This season of HBO’s Game of Thrones offers fans of the book something that many of us, myself included, have never experienced: being surprised by the show. Yes there have been some minor surprises, some deaths to minor characters that are still alive in the books, and some storylines completely excised or changed so that they bear no resemblance to the books, but this season has finally surpassed the novels and is covering new territory. As such, I will be writing a review of each episode on Monday evenings with my thoughts and expectations of the season.
There are two segments in the north, one right at the opening of the show and one at the epilogue. As the show opens we see Jon Snow, his body in a pool of blood drenched snow, having just been assassinated by his own Watchmen in a scene reminiscent of Julius Caesar’s assassination. The parallels are present in the books and in the show, and his death was one of the scenes that was filmed almost entirely accurately with respect to the source material.
I already had an indication that he would not be resurrected, at least not this episode. In the “Previously on Game of Thrones” section there was no mention of Thoros of Myr or Ser Beric Dondarion, which would have been a dead giveaway of Jon Snow’s return). I have a fear that HBO will go in a direction of giving more fan service to viewers and as such might be tempted to have Melisandre bring Jon Snow back to life in a similar manner to how Thoros of Myr brought Ser Beric Dondarion back to life. Although he is dead in the novels (he sacrificed his own life to bring Catelyn Stark back to life as Lady Stoneheart) he is very much alive in the show (or at least we haven’t seen him die). Still, Melisandre and Thoros worship the same god and Melisandre has been shown to have powers of her own (although it should be noted that she expressed disbelief upon hearing of Thoros’ feat, an event that never occurs in the novels).
It is still possible that Lady Melisandre, a.k.a. The Red Woman, will bring Jon Snow back to life, and it may even foreshadow what occurs in the novels (in both the novels and the final episode of season 5 Melisandre was present at Castle Black when Jon Snow was assassinated).
Davos Seaworth discovers Jon Snow’s body and quickly collects some loyalists, along with Melisandre who is visibly broken by the death of both Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon. They quickly form a plan to collect the Wildlings who had been allowed past the wall by Jon Snow in order to lay seige to Castle Black and kill Ser Alliser who has taken command of the Night’s Watch.
Meanwhile, Sansa and Theon are rescued by Brienne in a clear instance of the writers having their cake and eating it too (in that Brienne missed an opportunity to rescue Sansa when she decided to lop off Stannis’s head). The fact that Brienne rescues Sansa just as she and Theon are about to be killed would seem to indicate that the writers are straying from Martin’s policy of eschewing standard storytelling tropes and would rather build the moment for the greatest amount of suspense as possible. It’s not that this is necessarily bad writing, but it’s something that we rarely see in the Game of Thrones world: when people look like they are in danger of dieing, they die.
There are several scenes in King’s Landing, none of which are surprising and mainly set the stage for the conflicts to come. Jamie returns with Myrcella’s body. He and Cerci reconcile while Margaery Tyrell is still imprisoned. An interesting deviation from the novels occurs as this incarnation of Margaery is far less innocent than her novel counterpart.
In Dorn we have a surprising twist, one that I did not see coming and one that deviates heavily from the novels where the entire Dorn storyline is completely different. Doran Martell is murdered by Ellaria and his own niece, Tyene. Meanwhile his son Trystane, who had sailed to King’s Landing with Jamie, is murdered by his cousins Obara and Nymeria. This was a truly shocking turn of events. Doran Martell’s book counterpart is calculating and intelligent, and I believe he would have seen such a betrayal from miles away. In fact, his book counterpart did, and he imprisoned the sand snakes and Ellaria to prevent such a coup. They were released when they swore loyalty to him after hearing of his plan, carefully orchestrated over the course of nearly two decades, to avenge his sister’s and brother’s death by supporting Daenerys Targaryen. This version of Doran is somewhat less perceptive it would seem. Dorn, unlike the rest of Westeros, allows women to rule and will probably form the basis of a new war for the Lannisters to deal with just as winter sets in.
This part of the show actually hasn’t caught up to the books yet, and is mainly following Arya’s storyline as she trains to become an assassin. Left blind at the end of Season 5, we see Arya begging on the streets of Bravos while The Waif beats her with a staff. If the show follows the books Arya will eventually (through the help of her Warg skills) beat back The Waif (it is a different character in the books who beats her) and regain her sight.
Dragons fly. Ships burn. Dothraki ride. Ser Jorah and Daario track Daenerys and discover that she was taken by the Dothraki. Tyrion and Varys discover that Mereen’s Armada has been set aflame. Daenerys is taken before Khal Moro and, after being threatened with rape, is told that she will be taken to Vaes Dothrak to live with the other wives of dead Khals. This is an interesting departure from the books, one which I’m not sure I like. At the end of A Dance with Dragons, Daenerys is discovered by Khal Jhaqo, former bloodrider of Khal Drogo, while atop Drogon. It is very likely that when The Winds of Winter picks up Jhaqo will be Daenery’s servant and she will have a Khalasar behind her as she and Drogon ride victoriously into Mereen. This is not the direction the show is taking so far. I imagine we will have three or four episodes of Daenerys with Moro before Jorah and Daario track her down. I imagine the VFX budget won’t allow a dragon the size of a fire truck to star in many episodes.
The Red Woman
The show returns to The Wall where Davos and his men are told that, if they surrender, they will be spared. Davos does not believe this and tells his men that they may have to seek The Red Woman’s help. One man scoffs at this and Davos replies, “You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do.” Cut to Melisandre. She takes off her clothes and her amulet, the same amulet that protected her from poison in her first appearance in the show. After she does this we see an old woman, gray haired and frail, crawl into bed.
There have been hints, both in the books and the show, that Melisandre is much more than she seems. She certainly has power, and as far as gods in the world of Game of Thrones are concerned, R’hllor, a.k.a. the Lord of Light, is the only one that has any power. No other gods, including The Seven, the countless Old Gods, the Drowned God, appear to have any influence in this world. There’s not even any evidence that any other gods excepted R’hllor exist in this world. R’hllor’s servants have brought the dead back to life, given birth to shadowy assassins, survived poisoning, performed glamours (illusions to change a person’s appearance) and (supposedly) seen the future. It is not surprising that Melisandre is older than she appears. Something similar is hinted at in the books and as far as her powers go, appearing younger than she is is a relatively minor feat.
Melisandre is obviously broken by this whole affair. It is unknown whether she will return Jon Snow to life, but it seems likely given the foreshadowing and convenience. Yet when Thoros of Myr revived Beric Dondarion the first time it was immediate and he did so on a whim, not knowing what else to do nor believing it would work. Melisandre, on the other hand, knows such a thing is possible and still did not attempt it on the recently deceased Jon Snow. Perhaps this was an oversight on her part, given the emotional stress she was suffering. If the writers are reviving Jon Snow, I’m sure it will be soon, certainly before episode 5.
Other than the developments in Dorn, which are truly exciting to watch, nothing major has happened so far. The rest of the episode is meant to build to something larger and although it’s important to watch, nothing in there is the type of scene that needs to be rewinded and watched gain.
Dorn has always been surprising to me, since the storyline is completely made up. Myrcella’s death was not completely unexpected (considering that the ending to that arc was too sweet for Game of Thrones) but the scene was emotional and set up some quite obvious conflicts for this coming season. Once The Mountain (a.k.a. Ser Robert Strong) wins Cerci’s trial by combat (by defeating the Hound) we will see Dorn and King’s Landing engage in all-out-warfare, something that had been mostly absent during Season 5.
This season is shaping up to be an enjoyable watch. It’s not known how closely the writers will be following the proposed plot of G.R.R. Martin’s next two novels. We know that he told the producers of the show how the series will end, including most major plot points, but now the show has the freedom to completely change their storyline and even the ending as they see fit. Once (if) The Winds of Winter is released we’ll see how closely Game of Thrones is following the storyline first conceived by Martin in 1991.