Was Jon Snow’s controversial decision in “High Sparrow” unavoidable?Jon Snow’s beheading of Janos Slynt is sure to be one of the most controversial moments of his character’s storyline so far, with good arguments on either side. Beheading a man just for refusing a post (and then immediately after he begs for mercy) seems cold-blooded. Still, Jon’s command over the Night’s Watch is already tenuous. In the books he wins command by a landslide, but in the show he wins only by one tie breaking vote. Any mercy could be seen as weakness to be exploited by Janos and Alliser Thorne. On the other hand, as one friend put it to me, “the death penalty should be abolished!”
Moral or not, when Jon Snow upholds the law of the Night’s Watch by beheading Janos Slynt, the act carries with it strong echoes of previous Game of Thrones scenes. Most immediately, the moment of decision—to grant mercy or carry out the law—mirrors Daenerys’s decision to execute Mossador in the previous episode. The similarities are striking, but there are also differences: Dany’s decision is met with hissing and violence while Jon’s is met with quiet and (from some, at least) respect. Jon was upholding the unambiguous law of the Night’s Watch while Dany was inventing her own laws. Dany deliberately gathered an audience for an execution while Jon completed it as quickly and with as little fanfare as possible. Perhaps, most importantly, Jon Snow swung his own sword.
The beheading closes the loop on Janos Slynt’s storyline. From the City Watch commander, who turned on Ned Stark and sent him to his own beheading, to disgraced Night’s Watch brother, beheaded by Ned Stark’s bastard. Though there’s no way for him to know it, in upholding the law of the Night’s Watch, Jon Snow meted out some justice for his father’s death.
Going back even further, this scene echos the first episode of Game of Thrones in which Ned Stark executes a Night’s Watch deserter. From the outset, before he even takes the black, Jon’s respect for the vows of the Night’s Watch is clear. “Don’t look away,” he says to Bran who looks on beside him. “Father will know if you do.” Later, Ned tells Bran, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Rewatching this scene, the beheading in “High Sparrow” feels like the inevitable result of the chain of events set off from that very first episode.
In that moment, just before he carries out the lawful justice’s fatal blow, standing poised above his sword, offering Janos the opportunity to speak his last words, Jon Snow looks just like his father.
Meanwhile, back at King’s Landing, Margery is wed to King Tommen. King Tommen, sweet, naive, and innocent, practically a perfect foil for Joffrey. In this new light, cast beside Tommen, Margery takes on a new hue. Beside Joffrey she appeared heroic, using her wiles to curb Joffrey’s cruel nature. Beside Tommen she seems downright manipulative.
Cersei meets with the episode’s namesake, the High Sparrow, who quickly establishes himself as a charismatic, humble, and holy man. He scoffs at being assigned a title High Sparrow. He gave his shoes to someone who needed them more. When asked if he came to King’s Landing to remind everyone what they really are, he replies, “Everyone? It’s a hard enough job reminding myself.” Alright, this guy seems too humble and good. Maybe King’s Landing is messing with me, but I don’t trust him.
Arya, meanwhile, is at the House of Black and White, sweeping the same floor for days on end. She gets cryptic non-answers to her every question and it doesn’t seem like anyone is training her Faceless Man. She realizes that she has to give up all of her personal possessions and identity to become a Faceless Man. She throws them all in the sea, except Needle, which she can’t bear to give up. She hides it under a rock. Good work, Arya. I’m sure no one will ever figure out that you did that and you’ll be a Faceless Man in no time. It’s gonna be totally fine!
Tyrion (unwisely) disembarks from his box with Varys in Volantis where he sees a red priestess who gives him a significant look and also makes the second or third mention of Greyscale this season. (Do you think that’s going to be important?) They make straight for a brothel, where Tyrion is promptly kidnapped by Ser Jorah Mormont, who says, “I’m taking you to the Queen.” Ser Jorah could mean Cersei, but that seems unlikely. Jorah <3 Dany 4eva. In all likelihood, Tyrion is being taken to Mereen, where he was already headed. Most convenient kidnapping ever.
Over at Vanity Fair, Joanna Robinson pretty convincingly argues for why last week’s episode redeems Daenerys’s uncomfortable white savior storyline.