The Red Woman gave a solid start to season 6, setting the mood for the series with an ample dose of cunning, death, and mystery. It acted as a brief catch-up with a few of our favourite characters, as we joined the episode only moments after the shocking events of the season five finale.
In classic Game of Thrones style, the episode posed far more questions than it answered, and the writers have made it clear from the offset that this season is not going to be an easy ride.
Warning: the night is dark and full of spoilers (as is the rest of this article, so please don’t read ahead unless you’ve already watched the episode).
Fans who expected to see the season open with the rumoured “Tower of Joy” flashback may have been disappointed, but their complaints were quickly silenced when the episode took us directly to Jon Snow’s lifeless body at Castle Black. Were we about to see our favourite crow resurrected? Of course not. In retrospect, we should have known the writers wouldn’t dispel one of Game of Thrones’ biggest mysteries this soon in the season.
We began to see the cracks appearing in Melisandre’s visage (quite literally,as we would later discover), as her sullen face made several appearances in her eponymous episode. Stannis’ death, and therefore the realisation that Stannis could not be Azor Ahai reborn, seem to have deeply shaken the Red Woman’s faith in both the Lord of Light, and in herself. When she sees Jon, she mutters the words: “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell”, as she realises that her visions no longer seem to align with the future. Has the Lord of Light been leading her astray? Are any of her prophecies true? Or has she failed in her mission, leaving the realm to ruin? There was no glimmer of hope in the priestess’ eyes, leaving viewers feeling that perhaps she won’t be the one to resurrect Jon Snow after all. Or at least, if she will, even she doesn’t know it yet.
Davos too seems to have been deeply affected by both Stannis’ and Jon’s deaths, as he gathers with a small group of loyalists. For the first time, we see the Onion Knight willing to join forces with Melisandre, for whom he has previously only expressed distaste.
Meanwhile, the most emotional scene came from Cersei Lannister, who has (perhaps deservingly, depending on your point of view) been one of the show’s most punished characters in recent episodes. With the arrival of a ship from Dorne, we see Cersei hurrying to meet Myrcella, only to realise her daughter did not survive the return journey. Maggie the Frog’s prophecy, which predicts the death of Cersei’s golden-haired children, seems to be creeping ever-closer to completion.
Over the last season, we’ve seen Cersei more vulnerable than ever. Knowing Cersei, this can only mean one thing. It means revenge, as Jaime assures her. United by tragedy, the bond between the incestuous siblings appears to be stronger than ever, as they look to exact vengeance on anyone who has ever harmed them.
That brings us to the land of the venomous Sand Snakes themselves: crazy, mixed-up Dorne, which has all but been butchered in the adaptation from book to screen. Luckily we didn’t have to endure too much of the Sand Snakes, though they continued with their bloodthirsty rampage and awkward dialogue for the brief moments they appeared on-screen. It was in Dorne that we witnessed possibly the biggest shock of the night, leaving even book-readers reeling.
As Prince Doran received a letter informing him of Marcella’s death, all it took was a glance between Tyene and Ellaria, and poor old Prince Doran was left looking very dead indeed. And he wasn’t the only Martell to suffer the wrath of the Sand Snakes. Trystane Martell was confronted by two of the sisters, and made the mistake of turning his back on Obara Sand to take on her whip-weilding sister, Nymeria. He quickly met his end thanks to a spear through his head.
So where does this leave Dorne? Unlike in the books, Trystane seemed to be Doran’s only heir, meaning that this act of treason leaves Dorne suddenly without a ruler. With the vengeful snakes apparently at the helm of Dorne, this can only lead to more blood being spilt, most likely, that of the Lannisters.
Over in Essos meanwhile, Daenerys was in an unenviable position, having been captured by a khalasar of Dothraki. Little did they realise the Khaleesi is fluent in Dothraki, and heard every crude and degrading word they said about her as they led her to their khal. The look on her face was that of a woman planning murder by dragons. Her announcement that she is Queen of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men was met by only laughter, until she mentioned that she also happens to be Khal Drogo’s widow. This, rather than her queenly status, seemed to be a reason to offer Khaleesi a little more respect. At least, for now.
Dany appears to be headed towards Vaes Dothrak, the only city in the Dothraki Sea, which is ruled by the dosh khaleen, crones and widows of slain Dothraki khals. We don’t know much about Vaes Dothrak, but we do know that it is not where we were hoping Daenerys would be at this point. Time will tell if Dany can win over the Dothraki once again. If so, they might make a fine (if sometimes unpleasant) addition to her army.
Our experience of Arya this episode was limited to seeing her being badly beaten in a game of “let’s hit the blind girl with a stick and call it training”. Though this scene teased very little, this season could be interesting for Arya, who may have to decide whether her destiny truly lies with the Facelesss Men or in exacting revenge on her long list of adversaries.
Her older sister meanwhile, survived her leap from the ramparts of Winterfell, only to be cornered by Ramsay’s men and their dogs, after Theon’s poor attempt to lure them away from Sansa. Luckily, Brienne of Tarth swooped in to save the day, with Podrick in tow. After a satisfying fight scene, in which Theon continued to redeem himself by saving Podrick’s life, Brienne offered her services, once again.
This time, Sansa accepted Brienne’s service, and oaths were exchanged between knight and lady. The gratitude in Brienne’s face was clear. Now, she can finally do as she promised Lady Catelyn. The question which remains now is where will the four go now? Will they make it to the Wall, or will they catch wind of Jon’s death first? Will Sansa seek Littlefinger, or will she realise that perhaps the old brothel keeper and master of coin doesn’t really have her best interests at heart? Perhaps we’ll see her learn a little from Brienne instead this season. Much like Arya and the Hound, I could see this pair learning a lot from each other.
And finally, we’re back to Castle Black for this week’s cliffhanger, which revolved around the Red Woman herself. As Melisandre undressed, and viewers across the world began to roll their eyes at the usual dose of gratuitous nudity, the scene took a shocking twist. When Melisandre looked in the mirror, in place of the youthful woman we’re accustomed to, we suddenly saw an aged and hunched crone looking back at her, revealing what seemed to be Melisandre’s true appearance and age, which has been hinted at by writers for a while now.The reveal of Melisandre’s possibly hundreds of years-old body only intensified the priestess’ current vulnerability. This is set to be an interesting series for Melisandre, and even those who, like Davos, have only distrust for the Red Woman, may find themselves seeing the character in an entirely new light.
The episode set the scene for a vengeful season, with almost every character looking to take something from those who caused them pain. The Dornish, in particular, seem intent on exacting the revenge they have so clearly desired for a long time, and the Lannisters are poised for bloodshed. A war between the Dornish and Westeros could throw the world into even more chaos than it’s already in. If last season left you worried that there weren’t enough remaining contenders to fight over the throne, think again. Everyone wants something, and while not all of them seek to be King or Queen, they’re part of the game of thrones, whether they like it or not.