Instead of the heavy action of the season's first two hours, Sunday's "Game of Thrones," called "Oathbreaker," was more about putting pieces on the chess board into place. But there were still a couple of big surprises — those Stark kids just keep bouncing back — and we did learn how the episode got its title.
Five thoughts on Season 6, Episode 3:
1. Jon Snow is the President Obama of Westeros.
While exciting — look for the great online video of viewers reacting to it — Snow's reawakening at the end of last episode proves confusing to him this week, especially the part where he feels the big scars on his torso and remembers his one-time ally Olly, the baby-faced assassin: "Olly, he put a knife in my heart. I shouldn't be here," Snow says. And yet there he is, not demonized by the experience, it seems, but made deeply introspective. He walks among the men of Castle Black and they are in awe, thinking him a god for having returned from the eternal void. This, apparently, is how religions get started. Indeed, Melisandre thinks Snow might be "the prince who was promised." But Tormund Giantsbane knows better, making a crack about the ungodly size of, to put it in contemporary presidential campaign terms, Snow's hands.
Snow then makes like President Obama at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. He drops the microphone — or, in Snow's case, the sword onto the rope, hanging the men who had "killed" him — and then says, in effect, "Obama out." Snow might not be technically breaking his oath to the Night's Watch, because he has, in fact, met the oath's "until my death" clause. But still it feels like a broken vow as he hands over his heavy fur cloak of leadership and, at episode's end, says "my watch has ended" and heads out the castle door. Three questions: Where is he going? What will he do? And won't he be really, really cold?
2. Ned Stark is also a sort of oathbreaker.
Bran, in his new role as the Rick Steves of the flashback world, takes us to a pivotal scene in the legend of his father, Ned Stark, the one where he defeated the deadly Sword of the Morning. But, no, he did not, it turns out. The knight with the nickname of an itinerant drive-time deejay has Ned beat, except that a Stark ally rises from the battlefield to stab the Sword in the back.
All of this is happening below the real action, which sounds an awful lot like Stark's sister Lyanna giving birth up above in the ineptly named Tower of Joy. Much of what is happening in the present day hinges on whose baby that is and how it will grow up. And if that baby lives, and if it is a Targaryen baby, Ned will have broken another oath, the one he swore to his buddy Robert Baratheon (warrior-turned-Henry VIII figure) to help him defeat the Targaryens. So all that great material from Season 1 about the unyielding rectitude of Ned Stark gets cast in a new light, thanks to Bran's dreams, which, conveniently for the show, always seem to have to end at a highly suspenseful moment. And while it's nice that Bran is filling in some blanks for viewers, I am also eagerly awaiting the moment when he gets to be an actor in his own story.
3. Perhaps Samwell the sailor man should have eaten his spinach.
Or maybe eating the spinach was the problem. Big Sam Tarly, the highborn young man who so disappointed his dad that he got sent to the Night's Watch, is another oathbreaker, voyaging away from Castle Black by sea to became a maester "so I can help Jon when the time comes." He explains this between bouts of prodigious vomiting, which may explain why Gilly seems to sort of agree to separate from Samwell, per his plan to let his mother and his sister care for her and the baby while Sam studies the magic and medicinal arts. He should start by learning about Dramamine.
4. There's a bear market in Rickon Stark futures.
In the episode's biggest surprise, the youngest son of Ned Stark turns out to be very much alive, not slain by Theon Greyjoy as many in Westeros believed. That's the good news for young Rickon (who careful viewers were able to glean probably was still alive). The bad news is that we meet him as he is being handed over, at Winterfell, the Starks' ancestral home, to the custody of Ramsay Bolton. If Robert Baratheon is "Game of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin's Henry VIII figure, then Ramsay is his Caligula, with a track record of patricide, male dismemberment and general sadistic madness. The look in his eyes as he tells Rickon, "Welcome home, Lord Stark," is like a big cat batting its prey around before the pounce. Viewers got to see Rickon's sister Arya this week win her sight back by fully renouncing her old self; here's hoping Rickon, grown into adolescence since last we saw him, can find some trick of his own to fend off Ramsay's fondness for enhanced interrogation techniques.
5. Lord Varys' little birds are wingless.
The eunuch has always been one of the series most fascinating characters. Without a natural power base, he insinuates himself among the powerful and, indeed, survives by trading in information whispered to him by his "little birds." At King's Landing this week, we learn that his birds, his spies, were street children bribed with sweets, who are now willing to work on Cersei's behalf. Meanwhile Varys, at his home in exile overseas, enters into debate with Dick Cheney over the effectiveness of torture: "It does provide answers, and they're usually the wrong answers," Varys says.
On another matter, Varys begins working with Tyrion — who shows more depth every time we see him sober — to try to quell the uprising against Daenerys by diplomatic means. Whether they'll see Dany again is another question, as she is now under Dothraki control. Would a second dragon rescue be too much to expect? Put another way (on Mother's Day, mind you), what's the point of being the Mother of Dragons if your children don't come by for a visit every now and again?
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