Monday, April 25, 2016

The Red Woman

Game on!

Game of Thrones is back with season six, and led off with an episode that keenly displayed that even as the show ventures into territory that George R.R. Martin has yet to write in his books, it won't really be spoiling every detail of those books. For the most part, the plot threads that received the most attention this week are ones that have already departed in large measure from the books.

For example, take the reunion of Sansa and Brienne -- a reunion where the books have yet to even have a union, as neither Sansa or Brienne are anywhere near Winterfell. On that far off day when Martin finally publishes The Winds of Winter, we'll probably know the story's ultimate destination, but not the journey: Theon Greyjoy's only help is Stannis' army, which has already fallen in the show. But I do feel like the gauntlet has been thrown with a scene Martin will find hard to top. Brienne once again offering her oath of service, with Sansa's acceptance (and help from Podrick), was a surprisingly moving scene.

Or take the massacre down in Dorne. Martin has been building up a slow burner of a tale centered on a character that doesn't even exist in the show, a character who has been partly grafted onto Ellaria Sand. Myrcella is still very much alive in the books, and Jaime is off in another part of the world dealing with an entirely different problem. So while readers may now know that Prince Doran's days of passive plotting are numbered, there's no telling exactly when or how we'll get to this moment. But it sure made for a bold scene in this episode; season premieres have typically been all setup, with big moves like this typically a few episodes down the road.

Unlike this review, the show didn't make anyone wait to delve into events up at the Wall. I love how the show wasted no time in showing that Jon Snow is most undeniably dead. (Though that's neither here nor there to the prevailing theory of what's likely to happen next.) Davos has always been the character to seek some measure of nobility amid some seriously ignoble conditions, and it's fun to watch him try to do that again with a handful of loyal men of the Night's Watch. That he would now consider turning to Melisandre for help is a big step for him, given his past rocky relationship with her.

Things with Melisandre certainly got interesting and strange in that final scene. Unless I'm forgetting something, this is the first time that either book or show has unambiguously stated that she actually does possess some real form of magic. (EDIT: Okay, other than the whole demonic assassin shadow baby thing.) The books in particular have been really careful to have it both ways -- she says she wields magic from the Lord of Light, but everything that transpires (such as kingly deaths by magic leeches) could easily have a second, non-supernatural explanation. (EDIT: Again, other than the whole demonic assassin shadow baby thing.) For us to see that indeed, she's not completely full of it, that she at least has a glamour to present a youthful appearance, puts her firmly on one side of the fence. And just in time for what book readers expect will come next.

I'll skip ahead to the other story line with notable movement. In one scene, Dany found herself in major trouble (prisoner of Dothraki), seemed to get herself out of that trouble (securing the Khal's pledge that she would not be violated), and then found herself right back in trouble (she's going to be forcibly relocated to "crone central," to live out her days with other Khaleesis). Whether she can make good her own rescue, or whether Daario and Jorah (or her dragon) can somehow help her remains to be seen.

As for the rest? Many scenes mostly just reminding us where things stand -- though sprinkled with all sorts of interesting character moments. We learned that Roose Bolton does have limits to what he'll tolerate from Ramsay; Ramsay seems to be on thin ice with him. We saw that Cersei has not truly been cowed by her shaming ordeal... but neither is she wholly unscathed, as news of Myrcella's death has put her into a fatalistic acceptance of unavoidable fate. (But she could certainly take a lot of people with her on her way to that fate.) Tyrion and Varys remain a fun pairing, trading constant barbs with one another. Arya and Margaery both find themselves is very different, very precarious situations. (Though because of some shuffling of material, book readers for the moment have one last area of the story where they know what's coming, when it comes to Arya.)

In all, a solid and entertaining start to the season. I give the episode a B+.

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