Game Of Thrones – S6E2 – “Home” Review

“I am the storm, the first and the last” – Euron Greyjoy


 

Season 6, episode 2. The biggest episode to date? No. The best episode to date? No. The show’s most pivotal moment to date? Definitely. After slightly over a year, the veil has finally been lifted from the worst kept secret in television; Jon Snow lives once more. But let’s leave that for later and cast our eyes to the rest of the world.

Beneath the Weirwood Tree – Bran

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We begin with Bran’s anticipated return to the show, now a padawan learner of the mysterious Bloodraven, re-cast as Max von Sydow, whose part in Thrones and brief Star Wars cameo will see him brought to the attention of a new generation. Both Bran and Bloodraven have had haircuts, a strange priority for those seeking to shape the fortunes of the world of men. The most pressing topic of discussion which stems from this scene, aside from that of how much one has to pay a hairdresser to venture so far north of the wall, is that Bloodraven and his pupil share a vision of the past: Young Ned, Benjen, Lyanna, and a pre-traumatic Hodor (watch this space), go about their tweenage ways in Winterfell’s courtyard. This scene is pivotal for its introduction of the idea of the flashback, in addition to our first glimpse of Lyanna Stark, the long deceased sister to whom Ned and Robert make reference in season 1, and, crucially, the presumed true mother of Jon Snow, if the rampant fan speculation is to be believed. Furthermore, young Ned’s words to Benjen “keep your shield up or I’ll ring your head like a bell”, are exactly those uttered by Jon when he first trains murderous, little Olly. We’ll let you speculate about that one.  It’s not just the audience, however, who are tantalised by this fleeting glimpse of the past; Bran himself longs to spend more time with his late family members, an idea discouraged by a wry, worldly smile from von Sydow. Just how important is this flashback and the echos of the Stark’s therein? We’ll find out soon enough at the Tower of Joy. Nevermind winter; answers (hopefully) are coming!

In Meereen – Tyrion

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Daenerys is absent from this week’s episode, as she is from Meereen. Amidst the typically dry banter between Tyrion, Greyworm, and Varys, we learn that the other formerly liberated cities of Slaver’s Bay have, surprise, returned to slavery. Tyrion comes to the conclusion that, in order to restore freedom to  Daenerys’s conquered cities of Essos, they must unleash their superweapon for the populace to see. As usual, dragons are the answer. When Tyrion is questioned as to how he knows so much about dragons, he pours himself a cup of wine and replies in typically droll fashion: “That’s what I do; I drink, and I know things.” Varys accompanies him on the unenviable task of releasing the dragons from their chains. The scene is set only by the light of flickering torches, and had us believing we were right there with our favourite Lannister as he steps, alone and terrified, into the subterranean enclosure. In what is a fantastically tense scene, he finally comes face to face with the remaining dragons. They’re starving, they’re angry, and they’re scary as hell. Strangely, though, they seem capable of participating in cordial conversation, as Tyrion proves his Death Star sized balls and opens by telling them that he is a “friend of their mother’s.” He tells a beautiful, motivational tale of how he wept as a young boy when Tywin told him that the dragons were no more. With that, they give their consent for him to pet them and, eventually, release them from their bonds. Having fulfilled his task, he scurries away, presumably to change his pants, and tells Varys: “Next time I have an idea like that, punch me in the face.” Aside from stories of childhood and comic relief, this scene could prove to be the beginning of a vital end-game storyline. Tyrion Lannister: head of the dragon and 33% saviour of the world. It has a certain ring to it.

In Braavos – Arya

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Arya remains a blind beggar on the streets of Bravos, occasionally being beaten to a pulp with a stick. Her tormentor once more, in what’s become a tiring game of verbal cat and mouse, asks Arya what her name is. As always, we’re never convinced by her “No one”, but  apparently Jaqen does.

The master assassin either miraculously believes her or, far more likely, he’s sided with the audience and become fed up with this farce. We hope that pretty soon Arya will finally make the grade and truly become Faceless, or acknowledge that she cannot shirk her identity and be on her way, because another season of this will be tiresome. As Jaqen leads her away, he informs her that she is “not a beggar anymore”, suggesting that Arya is about to embark on the next phase of her training.

In King’s Landing – The Lannisters v Sparrows

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The former Queen whose ferocity is conspicuous by its absence even as she is, on the orders of King Tommen, is unable to attend the funeral of her own daughter. Is this the development of a newly discovered humility hinted at in the previous episode, or has Cersei finally learned to play her father’s game and keep her emotions in check, instead waiting for the opportune moment to pounce? Time will tell, but we strongly suspect the latter.

We’re made certain of the dive in Lannister prestige at Myrcella’s funeral itself, during which Tommen confesses to his Duncle, Jaime, that he is simply too ashamed of his lack of strength in the wake of the Faith’s shaming of his mother, not to mention the incarceration of his wife.
Being a good uncle/father, Jaime tells his nephew/son to go and see his mother.
In King Tommen’s absence, the High Sparrow hobbles in to join Jaime. He spouts some of usual, contrivedly humble spiel about being scared of the gods. Jaime clearly doesn’t want to hear it and implies rather forcefully that he would like to bring an end to the Sparrow’s ramblings the best way he knows how; with the point of a sword.

With a bolshiness belying his fragile, aged demeanour, he calls Jaime’s bluff, asking if our favourite Kingslayer would truly have the temerity to spill blood in the Faith of the Seven’s most holy edifice, and basically the World of Ice and Fire’s Saint Peter’s Basilica. Jaime responds by, quite correctly, asserting that the gods “spill more blood than the rest of us combined”. You may remember hearing this line in one of the trailers and rubbing your hands with glee. At this point, the armed members of the Faith Militant emerge from the shadows, standing menacingly over the lone Lannister, daring him to strike down their leader. In spite of an urge to fight, Jaime backs down, leaving the High Sparrow wide open to deliver yet another awesome line of dialogue: “Every one of us is poor and powerless. And yet, together, we can overthrow an empire.”
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Our fly on the wall visit into the high-stakes soap opera of House Lannister concludes with Tommen’s admission of guilt to his mother. Cersei remains cold and motionless in the face of her royal son’s self-admonishment. Whether she is almost catatonic with grief for her daugher, or smothering her emotions for the sake of the long game, it unclear. What is clear, however, is that Tommen has allowed his mother back into the fold, and that the Lannisters are re-discovering that they are far stronger together than apart. He swears vengeance in an unusually rather self-aware speech (for a Lannister). With challengers smelling blood and coming from all angles, the royal family faces their toughest fight to date.


Winterfell – The Boltons

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Speaking of challengers to the Lannisters, we return to the north, and the inner workings of House Bolton. Ramsay suggests marching on the wall and killing Jon Snow which, in addition to informing us that nobody knows that Jon is dead, if only for a night or two, illustrates Ramsay’s recklessness and presumed lack of suitability for leadership. In his typical cutting tone, Roose informs Ramsay: “If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog, you’ll be treated like a mad dog, taken out and slaughtered for pig feed.” Right on cue, the characters receive the news that Roose Bolton’s rotund wife has produced for him a son. This is the moment Ramsay has been dreading; a challenge to his position as the heir to his father. He wastes no time, callously stabbing Roose dead in the midst of what was, to those untrained in the ways of Game of Thrones, shaping to be a tender moment between father and son. Though Ramsay’s patricide is doubtless something over which he has mulled for some time, the show’s lack of build-up to the moment comes across as rather a shock for the sake of a shock, much in the way that Prince Doran of Dorne’s murder at the hands of the much maligned Sand Snakes last week was thrust upon us just as suddenly. These similar twists leave us wondering if this will be the format of the show now that its runners are diverging from the painstakingly calculated plot beats of the books, replacing well developed storylines with ham-fisted and cheap shocks handled with scant craft or grace.
We hope not, because the source material deserves better than that. 

The fanatically devoted fanbase deserves better than that.

He commands the maester to proclaim that Roose was poisoned by the enemies of House Bolton, and sends for his father’s (ignorant) widow and newborn son. As the widow with her baby in her arms approach, there is no doubt about the conclusion of the encounter. While Ramsay just about possesses the sense not to slaughter mother and child in the open, he lures them into the kennels.
The stepmother finally enquires “where is Lord Bolton?”, Ramsay’s answer is predictable, but delivered with such delicious malice and portent that one can’t help but smirk: “I am Lord Bolton.” We half expected Darth Vader’s theme to being playing as the former bastard stood basking in his newly acquired status. Ramsay unleashes the hounds to rip mother and child to pieces as the new Lord Bolton watches on, merciless and unflinching. He’s acting like a mad dog, just as Roose said. Did you get it? Yes, writers, we did. It’s a cool moment, but Ramsay as the Lord of The Dreadfort and Warden of The North doesn’t bode well for him or his dominion. He’s not a strategist; he’s not a calm, diplomatic schemer. Roose’s betrayal of the crown will come back on Ramsay and he will not know how to deal with it. This is a bad change, but it’s not irredeemable, unlike the Dorne story, which was totally absent this week.

The Iron Islands – Kingsmoot incoming

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Despite his increasingly brutal actions, Ramsay may well surrender his status as Game of Thrones’s most vicious, unpredictable psychopath. Over on the Iron Islands, Theon’s sister Yara is being castigated by Balon for no doubt being the most reasonable of the Greyjoy clan. He storms out, engaging full arse hole mode as he does so, stepping onto an overtly ominous rickety bridge, buffeted by the wind and rain as he staggers across the bridge over the waves hundreds of feet below. Balon, King of the Iron Islands, struggles to hold on. Can you tell where this is going, yet? A cloaked figure materialises from the darkness before him. After a brief exchange, the figure reveals himself to be the much-anticipated, satanically confident, Euron Greyjoy. He is the brother of King Balon and the most dreaded pirate on the Narrow Sea. He is also the holder of the most awesome (and conveniently timed) entrance to Game of Thrones. When the old king calls out Euron for mocking The Drowned God, he replies with one of the show’s premiere pieces of dialogue:
“I don’t mock the Drowned God, I am the Drowned God. From Old Town to Qarth, when men see my sails they pray.” Balon doesn’t have his sea legs, Euron, completely composed, taunts his brother’s age and asserts that he as come to rule. 

The expositional dialogue goes on to reference The Silence, Euron’s ship whose very mention strikes fear into the hearts of men. Balon jibes that Euron cut out the tongues of his crewmembers, (hence the ship’s name) and chides him for being an unworthy Ironborn for losing his mind during a storm. Euron cements our opinion of him by replying: “I am the storm, brother. The first storm and the last. And you’re in my way.” He certainly seems to enjoy proclaiming that he is things. Balon reaches for his weapon but he’s far too slow on the draw; Euron tosses him over the side of the bridge. So passes Balon, king of the Iron Islands. What is dead may never die. Go on, say it. We know you want to.

The next thing we see is Balon’s, Viking-inspired funeral at sea. We’re shown a snippet of the rugged yet quite beautiful culture of the Ironborn as Yara helps to push her father’s coffin out to sea, the gathering chanting the Ironborn words we’ve come to know so well as the former king drifts away to his final resting place. Yara swears her vow of revenge over the Salt Throne of the Iron Islands which she presumes is now hers. She presumed wrongly. Yara is immediately shut down, being told in no uncertain terms that there will be an election, or Kingsmoot, to determine who will be the next incumbent of the Salt Throne. We know she’ll be running, as will Euron. Is there anybody else who might stake a claim to rule of the Iron Islands? Perhaps another Greyjoy too long absent from his ancestral home.

The Wall – Back in Black

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Davos heads to Melisandre’s chambers to ask just a teensy, little favour.

The Red Woman slouches before a fire, once a sense of purpose, now a reminder of her lost faith. Davos asks her if she has the power to bring back to the dead. Her answer is evasive, telling the Onion Knight that the power exists, but that she, so far, has been unable to command it. Davos implores her to help. Not the Red God, but her. Evidently she obliges, as we see them, accompanied by Edd, Tormund, and of course Ghost, gathered around Jon’s body. Melisandre says the words, a tangible lack of belief and conviction to her voice, the camera lingers upon the most famous corpse on television. The dancing firelight, the stoic glances, and the alien words by which Mel performs her ritual of resurrection, are the perfect recipe for a scene of unbearable tension. The Game of Thrones showrunners blatantly troll the audience, toying with our expectations and always allowing us ample time in which to stare at Jon’s body, desperately searching for any flicker of life.

Nothing happens. Jon’s body remains as pale and still as the snow for which he’s named. The Red God truly has forsaken his most devout disciple. Melisandre’s last gambit is the quiet, desperate whisper of “please”. More moments of silence. Nothing; the Red Woman has failed. Tormund, in what is a moving show of grief for his friend, can handle himself no more and leaves. The faithful soon follow, silent and hopeless. Only Ghost remains. The camera continues to linger, the flames continue to flicker. Ghost stirs from his rest, and turns his red eyes to his master. The shot mimics the one in which we saw Jon killed, surely it cannot be? Suddenly, Jon Snow’s eyes shoot open and he gasps sharply back to life. Squeels and fistpumps ring out accross the world. We cut to black.

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It’s a thoroughly enjoyable scene to be sure, but we can’t help but feel that the showrunners have missed a fantastic opportunity; instead of utilising the cinematic conventions they adopted during the build up to the resurrection, allowing us a sense of hope before cutting it down, the show instead resorts to cliche as the expected gasp of breath comes to fruition. Aside from the cinematography, and the fact that it’s barely been any time at all that Jon’s even been dead, the moment was not at all as significant or cinematic as it should have been. There is no hint at any further significance other than the fact that Jon’s alive again; simply more nuance shunned in favour of a fleeting surprise. What if the goodies on the Wall held a funeral for Jon, building him a pyre, setting it aflame and discovering afterwards that he was unburnt, risen from the ashes among salt and smoke just as Daenerys did all those seasons ago? Don’t get us wrong, we’re glad he’s back, but a little more pomp, circumstance, and, frankly, cinematic flair would truly have turned Jon Snow’s return into the greatest television moment of a generation.


Were you happy with how it went, or were you, like us, unable to prevent yourself from feeling a little disappointed and let down? We’d love to know what you thought and how you’d have done it differently.


Dan S and Matt

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