Game Of Thrones season 6 episode 1 review: The Red Woman

The Game Of Thrones season 6 premiere is emotional, funny, tense and wildly entertaining, only hinting at the madness to follow...

This review contains spoilers.

6.1 The Red Woman

One of the best things about Game Of Thrones‘ return┬áis that the show doesn’t waste a single minute. Immediately, it picks up immediately where it left off last season, and that’s all the way across the board. After a great tracking shot beginning at the Wall and sweeping over Castle Black, Jon Snow is the first thing we see, laying on his back in the frozen snow in a puddle of his own darkened, drying blood. Ghost howls mournfully from within his pen. The snow falls and winter isn’t coming, it’s definitely here, and the bodies are falling about as quickly as the snow.

One of the more stand-out pieces of this episode involves, surprisingly, Sansa and Reek/Theon. Pursued by Bolton men and hounds, fleeing into the frozen forest, wading across icy rivers (which looked really uncomfortable to shoot), and, finally, getting cornered by men with hounds. Theon has worked hard to redeem himself, and that yields dividends in this moment. He offers to distract the hounds while Sansa flees. Of course, unlike breaking Sansa out of Winterfell, this is a bad idea horribly executed, but Theon deserves some credit for making a bold move.

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Then, Deus ex Brienne of Tarth shows up with Pod and saves the day to some really inspiring music.

It’s a really stunning heroic moment, with Brienne once again coming to the aid of the Starks when needed the most. It’s a great fight scene, Brienne and Pod are appropriately heroic, and even Theon gets in on the action, saving a disarmed Pod from the last of the Bolton foot soldiers. It’s also much needed, as it finalises Theon’s redemption and actually gives Sansa a glimmer of hope to offset some of last season’s Stark abuse. It’s also some much-needed positivity in an episode where it seems like every storyline is heading towards the violence and disaster.

Director Jeremy Podeswa crafts a great episode here, where he picks up where last season left off without too much catching up. It’s always a thrill to come back to Westeros, but for every laugh-out-loud moment like Varys and Tyrion walking through Meereen or a spear through the back of Trystane Martell’s head, there’s something else happening that’s just as ominous or unsettling. The episode has plenty of breathing space, and the balance between the various story lines is just right. The Night’s Watch is probably the A plot, but there’s not too much of it.

Jon and the Night’s Watch are headed towards violence, as Dolorous Edd is off to round up an army of wildlings to fight against the very traitors who put the knife to the Lord Commander and Davos is so desperate for help he’s willing to turn to the very woman he’s actively tried to kill, Melisandre. Ramsay hinges his future on his ability to recapture Sansa Stark, who Roose needs to hold the North against a potential Lannister army (and we’ve already discussed how that goes for Ramsay). Daenerys is captured by Dothraki, fated for a one-way trip to Vaes Dothrak with all the other Khaleesi widows, and her only hope is a grayscale-infected Jorah Mormont and Daario, who seems more interested in poking at Jorah than in saving his lover. Meanwhile, in King’s Landing and in Dorne, royal blood is being shed as a continent prepares for all-out war.

Of all the scenes in this week’s episode, the most emotionally affecting one is the scene in which Cersei hears that a boat from Dorne has arrived. She rushes down to greet the boat as it approaches the royal harbour, and it’s beautiful to behold. Lena Headey is such a great actress, the stand-out of the show, and the way she plays this scene is just a stomach punch. She’s so hopeful, so happy, and very slowly, the expression fades from her face as she realizes that Myrcella isn’t going to be there to greet her. Prophecy or not, expected or not, that’s a hard thing for her to come to terms with, even if it brings her closer to Jaime.

Writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have to be praised for the episode they delivered, which is tightly plotted and moves so briskly that the fifty-odd minutes of screen time disappeared in the blink of an eye. It was emotional, funny, tense, and wildly entertaining. Best of all, it only hints at the madness yet to come. After all, the episode closes with Melisandre turning into a withered old crone after taking off her Lord of Light vestments, so there’s no telling what kind of magic she possesses.

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Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, Mother’s Mercy, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan yelled at his television when the end credits started up. But that just means there’s more Game of Thrones to watch next week, and that means more people for the Sand Snakes to kill. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.