Like the Season Six premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “Home” feels built around the ever pressing question of Jon Snow’s fate. In both episodes, there are some prior deaths of some lesser characters, scenes of Tyrion being witty and Lannister family time, but nothing matters quite as much as the status of the character we’ve been wondering about since the end of last season. Both episodes save their revelations for the concluding moments, ending on tags indicating what’s to come.
But this week’s ending is quite a bit more conclusive than the aged Melisandre, in spite of her suggestiveness: he lives! She’s initially skeptical of her own powers, as the incantations yield no immediate results. But Zombie Jon, it turns out, can’t awaken with eyes on him (or so it appears), and he takes his first breath of reanimated life once Davos, Melisandre, and Tormund give up hope for his reawakening (as, perhaps, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss want us to do, or so it’s seemed through the ostensibly definitive declarations of his death prior to his eyes opening once again).
So Melisandre can do quite a bit more than transform her appearance after all. But what will life be like for Jon in Westeros now that he can freely traverse it once again? He won’t have to fight Alliser any more, at least in the immediate future, as Tormund’s wildling army and intimidating giant ensure. The scene matches last week’s Brienne takedown of Ramsay’s men as the season’s most exciting and satisfying sequences, and it’s hard not to grin as Alliser is forced to back down, even prior to knowing of Jon’s fate. As good as Game of Thrones can be at revealing shades of grey in ostensibly irredeemable characters, the show is equally adept (if not more so) at making its villains as detestable as can be.
Speaking of detestable villains: Ramsay manages to get even worse this week, and perhaps in excess. While his murder of Roose is understandable and well established, feeding Walda and her newborn to dogs, and making us listen to their suffering, is at least a bit more sadism than is necessary or warranted. After five seasons of the show being criticized for its treatment of women, “Home” brings yet another scene validating the critiques, and one made all the more excessive by how much cruelty we’ve already seen from Ramsay. We already know that he’s brutal and callous, and his stone-cold face as Walda and her child audibly become kibble doesn’t develop his character.
On a more positive note, the episode’s other major death of a patriarch leads to the emergence of another potential major female character: Yara Greyjoy. Although a priest begs to differ, she’s convinced that her father has been murdered, and she intends to track down the Greyjoy brother responsible for throwing Balon from a bridge. Like all the women of Game of Thrones (and everywhere), though, she faces opposition from men who want to do whatever they can to keep her from power. If the Dorne coup in the premiere is a somewhat anti-climatic (and apologetic) way for Game of Thrones to make amends for its notorious “sexposition” and endless sexual violence, Yara’s claim to ruling the Ironborn is a more promising chance for the show to explore themes of women fighting back against the patriarchal powers restricting them.
Increasingly, though, the show’s most complex and fascinating woman is one who initially appears to be a cardboard villain in the manner of Ramsay: Cersei. As with the premiere, the most affecting moments of “Home” come from the dynamic between Jaime and Cersei, even if it’s only implied through their conversations with Tommen, who evinces a genuine (if youthful) desire to care for her.
His care, in conjunction with Jaime and Cersei’s reciprocation, brings Game of Thrones a warmth the show too often lacks at this stage in its existence. Benioff and Weiss have more than established that any terrible thing we can possibly imagine can (and will) happen in their universe, and a more surprising move at this juncture would be to have the Ramsays of Westeros not feed their mothers to dogs. But even if all hope is lost for Lord Bolton, characters like Yara (perhaps with the help of Theon, now that he’s leaving Sansa’s side) and Jon (perhaps emboldened by his new lease on life) suggest that there may be a glimmer of hope amidst the iron after all.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.