‘Game of Thrones’ Review: ‘Oathbreaker’ (Almost) Drops the Bomb Fans Have Waited For
Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Oathbreaker”:
Jon Snow lives! Well, you knew that.
Obviously, the resurrection of our beloved “LC” casts a tremendous weight off of Season 6, and it’s hard to deny the excitement of catching up with Jon Snow after the immediate acclimation to his new condition. We’re right on the cusp of some of the series’ biggest storytelling, but knowing the pace as we do, Game of Thrones is as Game of Thrones does. Resurrect all the Jon Snows you want, it’s still going to find ways to pad that out a few weeks, or commit to certain sides of the story that feel like dead ends. Well, figuratively, anyway.
I’m going to drop a note of caution with this paragraph for spoiler purists, but in the case of “Oathbreaker,” the majority of anticipation resides with the famed “Tower of Joy” sequence (though I don’t believe it was explicitly named), theorized to represent a pivotal moment in Ned Stark and Jon Snow’s shared past. One could argue for and against laying out the extent of that information within a single flashback, but the showrunners know exactly how readers would interpret the scene’s arrival, and pulled their expectations* regardless. We’re seeing the moment through Bran’s eyes, all the glee and wonder of meeting Ned Stark in his prime at a pivotal juncture, until once again, Mr. Three-Eyed Raven decides against Bran (us) learning too much at a time. From a storytelling standpoint, “Oathbreaker” doesn’t offer much in the way of explicit justification, only the showrunners’ need to parcel revelations at an incremental pace.
*Arguably, the sound of a Lyanna’s cry (not a baby’s, as some mistakenly thought) offers at least some new information for readers miffed at Bran getting pulled out of the scene. And while one wonders how Bran, Leaf and the Raven pass time in-between greenseeing sessions, “Oathbreaker” is at least kind enough to assure us Bran won’t end up hanging around those trees forever.
There’s a sense of stall to a number of major stories at this point, not solely for our knowledge of the series approaching an imminent end, but also the proliferation of threads that feel like inevitable non-starters. Dany made it to Vaes Dothrak, met the other Khals’ widows and learned of complicated Dothraki politics soon to decide her fate, but the real destiny lies toward Westeros; it always has. Daario and Jorah are sure to catch up soon as well, so why the naked removal from her own storyline? By a similar token, Arya* may have reentered the House of Black and White, as well as Jaqen’s good graces, but only returns to the point we last knew her, sight and all. The audience isn’t about to let go of Arya’s identity, and it hasn’t ever seemed likely she would, at least not completely.
*If nothing else, the training montage brought out Arya’s admission of affection for The Hound, to have removed him from the kill list, though the reference surely has a larger purpose in the weeks to come.
All that said, “Oathbreaker” finds much more fertile ground in exploring new identity for Jon Snow; never the most compelling character on his own, but clearly in need of some introspection. Beyond a few new scars, the changes may not seem particularly immediate, but at least ferment somewhat in hanging the mutineers who provided them. It’s satisfying from an audience standpoint, and clearly a source of conflict for Jon, whose prior incarnation would likely have sought to forgive Aliser and Olly, rather than commit to hanging them. Officially ending his Watch isn’t exactly a tremendous surprise to cap that particular crucible, but still a needed step forward.
Jon wasn’t the only one to reclaim a bit of agency this week either, and it felt especially satisfying for Cersei and Jaime to begin rebuilding a bit of her power base after all the despair in recent weeks. There’s kinks to be work out, like Cersei’s looming trial, or the small council’s open willingness to defy Cersei without Joffrey or Tywin present, and certainly Tommen’s attempt at asserting authority was easily parlayed into an advisory relationship with the High Sparrow. The goings-on of Kings’ Landing have felt notably insular in recent weeks, and if nothing else, we can all take comfort Qyburn didn’t harm any little ones.
Honestly, “Oathbreaker” brought plenty to take in this week, particular highlights including Varys and Tyrion both acclimating to new power dynamics in very different ways, while the other-side of the map brought the long-awaited returns of Osha and Rickon as well. Game of Thrones has never treated Rickon as a character of import before, and I’d hope that the return isn’t setting us up for a third week straight of extraneous characters cut down for the sake of brevity. Season 6 definitely seems to be settling a bit in the wake of Jon Snow’s return, and none of these purportedly landmark moments and shocking deaths have landed with much impact yet.
AND ANOTHER THING …
- Sam and Gilly are back! Other than the sweetness and levity of Gilly considering Sam father to her child (to which he immediately vomits), just a brief course heading for now.
- Davos, Tormund, and Edd’s reactions to Jon Snow’s return were all delightful in their own right. Understandably, there’s a bit more to unpack with Melisandre’s talk of the “prince who was promised,” but why does anyone presume they’d remember (or be allowed to remember, for that matter) memories of anything after death?
- Certainly, Ned vs Ser Arthur Dayne had to be the best swordfight in the show’s history, right?
- Had the show previously made clear that the Three-Eyed Raven was actually fused with the tree roots? It’s never looked like more than him just hanging out in a slightly elevated section.
- They have to pay off Grey Worm and Missandei eventually having some fun with Tyrion.
- One never expect fart humor and a Zombie Mountain in the same breath, but glad to see the show having some fun with that lumbering insanity.
- Unmemorable though the first Umbers and Karstarks may have been, that Smalljon fella certainly had some personality. Also, I really wish we could have seen the circumstances that led to Osha and Rickon’s capture. She’d never go quietly.
Game of Thrones Season 6 will return May 15 with “Book of the Stranger,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.