Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Message one: I WANT MORREEEEEE.
Message two: I’m so happy that our precious Thrones is back. The wait was agonizing, and things got so bad on the Internet the last week that this odd trend pattern emerged where writers concocted these bizarre think pieces with titles that implied Game of Thrones wasn’t good anymore, and then proceeded to offer terrible solutions to a non-problem.
Sure, on one hand, this was just classic reactive stupidity of the kind that we’ve come to expect from the Internet. On the other, it was an expression of our collective anticipation, and how it had been stretched to the breaking point. There are only so many 30-second teaser trailers you can analyze to death, and only so many Reddit posts you can devour, before there’s nothing more to say. And when that point comes, apparently the Internet’s response was to write garbage hot takes, because why the hell not?
We needed today to come, and it did. And now that it’s come and gone, all I can say is that I want so much more.
So. Sweet hell, Josh, here we are. Let’s talk. This is the first season where literally everything we see is brand spanking new, extracted directly from the brain of George R.R. Martin rather than the pages of one of his books. We are plunging into the icy depths of the unknown, Sansa and Theon style, and every new revelation is a slap in the face.
Let’s start with Jon Snow. He’s dead. That answers that question, but now there’s a new one—is Melisandre going to raise him back to life using her R’hollor magic? She definitely is, right? There’s something very incomplete about Jon Snow’s death right now, and the vibe I kept getting from Castle Black can be translated as, “sure, he’s technically dead. Look at him. So dead. Technically. There can be no further debate as to whether he is, technically, dead. Because he’s dead. Technically.”
And while I accept the “dead” part of that formulation, I’m also wondering what the hell “technically” means, and why they keep saying it. Of course, there’s only one answer—Jon Snow is coming back to life, and the red priestess will be the agent of his resurrection. And I’m okay with that. I even kinda liked Melisandre this episode, mostly because of the touching scene showing what she looks like when she removes the necklace. For once, we see her as a servant who has given her life and body in worship of this strange deity, and not just as the ice queen who sees incorrect prophecies in the flames.
(Side note: In that scene, I think the director of this episode was totally trolling HBO’s horndog demographic who only tune in for the boobs. He lured them in with one kind of nudity, and then pulled the rug out fast. This was arguably the worst day ever to be an HBO perv…at least until they show us naked Varys wrestling Greyscale Jorah in two years.)
The ongoing ambiguity of Jon Snow was the big news of the day, and elsewhere in Westeros and beyond we were basically treated to a re-introduction. Jaime and Cersei seem to have switched personalities, with Jaime ready to burn the whole world and Cersei having turned fatalistic after her walk of shame. Arya is blind and getting the shit beat out of her with a stick, which means the show is still buying time with her assassin training adventure before they’re ready to put her back in lay. Varys and Tyrion are still delightful as they try to rule Meereen at a very rough time, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are still mindlessly violent caricatures with about two percent of the depth Martin gave their characters in the books, Ramsay is still a sadistic creep who is probably going to kill a pregnant woman now to secure his legacy, and Daenerys is being sent off to the Dothraki Nursing Home for Former Queens.
As you’d probably expect from a first episode, “The Red Woman” was mostly set-up. From the coup in Dorne to the impending stand-off at the Wall, we’re seeing the building blocks of something huge, and that something is the eventual union of every dramatic thread. The larger question here is how much of that we’ll see this season. Will Daenerys get across the Narrow Sea? (And how, with her ships burnt to ash?) Will Dorne come into direct military conflict with King’s Landing? How does the Wall, where it looks like the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch are going to battle in spite of Jon Snow’s efforts, factor into any of this, other than as a bulwark against the white walkers?
We don’t have many answers yet, which is why I’m craving more sweet, sweet, GoT action. I’ll throw it your way now, Josh, with the knowledge that I’ve let one major part of this episode—maybe the most satisfying part of all—go unmentioned. As for overall impressions, I give this one an objective rating of “solid,” with a subjective rating of, “HOLY GOD, GAME OF F#$%&ING THRONES IS BACK!!!!!1!11!11!”
I have a confession to make. We may be living in a Golden Age of Television (TM 2001), but rather than keep up with the latest season of House of Cards or give in to the peer pressure at the office to watch The People vs. O.J. Simpson like a good entertainment website editor, I recently rewatched all five seasons of Game of Thrones. Having read the books and devoured every episode already, it was still a joy to revisit these deeply developed characters, to experience the emotions of…well…lots of death scenes—some sadder than others—and to enjoy the epic nature of all these small and large stories intertwined.
So yes, I’m a little excited to have not only a new season upon us but one which is treading completely new ground (not to imply that I wouldn’t read ahead as soon as The Winds of Winter hit shelves).
And while I feel like George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss and everyone else involved in the production have handicapped themselves for Season 6 by killing off some of the most charismatic characters (Tywin Lannister, Sandor Clegane, Mance Rayder, Oberyn Martell and, of course, Jon Snow—more on that in a minute), tonight’s episode reminded us that there are plenty of fascinating pieces on the chess board. Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy have become one of the odder couples with the latter finally regaining some sense of identity. And now they’ve met up with Brienne and Podrick, restoring their sense of purpose as well. I loved seeing Sansa struggle to graciously repeat the words she must have seen her father pledge dozens of times. Sansa has endured so much, but she’s grown from petulant would-be princess to a young woman worth of the title Lady Stark.
And as you mentioned, any episode that pairs Varys and Tyrion is going to offer some wonderful moments of lovingly traded insults. More please.
We may have lost Stannis Baratheon, but we still have his much more interesting right-hand man, Ser Davos, and he’s just who you want on your side when mutinous Night’s Watchmen are looking to slaughter you and your loyal friends while you hold vigil for your murdered leader, who we all assume, like Westley visiting Miracle Max, is only “mostly dead.” And yes, even the Red Woman became much more sympathetic and interesting tonight. I have to admit I was thinking, “Why, HBO, do you feel the need to show us Melisandre’s boobs yet again?” right before they pulled back the curtain on her illusion. That was a brilliant ending.
Emelia Clarke continues to shine as Daenerys, holding her tongue in front of her brutish Dothraki captors until she’s brought before Khal Moro, who I immediately liked for his impatient delivery of the line, “We can agree that seeing a woman naked for the first time is at least among the five greatest pleasures of life.” She’s once again in trouble and yet as proud and defiant as ever. She’s got two men trying to find and rescue her, but you have to assume that she’ll be the one to find her own way out of this.
Maybe the only place where the TV show hasn’t caught up to the books is in Braavos, where a blind Arya has been reduced to begging on the streets. It’s almost strange now seeing those scenes knowing at least a little bit where that’s headed, even though that’s how we’ve experienced most of the show so far. Still, I’m happy to see more of Arya’s training.
So, I’m curious what you think was the most satisfying part of this episode? Theon finally fighting back? Ramsay Bolton getting dissed by his father? Sansa’s heartfelt acceptance of Brienne’s knightly pledge? I think I’d have to choose that last one, which is also a big departure from the books.
I’m going to give you my top ten most satisfying moments, some serious, some comedic:
10. The Dothraki Banter. The whole “top five greatest pleasures” bit was hysterical, and I’m glad to see this particular group of warriors have better senses of humor than Khal Drogo’s gang, who only seemed to laugh when someone was decapitated in a funny way. I want wayyy more of these guys in my life, especially Khal Moro’s two sidekicks who annoy by arguing semantics.
9. “Well, we won’t be sailing to Westeros anytime soon.” It felt like the writers were speaking directly to us with this line, and I had to tip my cap—at least they’re not indulging in false expectation.
8. Daario and Jorah. This wasn’t their most dynamic scene in show history, but just seeing them back together was gratifying. And I’m 100% convinced they can take on, and defeat, the entire Dothraki horde.
7. Reek doing something noble for once, even if it was a total failure. Also, anyone who has ever watched a movie with a dog-chasing scene knows you can’t just cross the river, you have to actually walk in the river for a few miles in either direction, or the dogs will just pick up the scent on the other side.
6. Davos in general. There are so many brilliant casting choices in this show, but Liam Cunningham is one of the best. There’s simultaneously something calming, amusing, and powerful about his presence, and he’s a perfect fit for Davos. There’s nobody I’d want behind that door more than the smuggler. I have a feeling he’s going to have some enormous moments this season.
5. Ramsay’s brief foray into sentimentality for his dead lover coming to an abrupt end when he calls her “good meat” and orders that she be fed to the dogs. What a romantic!
4. “I want some mutton.”
3. “Fuck everyone who isn’t us!” —Jaime Lannister. He’s always been one of my favorite characters, and I couldn’t be more excited to see him enter demolition mode.
2. Brienne’s rescue, both because she restored Sansa’s dignity and because we don’t have to watch Ramsay cut any of Theon’s other body parts off (and if there’s something worse than what he’s already lost, I’m sure Ramsay will find it). But I still want to know whether Stannis is really dead.
1. “It’s a good thing you’re not a boy anymore…because you’ve got no cock.” TYRION BURN!
On the flip side, here are a couple spots that frustrated me:
—We’re really, really running in place with the Loras and Margaery in prison. We’ve officially entered the “okay, we get it” part of the narrative, and I’d like to see them get out soon. Although with Cersei’s current mentality, and the addition of her new Frankenstein, they might actually be safer with the sparrow.
—Arya, already mentioned.
—Dorne, already mentioned but man, what the hell are the writers even doing here? Doran was a pretty great character in the book—remember how well he knew his kingdom, and all the people in it?—and I also liked Trystane and Areo Hotah, and while I understand the need for some of these people to die, can the deaths at least feel significant in some small way, rather than being cheap punchlines? I really get the sense that the writers are grasping blindly in the dark in Dorne, and this week they panicked and killed everybody for lack of a better option. (Do we really believe the people would have turned against their prince so quickly on a point of honor?) The Dorne plotline was stupid from the moment Jaime set sail with Bronn on his weird revenge caper, and it’s steadily gotten worse. My guess is that they’re killing off any character with subtlety or nuance so nobody really cares when they get slaughtered in Jaime and Cersei’s wrath-of-the-gods blitzkrieg.
—(This next line should be read with the same tone as D’Angelo Barksdale yelling “Where’s Wallace, String?!”)
Where’s Bran? Where’s Bran, Josh? Where the f*** is Bran?
—Olly. I know he’s just a kid, and his parents were murdered, but the dude needs to die, Josh. Preferably at the hands of zombie Jon Snow.
Let me know where I went right and wrong. Also, who do you think Arya is going to have to kill? Obviously that’s where she fits into the late-game plot, right? As the perpetrator of a major assassination? Will it be someone totally evil, or could they throw a curveball and have her go after Dany?
That’s a fantastic list, and I’m glad to see your #1 pick was one of the funniest of the show. Tyrion wasn’t even subtle with this one, but I have full confidence in Varys for an even more brutal dig next week.
I can’t argue with you on Dorne. The Sand Snakes are mildly entertaining (“You’re so selfish!), but the whole Myrcella/Arys Oakheart saga is much more interesting in the books.
The Arya question is a good one. If we assume that everything is leading towards Dany taking the throne assisted by Warg Bran and Zombie Snow and that Sansa will eventually restore the Stark rule in Winterfell, where Arya, blind assassin-in-training, fits in to the larger picture. There are plenty of people still on her list, starting with Cersei. Will she take out the remaining Lannisters? Please, old gods and the new, keep her away from Tyrion. Bravvosi are free to serve any of the gods, but Arya has fallen in with the Many-Faced God of death. There seems to be honor in what they do, but whom she’s really serving in the grander scheme remains one of the biggest remaining mysteries.
But only one episode in, I’m already watching the countdown on Season 6. Only nine more episodes, Shane. And then another year in limbo.
Please don’t die, George R.R. Martin,
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