Game of Thrones “The Red Woman” Review: A subdued but mostly effective opening act

After 10 months of anticipation – or five years if you’re a book reader – Jon Snow is…still dead. It’s hard not to feel a little disappointed that Jon’s fate was not resolved in this premiere, and, in fact, “The Red Woman” is already being utterly trashed by some Game of Thrones fans. I think the issue ultimately comes down to the fact that in seasons past, Episode 9 typically featured the bombshell twist, and Episode 10 was a slow hour depicting the aftermath and setting up what’s to come. But last year, the bombshell twist was the very last scene, and this premiere had all these expectations that past seasons’ debuts simply never did. What we got last night was a whole bunch of setup for what’s to come, so in other words, what would normally be Episode 10 became Episode 1.

No, “The Red Woman” didn’t answer every single question we’ve been debating since last June, but it was still an excellent episode that got me pumped up for what’s shaping up to be a fantastic season of television.

Here are 18  observations from the season premiere.

1) Now that’s what you call an opening shot

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This episode kicks off with what might be my favorite opening shot in all of Game of Thrones so far. We begin with a long pan into Castle Black, as the sound of Ghost’s howls can be heard accompanied by Ramin Djawadi’s sinister score, eventually coming up on Jon’s lifeless body lying exactly where we left it 10 months ago. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Grey Wind going nuts prior to the events of the Red Wedding back in Season 3, but hopefully Ghost does not end up suffering a similar fate….

2) What’s Davos looking at here?

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After discovering Jon’s corpse, Snow loyalists drag away the former Lord Commander, and there’s a beat where Davos pauses to look at ground. What’s going on? Is he taking note of just how violent the attack was, as indicated by how much blood has been spilt? Or is there something I’m missing?

3) “I saw him in the flames”

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For the most part, “The Red Woman” does not give too much lip service to the idea of Jon coming back to life, except for this one Melisandre line. As she gazes at Jon lying still, she says, “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell.” Up until this point, it has seemed as if Mel’s visions are generally correct from a certain point of view, even if she misinterprets them. Either this will be the first instance of her having a vision that is legitimately, objectively false, or Jon will come back to life and fight to take back Winterfell from the Boltons.

By the way, when exactly did she see Jon fighting at Winterfell? Was this around the time that she was giving him strange glances last season? Obviously she thought until recently that Stannis would retake Winterfell and defeat the Boltons, so what was her interpretation of the Jon vision? Did she assume he personally would come to Stannis’ aid in the battle? Or did she think maybe that vision would happen way down the line, and so now she’s surprised that it can seemingly never come true?

4) Alliser Thorne is a son of a bitch

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As much as I very much want Alliser Thorne to be brutally mauled to death by Ghost as soon as possible, I kind of love this episode’s approach to his character. He didn’t dispose of Jon’s body right after the assassination or try to hide his involvement. No, he leaves the evidence right out there for all to see, not even taking down the TRAITOR sign, and then straight up declares to everyone that he was responsible for the murder. That’s…kind of badass?

I do have to question his logic when he says “I never once disobeyed an order,” though. I don’t think Jon has to issue a specific order asking you not to assassinate him, bro. That’s kind of implied.

Is there absolutely any way Alliser survives this season? I’d be surprised if he survives Episode 2.

5) “If you were planning to see tomorrow, you picked the wrong room”

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Davos’ subplot here sort of turns into a mini bottle episode; everyone holds up in the room with Jon as they realize they’re probably completely screwed the minute they open the door. You gotta love the sheer loyalty of Edd, too, who is completely prepared to die tonight if it means taking out the bastards that murdered his friend. “We all die today,” he says. “I say we do our best to take Thorne with us when we go.” Hell yes. I can’t decide which is stronger: my desire to see Thorne die or my desire not to see Edd die.

6) Revenge of the wildlings…maybe

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Davos notes that the wildlings all owe their lives to Jon Snow, and so presumably they would all be willing to help out in the fight to take down Thorne. It’s a bit awkward, though, that this idea is introduced in the first few minutes and then we never see Edd again. The whole room storyline will continue into episode 2, and a part of me wishes they’d ditched one or two plots in “The Red Woman” and just all the Castle Black stuff finished in one go. Would anyone really be upset if we didn’t get that random Arya fight?

7) Ramsay Bolton feeds his friend to dogs, as you do

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Over at Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton almost gets to be an actual human being for about 60 seconds as he mourns the loss of Myranda, only to remind us what show we’re watching here when he orders she be fed to the hounds.

I understand the show’s desire to have a new Joffrey-type figure, a clearly evil character who literally every viewer hates with a passion, but the show has taken Ramsay so ridiculously over the top that it’s become obnoxious. This dude goes around pissing off everyone in Westeros, but he has so much plot armor that he gets away with it all with virtually zero setbacks. So that’s why this next scene with Roose was so welcome: his father points out that they actually need other houses to back them, which will be difficult if he keeps chopping off people’s dicks and torturing absolutely everyone he meets.

8) Stannis really did die off screen

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The conversation between Roose and Ramsay confirms that Stannis was definitely killed by Brienne in the season finale. The showrunners mentioned this in interviews between seasons, but just judging by what’s on screen, any viewer would leave Season 5 with some doubt over whether Stannis had been killed. This is the same series that shows its main characters having their eyes gouged out in graphic detail, yet one of the primary protagonists dies in an off screen sword blow? Apparently, and we don’t even see his body in “The Red Woman.” Why is this the one time when we avoid showing something grisly, even if it’s necessary from a plot perspective?

9) Sansa + Brienne 4ever

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This is easily the best scene in “The Red Woman,” and one of my favorites in Game of Thrones in some time. After Brienne spent what felt like centuries trying to track down Sansa to no avail, seeing the two finally join forces is the kind of cathartic moment that Game of Thrones rarely offers without following it up with something incredibly horrifying.

How badass was Pod here, by the way? At one point in the fight, he stabs a guy right through the chest and then falls off his horse to land on the dude’s fresh wound. Brutal. And he’s so adorable a few minutes later when he chimes in to help Sansa finish her vow to Brienne. Considering Sansa is supposed to be a badass this season, it would have been nice if she wasn’t literally the only one there who didn’t get to participate in the fight, but hey, whatever.

10) Cersei mourns the death of her child, Part 2

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Cersei runs through King’s Landing like a kid on Christmas morning, ready to finally see Myrcella again after all these years, only to be greeted by the sign of Jamie rowing their daughter’s corpse in. We get a 20-second long reaction shot as Cercei comes to terms with having lost yet another child, and it’s some of Lena Headey’s most impressive acting in the series. Why must this show keep making me feel for a woman so horrible? It’s like every other scene I have to remind myself that this is the same person who schemed to have Ned Stark killed. #TheNorthRemembers

We’re also reminded of the Witch’s prophecy, which seems like exactly the information one would want to bring back up if Tommen were to die later in this season. Finally, Jaime also utters what might as well be the Lannister house words:

“Fuck everyone who isn’t us. We’re the only ones who matter, the only ones in this world.”

11) Margaery is still locked up

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Just as we start wondering what ever happened to Margaery, we’re reminded that she’s seriously still locked up after being arrested by the Sparrows last year. She just wants to know if Loras is doing okay, presumably because she heard he’s been cast in Iron Fist and is worried that means he’s about to be killed off.

Tommen is also name dropped, though he once again does not appear on screen. Is that dude still ruling Westeros? We never see him. Does he just sit around playing with his cats all day?

12) The death of the Martell family

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Alright, I did not see this coming. What appears to be a standard Dorne check-in scene escalates quickly as Ellaria swiftly assassinates Prince Doran and Aero Hotah. Damn.

A lot of book readers are up in arms, mainly because Doran serves a greater purpose in the novels, but I’m fine with this plot development. Examining this purely as a TV show and not as an adaptation, seeing the Sand Snakes making moves to escalate a war with the Lannisters is an interesting direction to take things in, and you can’t say they didn’t set up Doran’s death what with all of Ellaria’s unchecked anger towards him last year.

Although one question: what’s up with the guards? They were in on this, right? They all remain completely still throughout the assassination, and the scene cuts to them when Ellaria tells Doran that his own people are disgusted with him. The implication, presumably, is that they’ve been wanting him dead themselves, but did the guards actually help plot this? Or did they simply not intervene because they hate Doran so much?

We then get the death of Tyrstane at the hands of the Sand Snakes, though I was legitimately distracted during this entire sequence because I couldn’t figure out the logistics of it. These characters were watching from the dock as Tyrstane sailed away last season, but they since caught up with him? The boat Tyrstane is on is currently immobile in King’s Landing, so what must have happened is that the Sand Snakes just followed Jaime right after he left and they just now arrived. I don’t think it’s actually a plot whole, but the way the scene is presented is confusing as hell. Couldn’t they have just thrown in a quick shot of the Sand Snakes rowing up and climbing aboard the ship? Instead, they just sort of walk in the room as if they teleported from Dorne.

13) Tyrion and Varys go for a nice stroll

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In Meeren, Tyrion and Varys just sort of stroll around and talk for a bit, and their conversation helps inject some much needed humor into the episode. In particular, I was dying at Varys’ response to Tyrion during this exchange:

Tyrion: “Many of the former slaves feel that Daenerys has abandoned them.”

Varys: “She did fly away on a dragon and not come back…”

The only plot-relevant thing that goes down is that all of Dany’s ships are mysteriously burnt, basically just so there can be an excuse to delay a trip to Westeros. It’s basically like that moment in a bottle episode where it must be explained to the audience why the characters are stuck in the room. When Tyrion says, “Well, we won’t be sailing to Westeros anytime soon,” I can’t decide if that’s kind of a meta joke about how frustrated fans are that Dany isn’t in Westeros yet, or if it’s a giant middle finger towards those same fans. It could be both, I suppose.

14) Adventures with Jorah and Daario

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Jorah and Daario ride around, talk about Jorah’s crush on Dany, and then find that ring Dany dropped. Kind of a snooze. Next, please!

15) Dany meets Khal Moro

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I’m not sure we needed the conversation about white pussy hair, or Khal Moro’s tight five about seeing a beautiful woman naked, but I did enjoy this as a nice way of showing how far Dany has come since Season 1. Back then, she was paraded around by the Dothraki and ultimately taken as Khal Drogo’s sex slave, but here, she’s able to instantly talk her way out of the situation and tell a potential rapist to fuck off. That said, wouldn’t any of these people recognize Dany, or at least wonder if the white-haired woman wearing the dragon necklace is the same white-haired woman who famously gave birth to dragons not too long ago? They seem genuinely shocked, and then if they don’t know what Dany looks like, why would they believe her so easily?

16) Arya goes full Matt Murdock

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Then we have our mandatory Arya check-in, which just exists to confirm to us that she’s still blind. Are we going to get one scene per episode of her and the Waiff fighting and that’s it? The fact that Maisie Williams has said her plot this year isn’t very significant has me worried that we’re in for a slog.

17) Melisandre is v. depressed and v. old

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And, finally, we get the big Melisandre twist. In addition to just being a surprising reveal of how old this character really is, it also shows us the Red Woman at her absolute lowest point yet, confronting the fact that not one but two of her visions appears to have been completely wrong. When she lays down in bed in the final moment, it really does resemble the look of a woman who has given up completely and is ready to die. It’s a sad state of affairs, but let’s not forget another Lord of Light follower who experienced a crisis of faith: Thoros of Myr, right before bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life. Hm…

18) Shortest…episode…ever

You might have felt like “The Red Woman” went by incredibly fast, and that’s not just because you were so excited for it. No, for some reason, this was by far the shortest season premiere in the show’s history. When we remove the end credits and the “previously on,” the latter of which clocks in at 3 minutes and 52 seconds, this was only about 48 minutes. It’s not a big deal, but it did make the complete absence of some characters like Bran Stark even more baffling. It’s not as if they ran out of time.

On to Season 6 Episode 2, “Home”! Can we get this resurrection over with, please?

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