'Game Of Thrones' Season Premiere: The 10 Most Important Moments In 'The Red Woman'

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?

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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.

Cersei and Jaime Declare War

Myrcella is dead, which is the final cherry on top of the crap sundae life has been carefully constructing for Cersei Lannister as of late. The queen mother has lost a father and two children. Her power and influence have been greatly reduced. She was forced to endure a walk of shame after being imprisoned by religious zealots. Her actual trial for said zealots waits in the wings. She's not having a good time.

And yet, Cersei is often at her best when she's backed into a corner. If nothing else, this series of unfortunate events have narrowed her priorities. Now, her focus and her machinations don't have to serve anyone beyond the handful of survivors who truly matter to her: her son, King Tommen, her brother/love, Jaime, and, most importantly, herself. She was dangerous before the High Sparrow and Ellaria Sand and a cabal of other conspirators ensured that she had almost nothing to lose. Her scene with Jaime felt like the new mission statement for Westeros' most uncomfortable couple moving forward – forget about anything and everything else. If it's not them or their son, it can burn. That's not a healthy mindset to have to when there's conflict brewing to the south and ice zombies amassing in the north, but it's pure, undistilled Lannister. Their selfishness has always been weaponized, but now they have their fair share of targets and nobody to stand in their way.

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Margaery Plays a New Game

While Cersei allowed herself to be humiliated in front of all of King's Landing to win her (temporary) freedom from the Faith Militant, Margaery Tyrell is not ready to confess and face her punishment. Unlike Cersei, whose power stems from the violence she can conjure with the snap of a finger, the Queen of Westeros has built her reputation around a carefully crafted public image. To confess to her crimes, to give into the High Sparrow, would only destroy her. The shame that a Lannister lion uses as fuel will only burn a Tyrell flower into ashes.

But Margaery is still one of the wiliest politicians in Westeros and she's figuring out how to play this particular game. She puts on a brave face for the abusive Septa, but she ever-so-slightly changes her tune for the more kind (in relative terms) High Sparrow. If Margaery is going to see her brother again, if she's going to get out of this place, she has to adapt to their rules. She has to tell them what they want to hear. If her husband isn't going to break her out of church-jail by force, if Margaery has to rely only on herself, she'll have to play the long con.

A Coup in Dorne

The worst storyline from season five has returned and it still stinks! To be fair, it stinks a little less, mainly because everyone involved in the show seems to recognize its odor and has begun conducting emergency story surgery on every single character and story element connected to Dorne. Since this is Game of Thrones, "emergency story surgery" means killing a whole bunch of people: Doran Martell is dead, Areo Hotah is dead, and Trystane Martell are all dead, murdered in a coup launched by Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. It's a start. The deceased felt like dead weight from the moment they were introduced last season, so good riddance. The real problem right now is that the living Dornish characters are still the worst part of the show and the Sand Snakes are still genuinely cringe-worthy, feeling more like characters from a Syfy fantasy series than key characters on the most prestigious fantasy series in television history.

Still, the removal of so much dead weight is a good sign, even though the execution of Doran means we'll never get to see a proper cinematic take on the book character (who is incredible on the page and still very much alive in George R.R. Martin's novels). At least important things are starting to happen in Dorne. With the volatile Ellaria at the helm and with actual conflict on the horizon, the southernmost kingdom in Westeros should actually start to matter pretty soon. All of those Lannister-rasied chickens, from the rape and murder of Elia Martell during Robert's Rebellion to the death of Oberyn Martell in season four, are finally coming home to roost. The characters driving this plot forward may be the only people on this show that I remain genuinely uninterested in seeing do anything, but they have been put on the road to relevance. At least they matter now. At least they're officially in the thick of things. You can't rehabilitate a rotten storyline in one episode. Let's see where this one goes.


Tyrion and Varys Take a Walk

The grim joke hovering over the Essos storyline on Game of Thrones is that Daenerys and her crew are never, ever going to make it to Westeros. After all, the Mother of Dragons always finds a reason to get delayed. Sometimes her husband dies and her army abandons her. Sometimes she decides that it is her responsibility to rule the city she just conquered instead of simply abandoning it. It's all up and down for Team Fire and Blood. "The Red Woman" went out of its way to make this clear by literally featuring a shot of the Meereenese docks and ever ship near them engulfed in flames. Tyrion and Varys are here to stay on this side of the Narrow Sea.

This impossibly clever duo didn't have much to do in "The Red Woman" other than make it clear that Meereen is as completely screwed as it has ever been. Like many Game of Thrones season premieres, the script only had time for brief pop-in with many characters, letting us know where they are and how they're doing before moving onto other business. In this case: Tyrion and Varys are still trying to rule in Daenerys' stead and they could be better. Future episodes will undoubtedly deal with these two actually working to solve the problems at hand, but this one was all about establishing that problem. And oh boy, do they have a problem. At least the two funniest characters on the show can stare into the abyss together.

A New Direction for Daenerys

While her new friends run her city and her old friends search Essos for her, Daenerys has found herself captured by a Dothraki horde. Thankfully, the widow of the late Khal Drogo knows a thing or two about navigating this violent culture and makes it out of her meeting with Khal Moro unscathed. She won't be harmed (much to the chagrin of Moro's wives) and she will be sheltered from abuse (much to the chagrin of Moro's men), which is a good start. It's more than you can say for the vast majority of people who come into contact with a horde. Unfortunately, Moro cares little for Daenerys' responsibilities in Meereen – he only cares for Dothraki customs, which clearly state that the widows of dead Khals must live out the rest of their days in Vaes Dothrak. Whoops.

And thus, the season six storyline for Daenerys is coming into focus and it's taking her full circle. The Mother of Dragons has been brought low, returned to where she started and forced to confront her past. For years, her time with Drogo and his horde was just one of many stepping stones on the path to taking the Iron Throne. Now, her past becomes her prison. Thankfully, Jorah and Daario are en route and maybe they know a thing or two about staging a prison break.

Arya's New Lesson

Speaking of popular characters having a really bad time, Arya is now blind and sitting on the streets of Braavos. When she's not begging for spare chance from passing strangers, she's getting her ass kicked by her fellow assassin school trainer as part of some plan to transform her into the Essos answer to Daredevil. Or something. It's not entirely clear yet. But what is clear is that the House of Black and White and the Faceless Men aren't done with the youngest Stark girl just yet. She overstepped her bounds and murdered for personal revenge and they punished her accordingly. But this appears to be part of a second chance, a program that feels designed to break her down into the tiniest pieces before building her back up. If the enigmatic Jaqen H'ghar was around in this episode, he'd probably say something like "A girl cannot truly see until she cannot see" or something like that. I don't know. These weirdos speak in riddle.

This remains the storyline that intrigues me the most because I literally cannot even put forward a half-baked prediction about where it's going. With other beyond-the-books plot threads, I can see the big picture forming. I can see the tapestry taking shape. But Arya remains a mystery, a character whose larger role in the story is clouded. She's the outlier, the wild card that' sitting on the sidelines even as every other character and storyline becomes entangled with one another. When and where she'll drop into the larger plot could change everything.


Melisandre Loses Her Faith

In its final moments, "The Red Woman" finally tackled the subject of its title. Melisandre, a Red Priestess of R'hllor and former companion to Stannis Baratheon, returned to Castle Black last season a broken woman. Since season two (and beyond), the Lord of Light, the "one true God," has been guiding her hand, steering her toward Stannis and a destiny that she could see in the flames. It was a destiny worth the lives of thousands of soldiers. It was a destiny worth burning men, women and children alive to achieve. And then it all went up in a puff of smoke. Stannis was soundly defeated and for the first time in who knows how long, the Red Woman stopped looking like she knew what was around every bend. Seeing Melisandre look disconcerted, seeing her look worried, was new. The most confident character on Game of Thrones, the only person on the entire continent who knew what she was doing, was deflated. We know her god is real (we've seen her give birth to smoke monsters after all), but her faith has been profoundly shaken. She has been abandoned.

So the final reveal that Melisandre is actually an elderly woman whose guise is created through a magic necklace isn't just a big "Aha!" twist. It's a portrait of resignation. Everything that has defined her has been swept aside and she stands before us, literally naked, stripped down to her core of her being. Underneath that red robe and the magical glamour that keeps her looking young, she is as broken as anyone else on Game of Thrones. Like the kings down south, she is defined by her power, but unlike those kings, who clutch to it until the day someone stabs them in the back, she appears to have abdicated it. On a show where everyone fights to survive, Melisandre looks resigned to die.

But maybe, a certain dead Lord Commander is what she's really been looking for. After all, she saw him in the flames. She saw him fighting at Winterfell. And we've seen Red Priests resurrect the dead on this show before. Just ask Beric Dondarrion.