Prior recaps can be found in here.
“Oathbreaker” begins and ends at Castle Black, where Jon Snow has returned as much himself, but with a heavier heart and a hitch in his step. The latter is a nice little touch, as bearing painful physical wounds from his betrayal underlines the psychological scars being murdered has left on him. The latter manifests in his, after taking a particularly cold bit of comfort by executing his assassins, disavowing the Night’s Watch. Many had predicted that Jon’s resurrection would serve to provide a loophole to release him from a Watch that “shall not end until my death”, but I get the sense that he’s not particularly bothered with the legal sufficiency of this interpretation of the oath in any case. He came out and swung the executioner’s sword wearing the heavy cloak of the Lord Commander, before pointedly taking it off to deliver his kiss off line (to no one in particular, which I found amusing).
He leaves Castle Black in Edd’s hands, but he will presumably be taking Tormund, Wun Wun, Davos and Melisandre with him when he heads southward. The dynamic between the latter two should be interesting, as the Red Woman appears oddly deferential to Davos since Stannis’s death. While he remains doggedly pragmatic in the face of overt miracles, she wastes little time transferring her messianic expectations from the Mannis to the gentleman bastard. But the revenant also gives her the same non-answer as Berric Dondarrion when she asked him what he saw on the other side. It’s hard to know what to make of her at this point. Is she even more fanatical now that she has the power to raise the dead? Or will she become warier of the capriciousness with which the Lord Of Light seems to dole out his miraculous favor? Does her unwillingness to accept the dead’s reports on the lack of an afterlife indicate that she has been promised something more?
Jon 2.Snow’s coalition is going to have immediate difficulties, as apparently Greatjon Umber died offscreen in the years since he was following Robb around, and was succeeded by the latest in a line of total dickholes to take over the great Northern Houses. Badjon Umber is no peach (he killed Shaggydog!), but there is still something almost admirable in the way he refuses to swear oaths he has no intention of keeping. He’s almost like Thorne in how straight up he is about being an asshole. Or maybe I’m just inclined to go easy on him because he doesn’t let Ramsay walk right over him. Even if he does provide the bastard with a fresh set of sympathetic characters to interminably victimize.
This bodes exceptionally ill for Rickon, who has always been the spare Stark. He’s never felt particularly vital to the endgame, and his death could provide the necessary component to make Jon and Sansa retaking Winterfell feel soul-crushing enough for a “victory” in the Game Of Thrones world. I don’t trust this series to allow the dashing hero and exiled princess to just ride in and defeat the evil tyrant without having their hearts carved up in the process. And if we needed a reminder that this is not the type of fantasy story where the noble heroes defeat the wicked baddies in honorable combat, Bran takes a flashback tour to the end of Robert’s Rebellion, to see that his father’s most famous feat of combat was a less glorious victory than the stories made out. This is more earth-shattering for Bran than us, who are more accustomed to the harsh realities of Westeros. On the one hand, I like that the show isn’t dicking around with these flashbacks the entire season before getting to the point, but that also makes it feel a bit unnecessary for them to play coy with the “that’s enough for one day” stuff. Sure, Arthur Dayne looked cool twirling those two broadswords around, but it’s not like we knew enough about him to really care about this fight between dead men. And for those of us that know about the big fan theory that I’ve tried to only address in passing (which is admittedly a smaller portion of the audience than the internet can make it seem), you just dilute the impact by essentially providing confirmation while withholding the actual reveal.
Arya’s storyline is another area where I’m pleased with the degree of Movement on general principle, but there is a difference between the right pace for the season and the right pace for the individual episode. What is the point of training her to duel blind, only to return her sight after 2 scenes and a montage? I can’t believe I’m saying this, but they may have needed to stretch this out longer. I don’t necessarily want her to stay in the House of Black and White any longer, but the thing that got me hooked on Game Of Thrones, the thing that separates it from so much of longform and particularly genre storytelling, was not the tits or the skull smushings (though I do find tits delightful and head smushings get me hard as granite). It was the commitment to real consequences to the story decisions, the sense that despite all the magical trappings, everyone was only one false move from getting themselves killed and staying that way. I was willing to grant a one-off Jon Snow fakeout, but backing off of the consequence of Arya’s transgression against the Many-Faced God so quickly is a worrying sign. If that shit with Ned being able to hear Bran in the past leads to some sort of time-travel shenanigans where he starts reversing Red Weddings or whatever Ramsay is about to do to Rickon, I’m going to turn on this show the way Lannisters turn on their own when the chips are down.
Speaking of that (segues!), I’m really digging having both Lannister twins in Kings Landing again. They still can’t get cranky uncle Kevan to give them the time of day, but they are enjoying playing with their Frankenmountain about as much as I am seeing people react to it in terror and disgust. Coster-Waldau’s face when the thing reacts to his crack about Gregor’s prior intelligence was my biggest laugh of the episode. I found it funnier than Tyrion banging his head against the boring wall that is Grey Worm and Missandei, anyway. The Imp and the Spider bring some personality to Mereen, but when they are separated, the best the actors can do is make their scenes generally watchable by sheer Dink of charisma.
What they really need is a creepy Qyburn, or a salty Queen Of Thorns, or an antagonistic figurehead like the High Sparrow to bounce off, like the Lannisters still in Westeros have. Right now, they can only contemplate what to do about off-screen slavers’ plots to run a proxy uprising in a city that, I’m sorry, we still just don’t care about that much. Maybe there would be more urgency to this plot if it wasn’t such a foregone conclusion that the war Tyrion is getting unwillingly pulled toward is going to be resolved by Dany returning with a new khalasar at her back. But it is, so there isn’t.
This is starting to sound like I disliked the episode, which I didn’t. It flew by as Game Of Thrones always does, and the stuff at Castle Black and Kings Landing was aces, but Essos and the other subplots can’t keep up, which is also not unusual at this stage. But we’ll have a whole new batches of subplots struggling to match the center of the storylines next week, and gods willing, the triumphant return of Who Smushed It Better?
Subplot Report Card:
The North: B+ (having Greatjon die offscreen and replaced with a huge cunt of a young lord is serendipitous for Ramsay, like so much else tend to be, but the guy is such a salty piece of work that it is fairly entertaining)
Castle Black: A-
Oldtown: B (not much to say here, except that I’m wondering if Ian McShane was cast as Sam’s father Randall – I heard about the casting but never bothered to look for the same reason I try to avoid the “Next Time On” teasers)
Wargin‘: B- (great sword choreography but I was not a fan of the casting of young Ned – he looked more a child than Bran at this point, and also they did the annoying prequel thing of putting him in the exact wardrobe that we are familiar with, giving off the impression that he didn’t change clothes or hairstyles for 20 years. That’s almost believable for a stick-in-the-mud like Ned, actually, but it still feels really basic)
Dany: C (there is just not a scrap of new information here – Dany arrives at where they told her she was going last week, and is told in slightly more detail that she can’t leave)
King’s Landing: A (I love Qyburnstein and his monster’s mad scientist dynamic, and Small Council meetings are my jam)
Braavos: B- (like the flashback, this had some pretty cool action stuff with Arya going all Zatoichi, but the cop out could turn out to be a major ill omen)
Season Morgulis: Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, Areo Hotah, Roose Bolton, Walda Bolton, Balon Greyjoy, (-Jon Snow), Shaggydog, Alister Thorne, Olly,
MIA: The Sand Snakes, Littlefinger, the Greyjoys, Bronn, Margaery, Loras, Sansa, Brienne, Daario, Jorah, Gendry, the Blackfish, Walder Frey, Edmure Tully
Death Watch: Things are looking mighty grim for Rickon, but Ramsay likes to play with his food too much to off him immediately, so I’m sticking with the Queen Of Thorns.