Game of Thrones, season 6 episode 1, The Red Woman: two shock deaths and Melisandre’s big secret, 8 things we learnt
Some major cliff-hangers were left unresolved
The tension was incredible as Game of Thrones season six opened with the camera swooping low over Castle Black, alighting on the scene of noble Jon Snow’s bloody run-in with the traitorous Night’s Watch.
Alas, the Bastard of Winterfell (Kit Harington) was, for the time being at least, staying very dead indeed, as confirmed by a haunting close-up of his waxy visage and the pool of scarlet arranged like a skewed halo.
Short of spelling out “He’s Dead!” in huge flaming letters it’s hard to see how much more emphatically show-runners David Benioff and DB Weiss (they also wrote the episode) could have driven the point home.
Was this a sadistic riposte to fans who have spent the best part of a year constructing elaborate conspiracy theories as to when and how the grumpy heartthrob will return? Or a sleight-of-hand intended to make his eventual reappearance all the more dramatically satisfying?
We’re with Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), who turned puce with shock as he came upon the Lord Commander’s pallid corpse.
Ser Davos’s stunned expression indicated he could not quite believe Snow was really, truly gone.
Viewers will have felt likewise, this week’s non-resurrection notwithstanding. Snow has fought the White Walkers and lived and it is unthinkable anyone else could plausibly lead the campaign against the ice zombies.
Melisandre was a changed woman
When the “The Red Woman” was announced as the title of the season premiere, many assumed Melisandre’s sacrificial magic would be put to use wrenching Jon Snow back from the dead.
Well, there WAS a major surprise involving everyone’s favourite cherub-torching spiritualist. Yet it had nothing to do with restoring life to the recently sliced ‘n’ diced Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
What to make of that final image of Melisandre (Carice van Houten) transformed into a stooped old woman after the obligatory topless shot? Was the Red Lady a withered crone in disguise all along? Or had recent upsets – Stannis’s defeat, Snow’s death, that awkwardness with Shireen and the bonfire – caused her to lose her faith in the Lord of Light?
There were no answers – just raw shock as Melisandre removed her necklace and morphed into a hunched hag. The episode may have side-stepped Jon Snow’s future involvement but seeing Melisandre age before our eyes was more than acceptable compensation.
It was just the jolt the series needed to kick off with and a satisfying final flourish at the end of a deliciously nasty hour (see the entries pertaining to Arya and Daenerys).
Oh how we’ve missed your cruel, manipulative ways Game of Thrones.
It feels okay to have left the books behind
The television series has for the first time overtaken George RR Martin’s original novels.
Early days admittedly, but the same sureness of touch that has always been a hallmark of Game of Thrones was evident in the madly anticipated first episode of the new season.
The plot strands unfolded as calmly and deliberately as ever and while it could of course all go horribly wrong, for now Benioff and Weiss seem to know what they are doing.
Especially encouraging were the scenes from Dorne which, though brief, felt far more considered than last year’s Xena Warrior Princess-esque botch job.
The show is really punishing Arya
Blind and homeless, Arya (Maisie Williams) is paying a heavy price for breaking with her tuition at the House of Black and White. She was reduced to begging on the streets and endured a nasty pummelling from Jaqen H’ghar’s star pupil (Faye Marsay).
Evidently Maisie Williams wasn’t joking when she hinted that a lot “bad stuff” would befall Arya this year.
But Williams is such a sweet presence that bearing witness to Arya’s travails is going to be torture for us too. This is one descent into the gutter we are not looking forward to.
Hurrah for Sansa finally seeing sense
Gallons of hot air was expended last year to the effect that Sansa (Sophie Turner) had shed her teenage silliness and become a responsible adult.
But this didn’t tally with her rejection of Brienne in favour of skulking back to Winterfell with icky Lord Petyr Baelish. And that’s without factoring in her marriage to Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon), the Westeros equivalent of a Tinder date with a serial killer.
Having leaped to freedom over the Winterfell battlements with Theon/Reek (Alfie Allen, still doing the best disembodied stare on television) she finally recognised her error.
When the fugitive pair were rescued by Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick, Sansa immediately agreed to take Lady Tarth on as personal protector. Clever given Ramsay – a raving nutter in the kindest of circumstances – was epically ticked off at her escape.
Bless his black, putrid heart, he even appeared vaguely upset that Theon had pushed his sex slave Myranda to her death, though his sentimentality didn’t linger very long. “Feed her to the hounds,” he barked, possibly the most Ramsay-ish words to yet pass his lips.
Daenerys’s reunion with the Dothraki didn’t go as planned
As widow of the great Khal Drogo, Daenerys (Emilia Clark) had leaped to the entirely reasonable assumption that the Dothraki would be respectful towards her.
Unfortunately, tradition decreed that, upon the death of their husbands, bereaved Khaleesi were required to live out their days in pious servitude in the horse barbarian capital Vaes Dothrak. It was an interesting tit-bit Drogo had neglected to mention back when he was suffering an excruciating death in series one.
Daenerys thus faced the full fury of Dothraki marital law (to be fair, a better option than the rape with which she’d been earlier threatened).
Here was an encouraging twist in the tale. After several years of Daenerys as world’s most boring despot, could her storyline be about to develop a pulse once more?
Held prisoner by the Dothraki rough riders there are grounds for hoping she might be the season’s dramatic dark horse.
Tyrion has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing in Meereen
You’ve got to feel for the Royal Imp (Peter Dinklage). He spent the entirety of last year tracking down Daenerys only to watch helplessly as she was attacked by insurgents and swept off into the yonder by an angry dragon.
Now the Lannister dwarf has been parachuted into Meereen as de facto ruler and doesn’t seem entirely sure what he should do (other than obviously rooting out the Sons of the Harpy – and he hardly needs Varys around to tell him that).
Little has to date fazed the most cunning of the Lannisters.
Yet the unearned promotion will surely test his cunning, especially now that the rebels have torched a whole harbour of ships. We’re looking forward to Tyrion thinking his way out of this impasse.
It’s going to be fun watching Cersei and Jaime take revenge against the ENTIRE WORLD
Cersei’s Penitence Walk placed viewers in the novel position of feeling sorry for the arch-villainess.
Her week from hell was rendered doubly devastating as Jaime returned from Dorne with their daughter Myrcella in a casket.
While Cersei (Lena Headey) displayed heartbreaking tenderness towards her dead child (whom she loved precisely because her kindness made her so unlike herself), Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) could think only of revenge.
This was them against the world now and nothing else mattered.
They have quite a “naughty” list, too – including (but certainly not limited to), the High Sparrow, Cersei’s kissing cousin Lancel and the Sand Snakes who poisoned her daughter (and this week killed off the Prince of Dorne for good measure).
Project Vengeance is still very much at the planning stage but when Cersei and Jaime’s wrath is fully unleashed expect the punishments meted out to be cruel and unusual. Scorched-earth payback is what the Lannisters do best.