To the disappointment of the show’s many fans, the fifth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ was decidedly its weakest. As a consequence, the sixth season arrives with a lot less hype and anticipation than usual. Still, it remains a hugely popular series and viewers want it to return to glory. Can the show-runners get things back on track?
This will also be the first season where the TV adaptation progresses forward beyond author George R.R. Martin’s last published novel in the series (‘A Dance with Dragons’) and ventures into uncharted territory. Because I have not read any of the books, I can’t say which parts of the story (if any) come from Martin’s writing and which are new.
Like most seasons, the premiere episodes starts things off on a slow burn as the show catches us up with where the characters are and sets up new storylines for the remainder of the season.
When Jon Snow was assassinated in the Season 5 finale, disgruntled fans swore that he’d be back one way or the other, either by miraculously surviving his multitude of stab wounds or through resurrection by magic. Producer D.B. Weiss insisted that dead means dead and actor Kit Harrington claimed he wasn’t coming back for Season 6. Yet as the opening titles for the new premiere roll, there’s Harrington’s name still in the credits, and sure enough the first scene opens with the camera swooping down from an aerial view of Castle Black to find Jon Snow lying on the ground.
Well, he’s decisively dead all right. He won’t be crawling away from this one to get patched up by a maester somewhere. (Although seen again throughout the premiere, Harrington spends the entire episode as a corpse.) Ser Alliser and the other traitors left Snow’s body out to rot. His direwolf, locked up in the kennel, senses the loss and howls in anguish.
Ser Davos steps outside to investigate the commotion and sees Snow’s body. He and a small band of Jon Snow loyalists pick him up and quickly bring him inside. The witch Melisandre follows them in. While Davos certainly has no love for her, he recognizes that they’ll need any support they can get. Melisandre seems despondent. She swears that she saw Jon Snow walking through Winterfell again in the vision given to her by the God of Light. Is she losing faith in her god?
Ser Alliser gives a speech to the rest of the Night’s Watch admitting that he and the other officers have committed treason and murdered their Lord Commander. This causes quite an uproar. Alliser swears that it was necessary, because the path Snow was leading them on would end with the destruction of the Night’s Watch.
Alliser next appears at Davos’ door. He offers Davos and anyone helping him amnesty so long as they surrender and turn over Jon Snow’s body. Davos says that they’ll need time to discuss. Alliser gives them a deadline of nightfall. Davos then immediately tells the others that Alliser is lying and will kill all of them as soon as they open the door. While the Night’s Watch brothers are eager to fight and willing to die so long as they take Alliser with them, Davos urges them to be smart. He may have an idea.
Ramsay finds his mistress Miranda dead and Sansa missing. His father is displeased with his failure and reminds Ramsay that he cannot produce an heir without Sansa. If that should happen, and if his own pregnant wife should have a boy (which she believes she will), that child will then be the new heir, cutting Ramsay out. Ramsay sends his best trackers and hounds out to find the girl
The last we saw them, Sansa and Theon made a suicidal leap off the Winterfell castle wall. They’ve survived unharmed, though we get no explanation for that whatsoever. I guess they landed in a snowbank or something. On the run through the woods fleeing from hounds, they’re forced to cross a freezing river. Sansa is weak and frail. As the dogs get closer, Theon suggests that they should split up. He’ll lead their pursuers away and she should go north to Castle Black.
Much like a similar plan failed the cast of ‘The Walking Dead’ recently, Theon’s brilliant strategy falls completely to shit when he’s captured mere moments later. Although he tries to lie and claims that Sansa was killed in the fall and he left her behind, Ramsay’s soldiers aren’t fooled. The dogs quickly sniff her out as well.
Just as things look pretty dire, Brienne and Podrick storm in to the rescue. In a bloody fight, Brienne takes out most of the soldiers and even Podrick gets in a good kill. However, when one of the soldiers overpowers Podrick, Theon picks up a sword and saves him.
With the skirmish ended, Brienne once again swears her loyalty to Lady Sansa, who accepts this time. Prompted by reminders from Podrick of the words to say, Sansa formally knights Brienne into her service.
Recovering from her public humiliation, Cersei sits in the castle and broods. When she receives news that a ship from Dorne has arrived, she allows herself a brief moment of happiness at the thought of seeing her daughter Myrcella again. That hope is quickly quashed when she sees Jaime and realizes that their daughter is dead. Rather than blame Jaime, as you’d expect would be her reaction, Cersei instead blames herself. She remembers the witch’s prophesy from her youth, in which she was told that she’d watch all of her children die. Jaimie defiantly tells her to “Fuck prophesy, fuck fate” and promises that the two of them, together, will come back stronger and take everything from the world. This would almost be a touching moment if these weren’t two horrible people whose relationship is an abomination.
Meanwhile, in the kingdom’s dungeon, Margaery suffers at the hand of the grumpy nun Septa Unella. The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) offers her a moment of comfort and urges her to confess her sins, but Margaery remains unrepentant.
Unaware of Myrcella’s murder, Prince Doran allows Ellaria Sand back into his good graces. This is a bad idea. As soon as news arrives of the girl’s death, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes stage a coup and assassinate Doran, as well as his son and heir Trystane (the one who was engaged to Myrcella).
Left in charge of the kingdom, Tyrion and Varys walk its street in humble garb discussing the problems they face with civil unrest. In a very funny moment, Tyrion attempts to give a coin to a poor beggar woman on the street so that her baby can eat, but his Valyrian is poor and she misunderstands him to think that he wants to eat her baby!
Suddenly, they hear a commotion and see people running away from smoke rising on the other side of the city. They move toward it until they get a good view of all the ships in the harbor burning. Someone (presumably the Sons of the Harpy) has destroyed their navy. They won’t be sailing to Westeros anytime soon.
Outside the kingdom, Jorah and Daario follow Daenerys’ trail until they see signs of where she was grabbed by a horde. Jorah finds the ring she intentionally dropped in the grass and correctly surmises that the Dothraki have her.
Indeed, Dany is a prisoner of the Dothraki, but none recognize her or have any idea whom she is. She’s brought before the new leader, Khal Moro, and sternly announces herself with her endlessly long list of titles, one of which of course is Khaleesi. He laughs at her and isn’t impressed. He says that he looks forward to breaking her like a wild horse and making her one of his wives, but his tune changes when she reveals that she’s the widow of Khal Drogo. Moro releases her bonds. A Khal’s widow is to be treated with respect. She thanks him and promises him a thousand horses if he will return her to Meereen, but Moro has no intention of doing that. Per tradition, she will be sent to the homestead of Vaes Dothrak to live the rest of her life in mourning with the other widows of fallen Khals. That’s not exactly the future Dany had planned for herself.
Now blinded and feeling sorry for herself, Arya lives as a humble beggar on the street. The mean girl known only as The Waif from the House of Black and White approaches her and tosses her a staff, then demands that she stand up and fight. Despite Arya’s protests, the girl taunts and hits her repeatedly. Finally, she leaves and warns that she’ll be back tomorrow for more. Clearly, the intent here is to train Arya and turn her into Daredevil.
Castle Black Again
After all the other storylines have unwound, the episode returns to Castle Black at the very end to find Melisandre alone in her quarters getting ready for bed. She strips down naked save for the choker she always wears around her neck and looks at her nude body in the mirror. The choker, it seems, is magical. As she removes it, her body is revealed in its true form, a nasty, sagging old hag who looks about a thousand years old.
I have to assume that she doesn’t usually take the choker off before bed, lest someone should walk in and discover her in that state. Does her taking it off now represent a rejection of the God of Light?
I try to take detailed notes when I recap a TV show, especially when it comes to a series as densely plotted as ‘Game of Thrones’. At the end of this premiere episode, I was a little surprised to find myself with only about half as many notes as I typically take for any given episode of even a silly show like, say, ‘The Flash’ or ‘Gotham’. Is that a measure that not much happens in this episode? I didn’t feel that way when I was watching it, until the very end when I was shocked that the hour was up and the credits rolled.
I think the premiere accomplishes what it needed to accomplish, inasmuch as that every season of the show starts slowly and ramps up in intensity as it goes. However, I’m reminded that I felt this same way after the Season 5 premiere but the show largely spun its wheels for the next nine episodes. At the moment, I’m cautiously optimistic that the writers got the message from fans and will try to avoid that mistake again.