Since its very first episode, Game of Thrones has been bound by the framework that author George R.R. Martin set in place with his source novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. Now that the sixth season’s story has surpassed the last published book, 2011’s A Dance of Dragons, it seems like the show-runners have begun to push the story forward at a break-neck pace. After spending most of the first episode of season six basically recapping and reminding everyone of where characters are and that things are, indeed, still pretty damn miserable for most of the cast, episode two fires on all proverbial cylinders. Old staple characters return, others die, and some uh… do the opposite. Put on your spoiler-free-pants and let’s do this!
The episode starts with the reappearance of Bran Stark, who was galavanting off-screen with the Three Eyed Raven all last season, who’s gotten so good at this Warg’ing business that he’s able to visit the past. He and the Three Eyed Max Von Sydow watch Stark’s father, uncles, aunt, and even Hodor (who was called Willis before he got kicked in the head by a horse and started Hodor’ing) sparring in Winterfell. Seeing these happier times, before Targaryens and Lannisters messed it all up, reminds Bran, and us, that things weren’t always so damn miserable in The North. The Raven takes Bran out of the vision, in which he moves under his own power, and Bran is pretty distraught at being brought back to the present where he needs to crawl and be carried.
Outside the Raven's cave, Meera Reed sulks at the bleak surroundings. After losing her brother Jojen to skeleton monsters the last time we saw her, she’s understandably a little bummed, and probably more than a little bored. Sitting around watching an really old guy and a paralyzed kid take a nap is a frustrating way for anyone to spend their time. She gets a little snippy, but the creepy elf-like Child of the Forest is quick to tell her that Bran will need her when he leaves. This serves not only as a wakeup call for Meera but also for us. Until this point, I thought Bran’s destiny was to stay and take the Three Eyed Raven’s place. With this revelation, we’re once again emotionally invested in the arc of the little Stark that could.
Then it’s off to Castle Black where Ser Davos’ time is up and the traitorous Ser Alliser Thorne is coming in after the body of Jon Snow. I still don’t really understand why possession of a dead body is such a big deal and there’s not any clarification as to why people are ready to lay down their lives for their dead Lord Commander. It doesn’t really matter anyway because, just as Thorne and his cronies come through the door and Davos draws Jon’s sword Longclaw (while delivering one of the best lines in the episode), there’s a knock at Castle Black’s main gate. Surprise! Dolorious Edd has returned with an army of wildlings, including Tormund Giantsbane and Wun-Wun the giant. After a brief show of force by the wildlings, the Night’s watchmen loyal to Thorne look rather uncertain. That is until one of them makes the mistake of shooting Wun-Wun with a crossbow, that makes them pretty certain. The scene is wrought with all kinds of tension, but it’s Liam Cunningham’s Davos whose sassy irreverence in the face of his impending fate keeps everything from becoming too bogged down in masculine preening.
Meanwhile down south in King’s Landing, Ser Robert Strong, Cersei’s Frankensteinian servant, is taking care of business - business that includes smashing the skulls of anybody who speaks rudely of his queen. After his murder-stroll, he arrives at the Queen Mother’s chambers to lead her to the funeral for her daughter, Myrcella. Once out the door, though, the gruesome twosome is stopped by a host of Lannister men who insist, upon the king’s orders, that she is to stay put. As much as I would have loved to see the reanimated Mountain murder the crap out of a bunch of regular guys, watching their reaction as he contests and then relents is pretty epic, and sets the scene for his unleashing later this season (probably after Cersei’s “I choose violence” scene from the trailer). In the sept, Jaime is giving King Tommen a bit of fatherly/unclely advice, telling him that no one will put his mother in a cell again while he’s around, when the High Sparrow arrives. Tommen demonstrates again that he is everything Joffrey never was – apologetic, insecure, and self-conscious. Jaime’s interaction with the Sparrow demonstrates how much he’s grown as a character, too. He hesitates to just kill the old bastard for what he did to his sister/girlfriend. Compare this to way back when he started a war with one of the most powerful houses in the country after they kidnapped Tyrion. Jaime's jabs about his own atonement and subsequent recoil at the Sparrow's retort again set the stage for a confrontation further down the line.
Way across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion and company are trying to figure out what to do next. With the rest of Slaver’s Bay back in the hands of the Masters Dany liberated them from and the two remaining dragons in a poor state, things aren’t looking good. With the revelation from Tyrion, the guy who drinks and knows things, that dragons might be more intelligent than men and will recognise people who want to help, he heads down into the catacombs to release Viserion and Rhaegal before they “waste away” as their ancestors did. Peter Dinklage’s performance as a mildly (by his standards) intoxicated Tyrion who simultaneously relishes and almost pisses his pants in fear in the presence of the dragons is superb. As he relates the tale of his birthday long ago, when he asked for a dragon for a gift, he releases their bonds and lets the two fire-breathing, meat-eating, flying monsters loose, for better or worse. The scene is a great example of how, in this episode, situations that seem like they would have taken a few episodes to actually go anywhere in previous seasons, are able to be condensed, now that there is no need to stick to the pre-established narrative of the books.
In Braavos, Arya receives another beating from the Waif before Jaqen H’ghar steps in and offers her shelter, food, and her eyesight back if she’ll just tell him her name. She does not relent, however, and he welcomes her back to the house of black and white anyway to continue training. Again, a season or two ago, Arya could have spent more than a few episodes blindly wandering the streets, getting beat and being miserable. Now that the pace has been considerably ramped up, however, all that superfluous misery is cut in favour of getting the viewers somewhere they want to be.
Keeping things moving, the Boltons at Winterfell are discussing how to keep their hold on the North without a Stark on hand, when the maester enters the room to deliver some rare good news: Lady Walda has given birth to a son. Everyone is overjoyed and hugs abound but, since this is Ramsay we’re talking about, he promptly stabs his father and claims the North for himself. Then he leads his father’s widow and newborn to the dog kennels and…well, even for Ramsay it’s a little intense. I don’t know where his new dog-feeding fetish came from, but between this and some of his behaviour last season, it's hard to see him as an actual character anymore and not some one-dimensional attempt by the writers to outdo Joffrey.
Just outside, Sansa, Theon, Brienne, and Podrick are making their way to the wall to find shelter with Jon. Theon feels a little nervous facing another Stark after all he’s done. He doesn’t want to be forgiven and leaves the group to go to the only place that could possibly be more miserable than his time in the North: home.
We haven’t been to the Iron Islands for a while and things are pretty tense between the Greyjoys. That’s even before Balon’s long-lost brother shows up and throws him off a bridge. In the books, it's insinuated that Balon is murdered by one of Arya’s Faceless buddies, paid for by his brother Euron. The show’s depiction is either a departure or revelation. The upcoming Kingsmoot to choose a new Ironborn king is set to get us caught up on our Iron Islands deficiency.
Then, finally, the show we’ve all been waiting for! Things have calmed down enough at Castle Black for Davos to pay a visit to his favourite lady in red. Now I don’t know how Davos has any clue about the ability of the Red God to bring the dead back to life – maybe he just believes Melisandre is capable after everything else he’s seen her do, or maybe he just heard it through the grapevine. Either way, he and Melisandre bond a bit and set to work on bringing back the man with the most beautiful hair in Westeros. After cleaning him up a bit, Melisandre whispers some magic and waits. And then nothing happens. One by one, those in attendance – Davos, Tormund, and Edd – chalk up another loss and leave Jon Snow’s body alone with his sleeping direwolf, Ghost. As the door shuts and we shift between Jon’s face and settle on Ghost, for-freaking-
ever, he suddenly looks up at his master and JON SNOW WAKES UP!