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Published on April 26th, 2016 | by Bean

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Premiere Review – Episode 1 “The Red Woman”

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WARNING! SPOILERS! AS USUAL!

Aaaannnd we’re back! I’m not sure a season of television has ever been so hotly anticipated, but then as I recently admitted to a couple of horrified friends, I’ve never seen The Wire, The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. I imagine they had some pretty hectic cliff-hangers. How they stand up next to the epic narrative event of Jon Snow being butchered by his fellow Night’s Watch-men, I don’t know. But for my part, I just wanted to get this season cracking so we could all stop pondering, hypothesising, internet-trawling and obsessing about his fate.

In a direct continuation of Season 5’s dreadful ending, we pick up on Ser Davos discovering Jon Snow’s badly stabbed-up corpse in the courtyard. Between Davos, Edd and Ghost they rustle up a handful of loyal men and stand guard over Snow’s body, as the Red Woman of the title, Melisandre, arrives and gives her assessment. In a state of confusion following Stannis’ defeat, which she had prophesied would be a victory, she is similarly thrown to see young Snow fallen. “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell…”, giving the hopers another chance to lift their chins, while Ser Davos makes it plain that (for now at least) he is definitely dead. Sensing an impending skirmish between the real traitors, Alliser Thorn and co, and the remaining men, Edd hurries off to entreat the Wildlings for help.

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“The Red Woman” spends it’s entire episode steadily travelling South, and next on the map is Winterfell where Ramsey Bolton is experiencing the closest thing a sociopath gets to grief. He mourns the death of his fellow wrongun’ Miranda by recalling her own affinity for brutality. There could be genuine loss here if she really was the only person to understand his impulses and celebrate them by his side. Yes, these impulses involved flaying and maiming, but it’s interesting to explore these vulnerabilities in the monster that is Ramsey Bolton. Joffrey, bless his revolting heart, would have been even more compelling had he had the opportunity to show his complexities. As for Ramsey, he is further taken down a peg by his, is’t possible, even more unpleasant father Roose, who lets it be known that should he fail in ‘securing’ an heir from Sansa, the next in line could easily usurp him.

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Sansa is meanwhile running for her life through the snowy wastes around Winterfell with Reek/Theon. Season 5 ended precariously for them both, as they jumped from the ramparts of their former home, having pushed Miranda to her doom moments before. It was a safe bet they were ok, just as it seems unlikely that the hounds on their tail will be successful in rounding them up – it would be a rather redundant escape were that the outcome. Sansa remains irritatingly stagnant, reluctant and frozen at regular intervals. Sophie Turner continues to imbue a difficult to enjoy character with nuance and depth, but I long for her spark to turn flame.

What is noteworthy about the encounter, before Brienne and Podrick arrive, is that Theon (gonna try to simplify this dissociative behaviour into ‘Theon from here on tries to do good’/‘Reek serves Ramsey’) sacrifices himself to save Sansa, attempting to give her time to escape again, risking what he knows to be a fate worse than death. His remorse and redemption are a curious future arc for this troubling character, and Alfie Allen is more than up to the task. Gwendoline Christie is equally moving as she officially offers her fealty and protection to Sansa, finally fulfilling half her oath to Caitlan Stark. (Sidenote, I’m now mentally ‘shipping Sansa and Podrick.)

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At King’s Landing, Cersei may be back in lush robes, but her seat of power is still removed. The newly-shorn Cersei is one without the mask of repression she has used all these years. As she discovers her beloved daughter has been murdered at the hands of Ellaria Sand, interestingly her first response is not immediate revenge, her usual go-to. She is honest, and tells Jaime about the prophecy the witch made regarding her children. It is clear now that she has lived in fear of the prophecy her entire life; just as the feelings of grief and trauma of her mother’s death were never truly felt (she explains she responded to it with clinical curiosity), so the depth of damage the prophecy did to her psyche is now fully understood. The Lannisters, united in grief, are fused by their dysfunction. Jamie is devoted to the point of madness, the rage he has at being unable to protect his daughter expressed as vengeance. Once again, the Lannisters against the world.

The actual queen, Margaery, remains in the custody of the sadistic Shame-hag and the Sparrow. It seems they’ve been stringing out her interrogation for months, and we see the real mettle of the Tyrells; she expresses frequent concern about her brother Loris, but her sanity seems in tact and she appears bent but unbroken. I like Margaery more and more, schemer that she is; her ambition may be unseemly, but it’s purer, less complicated than the Lannister approach to power. Margaery wishes to reign, Cersei to rule. There feels like a distinction, though what it is continues to be nebulous. According to the Sparrow, there’s a long road ahead for Margaery anyway, so we’ve plenty of time to find out.

The Martell’s are shit-out of time though, as the Sand Snakes rise up and strike. Poor old Alexander Siddig, I was hoping he’d get a bit more than one speech and a bit of hobbling before he got offed. Shame, such an excellent and underused actor. The coup extends across the sea to Trystane’s untimely end too. Does that mean the Sand Snakes are approaching King’s Landing? Yiiikes..

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Even further south in Meereen, Tyrion and Varys wander the streets in merchant garb trying to ascertain the power centres of this mostly ruined city. They both acknowledge that the chaos it’s citizens now live in is a natural result of the liberation of the slaves. Daenerys’ central values are sound, probably the most easy to ally with of any of the characters, yet her youth and propensity to be impulsive or wilful whilst finding the administration of her choices boring or difficult, created a very real problem within the communities she attempts to set free. As the politically-savvy chaps stroll through the quarters, noticing new factions setting out their stalls, their problems get added to with the discovery that their armada is burning down. As Tyrion notes, they’ll not be sailing for Westeros any time soon then..

In the Dothraki Sea, Ser Jorah and Dario Naharis are searching for the Khaleesi. The two make for an uneasy buddy-up, with one in courtly love with the Queen and the other bedding her, but cognisant that he’s probably temporary. Their pursuit’s urgency increases when Jorah finds Daenerys’ ring in the grass, surmising that she’s been captured by the Kahalar. For Jorah himself, the mission is all the more exigent as his grey scale creeps and grows on his arm.

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As for the hostage Queen, my hopes that the Khalasar might be there to greet her with a friendly welcome were mightily misplaced. Daenerys, stripped of her entourage and dragons, still cuts an imperious figure, but the brutality of the Dothraki is something she experienced on her awful wedding night. Rape and possession of a woman are second nature to the Dothraki, and while the revelation that she is Khal Drogo’s widow saves her from the former, there is no ready escape for the latter. Daenerys is informed that she will spend the rest of her days is Vaes Dothrak with the other Khal widows, which to me just sounds like a whupass army waiting to happen.

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Another character on the down-spin of the wheel is Arya, who left blind after the encounter with Jaqen Hagar last season, now begs on the streets of Braavos. The arrival of the Waif, her former fellow acolyte at the House of Black and White is certainly a step in the right direction for Arya, as there seems to be the promise of lessons in blind ninjery. In the meantime though, they’re just beatings, and once again it appears Arya must walk through the flames to earn her potential new capabilities. Of all the quests, Arya’s holds the most promise to be badass, but an underscore of doubt worries me for her fate ultimately.

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And so we come full circle, back to The Wall where Ser Davos staves off the Knight’s Watch’s new assumed Lord Commander, Alliser Thorn, who is clearly spoiling for a fight, fancy talk of amnesty or not. With time running out, Davos is even prepared to recruit the skills of the titular Red Woman. We recall the past glimpses of Melisandre’s power with the one sentence Davos gives as witness of it. The following scene is a marvellously subtle revelation, beautifully played by Carice Van Outen. Melisandre has never looked so lost and tired, and as she removes her ruby amulet, the spell she has been casting, the glamour if you will, dissolves and her true self is revealed. Crone is a fairly pejorative term applied to very old women with origins in the word carrion and carcass (nice), but in this case as a 400 year old witch appraises herself in the mirror and seemingly sees frailty and withered faculty, it might be applicable. As she walks to her bed, bowed by age and loss of faith, we witness the fate of those with power in Westeros. And it’s not the glory promised.

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Review by Nina Clark

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Bean

Director at Nina Clark Music / The Musical Walkabout at Nina Clark Music
Bean is the family nickname of Nina Clark, singer, songwriter and professional musician. Nina's many nerdly passions, aside from music, include Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and all things Whedon. (re. GoT, she has NOT read the books, so please be cool - no spoilers!)
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