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Guess what, everyone? Jon Snow is really, most sincerely dead. Now that we have confirmed that what the cast, crew, and creative team behind Game of Thrones have been preaching since the end of Season 5 is true, let’s unpack the heaps of exposition we were given this week. Oh, and that really intriguing look at the real Melisandre, and what that might mean for the Red Woman herself moving forward.
I never go into a Game of Thrones season premiere expecting all that much in the way of interesting plot points or major story beats. Particularly at this point in the show’s run, it has become fairly clear that the season premiere is meant to take stock of where are major players are, both physically within the realm and mentally within their own personal journey. And, with “The Red Woman,” the show didn’t really veer all that far from the usual act of laying out the chess board for the upcoming season. We have more of the same in King’s Landing, with the Tyrells in dire straits, Cersei and Jamie mourning yet another child, and the Sparrows still holding (almost) all the cards (Ser Robert Strong is a solid plus in Cersei’s favor at this point). The Night’s Watch remains in a state of flux, as one might expect in light of yet another Lord Commander being taking out by his own men. And Ramsey and Roose Bolton remain at Winterfell with only the most tenuous hold over the North in light of the epic Sansa and Theon escape.
As for Sansa and Theon, their situation was greatly improved with the (much delayed) arrival of Brienne. I have a sneaking suspicion it won’t be a reunion that lasts the entire season, as what would be the fun of that? (Answer: It would be great fun and I would love to watch Sansa, Brienne, and Pod traipse about the countryside, but since I would love that to happen, I’m almost certain it won’t come to pass. Also, take one gander at the last Season 6 trailer, and it becomes pretty clear that this reunion is only temporary.) But, I must admit, it was pretty darn great to see Sansa smile and not spend an episode cowering or crying. I’m 100% ready to experience a strong, badass Sansa Stark.
Speaking of badass Stark women, the brief glimpse we were given of Arya set up what I hope is a really quick arc with her blindness. Watching several weeks of Arya begging for money and trying to fight off the Waif will get really old, really fast. I have enough faith in the show’s creative team to trust that they know this particular arc is a bit of a dead end for one of their most beloved characters, and it will turn out to only be a blip on the radar this season. But, on the other hand, if the goal of the Waif’s actions is to train Arya to listen and not simply react, I can’t see her picking up that particular talent overnight (nor do I see Arya mastering blind fighting by the end of episode two). So, I worry this story may drag out longer than necessary, which would be a shame.
It also seems that the writers enjoyed last season’s foray into Dorne just as much as their audience. With the Sand Snake coup, I’m not really sure what the point of Dorne even is now. Are we to assume that the entire Dornish Army is behind Ellaria Sand? It certainly appeared that she had taken control of at least the palace guards. But what is her goal? To sail to King’s Landing and destroy the Lannisters? They seems to be doing a pretty solid job of that all on their own, thank you very much. The failings of the Dorne storytelling from Season 5 were on full display during the episode’s brief stopover there this week, as I couldn’t tell which Sand Snake was which (“the woman from Whale Rider and the other one” was how I personally told them apart). Had the show taken the time to explore these potentially interesting characters more last year, perhaps this development might have felt more organic and less of an attempt to turn Dorne into a place we should care about.
Finally, I want to touch on the episode’s one truly intriguing moment: the reveal of the real Melisandre. There have been hints throughout the series that Melisandre is significantly older than one might think at first glance. But I certainly never though the show would offer us a chance to see what she was really made of. For a series that so frequently trades in the nudity of its attractive cast (Season 6 guest star Ian McShane summed up the show as “just tits and dragons” in a recent interview), it was quite the change to see a beautiful character stripped of that beauty and revealed to be the exact opposite of the glamour and poise she represents to the outside world. Melisandre can, on occasion, be a tad one note as a character. But seeing that, beyond her magic (and she most certainly does possess magic), Melisandre is frail and weak, was quite the eye opener. I feel a deeper connection to the character than I ever expected to feel. There’s far more underneath the surface of the Red Woman than I thought, and I desperately want to continue to learn what makes her tick. And whether or not she plans on using the power she clearly possesses to bring the good Lord Commander back from the dead.
— While Dany might not be particularly thrilled to be venturing back into the land of the Dothraki, I’m glad we don’t have to deal with another female character getting raped on the show. At least not this week.
— I still want to pitch a buddy spin-off of Varys and Tyrion just hanging out in cities and matching wits. In fact, if nothing else save that happened this season, I would deem it a success.
— There will be a number of think pieces written about the show’s use of nudity in that final scene, written by people with a great deal more knowledge in the world of gender politics than I. But I do want to commend the series for showing something that is almost never seen in big budget Hollywood fare: a naked woman who isn’t young and gorgeous, whose nudity was essential to the scene. Melisandre constantly uses her looks and her body to titillate (and the show uses her body for the same reason). Turning the tables on the audience after appearing to show Melisandre once again using her looks for her own gain was pretty brilliant.
— Glad to see that everyone’s favorite “Shame!” Septa is back again this year.