Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of the Sunday's episode, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, culture writer Caroline Framke, executive editor Matt Yglesias, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.
Caroline Framke: I keep trying to quit Game of Thrones, but I can’t seem to escape its gravitational pull.
I stepped away from the show after season five's "The Gift" — in which Sansa Stark was raped on her wedding night to prove how horrible her life is — but reluctantly played catch-up in the weeks before season six premiered, if only because I knew avoiding the hype would be impossible.
So on the face of it, "Home" should have been the episode that finally pushed me over the edge. It uses some of the very tricks and themes that keep knocking Game of Thrones ever further down my list of TV-viewing priorities. First there was the Jon Snow twist, which wasn't really a twist at all, given the way the show telegraphed his resurrection, both onscreen and off. Then there was the pointless and horrifying dog-on-baby violence courtesy of Ramsay Bolton, the most resentful potato in all of Westeros.
On one level, "Home" was at a disadvantage from the get-go, since I watched the episode after learning of Jon and Ramsay's respective dances with death (when you live on the West Coast and struggle to avoid the internet, spoilers are a matter of course). But by the end of the hour, I'd seen enough glimpses of the strong character stories Game of Thrones used to excel at to realize that despite all my weariness, I'm not quite ready to let the series go.
"Home" actually contains several stellar scenes — all of which exist outside of the episode's more self-consciously "shocking" moments. With the exception of the Jon and Ramsay storylines, this episode largely relies on the characters' rich histories to create tension, resulting in scenes that continue to resonate.
The series of scenes in King's Landing in which Cersei, Jaime, and Tommen circled each other — furious and grieving and lost — reminded me of why I was once fascinated by the Lannisters. I clenched my fists in anxious concern during Tyrion's treacherous game of chicken with Dany's dragons, even though I knew he'd make it out alive.
As Bran (remember Bran?) dove into Hodor's past, I remembered how much I miss the Starks, a pang that only grew stronger when, somewhere in the frost, Sansa and Brienne shared news of Arya. And as Davos and Melisandre shared a rare moment of understanding about crises of faith — beautifully acted by Liam Cunningham and Carice van Houten — I finally understood why their conflicts of interest are crucial to this story.
Even Theon — Theon! — managed to earn both my interest and empathy with his sensitivity to Sansa's trauma, after I'd previously written him off after he decided to be the North's worst fraternity president.
Notably, none of these moments followed Game of Thrones' worst instincts, like doubling down on a dubious storyline (see: Ramsay) or doling out pain for the sake of meeting some unspecified violence quota.
I've never been a huge Jon Snow fan, and I'll continue to find excuses not to look at my screen whenever Ramsay Bolton slithers his way onto it. But I'm ready to be reinvest my time and energy in Game of Thrones, if the show can go back to crafting compelling, character-based scenes — as it did in "Home" — instead of making too many overt attempts to blow our minds.
Read the recap, and come back for more discussion tomorrow.