SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Game of Thrones Season 6 opener.
Forget all the teasers, interviews with EPs, speculation and even the George R.R. Martin books for now, the power and glory of HBO’s Game of Thrones has always been what’s on the screen – and that was surely the case tonight. Coming after last year’s fatality-filled finale, Sunday’s Season 6 premiere stealthily set the pieces on the board as the event horizon of the Emmy-winning and record-breaking blockbuster apparently looms and the battle for the Iron Throne ends.
Executive producers David Benioff and D.B Weiss recently have postulated that GoT could conclude in the next couple of seasons, but on Sunday’s “The Red Woman” episode, which the EPs penned, the multitude of characters, kingslayers, would-be kings and queens, warriors, religious leaders and of course dragons all were sloughing their way toward glory – or not, in some cases as this recap details.
First thing first, Jon Snow appears truly to be dead as his wolf Ghost’s howls echo through Castle Black in mourning. Killed by his own mutinous men of the Night’s Watch in the Season 5 ender “Mother’s Mercy,” the fate of the Kit Harington-played illegitimate offspring of Ned Stark has preoccupied GoT fans from the second the camera pushed in while he lay bleeding out on the snow-covered ground. Tonight, there was no rising from the dead, nor magical revival or sleight of hand to bring him back to life.
Not that, this being the bloody and deceptively devious world of GoT and with those snaps of Harington on set that surfaced last fall, the case is closed entirely, but there was no traction there right now.
Now this year, perhaps due to the four-episode leak of last year, the premium cabler didn’t provide anyone but superfan President Barack Obama with any screeners of the 10-episode sixth season. Also, unlike past seasons of GoT, there is no longer a significant portion of Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels to turn to as a blueprint for what could or couldn’t occur on the show. Although the HBO series often has deviated from its source material, Season 6 is the first time that the TV show actually has outpaced Martin’s writing of the forthcoming The Winds of Winter and is now flying free like one of Daenery’s dragons.
“The Red Woman” picks up, literally and figuratively, where much of “Mother’s Mercy” left off with Snow’s body being taken high up in the fortress for protection. As Alliser Throne and some of the Night’s Watch confess to their murderous deed, and cloistered loyalists of Snow ache for revenge. And then there is the beguiling Lady Melisandre, but let’s not jump ahead too fast.
Following the action of the S5 finale, the S6 opener also finds Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and the now seemingly resurrected of sorts Theon/Reek (Alfie Allen) survived their jump off the walls of Winterfall and are on the run through the harsh weather after killing the scheming Myranda. With Sansa needed to ensure the sadistic Bolton’s grasp for power, having just defeated the army of Stannis, the duo is almost caught by hounds and trackers. Taking on nearly a dozen men, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) appears to slay the beasts, the Bolton’s troops and rescue the couple. The warrior swears her loyalty by both the “old gods and the new” – an oath the daughter of Ned Stark accepts with royal poise.
Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) has returned to King’s Landing with the dead body of Myrcella, the daughter of him and his sister Cersei. After being stripped and shamed in front of the capital’s garbage-pelting populace in the S5 closer, the Lena Headey-portrayed former Queen now is devastated anew. Back over the water in Dorne, Myrcella’s killer Ellaria (Indira Varma) ups her body count by murdering the already hobbled ruler Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig), who she has always considered weak. At the same time in the waters off King’s Landing, the Sand Snakes sisters turn on Doran’s son Trystane (Toby Sebastian), who was set to marry Myrcella, and kill him.
Also at King’s Landing, Cersei’s once-weapon and then-tormenter the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) moves closer to the jailed Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer). As the religious leader comes to visit her cell, the ambitious and savvy royal briefly talks of Margaery’s brother Loras, who the High Sparrow and his Faith Militants saw imprisoned for his sexuality. They return to discuss matters of court and reuniting Margaery with the King, if she will only bend to the High Sparrow’s will.
Having failed to truly free the city of Meereen and last been seen dumped by Dragon last season, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) has no dragons and now seemingly is lost as the prisoner of the current Dothraki warlord. Apparently unconcerned with Daenerys’ status as the widow of Khal Drogo, former leader of the Dorthraki, and calling her “queen of nothing,” Khal Moro has the once-Khaleesi and Mother of Dragons unbound but says she must go to the city of Vaes Dothrak with the other widows. They are not the only ones on the move as romantic rivals Daario (Michiel Huisman) and Jorah (Iain Glen) earlier in the episode have discovered the discarded ring Dany intentionally dropped last season and are on the path for her.
Back in Meereen itself, Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion Lannister has taken over as the interim leader of the city with the eunuch Varys at his side. The cunning and arrogant aristocrat finds wielding power is not as easy as he assumed – especially with a rebellion rising and the city in flames.
Struck blind in S5 for not being able to rid herself of her former life, to put it mildly, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is now cast out of the assassins’ guild of the House of Black and White. Begging on the streets, she is brutally attacked and easily beaten by her nemesis in House, The Waif (Faye Marsay). “See you tomorrow,” the Waif says cruelly as she walks away.
The conclusion of “The Red Woman” takes us back to Castle Black, where tensions between the factions of the Night’s Watch are rising and blood is sure to flow soon. At the same time, revelations about the true age and powers of Stannis’ mystical ex-adviser Lady Melisandre (Carice van Houten) come to light in tonight’s premiere. The seductive and still-youthful Priestess of the Lord of Light, who also is called the Red Woman, strips down naked and somewhat defeated in her chambers and, once removing the jeweled amulet around her neck, is shown to be a very old woman — much more ancient and obviously more powerful than assumed — maybe even powerful enough to raise the dead?
As Dinklage’s Tyrion says, “You’re in the great game now.”