Warning: Spoilers through season six, episode three.
You Saw Nothing, Jon Snow
"Oathbreaker," last night's episode of Game of Thrones, begins, as all episodic television must: with a recap. But here it's never felt more unnecessary. Not just because all the world watched Jon Snow rise from the dead at the conclusion of last week's episode, but because Jonny boy sums it up better than any Previously On ever could: "I did what I thought was right, and I got murdered for it." That just about sums up the run of Game of Thrones—and realpolitik, and literature, and life in general. Melisandre can't keep from wishing for a peek behind the mortal curtain, and when Jon answers that he saw nothing, Davos shoos her out of the room to talk of more earthly matters.
My my, Davos is looking especially Beckettian this episode. His punchy "You'll go on" is an echo of The Unnameable's final line, and his "Good. Now go fail again" response recalls Worstward Ho. I don't think it's a coincidence, either: Showrunner David Benioff wrote his thesis on Samuel Beckett at Trinity, and season four's "dying merchant scene" with Waiting for Godot actor Barry McGovern remains a killer piece of Irish Modernist fan fiction.
Outside, in the Castle Black courtyard, the risen Jon Snow encounters more upraised bushy eyebrows than I have seen outside of an Arvo Pärt concert. Tormund Giantsbane takes the wind out of the new messiah's sails with a dick joke: "What kind of god would have a pecker that small?" As there are no dick jokes in the Bible—please argue with me in the comments—we at least have an atypical GoT moment, not because it was about dongs, but because it ends with a smile. Jon Snow smiles!
You Won't Be an Old Man in a Tree
Samwell Tarly and Gilly are on a ship headed for Oldtown, with a pit stop for the women and children in Horn Hill, and all through the conversation, intercut with barfing, all I could think was how awkward it's going to be for Sam to learn that his best friend lived, died, and lived again all in the time it took for Sam to empty his guttiwuts into a bucket like a freshman. Who says this show isn't full of relatable experiences?
Perhaps the strangest cutaway in Game of Thrones history takes us to... history, where Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven (not sure what else I should be calling Max Von Sydow's tree-dwelling Yoda) watch a storied battle. A young, squinty-eyed Ned Stark and five good men siege the Tower of Joy, defended by Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning, who looks and fights like a character from Soulcalibur, and who goes out like a sucker after being stabbed in the throat by Ned's second banana Howland Reed. Bran is aghast at his father's dishonor on the field of battle, but, like, come now little muffin, your parents were people once too, know what I mean? Bran cries out, and, in what I'm pretty sure is a steal straight from Neverending Story, the young Ned hears him. At least, that's what I heard when Sydow lectures Bran on men in trees and the spoilers yet to come, " Turnaround / Look at what you see-ee-ee-ee."
Great Conversations in Elegant Rooms
Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys meets the Dosh Khaleen, a widow's club that has great potential as a matriarchy if the Khaleesi can impart the need for liberation and the need for collective control of their destiny beyond the will of the Khalisars. (That is, if the show can resist its damsel-in-distress impulses by sending Captain Friendzone to save her next episode.) In Mereen, we have a painful thud of an interrogation scene from Lord Varys, who struts about like Colonel Klink while justifying the motives of a regime of white Western invaders to a prostitute-as-collaborator stereotype, and we forget, again, why on earth we're supposed to be on the side of the former. Tyrion's culture shock upstairs with teetotaling wallflowers Gray Worm and Missandei is equally dead air, at least until Varys returns with news of who's been Kickstarting of the Sons of the Harpy, and Missandei replies with the only properly revolutionary sentiment we've had in ages: "The Masters speak only one language. They spoke it to me for years. I know it better than my mother tongue. If we want them to hear us, we must speak it back to them." I'd like to be able to strain for note of James Baldwin or Malcolm X here—but I suspect I am only spitballing, and when the wind blows it back, it sounds much more like Oliver Stone.
Back in the non-Raceistan side of the story, necromancer Qyburn sets up shop as the new Fagin to a crop of orphans and Cersei and Jaime present a united front to the small council, but acting Hand Kevan Lannister and his cronies aren't having any of this meddling in Dornish politics. (On a side note: Are the chair cushions in the council room really well-lacquered, or did I hear a fart of horror when Franken-Clegane/Mountain-stein marches in on Grand Maester Pycelle mid-sentence?) The whole scene's a little like a high school lunchroom, which spells bad news for the realm: An alliance of cool kids and nerds might be the only credible defense against those snooty prep school White Walkers, with their airs.
King "Butters" Tommen finally confronts the High Sparrow, and, like a gentleman, Jonathan Pryce does enough acting for them both, saying, "The Mother's love outshines it all," and reassuring the perilously receptive Tommen that the gods work through him. It's hard to disagree with anything he says, because it's impossible to argue with zealots, just one more reason why the Faith Militant are the ideal villains for a show that's coasted on grinning evildoers stroking their swords in front of walk-in furnaces. True believers are much more threatening because they are at once a more recognizable enemy and one whose power rests outside reason, and outside the world.
A Girl Is a Grasshopper Now
Arya continues her kung fu training inside the House of Black and White, smelling poisons (is that iocane powder? Is she building up a resistance?), mastering the lost art of blind bo staff, regaining her sight, and for once it is a compelling montage both because Arya seems to be actually drinking the Kool-Aid, er, magical plot-water. Suddenly she is Arya no more. A girl is an antecedent pronoun now.
In Winterfell, Ramsey Bolton receives a LARPer who has betrayed the Starks—something of a bandwagon at this point—and is furnished with two captives: Osha and little Rickon, who has aged so much since in the two seasons since he's been benched that I almost didn't recognize him. Things are clearly heating up for Bastard Bowl 2016: Back at Castle Black, Jon delivers the most long-awaited scene outside of coming back from the dead, namely the execution of sniveling turncoat Olly. It's rough seeing Thorne swing from the gallows too of course, but it's chilling how the camera lingers on pre-adolescent Olly's dead, bloated face, as if to say, "Is this what you wanted? Is it?" But it is, may the mother have mercy on our souls, it really is.
It's also bad news for Rickon and Tommen: Having killed off most of its adult characters, as well as offing Walda Frey and her babe last week, it appears that child-murder is trending in Westeros. As for Jon, he is released from his vows (on a technicality that clearly didn't see fit to include a resurrection clause). Leaving of all people Dolorous Edd in charge of the Watch, Jon is off to bigger and better things. I guess you can't come back from the dead just to hang around the house.
Recent work by J. W. McCormack appears in Conjunctions, BOMB, and the New Republic. Read his other writing on VICE here.