“Everyone is what they are, and where they are, for a reason.”
The run of superb episodes continues in the sixth season of Game of Thrones; it’s almost as if running out of the books has given the show a new spark. For the fifth week in a row we had revelations aplenty, plot twists, pithy humour and some high octane action. We also had some jawdroppingly emotional moments, particularly in the scenes that bookended the ep.
So yes, let’s come to the big one first – Hodor. Oh, Hodor! Kristian Nairn has made the big man lovable from the first, but never did I anticipate how vital – and tragic – a figure he would become. We had hints of an origin story a couple of weeks ago, but I never guessed how it would end.
To be honest, I’m a little unclear as to whether Bran, stuck in his vision of the past, managed to somehow warg into him in both time periods. Still, the moment when the penny dropped, as Meera frantically yelled “hold the door!” was incredibly well done, and beautifully played by both Nairn, Sam Coleman as the younger Hodor, and Isaac Hempstead-Wright as Bran. Bran’s tears reflected his sudden realisation that he was actually responsible for the gentle giant’s damaged state from the very start, as audiences everywhere shed tears of their won. Not surprisingly, “hold the door” had become an internet meme by the very next day.
Stepping outside the emotional power of that scene for a moment, though, there’s a very big plot implication in the idea that Bran’s ‘visits to the past’ can actually affect events there. True, it was portrayed as being something that only happened under extreme circumstances (the moment when the Night King suddenly gripped Bran’s arm was superb), but the possibility of altering the past is something the show will have to use very sparingly, lest it tie itself into the kind of knots of a typical Steven Moffat Doctor Who story.
Aside from the origins of Hodor, Bran’s visions also showed us the genesis of the White Walkers, created by the Children of the Forest to counter the advancing depredations of men. Plainly that was a little bit too successful, given the way the undead onslaught killed humans and Children alike. The action sequence of the Walkers and their zombie army storming the underground Jedi lair was a triumph of CG, kinetically directed by Jack Bender so you forgot all these things were actually pasted onto the show afterwards.
Coming as it did at the end of the ep, that sequence rather eclipsed everything that happened earlier. But for me, the opening scene packed a much quieter emotional punch, as Sansa confronted the slimy Petyr Baelish over his abandonment of her to Ramsay Bolton. Sophie Turner has not often had much chance to impress in the part of Sansa, primarily due to the way the character’s been written, but she perfectly conveyed the horror of what had happened to her, and her anger and contempt towards her manipulative sometime friend.
Still, her lie to Jon about she acquired the knowledge of Brynden Tully’s recapture of Riverrun was surely significant; if she truly hates Littlefinger that much, surely the prospect of her vengeful half-brother chasing him down and killing him would be rather appealing? Evidently Sansa hasn’t finished with Baelish yet, but one has to wonder what she has planned.
With all that going on, this week saw something of a reduction in vignettes from the other plotlines. No Ramsay Bolton, this week, nor the Lannister/High Sparrow conflict. Dany Targaryen popped up briefly for no particular reason, though it was nice to see a resolution of sorts to the relationship between her and the ailing Jorah Mormont. However, if you wanted a plot recap, the scurrilous play watched by a visibly seething Arya hilariously showed us a skewed, scatological take on the events that started it all.
Written in rhyming couplets, it was far from Shakespearean but very, very funny. It even included a comedy replay of the legendary Tyrion/Joffrey slap. A particular nod has to go to comedy legend Kevin Eldon in his role as a pig-thick version of Ned Stark. And wasn’t that Richard E Grant as the troupe manager playing Robert Baratheon? I do hope we’ll be seeing him again.
Over on the Iron Islands, the whole Kingsmoot plotline was thankfully dealt with far more swiftly than it was in the books, with Euron Greyjoy barefacedly admitting his murder of Balon to secure the Salt Throne. As Yara and Theon hurried away with what appeared to be the Islands’ entire shipping fleet, another piece of the plot slotted into place. Those ships are bound for Essos, and Dany Targaryen. While the Ironborn are hardly a formidable force on land, their rule of the waves is unchallenged. So the last Targaryen will soon possess both a massive Dothraki army and a powerful navy as a means to get it to Westeros.
She may also have some powerful magic to back her up, as Tyrion and Varys spent their bit of this week’s plot recruiting the High Priestess of the Red God to back them up in Meereen. Despite Melisandre’s recent crisis of faith, the Red God has been the only one whose magic has been consistently shown to work; after all, Jon Snow’s back. Kinvara showed us some of that magic here, countering Varys’ scepticism with an account of his castration so vivid she might have been there.
Again, pieces moved into place; surely the Red God will be a powerful ally in the battles to come. But given the rather fanatical nature of his followers (a reflection of the Faith Militant over in Westeros), I’d advise Dany to be very careful of an ally like that. Cersei Lannister learned that lesson too late.
Sex and violence
Plenty of the latter in that epic sequence of the wights storming the underground magic lair. None of it was particularly graphic, but the wights are an impressive looking set of zombies, up there with those from The Walking Dead. They move a whole lot faster though, like the ones from the movie version of World War Z. That chase down the tunnel to the door was heartstopping.
If it was sex you wanted, well, you were pretty much out of luck there this week. There was, however, a whole lot of nudity, courtesy of the theatre troupe in Braavos. The ladies were only too keen to show off their chests, beginning while still onstage:
But if it’s men you prefer, starting a scene with a close up of (admittedly pretty) Rob Callender’s cock as he examined it for warts must surely be the definition of gratuitous nudity:
It was hardly titillating though, so I’ll let that one slide. As it were.
Choice dialogue this week
Sansa, spitting contempt at the man who left her with Ramsay Bolton: “You freed me from the monsters who murdered my family. Then you gave me to other monsters who murdered my family.”
Brienne, accurately assessing Jon Snow within days of meeting him: “He’s a bit… broody.”
Euron Greyjoy, expressing his usual familial concern: “Where are my niece and nephew? Let’s go murder them!”
Varys, showing an understandable scepticism over divine intervention: “I suppose it’s hard for a fanatic to admit she made a mistake. But then that’s the point of being a fanatic, isn’t it? You’re always right. Everything is the Lord’s will.”
Jaqen H’ghar, answering Arya’s concern about her intended victim by rekindling her memories of her family’s deaths: “Does death only come for the wicked, and leave the decent behind?”
And of course Meera Reed: “Hold the door! Hold the door!”
This was another stunning ep in a season that doesn’t seem to have put a foot wrong so far. There was so much going on, handled with so much aplomb by the writers and director, you could forget to breathe during some of it. And yet, despite all the action, revelations and plot twists, what I think will get this one remembered as a classic piece of television was the heartbreaking death of Hodor, apparently directly from the mind of George RR Martin. For the death of an apparently minor character to pack such a punch was incredibly impressive, and something Benioff and Weiss can be justly proud of.