Game of Thrones — The Red Woman Review

After months of tense waiting, Game of Thrones has finally returned for its sixth season. We’re about three — counting this one — seasons away from the show finale, so every episode is going to count. Hopefully!

Last season for me was a bit of a letdown. Episodes seemed a bit flat as the show spent a considerable amount building up momentum. Sure, we had a major, major death at the end of season five, but Stannis’ failed invasion of the North, which came to a sudden halt with not so much as a squeal, felt more like an aside or bridge to the other plot points that took a backseat. The writing also seemed a little blunted — where past seasons felt like juggernauts firmly en route, season five felt listless and reaching.

But even when not at full strength, GoT is still one of the most captivating shows on any channel and still capable of winning a crazy amount of Emmys. As fans counted down the days until the season six premiere, articles about potential spoilers and speculation filled the Interwebs. With bated breath, we waited to see whether season six would be a return to form.

The premiere began right where the last episode ended — Jon Snow’s corpse lies frozen in the snow at Castle Black next to the traitor sign his Nightwatch brothers made for him. When your kids ask you what the world was like before texting and emotes, show them this scene.

“And that is how we used to throw shade, son.”

Ghost’s howling calls Ser Davos outside, and Melisandre appears to view the lifeless body. News spreads quickly about the fallen commander. While Alliser Thorne holds a meeting to discuss the assassination and defend his actions, Davos and Snow’s closest friends barricade themselves in a room to plan their exit.

I was a little disappointed that Alliser’s speech won over the crowd — it was my impression that killing a brother of the Night’s Watch constituted a punishment in kind. But if Edd gets his way, we might get another battle between the wildlings and the less-than-honorable-Watch members. It’s worth noting that no matter who wins, someone is going to lose a considerable amount. Death to the Night’s Watch only opens the path for the White Walkers, and crushing Davos and Snow’s friends will remove the underdogs fighting for truth, justice, and the Westeros way.

Further south in the Westeros North, Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy run for their lives, having escaped from Ramsay’s fortress. Ramsay is not happy, having come home from a victory to find Myranda dead and his wife and plaything gone.  Without Sansa, the Boltons have no leverage to shore up forces against a Lannister army come to bring the North back in line after Roose’s treason.

The hounds eventually catch up to Sansa and Theon after a freezing trip across a river, but Brienne of Tarth along with her trusted squire Podrick come to the rescue. Theon performs the killing blow on the last of Ramsay Snow’s men, and it’s a bit of relief — we’ve spent season after season waiting for Theon’s redemption, and it looks like he’ll just about it reach it before getting brutally killed off. Don’t forget: Good guys finish last in the game of thrones.

Vows are made, and Brienne becomes Sansa’s protector. I can’t help but feel each of these vows will be tested to a breaking point, and I can’t wait to see what happens. I desperately want a huge win for Sansa, but I also know the very thing that brings me back to the show is the unpredictable nature of it — and how it rarely gives us what we want.

Back in Westeros, Cersei Lannister rushes excitedly to the port to receive her daughter Myrcella. As the rowboat comes to shore, Cersei becomes distraught when she sees Jaime’s expression and a shrouded body. Lena Headey’s performance is amazing — the subtle facial changes relay a quick succession of emotions that don’t need words because they’d just get in the way. Headey moves from excited to crushed and then to anger before she ends the scene with a bitter scornful smile.

Vengeance is coming for you, Dorne. Best be ready.

You might be thinking — Prince Doran is a diplomat who’d rather talk it out than get into it with King’s Landing. He didn’t act when his sister was raped and killed, and Oberyn’s death wasn’t avenged in the slightest. He’ll probably try to explain how it was all the act of one angry and bitter woman who overstepped her bounds. Trust that she’ll be put to death as a traitor.

Fear not. Fans know good guys seem to consistently finish last in GoT, and Doran is no exception. If you’re not going to play the game, your game piece gets taken off the board. When news of Myrcella’s death reaches him, Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes move unimpeded to change the government. Doran dies as his guard stand watch, and his son is easily dispatched when he fails to understand the treacherous situation of the coup.

Danaerys would know. She’s spent every season fighting for independence with the hopes of building up an army to storm Westeros and get her crown. Drogon left her in a field last season, and she’s been taken prisoner by a Dothraki horde who has no idea who the white-haired woman is. If only they knew they were in — you’d expect their language to show a little bit of tact, at least by Dothraki standards.

It’s up to Khal Moro to investigate, and we’re treated to a scene that’s basically High Fidelity in an ancient time within a different dimension.

“Top five favorite awesome things for Dothraki. Go!”

It’s a good bit of levity for an incredibly bleak premiere, and just in time. The episode takes an even darker turn as Daenarys finds out all Khal widows must live in seclusion with the other widows in the Dothraki capital. Just when the young queen’s about to make headway into conquering Westeros, she’s forced to fight her way back into the game.

To make matters even worse, the entire shipyard has been set ablaze back in Meereen.

The episode saves its last two scenes for its most compelling characters. We begin with Arya Stark who’s been left to beg in the streets.

Sent away and left destitute, Arya must feel helpless with no recourse. Fortunately — and I have to mention that’s it’s also, in a way, unfortunate — the Waif makes an appearance, but it’s no simple visit or charity. After throwing Arya a bo-staff, the Waif makes quick work of the young Stark girl before parting with the words, “See you tomorrow.” So begins the next chapter of Arya’s training, and it’s not going to be easy. Such is the price for vengeance.

The last scene gets us to the episode’s titular character. Alliser gives Davos and his men amnesty until nightfall and puts the fate of the Red Woman in his hands.

“What’s one redhead gonna do against 40 armed men?” one of Jon’s friends asks.

“You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do,” Davos replies.

As nightfall nears, Melisandre sits alone in her room, contemplating another failure. I say another because it’s obvious after the premiere’s final reveal that the Red Woman has been around for a very, very long time. Staring wistfully at her image in a dull mirror, Melisandre removes her clothing and jewelry to be replaced by an ancient crone with sad eyes who must endure another day, who must search for another champion.

Despite the episode’s title, we don’t see much of the Red Woman besides the last scene. But looking back at the one other time she’s mentioned, a line from Ser Alliser to Davos about taking the Red Woman or leaving her at Castle Black which rings ominously now, it’s possible the season or a huge plot point will hinge on her character. Whoever she chooses or is forced to follow may hold her as the key — or become embroiled in desperate tragedy.

I have to say the premiere is everything I wanted — The crisp writing has more than its fair share of quotable lines, and the scenes have been trimmed with precision. The premiere episode picks up right where it needs to and sets the stage for things to come with lots of crackling energy, and the way forward is filled with compelling plot points. Credit director Jeremy Podeswa for the episode’s strong start, middle, and finish. It’s a great jumping-off point for the rest of the episodes this season, and if it’s any indication of where things are headed, fans may be treated to the best season yet.

Previous Episode: Mother’s Mercy: Game of Thrones S05E10 Recap
Next Episode: Home: Game of Thrones S06E02 Recap

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