It’s been over ten months but the long wait for something new from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire / Game of Thrones franchise and Sunday was the start of Season Six of HBO’s Game of Thrones. This also marked the start of brand new material for the franchise. The five books were exhausted in the last season so this episode was the first look at A Song of Ice and Fire for everyone.
Spoiler Alert: The standard TV show spoiler rule applies. Discussions in the comments about every episode that has aired as of the posting of the review is fair game. As for the books, major storyline deviations aren’t eligible for discussion in case they’re introduced later.
The first new episode of new GoT / ASOIAF picked up immediately from the conclusion of the last episode with Jon still very dead at Castle Black. The episode finished in the exact same way with Jon being very dead.
That might have been the most interesting plot point of a whole episode that was focused on setting the table for the rest of the season. For an episode that had immediate payoffs for a few story threads left dangling from the previous season, the big one that had fans talking was left at least one more week for resolution, assuming that there is the expected resolution coming for fans.
While it wasn’t just a bad evening for Jon, you never felt overwhelmed by how badly things were still going for everyone in Westeros and Essos. Cersei has lost everything but Tommen and is preparing for war against Dorne. The rulers of Dorne are all dead thanks to a local coup. The Boltons are preparing for an expected Lannister army. Arya still can’t see and got pummeled for her troubles. Daario and Ser Friendzone are well behind Dany who is off to the Dothraki retirement village. And Tyrion and Varys are clearly in over their head in Meereen.
Writing out that quick synopsis of the week’s storylines makes this episode seem so much more depressing than it felt in real-time. The episode packed all of those stories (and Sansa’s escape from Winterfell) into about 55 minutes of running time. With the exception of the longer scenes and quiet moments in Castle Black, we didn’t really get a lot of time to let events sink in.
The episode both succeeds and fails in its pacing. It succeeds in so much that you don’t feel let down when the end credits roll, even if you don’t get the Jon Snow resurrection and ass-kicking scene you’ve been waiting ten months for. The Red Woman seems like everything you could possible want from an episode of Game of Thrones with violence, nudity, political intrigue and great characters. When you take that step back, like I’m doing right now, you realize that the whole world has still gone to sh*t and we’re still waiting for progress to be made.
Interestingly, the episode did seem somewhat focused on lighter or happier moments. Any time Tyrion and Varys banter on-screen brings a smile to my face. The Dothraki have a surprisingly good sense of humour. Even Pod being useful was fun. Considering how soul-crushingly depressing that Game of Thrones can be at times, you really need those moments of levity intermixed in there.
While most of the major characters made an appearance this week, there were a couple who would have been conspicuous by their absence in a lesser episode. Bran is expected to be a big part of this season but was missing from this first episode. Littlefinger also wasn’t around this week but with most of Westeros on the brink of war, he’s going to be a big player soon. And Sam was missing as well but his importance is probably tied to Jon and Stannis being alive because they would listen to him.
Overall, this was a good episode because it was exciting. Coming in without source material to draw from gave everyone this added level of excitement because everyone, book readers and TV show watchers, came together knowing that they would see something new rather than half the crowd knowing when to hide the camera for the YouTube reaction video. It was really that constant moving to something new and almost fan servicey that kept the energy up and made this feel like a spectacular episode in motion when it doesn’t translate as well to paper.
Other random points of note:
- The five-minute recap video was nice but a bit excessive.
- Was the one Dothraki’s joke about f*cking the other guy’s grandmother foreshadowing that Melissandre reveal at the end?
Next week, Bran does return. There are a couple of doings a transpiring in King’s Landing between the Lannisters and everyone else. Trouble makes its way to Castle Black. And a little man meets some large dragons. They’re planning to run two or three more seasons. If they don’t run out of material between now and the end at this storytelling pace, I’ll be shocked.