NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of “Game of Thrones”, including some character deaths, are present in this review
Game of Thrones has officially run out of road in terms of adapting George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire source novels. As Season Six begins, the series is starting to enter the penultimate territory of the saga in the still-unpublished sixth book, The Winds of Winter, and that naturally begs the question of whether HBO’s adaptation of said novels can still stand on its own two feet, despite Season Five’s frequent branchings from the source text already showing plenty of promise in that regard.
Fortunately, the sixth season premiere of Game of Thrones, “The Red Woman”, seems to continue to indicate that Game of Thrones isn’t dependent on the source novels to remain entertaining, appealing, bloody, and most of all, one of the coolest and cleverest shows on television right now. This season premiere certainly wasn’t the best episode in the series, mind you, especially since it has to spend pretty much its entire duration re-establishing where the many personalities of the show stand as Season Six begins, but the season is so far off to a good start nonetheless, even if some of the character turns were more interesting than others.
Among the big highlights in this episode, the Castle Black storyline was pretty great, dealing with the fallout of mutineers murdering Jon Snow at the end of Season Five. With Ser Davos cornered by Ser Alliser, after hiding and standing with Jon’s corpse in a storeroom, the men must quickly devise a plan, since they know that, as loyalists to Jon Snow, they will be slaughtered as soon as they venture outside. Davos declares that their best hope is Melisandre, who fled to Castle Black after Brienne killed Stannis and stopped that campaign cold, and that’s where the episode leaves this crew.
Melisandre had quite the twist in this episode as well, as she looks at her beautiful self in a mirror, while disrobing. It’s a very well-executed scene, as we see that Melisandre’s faith has been all but destroyed with Jon’s death. Not only that, but the episode closes out with Melisandre removing her necklace, which masks a true from that the series has never glimpsed before! Apparently, Melisandre is very old, likely centuries old, and is no doubt dealing in forbidden magic to prolong her life. With the death of Jon, it presents the question of whether Melisandre will see fit to go on. This was fantastic, and made for an especially thought-provoking and spooky way to conclude the episode, especially since Davos is going to be imminently approaching Melisandre for some magical help to get out of Castle Black.
The Lannister characters also got some pretty great scenes in this episode, as Jaime returns to King’s Landing, and Cersei must learn the horrible news of Myrcella perishing at the end of Season Five, due to Ellaria’s poison lipstick. There’s a strong scene of Cersei confiding her fear of death in Jaime, as well as the prophecy that revealed Cersei’s children would die, though Jaime tells her that they will have each other, and he doesn’t care what fate says. Around this time in King’s Landing, we also get to check with Margaery, finally, after Season Five pretty much just ended with her storyline dangling after the Faith Militant threw her in prison. It’s a very brief check-in, but it made for a good scene of Margaery begging the High Sparrow for the chance to see her brother. She also refuses to confess when probed about her sins by Septa Unella, proving that she hasn’t lost her queenly resolve.
On the note of Dorne, the Dorne storyline finally felt like it gained some serious headway, after being a weak link in the otherwise strong Season Five. Ellaria talks to Doran for a bit, in a seemingly peaceful scene, before she stabs him, right as Area Hotah is also stabbed by one of the Sand Snakes, Tyene. As Doran bleeds out and dies, he tells Ellaria that Trystane will succeed him and be a better ruler than the shut-in he was, but no dice there, as the young prince is cornered in his room by Obara and Nymeria. The two ask which of the Sand Snakes that the prince would want to kill him, and he picks Nymeria, only to have Obara stab Trystane through the back of the head as he prepares to fight. Damn! The Sand Snakes are starting to put their money where their mouth is, and it looks like upsetting the Lannisters with Myrcella’s death isn’t the country’s most present concern anymore!
Over in Essos, Ser Jorah and Daario continue to seek Daenerys, helpfully finding the ring that Daenerys planted for them as a clue to her whereabouts with the Dothraki, while Tyrion and Varys wander around the streets of Meereen, seeing how the city has reacted to Daenerys’ disappearance. It’s just a lot of talking with these characters, and not much of consequence, but it’s a helpful look at the affairs of Meereen, now that it’s without a ruler. Where is the ruler? Well, she’s hanging out with the Dothraki, as expected, and upon meeting the new Khal, Khal Moro, Daenerys finds that her credentials from Meereen are no longer helpful. Things look pretty bad, but they improve slightly, when Daenerys proves that she’s the widow of the late Khal Drogo. One can’t get too excited though, as Khal Moro’s wives point out that Dothraki law states that Daenerys has to be stashed away in a temple with the other Khaleesi widows. That’s not much better.
Sadly, it was the Stark family that kind of came up short in this season premiere, with their plotlines almost appearing to go backwards for the start of the season. Checking in with the newly blind Arya in Braavos was well and good, but all this scene showed was Arya getting hassled by The Waif, who is trying to goad her into fighting, and Arya predictably gets her ass kicked, with The Waif promising to come back tomorrow. That’s kind of dull. At the very least, Sansa and Theon had some better developments, as they’re quickly caught by Ramsay’s men, as Ramsay himself makes a brief appearance to address that King’s Landing’s forces are a far greater threat than those of Stannis Baratheon. Sansa and Theon look to be captured, but Brienne and Podrick ride in to kill the attackers, fortunately. Brienne offers her services to Sansa again, who accepts them this time, better ensuring that the North has a fighting chance beyond House Bolton. It’s good that Sansa finally recruited Brienne and Podrick to her side, but like I said, this undoes the development of Sansa initially refusing Brienne, for the simple reason that Sansa’s life was threatened this time. Like Dorne finally getting a big plot twist, it feels like the show is just trying to find an excuse to fix a faulty plotline here.
Still, “The Red Woman” nicely proved that Game of Thrones can stand just fine without source novels to reference. Some of the initial establishment of the season was more enticing than other elements, but in terms of establishing good storylines to come, this was a worthy season premiere. The fact that Dorne is finally being seriously shaken up is welcome, and the twist with Melisandre was pretty neat, as was Ser Davos being forced to rely on her to escape the Night’s Watch. The surviving Stark’s feel like they’re being overshadowed so far, but hopefully, that won’t last long, especially now that Sansa has become so crucial to the continued survival of the Northern powers.
- Brienne finally managing to secure Sansa
- Ellaria and the Sand Snakes violently seizing Dorne
- Melisandre's shocking secret, and loss of faith
- Some characters are overshadowed
- Stark womens' arcs are weak