Posted on Monday, April 25th, 2016 by Jacob Hall
Last night brought us the season premiere of Game of Thrones season 6 and (dramatic drumroll, please)…it was a fairly typical Game of Thrones season premiere. By now, we all know the pattern: every season of HBO’s flagship series starts slow, assembling the players in their various formations and shifting the landscape, before dropping something big around episode four. And then things escalate and get nuttier and wilder until episode eight or nine, when everything comes tumbling down in the most dramatic fashion possible. And then episode ten lays the groundwork for the next season. I love this show, but let’s face it: you can set your watch to its patterns.
So when I say that the first episode of the new season is just good and not great, I say that as someone who knows that Game of Thrones never shows its hand too early. “The Red Woman” was not about dramatic reveals (although there were one or two) or huge action beats (although there were one or two) and even game-changing character decisions (although there were one or two). It was entirely about maneuvering everyone into place so it can deliver the goods at a later date. Game of Thrones takes its time, but it tends to reward your patience. With that said, let’s dive into this episode and run down the important stuff, shall we?
Davos Picks a Side
When the credits roll at the end of “The Red Woman,” Jon Snow, the murdered Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, is still dead. His return can’t help but feel inevitable, but the how and when of it will have to wait for another episode. All that matters right now is his assassination has divided the Watch and transformed Castle Black into a low-key siege story. Alliser Thorne and the other mutineers aren’t going to let those loyal to the bastard of Winterfell hole in the Lord Commander’s chambers with Jon’s dead body forever…and those inside know they have to last long enough for Edd to return with the Wildling reinforcements he has rushed out to recruit.
At the center of it all is Ser Davos, who has found himself flung into the middle of someone else’s mess. That hasn’t stopped him from taking sides, though. With Stannis Baratheon lying dead in the forest outside of Winterfell, the onion knight has given his loyalty to another seemingly lost cause. The young man lying dead on that table is the closest thing Westeros had to a second Stannis, a tough-but-fair leader who was unafraid to pass the sentence and swing the sword. After all, the dead Baratheon leader offered his endorsement last season when Jon executed Janos Slynt, observing the scene and nodding with tactic approval. Jon was the kind of straight-shooter Davos admires and, bonus points, he wasn’t a religious zealot devoted to a cause that encourages the burning of small children because of their royal blood.
Unless the show really throws us for a loop and leaves Jon Snow dead for good (and considering the ongoing focus on the importance of his corpse, that feels increasingly unlikely), Davos may have finally find his ideal match: a stoic, passionate, just leader who will actually appreciate him for once.
Ramsay Bolton Gets a Pep Talk
While things heated up at the Wall, things were appropriately icy at Winterfell. As Ramsay Bolton mourned the loss of his lover and stewed over the escape of Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy, Game of Thrones threatened to do something that it had never done before – make us feel almost slightly bad for him. After all, he may be a vile monster who presides over a three-ring circus of pain and misery, but if you prick him, he does bleed. You toss his girlfriend off the ramparts, he does feel bad about it. But then he orders her corpse fed to the dogs and you remember “Oh, yeah. This son of a bitch.”
There was other pressing Bolton business in “The Red Woman.” With Sansa and Theon on the run, the Bolton hold on Winterfell is shaky at best and if there’s one thing family patriarch Roose does not like, it’s best-laid plans falling apart. He may be a murderer and a traitor who has no issue stabbing his leaders at weddings, but he’s cautious…and he certainly doesn’t approve of how his son is mucking everything up with volatile lifestyle. You can hear the disapproval in Roose’s voice in each of their conversations. Yes, we’re all psychopaths here, but can you at least learn to be a psychopath in private? Anyway, Roose’s threat to disregard his first son entirely now that he has a new kid on the way is surely enough to light a fire under Ramsay. He made a mess and now it’s time to clean it up. Anything less than spotless means losing his power and his name and Ramsay Bolton is not becoming Ramsay Snow again.
The Bolton family dynamics make the Lannisters look downright cuddly.
Brienne to the Rescue
After literally sitting on the sidelines throughout most of season five, Brienne of Tarth made her grand re-entrance in “The Red Woman.” And what an entrance! With Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy about to be re-captured by Bolton forces, the toughest woman in Westeros and her increasingly capable squire rode to the rescue and made mincemeat of the hunting party. It was a welcome action beat in an episode that was otherwise table-setting and re-positioning. In a show filled with schemers who keep their eyes on the long game, you can always count on Brienne to literally gallop into a problem head-on, sword in hand.
However, the more important part of this sequence came after the blood had been shed and a fair number of Bolton soldiers lay dead in the snow. Face-to-face with Sansa for the second time in two seasons, Brienne offered her services, pledging her life and her sword to heir to Winterfell. It was deliberate echo of their first meeting from season five, when Sansa was still in the clutches of Petyr Baelish and unaware of the horrors that awaited her at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, when this strange woman’s pledge, her mention of the late Catelyn Stark, felt suspicious. But actions (and last-minute rescues) speak louder than oaths. Sansa formally accepting the services of Brienne, with a little help from Podrick, of course, was an uplifting moment in an episode otherwise devoted to misery. Sansa has a protector. Brienne has finally begun to fulfill the promises she made Catelyn. And in true Game of Thrones fashion, a wonderful new road trip party has been formed.