Game of Thrones Recap – Season 6 Episode 5: The Door

This is a recap, so there are spoilers all over the place! Beware!

Game of Thrones always works best for me when the plot feels properly motivated by the characters. From time to time, it can feel like they are little more than the writers’ playthings. They get ferried from location to location, used and abused, then discarded as drama demands. That’s the show at its worst. But when actions seem properly motivated and the characters shine though? That’s the show at its best. “The Door” lacks game changing twists and shocking swerves. But it has everything I want from Game of Thrones.

Sansa’s opening scene brings her and Brienne face to face with Littlefinger. I’m pleased at her progress this season and it is truly on display here. Littlefinger might pledge his support and offer Sansa an army but she knows he cannot be trusted. “Would you like to hear about my wedding night?” The show already seemed far more self aware during Brienne and Sansa’s discussions in “Home” but it really doesn’t shy away from anything here.

There’s no dodging Game of Throne’s problem with women. Even character like Daenerys, Arya and other crafty women, most exist to be beaten or sexually conquered. Sophie Turner’s performance in this scene was strong. She felt damaged and changed while also being cold and strong. Sansa’s been transformed through trauma. It’s more than most women get on this show. When she turns Littlefinger down, it is a strong decision.

This focus on past trauma’s also motivated Arya’s story. Given a second chance to serve the Many Faced God, she must endure the gross spectacle of a stage play depicting her father’s death. The pull between who Arya’s insistence that she is “no one” and her ability to let go of her past works very well. Under normal circumstances, I would be bored with the cartoonish antics on the stage. With Arya in the crowd, it feels like watching a ticking time bomb. No doubt that this task was chosen specifically to test her. While we might not get to her assassination, this entire beat is cogent and character driven. It is one of her best moments and certainly the best since she killed Meryn Trant.

The episode makes good use of all the Stark children. Bran’s still north of the Wall, caught up in visions. His turn here isn’t as deep, character wise, but his vision offers some clarification about the White Walkers. They were initially made by the Children of the Forest to fight off men. Nothing is as it seems in Game of Thrones. The most dangerous creatures in the show are also victims, made into something else against their will.

Jumping to the Iron Islands, I was shocked to see it wasn’t raining for once! Instead, we only get crappy clouds as the Kingsmoot begins. Yara makes her case to become queen, with Euron nowhere to be found. Someone declares that Theon should rule. “I am Theon Greyjoy”, he states at the start of his speech. He is no longer Reek; he is closer to his old self. But unlike the cocky, posturing speech he made in Winterfell so long ago, this speech is much more clear. He’s also suffered greatly and grown from it. He backs his sister’s claim. Euron ruins it all, swaying the crowd with a promise that he will build a massive fleet, marry Daenerys, and rule the whole Seven Kindgoms. He is sworn in as king while Theon and Yara flee. I’ve found the Iron Islands second only to Dorne on my “Don’t Really Give a Shit” list but felt very active. There were good character beats and we witness the rise of a frightening villain.

Across the world, Dany speaks to Daario and Jorah. This entire season, I’ve felt lukewarm about Jorah. But this scene gave him a fitting send off. He cannot stay with Dany. And so, she sends him away with a command. Find the cure the greyscale and return to her. Given his devotion to the Mother of Dragons, I would not be surprised to see him complete his task. It’s a good an exit as you might get on Game of Thrones. Reconciled with his queen, he rides off.

Tyrion and Varys attempt to manage things in Mereen. I’m definitely growing tired of Mereen. It feels very slow and I don’t really care about the Sons of the Harpy. But their meeting with Red Priestess Kinvara offered a strong reversal of power dynamics. Tyrion and Varys have always been so self assured, particularly Varys. When Kinvara begins to speak of Varys’ troubled past, he seems truly put in his place. Trauma is certainly the defining theme of this episode and even one of the show’s the most confident men can’t escape his past.

I wasn’t expecting to see Bran again. His story has felt very tangential, meant only to offer us clarification on the past. Here, we finally get something more. Sneaking off into a vision without the Three Eyed Raven, he encounters a sea of wights. It’s one of the most visually stark scenes of the season. I was waiting for them to turn on him but what we got was even worse: the Night’s King finds him. He is no longer safe. The King will come for him.

We stay in the North to check in on Jon and the others. They plot their fight against Ramsay. The interplay between Sansa and Davos is strong. One knows the North, the other knows men. Together, they form a plan to unite lesser houses against the Boltons. However, they won’t back Jon. They will back Sansa. Littlefinger was turned away by Sansa but he left his mark. Reminding her that Jon was her half brother was a strong move. Perhaps it was all he wanted. Now, the North will be reclaimed in her name. The group sets off. It’s such a strange crew, like an RPG party. And, oh my gosh, the show keeps giving us more Brienne and Tormund. I love it.

Beyond the Wall, the Night’s King cometh. Bran is lost in a final vision. The Children of the Forest stand against a horde of wights. All is ice and fire as they clash. The horde cannot be held back. Meera pleads Bran to warg into Hodor. He does so. But he does it in his vision. The King kills the Three Eyed Raven and as everyone runs away, Hodor presses against the eponymous door. Bran watches as Hodor, in his vision and in the past, collapse. “Hold the door! Hold the door!”. The minute he started repeating in, it clicked into place. It’s a credit to director Jack Bender; I wasn’t too excited to learn how Hodor got his name but the scene is very well done. You earned your rest, Hodor.

“Book of the Stranger” won me back last week but “The Door” reaffirmed my faith that the show still had plenty of vigor left. There’s grand spectacle, sure, but also a lot of humanity. We see how broken people can press on. We watch as they push back against the harsh world. They stare down the horde, lean forward, and hold the damn door.