This is a recap, so there are spoilers all over the place. Beware!
I don’t think there was ever going to be a way for Game of Throne’s sixth season premiere to dance around the subject of last season’s big name death. It’s only fitting that viewers’ return to Westeros drops them right back to the scene of Lord Commander Snow’s death in the courtyard of Castle Black. The camera slowly creeps down towards his corpse, the movement punctuated by the howlings of his loyal direwolf, Ghost. It’s a haunting start.
Fans have argued exactly if and how Ned Stark’s bastard might survive. Popular opinion leaned on the intervention of Melisandre, the Red Priestess and advisor to the recently deceased Stannis Baratheon. I was very pleased that Jon was instead found by her moral foil, Ser Davos Seaworth. Davos is one of the only unabashedly good characters in the show: loyal, honest, and stout. To have him arrive on scene is a major reassurance. Melisandre came in short order to examine Jon’s corpse but it was Davos’ blunt assessment that gave us our confirmation, for now: “I can’t speak for the Flames but he’s gone.” Jon Snow is dead.
A quick cut to the rest of the Night’s Watch shows that Jon’s execution at the hands of Alliser Thorne and his compatriots was not completely well received. As if to stress that point, the camera did its damnedest to show Olly throughout. We’ve seen him go from scared child to Jon’s steward to traitor and murderer. Damned if I didn’t want to punch him in his tiny face throughout Ser Alliser’s speech to the Night’s Watch. I appreciate that the show gives Olly and Alliser understanding motives for their betrayal but more than anything else, I’m just waiting for them to pay for their actions. I might be waiting for a while; Game of Thrones is far better at killing the good guys than offering viewers any type of justice.
Speaking of folks we’re still waiting to see get hit with a brick, let’s talk about Ramsay Snow. Moving from Castle Black to Winterfell, the Bolton bastard eulogizes Myranda, who Theon chucked over the castle walls when he and Sansa escaped. Iwan Rheon acts up a storm here and I almost made the mistake of feeling something before being brought back to reality when he gave the order for Myranda’s body to be fed to his hounds. If this was any other character and any other actor, I’d say the scene was out of place. Practically, it does nothing but remind us that Ramsay’s a total ass but the low pace of this scene and his following conversation with his father, Roose Bolton, gave me time to breathe before the next bit of action.
It ends up being good shit too. Theon and Sansa rushing through the forest and trying to evade capture has just enough character to really draw you in. Seeing Theon slowly find himself again is great and it’s cathartic as hell to have Sansa free from the thrall of shitty men after multiple seasons of trauma. Having Brienne of Tarth and Podrick “Sexalicious” Payne arrive to beat the tar out of the Bolton footsoldiers was predictable but wonderfully satisfying. It got teary-eyed seeing how happy Brienne was to have Sansa accept her oath of fealty. It’s great to have these characters together at last!
Things are less than ideal in the south. Jamie’s made his way back to King’s Landing with his dead daughter, Myrcella, after a disastrous rescue attempt in Dorne. You can’t help but feel real sorry for Jamie. Every time it seems like he might be able to do something heroic, it’s pulled out from under him. Cersei’s pain is real here too. It’s not often that we get to see the former Queen let her guard down but hearing her admit that her daughter was everything she wasn’t was refreshingly raw. As time’s gone on, she’s had more and more humiliation heaped on her as well. It’s not perfect but wondering if having a daughter as good as Myrcella meant she wasn’t a monster might be her most self aware moment yet.
I’d like to talk about Margaery Tyrell’s troubles as a prisoner of the Faith Militant but I nearly fell asleep, to be honest. This feels like such a dead end storyline that I can’t even get some jollies at watching such a formerly smug and calculating character get a taste of powerlessness. Thankfully, the episode saw fit to liven things up with some action in Dorne.
Wait. I misspoke. What I should be doing is standing on a rooftop and asking why the hell the showrunners think that anyone gives a damn about Dorne. The only good thing to come out of Dorne was Oberyn Martell and that dude is so dead that I believe I’m legally obliged to say he’s “super fuckin’ dead”. Instead, we stuck watching the machinations of Ellaria Sand and her daughters as they kill Prince Doran and Tristan. I hate this plot line. I hate Dorne. I hate sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere and why am I quoting Star Wars: Attack of the Clones? Oh yeah, because this entire subplot is about as interesting and exciting as that bantha poodoo of a film.
Thank the gods for our next scene: some lovely back and forth between Tyrion and Varys as they deal with their own mess in Mereen. This entire section is really well shot. Wide shots make the pair seem exposed and the occasional blurred actor in the foreground stresses that they are being watched. Varys and Tyrion are among the show’s smartest and most cunning characters but they are not completely in their element walking about Mereen. It’s clear they have their work cut out for them. Our other pairing for this segment is Daario and Jorah. I’m not sold here. Jorah’s story feels like it’s run its course and pairing him with Daario doesn’t offer much. The show is trying to up the ante by giving him a case of creepy stoneskin disease but I’m not having it. The sooner they can get off the road and catch up to Daenerys, the better.
Dany’s all caught up with a roaming group of Dothraki after riding her dragon to the middle of nowhere last season. The great thing with Daenerys scene is that we’re able to see when she’s making deliberate decisions. So while she might have to deal with Thing One and Thing Two talking about her pubes for a bit as she is forced to march, we know she’s playing them a bit by not saying anything. She knows the language. We’ve seen her pull stuff like this before back when she burned Astapor to the ground. So it’s only a matter of time that she reveals herself as wife to Khal Drogo. It’s as good a card to play as any but now the Dothraki are keen on seeing her brought to a holy temple to live out the rest of her life with other widows. Oops!
Oh, hey. A scene with a blind girl on the…oh my gods, Arya! Sitting on the streets of Braavos and begging for money, my favorite Stark is soon accosted by that one really annoying girl from the House of Black and White. We have a quick fight scene where Arya gets her butt handed to her with the promise of another beating tomorrow. It’s quick, rough, and wonderful. It’s also really smart to use the character so sparingly for now. She’s off doing her own thing, removed from almost all of the politicking in Westeros. Playing Arya’s story for the slow burn is definitely the way to go.
We end back at Castle Black. Davos and those who are guarding Jon’s body are given one last chance to surrender. Of all people, Davos says they might need to rely on the “Red Woman”. The episode ends as Melisandre strips, staring into a looking glass. She removes her necklace and her youth fades away. The true Red Woman is before us; old and weary. She turns from the looking glass and crawls into bed. Has she completely forsaken her magic? It is hard to say but Davos’ declaration doesn’t seem so bold anymore. Will she manage to find strength to aid him and the others? We’ll just have to wait and see!
Overall, this is a fair start to the season. It’s not rushing to give us answers yet but still manages to move key players into new positions. I’ll be honest: after so many years, I think the show has lost a bit of drive. But with the promise of moving into territory untouched by the books and shaking up the status quo by tossing characters into some very trying scenarios, there’s a lot of potential here to really energize the show. I have my figers crossed for a magical, bloody, and exciting season!