Monday, May 9, 2016

Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 3 "Oathbreaker" Review

After a bit of a rough start, Game of Thrones finds its footing again with its third episode, “Oathbreaker”. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into the dissection by storyline.

First, we start off in the far North as usual, where Bran sees the long-awaited sequence at the Tower of Joy. There’s not much not to like here: Ned’s band of seven is very diverse – there’s even a Dornishman in it for some reason! – and while the fanboy in me would have wished for more time and Gerold Hightower, it’s still done very well. The dialogue is an abbreviated and clarified version of the original from the first novel, but it works very well. I also like the look of Young Ned, close enough to the original to be believable. Having the One-Eyed Exposition Machine included in the scene also helps understanding quite a great deal. We also get the idea that the past can’t be changed and that Ned didn’t really hear Bran, as well as the clear indication that for some reason, Lyanna is here.

The Cliffhanger-in-Chief tells Bran that they will return “later”, which means at least one more flashback! Can’t wait, and of hope for more. I will even not say anything about Arthur Dayne’s two swords, because it was a great way to visually sell that he is indeed the best fighter ever. Plus, we get the nice callback to the “the romantic stories lie”-theme from earlier seasons when Bran has to realize that his idealized version of Daddy was in fact winning only because Howland Reed stabbed Arthur Dayne in the back. I’m sure Ned only told the story this way to spare Bran the brutal realization that knights aren’t the saints of legend, so, nice callback here.

Also surprising: the One-Eyed Raven says he’s “a thousand years old”, which means he’s not Bloodraven, who doesn’t seem to exist in show!canon. Fine by me. We also get told that Bran will eventually leave the cave again and that he won’t grow into a tree, but that he must “learn everything”. Okay. I’m very interested where this will lead to.

At the Wall, in the meantime, Jon awakens to the shock of everyone, with Tormund being the guy to break the awe with a choked joke. Jon’s resurrection has been handled much better than the cliffhanger of last week’s episode would suggest, with Davos remaining pragmatic and not especially caring about Melisandre’s prophecies, not really politely showing her the door. She only can stay long enough to hastily tell him he’s Azor Ahai and to ask what comes after death. “Nothing”, Jon answers, in the likely most important exchange of the episode.

It’s worth to remain here for a second. When the great paragon of the genre, Tolkien, let Gandalf die, he returned with a greater sense of purpose and enhanced powers, acting as a guidance. Jon’s path is not clearer the slightest bit. Instead, Jon nearly suffers the appropriate nervous meltdown and then gets his business done before literally hanging off the mantle. What is his job, his purpose, now? Why was he brought back? No one can tell him, not even Melisandre, that much is clear enough. Jon’s crisis of confidence is actually quite subdued for the monumental shift. Expect that to take more center stage in the books later. The Night’s Watch, in any case, is over, at least for the moment. And given what’s brewing in Winterfell, it’s time for Jon to tie up some loose ends there, so this plotline has a crisp pace to it that the Wall sorely lacked in past seasons (Craster’s….).

Said business, by the way, is also well done. It’s something that needs to be done, and Jon does with yet another deliberate callback to Eddard Stark, this time by listening to the last words of the certain dead (or, in Olly’s case, deliberate silence). The execution is ugly, but we’re spared the details until it’s over, mercifully, and neither camera nor story are lingering any more than they need to. A final word on the titular “Oathbreaker”: yes, Jon technically died and might see this is a loophole to get out of the Watch, but really, his job is to “protect the realms of men”, and you can’t wriggle out of that as easy as that, so the episode title fits despite the technicality. With that, we’re in Winterfell, where Smalljon Umber outs himself as a new Bolton partisan. His reasoning makes quite a lot of sense, actually. The Umbers wouldn’t like the wildling settlement program much. Together with the Small Council scene later, this also confirms that in show!Westeros, you really can advance by simply killing your dad. I still don’t like that, but let’s accept it and move on. At least the rule is used consistently, and Ramsay fools exactly no one.

The scene ends with the reappearance of Osha and Rickon, who have been sharing Gendry’s fate for quite some time now. This is most likely a departure from the book plot, and Shaggydog’s off-screen death once-again shows that the show doesn’t place nearly as much emphasis on the direwolves as the books do. But then again, we know that since season 2, so no use of keeping with it longer. As of yet, I have no idea where this plot will lead. Most likely, it’s there to raise the stakes for the inevitable clash between the Starks – Jon, Sansa and Rickon – and Ramsay and his lackeys in episode 9, and could end with all of them preparing in Winterfell. But really, I have no idea. In King’s Landing, meanwhile, Qyburn is taking over Varys’ spy network (which works quite a bit more benign and easy than in the books, which is consistent with the show tuning down the violence and evil on part of the Lannister/Targaryen faction). Cersei and Jaime are now really working together, united in purpose, which is obviously a huge departure from the books. I’m not quite sure as to what their plan will be, as their attempt to force their way into the Small Council fails miserably, but I really don’t expect it to end well. Jaime clearly hasn’t worked out his humiliation at the High Sparrow’s hands last episode and wants to send in Gregor, so Cersei of all people has to restrain him, of course not without reminding him that everybody in their way needs to get killed. These scenes are mostly laying groundwork, but they’re doing so well.

In the meantime, the High Sparrow is worming his way into Tommen’s mind, easily playing the naïve young king by appealing to his compassion and by talking about Cersei’s redeeming qualities as a mother. The conflict here is taking on an appropriately complex outlook, and I’m really interested in seeing how all of this plays out. Again, I don’t expect it to go over in a happy fashion.

In Braavos, meanwhile, Arya is receiving an extended training montage. Said montage contains elements from Arya’s training in “A Feast for Crows”, especially the part about the lying game and the stick fighting while blind. I’m not quite sure whether in the end, she really becomes No One or has just achieved a remarkable skill at lying. The waif seems frustrated about not being able to tell the difference as well, but Jaqen has no such qualms. This is a bit vexing for me, as it has great implications: if Arya is “only” a world-class liar now, she can easily snap back to becoming Arya, while if she is now No One, the catalyst needs to be greater. Hopefully, this will be cleared up soon. In any event, the training montage itself worked very well and wasn’t overly reliant on exposition, but was shot very well and equally well-paced.

Dany meanwhile arrives in Vaes Dothrak. Her plot arc so far reminds me much of season 2 and seems to mainly serve the purpose of keeping warm until the inevitable rescue-by-Drogon happens and she can unite the Dothraki under her command. My guess would be the gathering that the Dosh Kaleen mentioned. Dany’s plot armor, though, is pretty obvious at this point, so the threat of them actually doing bad things to her or consigning her to the den she’s in now doesn’t hold much potential, which is why this arc leaves me a bit cold right now despite the fact that the merciful absence of the Brothraki makes those scenes quite enjoyable.

In Meereen, meanwhile, Varys interrogates the woman who lured the Grey Worm (and, by extension, Barristan) in a trap back in season 5. Good think Dany isn’t here, I can’t imagine her letting the killer of Barristan sailing away quite as easily, and good thing as well that Grey Worm doesn’t hold grudges. It’s nice to see that Varys hasn’t lost his game, playing the woman as easily as the High Sparrow played Tommen, and then returning to the strangest strategy meeting yet.

I wasn’t quite sure where they were going with Tyrion’s drinking jokes at first. The scene drags on uncomfortably long, which is just appropriate for a really uncomfortable situation in which Tyrion’s charm works well on the audience but has no effect on the two people who really have no time for his bullshit. Missandei’s “games that only the girls played” was cutting as ice. But I digress. As Varys returned with his pretty unremarkable info-dump (Astapor and Yunkai are behind it, ok, that’s kind of logical and boring), it dawned on me that Meereen really lacks visible enemies. Without Tyrion’s extended problems of making human contact, we would get a strategy session about people we really care nothing about and that we can’t put a face on. This worked in the books, because there was so much time to develop all those minor characters, but you can’t do that on TV, so this seems to be a clever shorthand to avoid the measure. Still, Meereen remains a weak link this season, by no means bad, but without the hold on me as most other storylines, much like Qarth in season 2. I hope that it will become more enthralling soon.


  1. Hi Stefan, another well done review.

    This is regarding the last episode but I'm not sure you are still checking comments on that post. While I usually agree with you, I strongly disagree with your disgust over the show being gratuitous with Ramsays violence. Your strong negative reaction to the Walda scene (which was not shown visually) surprised me as someone who is so familiar with the source material. Ramsay is MUCH worse in the novels, and GRRM often takes it to graphic places that he probably didn’t need to tell the story (did we need to know that the lady chewed off her fingers instead of simply saying she starved?) It is implied strongly that Ramsay forces bestiality on Jeyne. There is confirmed necrophilia with Reek I. The whole descriptions of his “sport” from Wyman and Robett. The 60+ flayed ironborn. His cloak he made for Mance (I think it’s true). Roose assumes he’ll murder his younger brothers as though it is a forgone conclusion. And this is all only Ramsay, the novels are full of dozens more examples of horrific evil/rape/violence and I think the show takes way too much heat for it, probably just because it is visual and the most popular show on the planet.

    1. I fear I'm not getting my point across very well. I don't take issue with the plot details. Of course Ramsay would do something like that. However, I take issue with the DEPICTION of it. The thing is that by now, we have seen Ramsay torture and kill and maim so many people a scene like this does NOTHING at all to advance the plot or our understanding of the character. It underscores nothing that wasn't clear before. It does not advance the mood. Nothing. Him calling for Walda and the babe, ominous cut away, and later (perhaps next episode) a throwaway comment about the dogs works just as well without the need for torture porn. Martin works just the same way, very seldom showing what's happening but rather implying or conveying by third persons.

    2. I suppose, but Martin conveys some pretty awful stuff via third person and it's not all essential to the story itself. The fingers thing, Gregor's gang rape of the inn keep's daughter, "chewing the septas teats off" all come to mind. I doubt that last line about biter would have been missed much if it wasn't included in AFFC. Plus it's harder to imply/convey things without showing them with such a visual medium and limited time.

    3. Which kind of reinforces my point. Implying is faster, freeing time for essential stuff.