Saturday, April 30, 2016

Game of Thrones (S6E01): "The Red Woman"

Episode 1 of Season 6 (S6E01) of HBO's Game Of Thrones is titled "The Red Woman." This is the first episode after the traumatic (and deadly) events of "Mother's Mercy" (S5E10) that concluded the Emmy-winning 5th season. This episode is also significant because it is the first one where book readers like yours truly really have no fracking idea what is going to happen on the show because the plot of the series has now moved past the plot of the books written by George R.R. Martin.

Unsurprisingly, the episode begins with a shot of Jon Snow's corpse, confirming what everyone has been saying since last June, that Jon Snow is dead. Interestingly, Castle Black seems eerily quiet, except for a baleful keening (presumably of Jon's direwolf Ghost). We get to see Ghost soon afterwards, along with Jon's closest friends at the Night's Watch, who help Ser Davos take Jon's body to safekeeping inside. Melissandre, the titular Red Woman, stops by and seems shaken by Jon's body, since she says that she had seen him fighting at Winterfell in the flames. (Although after what happened to Stannis and his Army at Winterfell despite the horrific burning of Stannis' young daughter at the stake in (S5E09) "The Dance of the Dragon" episode why would anyone listen to a word this witch says?)

One of the strengths and weaknesses of Game of Thrones is its expansive cast, which animates the internecine plot and complicated storylines. In "The Red Woman" we get updates on all our favorite characters. We see Sansa and Theon survived their jump from the ramparts of Winterfell and are now being chased through a beautiful frozen landscape. Eventually they are overtaken by Ramsay Bolton's men but just when things are looking really bad Brienne and her squire Podrick show up to save the day!

Things are not so happy for other characters we care about. Arya is still blind and is now begging (not very effectively) on the streets of Braavos and being bullied (or trained?) by another girl from the House of Black and White.

Jaime Lannister returns to Kings Landing bringing the body of his daughter Myrcella to Cersei, who takes the news rather calmly. The reason for this is that she believes the fortune told to her years ago by a witch who said she would have three children and that she would see them all die. (Look out King Tommen!) Jaime embraces his sister/lover and bitterly promises to get revenge on everyone who has harmed the Lannisters. ("F*** prophecy. F*** fate. F*** everyone who is not us.")

Queen Margaery is still locked up in the Sept of Baelor, being tortured watched by  Septa Unella. The High Sparrow himself visits and encourages her to confess. Margaery says that she has done nothing wrong, she has nothing to confess (you go, girl, deny everything!) but she does agree that everyone sins. The Sparrow nods approvingly, saying she is making progress but has "many miles to go yet" and tells her nothing about the fate of her brother Ser Loras. (This is not a good sign for the fate of the show's primary openly gay character, in my humble opinion.)

The less said about the Dorne sub-plot the better. The Sand Snakes kill three (very important) dudes.

Back at Castle Black, we see Ser Allister make his case to the men of the Watch why even though he was "loyal" to the Lord Commander, he was instrumental in assassinating him, because Jon Snow was intent on destroying the Night's Watch as it had been for centuries and turning it into something else. He offers amnesty and safe passage to Davos and Jon's friends if they abandon Jon's body and come out of the Lord Commander's office. Davos wisely doesn't trust Allister's word, and sends one of Jon's friends to get support from people who Jon had helped (presumably the Wildlings?)

On Essos, we see our favorite odd couple, the eunuch Varys and the dwarf Tyrion, walking through a curiously empty Mereen, talking about life, the universe and everything. They pass by walls with anti-Mhysa graffiti and then see huge billowing smoke and people running away. Interestingly, they hurry towards the commotion and see that Dany's fleet of ships is entirely on fire. There's no way that the Mother of Dragons is going to invade Westeros from the sea any longer.

Speaking of Khaleesi, we follow another odd couple, Daario and Ser Jorah who are trying to track down where Dany flew off on Drogon by following the trail of charred corpses of animals. We don't know how much time has passed since S5E10 but they are starting to worry about what's taking her so long to come back, and wonder if she even has the ability right now to do so, i.e. is she being held against her will. Jorah finally confesses that he, like Daario, loves Dany, but unlike Daario he hasn't shared her bed. (Which is a good thing, because Jorah's case of Stoneman's disease appears to be slowly growing worse, although in its current stage it just looks like a somewhat decorative tattoo.)

Finally we get to see Dany herself, in the middle of a stunningly huge Dothraki camp, a pale, blonde woman in a sea of brown-skinned people, mostly walking on foot or riding horses. She is strikingly different from anyone else there and so the Dothraki men are thinking unclean thoughts and speculating out loud about her physical attributes, unaware that the object of their gaze understands Dothraki despite her foreign appearance. Happily, they take her to the tent of their leader, Khal Moro, who laughs in her face when she declares in flawless Dothraki that she is "Queen of Mereen, Daenerys Stormborn, First of her Name, et cetera, et cetera." The women in the tent take one look at Dany and say "cut off her head" but Khal Moro is intrigued and wants to have this new prize for himself. Dany tells her that he is not the first Khal she has met, and informs him that she is Khal Drogo's widow. "It is forbidden to lay with the widow of a Khal" (which at least calms the fears that the show is going to go direct more sexual violence in Dany's direction). However, instead of raising her status and perhaps getting her a ticket back to Mereen this mean that as the widow of a Khal, she is supposed to go to Vaes Dothrak to live out her days with the other khal's widows. Uh-oh!

The highlights of this episode were:
  • The reveal at the end that Melissandre is really a centuries-old crone was pretty electrifying.
  • Seeing Ghost nuzzling on Snow's corpse and growling to defend it against Ser Allister's men was a highlight.
  • The enormity of the Dothraki camp, and the number of extras (I presume digitally included) still gives the show a scale nothing else on television has.
  • The best line on the show was probably Lord Ramsay Snow Bolton leaving his longtime lover's corpse and saying "She's still good meat. Feed her to the hounds!"
  • The second best lines were the comic relief of Khal Moro debating with his underlings exactly where on the list of the best things in life "Seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time" should be: second, first or just top five?
  • Podrick feeding Sansa her lines in the oath of service as Brienne pledged her service to her lady was awesome.
The parts of the episode I could have done without:
  •  Dorne. Really? Did they have to kill off Prince Doran, his son Trystane and the fearsome warrior Areo Hotah in 90 seconds. The entire adaptation of the Dorne subplot from the books was just laughably bad on the show, demonstrating that Benioff and Weiss (the showrunners) don't get everything right.
Grade: 9/10.

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