Spoilers for previous seasons of Game of Thrones and this episode to follow.
You’d be hard pressed to find a television series that has taken the world by storm as much as Game of Thrones has. What started in 1996 with George R.R. Martin penning the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series has developed into a worldwide phenomenon, with all the violence, shocks and nudity that the books had to offer. And now we find ourselves in the sixth season, readying ourselves for more tragic character deaths and plot twists in Westeros, prepared to throw away our far fetched fan theories, as we sit down to watch the first episode of the brand new season.
We start proceedings where season five left off, with Jon Snow’s death at the hands of Alliser Thorne and other members of the Nights Watch, with Game of Thrones continuing to showcase their unrivalled ability to make three dimensional characters out of villains (so to speak). It would have been so easy to dismiss Thorne’s motivations as selfish, born from a hunger for power but it’s never that simple in Westeros and it’s a fitting start to the season to remind us there is no black and white, just grey. It was a short but effective scene that humanised Thorne’s actions at the end of last season, and even though he killed one of the most beloved characters of the show, you understand his motivations as he confesses his crimes to the rest of the Nights Watch, convincing them it was the right thing to do. However, in Game of Thrones its all about perspective as one of the final scenes had Thorne issue an ultimatum to Ser Davos and a handful of rogue Night’s Watchmen, so its probably safe to prepare to hate Alliser Thorne a little while longer.
There is no better example of Game of Thrones’ grey area than Reek AKA Theon Greyjoy, with his courageous stepping up and helping Sansa escape Winterfell being a refreshing and satisfying move for the character, and despite his supposed evil history, you root for him to make amend for his past crimes. Theon getting involved in the skirmish with Bolton’s men was a strong character moment as he saved Podrick’s life at the last minute. And to talk of that skirmish, it’s very rare that Game of Thrones offers up a welcome scene that puts a smile on my face. Amidst all the grittiness and tragedy, it’s easy to believe that the ‘bad guys’ will always win, but Brienne charging in to save Sansa to take on a battalion of armed men was a stroke of happiness that is all too rare in this series. I am excited to see what this group of Sansa, Brienne, Theon and Podrick has to offer us for the rest of the season.
But that triumphant moment was short-lived as we swiftly moved onto Cersei, as she discovered the murder of her daughter, Myrcella, at the hands of the Sand Snakes, when Jamie returns home. Lena Headey continues to show her acting talent and, without even needing to speak, she brilliantly portrayed Cersei’s anguish when she realised that Myrcella hadn’t made it back from Dorne, despite Jamie’s best efforts. However, the scene set in Dorne wasn’t quite so effective. Game of Thrones struggled last season with their Dorne storyline, always feeling so far removed and not given the proper exposition to help us understand the politics and nature of this foreign country, and this problem never quite felt so apparent as when The Sand Snakes staged a coup and killed the leader of Dorne, Trystane and his bodyguard. I found it very hard to care about the deaths of these characters, especially so early on in the first episode. If the correct groundwork had been laid in the previous season, then maybe this moment would have been more impactful.
Staying with the plotlines situated away from Westeros, we were treated to a small scene of Tyrion and Varys talking about their plans to deal with the absence of Daenerys. Yet again, the interactions between the dwarf and the spymaster are a highlight of the show, as their wry dialogue entertains and insinuates a deeper relationship that makes for one of the most compelling duos of Game of Thrones. With Tyrion and Varys taking care of Meereen, the task falls to Jorah and Daario to set out and find the Mother of Dragons, who has been captured by the Dothraki. There were a couple of ridiculous moments in this scene, like Jorah finding Dany’s ring in a vast, vast field of trampled grass or Jorah checking his stone-infected arm in the Game of Thrones’ equivalent to stupidly not telling anyone you have been bit by a zombie in a horror flick. I’m sure the writers have plans for Jorah’s infection but I can’t help but roll my eyes every time he sneakily checks on it.
The first episode of the new season did set up a very interesting arc for Daenerys herself, as she found herself bound and heading for a meeting with Khal Moro. It’s been a long time since Dany has been portrayed this vulnerably, so it will be fascinating to see how she moves forward and makes the situation work her way. It was indeed satisfying to see her reveal that she speaks her capture’s language, right at the opportune moment, to turn the tables in her favour, only to be greeted with another obstacle in her path to return home. Ayra Stark’s fortunes aren’t much better, being reduced to a blind beggar on the street, only pausing to be beaten with a stick every afternoon by The Waif. From an audience’s perspective, there’s a lot riding on Ayra’s character to be the one to avenge all of her family’s deaths, especially after she whet her appetite last season by killing Ser Meryn, so it will be interesting to see how her character moves forward.
All in all, it was a solid opening episode from “The Red Woman”, and although we got no Jon Snow resurrection scene (if that is actually going to happen), we did manage to pop in with pretty much everyone from the previous season, if somewhat briefly with certain characters. The big twist to go out on this week is the revelation of Melisandre’s true form, as the illusion of her young, beautiful, red-haired portrayal was discarded for a couple minutes, to reveal a frail, old woman. It certainly gives a new creepy context to an already very mysterious character. One episode and Game of Thrones already has me hooked.
Here we go again.