ON THE FAR SIDE OF THE NORTH
After a year of justified absence, Bran Stark is with us once again. This time in Winterfell and in the past, right before Ned’s journey to Eyrie, where he will meet Robert Baratheon, with whom he will form a lifelong friendship, as well as practice, learn, grow, and flourish under the watchful eye of Jon Arryn.
During this vision we see Rodrik Cassell (beheaded by Theon during the siege of Winterfell) whose task, as master-at-arms, is to teach young Ned and Benjen how to sword fight. Hodor (who is now talking?!) is here as well, just like the Old Nan, now admittedly much younger. Lyanna enters the courtyard on a horse, logically, since a horse is, to a certain degree, considered her trademark. Her hair is neither dark brown nor is it black (although it mirrors Sansa’s haircut in first season), which might not be such a problem if it weren’t for Martin’s text in which he repeatedly pointed out that Arya and Jon, more than any other Stark children, resembled their aunt, and therefore each other. It is precisely this fact that drove Catelyn Stark mad, because Jon, the bastard boy, looked more like a Stark than any of her true-born sons. Robb, Bran and Rickon (Sansa too) had their mother’s genes and were Tully through and through. Doesn’t matter. Lyanna is finally here, which is more than promising especially since her name was almost not even mentioned since first season. The audience is now reminded about this important character that once played a key role in the history of Westeros, when her (alleged) kidnapping (by Rhaegar Targaryen) launched a series of events that lead to the fall of the Targaryen dynasty.
But, the vision soon must come to an end. And just like that the Bran is back in the cave. The Leaf is here, Brynden Rivers, Hodor, and Meera Reed, who sits in front of it all gloomy. She is worried that her destiny is to sit around the cave until the end of times, watching Bran practice in the art of becoming a greenseer, unable to do anything. However, Leaf is not so convinced which comes as a huge shock to the book readers who assumed that Bran will simply merge with a weirwood tree and stay here forever. Leaf’s revelation thus becomes one of the first spoilers, that is, if Martin chooses to go this way, which we are still not aware of. Bran moving about makes sense. Bran staying in the cave also makes sense. So which is it going to be? I am inclined to believe that for the purpose of the show it will be the former, but as far as the book goes we are talking about the latter. Either way, exciting things are coming. We are going to travel around Westeros not just in space but in time too. So buckle up people because, as per usual, the North is proving itself to be the core of the story and the most interesting one at that.
TYRION, THE DRAGON WHISPERER
Oh Khaleesi..it makes you want to scream, doesn’t it?
IN THE MEANTIME, WINTERFEL
I don’t know about you but every time I see the Boltons parading around Ned’s house…UGH
If anything, this week we are two down (baby eaten by the dogs doesn’t count). Anyways, let us go a bit backwards, to the pre-baby-eaten-by-the-dogs time. We see Roose Bolton, Ramsey and Lord Karstark talking about Sansa’s escape and the death toll Boltons endured because of her. They assume she is headed towards the Wall and her brother Jon Snow. As the news of Jon’s death has not yet reached Winterfell, Ramsay suggests that Jon, as Ned’s last surviving son, should be killed. He proposes the attack on Castle Black which is not mended from the south. Roose opposes this idea (duh), because according to the knowledge he possess, Jon is still the Lord Commander of the Night Watch, and as such, he poses a threat of turning the North against them, once the Northern lords, formerly loyal to the Stark family, learn of Bolton’s treacherous act. However, Ramsay is positive that now that they have the support of Karstarks, Manderleys and Umbers, they do not need the other houses because these three already provide them with the majority needed for the absolute control of the North.
The Karstark support is not a surprise. Robb’s decision to kill his cousin and a bannerman, Rickard Karstark, despite Catelyn Stark’s plea, is what brought us to this very moment. She knew that once he kills a Northern lord most of the North will turn against him. And so it happened. On the other hand, the mentioning of the House Manderlay and House Umber is a tad bit strange especially in the context of the show’s narrative. Unfortunately we haven’t seen anyone from the House Menderlay thus far. But they are being mentioned more and more which pleases me since there is still a chance to get the screen appearance of one of the coolest characters Martin has created. His name is Wyman Manderlay and he is the Lord of White Harbor. In the books he is paired with Davos Seaworth (who is not at the Wall to defend Jon’s body). Davos is seeking help for Stannis’ cause and Wyman is trying to find Rickon Stark, the last surviving legitimate son of Ned’s Stark. So, Wyman proposes a deal: If Davos finds Rickon and brings him back from Skagos safe and sound Wyman will help Stannis in his quest to throne. In the show, as we know, things went a bit different. Stannis is dead. Davos is dealing with Jon’s dead body and Rickon has ended up with the Umbers instead on Skagos. But who are the Umbers you might wonder. Well, we first saw them in the first season when Jon “Greatjon” Umber challenged Robb, and lost three of his fingers when Greywind bit him, because of it. Impressed with Ned’s eldest son’s courage, he then started laughing and declared Robb the King in the North. During the Red Wedding he was at the Twins. In the book he was imprisoned while his son and heir, Jon “Smalljon” Umber, died together with Robb. What are they going to with these characters in the show is yet to reveal itself; but what we do know so far is that during the heartbreaking scene between Bran and Rickon in the Nigthfort back in third season, Rickon, together with Osha and Shaggydog, left for The Last Hearth, the seat of House Umber. If everything went as planned, then Rickon is with the Umbers as we speak. And if the Umbers have sided with the Boltons in the meantime then Rickon is in deep shit. Especially now when we know (from the promo) that the Umbers are making their first appearance (in ages) next Sunday, when they will come to Winterfell bearing gifts for Ramsay. This gift better not be Rickon! Because as we have seen last night, Ramsay does not skimp on food for his dogs, especially if the food comes in a form of a boy, the future Lord of Winterfell.
Speaking of which, Roose is dead. Hallelujah! A stab in the heart, up close and personal like that, was truly a touching moment. The poetics of it instantly evoked the mies-en-scene of the Red Wedding. Robb sends his regards, bitch!
After the initial joy comes the stupidity. Why? Well, when we put our delight and satisfaction, regarding the fact that we have one Bolton less strolling down Ned’s house, aside, we come to realize that this scene made little to no sense. Ramsay Bolton is unpredictable and insane. That much is known. But can he see the future, well that is still unclear. Killing the head of the House Bolton before witnesses, under the assumption that they will not do anything about it is truly remarkable, funny even. To make things funnier, both of these men, the Maester and Lord Karstark, now possess the knowledge of Walda’s pregnancy outcome. Roose has another son. And instead of either telling the world what Ramsay has just done, if not being capable of overpowering him (2:1), they do nothing. They say nothing. Disregard the fact that Roose falls into the category of the coldest and the smartest strategists in Westeros. Disregard the fact that he is known for his calculating personality and political wits, not to mention the mistrust towards all, especially his bastard son Ramsay who was responsible for the death of Roose’s firstborn son an heir, which is something he was well aware of and why he was extra careful in his dealings with Ramsay. And finally, disregard the fact that Ramsay feared only one person, his father. If we disregard all of this we are still left with: 1) a killing of a family member, also known as kinslaying, the biggest sin in Westeros (not that Ramsay has a problem with that); 2) murder of the Warden of the North, which is punishable by death and 3) two witnesses and one body with a wound that reveals point black the fact that the enemies (which enemies?!) in Winterfell did not and could not poison him. If anything, he could have at least waited his guests to leave before making his brilliant move. Oh well, it is what it is. Ramsay is unpredictable and insane. And this is where the story, including the logic behind it, ends.
JON SNOW IS RISEN. INDEED HE IS.
Jon Snow is alive. This would be a huge shocker if we didn’t already anticipate this moment and theorized about it for years. To be more precise, we knew about it since July of 2011 when Martin published his last installment of A Song of Ice and Fire. The murder took place in the last chapter of Dance with Dragons. From that moment onward, fans across the globe knew that this death is only temporary. Five years later and our beliefs are finally confirmed. What a disappointment. What an anticlimax.
The dramaturgy of the events that led to the peak of this episode is highly problematic. But, let’s not talk about that because spinning in circles is truly pointless. Like with the previous story, it is what it is. Jon simply had to come back and that is that. How, well apparently it is of no importance whatsoever. Few locks of hair, a bit of his beard, few words and a spa treatment worthy of the Night’s Watch (makes you wonder if Thoros ever bathed Berric) and the thing is done. You are good to go. The King’s blood doesn’t matter anymore (then why go to such lengths for Gendry, Robert’s bastard son). The sacrifice to the Red God is no longer needed (Shireen and so many others are apparently burned for nothing). Not even death can pay for life anymore as we were previously taught by Mirri Maz Durr (when Rhaego paid for Drogo) and Jagen H’ghar (who gave Arya the gift of three deaths as a payment for three lives). When Jon somehow needs to come back, everything we ever learned or were told so far, everything the show was trying to establish so hard, all of it should simply be put aside, or even better, completely forgotten. Now only hope remains that perhaps it was not Melisandre who brought him back. That she simply happened to be in the right place at the right time because when you look at it, he didn’t come back until all of them left the room (it was for dramatic purposes I know… but a girl can dream,no?), all except Ghost, his only remaining connection to the North and the Old Gods.
Well, putting aside (once again) all inconsistencies and constant confrontation with its own canon by annulling it, disappointment regarding Jon’s resurrection we all expected, in this episode or the next, is tied exclusively to the fact that the creators of the show decided to go with the most obvious solution and the cheapest of them all – Melisandre (that is, if she is truly the one responsible for it). Now Jon, following the rules imposed by both the show and the book – every time I come back a part of me is gone – belongs to the Red God, which is in direct conflict of being a Stark. Jon’s identity, carefully built for the past twenty years or so, and the only reason why we all knew this death is only temporary and how it’s principle goal is to transform the character, is now gone. It floated down the river together with all my hopes and dreams… Of course, paraphrasing the words of Davos Seaworth, which God ends up being responsible for his death – Red God, Drowned God, The Great Other, Old Gods etc. – is completely irrelevant, as long as our favorite Lord Commander is back. This would all be nice and dandy if Davos had actually read the book, because if he did, these words would never see the light of day. Religion and identity are the huge themes in Martin’s book, and as such they shouldn’t be ignored. Especially when we know that a fair amount of conflicts and most of the character arches, as well as their development, rests on the shoulders of these themes. This is why the show, based on Martin’s books, became so popular in the first place. It was smart. It was daring. And it followed its own canon. All of which the show is recently not. It is perfectly clear that the words coming out of Davos’ mouth are the words of Benioff and Weiss trying to justify their ad hoc decisions. Ad hoc, because there was so many wonderful possibilities regarding this, what should have been, an epic moment. For one, Bran could’ve brought him back via Old Gods, Weirwoods and blood sacrifice as we have seen being practiced by the First Men, people Stark lineage came from. Funeral pyre could have something to do with it. Bloodraven, who most likely had everything to do with Jon’s election for Lord Commander (which, of course, was not shown in the show) and his untimely death (which Blodraven probably foresaw, him being the greenseer and all), could’ve resurrect him. Especially since we know that he is better at sorcery than Mel. White Walkers could have brought him, not as a White Walker or Wight, but as Jon Snow, in the body of Kit Harrington. His identity and the connection to the Winter and North could have enabled that. This is where the importance of his identity lies and we must not forget that. Maybe this identity will plays a pivotal role, maybe it is what will save him from the clutches of the infamous Red God, The Lord of Light. However, knowing Melisandre, who finally showed some signs of modesty during these two episodes, once she learns what she was able to accomplish there is a possibility that her arrogance will come back twice as strong. And who is going to burn next, well, it is open for speculations. Maybe no one, if Jon ends up being our Jon, the one we remember and love, and if part of his soul is not already sold to the devil, as Thoros educated us few seasons ago. Perhaps in this struggle for humanity, his identity of a Stark will play a decisive role. Perhaps it is what will save him. Perhaps it is what will disable Jon’s transformation from a kind, selfless, honorable, loyal and committed boy into a half-living, mindless killer that is Catelyn Stark. Yes, Catelyn Stark nee Tully, who also spent some time being dead (which could be significant), came back to life 16 years ago (in 2000 when George published A Storm of Swords) and, like Jon with the help of a Red priest and the Lord of Light. It was Thoros who did it (Berric gave his life so Cat would live), and it was him who passed that knowledge to Mel that day when she took Gendry from them. Only, the Catelyn Stark who came back was no longer Catelyn Stark we once knew. This woman was not Ned’s wife or the mother of his children. No. She was a mindless killing machine completely deprived of her humanity, spirituality, kindness and compassion. All she now knew and remembered was revenge. She couldn’t even remember her children or Ned. Nothing; just those that harmed her. And if this is the faith that awaits Jon Snow, someone should better kill him now. This time, for good.
WORST OF THE EPISODE
-Why did Brienne decide not to tell Sansa that a man Arya was with was Sandor Clegane? After all Sandor was her protector for the past several seasons and without him she wouldn’t have survived the King’s Landing. Makes no sense.
-Hodor is Willis now. Great.
-If it was this easy to tame a dragon or get close to one, then what is the point of having them?! Wouldn’t it be better to just own some cats? They are much easier to handle, they cause far less trouble. And they are funnier.
-Are we to simply accept that Bloodraven is some random old guy (no offense Max von Sydo) mounted on a chair made of tree branches? It is not like we ask too much. We do not expect some serious CGI just that his representation at least reminds us of a character we used to know. We are talking about a guy who is centuries old, we are talking about a sorcerer with a missing eye, whose eye socket serves as safe passage for a weirwood tree branch. And if we can’t have that can they at least stop calling him “A thousand eyes and one” and start calling him “A thousand eyes and two”? Can we at least have that?
-Salt Throne instead of a Seaston chair?! What is next? The Pepper Seat of Winterfell? Why do they make these meaningless changes remains a mystery.
-The introduction of Euron Greyjoy as the man who lost his mind at sea. What a notorious lie. He is the Ironborn and as such, he is unable to fear the water. Even Balon found that occurrence strange. On the other hand, the information on how he cut off the tongues of all the members of his crew because he needed silence (which is also the name of his ship) was absolutely correct. That is who Euron Greyjoy is. He is not some sissy scared of a little storm, no, he is the God because when men see his sails they pray.
-The way Roose Bolton died.
-Feeding the dogs with humans. Especially breathing ones. Violence for the sake of violence is getting old on this show. Just stop feeding the dogs. They are fat already.
-Theon is coming back home. Again. Hooray! I don’t know about you but this circular movement of certain characters is truly getting tiresome. What is he thinking? What is he expecting? Especially after the last time and need I remind you that the last time happened before Ramsay mutilated him. He now can’t even offer a male heir let alone something else.
– Awkward introduction of Kingsmoot by annulling Asha’s right to the Pyke, which was established on the number occasions, including this very episode. First Theon and later on Asha were established as Balon’s heirs. Now with him gone and Euron back in the picture they suddenly are not anymore?! Ok then.
-The way Jon was brought back to life. Melisandre’s hocus pocus coupled with Davos’ eagerness for Lord Commander (why wasn’t he this eager for Stannis or Shireen tho) should bring Stannis next, that is, if Brienne didn’t cut off his head.
-And when we are at it, why the sudden interest in Jon’s body on Davos’ part? Can someone help me with that? Why does Jon need to get back, from Davos’ perspective? It doesn’t make sense.
BEST OF THE EPISODE
-Sansa’s smile to Briennes remark on Arya’s unladylike clothes.
-Strong indication that the Northern Conspiracy is going to take place this season.
-The first appearance of Euron Greyjoy. I have been saying for months that Pilou Asbek (Borgen, 1864, War), fantastic Danish actor, will be perfect for this role. So far I am right. He certainly is promising and there is a threat that come end of this season he just might be our favorite character.
-The fact that Roose Bolton is dead.
-Jaime’s speech. Someone should annihilate the Faith Militant already.
-The confirmation that Euron Greyjoy is responsible for his brother’s death. The fans have guessed correctly again.
-Rodrik Cassel’s sideburns.
-Seeing young Ned and Benjen, even as kids.
-The reminder that Lyanna Stark actually exists on this show.
-The fact that Jon is alive, despite of how he was brought back. Although, the best outcome would be Jon woke up on his own, without anyone’s help. Why? Well, now that Melisandre brought him back we have to ask ourselves the following question – what is the difference between Jon and Berric Dondarrion or Lady Stoneheart? There is none, because all three of them were brought back by the Red God. However, unlike these two, Jon Snow is special and therefore, following this analogy, he should be different and not some pale copy of people who happened to die before he did.
Best quote: “I am the storm brother. The first storm. And the last.”
All in all, if we ignore the illogical, strange decisions and the abundance of plot holes that are starting to show due to the decisions made in earlier seasons, this was a solid episode, certainly better than the previous one. What has now become obvious is that the pacing is getting faster as we move towards the end, and that certain characters simply have to reach a specific place, determined by the show’s creators. How will they get there becomes completely irrelevant which is the basic problem the show is dealing with right now. For those who do not delve too much into a story this was a great episode, one that will be remembered for a long time. However, for the others, a hope remains that these discrepancies and contradictions will wither as we reach the end of the season. Storytelling is not the strongest feat of this dynamic duo. The transfer of the story from paper to screen is. Therefore, the first season, which followed the book meticulously, word by word, still remains the best season of the show. That said, it stands to reason that oftentimes there is really no need for inventing new things especially when we have Martin who left us with so much of an excellent material to work with.
P.S. Accuse me of being in denial, but until they officially confirm it, I will continue believing that Jon was actually brought back to life, same way Bran awakened from coma. It either had to do something with their direwolves (perhaps even the death of Lady, which makes me wonder if Shaggydog is next) or Bloodraven who, as we know, took direct part in Bran’s case. Aside from the poetics in creating two almost identical scenes that were supposed to mirror each other, there was something so strange in Jon’s coming back to life. The same position of the body, the pose, the angle, the shot, camera work, light, direwolf, every little thing about it was almost identical to the closing scene of the second episode in first season titled “The Kingsroad” so, until proven otherwise I will continue believing that Melisandre had absolutely nothing to do with it.
Written by: Monika Ponjavic