Leading up to this week’s episode, expectations were probably higher than ever before. Alongside the return of Jon, there was probably more excitement surrounding the flashback sequence at the Tower of Joy. In the end, I’m not sure either quite delivered the shock factor that had perhaps been expected, even though the quality of the episode was certainly there.
In Jon’s case, there was far more focus on the past than there was on the future. Aside from the final line “Now my watch is ended” – which only really served to confirm that he’s leaving the wall (as well as providing the next slogan for commemorative t-shirts, no doubt) – most of the Wall segments in ‘Oathbreaker’ drew a line underneath ‘For the Watch’. It was tough to watch the hanging scene, but it was necessary for the plot to move on. Once again, it was good to hear Thorne attempt to justify his actions. The show isn’t always brilliant at maintaining the same nuanced approach to right and wrong that the books nail, but I’ve been happy that Thorne hasn’t just been portrayed as evil. Wrong, absolutely, and traitorous, sure, but in his mind, it was the right thing to do.
I had thought Jon was going to relent and let Olly go from the look on his face, but the fact that he went through with it was telling for how much of the honour of the old Jon had been retained. Indeed, that topic was the main omission from this week’s episode – the Jon that has returned does, for now, seem to just be plain old Jon. A bit cold (being stark naked in permanently snowy conditions probably does that), but no memory loss, no mood swings, no sneaky moments where no-one is watching where he removes a necklace and becomes immeasurably older. Presumably there’ll be more to see as we go on, but this week was more of an extended farewell to the Watch. Which is now seemingly in the capable, if dour, hands of Edd. Long may he reign.The other big sequence was certainly entertaining. The Tower of Joy fight was as energetic and dramatic as could be hoped, although seeing Ser Arthur Dayne choose not to use his famed greatsword Dawn was slightly disappointing. Seeing six on two become seemingly one on one, before Howland Reed intervened and crushed Bran’s perception of his father, was one of the highlights of the episode. But the big reveal inside the Tower will have to wait, it seems. Just after Ned kills Dayne, there was a scream of some sort, but that’s it. Book readers and those who trawl the internet after episodes will no doubt guess what the Three-Eyed Raven stopped Bran (and us) finding out, but to keep pace with those who don’t fit those categories, I just say that it’s clear that whatever reveal is going to happen, is going to happen a bit at a time.
Elsewhere, this episode was very strong, slowing down more compared to the last two weeks. In each character’s scenes, we got the obvious plot development, but also extended periods in these sequences where nothing necessarily happened, besides the characters just being. It would benefit any show, but it’s what specifically has made Game of Thrones great – allowing the superb cast to dig into their roles. There was a lot to get through this week, as usual, but it still managed to give everyone the right amount of screen time. The scenes with Sam and Gilly were a good example of this. There was the basic plot reveal that Gilly’s going to stay with Sam’s family, but there was also some more exploration of their relationship, with Gilly even saying Sam was ‘the father’ of Little Sam. It’s been the effective truth for a while now, but it was nice to hear her say it out loud.
We also saw Tommen finally try to impose himself on the High Sparrow, and while their budding dynamic, mirroring Tommen and Tywin, is an intriguing one, I was slightly surprised by the total lack of mention of Margaery. The focus was Cersei, sure, but no mention at all of his wife, given how he’s reacted to her imprisonment so far? It just didn’t seem in character.
Qyburn took further steps to power, taking control of the ‘little birds’ Varys left behind. With him in Cersei’s employ, we could have a very paranoid realm indeed.Daenerys edged forward once more. I said that it was good to see things move slowly, but in her case, it’s possibly a bit too slow in plot development. For one of the main characters of the show, even in an ensemble such as this, it’s been baby steps, rather than the great leaps other characters have been making. That said, I suspect she’ll be more than just the defendant when it comes to her role in what seems to be the ‘Khalasar-moot’, the suddenly introduced Dothraki version of the Iron Islanders custom that’s coming up soon.
For a moment, it seemed as though Ramsey’s scene was simply a matter of showing him consolidating power. The return of Rickon after so long changed that completely. Was that really Shaggydog’s head? It seemed fairly small for a direwolf, and perhaps there was more than posturing to Smalljon refusing to swear an oath or bend the knee to Ramsey. And I can’t be the only one who enjoyed him insulting just about everyone, can I?
In Mereen, we got the best scenes yet. There was the reveal that the other cities are behind the Sons of the Harpy to move the plot along like the last two weeks, but it was delivered far better than previously. Here, we got two scenes that were effectively just ‘chewing scenery’. First, Varys manipulated the Harpy, and then we had Tyrion playing with Grey Worm and Missandei, a bizarrely entertaining dynamic that felt somewhat like watching an elderly, posh couple dealing with their unhinged grandson. Neither was necessary for the plot, but Peter Dinklage and company deserve more than just the basics to go on.The small council segment was another scene that harked back to old Lannister relations. Cersei and Jaime tried to impose themselves as they’ve done before, but Kevan proved that even if he’s not as intimidating as Tywin, he can still play the game. Setting himself up against the side that the Mountain is on might not be the best idea though.
And finally, we come to Arya, who this week actually changed my mind. The scenes in the House of Black and White haven’t been my favourites since they started, but this week felt like a positive step. Arya got her sight back, as well as starting to fight back in her training. But more telling to me was the Waif’s focus on her kill list, something that seemed far more than just getting Arya to leave behind her own life. I feel like fan hype would explode were she just to go round assassinating her enemies for the rest of the show, and it does seem slightly uncharacteristic for the Faceless Men, but who knows?
A return to form for the show this week, even if it teased us slightly at the Tower of Joy. Next week, maybe we’ll find out in full…