This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 1: ‘The Red Woman’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.
I should start by saying that I consider this to be probably the best and most exciting season opener in Game of Thrones to date and all because of all of the ways this episode feels nothing like a season opener. The place in the story where it picks up allows it to instantly address the big cliff-hangers we were left with at the end of last season and to quickly build up its momentum towards naturally propelling the plot forward.
In order to better explore this episode’s strengths and shortcomings it would, however, be appropriate for me to start from the beginning: that first scene which brings us precisely where we left off a year ago – over Jon Snow’s dead body. What follows is a set of perfectly balanced scenes juxtaposing the few remaining brothers of the Night’s Watch loyal to Jon mustering with Ser Davos Seaworth for what might be their last stand, guarding the deceased Lord Commander’s body, with Ser Alliser Thorne defending his actions and quickly convincing the remaining crows that Jon’s death was for the greater good. The big confrontation between these two forces is left for the next episode and I can say that I am hyped. One interesting moment is Melisandre’s frightened gaze upon Jon’s body saying that she saw him in the flames fighting at Winterfell. Game of Thrones is not a show where characters would drop a line like this without it having a serious significance. Thus for me this is more fuel to the foreshadowing of Jon Snow’s return to life before the end of this season.
Another brilliantly well done storyline (which also ended up being quite touching and surprising at the same time) this week is Sansa’s. The music that accompanies her escape with Theon through the woods is as beautiful as it is intense and haunting. Both Sophie Turner’s and Alfie Allen’s performances were exquisite and I could genuinely feel all their character’s emotions as if they were my own. Of course you’d have to look past their jumping off the tall Winterfell battlements unscathed and their crossing an icy river during cold winter weather without dying of hypothermia. If you can do that you’ll be rewarded by a heart-warming scene of the two hugging in almost blissful relief in order to steady their body temperatures. And all this culminates when the two get discovered by Bolton soldiers and then timely rescued by Lady Brianne and Pod (who apparently has trained quite a lot with her as we see him being pretty good with a sword making me and probably a lot of other people as well very happy). I don’t know how to feel about Brianne’s character right now as she got to avenge Renly’s death last thing last season and save Sansa straight after. It seems strange for the show to give her so many victories in a row and almost unnatural (things are going to get much worse very soon, aren’t they…) but I am happy that Sansa is saved. I also very much liked the oath exchange between Brianne and Sansa perfectly mirroring the one the Lady of Tarth had with Catelyn Stark.
At Winterfell we get to see Ramsey a little less confident than usual after losing control over both his wife and his ‘Reek’. We also get some brutally hilarious insight into his feelings for the deceased Myranda: ‘Feed her to the hounds’. It seems the central conflict in the North is to revolve around the Boltons’ failing control over the land.
In King’s Landing we get a brief scene with Margery in the Black Cells being bullied by Septa Unella. The real focus of that portion of the episode, however, falls on Jamie’s return from Dorne with Myrcella’s corpse. Lena Heady’s performance in the scene where she runs out to meet the coming boat depicts perfectly the quiet desperation and the tragic understanding of her character’s fate. Her exchange with Jamie about Maggy the Frog’s prophecy I felt serves the characters and the story quite well. When the show first explored it in the first episode of last season it was shown from Cersei’s perspective as closely associated with her fear of and hatred for Margery (‘A queen younger, more beautiful will come to cast you down and take everything you hold dear’). This time around, however, we see Cersei acknowledging for the first time her comprehension that the prophecy implies that she will live to see all her children die. This is an important milestone for the character and it feels like this nihilistic sentiment will be outlining her motivation for the rest of the season.
On the topic of King’s Landing, however, there is a big problem connected with the Dornish characters. It is hardly a secret to anyone that the way Dorne was portrayed in last season was one of if not the biggest miss in the show period (and that being a statement most people agree on). Starting with the sloppy label ‘Dorne’ instead of ‘Sunspear’ during the title sequence and moving through the underdeveloped rushed one-dimensional characters, there was certainly a lot to be unhappy for with Dorne. A positive change is that the showrunners seem to have noticed this weak link and have started actively eradicating that storyline starting this first episode. But at what cost? In the season 5 finale we see Myrcella, Bronn, Jamie and Trystane sailing off to King’s Landing while Ellaria Sand and the Sandsnakes remained in Dorne. In this episode we clearly see Trystane being on that same ship in Blackwater Bay sitting in his cabin and painting eye stones for his deceased love’s funeral. Unexplainably the Sandsnakes materialise on that very ship (whilst having stayed behind last time we’ve seen them) in order to kill the prince. The impossibility of this scenario and the fact that Trystane is not at all surprised by their presence leads me to think that this is a continuity error caused by the showrunners’ frantic attempt to end this storyline. Which is a shame as this is not the only strikingly noticeable discrepancy in this episode (which I’ll get to later when I discuss the ending). An explanation of this seeming error is provided online stating that Trystane was sent back by Jamie with the news of Myrcella’s death and that he’s actually in Dorne at the time of his demise. Provided that is the case then this is more of an editing discontinuity rather than a script one as still the introductory shot preceding Trystane’s fate is one of a boat in Blackwater Bay.
In Dorne Prince Doran and Areo Hotah are murdered by Ellaria and Tyene Sand. On one hand it feels refreshing to see that storyline which was going nowhere last season brought to an abrupt end of sorts but it is a scene meant to be shocking at the expense of making sense. It would be wrong for me to say that it contradicts established character development as there was hardly any to begin with for Doran or Areo Hotah (as they did appear on the show very briefly in season 5) but the clever, calculating nature of the Dornish ruler seems undercut and this scene paints him as an oblivious and unlikable monarch (his guards don’t even move a muscle as he’s being struck down). It is true that these characters were never like their book counterparts but I can’t help but feel like the show has done disservice to some potentially interesting characters even more so after choosing to get rid of them and keep the much less popular Sandsnakes as plot tools. Also this is now the second time we see a legendary fighter get easily killed with a tiny knife before we could get a chance at seeing them in a real fight – the first being Barristan Selmy last season and now Areo Hotah. And, of course, this is a trend I don’t really like.
I should say that despite my rant I did find some enjoyment in these scenes and feel like improvement is coming. And moving on to arguably the most fun parts of the episode – the happenings in Essos. I always enjoy Tyrion and Varys as a pair and this episode does deliver its fair share of witty exchange between the two which I absolutely loved. Truly I am quite interested to see how their combined efforts will affect the city.
Watching Daenerys’ scene reminded me how much I missed the Dothraki. Especially the classic line: ‘It is known’. The dialogue during that scene is funny and refreshing and yet has a certain feel of nostalgia to it. I think most people are glad to see Dany outside of Meereen and I must concur. I can’t wait to see her storyline develop this season.
On her trail the duo Daario – Ser Jorah appear for quite a short time onscreen this episode, not nearly enough to explore their new dynamic, but that’s one more thing to look forward to in the future as it may be quite promising.
In Braavos we see Arya struggling to overcome the impairment that is her blindness as her training is resumed by the Waif. Her scene is quite brief and mostly serves to demonstrate that she has a long way to go before she can take charge. In any case I would love to see that storyline progress further in the coming episodes.
Finally, last but certainly not least is the time for me to discuss the ending. One cannot really talk about the episode without addressing it and all its implications. The very last scene of the episode shows Melisandre removing her choker revealing her true appearance – that of a centuries old crone. And that scene alone says so much about the character. After the events of last season, when she realised that Stannis’ victory as she’s seen in the flames will not be, she seemed confused and afraid. It is only natural to assume she has a crisis of faith. Yet during her many year she’s bound to have seen plenty of proof of the Lord of Light’s power (and as show-watchers we’ve witnessed a few too – courtesy to our Red Woman) and the biggest proof is always in front of her in the mirror – the illusion of her youth. Her age and true appearance bring much insight into a lot of her actions in the past and explain her utter surety in her doctrine and her easy dismissal of human life. The scene where she disrobes herself of her glamour provides a different perspective to this fascinating character. During that scene all I could think of is a line she said to Gendry in Season 3 while she was undressing before him: ‘A God is either real or not – you need only eyes to see’. The removal of her glamour is a moment when she’s not questioning her Lord but herself in her quality as his conduit. It is a moment when she feels she needs to see who she is – who she really is without her God. I think this scene was executed perfectly and I absolutely loved it (mind you removing myself from commenting or dwelling on its unapologetically naturalistic nature).
Here, however comes in the second discontinuity in the episode as we’ve already seen Melisandre without her choker once – whilst she was taking a bath in the same room Selyse Baratheon was standing in. This is not as big of a deal as because of the magical nature of the glamour explanations for this discrepancy can be easily found. It is possible that the choker is not the only thing that keeps Melisandre’s glamour. In the bath scene she was using a lot of potions in the water so they could have had an effect. Another interesting theory is that Selyse could always see Melisandre’s true appearance (which explains her weird behaviour and the strange looks she was giving the priestess during the scene). It is further enforced by the following line spoken in that same scene: ‘You don’t need lies. You are strong enough to look into the Lord’s light and see his truth for yourself’.
Overall this episode brilliantly explores the theme of identity for many characters and does a great job at setting the stage for this year’s season whilst also acquiring serious momentum in a few of the main storylines. Seeing as next week’s episode is titled ‘Home’ one may expect that the theme of identity will be further explored in this season for the foreseeable future. I would give this episode a rating of 7.7 (But only so I can leave myself the chance to rate future episodes higher as I really liked this one).
Thank you for reading my review of ‘The Red Woman’ and I hope you are as excited as I am for the coming episodes.