert (who would likely have had the baby killed) and shielded Robert (Ned’s best friend) from the truth that Lyanna had chosen another man. Even still, it’s likely that this lie and Ned’s guilt over it is part of what kept him in the North and away from court for over a decade. At no point is it ever implied that Ned would exaggerate his own military accomplishments, and in the first season of the show Ned is shown to be uncomfortable with Robert’s cheerful reminiscing about their time in the war, so it seems unlikely that Ned would alter the story of Arthur Dayne’s death in order to stroke his own ego or to enhance his own renown as a warrior.
It doesn’t even make sense that the show would change Ned’s character in this fashion, as the Tower of Joy sequence isn’t, ultimately, about him at all, and this revelation about Ned Stark’s character is completely meaningless. Unfortunately, this also renders this first Tower of Joy scene almost entirely unnecessary. The fight scene isn’t cool enough to justify itself in the absence of some greater revelation that is relevant to an actual plot, and we don’t get that. We don’t learn anything new about Bran or his new mentor, we don’t learn anything useful about the past that Bran is viewing, and we don’t learn the major piece of information that everyone agrees should be coming out of these flashbacks. Ultimately, what we have here is either a cheap and shameless fake-out designed to tease the audience and produce exactly the feelings of frustration that I’m experiencing or D&D think that the Ned Stark and Arthur Dayne showdown is far more interesting than it actually is.
In Essos, Daenerys has arrived in Vaes Dothrak, but apparently her place with the Dosh Khaleen isn’t guaranteed. Apparently, since she didn’t go immediately to Vaes Dothrak after Khal Drogo’s death, now there will be a trial or something to decide what will be done with her. This scene actually manages to be legitimately surprising, though not for anything that actually happens in it; that stuff is all boring, predictable faux drama to give Daenerys something to do until Jorah and Daario get there to rescue her. No, what is shocking here is that Daenerys didn’t get to set straight the older khaleesi who lectures her about how Dany “thought [her husband] was going to conquer the world with [her] by his side.” As soon as that little tirade started, I was certain that Daenerys was going to make some monotone pronouncement about how, no, actually, she is going to conquer the world with no man by her side. For feminism. But D&D restrained themselves and now there’s no Daenerys material for anyone to GIF this week.
Off in Meereen, Varys is complaining about the heat when some guards bring in the sex worker, Valla, who was helping the Sons of the Harpy murder Daenerys’s men. You might think that he’s going to question her or something, but instead he’s going to explain her own perspective and motivations to her and then offer her a bunch of money and a ticket away from Meereen for herself and her son in exchange for information. I guess Valla takes the deal, but I’m also confused about what ship she’s going to be taking out of Meereen since every ship in the harbor was burned a couple of weeks ago. There’s literally no story-advancing information communicated by this scene.
Next up, we check in with Tyrion, who is trying rather unsuccessfully to make friends (I guess) with Missandei and Grey Worm. I can just imagine D&D jerking off to this scene in the writers’ room, marveling at their ability to create parallels between Tyrion now and Tyrion in season one, when he was making friends with Bronn and Shae, but this is just painful to watch. Missandei’s face is amazing, though. Fortunately, Varys shows up to rescue us all, but he’s only there to bring bad news. The Masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis are funding the resistance in Meereen. Grey Worm and Missandei are ready to start an all-out war, but Tyrion wants to try negotiating first, because of course he does, and he overrules their suggestion. Varys is going to send messages to the other three cities, to I guess ask them not to keep funding violence in Meereen, so it looks like Varys and Tyrion are getting to have most of Dany’s A Dance with Dragons storyline. The most striking part of this scene, however, is just how quickly Missandei and Greyworm, POC natives of Essos who have experienced the oppression of the Slaver’s Bay system firsthand, have their experience invalidated, their feelings ignored, and their advice disregarded by these two white foreigners who have installed themselves as de facto rulers of Meereen. It’s a racist and colonialist narrative of exactly the type that GRRM was critiquing (if imperfectly) with the Daenerys plot in ASOIAF, but it’s being played totally straight in the show.
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing. Qyburn is charming Varys’s little birds by disappearing abusive fathers and handing out sweets when Cersei and Jaime show up with Ser Gregor in tow. Once the children leave, Jaime asks insultingly about the seven-foot-tall zombie knight’s capabilities and Cersei tells Qyburn that she wants to know everything everyone is saying about her anywhere ever, though she seems mostly concerned with people who could be making dirty jokes at her expense because Cersei definitely has her priorities straight. Then, Cersei, Jaime and Gregor head off to disrupt the first Small Council meeting of the season. Cersei and Jaime insist that they should be included, but then Kevan, Olenna, Mace and Pycelle pick their toys up and go to play somewhere else. Awkward.
Elsewhere, Tommen has decided to be proactive about stuff, and he goes to confront the High Sparrow about the way Cersei has been treated by the Faith. Instead of satisfaction for his complaints, however, Tommen is treated to a long speech about how great mothers are and how really Tommen should be more devout. On the one hand, I kind of love how obviously slimy and manipulative this ostensibly in-it-for-the-people-and-for-justice High Sparrow is. On the other hand, this scene accomplishes less than nothing. Anyone who has been paying attention to the High Sparrow is well aware that he’s not nearly as self-abnegating as his public persona suggests, and it’s already been established that Tommen is young, naïve, and struggling to grow into his role as king. Tommen is also disconnected from any actual power, as evidenced by his failure to be with his Small Council, and he’s apparently unaware that Cersei has already moved on from grieving Myrcella. This scene might have made more sense if Tommen had gone to the Sept to make appeals regarding his wife, but nope. I guess this passes for Tommen character development, but it seems very unlikely that Tommen is going to get out of this story alive. I’d honestly rather not get too attached to the poor little guy.
Back across the Narrow Sea, in Braavos, Arya gets two books worth of story abbreviated and packed into about a five-minute montage, sort of. There’s some fighting stuff and some sniffing mysterious powders stuff and a lot of beating stuff as Arya recounts her life story to the Waif. Apparently, Arya’s training is over when she’s able to block a clumsy overhead blow from the Waif’s staff. Jaqen give Arya a drink from the pool in the House of Black and White, and when Arya opens her eyes after drinking she can see again. It’s not very clear what lesson Arya is supposed to have learned from all of this, and who even knows what she’ll have to do in the rest of the season (I expect we’ll get a Stark family reunion this year, but more on that later), but she can see and she’s apparently successfully given up her identity in order to become no one. This whole segment is delivered with an air of mystery and drama that isn’t at all earned or even interesting. Sure, one feels that things are moving along, but Arya has given up her name and her goals to the Many-Faced God, which leaves her with no obvious path forward from here.
Next, we head to Winterfell, where Ramsay and his recently acquired Karstark flunky are receiving the new Lord Umber, who is here to pledge his allegiance to Ramsay even though the Umbers never were willing to follow Roose Bolton. Apparently, Roose Bolton was a “cunt” and Ramsay is not, because that makes perfect sense. Also, this Lord Umber would probably have murdered his father too if he’d ever had the chance, because it’s not like kinslaying is a huge cultural taboo in Westeros or anything. Lord Umber is upset because Jon Snow allowed Wildlings past the way and he thinks that Jon is going to lead an army of them south to take Winterfell, which would take them right through Umber lands, I guess? It makes sense that he would be uneasy at the large influx of Wildlings, but it makes zero sense that he would show up at Winterfell to declare his allegiance to Ramsay Bolton and, furthermore, deliver up Rickon Stark (and Osha and what’s left of Shaggydog) as well. It probably goes without saying that this development is as distressing as it is absurd.
There’s just so much wrong on so many levels of this story. Obviously, either Ramsay or Roose was going to kill the other at some point, so Ramsay naming himself Warden of the North makes sense enough. However, everything else about the political situation that is being portrayed here is complete nonsense, and not just because it’s full of bizarre deviations from the source material. You can go back to the very beginning of Game of Thrones and see evidences that David Benioff and D.B. Weiss don’t really quite grasp the point of ASOIAF, but I’m not sure any other plotline proves that more than this one, right now.
If there’s one thing that, in the books, characterizes the Northern Lords of Westeros, it’s their deep and abiding love for the Starks, and the Boltons’ storyline since the Red Wedding has been primarily concerned with making themselves also appear to love the Starks and reframing themselves not as conquerors or usurpers but as family stepping in to uphold traditions and order. Most of the Boltons’ actions in A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons have been to prove themselves and earn the acceptance of the North, with Ramsay’s marriage to fake Arya being a key part of their strategy. In the meantime, there are still quite a few Stark loyalists, Rickon Stark is still alive and in hiding, and there is at least one important Lord who is actively plotting against the Boltons. The show has thrown all of this stuff completely out the window and replaced it with complete garbage.
So, now that Sansa is gone and Roose is dead on the show, Ramsay is in charge of Winterfell himself, and he’s faced with some (sort of) the same problems they dealt with in the books, though that’s essentially simplified here as “Ramsay is securing his hold on the North.” The thing is, there is apparently no actual barrier to Ramsay doing this because no one cares about tradition or the Starks or deeply held social mores any longer. Lord Karstark kind of makes sense, I guess, since Robb Stark did cut off his dad’s head, but the old Lord Karstark had murdered actual children against the express wishes of his king. Still, I could buy that the younger Karstarks might work with the Boltons.
The Umbers, however, were always loyal to the Starks, and even if they were willing to follow Ramsay, guest right ought to have protected Osha and Rickon unless everyone has just turned inexplicably evil. Even the justification given in the episode is ridiculous, with Lord Umber basically saying “fuck tradition,” and refusing to bend the knee to Ramsay and just handing over Rickon and Osha as a gift. Okay, so Jon Snow let some Wildlings in, and Lord Umber hates the Wildlings and is convinced that there is a Wildling army poised to sweep south and I guess steal everything and kill everyone? But why would he think that? In the books, Jon settles the Wildlings in the Gift, which is land that belongs to the Night’s Watch, and he conscripts most of the Wildling fighting men in order to garrison the Wall. Those living in the Gift are mostly women and children and the elderly, all hoping to just make it through the winter without starving or getting killed by snow zombies. It wasn’t that clearly discussed on the show, but there were far fewer Wildlings to begin with on the show, and while it’s not explicit it’s certainly implied that some version of the books’ arrangement was set up. This on its own would make Lord Umber’s stated reasoning rather specious, but Umber also suggests that Jon, as Lord Commander, might lead a Wildling army himself, which is just silly. Why would that even be a consideration? Surely, the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch ravaging the North with an army of Wildlings can be a serious concern. It’s just complete and total nonsense if you think about any of this for more than a minute.
Even the fact that Ramsay so easily accepts Rickon’s identity is stupid. It can’t be that hard to find a boy of the right age and a wolf’s head, but Ramsay just quickly believes it. The only wise thing for Ramsay to do now, of course, is to execute Rickon immediately, but I doubt that will happen, because plot convenience. Surely the show didn’t bring Rickon back just to show us his flayed body in an episode or two. We could hold out hope that the Umbers are engaged in some kind of elaborate plot against Ramsay, which could be a way for the show to adapt an important Northern plotline from the books, but if that’s the case it doesn’t make sense for them to have turned over the real Rickon. It makes no sense for them to have turned over Osha at all, though, except out of sheer hate and cruelty, knowing Ramsay’s predilections, so who even knows at this point. Nothing makes sense and nothing matters at all anymore in the North, clearly.
Speaking of things that don’t make sense, “Oathbreaker” ends with what I guess is the titular oathbreaking. As his final act as Lord Commander, Jon executes the men (and Olly) who conspired against and murdered him. Alliser Thorne gets an okay speech and a couple of other guys have some last words, but Olly just stands there like a pouty thirteen-year-old, probably because he’s just a sad and angry child who doesn’t really deserve to die next to a bunch of grown men who took advantage of his trauma and youth to manipulate him into betraying Jon. There’s a far too long shot of Olly’s dead face after he’s hanged, and then Jon quits the Night’s Watch. I don’t have much to criticize about this stuff except that it’s a little boring and totally expected, but I did wonder a little at the method of execution. I would have expected Jon to behead them himself, as he did Janos Slynt, or I would have expected there to be enough converts to Melisandre’s religion to get the traitors burned as sacrifices to R’hllor. Hanging is much more reminiscent of Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners in the books, and that’s a story that D&D have repeatedly indicated they won’t be adapting, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see them give some of that stuff to Jon. Because of course they would steal a woman’s story and give it to a male character in a totally different context. We’ll see.
- Jon’s new hairstyle is atrocious. Definitely not pulling it off.
- It’s good to see that Gilly’s baby finally got a little older, but he’s still pretty obviously under a year, which seems far too young considering how much time has passed for everyone else on the show.
- Also, Sam needs to stop looking at Gilly like he wants to kiss her when he can’t stop barfing. Gross.
- I don’t know how it’s spelled, but it sounds like Varys is pronouncing the name of Valla’s son as “Dong” or perhaps “Duong.” Either way, this is not a difficult to pronounce name, and I don’t know why he would need to verify it and then claim that he doesn’t speak the language well. Like, it’s really not hard. Also, I feel like D&D put this in as a joke name? Because they are children.
- “Ser Gregor.” Because why not just openly let everyone in King’s Landing know that you used necromancy to bring a violent sociopath from the dead?
- Apparently Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have seized control of Dorne. I guess that’s it for that plot.
- I wonder if this season of the show was purposefully delayed so that the High Sparrow’s speech about moms would air on Mother’s Day. That sounds stupid, but the show did start two or three weeks later than usual this year and that felt awfully (no, really, awfully) convenient.
- So, messages can just teleport from Dorne to King’s Landing and back, but no one at Winterfell has heard a peep about Jon Snow’s death and/or resurrection?