Game of Thrones answers the burning Jon Snow question
2nd episode of new season reveals fate of fan favourite, advances storylines of many younger characters
NOTE: The following story contains major spoilers about episode two of season six of HBO's Game of Thrones.
We need to talk about Jon Snow, of course. But what made much of the second episode of season six of Game of Thrones a heart-pounding and mostly enjoyable romp was its first 50 minutes, particularly the plot developments surrounding younger characters coming into their own. Canadian Jeremy Podeswa, who directed the Season 6 premiere, remained in the driver's seat for this one, providing a continuity in terms of rhythm: shorter but hard-working scenes that allow an hour-long episode to touch on many storylines.
The show, having now outpaced George R. R. Martin's books, continued to struggle in this episode with finding the voice of key characters, with some lines falling flat and others seeming downright ridiculous.
The kids are all right
It's a tough gig, being a child in the land of Westeros. At the very best, your parents will try to marry you off and further or strengthen their political alliances. At worst, they are dead, leaving you at the mercy of all the political alliances that have gone sour.
For all these reasons, the growth of some of the Game of Thrones characters we first encountered as very young children provided one of the most interesting themes in this episode.
First and foremost: Bran Stark, who we haven't seen for one full season, is now a strapping young man who has galvanized his warging powers into some serious prophet/seer business. Under the tutelage of the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran can now see his family's past.
This may become an excellent expository narrative tool in the episodes to come. In Game of Thrones, history is ever-present and important, but we've had no real way of glimpsing it short of a character telling us their version of what happened. Bran may solve that problem. The highlight of this scene was the Hollywood veteran Max von Sydow, excellent even in his few minutes on screen as the Three-Eyed Raven. The detracting factor was the Third-Eyed Raven's luminously made up, magical sidekick, who looked like a Cirque du Soleil performer.
We're also glimpsing a bit of the character of King Tommen in this episode. Cersei and Jaime's youngest son has been almost comical as he has stomped about in his crown, everyone either ignoring or manipulating him. Now, we know he's been feeling guilty about his inability to protect his mother from her Walk of Shame or his wife from being chained up by the Sparrows. And he tells Cersei: "Teach me how to be strong."
Oh, how a Lannister mother's heart beats hearing those words.
Arya Stark, still fighting blind in Bravos, has seemingly been forgiven by Jaqen for her impudence and no longer has to beg on the street. What Arya fans are likely still begging for is some, any movement on a storyline that has seemed stuck forever.
One kid who definitely won't be all right is the poor, unfortunate progeny of Roose Bolton and Walda Frey. In the episode's most brutal (though not surprising) scene, Ramsey Bolton dispatches his father, then his father's bride and newborn son; the latter two, victims of his pack of dogs. Mercifully, the camera did not linger on Walda and the baby's demise as it did on Shireen Baratheon's burning. But it was almost as if the show needed to prove that it's just as brutal as ever without Martin's blood-soaked script. Message received.
The dragon whisperer
In Meereen, Daenerys' provisional government is still sitting around, pontificating, as her vision is dismantled and slave-owners are reclaiming power.
That is, until Tyrion has an idea: free the dragons (apparently they atrophy or die in captivity. Tyrion is right, he really drinks and knows stuff). The scene with Tyrion whispering to the angry, hungry dragons as he unclasps their shackles was a heart-pounder, for sure. It will also add further fuel to a popular Game of Thrones fan theory pertaining to Tyrion's parentage possibly being different from what we've been told.
On the negative side, Tyrion's lines still seem too flat for the show's most eloquent character.
"Next time I try to do that, punch me in the face," he says to Varys after his dragon-freeing expedition. Really? That's the best the writers could come up with for the man who spews clever lines the way dragons spew fire?
Jon Snow's fate
For much of Episode 2, Kit Harington, the actor who plays Jon Snow, just lay there playing a dead body. But how they shot and lit the episode implied in no uncertain terms that something would happen to that body: indeed, some of the best storytelling around the whole Snow business is visual.
Almost each shot at Castle Black took place with his corpse in the foreground. And when Melisandre, jaded and uncertain of her powers, is finally coaxed by Davos to attempt to revive Snow, the shot of the body is all light and shadows, luminous Jon among the black-clad faithful waiting for him to rise. At best, the composition was reminiscent of a Caravaggio painting. At worst, its unabashed, lingering reliance on Christian imagery was on-the-nose and likely upsetting to some people.
But be as it may, Jon Snow opens his eyes by the episode's end, raising with him a thousand questions. Has his character changed? Is a battle with Ramsey Bolton imminent? Is he now free of his oath to the Night's Watch, having, technically, died? (The next episode is titled Oathbreaker).
And if the revived Jon is indeed battle ready, it won't be the only battle to come. Jaime Lannister is on the collision course with the Sparrows, Yara Greyjoy is struggling to stay in power after her and Theon's father is killed, and Ramsey Bolton may meet an equally nasty character in Walder Frey (of the Red Wedding infamy), whose daughter Walda he brutally murdered.