Game of Thrones, S6 Ep1 – The Red Woman

The season premiere of Game of Thrones was a busy, emotional affair as we checked in with most of the major players in Westeros (and beyond). We catch up with many of the core characters of the show, and the board is set for a season that’s bound to be as epic as we expect it to be. We find out who survived and how they did it, and how those wronged intend to move forward.

After a comprehensive recap of the main events of Season 5, the episode picked up practically right where we left off – with Jon Snow’s bloody corpse on the cold, hard ground. His death is discovered by Davos Seaworth and the few Night’s Watchmen who remain loyal to him, while Ser Alliser Thorne and his co-conspirators admit to murdering their Lord Commander but try to justify themselves to the rest of the Night’s Watch. In an episode with short scenes with all the characters, this subplot was the most developed because it basically bookended the episode while the other characters only got a scene each. This subplot isn’t resolved at the end of the episode, but it is being set up as a major story line for the season (which may perhaps involve Jon Snow’s resurrection?)

This episode managed to achieve a balance between the multiple story lines, always a struggle with a cast as extensive as that of Game of Thrones. Most of the characters got enough screen time devoted to them in order for their stories to be developed, and for us to have an idea of what they will be up to for the rest of the season.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep1 - The Red WomanSome worked really well, like Brienne’s heroic rescue of Sansa and Theon, somewhat making up for everyone’s frustration with Sansa’s circumstances last season. Brienne storming in to cut down the Boltons’ men (with an assist from Pod and even Theon!) was easily the best part of the episode.

The most powerful moment came when Brienne knelt before Sansa and pledged her loyalty and service, and when Sansa, with all the ladylike grace and dignity that would have made her mother proud, accepted Brienne’s protection and her friendship. There are very few instances of pure hope on Game of Thrones but when they happen, they are truly momentous. And I am looking forward to Sansa’s continuing adventures with Brienne, Pod, and Theon.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep1 - The Red WomanBut the Dorne subplot, with Ellaria and her daughters murdering Doran and Trystane and taking control of the kingdom, felt random and again was a major deviation from the events detailed in the books. It’s always exasperating to see such a grave mis-characterization of the Dornish and the show has still not presented a better alternative to the richly developed characters in the book.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep1 - The Red WomanBack in King’s Landing, we got to witness a heartbreaking scene as Cersei runs to the harbor, eagerly anticipating her daughter’s return only to find out that, as the witch prophesied to her years ago, yet another of her precious children is dead. There is a powerful scene where she laments the loss of Myrcella that makes us sympathize with her as a grieving mother, despite all her faults. But she and Jaime are Lannisters to the end and are clearly not going to let such a blow go unpunished.

There were quick scenes with Margaery (still in the Black Cells and looking for her brother), Arya (now a blind beggar and at the mercy of The Waif’s harsh training techniques), and Jorah and Daario on the trail of Dany. (Jorah managed to find Dany’s tiny ring even in the midst of a whole field, because that was the whole point of her dropping it at the end of last season.)

Dany had to contend with a new khalasar and it was great to see her holding back revealing that she was fluent in Dothraki until the last moment. She played that card expertly and managed to avoid becoming a slave to Khal Moro. But another harsh fate awaits her in Vaes Dothrak, unless her friends or her dragons show up to save the day. But it is clear that the Queen of Dragons will have to endure a few more hardships before emerging victorious once more. This is Game of Thrones, after all. It is known.

Game of Thrones, S6 Ep1 - The Red WomanTyrion and Varys got to walk around while conversing, which is always enjoyable to watch. They began to discuss the tricky practical aspects of ruling Mereen while Daenerys is away, and Tyrion is finding the situation challenging though he no doubt welcomes it. He has shown his skills before when he tried to manage King’s Landing under Joffrey’s volatile reign and I think he will be able to hold his own, especially with the support of Varys and his network of spies. Still, dealing with the aftermath of Dany’s disappearance and the continuing threat of the Sons of the Harpy will keep these two master administrators very busy for the rest of the season.

The episode ended with a big reveal about Melisandre, the Red Woman of the title. In a powerful final scene, she removes her clothing and the necklace with the magical glowing stone and it is revealed that beneath her glamorous exterior, she is actually a wizened old crone. How she managed to survive for who knows how long remains a mystery. But as Davos said earlier in the episode, he’s seen (and shuddered at) what she can do and despite his deep dislike for her, he now sees her as an ally who may help him, and the handful of Jon Snow’s friends escape Castle Black alive.

A sombre, solid start to a highly anticipated season. While still with certain problematic elements (Dorne), Game of Thrones did not disappoint as the various players start taking steps towards achieving their goals before the feared long winter is upon them.