Months and months ago, I fell off the Hodor and kind of stopped blogging about current TV. It’s possible that I lost my mind a little after Mad Men concluded. A girl had no quality shows. A girl had no passion. But because I found myself looking forward to Game of Thrones season 6 much, I promised myself that I’d climb right back on and post some reviews.
Call me Oathbreaker. I missed out on the first two delicious, well-crafted episodes of the season, and it’s clear that grad school is to blame (for everything). But let’s not dwell. Let’s instead rise up together, as nude confused fans, and get back into GoT together!
The thing about third episodes – of most TV seasons – is that they’re not supposed to be standout. A third episode is a dust-settling point in televisual storytelling during which plot wheels start to creak, slowly. “Oathbreaker” allowed us to exhale and watch the season construct its primary conflicts and paths: the (spectacularly) resurrected Jon Snow cuts his ties with the Night’s Watch, Bran starts to get the significance of his flashbacks, The High Sparrow casts a pall over King Tommen’s burgeoning leadership, and Daenerys realizes she’s caught between the Dosh Khaleen and a hard place. Everybody’s watching their choices shimmer into view, and thus “Oathbreaker” was both kinda boring and kinda exciting. We have so much season to go!
First up: Snowbunny.
Jon’s comeback was handled with simultaneous grace and explosiveness in Episode 2, with an incredibly taut buildup and cathartic final shot (loved the wild drummy music that ushered us into the credits after his gasp!). So now that he’s alive, for real for real, Kit Harington and the writers have to facilitate a smooth transition. Though Jon’s first scene back on the mortal coil wasn’t terribly well-written (“I did what I thought was right, and I got murdered for it”) the decision to make Reborn Jon a teary, frightened mess was a solid way to go. He is rightly bewildered by his second chance at life, and Harington is at his best when he’s vulnerable. It’s very grounding for us, the audience, when Game of Thrones characters are also frightened by the supernatural insanity around them and struggle to understand it. For this reason and this reason only, I could watch Jon Snow run naked into Davos Seaworth’s arms for hours.
On that note, it was nice to see Jon reunite with his old squad, even as his detachment from and distaste for mortal culture became clear. There was an uncomfortable sense of surreality that ran underneath best-bud exchanges, like this one with Mance Rayder:
It’s not super-surprising that after being touched by Melisandre’s Noodly Appendage of Magic, Jon is pretty done with the violence, in-fighting, betrayal, and petty management that comes with the Lord Commander job – especially during this testy time of Night’s Watch/wildlings detente. He handles the executions of his murderers with swift justice, but the experience of killing, so soon after experiencing it personally, proves to be a breaking point.
I found this scene really disturbing myself. Game of Thrones has a way of making visual and aural room around death; sliced flesh gets a nice crisp sound, empty unseeing eyes fill frames, and the camera trains on the dancing feet of hanged men for far too long. I’d include the shot of poor young Olly in the noose, which I thought was the strongest of the episode, but I honestly can’t look at it again. These particular deaths got a more somber treatment than many others that have come before them, and this makes me hopeful for S6: less juicy eye-gouging, more devastation through stillness and silence.
Anyway, Jon’s reanimated as hell and he’s not gonna take it anymore, so he ditches his handsome Lord Commander parka and walks away from the duties of his past life with a killer shot: “My watch has ended.”
Not too far away, his little brother Bran is experiencing the joys of Oculus Rift, getting a front-row seat to the back-story of his family. I myself have had many hopeful visions involving nice strolls through the past with Max von Sydow, and Bran doesn’t seem to understand lucky he is to get actual information as opposed to the hints and prophecies that everyone else has to make do with.
The Three-Eyed Raven is currently in the process of revealing what happened so many years ago at the Tower of Joy. He has Bran watch his father Eddard and Aunt Lyanna work up to the incident that kind of sets this whole GoT operation off, which is obviously (SPOILER ALERT) Eddard arriving at Rhaegar’s stronghold just in time to watch Lyanna die while giving birth to Jon Snow. You know this. I know this. It’s hard for me to imagine that none of the characters have yet arrived at the same conclusion. Are Redditors really better at synthesizing Westerosi gossip than, say, Varys?
Either way, Bran is pissed that there’s only so much time in an episode and he doesn’t get to 11/22/63 this whole thing and just weasel his way into the past. I’m having a hard time investing in Bran’s journey; I don’t think the show is spending enough time on who this kid is as a person. Bran has transformed from a “let go and let god” type, back into a normal teenage boy who aches desperately to connect with the father he lost. I’m still not really getting how Bran’s whininess and impatience is going to enhance the historical exposition of the Tower of Joy plotline.
I will say that flashbacks are a completely new storytelling device for Game of Thrones, and it’s smart to cloak them diegetically, in the form of these Three-Eyed dreams. I watched an interview in which one of the show creators called flashbacks “lazy,” and while I think that’s a little pretentious, it’s true that rewinding the clock is a really dangerous game for this show. One of Game of Thrones‘ greatest strengths is its strong commitment to forward momentum. Even as history saturates the characters’ motivations and activities, many of the inciting incidents that drive the show result from the way people in the present decide to elide the past and forge forward with originality. Look no further than Daenerys Targaryen, first of her name! Game of Thrones has a novelistic immediacy that cannot be denied, so it will be fascinating to see if the current moment truly can clash with the past through these Bran-visions.
I have never been of the opinion that Emilia Clarke is a poor actress, and I’m holding out hope that Season 6 gives Daenerys the same agency the character had in Seasons 1 and 2. I’m getting tired of watching this woman walk through foreign civilizations of fools and letting her reputation – and occasionally her dragons – make persuasive arguments for her own empowerment. Now we see Daenerys out of the reach of her protectors (toxic Nice Guy duo Daario Naharis and Jorah Mormont) and facing two equally unappealing options: execution at the hands of the Dothraki, or a place in the interminably dull Khaleesi First Wives Club.
I find it irritating that her captors are calling back to Daeny’s more powerful, earth-shattering story moments (“I remember when you ate the stallion heart”) because I have a feeling that her current predicament can only be solved by a deux-ex-machina rescue. The Stormborn Queen boasts one of the most mishandled storylines on GoT, but there’s still something so special about this character that is unlocked every time the show gives her room to develop, takes her seriously. I’m about ready for her to cast off the shackles of her male handlers (both evil and benign) and start making inroads towards the other entangled stories of the show. Critics have been saying this for like, four seasons already! Why must this storyline so consistently spin its wheels? In this third episode, she’s basically in the same predicament we found her in during the premiere; that definitively sucks. Bring Daenerys back into the fold, please.
Of course, we did get a nice fist-pumping moment as Arya unlocked the final level of her apprentice-assassin training. After besting her salty superior (following many, many rounds of “hit the blind girl as hard as you can with a stick”), Arya is allowed to begin some sort of Potions class under the tutelage of Jaqen H’gar. Maisie Williams, stellar as Arya from the series premiere, has grown into this character with incredible poise; she plays powerlessness without weakness, triumph without showiness, and projects maturity with a heartbreaking hardness that is never not watchable. A girl has me as a forever fan.
In contrast to Bran, Arya has had a complex journey toward reconciling her many losses and devastations. She wasn’t blind quite long enough for us to heart-attack over her I CAN SEE moment, but that doesn’t matter much. Arya’s succeeding, and the audience is always right by her side and pulling her ever upward.
Here are some other things that happened during “Oathbreaker” that I care much less about:
1. Sam and Gilly and Tiny Sam take a watery trip towards Sam’s ancestral home. Being on a wet, bilgey passenger boat seems awful. They all love each other.
2. Varys attempts to set up some shady governmental structures in Daeny’s absence, by flipping a local leader into an informant. Tyrion waits for him, passing the time by making up proverbs about “history being made in elegant rooms” and threatening Grey Worm and Missandei with an awkward, drunken game of Never Have I Ever.
3. The creepy new version of The Mountain continues to freak people out in King’s Landing. Jaime and Cersei are still trying to make progress back into the ranks of power. Tommen attempts to intimidate the High Septon, who slides closer to him on a bench and implies visually that he’s probably going to have him murdered soon.
I think that’s it! See you for next week’s episode, which I’m sure will at least look beautiful. Dan Sackheim’s direction was excellent for “Oathbreaker” and he has a lovely sense of light and composition. Next up: “Book of the Stranger”!