Co-written by Robert Mitchell.
With the triumphant, ringing strings that herald the storied HBO franchise, Game of Thrones blazed its way back onto screens Sunday with the expected doses of nudity, violence, and adult content.
Spoilers abound below, and if you need a full recap of everything that’s happened in the series so far check out this post. Here’s a look at this week’s return journey to the mad world of Westeros and Essos.
First, and most importantly, Jon Snow is still (for the time being?) dead. The episode opens at Castle Black with a long, slow shot of Jon Snow’s bloodied, abandoned corpse and we trade the cello and orchestra of the opening credits for the keening howl of Ghost in mourning. Ser Davos Seaworth continues his grab for power and, accompanied by a handful of Jon’s loyalists, guards Jon’s corpse while Dolorous Edd seeks the aid of the Free Folk (read: Wildlings). The episode’s eponymous “Red Woman,” Melisandre (more about her later) wrestles with Stannis’ defeat at Winterfell and the prophecy that cannot be fulfilled due to Jon’s death.
Elsewhere in the North, Ramsay and Roose Bolton plot while Sansa (Bolton, nee Stark, formerly Lannister) and Theon Greyjoy flee from the hounds of Ramsay Bolton’s henchmen. When all seems lost, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne race to their aid on horseback (presumably having ridden directly from the trash compactor on Starkiller Base) and, with some timely help from Theon, dispatch the Bolton henchmen in the melee that follows. Brienne lays her sword, Oathkeeper, and seems well-positioned to finally keep to the oath that gave the sword its name.
Jaime returns to King’s Landing with Myrcella‘s gold-shrouded body, and in their shared grief, he and Cersei renew their commitment to put one another first (though what’s new, really?), and Queen Margaery‘s torturous captivity continues. Far to the south in Dorne, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes stage a coup that leaves Prince Doran and his son Trystane dead and only now begin their quest for revenge against the Lannisters for the wrongs visited on House Martell.
Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion and Varys manage affairs in Meereen, trading barbs and expressing concern over the shadowy remnants of the Sons of the Harpy and influence of the Red Priests of R’hllor who encourage the freed slaves to take charge of their own freedom and use the fire Daenerys gave them instead of relying on her to use it for them. Perhaps some of the slaves have already taken this enjoinder to heart, as our stop in Meereen ends with a view of all the ships in the harbor in flames. “Looks like we won’t be sailing to Westeros any time soon,” quips Tyrion. Meanwhile, Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis search for their queen and lady-love (respectively?), and find the ring she cleverly dropped as a clue to her whereabouts.
Abducted from the company of her dragon Drogon, Daenerys is brought before Khal Moro, and while she impresses with her command of the Dothraki tongue, the Khal remains unmoved by the litany of her accomplishments, save that she was once wed to Khal Drogo. The Khal and his Bloodriders have an argument about what is best in life that would make Conan the Barbarian proud, and the Khaleesi seems destined for life with the Dosh Khaleen, widows of the great Khals, instead of a return to Meereen.
Castle Black – Melisandre’s Quarters
Finally, back at Castle Black, Melisandre reckons with the power she believes has been granted to her by the Red God R’hllor. As she strips herself bare of everything, we learn that the ruby choker at her throat holds a powerful charm that masks her true age and appearance. Gone is the lithe and regal woman who commanded the respect of a king and terrified the common men around him, and in her place is a wizened, ancient crone, pale and thin-haired and looking very weary of the politics of this world as she slides into the thick furs on her cot and lays down to sleep. Time will tell if the Red Woman abandoned all pretense of power in the face of the setbacks to her conjurations and prophecies, or if she is just now beginning to reveal what she is truly capable of.
The majority of Game of Thrones viewers have one concern in mind regarding this season: the fate of Jon Snow. With the title of the episode being “The Red Woman” and the history of the Priests and Priestesses of R’hllor on the show, it almost seemed certain that Melisandre was going to bring Jon back from the dead this episode. It would have been a bit too soon, and a bit too easy, but fans would have rejoiced regardless. Instead, the title is a hint at the revelation at the end of the episode that Melisandre is actually an old crone.
Melisandre’s actual age makes the chances of her resurrecting Jon a bit more complicated. Thoros of Myr repeatedly brought Berric Dondarrion back from the dead, but in the books it eventually kills Berric Dondarrion when Thoros raises Catelyn Stark from her watery grave near the Twins. Does Melisandre’s use of magic to sustain her own life mean that she would have to sacrifice herself to save Jon?
The episode had a handful of charming, funny moments that brought levity to all of the death. Tyrion and Varys’ interactions are always fun, and some of the dialogue between Khal Moro and his bloodriders was comical (“Seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time is one of the five best things in the world!”). Despite those brief moments of levity, there wasn’t much joy to be found in the first episode of the season outside of Brienne and Pod’s fantastic rescue of Theon and Sansa.
Things are particularly bad in Dorne, where the entire royal family has been wiped out by the Sand Snakes and their mother Ellaria. The Sand Snakes are now positioned to take over Dorne and attack the Lannisters at King’s Landing in retaliation for both the death of Oberyn Martell and the deaths of Elia Martell and her children many years before. The Lannisters are very precariously perched on the throne, with Queen Margaery and her brother Loras imprisoned by the High Sparrow, the imminent Dornish attack, and the Boltons trying to make an independent North. This is without even taking into account that there will be more trouble on the horizon with the Iron Islands and possibly through Sansa and Brienne. Will the Lannisters keep their claim on the Seven Kingdoms or will they retreat to Casterly Rock?
Next Week: It looks like viewers will follow Sansa and Brienne on their search for Arya, Bran will make his return after a whole season away (prepare for flashbacks!), Cersei and Jaime are done taking guff from anyone, and the Boltons are going to attack Castle Black. This should be interesting.