Essays · TV

Game of Thrones Explained: ‘The Red Woman’ Has New Tricks, Raises New Questions

By  · Published on April 24th, 2016

One of the most surprising things to emerge from my ranking of every Game of Thrones episode to date was this notion that not every season premiere has been great. For much of its first four seasons, Game of Thrones has been a slow starter. The first few episode of every season has been spent checking in on the numerous storylines being juggled by the production.

With season five, a lot of the landscape of Westeros has changed. Storylines began converging as the show apparently stepped into the back half of its overall narrative. And now that we’re through that season and beyond some of the more bloated elements of George R.R. Martin’s books, it makes sense that the show might shift into another gear.

That’s exactly what we have with “The Red Woman,” the premiere of season six. There is plenty of checking in — we spend a little time with Arya, get a better idea of where Daenerys is at, and pick up some time with Daario and Jorah — and there was plenty of room for a few big moments.

The most masterful element of “The Red Woman” is that it accomplished a lot but never felt rushed. In its own elegant way, the episode checked in with all of the major storylines, discarded some major players, and moved us back into the world of Westeros with a bang.

We’ll dig into these moments in the spoiler section below, where we can use some book knowledge, speculation, and theorizing to fill in the gaps.

Is this the year of #GOTFeminism?

Season five found itself the subject of plenty of ire from fans and critics over two badly executed scenes involving sexual assault. And while the show’s creators continue to insist that such outrage will never inform their writing, it’s hard not to do the math coming out of this episode.

From Brienne’s big save of Sansa to the women of Dorne revolting against their male overlords, Thrones let its feminist flag fly in episode one. It’s difficult to believe that this isn’t at least somewhat intentional. Not that there’s anything wrong with it. That’s the kind of feedback this show should be taking to heart.

It all comes back to one of my points from my Season 6 Predictions article last week that it’s in play for Thrones to ultimately be a story about subverting and overthrowing the medieval patriarchy. This episode doubles down on my prediction, but it also could be the show setting up some female characters for some horrible fate later in the year. Time will tell, but it’s a cheer-inducing start for the ladies of Westeros.

Did the show just fix Dorne?

Easily the most surprising thing to come out of “The Red Woman” was the very rapid developments in Dorne, which was home to one of season five’s most disappointing storylines. Sending Jaime and Bronn to Dorne to fetch Myrcella felt like an interesting idea, but everything got lost in bad execution. It was a departure from the books that left out one of the most interesting Dornish characters, Doran’s daughter Arianne Martell, who in the books plots to steal Myrcella and install her as queen. It is Arianne’s failed attempt to steal Myrcella that leads us to learn about Doran Martell’s Dornish Master Plan, in which he has sent his other son Quentin to Slaver’s Bay to woo Daenerys. The TL;DR version: Dorne ultimately finds itself in support of the Targaryen queen and her dragons, with Arianne the next in line to inherit the ruling seat of Dorne.

The show may have just ended up in a similar position. We have to assume that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes will take charge of Dorne. Who will they support in the larger war? If Daenerys comes calling, their anti-Lannister platform will fit right in with hers. The big question is whether or not Dorne will matter at all before this is all said and done. I’ve long theorized that Dorne is only hanging around because that’s where Daenerys will find her most likely allies when she eventually comes back to Westeros.

Assuming they have cleaned up the Dornish storyline, and they plan to use it rather than just let it fade into the background — which is possible — it’s very interesting to have Sand Snakes in and around King’s Landing. Or outside of Dorne in any way, for that matter. Maybe they will get fun missions and do more Oberyn-esque disrupting in the future. I’m not ready to get my hopes up yet, but the discarding of Dorne’s passive male leaders could be a step in the right direction.

What will become of Melisandre?

It’s easy to assume that Melisandre will have something to do with the return of Jon Snow from the dead state that is reinforced with a heavy hand at the beginning of this episode. In the final moments of “The Red Woman,” we may have learned a little more about the method by which she will bring Jon back from the dead.

The first and most important thing about her transforming from the young and beautiful priestess to the old woman is that it’s further proof that The Lord of Light is one of this world’s legit powers. Not all of the gods — especially the New Gods of the Seven — respond in a literal way to their followers. But The Lord of Light has a tangible presence; which means that Melisandre’s quest to find Azor Ahai (The Chosen One) is probably legit. She miscalculated with Stannis, as we learned at the end of last season, leading her back into the presence of Jon Snow. This gives her motive to try to bring the young Lord Commander back.

What else do we know about the actual powers of The Lord of Light? In season three, we were introduced to the Brotherhood Without Banners, led by Lord Beric Dondarrion and the Red Priest Thoros of Myr. After being killed by The Hound in single combat, Beric is resurrected by Thoros praying to the Lord of Light. This has happened six times, something that has steeled the Brotherhood as believers in the “One True God.” In the books, the Brotherhood eventually comes upon the dead body of Catelyn Stark, at which point Beric gives up his life so that she can be resurrected. This is the origin story of Lady Stoneheart, the silent undead woman who leads the Brotherhood on a path of revenge through The Riverlands.

If Melisandre is an ancient woman and her entire life’s work is finding and empowering the Lord of Light’s chosen one, wouldn’t it make sense for her to give up her life in order to bring him back from the dead? Of all the ways in which the show could bring Jon Snow back from the dead, this is perhaps the most rooted in the show’s logic.

Where do we go from here?

Next week, welcome back Bran! Let’s all choose violence.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the upcoming One Perfect Shot TV show (HBO Max, 2021) and the co-host of The Storm: A LOST Rewatch podcast. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)