WARNING: This post is dark and full of terrors. And sadness.
Well, holding a door for someone will never be the same.
Where “Book of the Stranger” showed us one of the few genuinely happy moments in Game of Thrones, a week later “The Door” gave us perhaps one of the most tragic. Hodor has always been a fan favorite, and this episode finally shed some light on how he came to be “Hodor.” To learn that Bran was responsible for his infliction right as the gentle giant died before our eyes was devastating to watch.
“The Door” was an episode about sacrifice, to put it bluntly. That was obvious with the host of characters who died to save Bran (The Three Eyed Raven! Leaf! Summer! HODOR!), but sacrifices of different sorts occurred all over the map, from Theon, to Arya, to Jorah. Thrones made sure to crush any good vibes we had from last week.
There is a lot to digest about this hour. While I still wipe tears off my keyboard, lets get to it.
Sansa has seemingly returned to her lady ways, stitching up some leather and fabric (for what we learn later is a Ned-esque cloak for Jon) when she receives a letter. It turns out that Petyr Baelish is just over in Mole’s Town and would like to have a chat.
Seriously -- how the heck does Littlefinger travel, and why has no one borrowed his mockingbird jet before? The Eyrie is not exactly a hop, skip and a jump from the North, let alone the Wall. We learn he has forces from the Vale at Moat Cailin, but that’s still much more than a country mile down the road. Tiny details like these throw monkey wrenches into timelines on this show.
Anyway, he’s waiting in a run-down shack for Sansa when she arrives with Brienne. He’s a little surprised to see the Lady of Tarth, but he tells Sansa he’s glad to see her “unharmed.” Man, that was a dumb thing to say.
Sansa assures him she’s anything but unharmed from her ordeal in Winterfell. She’s strong, in control of the conversation and angry. About the madman that is Ramsay, she tells Littlefinger “if you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy.” In some of the most awkward tension Thrones has provided for a while, she gets him to guess about the sorts of things Ramsay did to her on their wedding night and beyond, with Brienne looming over the unusually uncomfortable man.
Any trust Sansa once had in him is gone. “You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family, and you gave me to other monsters who murdered my family."
She lets it be known that she neither thinks Baelish can keep her safe nor needs him to try, and she wants him out of her life for good. He leaves, but informs her that her uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, has amassed what’s left of the army of her mother’s family and retaken their stronghold of Riverrun. (If that’s a head-scratcher of a sentence, it’s okay: We haven’t seen him or Riverrun since before the Red Wedding in Season 3). Littlefinger tells Sansa that although Jon is family, it would be good for her to have forces loyal exclusively to her. After all, Jon is only her “half-brother.”
Later in the episode, it’s one of Thrones’ trademark/tricky to follow Strategy Sessions with Maps. The Council of Jon as I’ll call them, the main players in Castle Black, are trying to figure out how they can amass a force strong enough to take Winterfell. Acknowledging his limited knowledge of the North, Davos knows that they can write off the largest Northern houses who have thrown in their lot with the Boltons. Some of the smaller ones, though, have yet to declare their allegiance. Loyalty is a quality these houses prize above most else, so most of them might rally together for the Starks once again.
Sansa informs the council of the situation in Riverrun -- without divulging her true source. The Tully forces will be anxious to see the Boltons knocked from power, she says, and Davos adds that having them allied with the wildlings and other Northern houses might be enough to tip the scales in their favor. A strategy is born.
Back in her quarters, Sansa tells Brienne to go to Riverrun to speak with the Blackfish. Brienne isn’t so keen to leave her with Davos and Melisandre, both of whom had Stannis’ brother murdered with black magic.
(It should also be noted that she trusts Jon, even though he’s “a bit brooding, perhaps. I suppose that’s understandable, considering.” Understatement of the season? She also calls Tormund “that wildling fellow with the beard.” Admit it, Brienne, you WANT to give in to the forbidden love!)
Sansa stresses that she trusts Jon to keep her safe, but Brienne asks, if that were that the case, why she lied about the source of the Tully information? Have Littlefinger’s distrustful ways rubbed off on Sansa more than she knows?
We won’t know the extent of her distrust yet, as the group departs Castle Black to assemble an alliance. Good ole Edd is left as lord commander of the Night’s Watch, a change of fate that leaves him just as bewildered as us. Good luck with that, bro.
In case you were concerned, don’t worry: Arya is still getting beat up by that obnoxious Waif. She puts up a good fight, to be sure, but still gets plenty of hard blows.
Jaqen disrupts this tea party to teach her the origins of the order, which dates back to the time of Old Valyria and the founding of Braavos, and to give her an assignment. She’s to observe an actress marked for death, Lady Crane.
This Lady Crane performs in a production that would give Shakespeare a run for his money (perhaps). She’s none other than Queen Cersei in a play that reenacts events from King’s Landing, from the death of Robert Baratheon to Ned Stark’s execution and Sansa’s marriage to Tyrion. This surely had to be a test on poor Arya; Sansa is portrayed as a helpless maid (not too wrong, tbh) and Ned a power-hungry idiot, while Cersei and Joffrey are almost sympathetic. Still, Arya keeps it together and suppresses whatever feelings the scene brings up. She's supposed to be No One, after all.
Behind the scenes, though, Lady Crane doesn’t seem all that bad. In fact, in another life, her and Arya might have gotten along swimmingly. But this is an assignment, so Arya reports what she sees to Jaqen. Not so subtly, she has doubts about killing this woman and asks Jaqen if it’s only because a jealous actress wants her dead.
He makes it clear that’s none of her business. “That does not matter. A price was paid. ... A servant does not ask questions.”
For all that Jaqen talks about how the Faceless Men serve their god, they’re really beginning to look like nothing more than a sophisticated band of mercenaries.
The Iron Islands
It’s time for this kingsmoot we’ve heard so much about. Atop a rough hill overlooking the sea, dozens of ships’ captains have assembled to elect the new king of the Iron Islands. Yara makes her claim before them, arguing how Ironborn have become nothing more than a joke among the lords of Westeros. She’ll change that, and Theon (looking cleaned-up and strong for the first time in years) gives her an endorsement that leaves the men chanting her name.
After all Theon’s been through, it’s touching to see how he sacrifices whatever future he might have had as king to his sister, whose expression showed that his gesture wasn’t lost on her.
You know who that gesture was lost upon? Euron Greyjoy, who also stakes his claim to the Salt Throne. He tries to shame “little Theon” about what’s happened to him and gives his pitch to the men. He owns up to murdering old King Balon, even apologizing for not having done it sooner, and then delivers the real kicker: “Across the sea, there is a person who hates the great lords of Westeros just as much as we do. Someone with a large army, three large dragons and no husband.” Euron has eyes on one Daenerys Targaryen.
His plan: build her a massive Ironborn fleet, become her husband and conquer the Seven Kingdoms with her. The reaction of the crowd of voters: Yara who?
A short while later, Euron is baptized and crowned king of the Iron Islands (you’d think they’d have an iron crown, not a twig crown, but I digress). He looks around and asks where his niece and nephew have gone; he’s got to murder them, after all. They scurry up a hill to overlook where all the captains have made anchor and see that the best ships in the fleet have disappeared.
While Euron was busy drowning, Yara, Theon and men loyal to them snuck into the harbor and stole those ships. But where are they going? Euron did have a good plan to make an alliance with the Dragon Queen; perhaps they’re going to try to beat him to the punch.
Before we can see the Greyjoy/Targaryen meet-and-greet we never knew we wanted, it’s time for the Dragon Queen to lead her new mega-khalasar out of Vaes Dothrak. Dany first must decide to do about poor Jorah, though. She keeps banishing him, and he keeps coming back to save her life. What’s a girl to do?
He aims to make it easy for her, showing her the grayscale that’s now devouring his whole arm. With Dany stunned, Jorah says that he’s only ever wanted to serve her and, almost bashfully, admits his love for her.
He tries to leave for good, but a tearful Dany stops him. Pointing out how he had pledged to do whatever she asked before, she commands him to find a cure somewhere, somehow, and to return when he does. When she goes to Westeros, she wants him to be by her side.
Later, Dany leads the massive horde of Dothraki out of the city, looking all the part of a real Dothraki queen. Jorah, however, looks solemnly on from the sidelines and rides away to gods know where.
I thought it was a safe bet that Jorah would bite the dust this season, but it’s nice to think that we might see this fan favorite again before the end. The question now is in what capacity might we see him. Shireen Baratheon is the only person we’ve known to be cured of grayscale, and she had an army of maesters experimenting on her. Jorah is unlikely to be so fortunate, but who knows?
Back in the Daenerys’ main city, her small council is discussing the relative peace that has started since the pact with the wise masters. But Tyrion isn’t satisfied with just peace. The people know that Dany liberated them, he says, but they might not credit her for restoring order. For all of their effort to not have been for nothing, Tyrion says that the people must credit Dany.
For that, they need someone the people trust on their side, and (as pointed out in the season premiere) the people are trusting the priests and priestesses of the Lord of Light. So in the throne room, Tyrion and Varys set up a meeting with the “First Servant of the Lord of Light,” Kinvara. This new red priestess, the “pope” of sorts for the faith, carries herself with a righteous swagger that mirrors Melisandre in her prime. She needs no persuasion from the pair; she and her followers see Daenerys as the figure promised to lead the forces of good against the darkness. She says her best orators will spread the good news of Dany’s deeds to the masses.
Tyrion’s ready to put a bow on this alliance, but Varys has a bone to pick first. He brings up Stannis Baratheon, who was anointed as the savior promised by a red priestess much like Kinvara, and how Stannis’ efforts were met with failure. With his doubt in their faith and their magic, Varys isn’t ready to trust this priestess.
Kinvara writes that little misadventure off to the imperfection of the Lord’s servants -- even those who serve him honestly can still make mistakes, she says -- and Tyrion can’t stress enough how ready he is to move things along.
But Kinvara isn’t done with Varys. Making her way up the stairs to the men, she reveals her knowledge of how Varys was cut by a second-rate priest as a child. This is one of the few times we see Varys genuinely shocked, maybe even afraid.
Placing a hand on his arm, she assures him that they’re on the same side as long as he is a true friend to Dany. With the music we used to hear with Melisandre playing, she gives him an unnerving smile and leaves. There’s no way Varys is sleeping comfortably tonight.
In an episode that mostly laid the tracks for future plot developments, the real action happens with Bran. We first see him and the Three Eyed Raven in a vision, approaching a Stonehenge-like structure surrounding a weirwood tree. This is in the far north, the Land of Always Winter before it was always winter, and some of the Children of the Forest are there, including the main girl (named Leaf) we’ve seen with Bran.
It should be noted that the spiral shape of the formation mirrors exactly something we saw back in Season 3: a formation of chopped-up horses made by the White Walkers. Why is that so? Well, Bran gets to see what those Children are up to. Leaf approaches a man who’s tied up to a post -- and stabs him with what seems to be a dragonglass spearhead.
The man groans in pain, and slowly his eyes turn bright blue and crackle like ice. This man is the first White Walker.
Bran awakens and confronts Leaf on this horrific revelation -- why would they create these monsters? Leaf sheds some light on the climate of that time, something book readers know about but not necessarily show watchers. Thousands of years before now, when the Children dominated most of Westeros, the first men invaded the continent and tried to exterminate them. The Children were on the verge of annihilation and desperate for some means of defense. Even if some viewers knew that much, though, the disclosure that the Children are responsible for the White Walkers is news for everyone.
While everyone is sleeping later on, Bran is wide awake. He makes sure that the Three Eyed Raven is really asleep by the classic throw-the-twig-at-the-face technique and plugs himself back into the tree.
He goes back to Childrenhenge but in what seems to be present-day, covered in snow. To his surprise, he turns his back to the weirwood and sees an army of the undead standing in front of him, totally still. In a stupid move more at home on The Walking Dead, Bran decides to walk amongst them for a closer inspection.
He reaches the back and finds the Night’s King (the bad-A “come at me bro” White Walker leader we last saw in Season 5) on horseback with his lieutenants. The Night’s King knows Bran is there and looks dead at him, startling the foolish boy. Bran turns around to see the army of wights now also facing him, and before he can think Bran is grabbed by the Night’s King.
Bran wakes up screaming in the treehouse; the Raven has already figured out what happened and realizes that the White Walker left a mark on Bran. This is bad news: with that mark, the Night’s King can undo the magic protecting their shelter and attack. Bran has to leave, fast.
The Raven tells him it’s “time for you to become me.” Am I ready, the boy asks. “No.”
As she and Hodor pack their things, Meera runs outside to see that the army of the dead has already arrived. The Children there mount a valiant defense, but it can’t hold back the Night’s King, and they retreat inside.
Bran is in the middle of a vision, with the Raven trying to show him everything he can before the end. They’re in Winterfell, just before young Ned Stark is to leave for the Vale. Meera needs him awake now, though, and she screams at him to wake up and warg into Hodor to fight. From in the vision, Bran can hear Meera’s calls and somehow wargs into real-world Hodor from there.
It’s not long before the dead are inside the cave, cutting down Children left and right. Summer, Bran’s direwolf, makes his first appearance doing what he does best. Still, they’re being overrun, and the White Walkers themselves come inside. In a cheer-inducing moment, Meera takes out a Walker with a dragonglass-tipped spear, but they have to retreat. She, Hodor, Leaf and a still-warging Bran make their way out through a long tunnel.
Summer is the scene’s first heroic sacrifice, selflessly making a suicide charge into a mass of the undead to buy his friends some time. With that, another beloved direwolf meets a tragic end.
The Night’s King enters the cave, where the Raven is still warged into the roots of the weirwood. In the vision, the Raven tells Bran that it’s time to go. And when the Night’s King kills him in the real world, the Raven dissipates before Bran in the vision (much like Voldemort in Harry Potter; we should’ve know the showrunners were fans of that franchise).
Leaf is the next to sacrifice herself, blowing herself up when the undead surround her in the tunnel. When the remaining three reach the end, Hodor shuts the door behind them. As Meera drags Bran into the darkness, she screams at Hodor to “hold the door.”
Still in that vision, Bran hears Meera’s order to Hodor -- and makes eye contact with young Wylis in the vision. Without explanation, Bran wargs into him, and Wylis collapses into a violent seizure.
What happens next is a violent and revealing moment, beautifully shot and painful to watch. Meera continues to yell “hold the door” in the real world. Wylis hears her cries in the vision and repeatedly screams “hold the door.” As the Stark theme music begins to play, the door crumbles around Hodor, with undead tearing and stabbing at him, while we hear Wylis repeating Meera’s words over and over.
As we watch Hodor die against the door, we see Wylis’ seizure ease away and his chant slur into a single, unmistakable word: “Hodor.”
So much happened in this episode, but all that pales in comparison to the tragedy of Hodor. Not only is Bran responsible for Hodor’s death, but he’s also responsible for causing the traumatic damage to his friend’s brain that left him unable to say anything but “hodor” again. He created this terrible destiny for a simple stableboy.
Even though we now know that Bran is able to change things in the past, that the ink of history is not yet dry, it may be hard to forgive how he forever damaged Hodor -- or forget that Hodor lived, and died, for the boy all the same.
Oh, Thrones, why did you do this to us?
At least we didn’t see Ramsay.
Questions? Comments? Need for a therapy session? Find me on Twitter @HJuncensored. We can hold the door together.
P.S. This also happened: