[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 6, episode 2 'Home.' There will be SPOILERS.]
Jon Snow has come back from the dead. That's not exactly a surprise for anyone who's been watching the series or, more likely, has been watching the Internet go into speculative meltdown since men of the Night's Watch loyal to Alliser Thorne stabbed their Lord Commander. Even before it had happened, though, Jon's resurrection was really more of an inevitability, a fixed point in the overarching narrative that had to happen once he'd fallen, given his significance has all but been assured by the deaths of anyone who could have ascended to a similar station. Those involved in the show, from David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to George R.R. Martin to Kit Harington himself, have engaged in the kind of deception normally reserved for politicians embroiled in international scandals, and thankfully, questions over Jon Snow's survival are over now; our watch has ended.
At this point, having Jon Snow back among the living elicits a warm sense of relief matching any outright exuberance at his return. You get the feeling the series, too, just wanted to reach a place where he could breathe once more, and in doing so give the audience something else to talk about, and the writers something new to avoid prematurely dropping spoilers for. As such, Jon's return plays out through a seemingly failed resurrection ceremony the dramatic weight of which is sustained by Melisandre's waning faith in her abilities and relationship to the Lord of Light. This helps give the moment an unexpectedly human angle, where someone who has performed miracles in the past comes up short in the precise moment she needed a big win. One by one those hoping to see a miracle are resigned to living in a world dragons and White Walkers exist, where giants can knock down doors to help quell a mutiny, but the bastard son of Ned Stark remains lifeless. The spiritual setback of such a steadfast true believer is a powerful agent in a series that doesn't lack for fanatics, and considering her role in Jon's resurrection – whether she actually played one or not – there stands a good chance Melisandre may wind up with as compelling a storyline as the now-resurrected Lord Commander.
That is maybe the biggest upside to all of this: Jon and even Melisandre might come away from his death and subsequent resurrection changed and set upon a new, more determined path. With Ramsay Bolton gunning for Jon, as he is everyone who poses a threat to his being Warden of the North, there might be precious little time for anyone to properly marvel at the sight of the boy who lived. Whatever Jon's fate now that he's definitely a part of the ongoing story in what will be ground zero of the long-teased winter and the march of the White Walkers, hopefully it won't take the series long to get there.
But since the return of Jon Snow was the one thing everyone saw coming, it's no small feat that 'Home' actually turns into a lively hour of television that moves the season forward more convincingly than last week's standard table-setting premiere. There are two key deaths of prominent rulers during the hour. One is the little-seen Balon Greyjoy, who falls victim to his never-before-seen brother Euron (Pilou Asbæk) while making an ill-fated trek from one tower of his rainy kingdom to another. The scene is fitting for its depiction of power being usurped by family. It's a common theme throughout the hour, and one that might have given Ellaria's assassination of Doran from last week's premiere episode more power had it been included here. (Then again, it's hard to imagine anything helping the Dorne storyline much.) But Balon's death was also remarkable for the striking way in which Pyke was rendered. Seeing as how the Iron Islands have made precious few appearances throughout the first five seasons, this glimpse – both during and after the storm – makes it a far more visually interesting locale than previously thought. With any luck, the question of who will be Balon's successor will afford Pyke a new life late in the series.
Because he's only been seen a handful of times, and has been depicted as little more than a miserable old man, Balon's death felt more or less like a formality; a means to an uncertain end in the larger Game of Thrones story that is still unfolding (provided Yara, Euron, and Theon's threads will have some bearing on more than just the future of the Iron Islands). That means the death of Roose Bolton gives the hour its edge. Roose may have been a proud flayer of men, but he was crafty and patient. Driven to do more than murder his way to power, Roose was a willing and, by all accounts, skilled player in the game of thrones, and his death at the hand of the son he legitimized leaves the show without a complex player whose loyalties and actions could seemingly go a million different directions. As much of a substitute for Joffrey and his psychotic whims Ramsay has become, his ascent to power in Winterfell leaves a major portion of the show in the hands of a gruesome, but probably less compelling villain whose course of action will be about as predictable as Jon's resurrection.
It wasn't all death and resurrection working to make 'Home' such an eventful episode, though. After spending last week addressing the impact Myrcella's death had on Cersie, the remaining Lannisters in King's Landing come to realize the common enemy they have in the High Sparrow and his religious followers. Thommen may have finally sought the council of his mother and acknowledged his failings as a king, but the thread belongs to two men essentially back from the dead. After a long interval, Jaime is finally back in full Kingslayer mode, while the reborn FrankenMountain makes it clear he is a force to be reckoned with by dealing with a public urinator (and boastful drunk) in swift, brutal fashion.
If nothing else, the time in King's Landing hints at the conflict to come, but a very localized one between groups too concerned with themselves to be bothered with what's going on in the Seven Kingdoms. The isolation of King's Landing suggests a shift away from institutionalized authority – the throne or the church – as Bran's visions of the past and Tyrion's making nice with Dany's two dragons implies the forces that will save the world are aligning themselves far beyond traditional seats of power. Like Jon's flight from death's icy grip, there's more to the story than what appears onscreen at Castle Black, Meereen, or even the root system of giant weirwood trees. The Lannisters can have their battle with the Faith Militant, Ramsay can have Winterfell, and Euron can take the Iron Islands. These places and their infighting, their desperate grabs for power will soon prove to be insignificant compared to what's coming from beyond the Wall.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with 'Oathbreaker' @10pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Helen Sloan/HBO