Game of Thrones: Season 6 Episode 1 Review – The Red Woman
Last night marked the end of the longest and interestingly the shortest hiatus in Game of Thrones‘ history.
Longest for the fans of the show, due to craving so desperately to find out such crucial mysteries as whether Jon Snow is truly dead.
Shortest for the fans of George R. R. Martin’s books, due to readers being faced with that cold and impossible dilemma; stop watching and wait for The Winds of Winter, or keep watching and have the sixth book spoiled for you by the show.
It’s a position that never should have occurred. In an ideal world, this show never should have happened until Martin had completed the whole of A Song of Ice and Fire, or at least was closer to completing them. Now, Game of Thrones faces that rare instance in television of being forced to create its own original content past the point of where the books have reached (or to take content from Martin’s unfinished manuscript and Martin’s own mouth, about how he intends to finish this complex tale).
It is certainly a change that has placed all fans on a level playing field; book readers now know as little about what is about to play out on the big screen as everyone else, and it’s a scary prospect.
Season 6 opened with The Red Woman, which we will now address in a spoiler-heavy review.
One thing that you cannot accuse the writers of skirting is the Jon Snow question. Straight away the season opens with a harsh look at the cold, dead body of Jon, laying idle in the snow, while Ghost audibly mourns the loss of his companion.
It’s a bold move and whether the writers do ultimately find a way to bring him back or not, we applaud the bleak brashness of showing Jon well and truly dead, and having the Night’s Watch debate the fallout of their Lord Commander’s demise.
It reminds us of that period in LOST, in the hiatus between seasons 4 and 5, when the marketing posters claimed ‘JOHN LOCKE IS DEAD’. Yet as soon as Season 5 began, there John Locke stood – clearly alive and standing before us, leading us all to think ‘oh, those posters were just a deceptive marketing ruse by the writers’.
Only, they weren’t. A while after John Locke returned we learned that it wasn’t in fact John Locke at all, but The Man in Black masquerading as John Locke. Locke had been dead all along, just as the posters had claimed. Similarly, in Game of Thrones’ sixth season, we are cautious of a similar move being attempted. If Jon Snow does come back somehow, we caution viewers to be wary whether it is in fact him.
This episode went on to show something else that we’re not used to seeing – Ramsey Bolton showing a little compassion. This is as he mourns the death of his friend Myranda – a character who shared his cruelty. A show of compassion is unusual for Ramsey’s character and it’s something that’s arguably contrary to how the character is depicted in the books. The writers then quickly try to brush his moment of sorrow over by having him tell his men to feed Myranda’s body to the hounds, but it continues to resonate nonetheless, due to its feeling of unnaturalness.
Later, this is paralleled by another scene in which we see Cersei mourn the death of Myrcella. Jaime brings the body of their daughter home and as Cersei stands hopeful by the shore, her expression quickly turns to sorrow once she sees the coffin on the barge. Both Ramsey and Cersei are characters that are painted as truly wicked individuals, yet Cersei’s tears feel more genuine, perhaps due to the character having had more time to develop and grow.
Whilst we detest the writers’ decision to kill off Myrcella, we loved Cersei’s dialogue in this scene. The best of this was:
“She was good. From her first breath, she was so sweet. I don’t know where she came from. She was nothing like me. No meanness, no jealously, just good. I thought: if I could make something so good, so pure, maybe I’m not a monster.”
This was a brilliant monologue and a great insight into Cersei, whilst also proving to be a commendably gracious eulogy for Myrcella.
After answering a few more crucial questions left hanging from Season 5, such as Sansa and Theon’s fate (with yet another vapid instance of Brienne saving the day), the show then descends into the familiar pitfalls of Season 5 again.
In one swift move, the writers decide to kill off Doran Martell, Areo Hotah and Trystane Martell. This is a foolish move, which makes you question why they bothered to show us the Dornish Prince and these characters at all.
Not only did the writers choose to exclude the most crucial Dornish character from the books – Arianne Martell – they have now removed all of the crucial Dornish players that they did bring to the table. Doran, Areo, Myrcella and Trystane are all now all dead (Trystane in another instance of the show opting for gore for shock effect), leaving only Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes.
It’s clearly a move intended to reduce the cast and to move Dorne towards what it was always going to eventually be – a female-led land. We only wish that they had utilised the two most crucial females for this instead (Arianne and Myrcella).
When we see Daenerys, the show descends into some silly and unnecessary humour as the Dothraki challenge their leader about what is more enjoyable that seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time. It’s a moment that detracts from the quality of the scene and which comes off as unbelievable for these warriors to usually show only great respect for their Khals.
The episode closes out on what is intended to be a shocking revelation – that Melisandre is in fact a haggard old woman in truth, with her charms only making her appear young. The whole episode is in fact titled The Red Woman, despite that fact that Melisandre has almost no screen time.
This indicates the weight that the writers intended this final, closing scene to have, and although it is certainly unexpected, it bears no crucial relevance to the plot and only serves as a visual shock – something which, unfortunately, David Beinhoff and D.B. Weiss opt for all too often, over adapting smart A Song of Ice and Fire content.
This is a beginning that holds moments of commendable continuation and wonderful dialogue, yet it is also littered with poor choices of character deaths, some brief yet unnecessary humour and the show’s usual penchant for gore and shock value.
It’s an opener that could have been much worse and it’s one that indicates to us that this season is going to be a mixed bag, full of both inventive new content and also very poor character choices.