This premiere episode of Game of Thrones wasted no time in getting down to the only thing anyone has been talking about since last spring: the fate of Jon Snow’s dead body lying under the ‘TRAITOR’ sign. Is he really dead? Will his body twitch alive as Davos looks upon it? Did Jon’s spirit flee into the body of Ghost? Is Olly actually the devil incarnate? (Answers: Yes. No. No. FUCKING UGH YEAH HE IS.)
Before we move on, I would like to hereby put a moratorium on theorizing whether or not Jon is alive. We all know in our heart of hearts that he and his perfect hair will come back, don’t we? Let’s accept the fact that his current state is deceased and move onto the actual events taking place at Castle Black.
Because what’s happening is pretty damn surprising. Most notably: Thorne coming right out and saying he killed his Lord Commander, while naming a slew of other brothers that also participated in the stab sesh. (Whether or not they were prepared to be called out as traitors is up for debate.) Thorne claims that “loyalty is the foundation on which the Night’s Watch is built,” and then fully admits that he answered what he thought was treason with more, and arguably worse, treason. His rhetoric is impressive: “Lord Commander Snow did what he thought was right. I’ve no doubt about that. And what he thought was right would’ve been the end of us.”
His argument is also not entirely unfounded when you consider that the Night’s Watchmen aren’t the sharpest of dragonglass shards. Most of them were forced to join because of stealing or raping (a.k.a. dumb guy things to do.) So for all but a select few of them to accept Thorne’s excuse for why he murdered the smart, attractive, talented, brave dude who got Lord Commander over him is reasonable. (I’m convinced it’s hair envy. Have you seen Ser Alliser’s male-pattern-baldness?) He also has no concept for the magnitude of White Walkers that will inevitably make their way to the Wall, and that enlisting the help of the Wildlings will, if nothing else, stop the Dead Army from growing. So sure, Thorne believed he was avenging the entire history of the Night’s Watch on a matter of principle, but there was also a sliver of personal vendetta in that stab to the stomach. His shortsightedness and ignorance are preying upon the dimness of the rest of the Watch, which will only result in a whole lot of egg on their faces. And a whole lot of dead people. Top of the list of things I can’t wait to see: Thorne’s face when the White Walkers show up.
Thorne’s confession was just the first in a slew of candid declarations in this premiere episode. It may have actually been the first episode in all of Game of Thrones where no character was trying to deceive another. Okay, so King Deception himself (Littlefinger) didn’t show up, and Ellaria was purposefully misleading Doran for a bit. But she did ultimately kill him for his history of constraint and unwillingness to enact revenge for the death of his siblings, and basically told Doran that Trystane was a goner upon his last breath. And he was. Right in the nostrils.
Rather than end her suffering locked away in the cells of the sept, Margaery insists she has nothing to confess. This may seem like the kind of bullcrap Cersei was spouting to save herself embarrassment, but Margaery has actually done little to deserve the punishment she’s received. The only crime she’s committed is lying to protect her brother. The High Sparrow seems to think she’s hiding more than she’s letting on, but as far as we know she’s being entirely honest. Then again, if opportunism can be considered a crime by the Faith Militant, then, yeah. Guilty as charged.
Roose Bolton, disappointed with the “games” his son played on Sansa and Theon (Reek? What do we call him now?!) that caused them to flee, laid the cards right out on the table for Ramsay: they need the support of the North to rule, and without Sansa they don’t have that support. No Sansa + fingers crossed Walda has a boy = Ramsay’s newfound familial position doesn’t exist. (Can we take a second to acknowledge how sweet Ramsay was being to Myranda’s corpse? I mean, he’s still Ramsay, so his deviant pragmatism overshadowed any sentimentality that may have crept up, but still! Sweet!)
Speaking of sweet, Sansa accepting Brienne’s vow of service was about as heartwarming as Game of Thrones could ever get. Sure, that squabble with Ramsay’s henchmen happened a little too quickly and conveniently to be very suspenseful, but having this foursome together means that at least a little bit of honor exists in Westeros. As satisfying as it was to see Pod and Theon successfully defend themselves and rid the world of a few more Boltoners (even if the former fell off his horse in the process), it’s even more so now that Sansa has a real ally by her side. Littlefinger may have had some of Sansa’s best interests in mind, but he still gambled her livelihood in marrying her to Ramsay when he placed a bet on Stannis’ army defeating the Boltons.
Sansa and company may be out of immediate harm’s way, but if their bet is to go to Castle Black in search of protection via a living Jon Snow, they’re only a little better off than begging, blind Arya on the streets of Braavos. There’s no more low-stakes Game of Faces for her. The Waif is very quick to introduce some harsh realities by way of The Game of Fight Back or Get Beat the Hell Up. It’s rough to see Arya so defenseless, but for all of her water dancing lessons, she’s never had to really fight someone. If she can learn how to effectively fight without even seeing the other person, her skills are going to go improve quicker than Syrio could have taught.
Another person being kicked while they’re down is Cersei and her pixie cut. Not much time has passed since her walk of shame, and I expected her to royally (heh) lose her shit upon learning the death of Myrcella. Surely Jaime would never hear the end of his failure to bring their daughter home safe! But Cersei was remarkably docile about the news. She divulged her obsession with the decomposition process of the human body, and now it’s obvious to see how she held onto the animosity she felt towards Tyrion her whole life. When she looked at her little brother, she saw her mother’s lips peeling back from her teeth, among other rotting body parts. To lose a loved one is more painful than most for Cersei because in thinking of all the ways their bodies decay, she believes she’s taking some of their suffering onto herself. Cersei then mourns her daughter by confessing, “She was good. From her first breath she was so sweet. I don’t know where she came from. She was nothing like me.”
Could it be that the Faith Militant actually had an effect on her? Did she really learn something from her ordeal? She’ll certainly never be able to hear a bell again without experiencing PTSD, but some part of that had to have sunk in because Cersei has never been so lucid in her self-awareness. It seems like progress, but I don’t anticipate this sensible nature to last. Considering she’s the catalyst for Oberyn’s death, and Ellaria kiss-killed Myrcella, it’s only a matter of time before Cersei’s wrath will meet that of her Dornish counterpart.
Over in Essos, Daenerys saved her truth for the most opportune time. She could’ve snapped back at the Dothraki that were saying some pretty foul things about her, but held her tongue about her history with the khalasar and her ability to speak their language until Khal Moro was preparing to rip off her dress. Side note: when has Game of Thrones been as funny as this episode? This scene alone had that sick burn (“Only when I was fucking your grandma.”), then the bit about where a beautiful, naked woman falls in the top five best things ever. Genuine laugh lines there.
But Daenerys’ savvy with the Dothraki ways only saved her from spending a night with one of them. Apparently she had forgotten all about the stipulation that the widow of a Khal has to live out her days in a Vaes Dothrak, which sounds like an old folks home for former Khaleesi. It won’t take long for Daario and Jorah to track Daenerys down, though I’m not confident the two can take on an entire khalasar. Maybe Jorah can just scare them all away with the spreading greyscale on his arm. Blech.
But it’s just as well that she’ll spend some time away from Meereen. Daenerys offered Khal Moro a thousand horses to escort her back, but she’s unaware of how little the city has to offer after the Sons of the Harpy took over the fighting pits and started murdering anyone without a gold mask. Because as Tyrion and Varys stroll around Meereen surveying the damage of a city in ruins, society seems to have collapsed. (Their tour gives way to another laugh line: “She thinks you want to eat her baby.”) Most telling, where ‘KILL THE MASTERS’ is painted on a wall, ‘MHYSA IS A MASTER’ is now a subtitle. The two speculate as to the culprit of the graffiti, and so betrayed are the people of Meereen that they can’t determine whether it was the former masters or the freed slaves. They do pass a group of believers listening to the preachings of a Red Priest, so at least Daenerys has a couple dozen devotees left.
What she doesn’t have left is the one thing that would allow her to rule across the Narrow Sea, because entire fleet of ships now burns away in the harbor. She’s not just starting from scratch on the method of transportation her army would use, but also it’s very clear that any progress she made ruling over Meereen has not just failed, but completely backfired. The grand notion from last season that she’s preparing “break the wheel” of power in Westeros seems far out of reach now.
Of all the characters suffering from the brutality of truth in this episode, no one is affected more than Melisandre. Still reeling from her really terrible miscalculations about Stannis’ victories in battle, she now has to contend that she was also wrong about seeing Jon Snow in the flames, “fighting in Winterfell.” She’s confessed in previous seasons that her “magic” is mainly an illusion: “Most of these powders and potions are lies. Deceptions to make men think they witnessed our Lord’s power. Once they step into his light, they’ll see the lie for what it was — a trick that led them to the truth.”
Even she is unable to deal with her lies in the wake of all the lives that were lost at her hands, and she (literally!) strips down her own fallacy to reveal an old, weary woman. Last year I wondered if Melisandre wasn’t just a gifted charlatan. We now know that some of her magic is real, if only another trick. But her silent, solitary confession seems to be setting up the rest of the season, if not the series: it’s time to confront the truth behind all the deception woven into the fabric of these characters. In the words of the High Sparrow, “What will we find when we strip away your finery?”