“My watch has ended.” A fully resurrected Jon Snow leaves his past life behind him at the end of this episode, after punishing those who betrayed him and, apparently, finishing his business with the Night’s Watch. He hands over captain’s duties — and the official Night’s Watch fur coat of swagger — to Edd, then walks away from Castle Black toward parts unknown.
It’s a moment that seems like the most obvious inspiration for this excellent episode’s name, “Oathbreaker,” but is hardly the only scene that depicts a vow or expectation being ruptured.
When Daenerys enters the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, she is told by the widow of Khal Sovo that she violated an unspoken contract by not immediately joining them following Khal Drogo’s death; it’s a broken oath that could put her in potential jeopardy. When Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven warg their way into another key moment from Ned Stark’s past, Bran realizes his father lied to him about his epic battle with Ser Arthur Dayne. Ned didn’t single-handedly beat the skilled swordsman as he often told his son — yet another case of an understanding shattered by new information. Even poor Gilly realizes that Samwell hasn’t been entirely honest with her about their trek to Horn Hill, though she ultimately responds to his white lie by expressing faith in him. After he says he’d feel better if she threw something at him, she says, “I’d never do that. Not to the father of my son.” It’s the most touching moment in the episode … until seasick Sam vomits all over the place.
Throughout “Oathbreaker,” characters are forced to question what they see and hear. It’s as if the whole episode is whispering, “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Or maybe that whisper is directed at the viewers: “You know nothing about Jon Snow, but we’re so close to telling you more.”
That Bran flashback, as Nate Jones notes, also contains a reference to the Tower of Joy, a place of note to those who have read George R.R. Martin’s books and buy into the fan theory that some crucial details about Jon’s lineage may be revealed there. When Bran awakens and begs the Raven, “Take me back there! I want to go back!” it feels like he’s speaking on behalf of every Game of Thrones fan that’s been waiting to enter that tower, too. It’s a maddening, deftly executed tease.
The other pressing thing we don’t know about Jon Snow: Has his resurrection fundamentally changed him? Is it possible that something within him shifted during his journey from corpse to living thing? This episode explicitly raises the possibility in its opening moments.
“You were dead. Now you’re not,” says Davos, whose jaw is presumably still lying on the dusty hardwood floor where he dropped it after seeing Jon again. “It’s complete fucking mad, it seems to me. I don’t know how it seems to you.”
“Your eyes are still brown. Is that still you in there?” Edd asks when he reunites with his friend.
“I don’t know how it seems to you.” “Is that still you in there?” The show invites us to express similar doubts but, at least initially, Jon’s behavior remains unchanged. He sounds the same. He looks the same. But then, in that closing moment, he does something one would not expect Jon Snow, our resurrected hero, our Jesus, our bastard with the good hair, to do: He bails on the Night’s Watch.
That decision suggests that, maybe, as some fans have surmised, Jon will go on a rampage of vengeance similar to the one involving Catelyn Stark/Lady Stoneheart in Martin’s books. At the very least, it would appear that Jon Snow has come back to life and hit the road just in time to miss his half-sister Sansa — and Ramsay Bolton, and his half-brother Rickon Stark — when they all show up at Castle Black.
Alright, show of hands: Who momentarily forgot that Rickon Stark — who was also resurrected in this episode, in a sense — even existed? Who heard blind Arya Stark run down her list of siblings and went, “Oh my God, poor Arya has not only lost her sight, she’s also inventing relatives she doesn’t even have?” And who, after the unveiling of Rickon and Osha by Smalljon Umber, immediately asked the same question Ramsay Bolton voiced a second later: “How do I know that’s Rickon Stark?” Seriously, how would we know? We haven’t seen this kid since season three.
However, the head of a direwolf and a quick rewinding of the DVR confirm that this is indeed Rickon Stark, which means that all the Stark siblings, minus Robb, are now back in the Thrones mix for the first time in quite a while. So far, season six has spent a lot of time going back to where the narrative began, revisiting and clarifying its origins. Bran’s warging flashbacks certainly serve that purpose. All of the weapon ballet that we see during Arya’s bouts with the Waif — echoing the young Jedi undertones in Bran’s relationship with the Three-Eyed Raven, who gives off real Yoda vibes in this episode — also feel like a full-circle culmination of the skills we’ve seen her display since she was a little girl in season one.
With the question of Jon Snow’s revival (mostly) answered, Games of Thrones feels more liberated this week. I complained about elements of last week’s episode, but I don’t have any major gripes about this one. No scene is wasted. The pacing is solid and each moment feels purposeful. Also, the fact that Ramsay Bolton has yet to do anything awful to Rickon is a relief.
Another plus: “Oathbreaker” laced with some great moments of levity. Tyrion’s desperate attempt to make conversation with Missandei and the Grey Worm — or at least kickstart a spirited round of Cards Against Humanity — exists essentially to allow Peter Dinklage to conduct a workshop on how to inject comic relief into a TV drama.
And Dame Diana Rigg’s return not only pits Olenna Tyrell against Cersei in a way that feels like it’s leading to something explosive, it also gives Riggs the opportunity to utter this delicious bit of dialogue: “Margaery is the queen. You are not the queen because you are not married to the king. I do appreciate that these things can get a bit confusing in your family.” It’s the kind of thing that another dame, the esteemed Maggie Smith, might say if her Dowager Countess from Downton Abbey wandered into an episode of Game of Thrones. I mean that as a high compliment.
This episode also made me ponder the following question: Does Game of Thrones believe in God? Early on, Melisandre asks Jon Snow where he went and what he saw after his death. Jon replies, “Nothing. There was nothing at all.” Which isn’t a ringing endorsement for the existence of an afterlife or any sort of higher power.
The show’s treatment of the High Sparrow is also deeply cynical about religion. “No one’s wiser than the gods,” he tells Tommen after the king repeatedly questions why Cersei needs to be punished any further. As portrayed with calm authority by Jonathan Pryce, the High Sparrow sounds almost reasonable, even as he justifies his own despicable, judgmental behavior by pointing to the heavens and saying, “The non-devils made me do it.”
And yet, the mere idea that Jon could be brought back to life by Melisandre’s magic suggests that Game of Thrones believes in something spiritual or mystical beyond this earthly plane. “They think you’re some kind of god, the man who returned from the dead,” Tormund Giantsbane tells Jon in what may be the most Jesus Christ–y comment ever uttered on this show. The question is: What kind of resurrected figure is Jon Snow? The kind who returns from the dead and tries to be a force for good? Or the kind who, having gone to the other side and realized there’s nothing there, uses his reclaimed oxygen to realize the words of that famous Bible verse from Ezekiel? You know, the one Samuel L. Jackson paraphrases in Pulp Fiction: “I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee.”
Hopefully, we’ll begin to find out next week.