Well that certainly was…something. The season six premiere of Game of Thrones suffered from some periodic pacing issues, but overall the return the Westeros was mostly fulfilling. There were some good set pieces, some unexpected emotion, and one giant WTF! moment. The overwhelming sense coming out of the “The Red Woman” was “wait and see”, as the pawns in the game were positioned for another season.
So let’s start at the end. Hopefully you’ve recovered from that little surprise. When Melisandre takes off that necklace it was startling to see the camera pan back to her and see the face of an old woman. The emotion in that face was so sad, which brought a certain vulnerability to the character that hadn’t been present before. It was a wonderfully acted sequence until the camera continued panning out. If only they had stopped there and not panned out further! I get that GoT likes to go for “moments”, but I think this one overshadowed the greater point, which was that Melisandre appears to doubt everything now. Melisandre is the most likely link to Jon Snow returning, especially with Alliser Thorne and the Night’s Watch preparing to go through Davos and company to get Jon’s body. As such, Melisandre has become one of the cruxes of the show.
Other emotional displays which were a bit unexpected were littered throughout the episode. The opening scene at The Wall was stolen by some unexpected emotion from Thorne. When addressing the Night’s Watch Thorne admitted his treachery and gave an impassioned speech defending it. To be honest, I thought he defended the assassination quite well, arguing that Jon’s actions placed the Night’s Watch at risk. Thorne also gives Jon some credit, declaring that Jon did only what he thought was the right thing. In essence, Thorne was merely doing what he thought was right as well.
Psychopath Ramsay Bolton also showed a new emotion, sadness. After discovering the body of Myranda, which Theon had shoved off a wall, Bolton was actually sad with her death. It wasn’t a complete 180 turn as he was fine with feeding her body to the hounds, he not only was sad about the death but promised revenge. A bit later Bolton is also reminded of his tenuous status as heir to his father Roose, and there was obvious trepidation there as well.
There were some strong moments throughout the episode. Sansa and Theon’s rescue by my favorite buddy comedy pair Brienne and Podrick was the most enjoyable sequence of the episode. As Bolton’s men surround Sansa and Theon there was a palpable tension considering we knew the consequences of them being captured. The other buddy comedy pair which I’ve come to enjoy is Tyrion and Varys who are now the Sherlock and Watson of Meereen. Together they attempt to uncover the mysteries of the city while trying to stay one step ahead of those pesky Sons of the Harpy. These storylines look to provide the best bang for your buck in terms of great acting, humor, and overall plot movement.
Speaking of plot movement, the Dorne storyline may very well be done. The death of Prince Doran and his son at the hands of the Sand Snakes may be a prelude to an all-out assault to avenge Oberyn’s death. Given that Myrcella was killed in season five, I am more inclined to think that this effectively ends Dorne’s involvement. Jaime and Cersei seem much more inclined to tend to the issues in King’s Landing which makes Dorne a moot point. While the King’s Landing and Dorne scenes may have provided closure, I would’ve rather seen more from the other arcs.
The same sort of “meh” which surrounded King’s Landing and Dorne also infiltrated the scenes involving Daenerys, Margaery, and Arya. All of these sequences were far too short to glean much from. There was nothing new in the scenes from a character perspective as all three displayed traits we are used to seeing. These scenes reacquainted viewers with each character’s current situation, but offered nothing else.
This was the biggest issue with the episode overall. In the 50ish minutes of the episode there were eight scene jumps and about thirteen story jumps. The result was that no story line got nearly enough screen time and nothing was really fleshed out. Hopefully this is due to first episode syndrome in which the first episode tries to follow up on all the loose threads of the previous finale. Director Jeremy Podeswa had some leeway to work with though, as he is also the director for the next episode. Based on the look ahead after the episode, some of these lesser visited storyline will be strengthened next week and we will get our first look in a long time at Bran.
Despite its plot jumpiness, “The Red Woman” was a solid 7/10. As the season progresses I suspect we’ll see storylines converge and the scope narrow. Sansa’s motley crew and the Meereen mystery are the highlight of the episode, but the intrigue at The Wall is what everyone will be curious about.