For a premiere episode that immediately follows the balls-to-the-wall insanity of the season 5 finale (Stannis Baratheon dead! Jon Snow dead! Myrcella Lannister dead! Arya Stark blinded!) this is welcomingly restrained and tense return.
Game of Thrones seasons are uniquely structured – each episode is more like an hour long instalment of an epic 10 hour long film rather than one and done episodic narratives. And as such, each premiere episode has a particular need: to carefully set the table so it can be smashed in the cruelest, or most action packed, manner possible (traditionally in the climactic episode 9). Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have this formula down to a science after 5 years, so The Red Woman is all business and without an ounce of bloat.
The episode begins moments after the death of Lord Commander Jon Snow at the hands of a band of mutinous men of the Night’s Watch. His body is discovered by the most likeable person in the sinkhole that is Westeros, Ser Davos. Ser Davos, and a small group loyal to Jon Snow, take refuge in a small room with Jon Snow’s body, certain that the rest of the Night’s Watch are going to kill them. They’re only hope may be Melisandre, the Red Woman.
Oh, we’ll get to the Red Woman soon.
Sansa and Theon are on the run from Ramsay’s mutts and his soldiers. They’re saved at the last moment by a thoroughly badass Brienne and a thoroughly competent enough Pod. It’s a satisfying action scene, but what’s even more satisfying is that Brienne, Theon, and Sansa are allowed something resembling a win. It’ll be quite exciting to see what Sansa will do now that she doesn’t have to fear for her life so much – perhaps a re-imagining of Lady Stoneheart? That’d be damn cool.
Of course for every win on this show, there must be a slew of humiliation. And so we have Daenerys Targaryan and Margery Tyrell, two powerless queens. Daenerys is captive to a horde of Dothraki, who have their own plans for a former Khaleesi. Margery is still imprisoned by the religious fundamentalists, The Sparrows, who are the new rulers of the land in all but name. Also not to be forgotten is Arya, who as part of her training to become an assassin, is now a blind beggar. And is also beaten bloody. Is she still in training or is this just an elaborately cruel game? Perhaps it is both of those things.
But because this episode is a well paced affair, we get back to more kicking of asses with the Sand Snakes in Dorne, who in some uncharacteristic display of cunning, usurp the throne. They’re efficient, merciless and seem to be done with the monologuing.
The worst part of the series just became interesting, so hooray for that!
The episode ends with a shocking twist. It’s shocking in that it’s not bloody and tragic, true, but also shocking in that we see the Red Woman’s true form – an ancient crone. She’s a fascinating variable; the only one who can save actual likeable person Ser Davos and resurrect Jon Snow, but what do we know about her? Only that she’s now faithless. So, like Jon Snow, we really know nothing.