Game of Thrones is filled with death, deception, depravity, the occasional act of decency, and dialogue acrobatics. Each week, we break them down. Let’s dive into Season 6 episode 1, “The Red Woman.”
This article contains spoilers and speculation for future episodes.
I am the sword that guards the darkness
The Jon Snow question is the issue we’re most eager to resolve this season, and Game of Thrones sure as hell knows it. “The Red Woman” opens at Castle Black, and the shots focus in on Jon Snow, who appears definitively dead, from many vantage points. When Davos and his band of loyal men take Jon’s body into a side room and Melisandre enters, she’s genuinely shocked. “I saw him in the flames at Winterfell,” she says. “I can’t speak for the flames, but he’s gone,” says Davos.
At the episode’s end, when the narrative circles back to Castle Black, Jon remains dead — did we really think writers wouldn’t milk that for all it’s worth during the first few episodes? Melisandre, however, is a different story. Initially, it seems like she’s doing naked magic alone in her room — just an ordinary day in Melisandre’s life. But when she removes her special choker, she reveals her true face; that of a very old woman. Exactly how old remains to be seen, but this is a game-changer. It’s concrete proof that her mutterings aren’t mere nonsense, and her shadow-assassin birth is not her only parlor trick — an auspicious sign for the Jon situation. Coupled with Tyrion’s glimpse of a Red Priest in Meereen, it also means this season does indeed intend to tell us more about Red Priests and Priestessess.
Melisandre’s true age also supports the popular fan theory that she is, in fact, Shiera Seastar, a bastard daughter of King Aegon Targaryen. Shiera was rumored, according to Song of Ice and Fire lore, to have had sex with her half-brother, Brynden Rivers, who viewers now know as the Three Eyed Raven, or that tree-man last seen communing with Bran Stark beyond the Wall. If Melisandre’s true age really means that she’s a Targaryen bastard, it’s even further proof that she’ll use her magic, or sacrifice herself, in order to bring Jon Snow — who many fans believe is a Targaryen as well — back to life. Other fan theories purport Melisandre is the daughter of Shiera Seastar, but both support our hope for Jon Snow’s resurrection.
The North Remembers
After a brief interlude, in which Ramsay lovingly eulogizes his psycho girlfriend, (“she’s good meat, feed her to the hounds”), we catch up with Sansa and Theon on their un-excellent adventure. Things take a turn for the better after they’re saved by Brienne and Podrick. Watching Podrick fight is a signifier of the progress in his partnership with Brienne; clearly, her endeavor to train him for informal knighthood last season paid off.
When Sansa accepts Brienne’s vows and stumbles over her own, Podrick gently reminds her. It’s a lovely character moment for all three: it shows us how considerate Podrick is, and how inexperienced Sansa is, despite her lifelong proximity to lords and ladies. For her part, Brienne has strived for this moment for three seasons now, and her role — as Catelyn Stark’s progeny finally accepts her help — is well-earned. Sansa, Brienne, Theon and Podrick could very well prove to be the Arya and The Hound dream team of Season 6.
The Lannisters Send their Regards
Lena Headey remains the show’s best silent actor. She doesn’t need any dialogue in her reaction to Myrcella’s death; the look on her face as she sees the coffin conveys her searing grief. Later, when she’s alone with Jaime, she reveals a surprisingly self-aware side: “I don’t know where she came from, she was nothing like me. No meanness, no jealousy, just good.” Such a sentiment could come off as a writing tactic to make a once-hateful character sympathetic, but it works because Heady sells the hell out of it. (And because, as the Franken-Mountain lurks silently behind her, it’s doubtful Cersei will remain soft for long).
Dragons with Daenerys
Drogon is nowhere to be seen in Daenerys’s story this week, though when she plays dumb as foreign men around her spout filth, it’s a callback to a similar situation. Remember the Unsullied Master she later ordered her dragons to burn in Season 3? Could this be foreshadowing how she’ll escape, shipped off to twiddle her thumbs in a temple? Nobody thinks she’s really going to do that, right?
The Dothraki culture is less interesting without Daenerys entering it as a stranger in a strange land the way she did in Season 1, but it remains filled with curious contradictions. Dany’s formerly adopted people are perfectly content with slavery and/or rape unless a woman is the widow of a khal. Then suddenly, they turn deferential. The scene is short, but it’s another reminder that no moral questions in Game of Thrones are rendered in black and white.
All Men Must Die
“The Red Woman” delivers the first two shocking deaths of the season, brutally dispatching Doran Martell and his son Trystane in one fell swoop. Though the second is not a surprise, we finally get to see the Sand Snakes living up to their name, and it includes some nice references to Oberyn. Good god, they got Trystane right through the face!
Uneasy is the head that wears the crown
Tyrion and Varys might be inexperienced rulers stuck with a city on the brink of civil war, but they’re nothing if not astute; though Tyrion’s reign isn’t by choice. He already realizes what so many leaders have failed to: “We’re never going to fix what’s wrong with the city from the top of an 800-foot pyramid.”
As they prowl the streets of Meereen (when Varys critiques Tyrion’s impulse to walk like a rich man) we’re once again reminded that, though we watch Game of Thrones for its battles and large-scale set pieces, we also tune in for its elegant two-character scenes of verbal sparring. Varys and Tyrion remain one of the show’s most satisfying pairings.
And in a slyly meta tip of the hat (when Tyrion says, “We’re never going to sail to Westeros anytime soon”), the show acknowledges our desire to see the plot-lines converge, already. With so much self-awareness, Season 6 is off to a strong start.
Spare coins from the Iron Bank
- Tyrion’s 800-foot pyramid comment stands out for another reason: Have we always known the unit of measurement in Westeros is feet? One one hand, that seems odd. On the other, failing to use the metric system would support their unwillingness to step into the future.
- Not much movement in the way of Arya’s plot this episode. She’s still blind, and her fellow Faceless Man trainee (possibly Jaqen H’ghar in disguise?) is still a bitch.
- The 5 best things in the world, according to the Dothraki: seeing a naked woman, killing another Khal, conquering a city, taking her idols, and breaking a horse.
- Jorah and Daario bond over their love for Daenerys — glad that’s not going to be a point of contention between them; that would be tiresome — and Jorah’s Greyscale has spread to his entire forearm. This will surely end well.
- “Blue eyed women are witches. It is known.”