A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Game of Thrones returns at last, leaving behind what felt like the longest stretch of winter yet between the ending of one chapter and the beginning of another. It’s a journey Thrones fans have made each year but somehow the wait becomes more unbearable year after year. This season in particular had been enshrouded in so much secrecy that it became a fairly valid belief to hold that the show simply wouldn’t release any pictures or trailers with actual new footage, saving all of its savory treats for the actual episodes when they aired. Thankfully that didn’t occur, but perhaps a chunk of that cagey behavior has to do with the show’s most different relationship yet with its source material. George R. R. Martin’s source material is not, as is often touted to the point of becoming cliché, completely left behind by the series. As any avid reader of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons will note, there is a plethora of material from those two books alone that will be making its way into what may be the last ten-episode season of the series, material they may be cagily trying to point out to their friends without giving anything away. Nevertheless, some of the most vital storylines (Daenerys, Jon, and Tyrion for example) have gone beyond what Martin has written so far. Their cliffhangers at the end of the fifth season largely matched the cliffhangers Martin provided in the novels but from that perspective beyond the reigns have firmly shifted into the show’s favor. That journey should prove to be the toughest test yet to see if show runners David Benioff & D. B. Weiss can stick the ending towards what has become one of the largest cultural phenomenons of the modern era. If The Red Woman is an indication, the answer to that query is a resounding yes but as always with a few caveats.
The title of the episode alone pivots, as has become a much-welcomed Thrones tradition, in multiple directions, with the most obvious portrait being Melisandre. The last time we saw the titular Red Woman, she had made her way back to Castle Black, haunted and sunken by her massive failure, her immense betrayal by the Lord of Light defeating every ounce of confidence and triumph she had built over what is now looking like centuries. Melisandre is a character, like so many in Game of Thrones, who feels above everything else an immense power in a certain belief. She is no different than, let’s say, the High Sparrow in this regard. So much of their existence had been built around their faiths that it ostensibly had become their beings in entirety. The scene between Margaery and the High Sparrow was a brief one but a poignant on. The pivotal scene arrived in a moment where the High Sparrow asked if Margaery believed that she was perfect, that she was pure. “None of us are,” she replies quietly. It’s an exchange that is sure to get lost in the tumult of a very busy but quiet episode but it is unequivocally one of the most important scenes in the hour, if not the series. No one is perfect or even reasonably so, but more often than not people tend to find ways in which to operate their lives where they ostensibly believe that they are, indeed, perfect. For the High Sparrow, Margaery’s simple, true pronouncement is destabilizing in that it punctures his strongest belief that purity can be found through the path of the seven. Melisandre believed so strongly that purity could be found through the fires of the Lord of Light that she put a child to the torch for the sake of the greater good. Then she was rewarded with nothing but a complete and absolute shattering of the faith that had come to embody her entire being.
The shocker of the ancient Melisandre works stunningly well in that context, the titular Red Woman’s triumph of so long metaphorically disrobing as she looks into that thin, fragile little mirror. This secret of hers, for so long kept by George and the show runners from their audience, arrives perfectly at the moment where Melisandre is at her most vulnerable, her most emotionally naked. She needs to see herself in her true form, to see and know one true semblance of reality as she traverses through a literal sea of fog she had seemingly abandoned so long ago. Traversing through seas of fog is a thematic thoroughfare throughout the air, in most instances anchored by red women in each of the narratives where one falls relatively flat but everything else navigates through that fog with a semblance of intrigue and excitement. The one that stings the most and not in a good way is the show’s now obliteration of what the Dornish Master Plan had seemed to be going towards. Ellaria leads a coup and stabs Doran in the chest while Tyene does her short work and stabs Areo Hotah through the back. Inexplicably, Obara stabs Trystane through the face with her spear. I had absolutely no idea where this was going but while the idea of a Dornish coup may be exciting in one sense of the word, Ellaria acting as the woman in red down South only serves to remind how utterly atrocious the show’s handling of the Dornish plot was. Cersei’s tragedy is profoundly felt in the episode, the red woman of House Lannister rushing through a courtyard and towards the docks when Ellaria’s last victim arrives in a boat. Lena Headey is terrific, her gamut of emotions running from sheer joy towards the hardened terror and anger that clouds her visage. Maggy the Frog’s words have rung throughout her life but this is the first time where she vocalizes those words and fears, noting the terror that she had acutely felt when she saw Myrcella’s body and the somber inevitability that had come to replace it.
The Red Woman of the East in Daenerys makes her way back with a massive khalasar, on her way ostensibly towards Vaes Dothrak. Khal Moro is the strong man of HBO’s titular description, looking to take Daenerys to bed whether she wants to or not. He only steps back when her continued defiance leads to the reveal that she was the widow of Khal Drogo. Moro cuts away Daenerys’s bonds but he is a man of tradition. He won’t take her back to Meereen as she requested. He’s going to take her to Vaes Dothrak to become a member of the Dosh Khaleen, as all of the widowed Khaleesis were required to do. Emilia Clarke does a fantastic job of conveying her fury throughout this episode, the fire in her eyes seeming far more gargantuan than the vast swaths of the Dothraki Sea that are taking full advantage of the increased budgets the show has been afforded. Speaking of impressive visual camerawork, the opening shots of the episode are a neat bit of camerawork from returning Emmy nominee Jeremy Podeswa, settling the audience in on the immediate aftermath of the stabbing of Jon Snow that closed out the fifth season. Ser Davos opens his doors and his expression collapses as he sees Jon’s dead body lying in the frigid snow, bleeding out. Melisandre comes in to see the body, surrounded by a handful of loyal Night’s Watchmen, noting softly that she had seen Jon fighting in the battle of Winterfell. It’s a quiet reveal that should bear fruit in the future, but for now primarily serves to shatter Melisandre’s faith more than it already has been. Alliser Thorne swoops in on the coup within moments, delivering an ultimatum to Ser Davos regarding Jon’s body. Ser Davos cannily sends Dolorous Edd to gather the wildlings to fight on their behalf, but his ultimate savior with Jon may very well be a red woman wallowing in despair nearby, crawling underneath the blankets for some warmth for her fire had gone out.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Ghost’s howls were a nice touch
+Jon’s blood stain in the shape of a wolf was a nice touch
+“I saw him in the flames… fighting at Winterfell.”
+Feed her to the hounds
+“I’d reward the man.”
+“A reckoning will come.”
+The entire escape sequence with Sansa and Theon was extremely well-done. Sansa accepting Brienne’s pledge was a perfect capper.
+“A bloody woman.”
+“I was born to rule.” Well, not for long, apparently.
+“Weak men will never rule Dorne again.”
+“We’re not going to solve the problems of a city from the top of an 800-foot pyramid.”
+“You walk like a rich person.”
+Tyrion’s mistranslation was
+The burning ships. Well, that leaves some certain seafarers a clean route.
+“It is known.” Yeah, it’s back!
+“Queen of Nothing.”
+Arya’s training continues to be painful for her, but intriguing in what it sets up. The background chatter of people gossiping about Meryn’s death and the shot of the Titan behind a blind Arya were great additional touches.
-Fuck this show’s handling of Alexander Siddig and Areo Hotah. Siddig is especially an actor of an extraordinary caliber and to waste someone excited for the show and on top of fan casting lists like this was shameful.
Episode Title: The Red Woman
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Image Courtesy: MoviePilot*
*The picture above is from episode 5.04, but I didn’t want the episode’s big twist revealed in the header image.