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Game of Thrones finally answers a huge question in an otherwise plodding episode

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One step forward, 18 steps sidewise

The following recap contains spoilers for the second episode of Game of Thrones' sixth season.

"I've never been much of a fighter," Davos said. "I apologize for what you're about to see." The Night's Watch was breaking down the door behind which Davos and his man were huddled with the body of Jon Snow, and it looked like it was all over for the "good guys."

Those are pretty good last words, as these things go but, as expected, the Wildlings show up and take Castle Black back from what amounted to a very short-lived insurgency.

There is a certain matter-of-factness to the violence in the first few scenes of this episode. From the giant slamming a member of the Watch against the wall to the zombie-like form of the Mountain slamming the head of a man telling tall-tales about Cersei ... er, into a wall, the phrase "power is power" rings true once again. It pays to be the biggest guy in the room.

The opposite is true when it comes to Tommen. He feels shame at his failure to protect his wife and mother from The Sparrows, and he's finally beginning to wrestle with the fact that his crown is more of a weight than a hammer.

Tommen has power, on paper at least, but doesn't seem to know how to wield it. The High Sparrow, on the other hand, knows that he can spend dozens of followers to kill Jaime and still "win" in the eyes of the people, even if he himself dies. It's a pleasantly underplayed scene, filled with menace and the creepy figure of Myrcella's body on the stone slab, those strange stone eyes placed on her face.

The problem with Ramsay

Thank the gods we have those scenes were Ramsay shows he's a monster by first killing his father and then Walda, along with his just-born little brother. At this point Ramsay's sadism and inability to deal with the world as anything other than a sneering, dead-eyed villain has gotten tired to the point of catatonia.

"If you acquire a reputation as a mad dog you'll be treated as a mad dog," Roose says in one of his final moments. "Taken out back and slaughtered for pig feed." It's good advice, given years too late, but it also lays out the narrative corner they've painted Ramsay into. There's no justice for him anywhere, and his villainy has long since become cartoonish.

No real arc survives for him that makes any sense, and the fact those around him have ignored his actions for so long seems hard to believe. But I guess we have more evidence he doesn't have any human decency left, as if we needed another reminder after the show rubbed our noses in it last season.

And that lack of movement hurt the whole episode. This isn't table setting anymore, this is having placed the plates just so .. and then putting down more silver ... and then folding the napkins into little animals ... and then asking if you'd perhaps like another water glass ... and then replacing the plates. You just want a fucking meal. We know where the water pitcher is, it's time for it to either start pouring water or for someone to knock it the hell over. I may have kept this metaphor going for too long.

Ramsay is a monster, yes. We knew that. Arya is stuck in limbo, and remains a once fan-favorite character with little to no development. Balon Greyjoy has been killed by Euron Greyjoy, a ... pirate? I think? Yara is once again told she likely won't rule. Jon Snow is brought back to life in a scene that has been theorized about in detail for so long that the stakes felt so low Hodor could have stumbled over them.

At this point with so little narrative movement and complete lack of urgency it's hard to care, and the character deaths and brutal violence of the show are stepping into self-parody. It's a good thing we watched a scene where a baby was eaten by dogs, because it's not like we've had six frickin' seasons to set up the fact this is a terrible, cold world filled with monsters like Ramsay.

At least we don't check in with Dorne

It wasn't all bad, of course. Max von Sydow showed up to inject a bit of life into the episode's first scenes, where Bran was able to see a talking Hodor, along with a very young and very living Ned Stark. His remarks on how happy everyone seems are a nice reminder that the average person who lives during these events are going through their own dark times. The world wasn't always this dark and hopeless, and it needn't be forever. But for now? Winter is coming.

Tyron freeing the dragons gave Peter Dinklage a nice little monologue to deliver about asking for a dragon for his birthday, but of course once the shackles were removed the dragons slink right back into the shadows. Because any kind of actual movement from the plot in this episode is apparently against the rules.

At least we don't check in with Dorne, which remains the most useless plot line the show has yet produced.

It's OK for a show to have a slower pace, or to even take a time out for a well-constructed side-episode that teaches us something new about the characters or settings, but Game of Thrones is so clearly spinning its wheels right now, and it's frustrating to watch.

Odds and ends

  • Tommen is pretty interested in learning the ways of the force, it seems. The Force being statecraft, as taught by the Obi Wan of being a conniving manipulator, Cersei. This is, for my money, the most interesting development of the episode.
  • Hodor could talk! Any theories on what happened to him?
  • So just how smart ARE dragons?

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