Hey, guys, I’m Sam and I’m going to be your Heroic guide on the journey that is Game of Thrones season 6. It’s a pleasure not only to get to review my favorite show of the moment, but a show that tickles all my fancies: high fantasy mixed with sex and violence, realpolitik and the gravitas to make fantasy as broadly acceptable as superheroes in popular culture.
For a fantasy nerd like me, among the many whose life was changed by Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, His Dark Materials and, of course, A Song of Ice and Fire, it’s the show’s greatest achievement. And as a book reader, I’m so excited to finally be in the dark (mostly) with the rest of the audience. So I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for following along with me the next 10 weeks as we turn a major corner for a series pivoting toward its finale.
For simplicity’s sake, these reviews will be formatted thus: we start in the furthest north and go south – covering the Wall, the North, King’s Landing and the rest of the Seven Kingdoms – and then east, to the Free Cities of Essos and finally, the Dothraki Sea and Slaver’s Bay.
The Wall: Davos and Melisandre
The creators, wisely, pick up right where the Season 5 finale left off. Ghost’s whines over Jon’s death draw Davos and Jon’s allies, few that they are, amounting to Eddison Tollet and three Night’s Watch nobodies. There’s no ambiguity; Thorne did this (he even left the Traitor sign there as a victory marker). The next day, he makes his case to his brothers in the dining hall (hilariously preaching loyalty), saying Jon dangerously endangered the Watch by letting the Wildlings in (conveniently forgetting he’s the one who also allowed it).
In the Inside the Episode, showrunner D.B. Weiss characterized it as a “clear power-grab” and honestly, it’s disappointing. The book version was far more ambiguous. As the preview for next week’s episode showed, the Boltons’ eyes are on Castle Black as a potential Sansa refuge. In the books, the actual inciting incident for Jon’s assassination was him declaring he would fight the Boltons rather than submit to blackmail, thus breaking the Watch’s vow of political neutrality, rather than pure hatred of Wildlings. The adaptation induced plot holes by trying to hit episode benchmarks, I think. It’s one of the signs I see as a book reader of the difficulty in translating Martin’s complex tomes to screen.
Davos, ever the thinker, tells Edd that the Wildlings could help them out of loyalty to Jon so he gets him to go to them. While he’s gone, Thorne issues an ultimatum to them all: abandon Jon’s body or be killed and Davos suggests the depressed Melisandre could be a secret weapon.
The episode’s ending gives a big reveal about the titular Red Woman: she’s a frail old lady underneath her magical necklace she wears, “several centuries old” according to showrunner David Benioff and George R.R. Martin. While interesting and thematic, seeing Melisandre’s before-and-after in front of the mirror, it was underwhelming as the episode’s ending. I though the Wildlings would give a Big Heroes! moment (Wun Wun kicks down the door of Castle Black in the trailers. I wanted that tonight). However, I got my desire for heroes filled elsewhere . . .
The North: Sansa and Theon & Brienne and Podrick, the Boltons
For a moment there, I was right where the writers’ wanted me: hopeless, like Sansa and Theon. However, when Brienne and Podrick showed up, I was pumping my fists so hard and when Brienne re-pledged herself to Sansa (under vastly different circumstances from last season), I honestly teared up. Beautiful scene of characters’ coming together. It’s narrative convenience, yes, something Martin studiously and frustratingly avoids in his books but part of the thrill of this adaptation is the showrunners are not beholden to his flaws.
At Winterfell, Iwan Rheon freakin’ kills his scene with Myranda’s corpse. I actually believed he thought torturing and killing Sansa and Theon was a good thing to do to honor his lowly mistress’ death. The next scene gives him some extra motivation. Roose informs him, since his marriage to Sansa was against the Iron Throne, they are in open rebellion without backup and they need her to unite the Northerners. And with Roose’s wife Fat Walda preggo, the pressure is on Ramsay to find Sansa to re-legitimize himself.
King’s Landing: Cersei & Jaime, the Tyrells, the Sparrows
The moment when Cersei’s face lit up, I fell apart internally. To me, this is the lowest we’ve seen Cersei; bereft of power, down to one child, seemingly trapped by her childhood prophecy. Jaime, however, is feeling vengeful and far from driving them apart, Myrcella’s death seems to have drawn them together as a couple (again, yuck) again.
Margaery is still in the Sparrows’ captivity, while Septa Unella and the High Sparrow play a game of a good cop-bad cop on her. Margaery wants to see Loras and be free. They offer the out of confession. Margaery will maneuver because she’s good at it. It’s pretty self-explanatory.
Dorne: The Martells
Here’s a big deviation: Ellaria and Tyene Sand kill Doran Martell and his bodyguard Areo Hotah while Obara and Nymeria kill Doran’s son Trystane. In the books, Doran is secretly working to return the Targaryens to the Iron Throne. There’s also a secret Targaryen who’s been cut from the show because that’s just how stupid he is. So you can see this plot’s been cut to shreds. Now that Ellaria has performed her surprise coup (nobody seemed too pissed about Doran’s assassination) and Trystane and Myrcella are dead, Dorne is set to make war on the Iron Throne for certain.
This was a classic set-up scene, establishing Arya’s journey as a blind girl this season. As we saw when the Waif put the stick-beat on her, it’s not going to be easy. I wonder how long they can keep this Arya thing going. We all love her, but what impact does any of this have on the plot? The Faceless Men will hopefully become more important soon (please).
The Dothraki Sea: Daenerys & Jorah and Daario
When the show writes trash talk, it just sounds hilarious, regardless of content. The Dothraki conversation while Daenerys walks is a prime example. Of course, Emilia Clarke makes it all better with her priceless expressions, a trend which continues when she is laughed at for her absurd amount of titles and then when she realizes admitting to being a Khal Drogo’s widow dooms her to servitude in the Dothraki captial Vaes Dothrak. Then again, Dany has never really fulfilled any role people have thrust upon her. She makes her role. That’s why we love her.
The two Dany suitors, one successful, one not so much, talk about, of course, Dany on their journey and find her ring. Jorah’s greyscale plotline is intriguing with the added ticking clock. What happens if/when he gets back to Westeros? It has enough problems without an outbreak of Stone Men. Then again, at this point, apocalypse seems merciful (God, I’m becoming a Faceless Man).
Meereen: Tyrion & Varys
This is the partnership I love and it is awesome as usual. The Tyrion “Because you have no cock!” had me in tears laughing. And the idea that Tyrion is not backing down from the huge political challenge that is wrangling Meereen is a hugely appealing. A confident Tyrion, doing his confident thing, is the Tyrion I love.
Also, when I hear him say “Well, we’re not getting back to Westeros anytime soon” after the Sons of the Harpy burn the the Meereenese fleet, I think “Well, it’s been six seasons since we’ve been promised Dany would return to Westeros and we’re heading towards the end of the show. Therefore, we are TOTALLY getting back to Westeros this season.” Fingers crossed!
MISSING THIS WEEK:
We didn’t get Bran’s return this week nor the big return of the Greyjoys. We’ll play catch up with Sam and Gilly on their trip south across the Narrow Sea later too. We also missed out on the machinations of Littlefinger but I think the writers’ trust us at this point to know he’s always scheming. Later in the season, we’ll also hear more from the Riverlands, where the traitorous Freys are trying, much like the Boltons in the North, to bring the Tullys to heel.
Next week’s second episode is titled “Home.” This post will be updated with the preview, synopsis and any sneak peeks as soon as they become available.