“The Red Woman” is a solid start for the sixth season of Game of Thrones. Although much of the episode merely wraps up or continues from where we left off in season five, creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss plant the seeds for what’s to come, leaving viewers eager for more. Clocking in at about fifty minutes, “The Red Woman” is short for a premiere episode, but it is certainly jam-packed. The story jumps around between several locations: the Wall, Winterfell, King’s Landing, Dorne, Mereen, and Braavos. We get to see many characters, which is nice, but this also makes the episode feel a bit disorganized. As the show travels further away from the A Song of Ice and Fire source material this season, Benioff and Weiss will reveal whether they can completely stand on their own without relying on George R. R. Martin’s writing.
Warning! Spoilers (show and books) will follow!
Well, Jon’s dead (for now). The episode starts with a really interesting panoramic shot of Castle Black’s grounds, as the camera slowly pans down to Jon’s limp body in the snow. The slow, melancholy music during this opening scene is incredible. The music sets the mood perfectly in each scene throughout the episode. Davos exits his chambers in response to Ghost’s desperate howling, who clearly senses his master’s demise. Edd, and other members of the Night’s Watch loyal to Jon, take him inside and retrieve Ghost. Ghost nosing Jon’s stiff hand was a very sweet and heart-breaking moment. “If you were planning to see tomorrow, you picked the wrong room. We all die today,” Edd says, wanting to avenge Jon. Ben Crompton’s acting is great during this scene. I hope he gets some more screen time this season.
Melisandre’s confusion and disappointment as she comes in are very telling. These emotions play into the final scene of the episode, which I’ll get to a bit later. As she looks upon Jon’s lifeless body, she states: “I saw him in the flames fighting at Winterfell.” She feels like the Lord of Light has lied to her. With both Stannis and Jon dead, she doesn’t know what to trust anymore. Although Stannis wasn’t Azor Ahai, was he the vessel to reach him? This is the first time we’ve seen Melisandre unsure of herself. Carice van Houten has always played Melisandre perfectly—from her stoic disposition to her unfailing confidence. The Melisandre she portrays in this episode shows that van Houten has incredible range.
As members of the Night’s Watch accuse Alliser Thorne and co. of treason, he claims that Jon “thrust a terrible choice upon us, and we made it.” Their reasoning for killing Jon isn’t quite clear, though. Yes, Jon aided the Wildlings and allowed them safe harbor at the Wall. However, there’s an army of White Walkers headed their way! They need all the help they can get. The mutineers killed the one person who could possibly convince the Wildlings to help them. In the books, this plays out a bit differently: Jon chooses to abandon Hardhome to aid Winterfell when he gets a (pink) letter from Ramsay Bolton (supposedly) stating that Stannis is dead. His actions were in defiance to the ethics of the Night’s Watch. In the show, it definitely seems like a power play on Thorne’s part. He never liked Jon, and he’s always wanted to be Lord Commander.
Thorne then tells Davos, Ed, and the rest of Jon loyalists that they’ll be granted amnesty if they throw down their arms by nightfall. He says Davos and the Melisandre can go south freely. Smartly (and humorously), Davos asks Thorne for some mutton for the journey. Through Thorne’s answer, Davos knows he’s planning to kill them all if they open the door.
The scenes at the wall were well written and executed. With Thoros of Myr rumored to be returning to the show, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Jon Snow.
As Davos notes, they have the Red Woman: “You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do.”
As Ramsay Bolton looks over Myranda’s dead body; he seems genuinely sad. With tears in his eyes, he tells her, “Your pain will be paid for a thousand times over.” As a viewer, I almost sympathize with him. He lost someone who accepted him for him. He could be his insane self with her. I just about forgot that he’s a sadistic psychopath. But all those feelings of empathy are washed away when he tells his maester, “This is good meat. Feed it to the hounds.” As always, Ramsey distances himself from emotions other than hatred—to him they lead to weakness.
Papa Bolton isn’t thrilled that his bastard son lost Sansa, who he needs to get the support of the North, so Ramsay sicks his bloodhounds on her scent. Even though Sansa and Theon fording freezing water completely clothed is a bit farfetched, this scene is one of the best of the episode. Benioff and Weiss do an excellent job at building up the suspense while Sansa and Theon make their escape. Sophie Turner’s and Alfie Allen’s acting continue to be impressive. You can feel what they feel—terrified yet exhilarated (and freezing!). Theon continues his transformation from Reek. He continues to show his bravery and encourages Sansa to persist. He also stands up for her when the Bolton guards find them.
As the hounds find Sansa, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne save the day. As one Bolton soldier exclaims, “It’s a bloody woman!” You’re goddamn right it is. Theon even steps up again and saves Pod. I hope we continue to see this side of Theon. I assume we’ll be seeing more of the Greyjoys this season as well.
Again, Brienne takes an oath to protect Sansa. And this time, Sansa accepts—with Pod’s help. From the look of next week’s trailer, Brienne tells Sansa about Arya. Perhaps she’ll send Brienne north to the Riverlands, where she’ll come across someone else she vowed to protect. Again, with Thoros of Myr returning, anything is possible.
As Jamie’s ship sails into the harbor, Cersei is full of excitement. She’ll finally gets to see her daughter Myrcella. It’s unclear how much time has passed, but Cersei’s hair seems a bit longer since her walk of shame, as she fingers at the back of it longingly. However, as we know from the finale of season five, she won’t be seeing her daughter alive; Myrcella didn’t survive the voyage. Ellaria poisoned her with a peck on the lips.
Lena Headey’s acting during this scene is incredible. Her face displays a wealth of emotions. Initially, we see the joy and anticipation in her eyes as she smiles widely, awaiting her daughter’s arrival. Then, as she sees Jamie’s solemn face and what’s behind him (Myrcella’s body covered in fabric), her expression grows sad. All the happiness washes from her face. Maggy the Frog’s prophecy was right. With tears strolling down her cheeks, she tells Jaime, “The witch told me years ago. She promised me three children. And they all died.” Only Tommen is left. Will his fate be the same as Joffrey’s and Myrcella’s?
Jamie tells her, “Fuck prophecy. Fuck fate. Fuck anyone who isn’t us.” No truer words have ever been stated by a Lannister.
This is Cersei’s lowest point. Regardless of the despicable things she has done, it’s clear she loves her children.
We also get a scene with Margaery, who is still locked away by the High Sparrow with Septa Unella intimidating her to confess. Margaery wants to know how her brother Loras is. When, the High Sparrow walks in, he tells her King Tommen misses her, but all she cares about is her brother, noting she has nothing to confess.
“You believe you are pure, perfect, wholly without sin?” he asks.
“None of us are,” she replies.
Margaery is no dummy. She knows exactly how to play her cards right.
I’ve always enjoyed Natalie Dormer’s interpretation of Margaery. She brings life and personality to the character that the books lack.
The weakness in Benioff and Weiss’s writing, as it continues to take more creative license, is no clearer than in the atrocity that is Dorne. Dorne and the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell, were not well received last season, and they don’t start this season off well either.
As Doran receives a letter from a maester informing him of Myrcella’s death, Ellaria kills him, stabbing him in the heart. Then, Tyene, a Sand Snake, kills Areo Hotah by stabbing him in the back. (Would the prince’s personal bodyguard and one of the greatest fighters in Westeros really turn his back on a criminal? I think not.) Have Benioff and Weiss lost it? Was this their way of making up for last season? Perhaps they want to write Dorne out of the story, and Ellaria’s coup, which will likely drive the country into the ground, is just the way to do it. But they’ve done Doran a disservice—in the books he’s always one step ahead, seizing the Sand Snakes before they can act. He’s a grand schemer and mastermind. He would’ve smelled Ellaria’s deception from a mile away. (Ellaria is also depicted differently in A Song of Ice and Fire.)
As Doran is dying, Ellaria tells him, “You don’t know your own people. Their disgust for you.” However, did she actually know Oberyn? It doesn’t seem like she has his best interests in mind. Oberyn volunteered to be Tyrion’s champion to avenge his sister. He had so much love for his sister, he risked (and lost) his life. So Ellaria’s response is to murder the brother he has left? Her revenge is deluded.
As Doran dies, he begs Ellaria to spare his son. She replies, “Your son is weak. Just like you. Weak men will never rule Dorne again.” Girl power? Had the writing been better, this could have been a powerful scene. Indira Varma plays the role well. It’s unfortunate she hasn’t gotten a better script to follow.
Fast-forward to King’s Landing, where Trystane is on the ship painting stones to place on Myrcella’s eyes for the funeral. The scene cut to the boat is really jarring, especially when the two Sand Snakes arrive. Why is Trystane on the boat? How the hell did they get there? The logistics just seem off. I’m sure there’s a deleted scene of Ellaria telling them to follow the boat but without it there’s confusion.
The Sand Snake dialogue is laughable, as most of it has been since season five. Obara asks Trystane who he wants to kill him: “Her or me?” “Smart boy,” she says when he chooses Nymeria. (Both of them have weapons that aren’t very smart for fighting in close quarters—a spear and whip.) However, Obara wants the kill all herself and stabs Trystane in the back of the head. (Again, not smart to turn your back to an enemy.) In a huff, Nymeria whines, “You’re a greedy bitch, you know that?” The Sand Snakes kill their cousin without a second thought. As we’ve seen in this show, no one cares about kinslaying, even though it’s supposed to be taboo.
Because they’re already in King’s Landing, I predict that Obara and Nymeria will kill Tommen, making Maggy the Frog’s prophecy come completely true. (Although, there is one part of it the show leaves out involving how Cersei dies.)
Since Daenerys flew off on Drogon at the end of season five, the townspeople have gone a bit frantic. Again, like in King’s Landing, we’re not sure on how much time has passed. It’s up to Tyrion and Varys to pull the city back together. They take a tour dressed as common merchants, but Tyrion isn’t fooling anyone. “You walk like a rich person. You walk as though the paving stones were your personal property,” Varys tells him. When they see a homeless woman and her baby on the street, Tyrion wants to give her some Gold Honors (the currency in Meereen) so she can buy her baby something to eat. But he speaks to her in poor Valyrian, making her think he wants to eat her baby. Luckily, Varys is there to set the record straight. The chemistry between Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill has been top-notch since season one. I always enjoy their on-screen banter.
The Sons of the Harpy are still thriving, as they set the city ablaze. And Tyrion and Varys are no closer to finding out who leads them. Since the beginning, Tyrion has always lived behind the scenes. He’s incredibly intelligent and could make a great leader, but is he actually up to the challenge?
We get a short scene with Jorah and Daario—mostly to remind viewers that Jorah has greyscale. (Daario has to be wondering by now why Jorah keeps pulling up his sleeve to check out his arm.)
From the trampled grass formation, Jorah knows the Dothraki took Daenerys. He finds her perfectly placed ring in the grass.
Daario states, “I want to see what the world looks like when she’s done conquering it.” Is this foreshadowing his death?
The scene between Daenerys and the Dothraki is another highlight of the episode. Although it’s a bit kitschy, it shows that Benioff and Weiss can write humor.
Dany stays quiet and pretends not to speak Dothraki, as two bloodriders poke fun at her and make sexist tropes (her pretending not to know a language really never gets old).
When she gets to Khal Brogo—I mean, Khal Moro—he asks his bros, “What is better than seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time?” After several answers, he butts in with a bit of an eye roll, “Seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time is among the five best things in life.”
She tells him that she is the widow of Khal Drogo, and that he should take her back to Mereen. He vows she will be safe but declines, saying that she deserves to be among the dosh khaleen—the widows of dead khals—at Vaes Dothrak.
We get a quick scene of a blind Arya begging on the streets of Braavos. It’s uncertain how much time has passed. Maisie Williams plays her so well. The girl from the House of Black and White comes with a bow and forcefully starts sparring with her. As she hits her multiple times and knocks her to the ground, the girl says “See you next week.” The training is a bit reminiscent of Daredevil and Luke’s Jedi training—Arya is learning to use her other senses and not to be so dependent on her eyesight. As Obi-Wan says in Star Wars, “Your eyes can deceive you. Don’t trust them.”
I assume Arya will be even more badass a fighter this season.
The Final Scene
Melisandre walks into her chambers and looks into an old, foggy mirror. She removes her robes and gazes upon herself. She then takes off her necklace. The dramatic music reaches a high point, as she gazes upon herself again. Melisandre has been transformed into an elderly woman—possibly centuries old. Her once firm breasts sag. Her blood-red luscious hair is now white and stringy. She’s hunched and weakly. Her skin is wrinkled and leathery. She hobbles over to her bed and goes to sleep.
It’s not surprising that Melisandre has been using magic to appear young. She’s confronting reality—her appearance is a lie, just as R’hllor is a lie. With Jon’s death, she’s unsure of herself and her faith. She removes her façade along with her religion and beliefs. She strips down to reveal the only thing she trusts and knows to be true—herself, her age.
Again, with Thoros of Myr returning, I doubt we’ve seen the last of Jon Snow. It’s likely Melisande has been interpreting her visions incorrectly, as she’ll still see Jon fight at Winterfell.
There was a lot happening in this episode, but it was still pretty satisfying. The show still continues to be one of the best shows on TV. The acting, scenery, sets, and music are like no other. We’ve gotten a glimpse into some of the important plotlines, and we’ll have to follow them to see where they go this season. It would’ve been nice to see Bran and Hodor in this opening episode, since they were missing all last season. But from next week’s trailer, it looks like we’ll see them soon. I’ll be interested to see how creative Benioff and Weiss get with their writing this season since most characters’ storylines have caught up to the books.
What do you think will happen this season?