Game of Thrones is not what it once was, but not necessarily any better or worse than its younger self. The show has changed tremendously ever since Ned Stark’s head was chopped off in Season One. Thrones these days is a more mature and darker version of its earlier self, a fact crystallized by the first episode of its 6th Season entitled ‘The Red Woman.’
As by far the most popular show in the world nowadays, this year’s premiere was one of the most anticipated in recent memory. With the fates of major characters in question after last season’s agonizingly tense finale, The Red Woman commendably managed to touch on nearly all of these year old questions. Nevertheless, in these answers, as the first season to solely feature brand new materials that are not reliant on George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, one couldn’t help but gain the feeling that the show has started believing in its own hype and popularity, rather than relying on the winning formula that led to its enormous popularity in the first place. Put simply, while an inherent logic engulfed Game of Thrones’ admittedly mad and delightful fantasy setting in earlier seasons, many of the show’s current storylines feature scenes that leave the audiences with no choice but to believe in unmistakably incomprehensible coincidences.
For instance, The Red Woman’s main storyline-base, so to speak, was The Wall. In the midst of the massive shock expected from the audience upon hearing confirmation of Jon Snow’s death, Thrones’ creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, neglected to delve into the motives of arguably this episode’s two most important characters, Ser Davos and Lady Melisandre. While Ser Davos has routinely served as one of the most honorable and lovable characters in Westeros, he is, above all, a man of diplomacy that, based on previous seasons’ evidence, surely would’ve attempted to organize peaceful terms between the conflicting Night’s Watch factions rather than choosing to actively fight for one side. As for the Lady Melisandre, it is certainly fair to wonder about her reason for staying at The Wall, even if we factor in her apparent loss of faith, after Jon’s death. Surely a woman of her abilities and stature could find a safer environment to call home rather than stay in the company of nearly 100 affection-striven men who evidently don’t value honor as much as they used to. This isn’t to say that the new chapter in the Davos and Melisandre chronicles aren’t entertaining; they are, with Melisandre’s shocking transformation in the episode’s concluding scene especially so. Rather, this is to signify the less than satisfactory delivery of these stories in The Red Woman.
Similarly and perhaps predictably given previous seasons’ evidence, the Daenerys and Sansa storylines seemed rushed. For Daenerys, her journey after being captured by Dothraki riders went against the knowledge that we’ve accumulated from watching Thrones over the last five years. Over the show’s first two seasons, the Dothraki were routinely portrayed as savage animals who continuously defied their brains, looting any lands that they conquered and raping the women that they found almost instantly. As such, given that Daenerys was on her own at the time of capturing after Drogon had wandered off, it is fairly incomprehensible, yet thankful, that she was left unscathed until Khal Moro heard her story. In the North, Sansa and Theon’s, Reke?, escape from Winterfell left us questioning the speed at which Brienne managed to save them in, as well as questioning how the untrained Podrick managed to defeat one of Ramsay’s “best hounds” in single combat. Over the past two seasons, Benioff and Weiss seem to have sacrificed reason for the sake of preparatory buildup of these storylines for Thrones’ endgame. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but as any Lost viewer will attest, stretching the creative bubble too much could lead it to burst in the minds of a fairly sizable portion of the audience.
Despite all of these limitations, though, The Red Woman wasn’t without its enjoyable, trademark Thrones’ entertainment merits. Along with its shocking conclusion and its ability to touch on all of the major storylines, save for Bran’s, in its brief episode running time, the episode set up the table very nicely for its Lannister-dominated storylines. In King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime’s reunion featured a shared thirst for revenge that, along with the Sandsnake’s murder of Prince Doran and his son, looks likely to weaken the realm even further in bloody, yet wildly entertaining, confrontations with Dorne and the Faith Militants, without even delving into the continuous tension with the Tyrells. In the same vein, Tyrion and Varys’ co-governing of Mereen looks poised to deliver on some similarly satisfactory returns, albeit through more wit than blood, ditto for Arya’s blind tutelage in Bravos, despite the myriad questions engulfing it.
All in all, Game of Thrones’ Sixth Season premiere was a net positive, as it left us vigorously asking for more upon its conclusion. Nevertheless, there is little question in our mind that The Red Women presented an indication of the show’s favored emphasis of the end result over the process, a theme that was ever-present in Thrones’ Fifth Season. Time has worked its wonders on Game of Thrones. In order for its audience to sing its praises, though, Thrones’ 6th season will have to value the means just as much as it values the end.
In one sentence: A patchy premiere to Thrones’ 6th Season that featured numerous incomprehensibilities, yet somehow built just enough optimism for the new season.
Episode score: 65%