The thing I love about Davos is his practicality.
For us modern westerners, belief in God (or the Gods) requires a leap of faith, so we tend to treat the question of God’s existence and of God’s moral righteousness as one and the same. But in Westeros, the Lord of Light, at least, has rather dramatically demonstrated his existence multiple times over, removing that question from contention. So when Davos asked Melisandre to try and resurrect Jon Snow last week, he wasn’t converting — he was just proposing an alliance of convenience with one more player on the field.
And the gambit worked. So now Davos is treating Jon’s return as if Alastair Thorne and company had merely bopped the Lord Commander on the head and left him unconscious for a few days. Because, really, what would’ve been the difference? “Okay, so your attempt at social reform last season encountered a few bumps, and actually ended quite badly. So what? That’s life. And you’re still alive, Jon Snow, remarkable as that may be — so get out there and try again.”
Ultimately, Davos’ practicality emerges from an entirely self-contained moral code, which doesn’t waver in the face of power, circumstance or even divine will: Do as much as you can, as long as you can, to make the world better. He’s Game of Thrones’ moral compass, and thank goodness for it.
Speaking of moral codes, seeing people you revere fail to live up to them is one aspect of growing up. That’s what Bran Stark experienced last night, when in another one of his trips into the past he discovered that his father didn’t best Ser Arthur Dayne in that legendary fight — he won because his friend Howland Reed stabbed Dayne in the back. This is a big no-no in Westerosi culture, and you can see the event bring Ned Stark down to earth a bit in his son’s eyes. At the same time, Ned walked into that fight knowing his only chance of surviving was superiority of numbers. And yet he kept going even when all his friends had been cut down. Ned Stark may not have been shiningly unreproachable, but as we all know from the first season, he certainly didn’t lack for stoic courage.
I think we can all guess Leanna Stark is up in that tower Dayne was guarding. Which suggests a lot of theories about Jon’s parentage are going to (finally) get their day in court this season. But the big reveal last night was the possibility that Bran might actually be able to communicate with his father across whatever space-time rift separates them. Changing the past may not be an option — “the ink is already dry,” as the Three-Eyed Raven said. But what is there that’s already been written that Bran himself might have actually had a hand in influencing, even if he doesn’t know it yet?
Unfortunately, that was also one of the more interesting nuggets in an episode that was a bit of a bore, especially after last week’s surge of deaths and other happenings. Cersei made a move last night, with Jaime at her side, to reassert control over the Small Council. Which is probably the second or third (Or fourth?) time she’s done that. Then we saw Sam and Gilly again, in a scene that was a touching reiteration of their devotion. But otherwise, it was just there to remind viewers these two characters still exist. Meanwhile, we got yet another sequence of Ari-in-training, where she finally seemed to get the hang of fighting without the use of eyes, only to have her sight returned to her in the end. And there was another round of banter between King Tommen and the High Sparrow, as the former tried to assert his kingly prerogatives and the latter once more talked circles around him.
In short, this latest episode involved a lot of repetition. I suspect a big reason is George R.R. Martin got his books and thus the show bogged in circles for the second act of the whole grand story arc. So now David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have to return to several ongoing themes to clean up loose ends, and get the whole unwieldy beast of countless subplots moving again towards some kind of resolution.
As I mentioned previously, there’s a certain satisfying cyclical dynamic bubbling to the surface here: Children retreading the same paths as their parents, as one war ends, the peace begins to fray, and the various players rearrange themselves for a what increasingly looks like a second massive conflict.
Did it seem that, for the first time, Tommen had actually rattled the High Sparrow a bit?
Another first-that-is-also-a-return-to-the-beginning we saw last night was Daenerys cut down to size by someone who isn’t a crude misogynist like Khal Moro. The Dosh Khaleen — the widows of other dead khals — have seen it all, including young Khaleesis with a very big and very black-and-white moral visions of the world. Their leader has the standing no other character has had to tell Daenerys she’s not such hot stuff. So while this was an in-between scene for yet another subplot that badly needs to hold onto its forward momentum, it also reinforced the idea that Daenerys will be forced to rediscover her own interior resources this season — which will hopefully be the final step before her return to Westeros. But first she’s to be judged for taking off after Khal Drogo’s death and not joining to the Dosh Khaleen then and there.
In other news, we discovered just what Varys has always meant by his “little birds.” They’re actually children tasked with going out and discovering information in exchange for sweets, and now Maester Qyburn is apparently mimicking the practice to help Cersei. We learned that, in defiance of all we’ve seen, Tyrion Lannister actually is capable of remarkably awkward and aimless conversation, which Missandei and Grey Worm were saved from only by Varys’ news that the rebel Sons of the Harpy are being funded by the other slave cities. Seeing him threaten the prostitute with execution if she didn’t start talking was also a needed reminder that Varys is quite capable of ruthlessness when the situation calls for it.
Finally, we discovered that the youngest Stark child, Rickon — plus Tonks, err, I mean, Osha the wildling woman — is apparently alive and well. But also captured and offered as a gift to Ramsey to secure alliances in the North. Which doesn’t bode well, given Ramsey’s penchant for flaying and other sundry pursuits. Doubly so given that Rickon’s dire wolf was killed, which is usually a sure sign of impending death for the Stark children. Eek.
Which brings us back to Jon Snow himself.
How does one psychologically recover from resurrection? Especially when asked by a tried-and-true religious believer what you saw, and the only response you have is “nothing?” In this case, the first thing to do apparently is get back to the daily routine of being the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and executing a few traitors.
This subplot has actually done a subtle service to Alastair Thorne, who defended his decision to kill Jon with eloquence, both last week and last night. He made a call based on what he thought was right, and was willing to take his lumps for it. Ollie, by contrast, was motivated by pure emotional rage and the desire for vengeance, making his inclusion in the mix of those to be executed more painful, on top of his youth.
For a second there, it looked like Jon might not actually go through with it. He already told Davos he felt his attempt to bring the wildlings through the wall was a failure. Which is a crazy thing to say: He saved thousands of lives. But he couldn’t convince Thorne and company of the rightness of the plan. Now Jon seems to hold their betrayal and subsequent deaths as yet another indictment of his own inadequacy. Which is, of course, yet more proof of Jon’s innate decency.
But he went through with it. Westerosi tradition will have its way. This was the the second time he’s had to take a life as an act of judgment. The first instance was a grim but moving example of Jon taking up his father’s responsibilities and burdens. But this time just felt like a fracture — a final degradation that ended Jon’s idea of what he’s stood for up until now.
So it was surprising but organic to see him relinquish command of the Night’s Watch and turn it over to Ed. Technically, this isn’t supposed to be possible — you’re in the Night’s Watch for life. But Jon did in fact die, and they always say “now his watch is ended” at the funerals.
So I guess the title of last night’s episode — “Oathbreaker” — is a case of ironic misapplication?