Season 6, Episode 1: ‘The Red Woman’
“Those f*ckers butchered him!”
Just in case you forgot that Jon Snow was stabbed repeatedly by members of the Night’s Watch at the end of season five, season six opens with a visceral reminder of that calamity. His lifeless body bloodies the snow, deserted by all but his direwolf, Ghost, who howls in distress at the death of his master. Davos and Edd, discovering the body, take it to rest in a storeroom, where they are visited by The Red Woman, Melisandre, and subsequently besieged by Ser Alliser and the other mutineers of the Watch.
It is an opening that appropriately fits the theme of the episode: death, namely, and decay. The first ten minutes or so are decidedly grim, dark, almost monochrome in its dreary washed-out colour tone.
Cross to Winterfell and the visage of another carcass. The insidious Ramsay Bolton is overcome by a deep melancholy at the death of his lover Myranda. Nevertheless, being the frugal man that he is, he instructs his guards to feed her corpse to the dogs and moves on to more pressing matters. Theon and Sansa were fortunate enough to escape his evil clutches at the end of the last season, and Roose, being indubitably pissed, blames the quandary on Ramsay, and so he sets about hunting them down through the woods. To Theon and Sansa’s great luck, Brienne and Podrick arrive just as Ramsay’s soldiers have them cornered, and said soldiers are quickly laid to waste.
Meanwhile, Death, having not abated His appetite, moves onto Dorne where with minimal foray. Doran Martell is brutally murdered by Tyene and Ellaria, and his son Trystane is also disposed of on the way to King’s Landing.
Elsewhere, in King’s Landing, Jamie returns and vows Cersei to revenge all those who have wronged the Lannisters, and Queen Margaery continues to be held captive by the Faith Militant of the High Sparrow.
In Meereen, Tyrion and Varys continue to search for Daenerys, who when last seen, was absconding on the back of her dragon, Drogon. Daenerys herself has been picked up by a Dothraki tribe, whose Khal Moro, on learning that she is the widow of the late Khal Drogo, says she must now live the rest of her life in the sacred village populated by the Dothraki widows of fallen Khals.
In Braavos, Arya Stark, having been blinded as punishment for the murder of Ser Meryn, is now living as a beggar on the streets. The Waif challenges her to the first of what will supposedly be many duels with a wooden staff, and Arya fails.
The episode’s most interesting twist is saved for its last moments, as we return once more to The Wall. Davos and Edd, trapped with Snow’s body and fearful of their fate at the hands of the mutineers, turn to Melisandre as their last hope. What they don’t realise is that Melisandre has herself no hope to give, that her faith has deserted her. Retiring to sleep, she strips off her clothes, stands in front of the mirror, and reveals her true self to be an aged, balding crone, saggy skinned, wrinkled and resigned.
While the opener for season six is entertaining enough, replete with all the stunning production values one would expect, it is, in a way, curiously underwhelming. Its fragmented nature -split episodically between different locations and events- means it spends time picking up its own threads and resuming self-consciously from where it left off. As a result, it jumps around too much, and without enough overlap, for any of the scenarios at this point to feel substantial, either emotionally or as action set pieces. In terms of structure and device, everything here does serve a reasonable purpose; one just hopes it doesn’t meander too much, given there are only ten episodes in the season.
Nevertheless, it is still superlative television, and as such, a welcome return to our screens (or devices). Worth noting is that most of the content within season six will consist of original material not sourced from the books. So while even readers won’t know what to expect over the next two months, this reviewer is placing his bets on an undead Jon Snow in the near future.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10