Game of Thrones Revisited: 6.01 The Red Woman
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, heading next into season six next with season opener The Red Woman...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Previous season openers are often reflective affairs, taking stock of the events of last season and setting up the stories to come. But the sixth season opener starts with a bang as the events in the North quickly escalate. Jon Snow is dead and after discovering his body, Davos and Eddison find themselves outnumbered by the superior numbers of Alliser Thorne's men. Interestingly he openly admits his role in murdering the Lord Commander, so confident is he that his actions were just.
The truth is, Alliser might be arrogant and bullish, but you can understand his motivations, even if it is impossible to agree with them. The Night's Watch have guarded north at the Wall for centuries and in the aftermath of The Watchers on the Wall's battle with Mance Rayder's forces, Jon has not only allied himself to the wildlings but offered them lands south of the Wall. It is a tense situation as Davos treats with Alliser through a locked door, knowing the violence could escalate at any moment. The added presence of Melisandre, who actions in burning poor Shireen alive still remain hidden from Davos, only adds to the tension of these scenes.
In Winterfell, there would almost be a hint of remorse for Ramsey as he mourned Myranda's death, if he wasn't so much of a monster. Outside the city, the flight of Sansa and Reek / Theon from Ramsey's men is another frantic, tense sequence, as they are put through their paces crossing icy rivers and raging snow. The moment they are caught is nail biting stuff and the timely arrival of Brienne and Podrick to save them a triumphant turn of events. The ensuing fight is brutal but it ends with Brienne swearing allegiance to Sansa, who bravely accepts. For the first time - properly for the first time - there is hope for the Stark girl after her ordeals for the last five seasons.
After a dull and wasted storyline last season, the brief interlude to Dorne feels like a sweeping under the rug moment as a wasted Alexander Siddig leaves the show. Lord Doran and his men are eliminated by a vengeful Ellaria while Lord Tristan falls foul of the brutally psychopathy of the Sand Snakes when he is murdered on his ship. While Indira Varma does her best with the role of a woman consumed by revenge, there is nothing to engage with when it comes to the Sand Snakes. Oberyn had conviction, passion and charisma; they have none of that, feeling dangerous for the sake of it and the lack of focus on them moving forward is a good thing.
Cersei continues to become a colder, more ruthless character, more so following her walk of shame at the end of the last season. But there is still a hint of pity for her as she rushes to the docks to greet her returning daughter Myrcella and discovers she is dead. Her children are her anchor to humanity and as each one passes, she becomes more of a monster herself.
The episode loses some focus in the second half as the season reintroduces us to several characters after the events of season five. Arya is now blind on the streets, falling far and begging for scraps. It's perhaps her lowest point in her journey. Varys and Tyrion walk the streets of Mereen after the chaos of the attack by the Sons of the Harpy in The Dance of Dragons, finding a city silent and gripped by fear. The burning of Daenerys's fleet is another ominous sign of her fall from grace; while Jorah and Daario pursue her, she finds herself back in her season one predicament, marched by the Dothraki back to Vaes Dorthak. Except she has a strength and wisdom now, standing up to Khal Moro as he taunts her with his desires and reveals her true identity.
The final scene with Melisandre brings The Red Woman back to the north with a harrowing look at the red priestess. The removal of her necklace reveals her identity, a wizened crone defeated by the loss of Stannis and all she believed in (Of course, you have to ignore the scene in season two where she bathed without her necklace). There is something pitiful and grim about the site of her crawling into bed against the cold, reflecting the new morose nature of Melisandre in the light of season five.
The Red Woman is a strong season opener, starting with a bang and then settling into the usual opening reflective on the characters that inhabit this rich and detailed world. After some of the frustrations with season five, it demonstrates a renewed focus as Game of Thrones steps closer towards it end game...