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Monday, 25 April 2016

Game of Thrones S6E1: The Red Woman

Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 1
The Red Woman

This one sneaked up on me a touch. I knew that Game of Thrones would be starting soon - having reviewed it as an ongoing for the past two years, it'd have been a little silly for me not to - but until about half a week ago, I had no idea exactly when it was starting. I am excited, though, because as the series moves past the books and thus gets room to diverge from canon, we should be seeing some better pacing, and quite possibly some interesting and unexpected plot turns.

(This also sets us up well to have a Game of Thrones: Brotherhood type deal later down the line, where the books are adapted again, this time with complete canon fidelity.)

Picking up shortly after the end of the fifth series, series six sees the Night Watch falling under Alliser Thorne's control after Jon Snow's death. As Davos and Melisandre arrive, the two hole themselves up with a small band of Snow loyalists - but as Dolorous Ed heads out to get them help to take down Thorne, Thorne grows increasingly impatient, and Davos must come to terms with the idea that Melisandre, distraught and confused after her visions told her that Jon would battle at Winterfell, may be the only one who can get them out. In Braavos, Arya works as a blind beggar - but a Faceless Man in the guise of the Waif continues to torment her. At Winterfell, Ramsay, under threat of being disinherited by Roose, sends a hunting party after Sansa and Theon, only for them to encounter somebody they hadn't counted on. In Dorne, Ellia and her Sand Snakes depose Prince Doran, while in King's Landing, a devastated Cersei and Jaime make a pact to take revenge on everyone who wronged them. In Essos, Tyrion and Varys struggle with rebel activity in Meereen, while Daenerys finds herself on the wrong end of Dothraki marriage laws, which state that as a widowed Khaleesi, she should live out a life of pious servitude in Vaes Dothrak.

You'll catch your deaths of cold.

So, one great thing about this episode: Actual plot movement! Quite a lot of it! In almost every plotline! One of my biggest complaints about the last two series was that the plot was often in a holding pattern, with nothing really happening in the majority of plotlines, while one or two inched forward bit by bit every episode. Here, we have important plot developments happening at Castle Black, Winterfell, Dorne, King's Landing, and Essos.

They're not always great plot developments, admittedly: Daenerys' plotline makes me squint with confusion a little, because apart from not really sounding like something the Dothraki would do, it seems massively out of character for Drogo to have not mentioned that to Daenerys, even if it was in the vein of 'oh, by the way, this is something we do, but don't feel like you have to.' Instead, this seems like a weirdly regressive move for her storyline, dragging her kicking and screaming back to her character arc in the first series by once again making her an unwilling part of a Khal's horde.

This isn't the first time Benioff and Weiss have been weirdly regressive with their plotlines - Sansa's storyline famously veered into 'wait, didn't this already happen several series ago' territory last series, and hasn't quite managed to get out of it yet, although with her joining up with Brienne and Podrick, and setting out for Castle Black, hopefully she's well on her way to getting her storyline back on track and becoming the Queen in the North.

Arya's having a bad few years.

(Even though Jon's probably going to come back to life next episode and, now freed from his vows on account of dying, take up the Stark name.)

The King's Landing scenes were brief but great, even if they were mostly carried by Lena Headey's acting. While she's arguably one of the less appreciated members of the cast, Headey is a genuinely stellar actor, and while she only has two short scenes (one of which has no dialogue from her, but is arguably the most powerful scene in the episode), she brings her acting chops to both of them, making them powerful and moving.

(There was one other King's Landing scene without her in, which mostly involved Trystane getting stabbed. Oh, Trystane, we barely knew you. Or Myrcella. Or your father, for that matter.)

King's Landing always looks lovely.

Dorne, meanwhile, has one brief scene where Ellia and her Sand Snakes kill Doran, presumably taking Dorne for themselves - and thus setting the show up for a Dorne vs King's Landing war. Since Dorne clearly can't do that without allies, it'll be interesting to see who they try and team up with. Will we see a Dorne alliance with the Iron Islands? Will they try and find Daenerys and reforge that old alliance? Dorne and the North, maybe? Who knows.

I'm actually quite disappointed that Doran was killed off. He was one of a handful of reasonable people in this show, and he was played by one of my favourite actors of all time, so that's - a little disappointing for me.

The Castle Black stuff is mostly about Thorne taking over the Night's Watch - I had to pause the episode for a moment, actually, because as he loudly boomed that while he had killed Jon, he never disobeyed a single order, because while that's technically true, I feel like 'don't stab me over and over again' was probably an implicit order - and establishing set-up for what will almost certainly be the Wildlings storming Castle Black and killing Thorne.

Just - take her back to Meereen, for god's sake.

Castle Black is also where our dramatic final scene was, of Melisandre removing her choker (and all of her clothes ... for ... some reason ... ?) and revealing herself to actually have been an old hag all along, which is not as shocking as I think Benioff and Weiss maybe believe it is? What's the shocking thing to take away from this scene? That Melisandre lies? We knew that already. That Melisandre uses magic? We knew that as well. That Stannis actually had sex with an old woman one time? He's not exactly a spring chicken himself, but more to the point, since that act was entirely about spawning an evil shadow monster to murder his brother, we kind of already knew that was a bit sketchy. 

It says a lot about Benioff and Weiss that the dramatic reveal at the end of the very first episode, where a writer would be expected to bring their dramatic A-game, is 'this woman is actually not physically attractive.' That's - that's really not that shocking or dramatic, guys. It's definitely not any kind of game changer.

Next episode, we see Bran back, Ramsay rather foolishly suggests storming Castle Black (the Wildlings are going to be there soon, Ramsay. Melisandre already is there), and Cersei and Jaime are making waves in King's Landing, with the aid of Cersei's zombie bodyguard. She has one of those, remember. Just in case you forgot that she had a zombie bodyguard. Because she does, she - she has a zombie bodyguard and I'm just still not sure what to do with that knowledge.

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