In the second episode of Season 6, “Home,” we return to the Iron Islands, home of the Greyjoys. “What is dead may never die,” they say on the islands, and in Jon Snow’s case, they could not be more right. At the end of “Home,” the once-dead Jon rises again with the help of the forlorn priestess, Melisandre (in perhaps one of the least-surprising “twists” in the show’s long run).
To me, “Home” is the culmination of a long and slow shift Game of Thrones has undergone over the years, transitioning from a show of political intrigue to one of fantasy and magic. The political conflict at the center of this show, the War of the Five Kings, officially ended this week with the death of the final would-be king, Balon Greyjoy. Game of Thrones was once primarily dominated by the machinations of many players vying for the Iron Throne; but now, as the true conflict is revealed to be the eventual battle between the living and the dead, magic and prophecy play a much more prominent role.
At Winterfell, Ramsay and his father, Roose Bolton, receive news that Roose’s wife, Walda (née Frey), gave birth to a son. This strengthens a long-held threat that Roose has held over his bastard son, Ramsay: if Ramsay didn’t do as he was told, Roose would overlook his legitimization and pass his lineage to this new baby, if born a boy. In offering his congratulations, Ramsay embraces his father. The camera stays tight on their faces as it becomes clear that one of the two has been stabbed, and for a moment I did not know who had killed whom—wildly hoping it to be Ramsay on the receiving end of the blade (leave it to Ramsay to make the cold and murderous Roose look palatable by comparison).
But it’s Ramsay, of course, who remains standing as the new Lord Bolton. With Roose out of the way, the only challenge remaining to his rule is the newborn baby brother and mother who might tell of his crimes. In his own words, Ramsay prefers to be an only child, so he has an unwisely-trusting Walda and her son brutally mauled by his dogs.
What will Walda’s father, Walder Frey, think? He’s already proven to be a dangerous enemy, as he was to the Starks for Robb’s betrayal of his marriage pact. By simply jilting one of Walder’s daughters, Robb, his wife, his unborn baby, and his mother were murdered by the Freys and the Boltons at the Red Wedding. What will he think when Ramsay Bolton has one of his daughters and her new son not just murdered, but torn apart by dogs?
Ramsay has never been known for wise decision-making, and yet he continues to live and thrive in the North with the protection of families like the Karstarks. The “previously on” segment reached all the way back to Season 3 to remind us that Robb Stark executed the head of the Karstark household, Lord Rickard, for taking revenge and killing two young Lannister hostages in their care. Lord Rickard was unhappy with Catelyn Stark for unilaterally releasing Jaime Lannister, which prevented him from getting revenge on Jaime and the Lannisters for killing two of his sons. Robb passed the sentence and swung the sword to execute Lord Karstark for treason.
Harald, a remaining son of Rickard Karstark, is introduced in this episode as Ramsay’s ally and fellow upstart, standing idly by as Ramsay murders his father and insisting that Maester Wolkan treat his new lord with more respect. His house has seemingly forgotten its rich history in support of House Stark. The Karstarks descended from the Starks, tracing their origins to Karlon Stark. Karlon was a younger Stark son, rewarded with his own land and keep for putting down a rebellion in the north by—you guessed it—House Bolton. Though House Karstark was literally born in opposition to the Boltons, Lord Harald seems determined to make allies of them in service to himself.
How long can that truly last? As Roose said right before he was murdered, “If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog, you’ll be treated like a mad dog: taken out and slaughtered for pig feed.” So far, no one has proven willing or able to put Ramsay down, but by making eventual enemies of the Freys, it cannot be long now until Ramsay sees his day… right?
In King’s Landing, King Tommen prevents his mother from attending the funeral of her own daughter because the Faith Militant won’t let her into the sept (and he won’t use his power to insist that an exception be made). When he finally visits his mother to apologize for his weakness, Cersei asks Tommen what dress Myrcella was put in for her funeral. He tells her it was the gold one. “Good, it was always her color,” she replies sadly, remembering the witch’s prophecy once again (“Gold will be their crowns, and gold their shrouds”). When she hugs her son, she turns her face into him with anxiety and dread, knowing now more than ever that she will be unable to prevent the eventual death of this, her last golden-haired child.
Though she seems outwardly resigned to despair over the death of Myrcella and the confirmation of the prophecy that all her children would die, Ser Strong (the Mountain, resurrected by Maester Qyburn) proves that Cersei is still determined to use her power for revenge for as long as she is able. Though it happens off screen, Cersei instructs Ser Strong to seek out and kill the random man who flashed her on her walk of shame last season. This, surely, is only the beginning of Cersei’s revenge tour, featuring Ser Strong.
In the sept with his murdered daughter, Jaime confronts the High Sparrow, who is quickly surrounded by his armed flock. “Who are we? We have no names, no family. Every one of us is poor and powerless.” The exact opposite of the Lannisters. “And yet together, we can overthrow an empire.”
The High Sparrow has been using religion to whip up fear and hysteria among the masses, inciting a populist rebellion against the ruling classes in general, and the Lannisters in particular. Jaime wants to kill the High Sparrow for the pain he has caused his sister and longtime lover, but stands down when faced with the nameless hoard who all have nothing but their faith (and cudgel) and, therefore, nothing to lose.
Daenerys’s remaining advisers receive word that all of Slaver’s Bay has returned to the hands of the masters, with only Meereen’s fate remaining undetermined. She may have won the battles, but lost the war, unable to hold control after taking it. Now, in her absence, Tyrion and the gang must decide what to do to tip the scales back in their favor. The two remaining dragons seem like a natural choice, but they have refused to eat since Daenerys’s flight from the fighting pit.
Tyrion, who has always been curious and knowledgeable about the world in ways that other characters have not, knows that the dragons were thought to be very intelligent and as capable of affection as they were of fury. Also, he says that if they stay chained, they will waste away, shrinking in size and power. It is a great irony that Daenerys, who claims “Breaker of Chains” as one of her many (many) titles, leaves her children chained and starving in the depths of Meereen.
With this knowledge, Tyrion risks his life to unchain the dragons. The fact that the dragons let Tyrion come in peace implies that they already consider him a friend, but what will be their relationship going forward?
As he recalls in his monologue to the beasts, his father Tywin and others always dismissed Tyrion’s belief in dragons. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tyrion believed in dragons and had his faith rewarded. Could he have an unknown legacy with the beasts? Some have hypothesized that he is, in fact, Targaryen (view an explanation for that theory here). I’m not convinced of this theory, but it would certainly explain the dragons’ behavior. Still, they don’t roast Missandei when she visits them, and no one is arguing that she’s Targaryen.
In Braavos, Arya still flails about in trying to protect herself from the Waif. Interestingly enough, in the season premiere, the Waif approached Arya with the same move once used by her sword fighting instructor in Season 1, Syrio Forel (check out this comparison shot to see the similarities between the two). We always knew he was from Braavos, so their fighting styles would likely be similar, but could he also be one of the Faceless Men? We never actually saw his death on screen, so it’s even possible that he is the Waif or even her mentor, Jaqen H’ghar, since the Faceless Men are able to change their appearance with ease. Fans have long held hope that Syrio Forel lived to finish training Arya; if he is the Waif or Jaqen, we could get our wish soon enough.
When Jaqen reappears, he asks her several difficult questions to test her resolve, ending with “If a girl says her name, a man will give her her eyes back.” Arya stays strong and refuses to be tempted, responding with: “A girl has no name.” Jaqen accepts her answers and instead of turning her back to her begging bowl, he takes her under his tutorship once again.
How much does Arya Stark really believe she is No One? How much has she forgotten of her proud family heritage and the long hit list she accumulated over the years? It is unclear, but at least she has returned to the good graces of the Faceless Men. There she can get the training she needs to become a master (albeit blind) assassin.
Back in the north of Westeros, Sansa learns what little Brienne knows of her sister, Arya. When we last saw them together, all the way back in Season 1, they were as dissimilar as sisters could be and at each other’s throats. It all seems so trivial now, and Sansa is clearly missing her sister. As Ned Stark said in one of my favorite quotes from the book, “You may be as different as the sun and the moon, but the same blood flows through both your hearts. You need her, as she needs you.” As someone with three sisters, I hope for little more than Arya and Sansa to be united someday as two different pillars of House Stark. This small conversation gave me hope that someday they might find each other once again and put all their petty, childish differences behind them.
Sansa admits that she should have accepted Brienne’s protection when it was first offered; if so, she might have never suffered at the hands of Ramsay—a trauma which she cannot bear to repeat to Brienne when asked. “We’ve all made difficult choices,” Brienne reassures her, looking tellingly to Theon.
Theon decides to leave Sansa in Brienne and Pod’s capable hands, though he would have taken her all the way to Castle Black himself if it had come to that. He chooses to head home to the Iron Islands with his lasting guilt over betraying the Stark family. Once like siblings living together in Winterfell during a more innocent time, the two embrace once more before Theon sets out to meet his failure head-on by returning to his father, Balon Greyjoy.
We haven’t been to the home of the Greyjoys for a very long time, so it’s a bit of a surprise to once again see Pyke as a featured location in the opening credits. (For a good, brief history of House Greyjoy, watch this HBO short.) We find Yara, Theon’s sister, and Balon arguing as they had the last time we saw them together in Season 3. Once again, Yara urges that her father order the Greyjoy troops to retreat to the sea, abandoning their feeble attempt to hold land in Westeros. “When you rule the Iron Islands, you can make all the peace you want,” he says snidely, then walks out along the rope bridge connecting his towers together.
There, in the driving rain, his path is blocked by none other than his younger brother, Euron Greyjoy, whom he believed to be dead. We haven’t met Euron yet in the show, though in Season 1 Tyrion mentioned Euron in connection with the Raid on Lannisport: when the Lannister fleet was destroyed during the Greyjoy Rebellion almost a decade ago. Balon thought Euron had gone mad, having heard that he lost his senses during a storm on the Jade Sea. He does not deny it, nor does he deny cutting out the tongues of his crew to keep their silence. When Balon stabs at his brother, cutting his face, Euron pitches him over the bridge.
The series started with the War of the Five Kings, which now seems so long ago. Balon was, surprisingly, the last of the kings still standing. When there were only four kings left, Melisandre helped Stannis use blood magic by burning three leeches to curse the three remaining “usurpers”: Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy. At long last, the final king has died, and chaos reigns.
As is fitting in the culture of the ironborn, Euron may have paid the iron price for his brother’s throne—taking what he wanted both from the hands of his defeated brother and his niece, Yara, who assumed she would be given command. At her father’s funeral, she discusses her potential succession with the drowned priest, but he says a woman has never ruled the Iron Islands, and may never still. The drowned priest calls instead for a Kingsmoot (Westeros’s version of a contested convention), where the captains will need to agree on the next king.
We finally pick up with Bran Stark, who was missing from all of Season 5, as he continues to train with the Three-Eyed Raven. He can see the past through the roots of the ancient weirwood tree. One of the scenes he is shown is of his father, Ned, and Uncle Benjen training as young boys in Winterfell.
He also sees the mythical Aunt Lyanna, who has long been at the center of the story in Westeros, though we know so little about her. The Stark canon maintains that she was promised to Robert Baratheon, but captured and raped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen—the event that sparked Robert’s Rebellion and the ousting of House Targaryen. Through Bran’s eyes, we are about to see the truth behind that story, which is unlikely to match the tale to the letter. (More on that below…)
Finally, at Castle Black, Ser Alliser Thorne and his traitorous men attempt to break down the door separating them from Jon Snow’s dead body and its loyal protectors. Dolorous Edd, Jon’s longtime friend in black, returns just in time with the wildlings and a giant to retake Castle Black from Commander Snow’s murderers.
Melisandre, still despondent and beaten by the shaking of her faith (“Everything I believed, the great victory I saw in the flames—all of it was a lie. You [Ser Davos] were right all along. The Lord never spoke to me.”), looks more disheveled than ever before. Everything she’s done was in service to the belief that her visions were true. First, she believed it would be Stannis to save the world, then Jon Snow. But when both ended up dead, she felt that everything she interpreted was wrong. She has done terrible things in service to what she believed was the greater good—including killing Stannis’s innocent daughter, Shireen. All of that weighs heavily on her when Ser Davos comes to her for help.
Davos apologizes for interrupting her in front of the flames, assuming that she is interpreting one of her visions. Her hair askew, her commanding tone softened, she sits in front of the fire and sees nothing (or, looks for nothing). It takes Davos, a longtime non-believer, to convince her to attempt to resurrect Jon Snow with her powers—something she has never been able to accomplish before. “I’m not a devout man, obviously. Seven Gods, drowned gods, tree gods—it’s all the same. I’m not asking the Lord of Light for help. I’m asking the woman who showed me that miracles exist.” Long at odds with one another, Davos and Melisandre finally pair up in the attempt to raise Jon from the dead.
Melisandre recites the religious incantations over Jon’s body, but without much conviction. As we discussed last week, Thoros of Myr was only able to resurrect his friend Beric Dondarrion at the lowest point in his faith. Likewise, in this moment, Melisandre does not appear to believe in herself and her power. She touches Jon hesitantly as she cleanses his body. When that doesn’t work, she is resigned to the fact that she is not meant to be a representative of the Lord of Light.
In the end, it is the simple plea, “Please,” that seems to do the trick. Only once everyone had left the room and gave up on the attempt, including Melisandre, did Ghost stir. When the direwolf awoke and looked up at its dead master, Jon Snow drew in his first breath as a resurrected man. What is dead may never die.
Will Jon still have to follow his Night’s Watch vows, which state that his watch ends upon death? In the past, these vows have prevented him from marching on Winterfell (as Melisandre prophesies); his death may be a way for the principled Jon Snow to be honorably discharged from the Night’s Watch just in time for Sansa to join him in a quest to reclaim the Stark house.
The reply to the ironborn’s motto, “What is dead may never die,” is the refrain, “But rises again, harder and stronger.” Will this be true of Jon Snow? Who will he be in his reanimated form? Back in Season 3, Beric Dondarrion told Arya that one of the side effects of being brought back to life is that each time he loses memories and pieces of himself. What will Jon have lost?
In Season 5, Jon sought Maester Aemon’s advice before he passed away. At that time, the old man said, “You will find little joy in your command. But, with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy and let the man be born.” Perhaps the piece Jon will have lost when he was brought back to life is his remaining hesitation and youthfulness. Let the man be born.
Other Thoughts on “Home”:
- Is there any connection between the washing and cleansing of the body and hair that Melisandre did on Jon’s dead body and the kind of work the servants of the House of Black and White performed last season?
- What made the stable boy Wylis, who would become known simply as “Hodor,” change so drastically?
- For those of you who have been following some of the most popular fan theories of Jon Snow’s background, R+L=J is probably the most popular (and powerful) theory out there. With Lyanna Stark’s introduction this episode, we are likely about to find out just how close that theory is to reality. In fact, the Tower of Joy seems to make an appearance in the previews for next week, so we may have our answer soon enough.
- If you don’t know the theory, this video by Alt-Shift-X is the best explanation out there. If you would prefer to remain totally in the dark, I’d avoid this video, but obviously nothing is confirmed and therefore it cannot count as a true “spoiler.” The speculation around this theory has long been one of the most interesting and vigorous discussions among the book-reading crowd. Now, viewers can join in spoiler-free.
- Many dismissed Bran’s belief in the mystical creatures and magic of Westeros as childish fancy. No one, including Maester Luwin, believed him when he said that he dreamed of inhabiting his direwolf, Summer. Ever since Season 1, Bran has been having visions of the future (“My dreams are different, mine are true. I dreamt of my father dying, and Rickon had the same dream.”) As it turns out, he is not only a warg (able to inhabit other creatures and people), but is also a greenseer (someone with the ability to have prophetic dreams). I have two thoughts on this. One, does Rickon (and potentially Sansa, Arya, or Jon Snow) have the same powers, as Bran alludes to in that clip from Season 1? Two, could this mean that Tyrion, who also had similarly-discredited childhood dreams about mythological creatures, has some deeper connection to dragons?
- In the flashback at Winterfell, Ned tells Benjen, “Get your shield up, or I’ll ring your head like a bell,” then musses his hair. This exact phrase (and hair mussing-up) was said by Jon Snow to Olly last season– likely because he heard Ned say this to him growing up. A nice little callback.
- “I drink and I know things” should be Tyrion’s house motto.