Just like that, the sixth season of Game of Thrones is halfway over. Thankfully, the fifth episode ‘The Door’ was as thrilling as last week, though decidedly darker and more magical. It fulfilled its function as a narrative pivot while also providing a balance of character drama and plot progression that kept it flowing. The most thrilling part was getting the answers to some series-spanning questions, including the tragic origin of Hodor!
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.
Beyond-the-Wall: Bran, Meera, Hodor and the Three-Eyed Raven
This was a big episode for our northernmost fellowship. For starters the origins of the White Walkers were dropped on us with surprising brevity. The first one was created by the Children of the Forest as a defense against humanity by shoving what appears to be obsidian (aka ‘dragonglass’) into the chest of a man tied to an ancient weirdwood tree. The ritual site is surrounded by giant stones arranged in a spiral, quite like how the White Walkers arrange body parts. The lead Child who performed the ritual, Leaf (the same one that’s been hanging out in the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave) spells it out for Bran after he witnesses his vision.
Everyone remembers sneaking out of their bedroom as a kid right? Well, Bran’s version of this is to sneak into the weirwood tree without the Raven to guide him. He returns to the ritual site in present day, covered in snow. He is surprised to see the army of the dead just chilling off to the side. Gotta park your zombies somewhere, amiright? Bran’s presence goes undetected among the lifeless corpses until he finds the Night’s King and his White Walkers. They can see him. Because they see him, everyone sees him.
Before Bran can bolt, the Night’s King “marks” him with his touch. Back in the cave, the Raven tells him the mark allows him entry into the cave and he must leave immediately. If this weren’t the sixth season, that might mean next episode but here, the speed of plot whisks the Walkers and their army to the secret cave in moments. Leaf is suddenly accompanied by a few more Children, appearing out of nowhere, and they do what they can with fire grenades, conventional weapons and self-sacrifice. With the last known Children dead, the Night’s King personally kills the Raven. Goodbye, Max von Sydow. As usual, you were underutilized.
The whole sequence is horrible (emphasis on the horror) and thrilling, even bordering on absurd given the lengths the show goes to ratchet up the tension. For example, while Hodor rocks back and forth and Meera understandably freaks out, Bran spends the whole sequence warging to a wistful memory from Winterfell of Bran’s grandfather seeing young Ned Stark off to the Vale. It’s meant to echo the Raven passing the torch to Bran, even though he readily admits the young cripple is not ready (kinda obvious given how royally he screwed up here). But the flashback is distracting at best and disappointing at worst. And no follow-up on the Tower of Joy? I mean, I get the show had to move Bran out of the cave sooner rather than later but still.
These nitpicks don’t detract from the episode ending, which gives us another origin, albeit one dipped in tragedy and painted with pain: Hodor’s name. While warging in the past, we’ve seen that echoes of the present can travel back, such as when Bran almost alerted his father at the Tower of Joy. While still in the past, Bran manages to get Hodor moving in time to save himself and Meera, who shouts for the gentle giant to “hold the door” at the end of their escape tunnel so she can get Bran to safety. But the connection is a two-way street so in the past, young stable boy Wyllas goes into a seizure from the warging, scrambling his mind until the chant of “hold the door” becomes “Hodor.” The former stable boy manages to hold back the entire undead horde, allowing Meera and Bran to live and perhaps saving the world. There appears to be something in my eyes, excuse me . . .
The Wall: Jon, Sansa, Tormund, Davos, Melisandre, Brienne, Podrick and Littlefinger
Sansa receives a letter from Littlefinger who rode into Mole’s Town while the Vale army garrisoned at Moat Cailin. She and Brienne go in secret to meet with him.
Sansa dumps a year’s worth of fan rage on him, rage born out of Sansa’s treatment at the hands of Ramsay and Littlefinger’s role in arranging their marriage (notably, this episode was written by Bryan Cogman, who also wrote ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,’ the controversial episode where Ramsay rapes Sansa on their wedding night). Aidan Gillen is so good, he swings from obviously playing the role of Littlefinger when Sansa arrives to Petyr, with a glimmer of heartbreak and regret as Sansa forces him to imagine the horrors she faced. For Littlefinger to admit a mistake is monumental and it’s a very fun to see Sansa turning the tables on him again.
She spurns whatever ideas he had about reconciliation (though it seems dumb to also spurn the massive army he has at his back). Before he departs, he drops some knowledge: Brynden “Blackfish” Tully, her mother’s uncle last seen leaving for a piss right before the Red Wedding in Season 3, is alive and holds Riverrun with surviving Stark/Tully loyalists. Apparently, that’s the army she might need, not the Vale knights. Ok then.
Jon, Sansa, Davos, Brienne and Tormund discuss their plan to retake the North. Given that the Karstarks and the Umbers already allied themselves with the Boltons, that leaves House Manderly as the only other major Northern house without allegiance. Jon also points out there are numerous smaller Houses who, added together with the Wildlings, could form their army. Sansa also informs them of the Blackfish’s army at Riverrun though she lies about where she learned of it. Sansa sends Brienne on a special mission to Riverrun while she, Jon, Tormund, Davos and Melisandre court the allegiance of the Northerners, leaving Castle Black and what’s left of the Night’s Watch under Lord Commander “Dolorous” Edd.
The Iron Islands: The Greyjoys
The Kingsmoot commences. Theon’s redemption I’ve said before, is a storyline I’m most invested in and while I never believed he wouldn’t follow through and back Yara, the shots and editing were superb enough to build the tension and then release it when Theon gives his identity-affirming speech in favor of his sister (notably, one he’s not unconscious at the end of). All the upside of liberal democracy!
Now for the downside. The joys of non-incestuous sibling union is cut short by the arrival of their uncle, the murderous pirate Euron whose claim is a total Thrones-ian wrench into a perfectly-laid plan. The Drumpf-lite upstages the two with his grandiose talk of his cock and his cock’s plan of building the Iron Fleet to court Daenerys Targaryen (and her dragons) and return her and her armies to Westeros. Hell, when Yara accuses him of murdering her father to seize throne, he brags about it. For all his brazen arrogance, all Euron really seemed to need was his gender to get the Ironborn to ratify this Trumpian outsider and his outsized promise. Make the Iron Islands Great Again!
After undergoing the Drowned God baptism (wherein Ironborn are literally drowned to see if they come back), Euron’s first act as king is to try and kill the rest of his family (lots of family annihilation this season i.e. Martell, Bolton, now Greyjoy). However, Yara and Theon escaped during his coronation with their loyalists and the Iron Fleet’s best ships. Undeterred, Euron turns his new kingdom into a ship factory.
I’m getting tired of these Waif-beats-Arya-and-gets-interrupted-by-Jaqen scenes, no matter how cool Arya looks trying. Her mentor gives her and us a Faceless Man history lesson: the first were Valyrian slaves, delivering the “gift” of the Many-Faced God to slaves and masters alike until there were no more masters and the Doom came. The survivors founded the House of Black and White and around it sprouted Braavos.
Jaqen assigns Arya an assassination. “You’ve been given a second chance,” he reminds her. “There will not be third.” Why don’t we ask wise Prince Doran Martell about second chances . . . oh right. Arya’s mission takes her to a play reenacting Season 1 of the show as a comedy with Joffrey as a sweet daddy’s boy, Cersei as a grieving widow, and her father Ned as a bumbling buffoon. Richard E. Grant is the theater troupe’s leader who plays Robert Baratheon and Essie Davis (The Babadook) is Lady Crane, the Cersei impersonator and Arya’s target.
Arya is clearly unsuited for the Faceless Men; even Jaqen seems to agree when she won’t stop questioning things. She is clearly going to blow this second chance, so I’m kinda just ticking down the hours until she’s badass enough to go on a killing spree across Westeros.
The Dothraki Sea: Dany, Jorah & Daario
From a ledge overlooking her newly-acquired Dothraki horde, Dany must deal with the matter of Jorah. While the truth-challenged ex-knight might have tried to keep his greyscale infection from her, the secret was out when Daario glimpsed it last week. Thankfully, we were instead treated to a dignified scene where Jorah admits it to her and she has a very emotional reaction to her twice-banished friend’s decision to leave for good. Despite his fatalism, she gives him one last command: to find a cure, wherever it exists, and return to her side in Westeros.
The whole scene is very touching; this is a relationship as old as the show itself. Now the obvious: what’s next? In the books, a different character (adapted out of the show) occupies Jorah’s role as greyscale infectee, and that dude is currently in Westeros. So I surmise that greyscale and Westeros are intended to meet at some point. Would Jorah risk a journey home even if he can’t find a cure? Now that he is separated from Dany, he’s a wild card to watch out for.
Meereen: Tyrion & Varys
Tyrion’s deals with the Masters and the freedmen seems to have worked, with no deaths in a fortnight. However, the witty dwarf wants more than peace – he wants security. Most importantly, he wants the Meereenese to know it was Dany who provided it. For that, he needs a spokesman, some trusted and popular. But he’s not talking about Grey Worm or even Missandei. Tyrion is speaking of religion, more specifically Kinvara, the Red Priestess of Volantis.
Like Melisandre, her fire god Rh’llor is the only deity whose servants have powers like glamour and resurrection. Because of Daenerys’ dragons, “fire made flesh” she calls them, she’s more than willing to help the queen when she arrives to meet Tyrion and Varys in the throne room, both in this war “and the great one to follow.”
Varys, who has a noted aversion to magic, brings up the curious case of Stannis Baratheon, another anointed savior who was unceremoniously cut down (after a humiliation conga line, I might add). His pointed questions don’t phase the unflappable Kinvara, who responds by intuiting intimate knowledge of his castration and the magic it was done for. Varys, usually so impervious, is genuinely unnerved but as Tyrion said, they are all on the queen’s side. For now, at least.
MISSING THIS WEEK:
- We took a rare break from King’s Landing while the Lannister and Tyrell forces prepare for what will surely be a flawless execution of a military takeover of the city from religion extremists. Surely flawless.
- We were mercifully given zero Ramsay this week. He’s essentially become a video game boss, the worst humanity has to offer and the one you have to get through to get to the next level and Final Boss, the supernaturally evil Night’s King. He’ll die, probably by Jon’s hand and we will all sleep better when it happens.
- Sam and Gilly only appeared in a brief scene in episode three but they finally reach the Tarly family home of Horn Hill next week, according to the synopsis. Sam better get to his maester-learning. Didn’t he hear the producers only gave him 10-15 more episodes to learn everything?
- Haven’t seen Dorne for four episodes. Anybody complaining? No? Thought so.
Here’s the synopsis and preview for episode six “Blood of My Blood.”
“An old foe comes back into the picture. Gilly (Hannah Murray) meets Sam’s (John Bradley) family. Arya (Maisie Williams) faces a difficult choice. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) faces off against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce).”