It is not very often that Game of Thrones just comes right out and tells you what the themes for an episode are going to be. In fact, it’s only recently that these shows have seemed to have themes at all; the showrunners have been quoted as disdainfully stating that “themes are for book reports.” But last night Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, was instructed by the Maester to “kill the boy so that the man may live,” and that sentiment echoed across the episode.
First, as Jon Snow enlisted the default leader of the Wildlings to look past his distrust for the crows and save his people by bringing them south of the wall before winter comes, and with it, a white walker invasion.
Stannis increasingly seems like the living embodiment of that advice, a man not given to sentiment or allowing his decisions to be clouded by anything other than reason, logic, and strategy; despite the fact that Jon is going to get the Wildlings, who Stannis had hoped would assist in his attack on Winterfell and the Boltons, Stannis decides here to begin the march south immediately, reasoning that every day they wait is another day for the Boltons to fortify and prepare. (I can’t wait to see what happens when he gets there.)
Over in Meereen, Daenerys has lost one of her most trusted advisors with the death of Ser Barristan, and struggles with how to best respond; Daario suggests a bloodbath, while the local aristocrat who’s been appealing to her since her occupation began urges more moderate measures, like reopening the fighting pits as a gesture of respect to Meereen’s (non-slaving) traditions. Rather than take the advice of her last living adviser – letting a “grown-up” tell her what to do – she decides not only to reopen the fighting pits (only to free people, in a nod to her new regime), but to marry the head of a prominent local family. And here this poor guy thought he was about to be dragon food!
Grantland’s Andy Greenwald loved Tyrion and Jorah’s float trip through Valyria:
“For thousands of years they were the best in the world at almost everything,” Tyrion said of the Valryians — a powerful people who rode dragons for sport and birthed a dynasty that’s currently languishing in a Meereenese pyramid. “And then … and then they weren’t.” Nature had reclaimed nearly all that the Valyrians had built with a cruelly efficient beauty. The verse Tyrion quoted lingered on notions of futility (“The Doom consumed it all alike” is basically the Seven Kingdoms version of “Ozymandias”), and I found myself thinking of cemetery groundskeepers and how their job is to beat back the encroachment of life on carefully manicured monuments to death. Of course, one can’t expect to have awe without some shock. (This is Game of Thrones, after all, not a Terrence Malick film.) But there was a morbid grace to the Stone Men as well. The heavy leap of the first attacker was easy to mistake for some sort of structural collapse — another relic sinking slowly to the bottom of an uncaring sea. But a second splash followed, and then a third. It would have been a beautiful metaphor if it weren’t also terrifying: Men forgotten by time rising up with fists to punish those with short memories. But there was no time for poetry: Jorah and Tyrion were under assault from the Westerosi equivalent of zombies while paddling around in a doll’s idea of a boat. It was chaotic and scary and had me wishing for a glug of Tyrion’s beloved red. But as the Imp sank down into what appeared to be a watery grave, I couldn’t help but figure that this was all too unusually elegant. It takes real confidence to allow the screen to go Sopranos-finale dark for a worrying number of seconds, only to then blink slowly back to consciousness. But I suppose if I had a shot lined up like the one that ended the episode, with Jorah revealing his infection against a stained-glass sky, I would feel pretty confident too.
Richard Rushfield of HitFix considers the episode’s check-in with the Boltons:
Speaking of Ramsey, there’s a fellow who if he killed the boy within would have nothing left. He tries, however, Lord knows he tries, as in his jolly spectacle parading Theon before Sansa at his father’s dinner table, demanding his toy, “Apologize for murdering her two brothers.” Father Roose, is unimpressed and breaks the news that he and his new wife Walda are expecting a child, likely a boy. The title of this episode seems to be ringing in Ramsey’s head as he takes in the joyous news, however father and son soon have a rapprochement in a scene clearly echoing Stannis’ touching moment with his daughter last week. The Bolton version is a little less heartwarming as Roose reveals the tale of murder and rape that was Ramsey’s origin story. The tale does not, this time, end with a hug.
Rolling Stone’s Sean T. Collins points out that with this episode the series has almost completely diverged from the source material:
They say “Winter is coming,” but for readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic fantasy novels upon which Game of Thrones is based, it’s already here. Written by series mainstay Bryan Cogman, tonight’s episode — “Kill the Boy” — is the first in which every single storyline has been altered so substantially from the books that it may as well be brand new. Sansa Stark’s stint in Winterfell, Brienne’s quest to save her, Ramsay Bolton’s girl trouble, Jon Snow’s mission to the wildling village of Hardhome, Princess Shireen’s ride south to war with her father Stannis, Daenerys' execution-by-dragon and shotgun betrothal to her aristocratic adviser Hizdahr, the death of Barristan Selmy, the romance between Grey Worm and Missandei, the dragon and Stone Men–haunted journey of Tyrion and Jorah: None of it happened in author George R.R. Martin’s original texts. Like the exile knight and fugitive Lannister, readers and newcomers alike are now all in the same boat.
Michael Calia at The Wall Street Journal notices the show’s tension between love and fear:
With all the bloodshed and plotting, it is wise to appreciate the tender moments on “Game of Thrones.” Last week, we saw Stannis Baratheon affirm his love for his daughter, Shireen, with a sweet (for Stannis) anecdote and hug. This week, we hear Grey Worm, captain of the Unsullied, tell Missandei that he was sad when he fell during his fight with the Sons of the Harpy because feared never seeing her again. It is yet another reminder that love fuels many of these characters’ actions. Also, on this Mother’s Day, the episode was littered with references to motherhood: From a reminder of how Catelyn Stark’s love for her children remains strong beyond the grave, to Daenerys Targaryen demonstrating that she remains the Mother of Dragons, to a horrifying revelation about how Roose Bolton treated the mother of his son, Ramsay. As the latter detail suggests, though, love isn’t the strongest thing in this world. It must compete with duty, lust, rage and vengeance. Loyalty, too. And yet there are forces beyond the characters’ appetites and desires at work. This week those looming horrors cast a great shadow over the proceedings. In the North, the fear of a White Walker invasion compels Jon Snow to make a drastic decision that may cost him the favor of his brothers on the Night’s Watch. On the other side of the world, Tyrion and Jorah sail through the waters of doomed Valyria. There they witness Drogon soar over the ruined landscape, but a more immediate threat awaits them.
And Vulture’s Nina Shen Rastogi has some questions about Dinner with the Boltons:
There was a lot that I was confused about in this dinner scene, both from a character and plot perspective. What does Ramsay gain by showing Sansa how gleefully cruel he can be, trotting out Reek to “apologize” for killing her brothers, and then suggesting that Reek give her away at the wedding, since he’s the closest thing she has now to family? Is it just that he knows no other way of asserting himself? It probably would have been smarter to pretend to be her ally, and it certainly would have been more interesting, plot-wise. (Raise your hand if Ramsay’s googly-eyed villainy felt played out, oh, about two seasons ago.) And what does Roose gain by letting his son run amok like that, especially since he’s already lectured the boy on how you catch more flies with honey than with flayings? For that matter, why does Roose even bother with Ramsay? I don’t buy that he has feelings for him (does Roose have feelings for anyone?), though I suppose he’s been some strategic help: He took Moat Cailin last season, and Roose did need an heir to ensnare a Stark in marriage. But Ramsay’s not exactly a diplomatic genius or a clear leader, like Robb Stark was. Roose’s commitment to him, and the show’s commitment to developing their relationship, leaves me a little baffled, because despite Ramsay’s obvious, deep need for official paternal recognition, I’m not convinced Bolton cares for such institutions unless they serve his needs. When we meet Mom No. 4, Ramsay’s long-lost mother, she’s little more than another pawn in the chess game between these two. Roose used the news of Walda being pregnant with Baby Bolton to unsettle Ramsay and, I’d guess, put him in his place. Then he uses the truly ghastly story of Ramsay’s mother, an unnamed commoner whom he raped after hanging her husband, to cement his commitment to his son, telling him that when the woman delivered the baby to him, he almost hanged her and threw him in the river — until he looked at him and realized that he was definitely his son. It’s the horrible counterpart to Stannis’s story to Shireen last week, which had similar beats (a stiff father, a moment in which a child is recognized and named) but a wildly different melody. Though just as I fear that the moment last week was a prelude to something awful happening to Shireen, I wonder if Roose is playing Ramsay for a fool somehow. Hey, a girl can dream.