Better late than never!
The Great Sept is back to recap “Home,” the second episode of the sixth season of Game of Thrones.
Where the first episode was a pretty middling affair establishing where everyone is for the start of the season, this one was a little more all over the map, both geographically and in terms of quality. It has some excellent things in it which I liked a lot (including how they paid off the episode’s big final reveal), but also has several scenes which I found pretty weak, and one moment that I think is the worst scene Game of Thrones has had, possibly ever.
Before we get to it, an apology: this write-up is clearly super late. For the dozen or so of my friends who actually read these things, I apologize, it ended up being a busy week for me at work, and writing 3,000 words a week about a TV show, while fun for me, isn’t what pays the bills.
Still, I am going to make an effort to get these up sooner, even if that may mean some changes in format (read: shorter posts) going forward.
- Let’s Start With What’s Happening Under the Tree
Is it warging if you aren’t going into a person or animal? Anyway, Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven are watching Young Ned and Benjen Stark sparring at Winterfell, and we’re finally introduced to Lyanna.
This scene is interesting because it represents a new way for the show to provide backstory. Last season had a short prologue of Cersei flashing back to the witch’s prophecy about her children dying. It was the only on-screen flashback scene in the entire show, and it sticks out – flashbacks just aren’t a part of the vocabulary of the show like they are on, say, Mad Men or, God, Lost.
Now, we have Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven with the ability in the present day to take Scrooge-like trips to things that already happened.
It provides the show a way to get into some of the rich (and potentially very important) backstory without violating the “show, don’t tell” principle. This is, for example, the first time we actually see Lyanna Stark instead of just hearing someone monologuing about her. I assume we’re going to be doing a lot more of this as the season goes on.
We also see some pre-Hodor Hodor. I guess I kind of assumed the scar on Hodor’s forehead was from getting kicked by a mule or something, but young Wylis already has it. Then the Three-Eyed Raven pulls of Bran out of the memory, much to Bran’s annoyance.
Bran: “You finally show me something I care about, and then you drag me away.”
Three-Eyed Raven: “It is beautiful beneath the sea, but if stay too long, you’ll drown.”
Bran: “I wasn’t drowning, I was home.”
With that, we establish what is going to be a recurring theme throughout the episode: the idea of “home,” what it means to have one, and to be in it – whether or not “home” is an actual place, or just a memory that you can drown yourself trying to get back to. The concepts of homes and families and their attendant securities and the anxiety of losing them aren’t new ones for the show, but by deliberately connecting most of this week’s story to these themes, we end up with a more cohesive overall story than last week’s scattershot “where-are-they-now” check-ins.
- No, What’s Currently Happening Under the Tree
It’s amazing how much you forget after not checking in on this particular plot for a full season. I completely forgot about the Children of the Forest wood nymph creature, so that was disorienting when we saw her.
Then I forgot why Meera is mopey, before remembering her brother got knifed by a Harryhausen ice skeleton. In any case, she doesn’t want to be “in there,” meaning the tree cave*, when the next looming war comes. Which, hey, I get that this place isn’t exciting, but literally the whole rest of this world is a violent hellscape, so maybe enjoy the cave while you have one.
Also, it’s always good to see Hodor. Kristian Nairn’s performance in this week’s episode, especially coming off the flashback with young Wylis, seemed to me to strongly suggest that Hodor is actually aware of his limitation when he is Hodor-ing, but he is still trying to communicate, it’s not just a sound he makes. Maybe I’m reading too much into it.
Finally, it was great to see Max Von Sydow in his new role, bringing that weary gentle gravitas. But starting the episode with him sagely imparting bygone wisdom to a new young hero has me hoping that Meera’s scanning the horizon for First Order drop ships.
- How’s that Whole Stabby-Changey Thing Workin’ Out for Ya
Just as Alliser Thorne’s moment of triumph approaches, his worst nightmare comes true when a horde of Wildlings crash the gates at Castle Black, led by Edd (formerly SJSLQFWR – thanks, closed captions), Tormund and that kind of goofy looking giant. The fighting is short lived and brings us the first this episode’s two borderline-slapsticky large-man-induced wall-related head injuries.
Poor Olly lunges at Tormund and is quickly rounded up with Thorne and . I like to hope that Jon will give Olly a stern but gentle talking to later and straighten the poor kid out (oh, Jon’s back. We’ll talk more about that). It probably won’t happen, though, because this show’s moral landscape is pitch black and the kid is probably irredeemable and everything is terrible (more on that later, too).
My big question in this scene is why isnt’ Thorne immediately excecuted? “Take him to cells?” That other guy got decapitated for mouthing off to Jon, this dude literally killed him. Temporarily.
- Insert Joke about “Actually He’s Frankenstein’s Monster” Here
On to the episode’s second borderline-slapsticky large-man-induced wall-related head injury. Someone I was chatting with after the episode mentioned that it’s kind of silly that Ser Robert Strong must have just had “someone is shit-talking Cersei” ESP to show up there at the right time, and while I know that I spent a lot of last week’s recap complaining about the show relying on coincidence, this was a tidy way to show us what he’s all about.
Also, I just like that everything with Robert Strong is kind of campy and schlocky. Giant Frankenstein knight who brains a dude for a bad stand-up set about his queen totally belongs on the same show as the aforementioned Harryhausen ice skeletons. He’s literally purple. I’m into it.
I’m also therefore pretty into Cersei and Strong’s standoff with the other knights about letting her go to the sept for Myrcella’s funeral, with a dozen fully armored knights literally shaking in their boots when he reaches for his sword. There’s some good stuff coming.
Meanwhile, at the funeral itself, we finally see what Tommen’s up to. Tommen’s defining characteristic so far has been that he’s passive and easily manipulated, so it is interesting to see him actually talking about his motivations and reasons for making decisions with Jaime.
Then the High Sparrow shows up, and their exchange is the first of this episode’s several exchanges about faith in one of this world’s various religions**.
High Sparrow: You would spill blood in this holy place.
Jaime: Oh, the gods won’t mind. They’ve spilled more blood than the rest of us combined.
But what is really interesting is what comes right after. Before this moment, we’ve never really seen the High Sparrow’s rhetoric and the Faith Militant’s intimidation tactics on screen together. Normally, he’s verbally sparring with the elites of King’s Landing by himself – you’d almost think he has plausible deniability against the strong-arm tactics of his foot soldiers. But this scene with the Militant drones filing into the sept surrounding him and Jaime is the first time we see on screen that the Sparrow knows exactly what kind of power he weilds. The power, he says, to “overthrow an empire.”
It’s a little on the nose, but it changes the tenor of the brewing showdown in King’s Landing. Also, the Faith Militant might not be afraid of one Kingsguard. But even the Kingsguard are afraid of a Frankenstein.
- The Increasingly Poor Decisions of King Tommen
No, Tommen! Don’t! Dooooon’t!
Tommen goes and apologizes to Cersei for not letting her go to the sept for Myrcella’s funeral, and then basically gives her everything she wanted.
“You raised me to be strong. And I wasn’t. But I want to be. Help me.”
This scene is so impactful because, on the surface, it is literally just a kid reaching out to his mother, which could be emotional enough. But this is Cersei Lannister.
Not just any Cersei Lannister, but a Cersei Lannister who just buried the one thing in her life that made her hold out against being a “monster.” A Cersei Lannister whose loverbrother just told her “nobody else matters.” A Cersei Lannister who created the Faith Militant and caused this whole mess in the first place just so her son would hug her.
And then you hugged her.
You are rewarding bad behavior Tommen, and you should stop it.
Also, not enough can be said about Lena Headey in these small moments. It’s her subtle nuanced performance that makes Cersei Lannister, who could very easily be a two-dimensional ‘bitchy-drunk-real-housewife-villain’ into the most eminently watchable character on this show.
- Dragon Stuff
Tyrion meeting the dragons was kind of fun, and genuinely suspenseful. Given that fully half the times we’ve seen these dragons they’ve eaten somebody, and the show’s notoriety for killing people we like, we’re genuinely nervous for him when he descends the stairs and we see their glowing eyes in the distance.
It is a little handy that Tyrion is the first person to trust the dragons to actually be intelligent, but, as he says in a cute little bit of leaning on the fourth wall: “that’s what I do, I drink and I know things.”
The stinger on this scene – “next time I have an idea like that, punch me in the face” – doesn’t work for me. It’s not particularly clever, and it sticks out as strangely modern (well, 90’s) in a medieval show.
- More Abuse of the Blind
Ugh. Arya. Become a ninja already. I’m bored.
It is kind of funny to me that after Jaqen shows up and invites her to follow, Arya staggers after him, and trips over stairs and things, because she’s holding a staff. She had seen a blind person before becoming blind, right? Use the staff to feel your way.
- The Worst Scene
Okay, let’s talk about Ramsay. This might be the worst scene in the show’s 52 episodes.
I’m fine with everything with Roose, though it’s not exactly a surprise that Ramsay would kill his father. It’s not even that surprising when he does it – we even see the dagger before he uses it.
We know Ramsay is bad news, so Roose’s needling and nagging him on over the last couple episodes was inevitably going to blow up between the two of them. But an important lord getting killed by his own son is the kind of stuff we watch Game of Thrones for.
Who is watching Game of Thrones to see an innocent woman and her newborn get eaten by dogs?
This is a violent show set in a violent world, yes. And violence in a long-form story like this can be used to a lot of different ends. Hell, it has twice already in this episode been used for laughs. But it doesn’t make sense for it to be an end in itself.
That’s why the killing of Walda and the baby absolutely fails. It seems to exist solely to be shocking – to be violent for violence’s sake. It doesn’t teach us anything new about the world or the characters. We already know Ramsay’s a monster, what with the several years of flaying and castrating and raping and the patricide that literally just happened. So we know what’s going to happen next from the moment we hear Ramsay say “send for Lady Walda and the baby.”
There’s over three minutes of screen time from that moment to the final cut away from Ramsay watching as the dogs tear them apart and Walda screams. We learn nothing new during those horrible minutes. The audience isn’t in any kind of suspense. We’re just squirming in dread, wondering how long this is going to take, waiting for it to be over.
How much stronger would it have been if just left this scene out? Or, if we need to make it clear to the audience that Walda is going to be killed (I bet Walder Frey isn’t going to be particularly happy about this), what if Ramsay, standing over the body of his just-murdered father, had one extra line to the frightened maester: “Have them meet me at the kennels.” It’s also a way better stinger than “I prefer to be an only child,” which is not even clever.
And to be clear, it’s not that I’m shocked that the show had Ramsay kill his stepmother and newborn half-brother. Again, this is a violent show set in a violent world. The closest moment to this that the show has had, the burning of Shireen, was brutal and hard to watch, but it told as a great deal about all of the characters present.
Doing this in this way was just senseless and gratuitous. It suggests that the show mistakes violence for seriousness and is a fundamental misunderstanding of why people watch this show. It’s a sign of a series coming off the rails.
- Poor Sansa, Part 52.
Not a whole lot going on in this scene, but Sansa tells Brienne that she wishes she’d gone with her the first time she asked, and Brienne again demonstrates extreme restraint in not saying “I told you so.” Then the closest thing she’s had to a friend in a while asks to take one of the horses and go home (there’s that word again).
In any case, this is mostly Theon’s scene, and between taking ownership for what happened at Winterfell and talking about going “home,” he really seems to be Theon again, not Reek.
- Speaking of Theon’s Home
The Iron Islands are the worst. It’s rainy, everything is salt-corroded, their god is literally a drowned dude, and the first thing we hear about them in like 2 years is that they are bad at wars which is kind of the one important thing to be good at in this show. Still, it looks like we’re going to be seeing a lot of them this season, so I guess I’d better get used to it.
Other bad thing about the Iron Islands: extremely dangerous bridges. Where’s OSHA when you need it***?
So, the king falls to his death on the very same night his notorious pirate captain brother (and presumably next in line to the throne) lands on the islands, and nobody puts the two together? They know the king was killed – how they can tell I have no idea. And surely they knew this guy was here. Seeing ships approaching the Iron Islands is like the one thing the Iron Islands are good at.
Anyway, all of this sets up more future conflict for this season, this time between Yara, this pirate dude, and the grumpy old ocean priest.
This show isn’t great at introducing (or re-introducing) new conflicts late in the run. Since it’s been years since we’ve even been here, I’ve kind of forgotten what the stakes are, what the various characters want, and what all of this has to do with anything else going on in the rest of the world world. Maybe that will change once Theon gets back home. Or maybe it will be this season’s Dorne.
- Oh Yeah, and Jon’s Back
Jon’s back, everyone.
I don’t have much to say about this scene that hasn’t already been said by writers who managed to get their recaps up earlier than two hours before the show airs, but I will say a couple of things.
One, I liked the exchange between Melisandre and Davos before the actual resurrection scene.
Melisandre: “You were right all along. The Lord never spoke to me.”
Davos: “Fuck him then. Fuck them all. I’m not a devout man, obviously. Seven Gods, Drowned Gods, Tree Gods, it’s all the same. I’m not asking the Lord of the Light for help, I’m asking the woman who showed me miracles exist.”
Melisandre’s crisis of faith adds an excellent dimension to these proceedings (her begging “please” between the Valyrian incantations is genuinely affecting), especially given that this is a character whose defining characteristic prior to Stannis’s loss was probably her certainty. And Davos’ speech underscores the growing significance that the various religions in Westeros seem to be playing this season — and also echoing Jaime’s similar “fuck ’em all” speech from last week.
Secondly, I want to contrast this scene to the killing of Walda, in that where the previous one teases out time inertly and to no effect other than just being dreadful, this scene really ratchets up the tension. Unlike with the earlier scene where we know exactly what is going to happen, we as the audience are pretty sure it’s going to work, but don’t know how, don’t know the process, or how long it is going to take.
There is a great low crescendo of tension as she starts washing the body, then chanting over it, getting increasingly desperate. The music grows more tense as the camera starts cutting between her to the seemingly judging eyes of Davos, Edd and Tormund watching her.
Finally, when she gives up, the music cuts out altogether, and there is basically no sound from that moment for the next nearly two minutes until Jon begins gasping for air. It is a fantastic build-up and release of suspense that maximizes the dramatic impact of a reveal that basically the whole world knew was coming.
Also, mad kudos to Kit Harrington during the shots where she’s sponge-bathing his belly, because if that was me, I’d be super ticklish. You would know the spell worked immediately because my corpse would flinch and giggle.
Until next week (which, again, will hopefully not be an hour before the next episode airs)!
* – Wasn’t the tree cave like an actual cave the last time we saw it? Now it has a door with hinges and stuff. Conclusion: there is a Lowe’s at the top of the world.^
** – Jaime includes letting Tyrion free in his list of “sins” at the beginning of this exchange. Was that common knowledge beyond him and Cersei?^
*** – Somewhere near the wall with Rickon, that’s where! That’s an Occupational Safety and Health Administration/Game of Thrones pun for all you fans of those.^
Game of Thrones and all images property of HBO. Screencaps via Entertainment Weekly, Cersei and Jon GIFs via Giphy, Greyjoy GIF via The Big Lead, others via BingeWhale.