Let's talk about that Jon Snow shock
Credit: HBO

HE’S ALIVE! Jon Snow is back, it’s true. We can all say it now for certain. For nearly a year everybody asked: “Is Jon Snow dead?” And he was, very much so, he just didn’t stay dead.

And we’re going to dive deep into that huge reveal and tackle Ramsay Bolton’s gruesome family kill-off, and everything else in “Home.” But first, we at EW have been working on the story of Jon Snow’s death and resurrection for months. We have an exclusive interview with Kit Harington in this week’s issue. What Harington went through to keep this all quiet is incredible, and this is a story I think you’re really going to enjoy. Go here for a brief preview of the story.

Tree-cave: Welcome back to the land of Thrones, Bran Stark. He’s grown up plenty and has a super intriguing Inception-ish story line this season. We first see Bran snugly wrapped in his branch fort, his eyes warging out. He’s tripping under the soothing authoritative guidance of the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran goes to…

A long, long time ago in a kingdom far, far away, entering an amazing flashback to Winterfell when the Stark family was whole. For The Godfather Saga fans, this is like that poignant ending of Part II where Michael recalled the Corleone family dinner long before he whacked everybody.

We see a young Ned Stark and Bran’s uncle Benjen. They’re sparring in the courtyard. “They were all so happy,” says Bran, and of course they were — this was back before George R.R. Martin started writing about their lives.

Arriving on horseback is a character we’ve never seen, but have heard about — Lyanna Stark. This is Ned’s sister, who was abducted by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen in a kidnapping that sparked the rebellion against the Mad King Aerys and eventually put Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne (we haven’t necessarily needed to understand this kind of detailed backstory to follow and enjoy Thrones in the past, but it’s going to be important this season). Can’t this flashback just be the start of an implanted Game of Thrones spin-off?

There’s also a large boy named Wylis, who we recognize as young Hodor. But he can talk. I mean, Hodor can talk too, of course, but Wylis apparently has a whole bunch of non-Hodor-ian vocabulary.

The Three-Eyed Raven interrupts, pulling us out of this scene, and tries and convince Bran to stop watching. “You finally show me something I care about and then you drag me away,” complains Bran (and critics of his story line in previous seasons). We want to tell the Raven to shut up — spying on Flashback Winterfell is way more fun than looking at tree roots.

Bran asks Hodor whatever happened to him, anyway. Hodor says “Hodor,” and I love that he seems to infuse this with some kind of cryptic meaning.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if this entire time Hodor was totally f—ing with everybody?

Outside, Meera is getting cave-claustrophobic and tired of watching Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven trip out without her. Suddenly Leaf pops up (a member of that mysterious race known as the Children of the Forest) and reminds her that Bran needs her.

Castle Black: We get the scene that’s been teased for a while: Ser Alliser vs. Davos. “Nobody needs to die tonight,” Thorne says, but viewers of this show know better. Swords are drawn. Thorne’s ax swings into the door. Ghost looks hungry for man-flesh. Between the ax-door attack and last week’s Melisandre ravages-of-time reveal, snowbound Castle Black is starting to feel like some alternate universe version of the Overlook Hotel (“Heeeeere’s Alliser!”).

Just when it seems like all hope is lost, the Dolorous Edd returns with the Wildlings. The giant Wun Wun crashes through the door. “Fight you cowards!” cries Thorne, but even he doesn’t seem too eager to take on Wun-Wun, especially after he plays Hulk-smash with an archer. The real traitors are arrested. Tormund Giantsbane says he’s going to get wood for a fire to burn Jon Snow’s body. You’re such a tease Thrones.

King’s Landing: Cersei’s Walk last season has resulted in her being slut-shamed by jerks in the streets of King’s Landing. Luckily she has The Mountain to protect her honor. The monstrous knight hilariously smashes the trash-talker into the wall. Every time I see The Mountain’s gray face through that visor I think of rotten roast beef.

Cersei wants to go Myrcella’s funeral, but her son King Tommen has ordered that she remain in the Red Keep lest she end up being paraded naked through the streets again. The City Watch looks rather relieved she didn’t order The Mountain to attack.

In The Sept, we learn Tommen is feeling totally useless and ineffectual. Primarily because he is. “If I can’t even protect my own wife, my own mother, what good am I?” he asks, which is a solid question.

Enter Bernie Sparrow, who comes in to chat with Jaime and spout his usual rhetoric about how his impoverished followers are ready to rise up to overthrow the elite. The Lannister wants to kill him so damn bad. “The gods won’t mind — they spill more blood then the rest of us combined,” Jaime growls.

Tommen goes to see his mom to apologize. Cersei looks like she’s practically written him off at this point, and maybe she has given the prophecy that all her children will die. He wants her to teach him how to be strong. Cersei is hardly the finest tactical teacher, but she can surely help him improve beyond where he is now.

We’re … we’re never seeing Ser Pounce again … are we?

Meereen: Small council meeting, of sorts, in Meereen. It’s all bad news: Their fleet is burned. The cities in Slaver’s Bay are returning to the slavers, except Meereen. The dragons aren’t eating.

That last one Tyrion thinks he might be able to solve. Dragons, it seems, do poorly in captivity. “I drink, and I know things,” Tyrion quips, and I immediately want that on a T-shirt. He also notes that keeping dragons captive is what made them die out the first time. The final ones were as small as cats. (Scratch the T-shirt, how about a cat-sized dragon?).

So Tyrion goes to the dragon dungeon. This is an awfully brave move. He’s gambling with his life on the theory that they won’t harm him simply because he’s their friend. Plenty of characters on Thrones have been killed for less.

“I’m here to help,” he says. “Don’t eat the help.”

Tyrion, it seems, always wanted a dragon as a kid. This makes us love him all the more. He sets them free, much to the dismay of shepherds across the land.

Braavos: The Waif has come to beat Arya again. She accuses her of failing to lose her identity as Arya Stark and accept that she’s truly “no one” and therefore one of the the Faceless Men.

Then Jaqen H’ghar tempts her: “If a girl says her name, a man will give her eyes back.”

Ahhh, that’s something. He has the power to restore her eyes. Hope.

Jaqen doesn’t restore her vision, but he does agree to get her off the streets so she can finally clean her grody feet (and perhaps beat her without having to leave their temple).

Winterfell: Ramsay is struggling to explain losing Sansa to his dad. They’re joined by the current Lord Karstark (a former Stark family ally who Robb Stark alienated after he decapitated his father for killing the Lannisters that Robb was holding captive — you know, season 3 stuff).

Ramsay thinks Sansa is headed to Castle Black to join Jon Snow — a prospect that while watching this scene seemed totally depressing in its futility. But knowing about Snow’s resurrection, that’s actually now potentially extremely exciting if she can make it there. Interestingly, we watch this scene thinking “the Boltons don’t realize Jon Snow is dead.” But now Snow is alive again. So, weirdly, the Boltons have actually read the situation correctly — even though at the time they were wrong… if that makes sense.

And then comes the news. Ah, poor Ramsay. His bride Sansa leaves him, his servant Reek ditches him, his lover Myranda is murdered. Now the day he’s dreaded is here: His stepmom Walda has given birth and it’s a boy — a legit heir for Ramsay’s brutally pragmatic father Roose. That’s bad for Ramsay. But as it turns out, it’s even worse for Roose, Walda, and little Roose Jr.

Roose quickly assures Ramsay that he’ll always be his first-born son. Ramsay thanks him. He could, and probably should, just wait this out. Roose isn’t marrying an infant to Sansa or putting the tyke in charge of defending Winterfell anytime soon. But Ramsay doesn’t like feeling threatened, or uncertainty, and he’s kind of impulsive. Plus, he’s spent the hiatus since season 5 mulling how to make himself more despicable than ever. So he makes a decision: Kill ‘em all.

He shocks us by stabbing his own father in the heart.

And what follows next with Walda and the baby… You know, Thrones truly excels at staging mounting dread — The Red Wedding, Shrieen’s death… sequences of gradual, horrifying progression where you know what’s coming and you desperately want it to stop. This is one of those scenes. And it’s one of the few times recapping Thrones where I don’t want to describe what happens. All those shots of Ramsay opening and closing the rusty gates of the kennel as you realize he’s going to feed his stepmom and baby brother to the hounds… words just fail. The dialogue is admittedly terrific, however: “I am Lord Bolton” and “I prefer to be an only child.”

And this is how crazy the emotional ping-pong match on Game of Thrones is: Even though an innocent woman and her newborn were just eaten alive, we’re all outright ecstatic at the end of this episode. Dead baby? What dead baby? Wooo, Jon Snow is back!

Forest: Group therapy in the snow. Brienne reveals to Sansa that Arya is still alive. So that’s good. And Theon decides he’s going to leave them. “I don’t want to be forgiven — I cannot make amends to your family for the things I’ve done,” he says tearfully. “I would have taken you all the way to The Wall. I would have died to get you there.” There’s a hug. Aww.

Theon says he’s going “home” — the title used yet again. The Thrones showrunners often say they don’t really do unifying themes, but this episode certainly has one, and it’s right there in the title. Even Jon Snow, after all, comes “home” to the land of the living.

Pyke: Speaking of Theon’s home. It seems to never stop raining in Pyke, it’s like the Seattle of Westeros. We see grouchy Balon Greyjoy — another member of the Game of Thrones Bad Father Collection. His daughter Yara brings him bad news about his war effort. Balon is still fighting the War of the Five Kings even though nobody seems to care anymore that he’s the last king standing.

Balon goes to take a stroll down the most unsafe looking bridge in Westeros. The scene is visually spectacular. On the bridge is Balon’s brother Euron, who seems like an egocentric piece of work. He kills his brother, becoming the second person in the last few minutes to murder a family member to get a promotion.

But Euron doesn’t automatically take Balon’s place as king. We learn there’s an electoral process to succession around here — called a Kingsmoot. And it sounds like Euron will be going up against Yara for the title.

Book readers have actually been waiting for Balon to die on that bridge since season 3. In George R.R. Martin’s novels, after Melisandre cursed Robb Stark, Joffrey Baratheon, and Balon Greyjoy, all expired in rather rapid succession.

But not only was Balon kept alive until the Thrones producers could use his death for a more interesting story line moving forward than what would have been possible a couple seasons back, there’s also that tie to Melisandre. In one sense, Balon dying is an affirmation, if you can call it that, of her curse from years ago. Yet at the same time, Robb, Joffrey, and Balon all clearly were killed due to the apparent free-will decisions of others. As Thrones writer Dave Hill told us: “There’s an idea of linkage — throwing the slugs in the fire. Balon is dead. But how do you establish a causal link? The other ones died fairly quickly. And then there’s this outlier. There are a lot of people claiming to know the gods’ will and claiming to speak for god or gods, and we like playing with the idea that the gods — if they exist — maybe have their own agenda and ulterior motives and humans can glimpse them but you can’t really ascribe human notions and actions and consequence to gods — that’s what makes them gods.”

I’m going to miss Balon — mostly because my autocorrect keeps changing his name to “Bacon Greyjoy,” which sounds like a yummy Southern breakfast dish.

Castle Black: Melisandre is depressed. At least she put the necklace back on, so that must make he feel a little better. Davos enters and starts hinting about ressurrecting Jon Snow. Our ears perk up. But Melisandre is doubting herself the way somebody who senselessly burned a child alive probably would doubt herself. This is her lowest moment, she’s basically confessing to being a total fraud. Davos is her Mickey Goldmill, urging the champ to get in the ring and fight for Snow’s life. It must be so frustrating for him — finally Melisandre is no longer a scary powerful witch… right when he really wants her to be a scary powerful witch!

She agrees to give it a shot. Snow’s body is stripped. She washes him. She says magical-sounding words. Ghost looks nearly dead too. “Please,” she says.

Nothing happens. Didn’t work. One by one they leave. But the camera lingers over Snow’s body. It’s an echo of the season 5 finale when Snow was bleeding out and the camera stayed on his face, and we all wanted to see some sign of life. Ghost stirs. Our thoughts echo Melisandre’s: Please

Jon Snow wakes with a startling gasp. It’s like he’s been holding his breath this entire time. Did you scream?

Our hero has returned. Score one for Team Stark. But will Jon Snow be the same?

Until next week, check our quickie interview with Kit Harington (with a charming “I’m sorry!” video). Here’s our second Harington piece where he reveals his season 6 role is actually his biggest yet (!), as well as our Harington cover image. We also have an interview with Ramsay Bolton actor Iwan Rheon and writer Dave Hill on those gruesome murders. Also, our thanks to all those who checked out the debut of our EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly Podcast. For this week’s episode (posted below), we breakdown “Home,” give some behind-the-scenes scoop, and talk about our Harington cover story.

Trivia question: Every king in The War of the Five Kings is now dead. What order did they die in on the show? First to email GOTPodcast@ew.com gets the prize. UPDATE: Prize redeemed!

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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