UK TV review: Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 1 (The Red Woman)
Paul Greenwood | On 26, Apr 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers. For more on how to catch up with Game of Thrones, click here. Episode 1 is available on-demand until 24th May.
All men must die. At least two low to mid-level slaughterings in this opening outing for the sixth season of the best programme on television demonstrate that mercy is, as always, at a premium.
With the spectre of morghulis around every corner, The Red Woman is mostly a consolidation episode, dealing with the fallout of the deaths and murders that closed out Season 5. It’s also not one for those looking for immediate answers regarding what was set up.
Things aren’t looking terribly bright for Game of Thrones’ big guns as we return. Daenerys Targaryen is at the mercy once again of Dothraki hordes, having bolted from trouble on the back of her dragon. Tyrion managed to escape the hordes of the Sons of the Harpy, just. And Cersei has seen her sins catching up with her at the hands of religious zealots, the Sparrows.
Too many characters have crossed lines. Stannis Baratheon out-Corleoned Michael Corleone when he killed his own daughter in his lust for power. Arya has turned into a killing machine in her quest for vengeance, and had her eyes blinded as a result.
Much of the fun in later seasons came from disparate characters being paired together to form unlikely double acts: think Arya and The Hound, Jaime and Brienne, Brienne and Pod. We were briefly teased with the promise of a Tyrian and Daenerys match-up, though, in reality, she’s probably much too dull for him. Instead, we’ve had a good deal more mileage out of Tyrian and Lord Varys, although as the pair indulge in socio-political chat on the streets of Meereen, we’re given dialogue that’s a little more expository than we’re maybe used to.
We also get Brienne coming to the rescue of Sansa following an exciting chase sequence that goes a bit Revenant as Sansa and Theon try to evade the pursuit of Ramsay. When Brienne offered her service to Sansa once again, I honestly thought Sansa was going to hug her – I think they both deserved it. (I think we did too, in a show where human warmth has been conspicuous by its absence.)
Mind you, all of their problems are relatively minor compared to those of Jon Snow who is, frankly, dead. The Wall and Castle Black have largely existed as separate entities as far as audiences and production designers were concerned. But here, in one of the most technically impressive bits of camerawork and visual effects the show has yet offered, the opening scene floats us in from the Wall to the bloodied and punctured body of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Branded a traitor for cooperating with the wildlings and betrayed by Alliser Thorne, Jon Snow lies dead while his few remaining allies try to decide on the best course of action.
Death has been pretty final in Game of Thrones until now, unless you were tight with a White Walker and their handy zombification skills. Yet Jon Snow’s death somehow didn’t seem completely final, what with his body still being conspicuously visible throughout the episode, and the Lady Melisandre being handily at Castle Black.
The episode is called The Red Woman, so there was perhaps some potential for Melisandre to stir up some of her joo-joo and work a Pet Sematary number on Jon Snow. This has not (yet?) come to pass, as we instead get the revelation that she doesn’t quite have the face and body of Carice van Houten that we imagined – nor does she have the witching skills that she seemed to suggest on her CV, and once again the show manages the remarkable trick of eliciting empathy for heretofore hateful characters.
We’ve already had a near-full redemption for the Kingslayer, although the murder of his niece-daughter by the Dornish might push him back towards the dark side. And, even more amazingly, we’re starting to feel for Cersei, who has been the cold hand of treachery since day one.
The greatest trick Game of Thrones ever pulled was convincing the audience early on who was good and who was bad, before slowly and carefully revealing that in fact there’s no such thing in this punishingly cruel and pitiless world. Although if they manage to turn around Ramsay Bolton, it will be a miracle of scriptwriting.
As for the lingering question of Jon Snow, I’ve thrown spoilers around with abandon, but I haven’t dared go on to the IMDb to see if Kit Harington has any more Snow in his credits. And now his watch is ended? I guess we’ll find out soon enough.
Who will die in Game of Thrones Season 6? We’ve calculated the odds for each major character – join in our sweepstakes here.
Game of Thrones Season 1 to 6 are available on Sky Box Sets. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it on NOW, as part of a £7.99 monthly subscription. The show is also available on DVD, Blu-ray and pay-per-view VOD. For more, click here.
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