A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
George R. R. Martin, for all of his faults as a writer, is extremely adept at mining tragedy that feels far more weighted than it ostensibly has any right to. With Ned’s beheading, it felt like a strangely fitting end for a noble man who never truly was able to grasp the political complexities of the world he was living in and subsequently lost his head for it. Dany suffocating Drogo was the first scene, however, that really hit the absolute tragedy of his world for me. It wasn’t as if the show or the books hadn’t already dished out plenty of misery for eons to come beforehand, but that felt gut-wrenching, a twist that worked because it came out of nowhere yet everywhere and ripped one’s heart out along with it. The show has been, to be quite fair, a bit more prone to big, flashy moments than I would like, but tonight’s ending sequence brought that complete sense of tragedy once more and I feel the most affected since Shireen’s burning at the stake for the sake of her father’s empty ambitions. That’s the mark of a good adaptation. Slavish faithfulness towards the source material helps in some cases. No one can deny the sheer power of some of Martin’s work that he brings to such affecting life and when the show displays it on screen, that visual match to the source text can be incredible. Sometimes, however, that simply can’t happen. One reason may be that the show’s slavish interpretation works against it (see Dany’s storyline stagnate a bit from the Sack of Astapor to Daznak’s Pit). Another reason may be that Martin’s writing structure that goes from internal monologue of one character to another don’t translate well on screen. We simply can’t have Cersei tell the audience exactly everything she is sensing and thinking during her Walk of Shame. We have to see it and that requires an understanding of the text, its ostensible sense of tragedy and otherwise be carried out by an external force and when the show truly grasps that balance and executes it so sharply, it becomes the best version of itself.
The Door, which is a strong contender for most annoyingly cryptic episode title (it’s up there with Home in that regard), is one of the best episodes that Game of Thrones has ever done and in large part is because of the balance they have managed to so dutifully, wonderfully strike. It is arguably the most spoiler-filled episode of the show for those who are wondering what will arrive in the plethora of pages that comprise The Winds of Winter, whenever that hits our bookshelves (the optimist in me says 2017, the pessimist says 2024). The “spoiling” aspect arguably began way back with Season 4’s Oathkeeper and that scene with the White Walkers turning Craster’s babies into the next generation but it took another turn with Shireen’s death. With a good chunk of source material now gone, what the show would reveal the books in Season 6 became a great source of debate within the fandom. The show runners and Martin himself noted the butterfly effect, where small changes will inevitably blossom into larger alterations down the road. They also noted that the journeys of certain characters (Sansa Stark comes to mind) would change considerably but the destinations will remain the same. Major events, like the fight at the Tower of Joy, changed slightly but the end result was ostensibly what Martin had likely told David Benioff & D. B. Weiss. Ned and Howland Reed survive only because of Reed’s dirty trick against Ser Arthur Dayne not because of Ned’s superior skills as Bran believed. As with that sequence, the episode’s shockers with Bran and Hodor have an air of finality about them that lends credence to both of those events playing out perhaps not in complete equivalence but arriving at the same conclusion. They’re far too vital to both versions of the story too stray too far from one another and Martin himself alluded to what the episode revealed with Hodor in 2013 (which now seems ages ago). The absolute tragedy of it all certainly seems right up Martin’s alley.
Hodor was, as Osha so aptly noted, a gentle giant. That moment in Winterfell when Osha was bonding with Bran and Rickon and their group traveling across the North seems like a cruel joke now, crafted amidst the misery with the knowledge of what was going to happen. It’s a cruelty that feels so profoundly horrifying in the wake of what had happened that it truly felt like a knife was being repeatedly stabbed in my chest as I realized that Hodor simply wasn’t going to make it, that the gentle giant was going to sacrifice himself one last time to make sure that the child he had taken care of forever was going to hopefully make it out alive with Meera in tow. I never knew what was going to be in store for Hodor, he was the kind, unwavering soul of friendship, bravery, and loyalty Game of Thrones doesn’t really offer. He was a character who had one word as his dialogue but somehow Kristain Nairn played him in complex enough layers to where he never felt like the simpleton so many treated him to be. But it also seemed that he would inevitably die at some point perhaps, sacrificing himself at some juncture like the hero that he was but never felt himself to be. It also seemed equally plausible, however, that Bran would never lose sight of Hodor, that the gentle giant would be at his side until the very end, whatever that may be. When Bran first warged into Hodor in season three, Jojen was quietly alarmed and awed by an ability that no other human possessed. That was an early warning bell and certainly one that didn’t go off again until the following season when Bran warged into Hodor and had him snap Locke’s thin little head right off his neck. Hodor was horrified that had happened to him and in sight of the tragedy that awaited him, that horror becomes even more poignant. When the Three-Eyed Raven warned him about losing control of his ability as a Greenseer, Bran disobeyed him entirely but the consequences of Bran’s disobedience being this devastating is something that had never occurred to me until the moment young Wylis fell down on the courtyard floor of Winterfell, screaming “Hold the Door!” as his body was convulsed by seizures.
Bran travels into the past on his own as if on an innocuous trip, but the Three Eyed Raven’s warnings seemed to ring loud and clear from the first moment that Bran stepped outside and saw a weirwood true shaped in the spiral the White Walkers were known to leave behind. Then Bran sees the massive White Walker army. His dangerous curiosity peaked, he walks through their ranks, not completely understanding what was occurring around him. Then he arrives upon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Then the Night’s King turns towards him and Bran attempts to run, but before Bran could more than register the appropriate shock of the complete stupidity of his actions, they lock eyes. All of the wights slowly turn towards Bran and then suddenly he turns around in morbid panic to see the Night’s King. Bran can’t run fast enough before his arch nemesis grabs his arm and suddenly Bran wakes. He’s terrified that he’s done something wrong (yeah, no shit Sherlock) and the Three Eyed Raven realizes that the protection of the cave had gone away. There was nothing to be done at the moment except to try and give Bran every modicum of knowledge possible and the Three Eyed Raven wargs him into Winterfell as the assault begins. The Children of the Forest, Meera, and Summer try to fight them off in a truly impressive sequence but they need Hodor to help. Bran, entranced in the past, wargs into Hodor and in doing so, seals the gentle giant’s fate. Hodor was never a cruel man or even a cruel child. He would have been, as Bran now guttingly had noted, a great knight if the gods hadn’t taken his wits. But even then it was hard to see Hodor being anything but kind and contemplative and not a merciless fighter. When Bran performs those actions simultaneously, he opens a dangerous pathway in the present that damages Wylis in the past. He hears as a young child Meera’s voice yelling clearly “Hold the door! Hold the door!” and he collapses into a seizure, yelling Meera’s words throughout the air as Old Nan falls to his side in terror. He knew from that moment that that was what he had to do, that’s that where he would end and to see that come to light as he held the door dutifully to the end was the most gut-wrenching feeling I can remember from this series and I honestly do not believe that it is a moment that I will ever, ever forget.
Other things happened in this episode too, but they all seem utterly inconsequential in the moment even though I know they aren’t. Sansa confronts Littlefinger, not believing him for a second when he said that he didn’t know what Ramsay was. He notes that he was happy to see her unharmed, but Sansa’s fury at that judgment was impossible to escape. She presses him again and again and again and Littlefinger’s shame envelopes his visage as he begins to slightly understand the sheer depth of depravity Sansa had to tolerate at Ramsay’s hand. She screams with force that every day she felt the pain of what he had done to her because her face was the only thing he needed unharmed. She yelled that she could still feel the pain of what he had done to her right then and there as she was standing. Sansa wishes more than anything else to take back the North and crush those who had destroyed their family. She has full agency at last and she isn’t going to allow Littlefinger to take it away. And frankly there’s also the basic truth that she simply can’t trust what Littlefinger has to say. How could she, after all that had happened? Sansa makes the curious choice to withhold that critical piece of information from Jon and the others, but it’s quite clear to see why she would do so. She doesn’t want to lose her agency and she knows that if she brings up the Vale, then everyone will jump on that opportunity and she doesn’t want to trust the man who could so easily betray all of them once more. Her seeking out the Blackfish after he retook Riverrun on Littlefinger’s advice, however, is a nice move in a direction fans have waited to see Sansa go towards for a while. Arya confronts a door into her own past, where she receives a test in the form of a mission from Jaqen to kill a woman working with a theater troupe in Braavos. It’s a play clearly designed to humiliate the Starks or at the very least one crafted from Lannister propaganda in some question and it speaks critically towards whom Arya is going to become. The Waif calls her out on just as much and it seems that more than ever before, she is truly destined to never become No One. Her destiny lies to the West, to the land where a gentle giant gave his life after he lost so much of his agency at such a young age to save at a critical moment two lives he then knew would mean the end of his own. Rest in peace, Wylis. May the Nightlands be kinder to you than Westeros ever was and may you never have to hold the door again.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“You’re an idiot or an enemy.”
+“You’ll never be one of us, Lady Stark.”
+Volatine mine slaves
+Ned and Tyrion the idiots with a gallant Joffrey. Kudos to Arya for keeping her composure
+“Does death only come for the decent and leave the wicked behind?”
+The Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to save themselves from the turmoil of mankind. It is so perfect, so poetic, so perfectly tragic that it fits incredibly into Martin’s universe. I’ll expand upon it when we get more info.
+The Kingsmoot was fine, if not too exciting, but it does lead to a direct connection with Daenerys and Yara/Theon fleeing.
+“I love you. I will always you. Goodbye, Khaleesi.” I teared internally at that moment. Great acting from Iain Glen and Emilia Clarke there.
+“For now is the best we get in our profession.”
+“Who said anything about him?”
+“Knowledge has made you powerful, but there’s still so much you don’t know.” The new Red Priestess Kinvara is fascinating and in short measure because of Ania Bukstein’s performance.
+“They can hang.”
+“The Blackfish is a legend.”
+“A bit brooding, perhaps.”
+Sansa sewing herself a Stark gown and making armor for Jon like the kind Ned used to wear.
+“But if you have to fight, win.”
+Summer’s death by him going out fighting was devastating
+The death effect of the Three Eyed Raven in the past was extraordinary. It reminded me of Harry Potter in a really good way
+Leaf’s sacrifice. Kai Alexander did a great job in a limited role and her death meant something
+“Hold the door!”
Episode Title: The Door
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Jack Bender
Image Courtesy: Blackfilm