Game of Thrones is back! And along with it is all your favourite characters (and the Dornish) and all the heartbreak and humour you know and love the show for (and there’s the Dornish too).
The Red Woman was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Jeremy Podeswa. After season 5’s multiple cliffhangers (most famously Jon Snow getting a serious case of the Stabs), how does the season premier do with wrapping things up while moving forward?
So, I’m going to do these reviews in a slightly different manner to my usual ones. Due to the extremely divided nature of the ensemble cast, I’m going to have to look at each part of Westeros, dividing the review geographically. Let’s go!
We start off almost exactly where last season ended; with a fantastic cut over Castle Black to Jon’s extremely dead body. I guess that puts paid to all the questions of whether he really died or not, let’s just move on-
But wait! What’s this? After Stannis’s butchery at Winterfell last season, everyone’s favourite smuggler (sorry Han) and Melisandre have joined the Wall’s story in a big way. Davos and some loyal Night’s Watch grab Jon’s body and hunker down for a fight.
The Wall was probably my favourite part of the episode. We get a nice wrap-up of the cliffhanger from last season, Davos gets a new purpose and we get a major revelation from Melisandre.
Edd, Davos, Ghost and the other two brothers’ story makes for a fun way of refocusing the story. Jon’s been killed, now what? How should the people most loyal to him react? Liam Cunningham does a fantastic job this episode. You can feel his grief at Jon’s death and his resignation to dying, but it’s also clear that Davos intends to take as many traitors with him as possible. Stannis would be proud. Cunningham often manages to convey Davos’s state of mind purely through inflection and acting, and proves his comedic chops too when he asks Thorne for mutton. While Jon’s almost definitely coming back, Davos is definitely worthy of some time to shine.
A major surprise was how good Owen Teale’s Alliser Thorne was in this episode. What could have been a total character assassination of Throne actually felt natural, and Teale’s acting played a valuable role in that. His speech to the rest of the Night’s Watch is probably the best explanation for the action of the conspirators possible in the situation. The writing isn’t amazing, but Teale pulls off the anger and regret of Throne admirably and continues to over the course of the episode.
Finally, that Melisandre scene, eh? The first big reveal from The Winds of Winter (well, the first that’ll probably be in the books) confirms a popular fan theory – that Melisandre’s been around for a lot longer than she seems. The scene itself is fantastic. We get a moment showing Melisandre’s no longer heated by R’hollor as she claimed to be, before some horror-movie-esque suspense building up to Melisandre revealing her true self. Podeswa makes some great directorial choices here, choosing to focus the camera equally on Melisandre’s reflection and potions rather than gratuitous nudity. It pays off when what seems to be the HBO nude scene is cruelly subverted. Carice Van Heuton’s acting is amazing, showing Melisandre’s silent fear, disillusionment and depression.
Not all was great about the Wall though. Thorne’s owning up to Jon’s death still isn’t founded on sound logic – you never disobeyed an order, but it’s still okay to kill your Lord Commander? I guess exact words count for something then. There was also a lot of weird emphasis on Olly too. We get it, the kid’s a sack of crap. No need to show his every reaction, especially when they’re generally just being smug.
Davos also must be doing a really good job at compartmentalising because you’d think he’d be doing a lot more soul-searching after Stannis’s death. He’s a born follower, but I’ve never really thought of him as someone able to snap between loyalties as fast as he seemingly did this episode. This might come once he’s in a less immediately pressing situation though, so I’ll wait and see.
Fittingly for where the show started, the North is finally where we get to see characters converge. After being caught by the Boltons, we get to see a great fight scene between Brienne, Pod (and Theon too!) and some Bolton men. While there were a few goofs in the fight scene, overall it was a gritty and well-choreographed piece of work. I enjoyed seeing Pod’s growth as a fighter and Theon saving Pod in a way that parallels Pod saving Tyrion back in Blackwater.
In general, it’s great to see Theon regaining some of his identity. Alfie Allen puts in his usual standout work, and his hugging Sansa was definitely the heartwarming moment of the night for me. Speaking of heartwarming, the scene where Brienne swears vows to Sansa was amazing. Besides paralleling Brienne vowing to protect Catelyn back in season 2 it’s a fantastic piece of writing and acting. Sansa is wrongfooted by having someone be honestly loyal to her, Brienne is tearing up at finally getting to fulfil her promises and Pod knows all about chivalry. It’s great to watch these characters finally come together, and it should be fun to see this eclectic foursome work together.
“I will shield your back and keep your counsel and give my life for yours, if need be. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”“And I vow that you shall always have a place by my hearth and meat and mead at my table, and pledge to ask no service of you that might bring you into dishonor. I swear it by the old gods and the new.”
Meanwhile, Ramsay and Roose have defeated Stannis but all is not well. Marrying Sansa and Ramsay has put them directly at odds with the Iron Throne and apparently not all of the North is loyal to Roose. After the Bolton steamroller that was the North in season 5, it’s fantastic to finally see them in a weaker position. Michael McElhatton is fantastic as usual, and after the twenty good men fiasco seeing him sucker-punch Ramsay was extremely satisfying, even though it’ll probably get Roose killed.
We also get a touching conversation between Ramsay and his dead mistress, at least until he orders her to be fed to the dogs. A true romantic, our Ramsay.
Negatives… Well, the North was pretty good this episode. A lot of people seem to have been distracted by the dogs disappearing in the fight with Brienne, but it wasn’t too bad for me. It’s disappointing that after three seasons of build-up Stannis had almost no effect on the plot, but that’s about it.
Not much here this episode. We see Jaime bring back Myrcella’s body to Cersei, and then there’s a scene where Jaime comforts Cersei and tells her they’re going to get revenge. Lena Headey is fantastic, and I love that they’re adding some more sympathetic layers to her character. Book-Cersei was always more crazy than sympathetic, but seeing Cersei realising and even regretting that she’s a monster adds depth to her character that just wasn’t there in the books. It’s disappointing to see that Jaime and Cersei’s relationship is effectively the same as in episode 1, season 1, but there’s nine episodes left to change that.
There’s a short scene with Margaery and the High Septon, but it’s a bit forgettable to be honest. Jonathan Pryce is great playing a man who is both a friendly grandpa and insane cult leader, but the scene is just a short good cop/bad cop between the High Sparrow and the Septa. It’s okay, but mainly feels like its purpose was to remind viewers what the status quo was from last season.
There’s also a scene with Trystane Martell and the Sand Snakes (oh boy) but it’s more relevant to Dorne.
Hahahaha, oh boy. Season 5 Dorne was easily the worst part of not only the season, but the show so far. A combination of wasted actors, terrible writing and limited filming time created a perfect storm of cringeworthiness. This episode’s Dorne scenes were… Well I want to say it was better taken on its own, but it sets up what looks to be an even worse story than season 6.
So, Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes murder Doran and Trystane Martell and Areo Hotah. It’s difficult to review this scene since Areo and Doran are some of my favourite characters in the books, but I’ll my best to be objective.
One of the main complaints I’ve heard on this scene from my Unsullied friends is that Dorne hasn’t been set up enough. I agree with this 100%. I mean, this is the systematic destruction of an entire major House. House Martell is completely gone after this. It’s a Red Wedding level event and should have felt like it, but it just… doesn’t. We don’t know any other characters in Dorne outside the Martells and the Sands. We’ve seen no common people, we know none of the politics of the region, and so when this happens we feel nothing. Why should we care if two more rational, level-headed characters die? It’s not like we haven’t seen it a million times before on Thrones.
Besides that, most of my other complaints have been posted a hundred times elsewhere. Alexander Siddig, Toby Sebastian and DeObia Operei were totally wasted on their characters. The dialogue is atrocious. The acting from anyone who isn’t the aforementioned three actors is pretty bad. Areo’s been set up as a badass, then never got a fight scene and got killed by a knife in the back. We still haven’t seen outside the Water Gardens, leading Dorne to feel like one set.
“You’re a greedy bitch, you know that?”
-Sand Snake No. 2, after not being able to kill her cousin.
It’s not all bad. At the very least the sequence was directed better than most of Dorne last season and the closing image of Ellaria standing over Areo and Doran’s bodies was a good image. Doran gets a heartwarming monologue. It’s nice to see major events happening in the season premiere, I guess. Trystane’s death by a spear in the head makes a visual pun (‘Son-spear’… like Sunspear, geddit) that might have been the best thing about Dorne so far. It resulted in a lovely piece of art in the Beautiful Death series that makes me feel things.
The question is, where do they go from here? There’s no longer any conflict inside the Water Gardens so the Sands might finally have to go outside them… Which could be good? Maybe? Besides that this plot’s probably going to be treading water for a long time. Martells v. Sands political drama could have been interesting, but now, nope.
It’s just a shame that they perfectly casted all of these Martells, set them up with Oberyn, and then wasted every one of them.
Short little scene with Arya here, setting up her training this season. There’s not much to say at all here. It’s a nice parallel to her training in season 1 with Syrio Forel.
The Dothraki Sea
Meanwhile, in the Dothraki Sea, Daenerys is back with the Dothraki – though in an even weaker position than she was last time. Her ascent back to a position of power was interesting, if not especially entertaining, to watch. We all knew that she wouldn’t remain powerless for long, so seeing her name-check her (many) titles to regain power wasn’t particularly interesting. Maybe now that she has her power back the show can get on to doing more original things with her plotline.
What was entertaining was Khal Moro and his brothraki bloodriders. After seeing a decidedly one-sided, Mongol-horde-like depiction of the Dothraki in season 1, it was fun to get some Dothraki who clown around and act more like people. While it was a bit jarring to see Dothraki berserkers do a Monty Python bit, it added some much-needed humour to the scene and humanised the Dothraki. I’m looking forward to seeing where they go with these guys in the future.
Varys and Tyrion survey the area in Meereen, looking over the city they were left to rule. This is a nice, if mostly set-up, scene. We get a refresher on Meereen’s political situation, and a quick look at its religious situation with a red priest. Tyrion and Varys have some fun banter, and it’s always great to see Conleth Hill and Dinklage play off each other. I’m looking forward to seeing these two do their usual political thing this season.
The boat-burning is a good way to bring in an element from the books that I’m not going to spoil. It makes me wonder why we were even told Daenerys had a fleet – it isn’t like it’s come in handy before now.
You’d also think that Tyrion and Varys would have some Unsullied guards, like Grey Worm, but I guess Benioff and Weiss wanted a Hill/Dinklage solo scene and the Unsullied would block the scenery.
- It’s fun to think about how disparate the Brienne-Pod-Sansa-Theon team is in terms of homelands – we’ve got the Reach, the Westerlands, the North and the Iron Islands!
- Seriously Dorne though ugggh.
- Tyrion’s weak Valyrian is, as usual, a funny running gag. In general there was some great humour this episode, with Davos’s mutton and this.
- I noticed a few times that I’ve said that I hope things get more interesting in future episodes. This season looks pretty crazy.
- Bran will finally come back in a short scene – to be honest I was expecting a little of him tonight but it was a short episode. He won’t be having a fun time.
- Edd will finally bring the Wildlings and we’ll have the start of loyal Watchmen and Wildlings vs. traitors. Meanwhile Melisandre will start to revive Jon, although at first half-heartedly.
- Happy feels will be had by the Bri-Pod-San-Theon team.
- Jaime will give Tommen some good advice that Cersei disagrees with, causing some friction there.
- Cersei does something mean.
- Dorne won’t appear.
- Greyjoys will appear, and we’ll finally progress that plot.
- Arya will either get beaten up some more or start to warg… And then get beaten up.
- Tyrion will meet the red priestess from the trailer.
- Khal Moro and his bloodriders will get a humorous bit, and Daenerys will meet the Dothraki widows.
The Red Woman was a decent series premiere that caught us up on where the cast have been while providing hints on where they were going. We had some great performances this episode, and some great writing. We also had Dorne, however, and a few seemingly perfunctory and disappointing sequences.
Rating: Seven sad book-readers out of ten.