“The Red Woman” is the premiere episode of Season 6 and the first to air without book material to back it up. In fact, some book readers have decided to opt out of the show at this point, saving it until the original source material is finally released (if it is ever released) by George R.R. Martin. I love the show for its own merits, so it was an easy decision for me to continue watching the series. However, it will make for a slightly different take on these recaps. I won’t have quite the same background material to include, and all speculation should be consider just that—not spoilers. At this point, book readers know just about as much as TV viewers going into each episode. If your theories ever differ from mine, I encourage you to include them as a comment to any of these posts.
In “The Red Woman,” women across the lands struggle and succeed to take power in the wakes of dead men like Eddard Stark, Tywin Lannister, and Jon Snow. In Dorne, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes lead a successful revolution against Doran Martell. Sansa finally assumes the mantle of the Stark household after her father and brother’s deaths, accepting the first banner(wo)man into her charge. For Brienne’s part, she finally finds a lord worthy of her service, whom she has been searching for ever since the deaths of Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark.
Meanwhile, Daenerys, Cersei, and Arya all struggle to regain the power they had acquired over the last few seasons, setting up the potential for a vengeful (and violent) season among them. Finally, Melisandre, the title feature and subject of the episode’s biggest twist, is revealed to be so powerful she’s able to disguise her centuries-old appearance and, potentially, bring a man back from the dead.
After months of speculation, Season 6 of Game of Thrones opens on Jon Snow lying (still very) dead in the snow. His direwolf, Ghost, cries out in his pen, alerting Davos and other loyal brothers to Jon’s fate. Jon was killed by Ser Alliser Thorne and his men for betraying the Night’s Watch when he welcomed the wildlings into northern territory. Apparently, they disagreed with Jon’s decision to save the wildlings, historic enemies of the Night’s Watch, so they would not end up among the armies of the dead marching south. Meanwhile, the men still loyal to Jon decide to get help from the wildlings to avenge his death, figuring they would feel grateful to the man for putting a wall between them and the terror plaguing their wilderness.
When Melisandre joins them, she is confused and visibly saddened. She believes that she has seen Jon in her prophetic flames, fighting in Winterfell. In the past, her visions have always come true—she even predicted the rise of Jon Snow’s enemies, warning him of “daggers in the dark.” She saw “blood frozen red and hard,” which Davos notices when Jon’s body is finally lifted from the snow.
What varies is her interpretation of what she sees in the flame. For much of the series, she has championed Stannis as the one true king of Westeros, but had to reconcile her interpretation with reality when Stannis died in failing to capture Winterfell.
The red priests of the series have all seen a similar vision of a savior sent by their god, R’hllor, reborn in flames to save the world. In the third episode of last season, Tyrion saw a red priestess preaching about another rising from the flames to save the world: “From the first she was reborn to remake the world! The Dragon Queen!” So, while Melisandre saw the signs pointing to Stannis, another read them to mean Daenerys.
Ever since she arrived at the Wall, Melisandre has seemed excessively intrigued by Jon Snow. With Stannis’s failure, she has likely re-imagined Jon Snow as the savior of her prophecies. To find him dead clearly worries her that she has once again misinterpreted the signs. In the end of the episode, we see her climbing sadly into bed with an air of defeat.
However, whether Melisandre currently believes it or not, there is still hope that her latest interpretation could be the correct one. Many have speculated about the fate of Jon Snow, and while we have no answers from this episode, the reveal of Melisandre’s true age shows that she is capable of some incredible magic. The necklace, which has glowed whenever she has performed magic in the past, appears to help in creating the illusion of youth and beauty. In the books, George R.R. Martin calls this trick a “glamor.” Light, shadow, and desire are woven together to trick the eyes of the beholders.
Now that we know Melisandre is in fact over a hundred years old—many speculate that she has lived for several centuries—what does that mean for the fate of Jon Snow? Does she have the power to revive him, like the priest known as the Thoros of Myr, who has brought Beric Dondarrion back to life at least six times? When she met with Thoros in Season 3, she was incredulous to learn of his successes, claiming that he shouldn’t have that kind of power. Thoros told her then that he has no power, but implores the Lord of Light for help, and it’s He who revives the dead.
In fact, Thoros claims that the Lord of Light helped him to revive Beric the first time when he was at his lowest point of faith, almost to the point of unbelieving. Is that the point at which we find Melisandre in the end of the episode? We’ll have to wait to see if Melisandre is finally able to bring someone back to life, after all these years (centuries).
Meanwhile, in one of the most feel-good scenes in many seasons, we reunite with Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy as they try to outrun Ramsay’s hounds. Ramsay’s father, Roose, berates his son for losing Sansa, their only key to uniting the North behind the Boltons in their inevitable battle against the Lannisters.
Theon, finally remembering himself, tries to protect the girl he grew up with and valiantly runs out to confront Ramsay’s hounds. They are lucky that Brienne and Podrick arrive in time to protect them, because Theon was offering nothing by way of actually throwing off the hounds. When all of Ramsay’s men are brought down, Sansa and Brienne exchange the traditional pledge of service and fealty.
Podrick needs to remind the uncertain Sansa of the words, but as she finishes the oath, she grows in steel and resolve. My fists were pumping in the air as the meaning of this moment spread across the faces of both women. Brienne is able to fulfill another of her longtime quests (the first being to avenge Renly Baratheon’s death by killing his brother, Stannis) in gaining a lord worthy of her service. Sansa gains not only an important ally, but also a touching reminder of her family’s continued significance. Brienne, who has fought without a lord for as long as we’ve known her, finds her purpose renewed in service to Sansa, and Sansa finds her purpose (reclaiming the North and her family’s ancestral home) in the hope provided by Brienne.
Over the last couple of seasons, Brienne located both Stark daughters and offered them her service, only to be rejected by each of them. When she first pledged herself to Sansa, the Stark girl was still with Petyr Baelish and believed him to be her protector, so she rejected her offer (it’s why Brienne says “I offer my services once again”). After he gave her up in marriage to the sadist Ramsay Snow, it became clear to Sansa that she had very few friends in this world.
In Season 5, Brienne told Pod, “All I ever wanted was to fight for a lord I believed in. The good lords are dead and the rest of them are monsters.” Finally, she found a lord she believes worth fighting for, and is able to fulfill part of her old vow to Catelyn Stark, as well. It is a huge moment for both Sansa and Brienne, and I am looking forward to their mutual quest—likely to the north in search of her half-brother Jon Snow. Perhaps Sansa will return with him to reclaim their childhood home, and Jon Snow will be marching on Winterfell after all.
In King’s Landing, Cersei runs to meet her brother/lover Jamie sailing back with their daughter, Myrcella, whom he was supposed to rescue from an unfriendly Dorne. She quickly recognizes Jamie’s grim expression and the shrouded body at his side, understanding immediately that what she long feared has finally come true. After the deaths of Joffrey and now Myrcella, it is a new confirmation of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy that she would bear three children with golden crowns (hair) and golden shrouds. Poor Tommen…
After losing Joffrey and now Myrcella, Cersei seems resigned to her fate, unwilling to fight what she believes is inevitable. Jaime refuses to let her give in, telling her, “Fuck prophecy, fuck fate, fuck anyone who isn’t us… Anything they’ve taken from us we’re going to take back and more. We’re going to take everything there is.”
As he pulls her into an embrace, their causes firmly united once again, Cersei’s eyes set. Does this mean that Myrcella’s death has led Jaime, one of the most reformed and newly-likable characters in the series, back to his Kingslayer ways? It is unclear what the future holds for the two of them, but we can most certainly expect to see more of Frankenstein’s (or, in this case, Qyburn’s) monster.
Margaery and her brother Loras are still being held in the cells by the High Sparrow and his devout followers, known as the Faith Militant—Loras for his homosexuality and Margaery for giving false testimony on her brother’s behalf. The High Sparrow implores Margaery to confess her sins, which she still denies, though she admits that no one is perfectly without sin.
Dorne is in upheaval as Ellaria and three of the late Prince Oberyn Martell’s bastard daughters (known as the Sand Snakes) lead an uprising against Doran Martell and his son. Guards stand idle as Doran and his personal bodyguard Areo Hotah are killed, proof that Ellaria is right when she says that the people of Dorne have grown tired of Doran’s limp leadership. Doran’s brother and sister were both murdered at the hands of the Lannisters, but he preferred playing the long game over quick, vengeful action. Under Ellaria’s control, Dorne is preparing for long-overdue revenge against the crown.
Across the Narrow Sea, a newly-blind Arya is found hopelessly begging in the streets. The Waif, one of the acolytes from the House of Black and White (home of the group of assassins known as the Faceless Men), gives Arya one of her two fighting sticks and starts to attack. Arya, unused to her blindness, is helpless to defend herself. “That’s not my problem,” the Waif says. After several blows, the Waif walks away, promising to meet her the following day. Clearly, though Arya made a mistake in wearing one of the disguises from the Hall of Faces too soon, resulting in her blindness, the Faceless Men are not done with her training. I don’t know about you, but Arya training as a blind assassin sounds pretty damn cool to me.
Tyrion was left to lead a chaotic Meereen while Ser Jorah and Daario went in search of Daenerys, who was last seen riding off on her dragon after an assassination attempt. Varys and Tyrion walk through the city, discussing their need to find the insurrection group known as the Sons of the Harpy. New graffiti on the wall appears beneath the slogan of Daenerys’s rebellion. Under “Kill the masters” reads “Mhysa is a master.” Mhysa, or “mother” in Valyrian, refers to Daenerys, of course, but who would write this latest line? Varys suggests that it might be the Sons of the Harpy, or the masters themselves. Tyrion adds that even the freed slaves may have added this addendum, since Daenerys essentially skipped town and left them vulnerable to the Sons of Harpy insurrection.
Things get worse when Tyrion and Varys follow a fleeing crowd back to its source to find Daenerys’s entire fleet of ships burning in the harbor. These 93 ships were originally taken for her by Daario’s group of mercenaries known as the Second Sons. She had hoped to use them to sail her forces to Westeros and take back the Seven Kingdoms. Every time the young queen takes two steps forward, she takes at least another step back. With the slave cities she’s freed in open rebellion and her fleet burned in the harbor, Daenerys seems far from accomplishing her ultimate goal of retaking the Westerosi throne.
Meanwhile, Daenerys herself is lost somewhere in the Dothraki Sea, recaptured by one of the nomadic warrior tribes. When she is brought to the leader, Khal Moro, as a gift, she stands up to him and demands to be treated with respect by declaring herself to be Khal Drogo’s widow. Though he unbinds her and promises her no harm, one of his wives tells her that she must be sent to the temple of Vaes Dothrak to live with the Khals’ widows for the rest of her life. Two steps forward, one step back.
Other Thoughts on “The Red Woman”:
- Is Stannis dead? I still wonder, since we never actually saw Brienne kill him, and Game of Thrones doesn’t often shy away from a violent death scene. I’m fairly certain he is, but I have my lingering doubts.
- Was the shape of Jon Snow’s blood in the snow somehow significant? Davos pauses over the stain and looks at it meaningfully. I rewound it a couple of times, but could not figure out if we were meant to see anything.
- Did the show just start the ruination of Jaime’s character by reuniting his cause with Cersei’s? It’s always amazing how his character evolves from an asshole who pushes kids out windows “for love” and struts around King’s Landing like he owns the place, to Brienne’s likable sidekick and his brother’s best defender. I have grown to call him one of my favorite characters, so I’ll be waiting anxiously to see where his story heads.
- Ser Jorah found Daenerys’s ring in tall grasses in the middle of the Dothraki Sea? Of all the fantastical elements on this show, that’s the one I have the biggest problem with.
- In Season 3, Melisandre spared Davos’s life because she received signs from R’hllor that the Onion Knight was going to play an important role in fighting the army of the dead. It’s hard not to hope that this means that, since they are currently all together at Castle Black, Jon will ultimately live and Davos will help fight at his side.
- This season premiere featured more storylines than this show often handles at once. While it could have felt rushed, I thought it was a solid first episode, and was glad to check in on (most) everyone. I’m excited for several of these plotlines, but most notably the Brienne and Sansa pairing which, for reasons I won’t get into for fear of spoiling anyone interested in reading the books, is unlikely to happen quite the same way in George R.R. Martin’s books.