For all the seemingly random violence in Game of Thrones, the world in which it is set is one concerned, at least ostensibly, with order and tradition. One of the first scenes in the series introduces the Starks in the middle of an execution, as Ned Stark prepares to behead a member of the Night’s Watch for fleeing from his post. Westeros and every other society in George R.R. Martin’s world are obsessed with protocols, and to violate them is worth death. Last night’s episode is titled Oathbreaker, and despite the singular usage, it seems most of the storylines involve characters breaking one oath or another. Most of the problems in the series, even those that started long before the first scene opens, arise because someone somewhere couldn’t stay within the lines.
Jon Snow: the Prince that was promised?
Last week’s episode ended with Jon Snow taking his first breaths in his new life. Oathbreaker picks up there, with Davos staring, stunned, at the newly revived leader. Snow is, for his part, alarmed. He remembers being cut down by his fellow members of The Watch, and he sees it as a failure on his part. He tried to unite the Watch and the Wildlings against the threats from north of The Wall, and was murdered by his brothers. Davos, having inspired Melisandre to get over her crisis of faith and revive Jon, now does the same thing for the former Lord Commander. Life is a struggle, he explains to Jon, and it’s better to try and fail than to die and never fail again. Melisandre has a brief moment with her patient, claiming she believes he might be the prince that was promised, the savior in her prophecies. Jon seems nonplussed.
Jon’s assassins believed they were right because, by allowing the Wildlings south of The Wall, Jon had betrayed the mission of the Night’s Watch. However reasonable their perspective may have been, they still betrayed their own oaths by stabbing him, and the only punishment for that is death. Jon gives each man a chance to speak their last words before the hanging. Alliser Thorne, the ringleader, defends his actions, and Jon almost seems to sympathize with the man’s convictions. Still, they hang.
Walking away from the execution, Jon hands his cloak and command of Castle Black to Dolorous Edd. The oath of the Night’s Watch says that a watch only ends with death, and as Jon notes, his watch has ended. Fate has freed Jon from his oath, and he strides away from The Watch, intent on finding some new purpose.
Bran glimpses the Tower of Joy
What purpose might Jon find? Why not become king of Westeros? After all, he may very likely have a claim to the throne. One of the most popular theories among fans is that Jon is not actually Ned Stark’s bastard, but the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, born in secrecy, his identity hidden to protect his life. The show comes wickedly close to revealing this, as Jon’s half-brother Bran takes another journey into the past with the help of the Three-Eyed Raven. The Raven takes him to the Tower of Joy, where members of the Kingsguard are keeping watch over Lyanna Stark following the end of Robert’s Rebellion. A young Ned Stark approaches with six other men, and informs the Kingsguard that their lord is dead, their duty finished.
The guardsmen include Arthur Dayne, aka Sword of the Morning, whom Bran remarks was known as the greatest swordsman in the land. The pair do not take Ned’s invitation to stand down as their oath of loyalty continues beyond their lord’s death, and so they fight. The fight scenes in Game of Thrones have always varied wildly in quality, and this one comes off as maybe a tad overly stylish, though it’s impressive to see Dayne’s sword twirling hold off five men.
Despite killing five of Ned’s warriors, the two guards fall; Dayne suffers a typically undignified death, stabbed in the back by Howland Reed, and not conquered by Ned as Bran was told. Then Ned hears cries coming from the Tower, and rushes to investigate. “What’s in the tower?” both Bran and the audience wonder. “You’ll find out in a later episode,” to paraphrase The Raven, who brings Bran back to the present.
A brief interlude with Sam
Sam and Gilly finally make an appearance in season 6, this time aboard a storm-tossed ship. Sam, ever the awkward figure, is violently seasick. Gilly tries to comfort him, discussing their future together in Oldtown. Sam had led Gilly to believe she’d follow him there as he studied to be a maester. He reveals that he is not actually taking her to the Citadel, where women are forbidden, but instead to Horn Hill, where his family will look after her. It’s a minor bit of deception, but a deception nonetheless.
Far south, in King’s Landing, the Lannisters are having another bad day. Although their son Tommen sits on the throne, Cersei and Jaime have never seemed less secure in their positions. Backed up by the reanimated corpse of Gregor Clegane — both maesters Qyburn and Purcell confirm his identity, as if there were any doubts — the Lannister siblings force their way into a meeting of the Small Council. Their uncle Kevan, the current Hand of the King, leads the council, and is annoyed to see them. Cersei in turn is irritated to see that Olenna Tyrell is in attendance.
Despite Olenna’s reminder that Cersei is not currently the queen, Cersei and Jaime seem very confident that they can force their way onto the council. While Kevan concedes that he cannot force them to leave, he reminds his nephew and niece that they cannot force the other council members to stay, and they depart. Despite having a mighty bodyguard on their side, the Lannister twins are currently short on both friends and authority.
Even Tommen’s authority as king seems utterly weak. The young king confronts the High Sparrow, leader of the Faith Militant, hoping to intimidate him. The High Sparrow will not allow Cersei to visit Myrcella’s grave until she stands trial before the septons, so that they might evaluate her sins. Tommen protests, perhaps taking his uncle’s (secretly father’s) advice to throw his weight around. The Sparrow, whether out of cunning or honest concern, instead gives him a lesson, telling him a mother’s love is a reflection of the love the god’s have for mankind. Tommen seems moved, at least slightly. Cersei and Jaime have been concerned about how to break the Faith Militant, yet it almost seems like High Sparrow may soon convert their most powerful asset.
Arya finishes her training, apparently
Arya’s story this season has been defined by her breach with the Faceless Men. Having stolen a face from the House of Black and White, Arya was punished with blindness and forced to pass some mysterious test. Members of the audience worried that Arya’s blind staff fighting lesson might continue most of the season can breathe a sigh of relief. The remainder of her training is carried out in a montage, throughout which she is interrogated by The Waif, gradually casting aside more and more of her old identity. Eventually, she manages to block The Waif’s attack, and is granted the use of her eyes once more, much to her trainer’s apparent disappointment. Where Arya — if she can even be called that in her new position — goes next is a mystery, but she at least seems to have atoned for her transgression.
Back at Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton, now Warden of the North after assassinating his father, experiences his first crisis as leader: Lord Umber has come to demand help in defending against the Wildlings. Ramsay asserts that Umber ought to kneel, as a subject should to a lord, but Umber is far from polite. Beyond his coarse language, Umber reminds Ramsay that his own father, Roose Bolton, once swore an oath to Robb Stark, whom he later stabbed. Kneeling means nothing, nor do any oaths it seems, and so Umber won’t pledge himself to Ramsay. He does offer a token to cement an alliance however: Rickon Stark, the only surviving Stark boy, as far as Ramsay knows. Ramsay is delighted to have Rickon under his control, but one must wonder: is House Umber, notoriously loyal to the Starks, playing him? Having climbed to the top through treachery, Ramsay ought to be cautious of any traps, but then, he’s never been the most rational character on the show.
Varys runs Meereen
Meereen remains a storyline without a cause, although viewers are treated to an enlightening scene with Varys. In a world where most people try to solve problems through violence, Varys prefers to charm. When he interrogates a prostitute who has been working with the Sons of the Harpy, the woman assumes he is going to torture her. Varys insists, however, that torture often results in the wrong answer; his method to get the right answers is to make people happy, so he offers her and her son a bag of silver and passage out of Meereen. Of course, he notes, it would be terrible if her son grew up without his mother. Barely concealing the threat beneath his affable smile, Varys reminds the world that he is one of the great schemers in Westeros.
Despite charming Daenarys’ dragons last week, Tyrion has little to do outside of comic relief in Oathbreaker. His attempt to bond with Grey Worm and Missandei, first through conversation then through games, is the funniest scene of the night, but it does little to advance a stagnant plot.
Daenarys: a queen without a country
Daenarys arrives at Vaes Dothrak, and immediately tries to intimidate the leader, the dosh khaleen. Having been at the head of an army for so long, Daenarys seems confident in her titles and threats, yet as we saw in her confrontation with Khal Moro, words mean little without the means to back them up. The Dothraki oracle reminds Daenarys that, as the widow of a khal, she ought to have returned to Vaes Dothrak to join the dosh khaleen; because she went elsewhere, she will now be tried by the leaders of the tribes.
Civilization is a collection of agreed-upon rules; the only thing that keeps the charade going is that people are willing to follow those rules. The characters of Game of Thrones just can’t seem to help but break rules, and the consequences are far-reaching. Houses and even dynasties have crumbled because of broken oaths and taboos. As the people of Westeros scramble for whatever power they can grab, there is still the ever present army of White Walkers marching toward them. Can anyone restore order before that battle begins?
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