[WARNING – This article contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 3, as well as open discussion of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
With each passing episode of Game of Thrones season 6, the series ties together threads left dangling for readers since finishing A Dance With Dragons; the fifth and most recently published novel. Some threads are proving more significant than others, to be sure, but last night's episode, 'Oathbreaker' set characters on the paths we have long suspected them to take - if not in quite the way readers had always imagined.
For the first time this season, we check in with Sam and Gilly on their journey south. And instead of Gilly reaching Oldtown with Sam only to learn he's sending her to Horn Hill, as happens in the books, he's dropping her off on their way. The change is minor, and it gets Gilly where she was going anyway, but it will also delay Sam from reaching The Citadel - which I suspect is the point. Allow Sam and Gilly to partake in a little Tarly family drama, before launching Sam too far into his unpublished narrative. Arya, too, is catching up to where readers left off with her, advancing in her training and regaining her sight. Though, it's a shame Game of Thrones chose not to give viewers any suggestion of Arya's growing warg powers, which aid her while she's blind, but perhaps that's yet to come - seeing as her timeline in Braavos is just as warped as everyone else's, after all.
Daenerys, however, is fully in post-ADWD territory, but all she needs a strong moment in where she can impress the gathered Dothraki and she'll be right back where she was in season 1, only much better off. Drogon remains out there, somewhere, and it wouldn't be surprising if he made a timely appearance to rescue his mum during whatever trial awaits her. In Meereen, it feels like its characters are treading water, not wanting to advance too far, yet still remind audiences they're there, awaiting news of Dany's whereabouts. Jaime and Cersei are also in this predicament, not having any say in the ruling of King's Landing or any word that The Faith has chosen a champion to face Ser Gregor (dropping any pretense of him being "Ser Robert Strong" or anyone else).
Raid on the Tower of Joy
Without a doubt, finally learning what happened at the Tower of Joy from an impartial source has been one of the most anticipated moments of season 6 for book readers. So is anyone really surprised they'll be dragging this reveal out for as long as possible? Not at all, but what 'Oathbreaker' did show us was an interesting twist for Bran and audiences.
Obviously, there are differences between the fight depicted in the flashback and how Ned would later tell the story, omitting those details that would imply honor has no place in a fight to survive. But there were also differences in how Game of Thrones chose to depict the fight itself, like Ser Arthur Dayne not fighting with his family's greatsword, Dawn, and instead dual wielding two blades. It doesn't seem to have had much impact on the end result, and the dual wield fight choreography was impressive, so perhaps their reasoning for the change was to really highlight the Sword in the Morning's immense skill. And it does get the point across that Ned would have certainly died if not for Howland stabbing Dayne in the back.
Of course, once Dayne is dead there's no one stopping Ned from reaching his sister, Lyanna, who clearly sounds like a woman in labor. We and Bran, however, aren't as lucky as the Three-Eye Raven brings him back to the present. But not before he can call out to this father, seemingly stopping Ned on the stairs. There have been hints before in the novels that Bran could communicate through these visions, not just observe, but I don't recall any implication he could speak to the past. The Three-Eyed Raven states that the past cannot be changed, but Ned's pause on the stairs as if he'd heard Bran questions that assertion.
Still, like Bran, all we really want to know is what's in the Tower? Game of Thrones looks as if it'll take it's sweet time in revealing that, and it wouldn't be surprising if we don't revisit this moment for another episode or two. Regardless of how long it takes, it's hard to imagine it'll contain anything besides what fans have long theorized - Lyanna dying from complications due to her giving birth to boy who grows up to be Jon Snow.
Boys to Men
When HBO set out to adapt the A Song of Ice and Fire series they decided to age each of the child characters to make what was to come a little more feasible. This change affected Rickon, who when the books begin is age 3, and Tommen, age 7, most of all. On the show, both characters are now clearly no longer boys, but young men, and they each find themselves in alarming situations.
No where is this more apparent than with Tommen and his tentative rule over the Seven Kingdoms. Still harboring guilt over how useless he was when both his wife and mother were imprisoned by The Faith, Tommen seeks out the High Sparrow in hopes he can persuade him to forget his mother's trial. Tommen may be growing in confidence, but he's still terribly naive, allowing the High Sparrow to disarm all his bluster and calmly outline how The Faith and The Crown should work together. And it's hard not to see this scene as a big victory for the High Sparrow, because if he can win the king to his side, then what really separates The Faith and The Crown? The books don't really have this as an option, because again, Tommen is still very much a boy-king, but it does seem to imply The Faith's hold over King's Landing is only growing - a dangerous prospect for those in power.
As for Rickon's reintroduction, this isn't all too surprising since it was so blatantly teased in the preview for 'Oathbreaker', but also because these early episodes have been all about placing characters where we long expected them to arrive. Rickon hasn't been seen since season 3, where it was suggested Osha would take him to Last Hearth, the seat of House Umber. In the books, just where Osha and Rickon went was more ambiguous, but recently Ser Davos had learned they were seen on the island of Skagos and was heading there to retrieve them.
The show has chosen to do away with much of that in its continued effort to streamline George R.R. Martin's sprawling narrative, by having Osha and Rickon delivered as gifts to Ramsey by Smalljon Umber. His reasoning is he wants the Boltons to deal with the wildlings now residing south of The Wall, which honestly smacks of just another reason to force the Battle of the Bastards (as if Ramsey hadn't already made it clear he's gunning for Jon Snow). Still, it does bring Rickon back into the narrative in a big way. It's hard to say how Rickon comes back into play in the novels, but it's doubtful he'd be placed in as precarious a position as this. And the death of another direwolf? It's tragic. R.I.P Shaggydog. Unlike Tommen, poor Rickon may be only too aware of the danger he's in.
His Watch Has Ended
Fans have long suspected that if and when Jon would return from the dead, the very fact he had died would relieve him from his Night's Watch oath. And with Jon handing his cloak over to Dolores Edd after executing those responsible for his murder, last night's episode did basically that. Though, it still didn't really answer the question of what's next for Jon, leaving audiences with the sense that Jon has some serious soul searching ahead of him.
For her part, Melisandre is again convinced she has found her messiah, 'the prince that was promised', Azor Ahai. This has also been a long running theory, but after the little fanfare his resurrection received it's hard to be sure that's what his return really means. Davos, while binge generally dumfounded that Jon is again alive, doesn't seem to put any faith in him being some chosen one, but he seems sure Jon's a man that the world would do well to have in it a little longer.
For Jon, it's the first time in a long time that he makes a choice not out of duty or honor, but for himself. Walking away from the Night's Watch frees Jon to chart his own path - though again, the question remains over just what that will be. Having previously been denied the chance to aid Robb due to his oath, it's quite possible he'd seek to right the wrongs done to his family. In the immediate future it's likely he'll again take up residence with the wildlings, and if that's the case, he's sure to become aware of the growing tension between them and the Northern lords.
Game of Thrones is certainly making it seem inevitable that this season's endgame will be Ramsey versus Jon, bringing the spheres they inhabit closer and closer. The outcome of the clash between the two is even all the more significant given recent events, like Roose's death and Jon's "rebirth", but just how and when it reaches that point remains a mystery.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘Book of the Stranger’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: