Game of Thrones Recap - Season 6 Episode 3: Oathbreaker
This is a recap, so there are spoilers all over the place. Beware!
There’s no dancing about it, folks. “Oathbreaker” isn’t a particularly strong follow up coming off of last week’s shocking twist and turns. Nothing could be. Yet, even setting aside that “Home” is a tough episode to follow, this week’s outing felt languid. No amount of returning faces, impressive sword fights, or politicking can make up for an episode with no thematic core. “Oathbreaker” lacks heart. It wanders from beat to beat with little joy. And the viewer pays the price.
The show has the good sense to drop us right back at Castle Black, with the newly alive Jon Snow. Ser Davos looks at him with shock. Jon’s eyes dart about the room. He doesn’t understand what has happened. Neither of the two men understand. As Jon stumbles about, Davos helps him stand. Melisandre looks on with amazement. What did Jon see after he died? Where did he go? What was there after death? “Nothing. There was nothing at all.”
We are watching the aftermath of a miracle. A man brought back to life by the intercessions of a god. And yet, for the recently dead, there was no god at all. The experience has changed Jon, that much is clear. No god and no good deeds that were rewarded. “I did what I thought was right and I got murdered for it...” Good men don’t last long in Westeros and yet, Jon Snow lives. And as he walks out before the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch, the scene is filled with awe. Like Dany walking out of fire, Jon has walked out of death’s cold grip. A god among men.
What follows feels out of place: Sam and Gilly at sea. Sam has a lot of heart and Gilly’s showing a wonderful surplus of confidence, but I’m not really sure about returning to these characters. It’s been a long time since Craster’s Keep. Longer still since Sam killed a White Walker. These characters felt out of the game and it’s really hard to see where they fit back in. I’m already giving the show a the benefit of the doubt when it comes to Arya’s and Bran’s roles in the big scheme of things. I’m not really inclined to give it to Sam. The result? A scene that lead nowhere, accomplished very little outside of moving a few new pieces on the board, and left me scratching my head.
In contrast, it’s very clear what the show is doing with Bran’s storyline. His latest dream brings us to a secluded tower. Ned Stark and Howland Reed march on it with a handful of men before encountering Ser Arthur Dayne. Why did the skilled swordsman not protect his liege? Well, he had to protect something else. For long time fans, we are getting closer and closer to a large reveal: what exactly happened to Lyanna Stark?
We don’t get answers yet, but we do get one hell of a sword fight. Ser Dayne is equally graceful and furious. We haven’t seen choreography like this since Oberyn’s ill fated duel against the Mountain. It might lack the harshness of other battles but that’s exactly what paints Ser Dayne as the best swordsman in the land. He fights like he’s from a different show. He dies like he’s on Game of Thrones though: stabbed in the back by Howland Reed. This episode is about how legends are made and how reality is much crueler than stories.
This entire section seems highly aware of itself, at least in the sense that it is winking at the audience. Most people think Lyanna is Jon’s mother. We’re pushing towards what seems to be confirmation. Many people thought that Bran might replace the Three Eyed Raven but the show refutes that. “You won’t be here forever. You won’t be an old man in a tree.” A stressing of last week’s point: Bran isn’t going to become Tree Dude. If anything else, I enjoy how much this season is talking to the audience and encouraging water cooler discussion. This segment did a lot of that. Props for some killer action as well.
It’s too bad that we’re caught up with a string of dulls scenes after this. Dany’s arrival in Vaes Dothrak is all too short. There’s a lot to potentially play with here; placing Dany into a space where her titles mean nothing gives the show a big chance to have the Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragon’s reflect on how limited she actually is, but Dany doesn’t seem to get it yet. I hope the show will take the chance to show a more vulnerable Daenerys soon. I’m certainly not here to see more Dothraki culture.
Watching Varys weave his web and interrogate using more positive methods was highly watchable but the process felt padded. Similarly, attempts at humor between Grey Worm, Tyrion, and Missandei fell completely flat. In fact, I’m at a loss for what to say. I can’t think of the last time that Tyrion was onscreen and I wanted the scene to end. This may have been a first.
King’s Landing also seemed to lack focus. While our brief time with Maester Qyburn gave us explicit confirmation of Ser Strong’s true identity as a reanimated Gregor Clegane, it didn’t do much more. Cersei and Jamie force their way into a small council meeting, granting us some time with Olenna Tyrell (and I never pass up a chance to watch Diana Rigg’s performance), it didn’t lead to much. Tommen meeting with the High Sparrow was just another chance to show how screwed this kid is. Everyone’s playing him like a damn fiddle. There’s the promise of a formal trial against Cersei and a possible trial by combat with Ser Clegane and an unknown representative of the Faith Militant but otherwise, our time in King Landing felt wasted.
Enter Arya Stark. Thank you, Arya. I know your story is isolated but at least it has a sense of mystery and suspense. Things feel dangerous. Whenever we are dealing with the Faceless Men, it feels like we are getting a look into a world that we don’t belong in. Arya seems to be taking to it well though. She is learning to lie and fight. She is slowly locking away her old self. There’s plenty of talk about her past. Pay attention to that mention of The Hound, gang. That’s not there for show, I think. Special shoutouts to the mentions of her brothers. How many does she have? Four. WHACK! Three. I see what you did there, Game of Thrones.
Speaking of sight, Arya’s not blind anymore and I don’t know how I feel about that. I was expecting a lot more time with her impairment. Possibly some warging into other animals in order to see. But the show fixes her issue remarkably fast. It’s a wasted opportunity. At the very least, though, we end with a strong beat. “Who are you?” “No one.”
Ramsay’s dealing with the Umbers and the Karstarks to build his army to go and kill Jon. It’s another piece-moving scene but there is a bit of a twist. Rickon and Osha have been captured. It’s a bit sudden and execution is clumsy, but it helps raise the stakes a little. I doubt we will have to endure Rickon’s mistreatment at Ramsay’s hands half as much as we saw Sansa’s abuse, but insofar as remixing scenarios goes, it brings Rickon back into the show in a way that isn’t completely nonsensical.
For all that meandering, “Oathbreaker” ends strong when dealing with the traitors at Castle Black. Jon asking for everyone’s last words is a wonderful bit of dark fantasy writing and Ser Alliser acquits himself well, facing his death with dignity. Olly doesn’t do as well but then again, Olly’s a backstabbing twit so I’m not surprised. Jon has executed brothers for treason before. Janos Slynt learned that the hard way. With a cut of a rope, all the traitors hang to death. Shaken from his return to life and this matter dealt with, Jon turns over command of the Night’s Watch to Edd. Cut to credits.
Reviewing television is a tricky tightrope walk, I’m finding. It’s easy to fall into hype. Last week, my excitement at all the twists and turns stopped me from examining this season properly. I think there’s amazing potential. An untold world of possibility is before us and major revelations hang just around the corner. But this season doesn’t seem to know what it’s really about yet. Maybe I’m asking for too much too soon but “Oathbreaker” doesn’t give me a great deal of confidence. Better luck next week.