'Game of Thrones' Recap: Snow Day

A magnificent episode reaches the moment we were all waiting for — and so much more

Credit: HBO

A crippled boy walks again, a smile on his face as he walks around the place he once called home. A lonely girl sits isolated against a vast frozen field, mourning her brother and wondering if she has a purpose without him. A giant bursts through a gate, cowing a small army into submission. A drunk in the middle of pissing on the wall turns to face a masked killer, who crushes his skull and walks away without a word. A sullied knight and a man of god(s) face off in a holy place, the body of a princess in front of them, daylight shining through a seven-pointed window behind them. A dwarf ventures into the darkness to face dragons, illuminated only by the light of his torch and the fire in their mouths. A new mother clutches her baby as a madman releases his hounds to kill them. A broken man hugs the woman he rescued, and who rescued him, as they say goodbye. An aging king faces off against his own brother on a bridge above the ocean, blown back and forth by the storm.

And oh, yeah ... Jon Snow comes back from the dead.

An awful lot happens in tonight's riveting, Internet-breaking episode of Game of Thrones, entitled "Home." Chances are good that most of it will be overlooked in favor of that final shot — a fiercely guarded but widely guessed secret that author George R.R. Martin, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and actor Kit Harington have fought a virtual war of deception to keep hidden. Our advice? Don't miss the forest for the weirwood tree. From the violence to the visuals, from the emotions to the revelations, this was show doing all the things it does well, and there's way more to that than shocking deaths and even more stunning resurrections.

It looked amazing, for one thing — and unlike anything else on TV. Director Jeremy Podeswa delivers a number of stunning visual grace notes here: the way snow clings to the tangled roots above the cave where the Three-Eyed Raven (film legend Max Von Sydow, making his debut) tutors Bran Stark in psychic time travel; the way torchlight strikes the hand of a terrified Tyrion Lannister as he rests it on the scaly neck of one of Daenerys' captive dragons; the way a storm at sea silhouettes Balon Greyjoy and his mad brother Euron as they confront each other; the way the light in a church can suffocate as well as illuminate when it strikes Jaime Lannister as he confronts the High Sparrow; and much more besides. It's easy to take for granted how big these images are, particularly when much of television's most accomplished cinematography involves the relatively relatable and low-stakes situations of, say, Better Call Saul. We ought to be grateful to get so many vivid visual reminders that this is a world far stranger than our own.

The episode also continues establishing a dynamic kicked off in last week's premiere: The lunatics are starting to run every asylum in Westeros. Hot on the heels of Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes' takeover of Dorne, Ramsay Bolton murders his father Roose, his mother-in-law Walda Frey, and their newborn heir, essentially placing the North in the hands of a serial killer with diplomatic immunity. Meanwhile, King Balon gets dumped into the sea by his own baby bro, a guy with a penchant for saying psychotic shit like "I am the storm," setting up a so-called "kingsmoot" to determine who will rule the Iron Islands; Yara Greyjoy, the dead monarch's daughter, is the most reasonable candidate, which almost certainly means she'll lose her bid for the Salt Throne, if not her life itself.

Finally, King Tommen approaches his disgraced mother Cersei to beg her forgiveness and ask for her help in becoming a stronger (read: deadlier) ruler — meaning that King's Landing is now torn between religious fanatics and a woman who employs the Westerosi equivalent of Jason Vorhees as her muscle. If Jon, Tyrion, Dany, Varys, Tormund Giantsbane, and the rest of the relatively sane people on this show stand a chance against the undead onslaught brewing beyond the Wall, it won't be with the help of these wackos.

Which is precisely the point. Despite lending the series its title, the game of thrones played by the rich, greedy, and powerful is nothing more than a sideshow. The wars waged by kings, lords and masters around the world is a distraction from the coming conflict of life itself against death itself. This is what gives lie to the idea that Game of Thrones is in love with its own violence — the entire point of the show is the antiwar message that every killing helps humanity's collective enemy. And it's what lends Melisandre's resurrection of Jon Snow — urged on by Davos Seaworth but witnessed by no one but the Lord Commander's red-eyed direwolf — a heft that elevates it far above the bogus fake-outs you get from the likes of The Walking Dead. Jon escaped death to help the whole world do the same. Winter is coming, but this show has the guts to dream of spring.

Previously: No Country for Old Women

'Game of Thrones' actor Kit Harington has apologized to fans for lying about the death – and resurrection – of character Jon Snow. Watch here.