Game Of Thrones – S6E1 – “The Red Woman” Review

“I cant speak for the flames….but he’s gone” – Davos

The wait is over. On March 25th, we returned to the warring world of Ice & Fire. This season has been spoken about in superlative terms by the cast and crew, which is their job, but let’s look at the reported facts:

  • This entire season has allegedly cost $100m, that’s $10m per episode and $40m more than the cost of the last season. I expect quality from that money, not just “bigger”.
  • It will feature “the biggest battle in TV history”.
  • We’re finally going back to the Iron Islands to meet the Viking-esque Greyjoys.

This is the first season that won’t be based on any of the ASOIAF books, meaning that we’re all taking our first, blindfolded steps into uncharted territory. We’re in for the show’s most ambitious season.

As with every premiere episode of each season, episode 1 (and sometimes 2) is more of a “where are they now?” episode, which I feel halts the momentum of the show. So, where are they now? 

Castle Black – Where’s Jon Snow?

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Stone dead in a pool of his own blood. I don’t know if it’s denial or fan speculation that keeps me optimistic that this is not and cannot be the end of Jon Snow, but as it currently stands (or not), he is dead, discovered by Good Guy Davos, laid on a table and remains that way for the rest of the episode.
I reckon he’ll be back though, calling it now, episode 8.
Davos is incredibly shrewd, when Dolorous Edd breaks the silence with “Thorne did this”, Davos – already planning – asks, “how many of your brothers do you think you can trust?”
Here he steps up to the plate. Davos is our hero on The Wall.
The titular Red Woman enters but with none of the imperious, almost psychopathic and otherworldly composure that we’ve come to recognise in her. The stillness of her face and the furrows of her brow may not seem like much, but to the viewer, she might as well be crying. Is she mourning the fallen Lord Commander, or her faith in R’Hllor? I’m inclined to go with the latter.
“I saw him in the flames…fighting at Winterfell”, this is at least the second time her visions have been wrong. Mel could be heading for a deconstruction of the persona she’s created that so singularly believes in the Red God. Consider also that she abandoned Stannis not even 2 days ago because she had realised that he wasn’t Azor Ahai, the flame-wielding warrior of prophecy, in favour of Jon Snow. This could be the real test of her faith, which has been on the decline.
What if she brings Jon back and this rejuvenates her faith?
Ser Alliser Thorne silences a rowdy crowd of Night’s Watch brothers. He openly admits that he participated in the murder of Jon Snow, but he says that if Jon had lived, the Wildlings would have sacked the realm. He isn’t completely unreasonable, just ill-informed; he at least fails to comprehend the true threat of the White Walkers, which Jon did.
Far from the madding crowd, Davos and the gang discuss getting the Wildlings to help them escape Castle Black and kill the mutinous Black Brothers.

The North – Winterfell – The Boltons

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Ramsay Bolton is unquestionably the most horrible person on TV. Ever. So it’s always surprising when he has moments wherein we actually sympathise with him. Here he eulogises the kennel master’s daughter, his fallen paramour, Myranda. Ramsay is having a bad day. Roose Bolton congratulates his son on the practical advantages of his defeat of Stannis, he then asks “Do you feel like a victor?”, undermining his son, telling him that defeating a starving, tired and outnumbered army isn’t really impressive and that allowing Sansa (the Key to The North) to escape actually sets the Boltons back a few steps. Roose reminds Ramsay that his wife Walda will have a trueborn son, a legitimate heir to the seat in the north. I don’t think that Ramsay will kill Roose, but I can see him trying to “sabotage” Walda’s pregnancy. Watch this space.

Outside Winterfell, Brienne pledges Oathkeeper to Sansa, after saving her and Theon from the Bastard’s Boys. Sansa accepts, pledging her own highborn vow. This has been a long time coming, so I’m interested to see what she’s actually going to do as Sansa’s guardian. Maybe they’ll go with Theon to the Iron Islands.

Kings Landing – Jaime and Cersei
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In this latest episode of Westeros’ Next Top Lannister, Cersei, unrecognisably happy, literally skips across the courtyard at the news that Jaime and Myrcella’s ship is pulling into Kings Landing.
That happiness wasn’t to last as the boat draws nearer; another of her children is now dead, shrouded in gold, just like the prophecy said. The significance of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy may play a bigger role this series, as we see Cersei ever more sure that it is coming true. The prophecy states that she will see all of her children die and that she will die, strangled by a little brother. This season I believe we’ll see Cersei grow maddeningly, possibly murderously, more protective of Tommen, for him and her own self-preservation. She almost killed Tommen once, to protect him. She could do it again.
Jaime tells her “everything they’ve taken from us, we’re going to take back, and more”. It’s a good line, but I don’t really see what he means; The Lannister name is weakening and uprisings on all sides, from the common people to the other noble families, threaten the greatest rebellion in Westeros’ history.
Lena Heady delivers an excellent performance this week; her walk of penance and shearing of her golden tresses have cracked the armour of the Queen Mother.

Dorne – Or, more accurately, Sunspear

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Far and away the absolute worst thing about the episode, and the dumbest fucking adaptation in the entire show. It’s just one scene, but it significantly lowers my opinion of the episode and the writers.

The patient master schemer Prince Doran Martell is informed that Myrcella has died and then suddenly, Crap Snake #1 kills Doran’s bodyguard, the formidable Areo Hotah, with one stab, then Hispanic Cersei (Ellaria) straight up murders Doran in broad daylight as his guards look on. As he bleeds out, she says

You don’t know your own people, their disgust for you…Elia Martell -raped and murdered and you did nothing, Oberyn – butchered and you did nothing… Weak men will never rule Dorne again.”

This could have been a great, pivotal moment; Doran Martell is one of the highest-ranking characters to have been killed so far.
My respect for the writers wanes here because it’s so blatantly disrespectful to the source material and to the very practice of SCREENwriting. It’s all “tell” and no “show”. To quote a friend of mine,

“I cannot fathom how they have interpreted Doran and Ellaria’s storylines the way they have. Doran’s WHOLE THING is that he’s not actually as passive as everyone thinks; he’s got irons in the fire. Ellaria literally says “revenge won’t bring me back my love” like how did they completely fuck this up?”

The crucial problem here is that The Sands have no understandable motivation and just spout exposition. They’re just Hysterical Women With Hurt Feelings, which isn’t the kind of characterisation we expect of a show of this calibre. Ellaria and the Sands are mad because Dorne didn’t IMMEDIATELY go to war with the richer, better-equipped Lannister army.
We all remember Oberyn’s “We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne”. So why has Ellaria murdered Myrcella and ended the Martell family line by ordering the murder of Trystane too?
This is not what Oberyn, THE MAN SHE’S TRYING TO AVENGE, would have wanted.

At NO POINT have we ever gotten ANY scenes of the nobles and soldiers of Dorne, people expressing any disgust towards Doran’s apparent inaction (see: “patience”), so we just have Ellaria’s word.
Doran had a LONG plot to avenge Elia. Oberyn was slain during a trial by combat, by law, that is no murder. Doran said that in Season 5.
Furthermore, it was his own fault for getting killed; he had game and got cocky.
Surely The Sands have to know this, Ellaria was right there. I understand that she’s upset, but that in no way justifies ANY of her actions and eliminates ANY sympathy the audience once had for her.
The fact that this death has almost no dramatic or emotional resonance, paired with the expected resurrection of Jon Snow AND The Hound, says to me that as the show has progressed, death itself has grown less meaningful. The frequency of deaths in GoT has robbed the irreversibly final of its intrigue. This one felt like a cheap shock to remind viewers that they’re watching “Game Of Thrones The Show Where All Your Favourite Characters Die” (which isn’t true).
In my opinion, it would have made better narrative and dramatic sense if the Sands imprisoned Doran in one of the cells and used that for some political bargaining over the course of the season, it would have had the same, if not more intrigue than just murdering him and would have given the butchered Dorne storyline some more relevance and stake in the game of thrones.

In Meereen – Tyrion and Varys

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The Eunuch and The Imp, left in charge, stroll the ruined streets of Meereen exchanging banterous barbs, commenting on the declining popularity of their Queen and personally interacting with the common and poor folk, more than Daenerys has ever done. My opinion has always been that Daenerys is only considered “good” because we view her with our post-slavery, 21st century outlook. Through the lens of the medieval times, she’s just another conqueror who seeks to impose her way regardless of the consequences, the result is almost always chaotic. The Sons of the Harpy didn’t come out of nowhere.
“Fear has brought Meereen to a standstill”, this scene does little more than show us that with Daenerys gone, the Sons of The Harpy are running riot and setting fire to the harbour.
“Well, we won’t be sailing to Westeros any time soon” Tyrion quips. There you have it, the Essos storyline is basically never joining up with the main bit of the story. Speaking of Daenerys…

To Vaes Dothrak – Daenerys

vlcsnap-2016-05-01-16h12m52s238The Handsome Adventures of Daario and Jorah begin here as they’ve joined forces to find their missing queen. They ruminate on the nature of age, the future and their place in it. This conversation about age seems so much more foreboding with the knowledge that Jorah’s greyscale is getting worse. I would like to think that Jorah’s story will be more than just him secretly dying all season, ultimately, I want to see him live, but if he doesn’t, then he has to prove himself to Daenerys.

The missing Khaleesi is chained up on the roads to Vaes Dothrak and marched to a new Khal, Khal Moro. Moro isn’t a successor to Drogo, just the leader of a different Khalasar. He proceeds to comment on Daenerys’ beauty and what he’s going to do to her when he takes her for his own. What follows is a scene that echos that Life Of Brian bit where someone asks “What have the romans ever done for us?”. It was quite funny, but felt more like a CollegeHumour/FunnyOrDie bit than a real part of the episode. What surprises me here is that Daenerys is probably the most powerful woman in Essos; she has dragons and has sacked cities, she’s also the palest, blondest person this side of Casterly Rock, how do none of these people recognise and know of her before she reels of her identity?

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She’s sent to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, “to live out her days with the Widows of dead Khals”.
It sounds disempowering. This may seem like she’s back to square one, but I’m very sure that joining the Dosh Khaleen may be the device by which Daenerys finishes what Drogo started, that is trying to get his Khalasar to cross the Narrow Sea. The Dosh Khaleen are a ruling group and leaders of the Dothraki religion, even the Khals and other fighters fear the power of the former Khaleesis.
Daenerys has always had to adopt male positions of power, as a Queen, conqueror and Khaleesi and has always been met with (usually male) resistance, so I believe that in this new female position of power she may find less resistance and become even more powerful than before by having a massive khalasar on her side.

In Braavos – Arya

Blinded by vengeance, Arya has lost her sight. Her training continues, she’ll become DareDevil.

Back at Castle Black – Melisandre

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Following her failed clairvoyance, the Red Woman returns to her room and looks at her naked self in the mirror, forlorn like we’ve never seen before. She removes her glowing necklace and she’s revealed to be extremely old. She’s alluded before to the fact that she’s been playing the game of thrones for a very long time and that her magic is mostly smoke and mirrors, glamours and potions, so it’s here that she finally embodies the traditional idea of the Witch; ancient but under the guise of youth as part of the deception.
This scene is actually quite sad and cold. For the first time we see Melisandre as her true self and everything about her suggests vulnerability, sadness and loneliness, like she questions the point of all the suffering and bloodshed she’s caused if her god is nowhere to be seen. The old woman retires to bed in a way that suggests she may be done with the Game of Thrones and R’hllor. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes. Maybe she’ll give up her youth to revive Jon Snow?


Stay tuned for more reviews of this Season of Game of Thrones.
What are your predictions?


Matt

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