"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others." -- Swift
"Game of Thrones," episode three, season 6: Transformation! Identity! Vision! (Or, re-vision). Those are your themes from “Oathbreaker,” which aired Sunday night.
There’s a lot to get to here, so why not break this down with a series of questions and answers? Meanwhile, spoilers abound. Proceed with caution.
What do you mean about this “re-vision?”
To see is to believe, and also to revise, which — in the case of Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) — means the revision of the legend of his father’s slaying of Ser Arthur Dayne (Luke Roberts), member of the Kingsguard, in service to the cruel King Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King himself. In this flashback, the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow) accompanies Bran to the Tower of Joy where the true story unfolds. His father Ned Stark (Robert Aramayo) did not slay the great swordsman, but rather Howland Reed (Leo Woodruff) slew him instead, by stabbing him in the back.
Why does this business about who killed who matter anyway? Ser Arthur Dayne is still dead after all, right?
Because had Howland not killed Ser Arthur Dayne, the greatest swordsman in all of Dorne, Dayne most certainly would have killed Ned aka Eddard Stark, father of Bran, friend of Robert, who had launched the war against the Mad King in the first place. Also recall why Ned was at the Tower of Joy in the first place — to save his sister, Lyanna, who had been kidnapped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, son of the Mad King. All that this means simply, is that history would have changed dramatically had Reed not killed Dayne. Instead, as the Raven informed, “the past is already written, the ink is dry.”
Why is “vision” so important in this context?
Mainly because what drives so much of the action throughout “Game of Thrones” is of the blind-leading-the-blind variety. As Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) once observed long ago (and on the page in “A Dance with Dragons”), “The gods are blind. And men see only what they wish.” or, to transpose William Goldman’s famous observation about Hollywood onto Westeros, nobody knows anything. Bran’s visions are a corrective measure here. For once, someone is finally seeing the truth of history — not seeing what he or she wants to see.
But why did The Tower of Joy set the Internet on fire Monday morning?
Recall hearing a faint cry in the tower just as Bran made his way up the stairs? Clearly the Raven wasn’t ready for Bran to see what had cried — or who. Indeed, the Internet exploded because suddenly the Holy Grail of “A Song of Ice and Fire” seemed within the grasp of millions of “Ice and Fire” obsessives. I speak of the great “R+L=J” theory, which is sort of like the “E=MC2” of Westeros. It means that Rhaegar got Lyanna pregnant, and their child — hidden in the Tower of Joy — was none other than Jon Snow (Kit Harington), who is the progeny of “fire’ (House Targaryen and their mythic dragons) and ice (of Stark.)
It’s a theory, of course. But “GoT” demands (and always has) that viewers pay close attention to the details — that they literally “view” what’s on-screen, not guess. We’re all sort of like Bran in that regard. We need to see what’s going to happen, not guess. But this was (perhaps) a vitally important clue.
Why was “identity” such a resounding theme?
Well, of course, the true identify of the now very much alive Jon Snow remains a vital part of the “Game of Thrones.” But the second most important scene Sunday was Arya’s (Maisie Williams) restoration of sight. She says to Jaqen — or the man who looks like Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiha) — “A girl has no name,” and he then says to her, “if she is truly no one, she has nothing to fear.” Her sight then returns. “Who are you?” Says she: “No one.”
Why all these negations in “Oathbreaker” — “nothing,” “no one,” and so on scattered throughout?
Or to answer this question with another, when asked what he saw when he was dead, what did Jon Snow say? “Nothing,” he said.
Of course you can’t actually “see” something that isn’t “there,” right? You can’t actually “see nothing.” To “see nothing” is a paradox. Except that “Nothingness” and “vision” — the act of seeing, the act of knowing — are closely linked in “Game of Thrones” and always have been. They were in “King Lear” too — “Lear” as source material here to a certain extent. But if Arya is “no one,” why should her sight be restored? Because only by becoming no one — unencumbered by her identity, personal history, self-delusions — can she finally see.
How does “transformation” figure in this episode?
Transformation — or metamorphosis. A toss-up. Jon metamorphosed from life to death, Arya from blindness to sight, Bran from the dark to the light. Brother and sister, and half-brother, each is emerging from that past which was written to the future, which has not even yet been conceived, much less written. The fate of the world rests on these shoulders (among others). “My watch is done,” said Jon at close. What next, brother?