WARNING: The following review contains ‘Game of Thrones’ spoilers
For the first time in the series’ run, “Game of Thrones” opened its new season right where the last left off. The writers wisely chose to resolve the big cliffhanger immediately. Yes, Jon Snow is, without a doubt, dead. Yet despite this, the most compelling scenes in “The Red Woman” all occurred at the Wall.
Jon’s death impacts everyone at Castle Black. Alliser Thorne admits he is guilty of treason but explains that he only committed this act because he believed it was in the Watch’s best interest. Alliser has never been the most likeable character, but by having him clearly explain his motives, his character is strengthened. “Thrones” prides itself on its morally grey characters, and it was a good decision by the writers to rationalize Alliser’s villainous actions.
Juxtaposed against Alliser and the mutineers are the few that remain loyal to the fallen Lord Commander, including Davos. The Onion Knight and titular Red Woman, Melisandre, are the most exciting characters this season because for the first time they will be completely independent from Stannis.
Melisandre is distraught without Stannis, and Jon’s death only discouraged her more. She is losing faith, and that loss is wonderfully displayed in the episode’s final scene. It is revealed that Melisandre’s physical appearance throughout the series had been a façade, and in reality she is hundreds of years old. The shedding of her camouflage is a fantastic visual representation of the character’s internal struggle. Melisandre is so lost at this moment that she no longer even bothers to hide her true form. This was an incredibly interesting character moment that successfully got the audience excited about the future of Melisandre.
Although we clearly see how the death of Stannis affected Melisandre, his death does not seem to have changed Davos. Davos had been a dedicated servant of Stannis for years, but we aren’t given any indication that he is impacted by Stannis’ death. Considering Melisandre’s role in Stannis’ death, it seems slightly out of character for Davos to go to her for help. Both of these factors should have come into play in this episode. The relationship between these two post-Stannis should be at the forefront of this season, and hopefully the writers will address it in the upcoming episodes.
Stannis’ death should have also greatly affected his executioner, but that was not displayed. At the end of last season, Brienne prioritized killing Stannis over rescuing Sansa. This could have resulted in interesting drama for the character, as she would have to deal with the repercussions of her decision. Instead, the writers let Brienne have it both ways; she got her vengeance and rescued Sansa. Brienne faces no consequences for her actions, which takes away any drama in her arc. This sequence continued the horrible trend of Brienne-ex-machina; she always seems to be in the right place at the right time. Although seeing Brienne once again vow to protect Sansa was pretty cathartic, it did not feel earned.
However, that was not the least earned moment of the episode. That dishonor goes to Dorne. Easily the worst aspect of last season, the writers seemed to think the best way to fix Dorne was to kill off most of its characters. Instead of focusing the story, all this did was make last season’s Dorne subplot feel like an even bigger waste of time than it already did. I’m not sure if it will be possible for the writers to save the Dorne storyline, but this was not the best start.
Elsewhere in the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei and Jaime cope with their daughter’s death, Tyrion and Varys go for a walk, Daenerys meets a new Khal and Arya remains blind. These scenes were all executed well and were entertaining for the most part, but not much actually happened. Six seasons into a show the plot needs to move at a quicker pace, or at least a balanced pace. While Tyrion, Arya and the Wall storylines all seem so slow; the Daenerys and Dorne plotlines felt rushed.
“The Red Woman” was a mixed bag of a premiere; some of it was thrilling, some of it was boring, but ultimately the episode was just an entertaining setup for future episodes. And based on the setups from this episode, it seems season six of “Game of Thrones” will be at its best at the Wall.