Months of build-up, anticipation and speculation led us to this: a naked woman, centuries old, gingerly climbing into bed.
Yes, that really happened, but there was a lot more in Game of Thrones’ season 6 premiere than that. Fires and killings and coups (oh my!) made this one of the fastest-paced, if not best, season openers for the series.
A thread uniting several of the plots is the struggle to face new circumstances. The dramatic effects of last season’s finale are just starting to be felt for several characters. With that in mind, we’ve got a few good scenes, a few great scenes and two WTF moments to discuss. Let’s dive in.
The opening shot had us flying down into Castle Black from alongside the Wall, guiding us down to the lifeless body of Jon Snow after his murder. Yes, he’s dead. Quite dead. In fact, his face is almost whiter than the snow around him (you know, that isn’t covered in blood).
Ghost, Jon’s direwolf, howls mournfully into the night. Ghost’s cries draw Davos away from his quiet contemplation and outside to Jon. Several other Night’s Watchmen also discover the scene and take Jon’s body inside.
As they try to grasp the situation, Melisandre comes in. It’s yet another blow for this red priestess.
“I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell,” she says, with more evidence that her prophecies were wrong literally lying in front of her.
You think that she’ll remember her powers and try to set things right by resurrecting Jon right there. You just know that she's going to say some spells and bring him to life. Don’t get your hopes up yet, all ye believers; Jon stays dead.
Meanwhile, the rest of Castle Black has assembled in the mess hall. The men are far from being in agreement on the mutiny. Alliser Thorne, who plunged the first dagger into Jon the night before, explains about as rationally as one in his spot could that Jon had to be killed. Lord Commander Snow thought he was doing the right thing, Thorne says, but adds that Snow’s actions with the wildlings would’ve destroyed the Night’s Watch.
That argument wouldn’t work with the few men surrounding Jon’s body. Edd, on of Jon’s oldest friends there, wants to go down fighting the traitors. Davos, however, has a different idea, reminding them that there are others who very recently owe their lives to Jon’s actions. Edd leaves to rally the wildlings to their cause.
In the former Stark stronghold, you’d expect Ramsay to be celebrating the Bolton victory over Stannis’ forces. Instead, we get to see a new side of the sadistic monster, as he mournfully looks at the dead Myranda (his favorite crazy girlfriend), who was thrown over the ramparts by Theon.
For a moment, he’s genuinely shaken and saddened by the loss, swearing to make her killers suffer. Next, he tells his maester to feed her body to the dogs, an oddly appropriate means of disposal for the kennel master's daughter. When it comes to grieving, you do you, Ramsay.
He gets no sympathy from daddy Roose, though. The Warden of the North reminds Ramsay that they betrayed the crown when Ramsay married Sansa Stark. Their hold on the North relies on all the Northern lords rallying to them, and that depends on Sansa giving the Boltons legitimacy by providing Ramsay an heir. It’s awfully hard for Ramsay to live up to his end of the deal when Sansa was last seen getting the heck out of Dodge.
Roose doesn’t beat around the bush: if Ramsay can’t get Sansa back, the son Roose is soon expecting from his wife will be his new heir. Ramsay will not forget the threat to his position from this baby, or his father for that matter.
As that soap opera unfolds, Sansa and Theon are busy running through the forest, trying to lose the Bolton hounds pursuing them. Even though they wade through a freezing river to shake the dogs off, the Bolton men find them.
One of them shares his excitement to see what Ramsay cuts off Theon this time -- really? Are all Bolton men such jerks? -- but hold that thought! Brienne and Pod to the rescue!
I was screaming at my TV (admit it, you probably did, too) as the duo passed on formalities and went straight to killing the hunters. It was a rough fight for Brienne, but she managed to kill most of them. Even Pod got a couple, with a little help from Theon.
Afterwards, Brienne bends the knee to try, once again, to pledge herself to Sansa. With Theon’s eyes screaming “say yes!” quite obviously, Sansa accepts her service this time. Both women end the scene standing proud, as if the bitter cold all about them was suddenly gone.
Sitting in her chambers, running her fingers through the hair she barely recognizes, Cersei gets word that a ship from Dorne has arrived. That can only mean one thing: Myrcella, her daughter, is back. No matter your feelings on Cersei, it’s undeniable how much she loves her children.
The unrestrained grin that appears on her face and her run to the waterside -- a display of happiness and excitement we’ve never seen from her -- was heartbreaking to watch.
We knew what she would find, and as Jaime came ashore with the shrouded body of their daughter in tow, the revelation quickly sinks in on Cersei.
Amazingly, she doesn’t blame Jaime for Myrcella’s death. What she does instead is offer an unprecedented bit of self-reflection on her part. Of Myrcella, she says that “she was good. From her first breath, she was so sweet. I don’t know where she came from. She was nothing like me. No meanness, no jealousy, just good. I thought if I could make something so good, so pure, maybe I’m not a monster.”
For someone who has tried so hard to shape her world, Cersei resigns herself to fate, telling Jaime that the deaths were foretold by the witch we saw in a flashback last season. Jaime, perhaps relieved that he’s not being blamed this go-around, tells her to forget about fate and everyone else: they’re going to take down everyone in their way, everyone who’s harmed them, together.
Afterwards, we get a couple minutes with Queen Margaery. She’s looking as awful as ever, still imprisoned by the Faith Militant, with our favorite Shaming Septa (as she’ll henceforth be known) reading from the good book to her. Margaery cringes in fear from her just before the High Sparrow comes in for a chat. The Queen seems to be on the verge of breaking, but she’s not there just yet.
The biggest complaint about last season revolved around the stale and, at times, cheesy plotline in Dorne. We’d been teased for years about the exotic southern kingdom of Westeros and its wild residents that regularly spat on social norms. What we got wasn’t just far less exciting; there were moments of pure ridiculousness (case in point: Tyene Sand’s send-off to Bron in the season finale).
Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss consistently say that they don’t let public opinion sway their vision for the show. It’s hard to take that seriously now that we’ve seen Season 6’s version of Dorne.
Within a minute of seeing Ellaria Sand having a friendly conversation with Prince Doran, a messenger brings news of Myrcella’s death. Before Doran can so much as look at Ellaria and accuse her of the murder (which, in case you forgot, was carried out by a literal kiss of death), Ellaria and Tyene kill Doran, his main bodyguard and the poor messenger. The other guards just stand and watch as Ellaria chastises Doran for his poor rule and takes control.
Just like that, two minutes in Season 6 Dorne prove more exciting than all of Season 5 Dorne.
Meanwhile, the other two Sand Snakes, Obara and Nymeria, have somehow (seriously, how?) gotten aboard the ship floating in King’s Landing to kill young Trystane Martell. They let him chose who he wants to fight for his life, and like an idiot he turns his back to Obara to fight Nymeria. Despite my best efforts, Trystane ignores my yelling and gets stabbed in the head.
As Doran dies from a stab to the heart, Ellaria informs him that “weak men will never rule Dorne again.” I only hope we can say the same about plotlines.
Meereen and beyond
Deciding to get to know the city they’re ruling, Tyrion and Varys go for a walk in the streets. It's almost impossible for Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill to deliver anything less than a great performance; their interactions are always a highlight. Their stroll here provides both comedic relief and foreboding.
After discussing the flailing popularity of Daenerys in Meereen and who could be pulling the strings of the Sons of the Harpy, sounds of chaos draw them to the harbor. The entire royal fleet is burning away, with Tyrion and Varys staring dumbfounded at the scene. So far, not so good, boys.
Elsewhere, awkward couple Daario and Jorah are on the search for Daenerys. They ride up to an area trampled by hundreds of horses in a circle, with untouched space in the center. It’s there that Jorah finds the ring that Dany dropped last season, a ridiculous attempt at leaving a sign. Sure, having it in the center of a horse-made bullseye makes Jorah finding it a little easier to swallow, but not by much.
What Dany could use a lot more than two men right now is a dragon, as we find her marching with thousands of slaves in a Dothraki horde. Somehow the Dothraki have no idea who she is -- which begs the question: do they capture every slave in as spectacular a fashion as they did her last season? Isn’t that a bit overkill?
She’s presented to Khal Moro, the leader of this massive khalasar. His bloodriders compliment her lips while his two wives suggest he cut her head off (aw, cute: I’ve been dying for some petty jealousy in this show). He, of course, opts to not take her head, instead going to rip her dress off. Dany surprises all by ordering him to back off, in fluent Dothraki, and telling them her full name and all of her titles.
They laugh her off until she drops the fact that she’s the widow of Khal Drogo. That gets Khal Moro to change his tune -- he apologizes! That never happens with Dothraki! -- but it doesn’t mean he’ll help her. Instead, they’re taking her to live with the other widowed khaleesis in Vaes Dothrak.
Arya’s fortunes aren’t any better. She’s not only blind, but now she’s begging on the streets of Braavos. She does get a visitor: the Waif, that mean girl from the House of Black and White who loves giving our sweet Arya a hard time.
It’s not a friendly visit, though, as the girl proceeds to beat the crap out of Arya with a pole. Arya tries to defend herself, but blindness doesn’t suit her fighting skills. The Waif tells Arya she’ll see her tomorrow. Hooray?
Back in the North, Thorne’s supporters surround the pro-Snow watchmen as Thorne tries to negotiate a settlement through the locked door. He tells Davos that all will be forgiven if they just come out peacefully. Come nightfall, however, there will be blood. Ever the negotiator, Davos thanks him for the offer and says they’ll be back with a response in due time.
Elsewhere in the Castle (Jon’s old quarters?), Melisandre is sitting on a small bed, staring at the flames in her fireplace. Hair still frazzled, she walks over to a mirror sitting on a desk.
Carice Van Houten knows how to portray this priestess: her eyes stare coldly into the mirror, showcasing just how lost and uncertain Melisandre feels.
That’s not all she reveals. She looks at herself after she takes off her robes, soaking in what she sees. That’s because what we see next is shocking. Removing her trademark choker necklace, Melisandre transforms into her true self: an old woman, a very old woman. But as alien as her body now is to us, her facial expression is pure Melisandre. She glares at this new reflection, not happy with the face looking back.
While not what many expected, it’s clear now why this episode was entitled “The Red Woman.” The reveal of Melisandre’s super-old age wasn’t just a shock to us; it was to shock Melisandre herself. As D.B. Weiss said in a clip aired after the episode, Melisandre’s youthful appearance is as big a lie as the visions she trusted. With her whole world shaken, it’s time that she face the facts -- about her faith, about herself.
How her new state of mind affects her actions is yet to be seen. But if she’s looking for something to do, I can think of one really, really big thing she could try.