Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
Not ashamed to admit the waterworks were just running over here, my friend. They’re stopped up now, but when the revelation hit me—that Hodor as a child had been imbued with one mission, and had repeated that mission to himself for the rest of his life until his moment came—there was no way I could keep it together.
Hold. The. Door. Hodor.
I want to break this down, because as I think about it now, it seems like a difficult concept to execute. For one, it’s complicated—if I’m reading the situation correctly, the only reason Wylis became Hodor is because he happened to be in the yard at Winterfell at the precise moment when Bran was greenseeing there, and the wights breached the cave. It was a case of a time traveler interfering with the past to influence the present, but it wasn’t even that; it was a demonstration of the fluidity of time. Because it was just after Bran warged into Hodor, encouraged by Meera, who was shouting to him from the “present,” that Wylis collapsed. The influence travels in both directions.
So we really don’t know that it was Bran who turned Wylis into Hodor—in fact, Bran could only look on in grief as the boy had his seizure. All we really know is that Bran was there in the yard at Winterfell, and Bran was also in danger in the cave of the three-eyed raven. Hodor was in both places too, and those two points in time represented the two most important points in his life—the moment when a supernatural force took away his life and replaced it with a mission, and the moment when he fulfilled that mission and lost his life.
Despite this nuance, the whole sequence was executed beautifully. I can’t remember another time, watching drama in any medium, when I experienced the simultaneous emotions of anxiety and heartbreak. I knew he had to hold that door, and I wanted him to hold that door, but damn, Josh, it was so achingly sad as a viewer to have the epiphany, and to watch Hodor be born, and die, at the same time. They made me feel the sacrifice of this character acutely, and I have to mention the director’s name, Jack Bender, and recognize him for pulling off something so intense and beautiful.
All that’s left to say is that I’m blown away. Game of Thrones was already the best show on TV, but this somehow managed to go beyond that greatness. This packed an emotional punch like nothing I’ve experienced in five seasons. No other scene has ever brought me close to crying—I swear I’m not a crier!—but this one got me easy. I never had a chance.
And there are a million corollary thoughts swirling in my head. For one, I’m so impressed that George R.R. Martin had this in his head from the very first book. There are times when I take a step back from the moment-to-moment details of the book and realize the insane level of planning that went into them, and I’m just gobsmacked. Martin is truly playing a different game than the rest of us.
I could go on about Hodor for another 3,000 words, but it would quickly descend into the maudlin (if it hasn’t already…and, fine, it has), so let me just point out that aside from learning the big man’s origin story, we had two other significant revelations in this episode. The first one is sort of small, but still noteworthy:
The Faceless Men are glorified hit men.
Seriously, they just accept payment and kill whoever. What else would you call that? They can disguise it with mysticism and magic and etc., but it boils down to killing people for money. I care about them a lot less now, and I hope Arya gets the hell away and burns down their temple in the process.
The second revelation, though…
The White Walkers were created by the Children of the Forest!!!
Um, holy shit, that’s ENORMOUS. That’s a huge, huge piece of information for the Song of Ice and Fire canon, and it answers a question that many of us thought would never be answered—where the hell did these guys come from? Turns out, in a last-ditch failed attempt to push back the invasion of the First Men, the Children used their magic to create a race of people that now threatens the entire world. Great work, fake elves. You know one of you slowed up the Wights for a few seconds so Bran could get out the door? That was the very least you could do. That was like if Ramsay Bolton had mailed Theon a new apple. Gee, thanks, but this apple won’t help get my penis back, bro.
Hey, speaking penises—big night for everyone hoping for naked equality on HBO, huh? And they really just foisted it on us with no preparation. One moment we’re watching a play of things that we already knew had happened, wondering how long this would go on, and the next? Cut to penis! Good for HBO, I guess? I don’t even know anymore. Bad day for penises, though—first, Theon gets mocked for not having one, and then Unknown Actor A discovers a growth on his. I’m just glad Jorah didn’t reveal that his grayscale had spread to his nether regions—small blessings.
There’s much left to cover, Josh, so I’ll kick it your way. But man, tell me I’m not alone in my emotional reaction to the Hodor conclusion. I’m still in awe.
Game of Thrones, the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire trilogy, was published the month I got married. My wife and I will celebrate 20 years this August. That’s two decades since George R.R. Martin introduced the world to a gentle giant named “Hodor.” So yes, I’m also impressed that he apparently had this scene in his head from the start, long before he could have imagined that it would be revealed on HBO in a beloved television series.
That’s a long play, and it gives me renewed hope that Martin knows where this story is headed. And you’re not alone in being affected. It was one of the most heartbreaking deaths in a show that routinely kills off its characters.
Hodor’s whole life is a paradox. His mind was broken in the past when Bran Warged him in the future. It’s a fascinating time-loop, whose cause and effect will make your head spin. If Hodor hadn’t helped Bran escape Winterfell, he never would have been able to get to the Three-Eyed Raven. But if Bran hadn’t traumatized Wylis as a child (and I do think he unwittingly caused his mental snap), he never would have been the simple-minded servant who helped him escape. But rather than nitpick about unresolved questions of time-travel, I’m just going to try to recover from the tragic arc of Hodor’s life and death. I’d call it heroic, but even the choice to sacrifice himself so that Bran and Meera could escape wasn’t his to make. In that one moment in the courtyard, he was broken. And while Hodor could understand plenty (it was great seeing his reaction to Meera talking about eggs and blood sausage), at the end, he was nothing more than a tool to be used.
Hold the Door! Holdthedoor! Holddoor! Hodor! [sniff!]
There was plenty to unpack in the rest of the episode, but it was all overshadowed by the events North of the Wall, so I’m going to stay there for a bit and relive a couple other moments:
1. We lost the fourth of the Stark direwolves, Summer who saved Bran from an assassin back in Winterfell and bought him some essential time for his escape from the zombie horde. That only leaves two wolves left, Ghost, who remains at Jon Snow’s side, and Nymeria, Arya’s wolf named after a legendary warrior queen who she sent away to protect her from the Lannisters.
2. We’ve seen the fast zombies overwhelm an army at the Battle of Hardhome, but they went full Peter Jackson orc swarm here.
3. That scene where Bran visited the White Walkers’ army and walked through the decaying troops was as creepy and tense as anything we’ve seen so far, especially now that we know Bran’s presence in these little vision quests isn’t completely incorporeal. If his father could hear his voice, was there any doubt that the Walkers were going to be able to see him?
4.You mentioned the revelation that the first White Walkers were created by the Children of the Forest, but that piece of the puzzle just came out of nowhere. I wasn’t expecting the most important mystery about the show’s biggest threat to just be clearly answered in one of Bran’s visions. A) What a horrible plan that was obviously going to backfire. No wonder there aren’t many Children left. And B) What are we going to get next week? The real identity of R’hllor?
Okay, let’s move South of the Wall and on to what would have been an eventful episode even without those huge revelations. I’m with you on wanting Arya to move on from the Many Faced God, who’s really just a team of mercenary assassins with a drab religious veneer. They get points for a worthy origin story, which we also got tonight—the first Faceless Men were slaves who overthrew their masters and founded the City of Braavos. But now they just kill for coin. Arya is better than that, and hopefully the play reminded her that the name Stark is worth keeping.
Her sister Sansa certainly knows that. She’s turned into a formidable force in the north—part Stark nobility and part Littlefinger cunning. But she lied to Jon Snow, and I can’t imagine that’s going to go well for her.
So the Kingsmoot was a bit of letdown, huh? It was basically an election where the establishment powers tried to install the land’s first female ruler until an arrogant, misogynistic oaf bragging about his penis suddenly got all the attention and somehow won. Sure dragons, zombies and time-travel I get. But this just seems a little far-fetched.
What else did we miss?
Whoa, Euron is definitely Trump. Amazing catch. He’s even making crazy promises about building things that seem logistically impossible (where are all these trees on the Iron islands?). To be fair, though, his Daenerys plan shows that he has a much higher tolerance for immigrants. Maybe Daenerys is Hillary, and Yara was just Carly Fiorina? We know Theon was Jeb Bush—he’s the weakest one in a powerful family, and just like Euron, Trump basically spent the entire kingsmoot…er, primary…insinuating that Jeb had no penis.
By the way, just so you know, there’s a typo in your last email where you wrote “we lost the fourth of the Stark direwolves.” Autocorrect must have changed “third” to “fourth,” because Shaggydog isn’t dead. #ShaggydogTruther #TheHeadWasTooSmall #ShaggyLives #StannisToo #OneTrueKing #AlsoWeDidntActuallySeeEitherSummerOrHodorDie #Truther4Life
I also was discomfited by the new mobility of the Wights, and yet—and this is a big deal—roughly one thousand of them couldn’t figure out how to get past a simple line of fire. Even Sandor Clegane does better with fire than these guys. The Night King had to hate seeing that. I can imagine his post-game speech:
“Guys, pretty well done out there, but I have to bring up how poorly we did with the fire. How many times do I have to tell you that you can just jump over it, or even throw some snow to put it out? That delay cost us Bran today, fellas. It did. We would have Bran easy if we weren’t scared off by a little fire. Now, I’m not saying I don’t have a share of the blame here. I did my usual ‘slow dramatic killing’ act on the three-eyed raven, and if I had tried to hurry a little, I probably could have grabbed Bran myself. Also, next time I’m definitely going to surround our enemies before we attack to avoid that whole door situation. That was pretty embarrassing So look, we all have things we can work on. The good news is, I doubt there will be any future battle where fire will play a big role. I just can’t think of any situation, knowing what I know about the world, where fire will be a major factor. Okay, hit the showers, or, uh…whatever it is you guys do.”
Now, south of the Wall, here’s something: I don’t think I’ve ever seen Varys or Littlefinger look befuddled or out-maneuvered, but they both got schooled last night. Paste will publish a post tomorrow about how much dumber Littlefinger is in the TV show than the books, so I don’t want to spoil it too much, but what the hell is he even thinking? The Baelish of the books would never have set Sansa up with Ramsay Bolton, but not only does TV Baelish do it—he meets with Sansa in Mole’s Town and doesn’t even have a response when she’s like, “Dude, you set me up with a sadistic rapist. What was up with that?”
Meanwhile, Varys tries to get all snobby atheist on the red priestess, and she brings up the worst moment of his life and describes it in great detail, to the point that he looks like he wants to puke. It takes a lot to rattle Varys, but rattle him, she did, which brings me to:
THE GAME OF THRONES GOD RANKINGS:
5. Whatever the Gods of the First Men were before they converted to the nature gods—we don’t know the deal here since they were lost to history, but they must have been weak sauce, because the First Men eventually gave it all up for the Old Gods.
4. Children of the Forest Old Gods—awful. Couldn’t prevent the creation of the White Walkers. Really just a few faces on weirwood trees at this point. The Starks all prayed to them right before they got killed. These Gods actually seem to be negative at this point.
3. The Faith of the Seven—brought to Westeros by the Andals. Haven’t seen them do a single noteworthy thing. Cersei always prays to them right before another of her children dies.
2. The Drowned Gods—can’t do a damn thing to make Iron Islands life less miserable, BUT can apparently bring a drowned man back to life. That’s something.
1. R’HOLLOR. Okay, look, I’m not saying the Red God always nails it. He really boned Stannis, and it’s hard to put a positive PR spin on the burning of Shireen. Still, the priestesses of this God can see into the past and future, and can bring people back to life. If you want actual results in Westeros, you want to roll with R’hollor. Case closed.
Other quick questions for you:
—How much of a badass is Sansa now?
—Do you think Baelish successfully planted the seeds of division between her and Jon? Is she going to get super ambitious at some point and turn on him?
—Why does Arya still suck so bad at stick fighting?
—Arya definitely realizes the jealous younger actress paid the Faceless Men to kill the better actress, and she’s going to kill the younger actress instead, right? And that will either mean she’s passed the test of the Faceless Men, who actually are moral, or she failed the test and has to run like crazy not to get killed by Jaqen H’ghar, who is the last man in the world you want hunting you down.
—Are you shipping Brienne and Tormund like the rest of the Internet? Because I know I am.
—Everybody’s pissed off at Bran now for ruining Hodor’s life and warging when he shouldn’t have warged, but holy crap, how amazing has Isaac Hempstead Wright been this season? It’s always a gamble when you pick a child actor who has to grow with the part, but they hit the jackpot with Wright, who has been tremendous all year but really killed it in the final scene tonight.
—Peter Dinklage was at a restaurant in Chapel Hill today, a block away from where I was meeting some friends. Did I make the right move by leaving him alone, or should I have done everything in my power to get a selfie/offer to fight a trial by combat for him?
Back to you,
Really bummed at the performance of the Old Gods. They’ve got the best art design with those weirwood carvings, but it would appear that the “gods” are nothing more than really old dudes with greensight. That said, greensight is pretty damned cool. When the Starks pray at those trees, it’s quite possible that someone was actually listening. And that someone could affect past, present and future. So they’re not exactly impotent, but man, their current batting average is pretty godawful.
I’m still pissed at the red priestess about Shireen, but there’s no denying the power of R’hllor these days. And Jon would be dead (and smug little Ollie would be alive) if it weren’t for the God of Light. Still, I think Tyrion and Varys giving this new priestess power in Meereen is going to turn out about as well as Cersei’s decision to give weapons to the Sparrows.
You didn’t mention the Many-Faced God in your rankings. I’d put him (or her) at #2. Not very moral, but that whole wear another person’s face thing is pretty powerful.
As for your quick questions: Sansa is killing it this season, though the decision lie to Jon Snow isn’t going to go well. I think Baelish is still counting on Jon finding out about the potential army from the Eyrie and looking to Littlefinger for support. That’ll likely cause plenty of friction between the half-siblings (or cousins?). Arya was doing better when she was blind! Of course I’m already imaging what little baby Tormunds of Tarth would look like. Full props to Isaac Hempstead Wright. And I’m not sure if I’m proud or disappointed about Dinklage. I’m all for respecting actors’ privacy, but the trial by combat line would have been golden.
Please don’t die, Ghost.
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