Co-written by Robert Mitchell.
Game of Thrones has shown time and again that it’s capable of ripping viewers hearts out, and after four satisfying and relatively painless episodes this season, we were once again reminded that all men must die.
In the fifth episode of season six, “The Door,” the show’s creators answered a few of the series’ long-running mysteries and also created a few new ones (including a time-travel paradox of sorts). They also ruined everyone’s day with an ending that borders on Red Wedding-level sadness. It’s shocking in a way that Game of Thrones hasn’t been shocking in awhile, due to an overabundance of characters getting stabbed.
Warning: Spoilers are coming.
Westeros – The Seven Kingdoms and Beyond the Wall
In the frozen halls of Castle Black, Sansa receives a letter from Littlefinger and rides off with the toughest knight in the Seven Kingdoms (Brienne the Badass) to meet him at the abandoned ruins of Mole’s Town. Their reunion is icier than a winter in Craster’s Keep, and Sansa calls Lord Baelish out for using her like a pawn, goading him into revealing that he must have known what Ramsay Bolton is like and showing the quiet rage that burns in her against the monster in Winterfell. Throughout the episode, Sansa is fierce. While she stops Brienne from cutting him down on the spot, she pauses just long enough to let on that she considers Littlefinger in a much different light now. Gone is the lingering affection for the man who spirited her away from the torments of Joffrey’s Red Keep, and it is replaced by a shield of mistrust forged and tempered by facing down the abuses of vile men. She clearly views Littlefinger as belonging to that particular demographic, and watching him be thrown off his guard was extremely satisfying. Littlefinger informs Sansa that her uncle the Blackfish has amassed a sizable force and retaken her mother’s ancestral home of Riverrun, and they part. It is likely not the last time that Sansa and the former Master of Coin will meet, and his aid on the battlefield with the forces of the Vale may come when least expected, but perhaps when it is most needed. After all, he is still sort of creepily in-love with Sansa because she is the closest he will ever get to his beloved Catelyn.
The other denizens of Castle Black plan their march south to assail the gates of Winterfell and end the brutal reign of Ramsay Bolton. While discussing potential allies, Jon gives us an E! news rundown of the A-list and B-list lords of the North. Notably absent in his “who’s who” rundown are the Reeds, the crannogmen and kin of Meera and the deceased Jojen. Their assistance would likely come freely, and here’s hoping we see an adult Howland Reed stepping up to fight side-by-side with the Starks once again. Sansa asserts that those lords who have declared for Ramsay will gladly return to aid the Starks, and while her
cousin brother does not bear the Stark name, she does and she can lend their enterprise some legitimacy. She reminds those assembled that even Ramsay Snow/Bolton was bastard born, so what matter if Jon is as well? He’s still Ned Stark’s nephew son.
Davos cautions that men are fickle and often will back the dog they know in a fight, even if it is a mad one. Sansa acts on Littlefinger’s intel quickly and suggests that they could bring the armies of Riverrun to aid them, and when asked about how she learned of the information, she quickly concocts a lie that Ramsay had received a raven prior to her escape. Brienne is tasked with riding south to request Tully aid, and does not seem happy about it. Privately, Brienne questions why Sansa would lie about the source of the information, and points to it as evidence that despite their relation, she must not fully trust Jon Snow, just as Brienne doesn’t trust a certain red-bearded wilding. Whatever else we learned about her in the episode, Sansa took Lord Baelish’s lessons in subterfuge to heart, consciously or no. As the Snow-headed force rides south to free the North (geography!), a promise of civil war seems on the horizon, just in time for the blockbuster summer movie season, and poor Dolorous Edd is left wearing the Lord Commander’s cloak and holding the keys to Castle Black.
It’s election season on the Iron Islands after the death of Balon Greyjoy. When Yara steps forward and proclaims that she is ready to lead the Ironborn, she’s met with resistance, not the least of which comes from the lack of precedent for a queen and the return of Balon’s sole surviving son, Theon. By speaking up in favor of his sister, and acknowledging her prowess as a warrior and a leader, Theon proves he’s not just riding the redemption train, he might be the engineer.
Euron spoils her claim, however, even while fessing up to murdering Balon Greyjoy. He offers as a defense the former reaver lord’s failure to advance the standing of the Iron Islands, and promises to #MakeIronIslandsGreatAgain. He boasts that he will snag Daenerys for his wife, and even throws in a few jokes at the expense of poor Theon’s manhood. Euron takes the day, and the driftwood crown. While he’s being drowned to be reborn as king, Yara and Theon flee with their loyal men and the best ships, evading murder and lord knows what else. Euron orders that all Ironborn should start chopping down trees and sewing sails to build a fleet that can sail east to bring Dany across the Narrow Sea. Euron can surely furnish the fleet that will bring Dany and her hordes across the sea, but can Dany furnish the tolerance for such a vicious pirate king? Their meeting is as sure to be as tempestuous as Lord Balon’s ending.
Would that all that is dead may never die. Far beyond the wall, in the cave of the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran continues his studies as an acolyte Greenseer. He is aghast with shock when, in a dream, he watches as Leaf and a circle of other Children of the Forest, drive a stone knife into the heart of a man tied to the trunk of a weirwood, turning him into the first of the Others. Leaf offers the explanation that they were afraid, and that the First Men to come to Westeros were driving them out of their ancestral lands and killing them mercilessly. They were right that the White Walkers would be an effective weapon, as the horror of watching dead comrades rise and turn to fight against you would be truly horrifying. The problem is that the weapon became sentient and desires conquest of its own.
But who is the man tied to the tree? In all likelihood, it’s the Night King, whom Bran encounters in a vision standing near the same tree. Bran is horrified to learn that the Night King can see him, and when he is touched, it leaves the Night King with an anchor that lets him seek out and enter the cave. But beyond that, what is his connection to Bran? Readers of the books have often speculated that the Night King is actually a Stark from the Age of Heroes, and it would explain why Bran is so essential to the safety of the realms of the living. Like Desmond from Assassin’s Creed, the memories of Bran’s ancestor’s deeds may hold the keys to successfully beating back the White Walkers.
When Bran is touched, the Three-Eyed Raven tells him the time has come for Bran to go and become the new Raven. He leads Bran into one final memory, the same vision he saw of his father, his uncle, his aunt, and Hodor in the courtyard of Winterfell. While he is on his vision-quest, Meera, Leaf, Hodor, and Summer are left to try to defend the weirwood from the White Walkers’ zombie horde.
Summer is lost almost instantly, in the second direwolf death this season. It feels a bit cheap, especially with Summer’s direct connection to Bran as a warg. Leaf sacrifices herself to give Meera, Hodor, and Bran a chance at escape, taking out a large number of the undead with her. The trio manage to make it outside through the back door, and Meera screams at Hodor to “hold the door” so she can get Bran to safety. Bran wargs into Hodor, both in this timeline and the past, and it effectively breaks young Hodor’s mind. He falls to the ground and begins to scream “hold the door, hold the door”, his words becoming more clipped until he finally is only saying his trademark catchphrase: “Hodor”.
If Osha’s death last episode felt a little contrived and unfortunate, Hodor’s ends up being the complete opposite. The realization that he has lived the majority of his life for this one moment is heart-wrenching. He lost the ability to speak language because of some time-travel paradox kind of craziness, only to get stabbed left and right by zombies while he watches Bran and Meera disappear into the snow. It’s brutal, and the boy with giants’ blood will be dearly missed.
Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, the Girl with No Name formerly known as Arya Stark continues in her training at the House of Black and White despite her mistake in stealing one of the faces. Her sight has been restored, but she gets her butt kicked by the Waif regardless. After a brief history lesson from Jaqen H’ghar about the origins of the Faceless Men and Braavos, he gives Arya one final chance to join them. To do so, she must take the life of a rum-drinking actress named Lady Crane. Arya watches as Lady Crane and the rest of the troupe of actors put on a show about King Robert and Ned Stark. She looks angry at the actors for their portrayal of her father, though she does not have the same kind of reaction she would have had a few seasons ago. Her experiences with The Hound and Jaqen have hardened her, but perhaps the performance will re-inspire her to check some names off of her list. She continues to ask questions of Jaqen even when he chides her, so she has not been completely broken and bound to the rules of the Faceless Men.
Meanwhile, Daenerys speaks with her most loyal servant, Jorah Mormont, about why he continues to come back to her after she’s banished him on pain of death – twice! He tells her to banish him again and shows her the greyscale that has begun to creepy up his arm. She orders him to go out and find a cure and return to her, so that when she takes Westeros he can be by her side. Poor Shireen’s greyscale was slowed and stopped, so there is a tiny bit of hope for Jorah. If not, there’s always the water in the well at the House of Black and White.
If anyone could cure greyscale, it would probably be the priests and priestesses of R’hllor, who have already proven they can raise people from the dead and give birth to shadow assassins. The High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis, whose title almost rivals Daenerys’, makes her first appearance this episode. The Red Priestess, Kinvara, arrives in Meereen to promise help to Tyrion and Varys, because she believes that Dany is the Prince that Was Promised, Azor Ahai reborn. She points to Dany’s ability to rise from the flames, as well as her dragons, which she believes are creatures of her god. Tyrion is excited for the help but Varys challenges Kinvara, his mistrust in religion egging him on. In a rare twist, she manages to turn the tables on the Spider, using secret knowledge about his childhood against him, as he used information against others so many times. She is a major player and is a character to watch as the show builds towards its climax. It takes a special kind of person to vex Varys.
As the show continues to diverge from the books, figuring out exactly what the showrunners are up to becomes more of a challenge. There are still book theories that seem to hold weight in the show’s version of things (R+L=J, anyone?) but other major plot points have been ignored or changed in order to streamline the story for television.
We know what’s next for certain from the next episode preview. It’s time for a Tarly family reunion as Sam returns to Horn Hill to ask his family to take care of Gilly and Little Sam while he’s in Oldtown learning to become a Maester. The Lannisters and the Tyrells are ready to throw down against the High Sparrow in the ultimate rags vs. riches showdown. Daenerys tells Daario that she takes what is hers, which seems a little on-the-nose.
Ultimately, the series is headed toward the inevitable showdown between the living and the undead armies of the White Walkers. The creepy ice zombies have returned every season to remind viewers and characters alike that there is much more at stake than politics. They’re pretty vulnerable to fire, which means Daenerys needs to get across the Narrow Sea soon and let her dragons rain hell down upon the walkers. Perhaps only she and Jon Snow united can stand against them, as the Night King seemed pretty concerned with Jon at the end of the episode “Hardhome” last season.
In the novels, Rhaegar Targaryen (Dany’s uncle and possibly Jon’s father) has a prophecy that the great dragon will rise, the Prince that Was Promised, and that he will have three heads. It is entirely reasonable at this point to think that Daenerys will be one and Jon another, but who would be the third? If the show follows the books regarding the prophecy, viewers are likely to meet another Targaryen survivor, Young Griff, in coming episodes. There are prophecies upon prophecies in Game of Thrones, so it will be intriguing to see which ones come to light.
On the less mystical side of things, Sansa and Jon are headed out to unite the small houses of the North to take back Winterfell. Brienne is on her way to Riverrun to meet with Sansa’s uncle, the Blackfish, and ask for his help taking back the North. Sansa was quick to trust Littlefinger’s word despite the fact that he’s a proven liar, so hopefully Brienne isn’t walking into any kind of trap. If tonight’s episode reminded us of anything, it’s that no character is safe, not even ones we love most.
The landscape of Game of Thrones has already shifted dramatically this season, removing extraneous characters left and right to make room for a simpler, more coherent plot. It’s not the same as the masterwork of the novels, with layers of complex history and more characters than you can shake a stick at, but the showrunners have managed to tell the story in a way that works for TV. Each of the five episodes so far this season has been great individually, even if some of the writing isn’t always as sharp as when they had Martin’s books to reference. Regardless, it’s still damn fine television and next week seems too far away.
Hopefully, the showrunners will continue to give everyone a tiny bit of hope with the greatest romance of our time. Tormund and Brienne are both big, beautiful, and they probably could have a nice chat about their experiences with bears. The sparks are there, folks.