It’s great to see that, even in Season 6, Game of Thrones understands a thing or two about using scope. The last episode, “Book of the Stranger”, did a great job showing us the broad implications of ruling, the way that countries are shaped by not only the way that rulers operate, but also the way that people naturally behave. This one has a different approach, looking more intently at specific characters and the way that their lives are shaped by the world, as well as the way that they try to shape their own lives. Sometimes they find the agency they’re looking for; sometimes they have to wrench it from the grasp of those trying to take it away from them.
“The Door” focuses on the Stark family and those immediately around them, with that focus shifting sometimes to other important characters searching for agency in their lives (Daenerys, Tyrion and Theon). Each of these characters is at a turning point in the journey they each take, and each of them begin to make decisions that will impact the way their futures unfold. Theon does what he believes is best and supports Yara during the Kingsmoot, but his uncle Euron swoops in and takes the crown from under them, essentially banishing them from the Iron Islands. He believes that he can find worth and agency from tying himself to Yara, but doing so only strips more away from him, effectively forcing him from his home once more. The same goes for Bran, who wants to learn more and more, but ends up stretching too far outside of his boundaries and brings disaster to those around him (seriously, more on this later).
The Stark children are struggling as well, trying to find agency in a world that continually tries to take it away from them. Arya is told to kill somebody in order to complete her training and her transition to a “Faceless One”, but adherence to a god isn’t going to free her, even if it does free her from her identity. But as we see from her reactions during the play (which was hilariously awful), that despite her desire to become “no one”, she’s still a Stark and can’t shake her identity as a Stark. She’s still upset to know that her father is dead. She’s still upset that her sister was essentially kidnapped and could be anywhere. She can continue her training, but she’s still lying to herself. Sansa isn’t struggling any less, though she has a stronger understanding of what she has to do to acquire agency. She runs into Littlefinger, who informs her that there are armies that are willing to side with her (Brynden Tully, who we last saw before the Red Wedding). Exercising her agency means becoming a person willing to command, willing to push past trauma (by the way, Sansa’s scene where she describes the emotional effect of her rape was FANTASTIC).
Other characters flirt with agency, only to find it stripped by something they did. Tyrion enlists a red priestess in order to spin the story of Meereen’s ugly victory against slavery, and while he and Varys think that they can take control of the priestess, they clearly are in over their heads. The same goes for Jon Snow, who needs armies in order to flex his own agency. The real question posed here concerns what gives a person agency. Is it money? Armies? Game of Thrones seems to suggest that while money and armies are the surefire way to get some sort of agency, sometimes it can be as simple as understanding just who you are. Many of these characters are suffering from identity crises, trying to figure out who they are. Arya wants to shed her identity, but also wants to reclaim her identity as a Stark. Sansa wants to reclaim her rightful place on the throne of Winterfell, pushing past her fear in order to do so. And Jon…well…we know what’s going on with Jon’s identity, even if the show isn’t quite there yet.
But the biggest turning point comes at the end of the episode, when Bran is seen by the Night’s King because he remained in his dream for too long, and now he has to run to stay alive after the tree is overrun by the Night King’s army. It’s a remarkable scene in that it doesn’t come from the book, offering up a tragedy completely original to the show. Summer is killed, the three-eyed-raven is slaughtered, the Children of the Forest are murdered, and Hodor sacrifices himself to save Bran and Meera. Only he doesn’t really sacrifice himself, and there lies the real tragedy of the episode. Hodor has never had any agency. He wasn’t born high, as he was a stable boy. He was mentally handicapped by Bran when he was warged in the past, used to save him and Meera in the present. Hodor was born to suffer, born to be used by those higher than him.
And that’s the real tragedy of Game of Thrones, not that highborn people like Robb are murdered as a part of the “game”, but that perfectly innocent people like Hodor are killed to preserve the order of the world. And it’s something that happens today, in our world, again and again, all in order to keep the world moving the way it always does. Because our world is filled with sacrifice and tragedy, and sometimes it’s worthwhile to remind us of that simple fact.
What did you think of “The Door”? How heartbroken were you by Hodor’s death? Let me know in the comments!