Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
THINGS ARE MOVING FAST (AND SLOW)
Blink and you might miss something big — that’s the way the story is moving this season, and things only accelerated in episode 3, entitled Oathbreaker. I remember times in earlier seasons where I could only wait for the story to speed up and for us to get to the good stuff. But now that that time has arrived, I can’t help but feel that many parts of the story are moving too fast. Or at least, too fast for the brief 55-minute episode that we are granted each week. What’s more, I feel a major inconsistency in speed of plot between certain characters and storylines in a given episode. For instance, in a matter of basically one episode, Jon Snow has been brought back to life, executed his murderers and abandoned his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. In the past, these each would’ve been monumental twists and turns of their own, spread across many episodes. But Jon Snow’s story has hit the turbo-speed button, and all of this has been packed into such a short time period. Meanwhile, the same episode then flashes to Khaleesi’s story, which continues to drag along at a speed that might make a snail chuckle. I am struggling to find an internal homeostasis as I watch this show, with certain points appearing to reach a climax, while others struggle to find an inflection point at all. With that, let’s jump in to it.
When I saw this episode was entitled Oathbreaker, a name that had been ascribed to Jaime Lannister in reference to him breaking his oath to protect the (Mad) King, I thought that we might be in store for some flashbacks of Robert’s Rebellion, and maybe a glimpse of a younger Jaime actually putting his sword through the back of the Mad King. And while we did get a flashback from the era of Robert’s Rebellion, it was an entirely different flashback, and had nothing to do with Jaime. Rather, in the final moment of the episode, we find out that it is in fact Jon Snow who will be breaking his oath and abandoning his post as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
But let’s cut him some slack, he was just brought back from the dead and came face to face with his own murderers — an experience that must be pretty weird to say the least. But let’s step back for a moment to the beginning of the episode, which picked up right where last week’s episode left off. Jon Snow gasps for air as he somehow tries to contemplate what has happened and the fact that he is alive once again. To her disappointment, he tells Melisandre that he saw nothing after he died, just darkness (sorry Melisandre, no Lord of Light encounters). Jon Snow tells Davos that he failed in his mission and that he does not know how to keep fighting — again, we see another character that has lost faith and hope. But, we continue to see Ser Davos serve as the strength for characters who have lost faith, as he reminds Jon Snow that he must keep fighting, and that he should “go out and fail again.”
Perhaps more significant that any of these encounters that Jon Snow had after being brought back to life was the general way about him. Perhaps I was naively expecting the same Jon Snow, more motivated than ever to lead the remaining Night’s Watch and Wildlings, who would take back the North from Ramsay and eventually fight back the White Walkers. But this is far from the Jon Snow we got, underscored by one of the first things he tells Ser Davos, “I should not be here.” Bringing somebody back from the dead is not natural, and Jon Snow certainly seems to sense this. The cozy warmth of Jon Snow that we’ve come to know was nowhere to be found — traded for a cold, unnatural darkness about him. It almost seemed as if he wished he had been left in his resting place. Perhaps this was exacerbated by Ser Alliser’s final words, when he told Jon Snow that he’s accepted his resting place, but Jon Snow will be stuck fighting this war for thousands of years to come. It’s a pretty heavy thing to be thrown at a guy who has just been brought back from the dead, and maybe Jon Snow doesn’t want to be burdened with this enormous load. So just like that, he calls it quits and names Dolorous Edd the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. But not before executing the traitors that murdered him, even Ollie who was just a boy. In the past, this might have been something that Jon Snow would not have been able to do, but this cold and hardened Jon Snow swung his sword and ended their lives. And then appeared to leave the Wall…
THE TOWER OF JOY
The Tower of Joy is an extremely significant scene from the GoT books that takes place all the way back in the very first book George R.R. Martin wrote; through Bran’s flashback, we got to see this scene relived. The scene takes place about 20 years prior to the start of the show, and Robert’s Rebellion is coming to a close as King’s Landing has been sacked by the rebels and the Mad King has been overthrown. Ned Stark has rode across Westeros in search of his sister Lyanna, who he believes was kidnapped by Rhaegar Targaryen (son of the Mad King, oldest brother of Khaleesi), while others believe Lyanna chose to ride off with Rhaegar. When watching this scene, it is important to consider that the search for Lyanna was one of the major factors that sparked Robert’s Rebellion in the first place.
Finally, Ned and his band of Northerners arrive at the Tower of Joy, located in Dorne, where it appears Lyanna is being held captive. While the war took place further North around King’s Landing, it is interesting to consider that Rhaegar had two of his best men all the way south in Dorne guarding this tower. After the first Targaryen knight is killed, we get glimpse of the famed Ser Arthur Dayne, regarded as the greatest knight in all of Westeros, take on four men at once. After defeating the first three, he fights Ned, who is clearly overmatched, and is destined for death after being de-sworded. But just like that, Howland Reed puts his knife in the back of Ser Arthur, before Ned gets the kill. There were several interesting takeaways from this scene: 1) We got to see one of the more epic fights of Westeros history come to life 2) Howland Reed is the one to save Ned; years later his children Jojen and Meera Reed would go on to save/guide Ned’s son, Bran 3) Ned did not defeat Ser Arthur honorably as the tale was told to Bran. Rather, Ser Arthur was murdered dishonorably, stabbed in the back, which did not sit well with Bran.
As the fight came to an end and we hear a female scream come from the Tower of Joy, Ned begins to ascend the stairs, but not before Bran calls out to his father, to which his father pauses and turns around. Clearly, Ned sensed Bran’s presence, which is an interesting wrinkle to this scene. But the scene would end there and Bran would not get to see what was inside the tower, though we can speculate that it will be his sister Lyanna inside. It seems as though we are getting closer and closer to finding out if there is any truth to the R + L = J theory (a theory which proposed the idea that Rhaegar and Lyanna are in fact the parents of Jon Snow, making Jon Snow part Targaryen). You can read more about that theory from a season 4 recap here.
In King’s Landing, we continue to struggle to understand who truly holds the power. Whereas we are used to seeing the absolute power in King’s Landing of a king and his army, things continue to remain very ambiguous these days. Finally, Tommen decides to exercise a bit of power and demands that the High Sparrow allow his mother to visit the resting place of her daughter, Myrcella. Though, the High Sparrow refuses, noting that his wish cannot be granted until she atones for all of her sins. As Tommen’s guards stand behind him, so too do the Sparrow’s men, showing a clear standoff and vision of power. But things soon settle down, as the High Sparrow is able to manipulate Tommen in telling him that a good king always listens to the wisest council, none which can be wiser than god. In other words, he appears to be convincing Tommen that he should listen to the council of himself, the High Sparrow.
Elsewhere, Jaime and Cercei join the small council, where we see Tywin’s brother, Kevan, sitting as Hand of the King, along with Mace and Olenna Tyrell, and Maestar Pycelle. Cercei and Jaime try to impose their will to join the small council, though the small council prefers to keep them out. Later, we see Cercei approach Maestar Qyburn in his dungeon, where she tells him that she wants birdies in every corner of Westeros, from Highgarden (home to House Tyrell) to Dorne (home to House Martell). If there is anybody looking to make the Lannister losses their gains, Cercei wants to know. Of course, this is no surprise. But, what was somewhat of a surprise, was learning that Varys’ “little birds” were in fact little children. This of course makes sense — using poor little children who are able to roam around unsuspected is an intelligent strategy — and this is at least part of Varys’ network of little birdies. But some of these birds are now under the power of Qyburn, and in turn Cercei, so we’ll see how they can turn information into power.
A LITTLE PRESENT
In the North, we see the Lord of House Karstark has gotten even cozier with Ramsay, sitting at the table with him, as a Lord of House Umber arrives. Again, it is important to note that House Karstark and House Umber were the two most powerful houses in the North after House Stark. Lord Umber notes that Jon Snow has brought the Wildlings south of the Wall and they are now a threat to his land. He requests support from Ramsay to fight off the Wildlings, and while he is not willing to bend the knee to Ramsay, he does offer a pretty significant present: Rickon Stark, along with the Wildling Osha. And as confirmation that this is in fact Rickon, we see the head of Rickon’s direwolf, Shaggydog. Sansa, Robb and now Rickon have all had their direwolves murdered, showing that the poor luck and cruel murders do not just stop at the Starks themselves, but also their wolves. Needless to say, Ramsay now has a major bargaining chip, and we can only hope that Rickon is not subjected to Ramsay’s sadistic torture games.
A GIRL IS NOBODY
Last week Arya refused the offer of getting her vision back if she stated her name — a sign that showed she was in fact getting closer to becoming nobody. This week, as her training continued, she took even further steps towards becoming nobody, culminating with her drinking from the well that causes a painless death to those who wish it. Arya was not only willing to part with her vision, but she has now parted with all her fears, willing to risk her life to become nobody. In doing so, Arya actually gets her vision back, an ironic turn of events. What I find most interesting about this storyline is the question of whether or not Arya will actually remain nobdy, or will still be guided by her identity of Arya. Clearly, she has been training to become nobody, but it was Arya’s very sense of self that made her the strong character that she has been throughout. And if you stop and think about what Arya has endured since season one, it’s an incredible struggle that she has survived. So, the idea of ridding herself of that very character seems strange and I am interested to see if she will truly remain nobody.
One other tidbit that I found interesting was an excerpt from her training/interrogation from the “nobody girl.” During this exchange, every time Arya told a lie, the girl could sense it and would hit her with her stick. When she asked Arya if she wanted the Hound to die, Arya said yes, and got hit by the stick. Arya then said no, and then admitted it was “complicated.” As Arya journied throughout the Riverlands with the Hound and we got to experience what was by far my favorite relationship in this story, Arya still proclaimed that she wanted to kill the Hound, even though we felt like that wasn’t true. In the end, I was very sad to see her leave him there to die (and still hope that he is alive). It is interesting that several seasons later, we see this topic reemerge, and in a scene where Arya’s lies do not work, we hear her confess the truth which was that she did not in fact want to see him die.
KHALEESI AND THE OTHERS
Elsewhere in Easteros, I continue to be extremely bored by Khaleesi’s plot. Every now and then there are some great twists and turns within this story, but for the most part, it feels like I am just watching a lot of people walk through the hot and dry desert, with not much else happening. Of course, I am oversimplifying, and more has happened, but it seriously is taking way too long and has become very boring to me. After things came to a head with the Sons of the Harpies last season and Drogon flew in to save the day and Khaleesi flew off on the back of her dragon and Tyrion/Varys became part of the crew, I really thought we were headed somewhere with this storyline. But to date, we’ve been thrown back into the same monotonous story. Khaleesi is back in trouble once again and somebody needs to save her, blah blah blah.
Even worse, Khaleesi’s boringness has rubbed off on all characters in this part of the world, including Varys and Tyrion. Never did I think I would be bored by the ever-interesting duo of Varys and Tyrion. But Khaleesi has managed to suck them into the boringness of her story. Yes, Varys uses his cunning to discover that it is the slave masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volantis that have been backing the Harpies and trying to overthrow Khaleesi, but I’m still bored. And the implications of this are even worse — is it possible that Khaleesi is actually going to go back to these slave cities that she took so many seasons to conquer, and make us watch and she tries to do it all over again? I have to believe that this will not happen, for our sake, so it will be interesting to see how these slaves cities are dealt with (once again).