Fuck prophecy. Fuck fate. Fuck everyone who isn't us.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Game of Thrones' sixth season kicks off just the way you hoped it would: a wide, establishing shot of Castle Black zooms in to show the lifeless body of Jon Snow, quickly discovered by Davos, Eddison Tollett, and a few other of Jon's loyal followers. Castle Black actually gets the bulk of this season opener: a relatively shorter episode made up of small segments of every current story line. Once you get past the resolution of the Jon Snow cliffhanger, you'll find that while this episode isn't anything eye-popping or wow-inducing, it's a perfectly satisfying premiere that is the right combination of heart, humor, and characterization.
It's quite interesting that this episode is titled "The Red Woman", because Melisandre is in no position to be the focal point, losing her faith in the Lord of Light and preferring to stay locked up in her bedroom, sulking over Stannis' defeat. Ever since season two, Melisandre has been so confident in her visions and spells/rituals, we would never have thought it possible that she could look so defeated. George R.R. Martin and D&D have avoided ever having Gandalf-like wizards and witches in A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, and while Melisandre has performed magic that is reminiscent of someone like Gandalf or Dumbledore, she has always resembled something of a zealous religious figure, as opposed to a full blown sorcerer. It's common in fantasy settings to have the wise old wizard/witch character who can see into the future, and Game of Thrones has been no exception to this. What's different with Melisandre is that something happens to completely crush her faith, as opposed to her giving us clues about what will happen and then never appear again. She always believed Stannis was the "chosen one", but now that that prophecy has turned out to be wrong, she doesn't know what to believe anymore. The ending scene of Melisandre revealing herself to be an elderly woman is pretty upsetting to witness: the slow, echo-y music playing as Melisandre stares longingly into a mirror, presumably having lost all purpose in life. The last thing this scene will do is make you feel good about what's yet to come.
Luckily, we do have at least a few scenes that will make us feel good: Brienne and Podrick rescuing Sansa and Theon from Bolton men, being the best example. Things are finally starting to look up for both Sansa and Theon, and pairing up with Brienne is a terrific way for Sansa to start her road to recovery. At long last, Sansa has someone who can actually protect her from harm, and it's uplifting to watch her say the words in which she accepts Brienne's services: Brienne's reward for her never-ending commitment to her vows. Meanwhile, close by, Ramsay mourns the death of Myranda, and, could it be true? Ramsay looks....sad, staring at the body of his former lover? Well, he then proceeds to have her body fed to the hounds, so, I take that back, he isn't sad. He continues to be downright psychotic. It is morbidly amusing to watch Ramsay start to get a little frustrated with the new set of challenges facing the Boltons: Sansa and Theon have escaped, and Roose Bolton points out that the Boltons may have to face the Lannister army at some point. It should have been painfully obvious a little while back that Roose and Ramsay have stopped seeing eye-to-eye, so yeah, throw in a bit of House Bolton civil turmoil while we're at it.
So everything seems to be all well and good with the episode, especially since scenes aren't going on too long as to begin developing problems. Ah, but then comes another gaffe in the Dornish story line. Is there any way this story line can get its head on straight? Two of the Sand Snakes, Obara and Nymeria, reveal themselves to be on the ship that sailed back to King's Landing, and they kill Trystane, who, for whatever reason, decided to stay on board. There are several questions this moment brings up because this moment defies logic like you wouldn't believe. First of all, how in the world did Obara and Nymeria get on the boat? In "Mother's Mercy", we clearly see Ellaria and the three Sand Snakes watching from the pier, as the boat with Jaime, Bronn, Myrcella, and Trystane starts to sail away. Did Obara and Nymeria sneak on board a second boat that followed the one with Trystane on it, all the way to King's Landing? If that was the case, I think someone on Trystane's boat would have noticed they were being followed, and that would have opened up a whole different set of problems. Second, what are Obara and Nymeria supposed to do now that they're in King's Landing, the last place they probably would want to be right now? This whole sequence creates a gaping plot hole that D&D are probably thinking we will just accept and not dig too deep into. On the contrary: because the Dornish plot execution has been so rocky, we are going to pay closer attention whenever Ellaria Martell or one of the Sand Snakes is on screen, because they have been a hot magnet for criticism, and that doesn't appear to be changing anytime soon. This is a bad kind of unexpected death in Game of Thrones, and an ugly-looking smear on an otherwise promising season opener.
For the rest of the story lines, particularly Arya now acting as a beggar and Daenerys being taken prisoner by the Dothraki, not enough happens for me to feel good about discussing them in length, but don't worry: the next few episodes will provide enough material for a reasonable discussion.
"The Red Woman" presents nearly all of its plot lines in small quantities, and with the exception of the botched Sand Snake surprise, this is an adequate way to kick off season six, featuring a heartwarming reunion between Sansa and Brienne and an eerie reveal involving Melisandre. There are moments that inspire hope, but of course, there are also moments that discourage getting hopeful. Nothing short of being in an abusive relationship.
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