Be kind to your dragons. Be kind to your giants. Be kind to your enforcers and lieutenants and underlings. Be kind to the nobodies, to the downtrodden, and to the “little people” who, unbeknownst to you, can loom quite large. Because these individuals have power–power that you may not recognize, power that you may take for granted–but power that may be turned against you or that, at some difficult moment, you may even sorely need.
No one is kinder, if still cautious, on this front than Tyrion. His quiet scene with Dany’s two remaining dragons was the highlight of an eventful, action-packed episode because of its simplicity and tension in the moment. Perhaps Tyrion is uniquely suited for dragon taming, particularly attuned to earning the trust of superior beasts. He is, after all, someone who has had to get by on disarming the powerful with his wits and charms rather than with his sword (though he’s occasionally used his pocketbook instead). And as Tyrion noted when we first met him, he has a particular appreciation for the unique and broken things across Westeros.
So when he approaches those dragons and tells them that he is their friend, that he came to unchain them, he demonstrates that he does not simply admire them; he respects them. In return, those beautiful winged creatures grant him their approval. They bend down to allow him to remove the iron that holds them in place. Despite the bookends of Tyrion’s typically hilarious bon mots, it’s a moment fraught with tension. At any second, these massive beasts could snap up Tyrion like an afternoon snack, and it underscores his subtle bravery for even walking into that cave.
The scene is shot in shadow, with the only illumination coming from his torchlight and the flames in the back of the dragons’ throats. The figures move in the sparse light. It makes the dragons seem all the more hallowed and significant, and Tyrion all the more at their mercy. The scene is shot primarily in close-ups, accentuating the intimacy of the moment, and with it the fear of being so close to something so powerful.
But Tyrion’s always been someone who could not only see but also understand the sources of power better than his ruling class brethren, even when it emerged from unexpected places. He has a unique ability, especially among the nobles of Westeros, to cut through the haughtiness of his last name and discern when disruptors large and small were on their way to upset the apple cart. He’s as good a symbol as any for someone who recognizes power and strength, who respects what other people disregard or fear, and knows how to earn respect in turn, or at least survive in the face of it.
To the same end, the opening few scenes of “Home” each feature large, powerful men who are capable of inspiring fear, and who possess the physical strength that gives even lowly men some measure of power in the harsh environs of Game of Thrones. But these men are used for very different ends.
The first of them is Hodor, whom Bran sees in a flashback to the time of his father’s youth. The young Hodor can speak and understand, and even has the briefest moment in the sun with the Starks before he’s whisked back to the stables. The apparition of the past puts Hodor in a new light for Bran. Bran’s disability makes him dependent on Hodor, as a traveler, silent protector, and companion. But in many ways the young Stark still take him for granted. Bran has used Hodor for combat, for transportation, and worse, and though he’s never been cruel to Hodor, he’s certainly treated him as more of a tool than a person. But Bran is beginning to realize that there is, or at least was, more to the docile-yet-capable man who has helped him so much on this journey.
Then, the episode tacitly contrasts Bran’s relationship with Hodor with the one between Cersei and Robert Strong. Bran may take advantage of his giant at times, but he uses Hodor to help, to allow Bran to do the things he couldn’t do otherwise. Cersei, on the other hand, uses hers for protection and for vengeance.
The reanimated hulk pulverizes a brew house braggart in a single strike for daring to besmirch his lady’s name. His imposing visage is put in front of the King’s Guard, and he intimidates the lot of them. It’s clear that while Hodor is a gentle creature, someone who clearly arose from a trauma, but retained a sweet disposition and became something nevertheless kind and good, Robert Strong is his equal and opposite, a reconstituted Frankenstein who is only a weapon, an implement of war created only to wreak havoc.
But there’s a third giant to be considered — a genuine one. When Ser Davos and his loyalists are protecting Jon Snow’s body, Thorne’s men begin banging down the door and it seems as though more blood will be spilled. The threat is present and intense, and just as things look as though they’re about to get messy for those still loyal to Jon, in come the wildlings with Wun Wun the giant in tow.
At first, there’s simply a standoff. The men who have taken the black brandish their swords even as they quake in the presence of this imposing figure. But one foolish member of the Night’s Watch shoots an arrow at the larger-than-life warrior, and Wun Wun proceeds to manhandle his attacker, smashing him across Castle Black’s walls in a menacing fashion that serves as a warning to anyone who would dare follow suit.
Suddenly, the traitors all drop their weapons in fear, and even Thorne himself won’t advance alone. A giant who knows what he’s doing, who’s in control of his actions, can be the middle ground between Hodor and Robert Strong — a powerful being who understands his strength, and uses it for a cause that he himself believes in.
But it’s not Wun Wun alone who ensures that Jon Snow stays in one piece long enough for The Red Woman to work her magic. It’s the Wildlings that Jon convinced to come south, whom he let past the wall, whose respect he earned, that save the day. They represent the power of the people, the idea that there are many below the station of the noble families of Westeros who, nonetheless, may band together and represent a force that stands poised to upset the established order.
The same idea is present in Jamie’s tense confrontation with the High Sparrow. Jamie is understandably upset at the man who had Cersei imprisoned and humiliated, and he threatens to leave his enemy bleeding on the floor of the Sept. Jamie is a man who’s seen enough horror in this world to question whether there’s any higher power to cast judgment on him for exacting his mortal vengeance. Jamie has often been a lens through which the show has examined the morality of Westeros, or lack thereof, and his godless threats are another interesting wrinkle in that vein.
But just when he starts to make good on his promises, he finds himself surrounded by the sparrows. He flinches but doesn’t retreat and cautions that he could take a number of these men down with him. Unmoved, the High Sparrow responds that they are nobody, the lowest dirt of the kingdom. And yet he too speaks of them with an aura of quiet power and the confidence that even nothing, when joined together can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned warriors. There is power in anonymity, in being no one, as Arya’s being taught in a sharp fashion as well.
The scene in the Sept also touches on a key theme running through “Home” — family. Jamie means to protect his sister and the people who share his blood, if not his name. That is, in turn, what his son is so ashamed of having failed to do.
Tommen’s had little development in the show thus far, but he has a pair of meaningful scenes here, each of which is one of many in the episode featuring a parent and child. Tommen tells his father that he carries a deep shame for not being able to do more to protect his mother and his wife. He is a young man put in an impossible position, who realizes that despite the fact that he is nominally the most powerful man in the kingdom, he feels utterly powerless to do anything, and he cannot forgive himself for that.
When he finally goes to apologize to the woman who bore him, Cersei hears her child seeking forgiveness. She tells him that it’s fine in her particular, terse way. But Lena Headey plays Cersei’s coldness perfectly. She speaks in those familiar tones of a mother who loves her child, but is extraordinarily disappointed and hurt by his actions.
Then Tommen cuts through her icy exterior. He spills out his fears to his mother. He tells her that he needs her help, that he is weak, and he needs her to show him how to be strong — how to wield power. Despite her pain, despite her resentment, despite her frustration, Cersei cannot say no to her last living child. She cannot deny her little boy. Her curt, hollow acceptance of his original pleas softens into an earnest embrace, and when she reassures him she forgives him and will help him, she truly means it.
Unfortunately, the other scenes between parents and children in “Home” are not nearly so loving. When Yara confronts her father about the losing battle they continue to fight, he dismisses her. He chastises her. He will not see reason. Faced with another family member he refuses to give way to, the fifth of five kings is dispatched from this mortal coil.
Balon never proved himself much of a father, having goaded Theon into the events that led to his downfall, and ignored his daughter’s harsh but important truths. Now, he’s forced to pay the price for his intransigence. The old kings are dying; the heads of the old houses are dropping like flies; and those who refuse to adjust to the new realities quickly find themselves cast aside or killed.
Roose Bolton is another lord sent to meet his maker in “Home.” But unlike Balon Greyjoy, Roose is murdered by his own offspring. It’s not surprising that Ramsay had a contingency plan in the event his father gave birth to a full-blooded male heir. It is surprising that he would put it into action so soon. There’s a legitimate sweetness when Roose tell Ramsay that despite the birth of his new heir, Ramsay will always be his firstborn son, which just makes the ensuing assassination all the more horrid.
And of course, Ramsay being Ramsay, his brutality knows no bounds, and he leaves no loose ends. Ramsay murders his stepmother and newborn brother in a sequence that could have conveyed the same cruelty with a quarter of the lurid detail. Even so, it stands out as another scene of the love between a parent and a child, torn asunder by the harsher forces that abound as people like Ramsay grope for power.
Melisandre spends much of the episode wondering if she ever had true power at all. In the time that the audience has known her, she has always been an agent of the Lord of Light, a priestess in his service. Now, she can only doubt — her vision, her talents, the things by which she defined herself — all may have left her, if they were even there to begin with. She wonders if the lord has taken his favor away from her. Faced with these questions, Davos tells her that he’s heard of all manner of gods said to have all manner of power, but the only true power he’s ever seen is hers, and something greater, something more important than either of them, needs it.
So she sets to work. She cleans Jon Snow’s wounds. She performs the ritual. She says the incantation. But it’s not her spell, not her tricks, not her forgotten tongue or mystical chants that raise the dead. It’s one simple utterance — “please” — a symbol of humility, of desperation, of recognition that power can be taken for granted and just as easily slip away.
The trusted men and women in the room slowly slip away themselves. One-by-one, they wait and hope and eventually leave in disappointment. It’s a masterful sequence that draws out the expectations of those watching at home and showcases the methodical beauty of The Red Woman’s work in the series of warm images of tranquility these scenes present.
We know what’s coming. The story demands it. But Game of Thrones takes its time. “Home” lets us drink in the fire-lit room while everyone waits with baited breath; it lets us hear the splash of the water as it cleans the wounds of our fallen hero; it lets us sit with anticipation as the it forces us to hold on, to stop for just one more second, and breathe.
And then he breathes. This messianic figure–betrayed by his disciples, laid out in the traditional form of New Testament suffering and repose, and then resurrected in the hopes that he might save them–comes back to life. It’s strong imagery for the show to tap into, but it couches those images within the larger themes of “Home.”
Power can come from strange, unexpected places — from simple men, large men, and little men, from free folk, dragons, and assassins, from parents and children, sparrows and sorceresses, bastards and carpenters. Treat them all well. One day your life, your very being, may depend on it.