Features and Columns · TV

Game of Thrones Explained: Everybody Gets a Big Plot Twist

By  · Published on May 2nd, 2016

Unless you’re an innocent mother and child, that is.

The night is dark and full of, well, spoilers. That’s something that anyone not watching along with last night’s Game of Thrones episode, titled “Home,” experienced first hand if they were on social media. It was an episode that delivered a number of huge moments, fulfilling the prophecy foretold by the show’s creators before the season: every episode of season six has a big moment.

In the past five seasons, Game of Thrones has always been about early season build-up to a series of big finishing moments. Now, as it plows through the barrier that marks the end of George R.R. Martin’s books (as they stand currently), the show has put its foot down on the gas pedal. For better or worse, here we go at 100-mph toward the end.

To its credit ‐ and the credit of its writer Dave Hill, the staffer whose claim to fame so far is creating the show-invented character Olly ‐ “Home” is more than the sum of its shocking parts. It’s filled with solid character moments (Tyrion’s was a lot of nervous fun) and it moves the greater story forward in commanding fashion. The only worry is that perhaps the show’s latter seasons mantra, “Efficiency is Coming,” is becoming a problem. Is the story moving so fast that some of these big moments are starting to feel unearned? Such was the problem with season five’s storyline in Dorne. It was too fast, too loose, and in season six, it was cleaned up with such efficiency that audiences could smell the shame that was all over that script.

We’re two episodes into season six, so it’s far too early to judge whether the show is trying to do too much, too soon. What we know is that a lot is happening, and they weren’t kidding about ramping up the big moments. Are there bigger, more impressive moments to come? Maybe. For now, let’s talk about what happened in this episode after our requisite spoiler warning. Below, you will find spoilers through episode two of season 6, plus some book reader knowledge to fill in the gaps (and maybe a little reckless speculation).

Why is Aunt Lyanna important?

“Home” opens with the most literal interpretation of its title: Bran Stark, a few months older and at least 3-feet taller, returns home via Treevision to Winterfell. It’s a scene that sets up Bran’s new powers thanks to his internship with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). By warging into the Weirwood trees, the oldest known living things in all of Westeros, he can commune with the stream of consciousness that binds time and space. In the books, this means he can see events forward in time, backward in time, and pretty much anywhere in the world. For show continuity, we begin by looking back to when Ned Stark was teaching his younger brother Benjen to fight. We also meet Lyanna Stark, the oft talked about Stark sister whose kidnapping was the inciting event of Robert Baratheon’s rebellion.

Why is Lyanna Stark important? Because everyone believes that she’s Jon Snow’s mother. It’s the heart of the great R+L=J fan theory. It’s believed that at the end of the rebellion, Ned Stark went to a place called The Tower of Joy to rescue his sister, only to find her on her deathbed. It’s also believed that she had given birth to Jon Snow, the child of her affair with Rhaegar Targaryen. She gives the baby to Ned and forces him to promise that he’ll keep the baby safe, thus forcing him to return to Winterfell and claim Jon as his own bastard. That’s how the theory goes, at least. It’s a strong one that’s only reinforced by the fact that we see a young Ned Stark squaring off with Targaryen soldiers in a scene from the “Next Week on…” preview. When he says, “Now it ends,” he’s talking about years of speculation from book readers on Jon Snow’s parentage. It’s the end of an era, really.

The Lyanna sighting is brief, but important. And almost completely overshadowed by the vision of young Hodor, then named Wyllis, before he became his large, simple-minded self. The big revelation is that Wyllis wasn’t always simple-minded. You have to wonder if we’re ever going to see what happened to make him the Hodor that he currently Hodors. Whether or not this is something important ‐ as it’s ultimately a show invention ‐ it’s a fun aside.

Another interesting aside to the Bran storyline: the conversation between Meera Reed and the Child of the Forest outside the cave. “Bran won’t stay here forever,” she assures Meera. If we’re going to go road tripping again north of The Wall, perhaps Bran and company need a guide. Maybe one with cold hands. Book readers, you know.

How is Tyrion so good with Dragons?

The episode’s simultaneously nervous and fun moment came when a mostly Tyrion decided that unchaining Daenerys’ remaining two dragons would be a good idea. Things aren’t going well for him in Meereen, so this does make sense as one of those drunk and desperate decisions any human is capable of making. Only in the real world, this usually ends with screaming at the window of your ex-girlfriend in the middle of the night, not almost getting charred and eaten by massive CGI dragons.

This is a nice way for the show to further explore Tyrion’s love of dragons, something it’s hinted at, but never really explored. As a child, Tyrion would often dream of dragons. As an adult, he consumed every available text on the subject of dragons. He’s a real dragon fanboy. And like most nerds, it had a lot to do with wanting to avoid his family. Can you blame him?

There’s a great theory out there that rings true for a lot of book readers: that Tyrion is a Secret Targaryen. Between he, Jon, and Daenerys, it’s the wish-fulfillment of fans and the “Dragons Has Three Heads” prophecy from the books. This one is a little out there, but considering the fact that the earlier season trailers has us believing that Tyrion might get doused in dragon fire, it wouldn’t have been too surprising to see this all come to light in this episode.

Instead, Tyrion did a really great stepdad routine (“I’m friends with your mother.”) and avoided being dragon food. Whether this means that he’s secretly got some blood of the dragon coursing through his veins or it’s a testament to his powers of negotiation remains to be seen. Either way, let your dragons be free!

Winterfell Horror Story, under the cover of Jon Snow

Now that we know about Jon Snow’s fate (something we’ll talk about shortly), we can logic the story out to the point where we may see some kind of confrontation between Jon and Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay is thinking about marching to Castle Black, after all. This Battle of the Bastards could a major conflict, but at the moment the two are complimenting each other quite well.

In an episode that will be remembered as “The one where Jon Snow comes back from the dead,” Ramsay Bolton did some thinkpiece-inspiringly horrible stuff. On top of patricide, he murdered an innocent woman and her newborn baby in the most horrifying way possible. This, to me, is worse than anything he’s done previously. What he did to Theon was bad, but Theon also had some sort of reckoning coming for his actions at Winterfell. What he did to Sansa was unforgivable, but Sansa was also an active participant in her own story. Did she deserve what she got? Absolutely not. But did she decide to go along with Littlefinger’s plan, even after he gave her an opportunity to get out? Yes. Sansa’s story is about trying to play the game and making the fatal mistake (on both her part and Littlefingers) or underestimating the Boltons.

Lady Walda is a different story altogether. She was sold off by her father Walder Frey like a piece of meat, then used by Roose Bolton as a pawn to further “motivate” his bastard son Ramsay with the threat of her having a son, only to be fed to the dogs while holding her newborn son. This is a new low for both the show and Ramsay Bolton, but they cleverly hid it inside an episode that ends with fans uplifted by Jon Snow’s resurrection. What I’m saying is that if you’re going to be mad and offended by this show’s constant abuse of women and children, let’s not gloss over the tale of Lady Walda.

The other thing at play in this sequence is Ramsay killing Roose, which plays simultaneously in two ways. It feels like a crime of passion in the moment, but based on the lack of reaction from Lord Karstark behind Ramsay, there had to be a little heads up. Ramsay learned a lot from his father, including the fact that you need to seize power when it’s available. The one thing he may have overlooked: Roose was a calculator. He didn’t plan The Red Wedding on a whim. He played the long game, he followed Robb Stark into battle, then betrayed him at the single most opportune moment. Will Ramsay’s hastiness come back to haunt him? We can only hope.

Who just killed Balon Greyjoy?

First, let’s welcome back Balon Greyjoy. The father of Theon and Yara, the ruler of the Iron Islands, and as he states in this episode, the lone survivor of the War of the Five Kings. And he’s the name attached to the final leech that Melisandre and Stannis tossed into the fire all the way back in season… 2?

It’s no wonder that his death is followed by Melisandre’s big magical moment. Those leeches were important.

Bringing Balon back into the fold reintroduces us to the Iron Islands, where they still sort of salty over not conquering The North. While the youth movement (Yara) appears to want to dream big and promote peace, the establishment (ole’ Balon) wants to go back to war. A few minutes and one bad walk across a rope bridge later and we’re election. We’re talking Kingsmoot!

For those new to the Iron Islands Electoral Process, the Kingsmoot is a gathering of the longship captains of the Iron Islands to choose a leader. They are held on Nagga’s Hill on Old Wyke, one of islands near Pyke, the center of power in the Iron Islands. Any ship captain may be nominated, as among the iron born “every captain is a king on his own ship.” The captains then begin shouting names and once a single is being shouted by the vast majority of captains, a new leader is selected. It’s probably the most democratic process in all the lands of Game of Thrones. And as we find out in this episode, they‘ve never selected a woman to lead them. That does not bode well for Theon’s sister.

The other thing that doesn’t bode well for Yara: the other guy on the rope bridge, the one Balon called brother. The show wasn’t very explicit about it, but that’s Euron Greyjoy, as played by the handsome, swarthy Danish actor Pilou Asbæk. The show gives Asbæk a lot of room for theatrics, as is the nature of Euron, but it’s not quite as impactful as say, Oberyn Martell’s introduction. I expect that somewhere along the line we’ll get a conversation between two Ironborn espousing all rumors about the dangerous pirate known as Euron Crow’s Eye. In the books, he’s an Oberyn-level disruptor. His presence in the show infers that he will do much of the same on-screen.

Welcome Back, Jon Snow

Here it is, the moment we’ve all be waiting for. And for a long time, really. George R.R. Martin’s book “A Dance of Dragons” was released on July 12, 2011. For 1,755 days, book readers have spent countless waking moments thinking about how Jon Snow might be returned to the world of the living after being brutally stabbed to death by his fellow Night’s Watchmen. If I had to power rank the theories as to how this would happen, it goes something like this:

  1. Melisandre brings him back, just like Thoros brought back Lord Beric Dondarrion.
  2. Jon wargs into his direwolf Ghost and lives out his days as a giant albino dog.
  3. Jon is reanimated on his funeral pyre, surviving the flames a la Daenerys Targaryen, revealing him to be a secret Targaryen all along.
  4. He is reanimated by the Night’s King as a special kind of Wight.
  5. Bran wargs into his half-brother’s body and lives out his days as the fierce warrior he always dreamed of being.

That last one actually gained steam over the last couple of weeks, usually ending with some weird fantasy about Bran using Jon’s body to get intimate with Meera Reed ‐ a theory made creepier by all the book reader theories that Meera is actually Jon’s twin sister, as her father Howland Reed was also at the Tower of Joy.

In the end, Game of Thrones isn’t as clever as a lot of those book reader theories. Many of us spent years jumping through logic hoops in an attempt to figure out Jon’s path to resurrection. There’s no way they’d go the straight Jesus route, right? So how will they do it?!

They went the Jesus route, quite literally:

What does it all mean? It means that Jon Snow is back and the show is going to have to do its most interesting work exploring the consequences of bringing a major character back from the dead. If they’re going to avoid this situation devaluing the concept of death in Westeros, it has to mean something. They have to find an answer that goes deeper than, “He’s just the chosen one.” Otherwise, that’s kind of run-of-the-mill fantasy stuff, isn’t it?

“Home” was a banner episode for crazy book reader theories (many of which weren’t so crazy). For the show, it was furious hour of television that melted down social media almost immediately. And for those of us covering the show, it was liberating. Now that the big question is answered, we can dig deeper, attempt to figure out how this is all going to come together, and assess whether or not the Thrones creative team can stick the landing.

Next Week

Jon Snow gets deified, Arya continues the world’s most brutal internship, Ramsay gets a gift (that I’m pretty sure we’re not going to like), Zombie Mountain looks like he has some plans for skull crushing, and Bran visits The Tower of Joy!

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)