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Smart Characters Doing Interesting Things

If season 6 of Game of Thrones had followed the pattern set by its predecessors, “Home” would have been the premiere and “The Red Woman” would have been the season 5 finale. There are a number of reasons that the show runners decided to end season 5 with “Mother’s Mercy,” but the only one that really matters is that they wanted to leave the audience with the image of Jon Snow’s temporarily lifeless body for ten months. Thus, “The Red Woman,” which did the work that Game of Thrones finales usually do, was relegated to the season 6 premiere, which left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Luckily, “Home” is a glorious return to form, setting up another season’s worth of action while finishing the work of closing out the storylines that “The Red Woman” merely kicked a few yards down the road.

I’ll get the big one out of the way first. The death and resurrection of Jon Snow is one of the worst plots that this show has ever done, and now it is mercifully over. The singular good scene to come out of the storyline was the reintroduction of the Wildlings to Castle Black and the subsequent imprisonment of the traitorous Brothers (including that smug little shit Olly); otherwise, we get Davos acting completely out of character to convince Melisandre to try bringing Jon back and then the awful actual resurrection scene in which the show runners squeeze every last ounce of frustration out of the audience. Each shot of Jon’s lifeless body leading up to his eyes opening is a giant mouthful of spit in the audience’s face. Kit Harington’s inter-season lies to the media about how his character is actually dead, for real guys, were insulting to our collective intelligence. I could go on for the rest of my review about how much this plot line angered me, but suffice it to say that Jon Snow has always been the weakest of the main characters, Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke compete weekly for the honor of being the worst actor in the recurring cast, and spending so much time and energy hinting that he might be dead was as rude as it was pointless. But now we can finally get on with the fucking show.

Elsewhere, smart characters portrayed by good actors are doing interesting things. Cersei rattles the bars of her new, more gilded cage while beginning to bring her last remaining child back under her influence. Tommen seems like even easier prey than Joffre: while the elder “Baratheon’s” independent streak started a war and kept his mother’s will somewhat at bay, the younger’s conscience and humanity prevented him from antagonizing the newly resurrected Faith Militant while making him weak to Cersei withholding her affection. By simply not looking at her son until he breaks, Cersei is able to manipulate King Tommen into the exact position she wants. Joffre might have been a moody and sadistic leader, but at least he more or less kept his mother from ruling directly through him.

The highlight of the episode is Tyrion unchaining the two remaining dragons. Now that Tywin Lannister and Roose Bolton are dead (and Littlefinger is conspicuously absent), Tyrion, Cersei, and Davos are the smartest people around, and their actions often fall in line with what frustrated fans yell at their televisions weekly. And while Davos convincing Melisandre to resurrect Jon was out of character (he seems to have conveniently forgotten that she burned Shireen alive), Tyrion realizing that the dragons are his and Daenerys’s biggest asset is exactly in keeping with his character. His lifelong obsession with and visible wonder at the beasts simply adds to the feeling of triumph when he unclasps their collars. Martin has always given Tyrion the cleverest lines and most accurate insights into the world around him, and now that the dwarf has traveled the long distance between the two disparate plot lines, he is rewarded with the ultimate fantasy prize: the loyalty of dragons. Whereas Danaerys, like every Targaryan before her, feels entitled to all she possesses, including those mythical beasts, Tyrion truly respects and appreciates them for the magical super weapons that they are.

Though Danaerys is pleasantly absent from this episode, the resurrection of Jon Snow raises once again one of Game of Thrones’ main themes, the subversion of fantasy tropes, which both Dany and Jon embody perfectly. These two petulant children are, in a grand sense, the heroes of the story, the exiled queen and bastard prince who will ultimately lead the armies of men against the icy forces of evil. Yet they are depicted as annoying assholes who act out of arrogance more than loyalty and are duly punished for it. Part of the fun of Game of Thrones is watching these historical figures, about whom songs will be sung for a hundred generations, bumble their way through life, making mistakes that their smarter advisors and bodyguards must thanklessly rectify. Part of the problem with the show is that these characters are portrayed by bad actors and most of their actions are frustrating, which makes rooting for them in the long run somewhat challenging. It’s much more fun to focus on Tyrion and Davos, the men behind the thrones, not only because they are played by a higher caliber of performer but because they make the truly heroic decisions for which Dany and Jon will ultimately get credit.

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I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the deaths of Roose Bolton and Balon Greyjoy. Greyjoy’s death occurs much earlier in the books, so it was a foregone conclusion, though it being murder by Euron Greyjoy as his first step in gaining dominion over the Iron Islands certainly makes clear the stakes of the coming Kingsmoot. Similarly, Ramsay’s impulsive murder of Roose and his wife and newborn baby kicks the plot in the North into overdrive, giving the remaining Starks a real opening for retaking Winterfell for the first time since it fell to Theon. With an army of Wildlings at his command and a legitimate Stark heir in the form of Sansa, the newly resurrected Jon Snow is poised to rejoin the bonds of Northern loyalty that the War of the Five Kings fractured so many seasons ago. While Danaerys seems further away from Westeros than ever, at least one half of the eventual Targaryan union seems on the brink of consolidating power in the lead up to the final battle.

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