Is there any other way that episode could have ended? Probably, actually, but given that Game of Thrones is a TV show and ratings are important, ending the latest episode with (massive spoiler alert!) Jon Snow opening his eyes followed by a cut to credits was an understandable bit of unresolved revelation. With the show in uncharted waters having outpaced the books, it remains to be seen how the writers will handle the pacing going forward; at the very least, they didn’t milk the question of Jon Snow’s fate for too long.
While Jon’s resurrection is the “big moment” of the episode, it is one of a surprising many. Home is the episode’s name, and also its central theme, as the various characters involved all try to claw out their own space in a world that seems increasingly chaotic.
The return of…Bran
The North is the the pivotal region in this episode, beginning with the return of Bran Stark. Not seen since season 4, Bran is still with the Three-Eyed Raven (played by Max von Sydow) in the far north, learning to master his prophetic powers. The Raven shows Bran a vision his father Ned and uncle Benjen sparring as children. More importantly, Bran sees his aunt Lyanna, whose “abduction” long before the series opens set off Robert’s Rebellion and all the drama that is still ongoing. Unfortunately, The Raven pulls Bran out of the dream, saying that “It is beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you’ll drown.”
It’s a beautiful statement, if a little frustrating for longtime followers of the books or show. One of the most long discussed theories among fans is the idea that Jon Snow is not actually Ned Stark’s bastard son, but the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Bran’s vision, the first on-screen appearance of Lyanna, teases the idea of further revelations, but for now, Bran’s story remains inert.
Bran is not the only character on the show who wants to go home. Sansa Stark, now accompanied by Brienne and Pod in addition to foster brother Theon Greyjoy, is on her way to The Wall to reunite with her half-brother Jon in what will hopefully be the first reunion for the scattered Stark children. Winterfell may be under Bolton control, but with even one sibling, Sansa may be able to reclaim a bit of her old life.
Electoral politics in the Iron Islands
Theon, too, is looking for a place to belong. Still feeling guilty about his betrayal of the Starks, Theon takes leave of Sansa, setting out to return to his own home, the Iron Islands. Prior to this season, the Ironborn seemed to be a forgotten faction, their convoluted plot from the books cut in favor of other stories. They return in force this week, however, with Yara Greyjoy recounting to her father how their invasion of the mainland was a colossal defeat. The Ironborn have never been the sharpest axes in the armory, believing that brute strength and a will to conquer are more worthy than the strategizing of the mainlanders. In a world where putting ideals before reason often leads to death, the Ironborn ethos seems destined to fail, which only Yara seems to grasp.
King Balon Greyjoy, however, remains steadfast in his beliefs, which in the Game of Thrones universe means he should have died ages ago. The show makes up for lost time, killing Balon in his second scene back. Walking across a bridge on a stormy night, Balon encounters his estranged brother Euron, whom many in the Iron Islands believe to be a madman. Euron has returned home to claim his brother’s throne, and he disposes of Balon quickly, tossing him into the sea. This regicide sets the stage for a Kingsmoot, in which the Ironborn will select a new king (or queen, if Yara gets her way).
The deepening atrocities of Ramsay Bolton
Euron’s homecoming is not the only act of kinslaying this week, as Ramsay Bolton, never one for subtlety, murders his entire family. In many ways, Roose should have seen it coming. Ramsay has long been the most irrational villain on the show, torturing useful hostages for the simple reason that he enjoys it. Roose, normally a clever man, should have recognized that his son was too rabid even for him to control. Taunting Ramsay with the impending birth of his new brother put the boy’s inheritance in danger, and Ramsay solved it the way many in Westeros do, by stabbing Roose immediately after the news that the new Bolton son has been born. Sorry, Pops.
The scene is a masterwork of acting. Ramsay and Roose hug, they each shake as a knife is slid in, and both characters grimace, holding still long enough that one wonders who stabbed whom. Despite his sadistic tendencies, Ramsay always wanted his father’s approval, and it is a tad bit heart wrenching seeing him come to grips with the fact that he has been replaced. Any sympathy for Ramsay quickly dissipates, however, as he next feeds his stepmother and baby brother to his horrifying hounds to secure his legacy. Ramsay couldn’t have the life he wanted as his father’s only son, so he has settled for true autonomy. Between the wiping out of the Martell’s last week and the multiple murders tonight, kinslaying is becoming popular in Westerosi politics, despite being the greatest taboo.
The Lannisters squirm
By comparison, the Lannisters show themselves as a relatively functional family in Home. Tensions in King’s Landing continue to simmer, as Cersei orders her bodyguard, the masked knight who is almost certainly the reanimated corpse of Gregor Clegane, to kill a man who is spreading salacious rumors about her. It’s a petty act, but those seem to be all Cersei is capable of these days. Her son, King Tommen, orders her to be kept in the castle even during Myrcella’s funeral, fearing that she may run into more trouble with the Faith Militant.
Jaime nearly runs afoul of the High Sparrow, himself. After advising Tommen to visit his mother, Jaime confronts the High Sparrow who, backed by his followers, shows his real power, and lack of fear. The meeting encapsulates the central conflict in King’s Landing. Jaime is a deadly swordsman, but he is only one man. The Faith Militant are many, and even if many of them die taking Jaime down, they are proof that the masses can stand up to the elite. The Lannisters are not quite sure how to deal with the Sparrow’s populist movement, and for now Jaime backs down.
Tyrion Lannister: politician, historian, dragon charmer
Tyrion Lannister, never at home in Westeros, continues to try and govern Meereen in Daenarys’ absence. He and his council receive news that the other cities in Slaver’s Bay have been retaken by the slave trading “Masters,” and Meereen now stands as the last beacon of hope. A student of history, Tyrion recognizes that Daenarys’ dragons are their greatest weapons and that they need to be allowed to roam, as captivity will only make them weaker. Dragons are intelligent, he claims, and he decides to prove to them that he is their friend by personally unchaining them.
Tyrion’s descent into the dragon’s prison is tense, as he walks into the darkness with only a torch. The dragons loom in the darkness, and Tyrion soothes them by telling a story of how he wanted one for a pet when he was a boy, only to be crushed by the revelation that dragons were extinct. Amazingly, his speech works. Despite being far from his family and homeland, Tyrion has found the place where he seems to be most successful.
Arya’s training continues
Elsewhere, in Braavos, Arya continues her training, although what that training is supposed to entail is as mysterious to the audience as to Arya. The Waif appears once more to spar with her. The still-blinded Arya loses quickly, eventually swinging, until Jaqen/The Waif/whoever her teacher really is offers her shelter and tempts her with restoring her eyesight if she admits defeat. The training process of the Faceless Men is inscrutable, but Arya seems to be progressing.
Jon Snow lives
Of course, The Wall is the the most important location in Home, and thankfully the show wastes no time in advancing matters there. Davos and Jon’s friends prepare to make a last stand against Alliser Thorne and his troops, but Dolorous Edd returns just in time, leading a force of Wildlings. The Wildlings, accompanied by one of their trusty giants, quickly subdue the Night’s Watch with an epic show of brutal force, imprisoning Thorne and his co-conspirators.
With the rebellion at The Wall apparently resolved, all that’s left is the matter of Jon Snow. Fans have been expecting the red priestess Melisandre to use magic to resurrect Jon, a feat the followers of R’hllor have performed in the past. Melisandre claims to have never done such a thing, and is still feeling a lack of faith in her god, but Davos gives a pep talk and she decides to try. The ritual is is ominous, as Jon’s friends watch on in a candlelit room while the priestess cleans his wounds and chants her prayers. The director seems to take glee in drawing out the mystery, frequently cutting to Jon’s cold, discolored corpse. Nothing seems to happen, and Melisandre and the others leave the room. Once they close the door, however, Jon’s faithful direwolf, Ghost, stirs, and sure enough, Jon’s eyes open and he gasps for air. Cut to credits.
In an episode comprised mostly of characters adjusting their positions, Jon’s revival is the big moment of forward movement, and questions still linger. Has he come back wrong in some way? How will the world react to his revival? Is he free from the Night’s Watch oath, which explicitly sets the end of one’s duty as death? Or, given that Black has been taken by Wildlings, does the Night’s Watch even yet exist?
Home is largely an episode of people trying to find their place in a very tumultuous world, and Jon too will have to puzzle out his destiny.