Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
This was a monster episode, and it was a monster episode because it fulfilled the promise of last week, which was itself a declaration: Things are about to start happening. And in “Oathbreaker,” holy shit, things happened.
It’s so hard to know where to begin. The minute Ser Davos said, “you’re dead, and now you’re not. That’s completely fucking mad,” I thought I would write a thousand words on Liam Cunningham and his character, and how he’s been such an insane weapon for this show from the beginning, and how he’s somehow upped his game in Season Six to the point that even if he has just a handful of lines each episode, he manages to heighten the hell out of the moment and leave a lasting impression.
Then, by the time Tormund Giantsbane made fun of Jon Snow’s dick, and it became clear that the bastard of the north was well and truly back with pretty much the same personality, I had almost forgotten Davos. And then we got a glimpse of Sam! It was a brief one, but it was good to see the old coward-genius in the flesh, even if it meant having to tolerate a pretty explicit vomiting scene.
But Josh, all of this was only prelude. As a book-reader, I have long been fixated on the story of Ser Arthur Dayne, The Sword of the Morning, and you’ll remember last week that my greatest wish was to see him in the flesh, just once, in Bran’s greensight trip to the Tower of Joy. And my GOD, it happened, and it was glorious! Seriously, could that scene have been played any better? I immediately drafted a petition to HBO for an Arthur Dayne spin-off, and I’ll go to some pretty crazy lengths before I accept a “no” on that one. What does that mean? Well, basically I’ll stage my own Cersei Lannister walk of shame outside corporate headquarters until they give in. Will you follow behind me, ringing the bell? Let me know.
Really, though, beyond the thrill of seeing The Sword of the Morning just rain hell on everyone, it was amazing to see how the Tower of Joy fight actually played out. George R.R. Martin has hinted at the details for a long time, but now that we know Howland Reed (I like to think of his first now as Howlin’, like an old blues singer) stabbed Dayne in the back of the head after Ned Stark had been thoroughly beaten and was awaiting his death, it adds so much nuance to the story. For one, we see again that nobility in war is a joke, and that the reality of how things play out is almost always ugly. For another, I couldn’t help thinking back to Ned’s death scene in season one. In that case, he shouldn’t have died, but a last-minute intervention did him in. At the Tower of Joy, he should have died, but a last-minute intervention saved his life.
So along with whatever other dreams and hallucinations played out in his head in the moments before he died, I had to wonder if he thought back to that day, and how he had not escaped fate, but only delayed it.
(Incidentally, this also puts an end to a pretty prominent GoT rumor, which is that Arthur Dayne is alive in Dorne somewhere plotting his revenge.)
Now I’m running out of room for this email, and seriously, this was 15 minutes in. But before I go on, may I just say to the writers and directors and producers of the show: DICK MOVE CUTTING AWAY FROM THE TOWER, BROS. We all know what’s going to be revealed there—or at least we think we do—but I want it be official!
Then again, it’s super hard to complain about delayed gratification in an episode that gave us so much. Arya isn’t blind anymore, Bran thinks he can actually go beyond greensight and maybe change history itself, and Rickon f’ing Stark is back!
What’s so crazy about seeing Rickon again is that the actor has changed so much that I half-wondered if this wasn’t a Jeyne Poole situation, and whether the alleged Rickon might be an impostor. But he wasn’t, and now he’s in Ramsay’s hands with no direwolf (that made me sad), which is about the last place in Westeros you want to be, short of a fighting pit with Zombie Clegane.
I’m going to turn this over to you with four more thoughts, Josh, and if they’re scattered—if this whole first note was scattered—blame an episode that was just too good for analytical coherence.
1. Olly watched his parents die, then got hung while the guy who killed them was watching in the crowd. He was just a kid, in terrible pain, who got caught on the wrong side of a movement he couldn’t understand because of a trauma so intense it’s impossible to imagine. Nevertheless, I HATE HATE HATE Olly, and was pretty glad to see him swing from that rope. What does that say about me, Josh?
2. Tyrion and Varys are finally rescuing Meereen. I loved watching Varys operate with ole what’s-her-face-Unsullied-killer-prostitute-lady, for the way he wrapped a really harsh reality in velvet, and outlined the terrible death-by-any-means scenario before offering her a way out. And Tyrion’s “maybe we can’t play without drinking” would have been the funniest line in any episode that didn’t include the aforementioned Davos scorcher.
3. It is now an official Game of Thrones rule that wherever Daenerys goes, boredom and a shitty storyline follow. This was the only complaint I had about “Oathbreaker,” and the only place the show is spinning its wheels now that Dorne seems to be over. I really, really don’t care about a Dothraki house of widows, and the sooner the dragons scorch everyone alive and carry her away, or Jorah Mormont rescues her by giving everyone greyscale, or whatever, the better. Why is every Dany scene for the last three seasons so thoroughly useless?
4. Absolutely love Jon Snow’s concluding logic: Dudes, I am a Night’s Watch, 100 percent, until the day I die. And that day came. So peace out, because I’m going to get laid and then kill Ramsay.
Okay, I have so much more to say, but I’m hogging the email. Your turn. What do you think about…everything?
Of all my likely wrong-headed predictions, I’m glad to see that I called Jon Snow being freed from his vows by death. If it took dying to get him more involved in the greater political struggle going on, then thank you poor Olly and your adorable little treasonous face. Death may not have changed the nature of Jon Snow—he’s not a zombie or a true believer—but there’s no doubt that betrayal by his brothers has. And I can’t wait to see what he does next.
By the way, we may have glimpsed both the scene of his birth and rebirth in that episode if our suspicions about the Tower of Joy are true.
But you’re right—so much to digest in this show. Now that Bran can visit (and possibly influence) the past and the dead can pop right back to life, no one is completely gone forever from the show. Ned Stark is just the beginning. Think of all the great characters we thought we’d never see again. Catelyn Stark, Oberyn Martell, Tywin Lannister, Hot Pie (wait, Hot Pie is still alive?) Or those historical characters like The Sword of the Morning we never thought we’d get to meet. Like, I dunno, Lyanna Stark?
I also get the feeling like Bran isn’t going to be the most compliant student. The dangers of him being stuck in some time loop seem very real.
Meanwhile his younger brother is now in the hands of Ramsay, which is just a bummer. The bannermen of the North seem kind of useless right now. The Karstarks aligning themselves with House Bolton was bad enough. Killing Rickon’s direwolf and delivering him to Ramsay was just a dick move by the Umbers. If Jon is going to retake the North, I’m not sure what houses are going to be much help. Of course, he’s probably got Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun on his side.
Another huge revelation in this episode was the identity of Verys’ little birds. Qyburn with a bunch of kids is creepy, but he’s turned out to be a worthy replacement to the cunning Spider in King’s Landing. If it weren’t for the return of Olenna Martel, I might actually start rooting for Cersei and Jamie over boring Uncle Kevan and buffoonish Mace Tyrell. But Olenna is back and already making incest jokes to Cersei.
The Arya training scenes have been brutal to watch, but she’s now ready for initiation, which means drinking from the instant-death fountain without dying. She’s become no one, giving up the names on her old list and any other claims to her old life—just as Jon Snow once did for the Night’s Watch. That path didn’t prove permanent, and this may not as well.
With everything to cover in King’s Landing, The Wall, Braavos and Dothrak, though, the show still managed time for a scene with Tyrion trying (and failing) to engage Grey Worm and Missandei. It’s little moments like that that elevate Game of Thrones above all the historical or fantastical shows that have appeared in its wake.
My question to you this week is now that you’ve seen Ser Arthur Dayne, if you were Bran, who else would you go back in time to visit? And if you could, would you kill the Mad King as a baby to avoid this whole mess in the first place?
Congratulations on finding the Westeros equivalent of the “would you kill baby Hitler?” question. I definitely would not kill the Mad King, because it would basically be killing Game of Thrones, but baby Olly? I mean, really, wouldn’t you just be sparing him a pretty terrible life, and maybe helping Jon Snow out in some way? Sure, maybe Jon still gets stabbed to death, but I think it’s a chance I have to take, Josh. (I’m a horrible person.)
Now, as for the greensight time travel question…this is tough. It makes me wish I was more boned up on my ASOIAF, but I’m going to give it a shot and give you my top five:
1. Aegon (I) Targaryen—the first Targaryen king, conquered all of Westeros with dragons, married his two sisters, seemed like a less sadistic version of the Mad King. Plus, I want to see people react to dragons.
2. The Andals invading Westeros—the First Men ruled everything until the Andals came from Essos and took everything but the north, and that’s a war I’d like to witness.
3. The Children of the Forest—I want to see how they fight. Other stuff, too, like how they preserve nature or whatever, but mostly I want to see what kind of awesome elvish fighting moves they have.
4. The Defeat of the Others—this happened 8,000 years ago, according to legend, and ended with a massive clash between the White Walkers and the Night’s Watch in something called “The Battle for the Dawn.” That sounds incredible. (By the way, in researching this, I came across an article in Time titled “Don’t Root for the White Walkers Just Yet.” Umm…okay?)
5. Volantis—Obviously I want to see mighty Volantis in all its Valyrian splendor before it was filled with Greyscale cliff divers.
Now, a couple other quick notes. First off, Cersei quickly went from being vaguely sympathetic to being the same horrible, incompetent, cruel leader we know and detest from past seasons. Is there anybody less suited to the diplomatic tasks of ruling than her? Second, I’m concerned that Qyburn is going to turn Varys’ kids into actual birds. Third, I’m getting the sense that the master plan here is for Cersei to get charged with a crime, and then choose “trial by combat” to have Zombie Clegane fight the Sparrow or whoever.
Which leads me to my final question for you: Is there a dumber tradition in Westeros than “trial by combat”? It basically takes a functioning judicial system and turns it on its head by adding a ridiculous corollary: Oh, by the way, if you or someone you know can win a fight, you’re innocent. Good luck! In fact, now that I think about, the idea of the person who judges a criminal also carrying out the sentence is also a terrible conflict of interest. The justice system is really screwy over there, Josh. Bernie Sanders would have a lot to say about it.
And one final final final question—what else are we missing? I get the sense that I’m going to read these exchanges afterward and think, oh wow, how did we not talk about ______? I’ll kick it back to you to fill in the last gaps.
That’s a great Top 5 and I hope for Bran’s sake and ours that he at least gets to visit the original conquest of Westeros, complete with dragons burning Harrenhal to the ruinous nubs we see today.
As for trial by combat, I’ll grant you that it’s a dumb tradition. But dumbest tradition? Off the top of my head, here are four that give it competition:
1. The bedding of newlyweds, which really seems like an excuse for the groomsmen to get all handsy with the new bride.
2. The Targaryen tradition of incest to keep bloodlines pure.
3. The Bolton tradition of flaying your enemies.
4. The Faith Militant’s tradition of encouraging “confession” via imprisonment and humiliation.
Plus, trial by combat saved Tyrion’s life in the Vale, so I’ll cut it some slack.
As for what else we didn’t talk about, how about the fact that HBO filmed a scene with someone getting forcibly stripped naked and didn’t pan the camera down to let its viewers gawk at her humiliation? I’d be proud of the network if it was by their choice, but I’ll be proud of Emilia Clarke instead for refusing to do any more nude scenes. Not to be a complete prude, but it was nice to see some restraint in a show that can be gratuitous at times.
Also, I have to note that after the first episode, you asked for Bran and immediately got your wish. Then last week, you asked for the Sword of the Morning and presto—Ser Arthur Dayne battling with longswords in each hand. Are you some kind of purple-lipped wizard, Shane? Can you wish for a Jon Snow/Sansa reunion next week?
Please don’t die again, Jon Snow.
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