This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.
The second episode of season six definitely has a theme to it, family. From the very first scene this episode is all about how family and connections matter to these characters, and what some people are willing to do for, and against, their family.
The most important aspect of the episode that has to be covered is, and you've probably seen this coming for a while now, Jon Snow is back.
Many fans were shocked and outraged at the end of season five when the treacherous Night's Watch brothers plunged their knives into Jon Snow and murdered him. People were so distraught that they were formulating theories as to how he could return before his body was even cold, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that he's back amongst the living. What this episode did manage to do, though, was somehow still make it shocking when it happened.
The build up to the return begins with Ser Davos and the handful of Night's Watch brothers still loyal to Jon ready to fight to the death as Ser Alliser's men begin to break their way into Jon's quarters. Luckily for them Edd has managed to reach the Wildling camp and returns with help in the form of a small army led by Tormund Giantsbane.
Whilst short, the assault on Castle Black is definitely sweet, with the giant Wun Wun tearing his way through the gates before grabbing one of the traitor Nights Watch and smashing him against the wall of Castle Black. With an army of Wildlings and a giant facing off against them the rest of the traitors very quickly surrender.
Despite having her faith in the Red God severely shaken, Ser Davos manages to convince Melisandre to attempt to use her magic to bring Jon back, and gathered in his quarters they begin the ritual. It's very different than what we'd seen previous when Thoros of Myr brought Beric Dondarrion back to life, where Thoros simply said a prayer Melisandre makes a big ritual of the event, washing Jon's body and cutting his hair before a long chanting prayer.
As the assembled people watch, waiting for Jon to come back, nothing happens. The characters give up hope and leave the room. The camera then spends minutes focused on Jon's dead body, building up the tension as it teases the audience with the possibility that maybe this isn't how Jon will be coming back, if he's even coming back at all.
Finally, just when the audience is about to give up hope on the notion that Jon will be coming back his eyes snap open and he gasps for breath. It's a fairly cliched trope in television, for the character's eyes to suddenly open as the final shot, but the fact that they let the scene go on and build to the point where people were losing hope helped to make the scene work and meant that the ending did come as something of a surprise and, for some, a relief.
As I said before, most of the episode deals with family, and that's more obvious in the other areas of the episode and what happens with the other characters, but it can't be completely ignored when it comes to Jon Snow and the events at Castle Black. At this point the Night's Watch are pretty much gone, after some being killed by White Walkers north of the wall, some having betrayed the last Lord Commander at Crasters Keep, more having been killed on the assault on the wall, then even more having turned traitor the number of living members still loyal to Jon is tiny. Despite this Jon has managed to draw in others, Ser Davos, Melisandre, Tormund and the other Wildlings. With the Nights Watch almost gone, and now with his miraculous return to life, these others will surely pledge themselves to him and his fight to stop the White Walkers.
Jon's story is about him gathering a family around him, it's about those who are willing to face death rather than abandon their loyalty to him. The people who came to defend his body in this episode aren't related to him by blood, but they showed that you don't need that to be family, sometimes there are stronger bonds of loyalty and friendship that forge that family.
Staying in the North and with the Stark family, we get to see Bran again for the first time since season four. It would appear that Bran has been spending his time off the screen with the Three Eyed Raven learning how to hone his warging abilities and is now able to see events from other points in time. Bran visits Winterfell in the past, where he gets to see his father as a child, along with his brothers Benjen and Brandon, as well as his sister Lyanna.
With people already suspecting that we will see more of the past this season, particularly involving the Stark family and Lyanna, it's nice to see the idea of Brans visions of past events and the introduction of the younger versions of these characters introduced in this way. The scene didn't hold any grand revelations, other than possibly the fact that Hodor could once speak (which raises some questions of how he ended up the way he is now), or showed any key moments from the Starks past. It was simply there to introduce this new concept and set the stage for more exploration of these characters and events in future episodes.
Many fans have been speculating that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, and if that is true then Brans journey into the past will be a good way of revealing these answers. The series has never done flashbacks, past events have always been told to the audience and the characters through someone telling them about it, so these visions give the showrunners a good way of showing important events in the Game of Thrones universe without having to suddenly introduce flashbacks.
Elsewhere in the north Sansa is preparing to travel to Castle Black to find shelter with Jon, accompanied by Brienne and Pod. It's here that Sansa learns from Brienne that Arya is still alive, or at least was recently. Along with the knowledge that Bran and Rickon weren't killed by Theon as everyone was led to believe this means that Sansa is aware that her family is still alive and well, which gives her more hope than she's had recently.
It's here, though, that Theon makes the choice to leave Sansa in the care of Brienne and return home to the Iron Islands. He tells Sansa that he would have taken her all of the way to Castle Black, and given his life in the attempt to do so, but feels that now she has Brienne and Pod to protect her he has no place beside her. He acknowledges the terrible things he's done and the way that he betrayed the Stark family, the family that raised him, and says that there is no way for him to redeem himself for what he has done to them.
It's another big moment for both characters, it further shows how Sansa has gone from hating the man she believed to be a traitor to her family to actually caring for him once again and having forgiven him his sins, even if he hasn't forgiven himself. It also shows that Theon breaking out of the conditioning Ramsay Bolton put him through wasn't just momentary, but that he truly is Theon Greyjoy once again.
Across the Narrow Sea in Bravos, Arya is still blind and living on the streets, begging for change in order to survive. Once again she is confronted by the girl from the House of Black and White and beaten in the street. Suddenly Jaqen H'ghar appears and offers to give Arya shelter, food and even to return her sight if she tells him her name. Arya refuses each time, answering only with 'I am no one'. Satisfied that Arya is learning Jaqen takes Arya with him back to the House of Black and White.
This scene offers up some questions as to what is actually happening to Arya now. We've seen in the past that despite being told that she has to give up her old life and her old name she has been reluctant to do so, having hidden Needle rather than throwing it away, as well as killing Meryn Trant. Is she yet again just telling Jaqen what he wants to hear, or has Arya finally started to give up on the person she was and the life she had before?
In Kings Landing we spend some time catching up with the Lannisters, all of whom are still mourning the death of Myrcella. The theme of family is probably most obvious here, as these scenes focus on how the characters are dealing with their family falling apart and the impending conflict that is growing between the church and the crown.
Despite being one of the kinder and more reasoned members of the family even Tommen is now reaching the point where he is ready to fight against the church for what they have done to both his mother and his wife. It's a sentiment that is very much echoed in Jaime, who even goes on to threaten the High Sparrow. I think at this point a confrontation between them and the church is a foregone conclusion, and the treatment of the Lannister family is definitely the motivation.
It's not all good family events across Westeros though, as both the Boltons and the Greyjoys meet death at the hand of their own relatives. With the birth of Roose Bolton's new son, a legitimate son rather than a bastard Ramsey knows that his position within the family has been compromised and that he has lost his rights to inherit his father's wealth and titles. Ramsey takes a leaf out of his father's book and surprise stabs him in the chest, killing him.
Ramsey then goes on to show just how evil and sadistic he is (as if we didn't know that already) and lures Walda and his new baby brother into the kennels, where he unleashes his dogs upon them. Thankfully the people who make Game of Thrones decided not to show the murder of a woman and her new-born baby by a pack of dogs, as everything happens off screen, but it's definitely one of the most disturbing things the show has done. And that is no small feat to manage.
Over on the Iron Islands 'King' Balon Greyjoy is still being as much a bastard as ever, treating his daughter like crap and risking the lives of everyone under his command on a foolish war they have no chance of winning. When Balon steps out onto one of the rope bridges that connects the towers to his castle (really not the best architectural feature at all) he is confronted by his brother, Euron Greyjoy.
For those not in the know, Euron is the second eldest of the Greyjoy brothers and the uncle to Theon and Yara. Euron left the Iron Islands years before to become a fierce pirate captain who has sailed all around the world. He returns to the Iron Islands now to confront his brother, and following a brief argument, throws him off the bridge to his death.
It's satisfying to see one of the bigger bastards of the series finally get some punishment for his nastiness, though it does now raise a problem for the Iron Islands, and the Greyjoys in particular, as they have to choose their next king from those who step forward. Though we have yet to see how these events will play out it will surely pit Yara against her Uncle in a fight for the throne.
Finally, in Meereen we see Tyrion trying to maintain Danny's kingdom for her whilst she is gone. Despite news that the rest of Slavers Bay has rejected the new queen and reverted back to their slave system Tyrion makes keeping Danny's dragons alive his main priority. Tyrion knows that the dragons are not only thought of as her children by Daenerys, but that they are a potent symbol of her power to those that want to do her harm.
Descending into the bowels of Meereen, Tyrion goes before the two dragons and tries to help them. Having already explained that dragons are hugely intelligent he talks to them as if they were people, telling them a story of how he has always loved dragons and how he wept as a child to learn that they were all gone. He shows the dragons respect and kindness and they respond by recognising him as a friend. Tyrion frees the dragons from their chains before very quickly leaving.
Now that the dragons are free of their collars I think that it's only a matter of time before they get free for real and take to the skies once again. Perhaps they will arrive at Vaes Dothrak to rescue Daenerys from her Dothraki captors. If what Tyrion said about their level of intelligence is true and they really do remember the people who are kind to them he will get to live out his childhood dream of getting to ride one of the magnificent creatures.
'Home' is an episode that moved the story forward for a lot of the characters and introduced some new and unexpected changes and whilst some very horrible people died their deaths seem to be heralding even worse people to take their places. It would appear that season six is going to be much darker than we were expecting.