Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Glenn—I mean Jon Snow—is alive! I know this will come as a complete shock, but the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch has come back to life. We’ve seen followers of the Red God restore people from the dead, so even when Jon Snow was betrayed by his brothers a the end of last season, there was a sense that, as the Ironborn say, “what is dead may never die.”
But since we’ve moved past the Song of Ice and Fire novels, we couldn’t be sure that Kit Harington still had a job until the end of the second episode, “Home.” We’ve lost plenty of main characters, and—in the TV show at least—the only Lazarus so far is Lord Beric Dondarrion, who was raised from the dead by the drunk, impious Thoros of Myr.
In fact, even the usually confident Melisandre has little hope in her abilities to bring Jon back from the dead. There was always as much of a chance that if he was to come back, it would be like Coldhands in the books—undead like the army of White Walkers, but with intelligence and a conscience. Instead it’s the Red Woman’s work, in the end, that causes Jon to breathe life back into his body.
But there was plenty else happening in “Home,” the second episode of Season 6, which was especially hard on familial relations. Balon Greyjoy, the last eponymous survivor in the War of the Five Kings, was murdered by his brother Euron.
Likewise, Roose Bolton is murdered by his psychopath of a son, Ramsay. It’s hard to feel to sad about either of these vain and ruthless men, particularly because Roose played a big part in the Red Wedding.
But the biggest moments that didn’t involve Snow’s resurrection were: 1. Finally getting to see Bran (all grown up) adjusting to life as a warg. 2. Tyrion befriending two bad-ass dragons! It makes total sense that Tyrion has always been fascinated by dragons, and watching him embrace both the wonder and the terror made the CGI scene feel very real. That’s what great acting will do.
Since the TV show is ahead of the books, I think I was expecting a slower pace, but nothing ever felt like it was dragging, even in the case of blind-beggar Arya, who may be getting her sight back soon enough—or at least that’s what Jaqen H’ghar hinted when testing a girl about her name.
After last week’s slower-paced set-up, this episode delivered. Beginning with a rare flashback, we got to see young Ned Stark, along with his big sister Lyanna, who may or may not be a big a part of where this story is heading in the grandest sense.
So what did you think, Shane? Has Ramsay made a tactical error with so much of the North under precarious rule? Would you be able to walk up to gigantic fire-breathing dragons in order to take off their collars and win their trust? And why do we have to wait until morning for your answer? America needs you to respond, Shane. So wake up early and let’s get letter #2 posted.
I’M HERE! Like Jon Snow, I’ve been betrayed by what I thought was my greatest ally—in this case, the Internet. But the Red Woman (HBO Go), which seemed so hopeless and inept, has brought me gasping back to life, and now I’m ready to rage, with my faithful white wolf (laptop) at my side.
But let’s hold on Jon Snow for a moment, because I want to drop a searing hot take on you. In seasons past, you and I have both railed against Ramsay Bolton-Snowlyfield (deepest apologies—I am reaching like crazy with that reference, if I can even call it a reference), and the pointless violence and rape and cruelty that has defined his reign of terror. I think it’s safe to say that we hated Ramsay scenes, and thought they represented HBO indulging its worst violent instincts in a sort of aimless way. All of which I stand behind. HOWEVER—the new version of Ramsay, where’s actively plotting to take over the north in the most reckless, ambitious way possible? I am all in on this. I am 4,000% in. If they held a kingsmoot between him and Theon and Sansa, I might even vote for him, at this point. Or throw a stone in his direction, or whatever the vaguely democratic kingsmoot procedure calls for.
The point is, this guy is so much more interesting when he has real power. His father’s second-to-last words for him were that if he acts like a wild dog, he’ll be turned into pig’s feed, and I still think that’s his eventual fate. But you know what? He was always a bastard, and a psychopath, and those two descriptions both signify one cliche: Dude’s got nothing to lose. When you give someone like that actual influence, along with an army, things start to get really, really interesting. Even the horrifying scene where he sic’ed the dogs on Walda and the baby now resonates more than it would have in the previous Ramsay incarnation, because there’s a political purpose behind it. It matters in a way it didn’t before, when we were just watching a sadist get his rocks off. I can’t believe I’m saying this, and maybe you’ll have to talk me down, but I’m actually excited to see what Ramsay gets up to next.
To answer your question, I don’t think there’s any such thing as a “tactical error” with Ramsay. His whole life is one giant gamble, so why would he start being judicious now? At this point, he’s gotta dance with the one that brung him, and that “one,” of course, is pure impulsive madness.
And God, of course I feel just as amped about Jon Snow. I don’t care if we knew it was coming, or if the set-up was a little long for the pay-off, or if it required an unholy alliance with Melisandre and R’hollor. I want him back. Honestly, even if he lives just 10 more minutes, but manages to behead Aliser Thorne, that will be enough for me. Bonus points if he gets Olly too—and yeah, I know I’m being tough on a kid who watched his parents die, but something about him just annoys me.
Now, life is quite a gift, but life from the Red God isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. At least that was true in the book (spoiler alert, sorta? If you plan to read the books?), when Catelyn was brought back by Beric Dondarion, and was a strange, angry shadow of her former self, almost like a more-coherent Walking Dead zombie. I don’t know what form Jon Snow will take in his second life, but it’s not going to be the same. I think we should prepare ourselves for that while simultaneously dancing for joy at his rebirth.
I can’t believe it’s taken me this long, but WE ALSO GOT BRAN BACK! I suspect I’m more psyched about this than most Game of Thrones viewers, but I’ve always been a Bran stan (can we call it Branstanning?), and seeing him with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max Von Sydow) was every bit as awesome as I thought it would be. I really, really hope we get to see more time-traveling scenes, and for reasons that you and I and many other obsessives know, but that I won’t say since it’s a potential spoiler, I don’t think it’s any accident that we just met Lyanna Stark. Nor do I think this is the last time we’ll make her acquaintance.
Following that line, I’m beyond pumped for the sheer possibility of what else we might see. Sure, I know the show can’t waste a ton of time on flashbacks, but is it too much to hope that we’ll see an older Ned and Robert Baratheon storming King’s Landing, or that we’ll meet Rhaegar Targaryen, or—this is my dream, Josh—the sword of the morning himself, Ser Arthur Dayne? I mean, my God, who would you even to play Arthur Dayne? I feel like anyone shy of a bearded Daniel Craig would be a disappointment.
But that’s all in the future. For now, I’m with you, this was a great episode, and I think we’re at the very end of the “build-up” phase of the show, which you could argue has been ongoing since last year. Arya finally seems to be emerging from her hell (I kept expecting her to yell “Arya Stark!” when they asked her to say her name), Tyrion has freed the dragons, and Jon Snow and Ramsay are on a collision course. This is about to get awesome.
Three last questions for you—first, are you a little disappointed in the repartee between Tyrion and Varys this season? It’s a little too overt, isn’t it? I expect something a bit more witty than blunt dick jokes from Tyrion, although I did love when he accused Varys of “thinking” his dwarf jokes, and also when he begged the dragons not to eat the help. Second, what would be the top five George R.R. Martin/HBO troll jobs, in terms of how the whole saga will end? I couldn’t help considering the idea of Ramsay actually sitting on the Iron Throne in the final episode, and how infuriated everyone would be. What else would troll the hell out of the entire fan base? And finally, Josh, where’s my boy Littlefinger? WHERE’S LITTLEFINGER, JOSH?! WHERE’S LITTLEFINGER?! (This worked with Bran last week, so what the hell?!)
I’m with you in your excitement for the return of Bran, but I haven’t experienced the same conversion on Ramsay. When we saw the close-up of the knife going into someone’s stomach, my immediate hope was that Roose had just murdered his bat-shit-crazy bastard. Although the expression on Roose’s face—more resigned than completely surprised—seemed just about perfect. Roose was always about control and careful plotting, and he always thought he’d be able to reign in Ramsay through positive reinforcement. But even he had to know that was a big gamble. And when your example to your child is to plot and scheme and circumvent centuries-old traditions like respect for guests under your roof, you can’t expect him to honor something like family.
But I’m ready for him to die. And soon.
One moment I did love was Sansa’s subtle show of forgiveness to Theon. I can’t imagine where Theon’s story takes him next. He’s not exactly the kind of leader that anyone in the Iron Islands is going to follow. And he doesn’t have the pride necessary to try to claim the Iron Throne. Maybe he’s going to go back and offer support to his sister?
I’m just as anxious to know what Littlefinger is up to. It seems like marrying off Sansa to Ramsay was his first big miscalculation unless this went down just as he expected. I can’t see how he gains from losing Sansa’s trust and consolidating power in the hands of Ramsay. But I’ve learned not to underestimate Petyr Baelish (can we just start calling him Bae?). My question to you is to put yourself in the mind of Westeros’ master schemer: What is his next play?
But before you answer that, here are the top five trolliest endings that G.R.R. Martin could give us if it turns out that the author has more Ramsay in him than he’s been letting on all these years:
5. Littlefinger wins. (I kind of like this one.)
4. Varys turns out to be R’hllor himself. Every scheme has been another step in consolidating power for himself, and he rules Westeros without mercy.
3. Qyburn’s black magic allows Queen Cersei to master the art of shapeshifting, and she takes on the form of Daenerys Targaryen after assassinating the Mother of Dragons. She finally has the throne to herself.
2. Daenerys conquers Westeros from the South and cements her rule by marrying the King of the North—Lord Ramsay Bolton, whose uncanny mastery of his attack dogs allows him to turn the dragons on their mother, claiming the Iron Throne for himself.
1. Jon Snow comes back to life, but he’s now a servant of R’hllor, who happens also be the power behind the White Walkers. His true nature is kept hidden from everyone around him, until his coronation where he stabs Samwell Tarly, the only person who suspects’ Jon’s evil nature. We see Samwell come back to life as a zombie minion, just as winter takes over King’s Landing.
I am super okay with Littlefinger winning. That’s my kind of troll job. Also okay with calling him Bae, which is a term that annoys me in every other context but this one.
One thing your email reminded me of is how unsatisfying revenge can be in George R.R. Martin’s universe. It totally escaped me in the moment that Roose Bolton died that, yes, he was partly responsible for the Red Wedding. It should have been incredibly gratifying to watch him die, but the action moves so fast that we’ve almost forgotten the connection, and also, the guy who serves up the cold dish of revenge is someone we all hate. It’s pretty masterful—just like with Joffrey, we got the death we desired, but it’s not the one-for-one retribution we’ve become so used to in our TV and movies, so it resonates in an entirely different way. I would have gone wild for Arya and the Hound to hunt down and slaughter Roose Bolton in the aftermath of the Red Wedding, but dozens of episodes later, at the hands of f*ing Ramsay? Um…thanks, I guess.
The Theon question is a great one. One thing you and I know, as bookreaders—and it may be the very last thing—is how this kingsmoot plays out. I’ll hold off prognostications on the Theon front until that episode plays out, but for now, I’m happy to see Balon take the rope bridge plunge. Not only was he a cruel and merciless father, but he wasn’t much of a ruler, either. The whole idea of attacking the mainland while the north was at war was both over-ambitious and under-strategic. It was always doomed to fail, because it’s not like the Iron Islands have the population base or the weaponry to fight a sustained war on land. It would have been like the Dominican Republic attacking the U.S. during WW2. Sure, you might control a part of southern Florida for a few months, but does it really seem like a good idea? Is it sustainable? Or are you just going to make everyone hate you before you inevitably die?
That was Balon, for me, and I’m way more intrigued by Euron, the guy who goes crazy on ships and then cuts out his sailors’ tongues to stop the story from spreading—even though, inevitably, it does anyway. (Side note: Why doesn’t Balon have anyone protecting him in that creepy castle? Shouldn’t there be at least one line of security between him and potential assassins?) So no, I’m not convinced about what Theon can accomplish in that world, nor do I have any clue what role the Iron Islands themselves will play in the action to come. They’re weak and depleted—I guess maybe they’ll provide the ships for Daenerys to come to Westeros, now that her fleet is burned?
Speaking of Dany, I think my favorite of your potential trolljobs is no. 2—everything ends with Ramsay murdering the mother of dragons. Man, that would really piss people off. I like to imagine we’d wake up the next morning to news that Martin had died, and left a note saying something like, “I am Ramsay—f* all my fans!”
Which leaves us with the question of what Bae will do next. The last we saw, he was in King’s Landing plotting to lead an army from the Vale against Winterfell, with the idea of defeating both Stannis and the Boltons. But we knew he thought Stannis would have killed the Boltons by this point, so I am utterly clueless how he’s going to play this. If he really is heading north, though, he’s going to have to contend with more than just politics—he’s going to have to battle a re-awakened Jon Snow. Which seems like a perfect way to close out for this week, right?
Please don’t die again, Jon Snow.
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