It’s an exciting time to be a Game of Thrones fan. The show has officially caught up to the books, and, as a result, nobody quite knows what is going to happen next. Of course, this could entirely throw the show off the rails, but the great thing about Game of Thrones is its ability to dig a little deeper into its source material. It’s not just a show where the source material is adapted; instead, questions of power are raised. How do power structures operate? At what point do they collapse? What does their life cycle look like? How do they change based on the terms of their inception, of the strength of their belief systems?
Game of Thrones understands all of this well enough to subvert the expectation of growing pains when it comes to Benioff and Weiss standing on their own two legs. Both of them are strong storytellers, and even if Season 5 was the weakest of the bunch, the strongest parts were in the segments where they broke free of adaptation. “Hardhome” is easily a series highlight, and it stepped way beyond what the books had done, taking the thematic understanding of the White Walkers and the structural understanding of how they fit into the story, creating something truly awe-inspiring as a result. This isn’t to say that they’re perfect. The weakest part of Season 5 was also an original idea, the part where Sansa is sexually abused by Ramsay Bolton, something that proves how inadequately Benioff and Weiss handle rape in storytelling. It goes to show that they clearly know what they are doing, but certainly have some blind spots that come through in their storytelling.
That being said, there’s a palpable excitement that comes from forging into the unknown. I’ve read through all five books and the only BIG surprise I experienced was “Hardhome”, one of my most gleeful experiences I’ve had while watching television. Watching this episode, “The Red Woman”, somewhat reminded me of that experience. It was riveting to see these characters operate in plotlines that I haven’t seen before, but the scope of the episode somewhat diminished that. This premiere has to remind us what dozens and dozens of characters were doing, and while it’s immensely impressive to see Game of Thrones so efficient when it has no source material to draw from, it’s not particularly exciting to get four minutes of each character before moving on. It doesn’t give us a whole lot to grab onto, just the excitement of seeing a beloved character before moving onto the next. Don’t get me wrong. It is exciting. But the exposition-heavy scenes can be somewhat dull on their own.
“The Red Woman”, more than anything else, does what all Game of Thrones premieres do: it reminds us of where the last season ended and provides us with a direction for the future. Jon Snow is dead. That much is for sure. Of course, there still is a great deal of speculation as to where that will go (I, for one, certainly don’t think he’s dead for good), but the Night’s Watch (for the most part) believes that he’s gone for good, and it’s something that continues to reveal the intricate politics of the North. It makes sense that Jon Snow would be dead, just like it makes sense that Myrcella is dead, just like it makes sense that Stannis is dead. All of them inexorably follow the path that the politics of the region laid out for them. Myrcella is innocent, as Cersei laments in this episode. But the Lannisters aren’t innocent, and that guilt continued to roll downwards until it land on an unsuspecting target. Jon Snow, on the other hand, knew that his political ideas (forming an alliance with wildlings) was unpopular, and an unpopular opinion has its damning results. Game of Thrones does a great job insisting that there’s a certain fatalism inherent in life. Cersei talks about a prophecy made stating that her children would all die, and you can begin to see her become more feverish and paranoid as she sees the reality behind her actions.
Really, everybody is suffering from losses, either from losing people close to them or losing the delusions of what their future would hold. Daenerys sees a complete loss of power as the khalasar plans to take her to Vaes Dothrak, a fate completely dependent on her being a woman. Davos and Melisandre both experience crises as they have to deal with Jon Snow’s death. Arya, after brutally murdering Meryn Trant, is now completely blind and has to beg for money in the street. Cersei and Jamie lost yet another child. And Ellaria ends up orchestrating the slaughter of Doran and Trystane, having suffered from so much loss that she needs a change in Martell leadership. Loss continues to create more loss, this sprawling effect starting from one very simple death (Jon Arryn) at the beginning of the series. Loss takes people and makes them emotional, angry, ready to lash out at something they can blame for their loss. And it’s this simple fact that carries the momentum, the snowball effect that continues to wrap everybody up in its insanity.
“The Red Woman”, while not an exemplary Game of Thrones episode, does a great job setting up the struggle to come. Not only that, but it pushes the narrative into its endgame, beginning to set up storylines that are going to carry the show through to its very end. And it’s that sense of an impending end that makes the fatalism even more terrifying to us. With loss continuing to snowball, with everyone so set on harming each other instead of the massive threat looming on the other side of the wall, the approaching finish line appears increasingly perilous.
So for all of you nervous about what would happen to Game of Thrones now that Benioff and Weiss are on their own, worry no more. It’s still a great show, so kick back and enjoy the ride.
What did you think of the premiere? Do you predict any surprising deaths in the future? Let me know in the comments!