This review contains spoilers for everything that has happened on the show so far, including the events of this episode.
“The Red Woman” was one of the most anticipated episodes of television in recent history. People have been talking for months about the future of Jon Snow (Kit Harington), and speculating what’s next for their favourite characters given that “Game of Thrones” has finally caught up to George RR Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series.
The episode itself had to balance a number of characters, meaning that although it lasted for an hour, it felt as though it had been on for all of ten minutes when the credits rolled. It was a strong season opener, but it could’ve done with a bit more focus and more thoughtful writing.
The episode began where season five finished, with Jon Snow’s corpse lying in the snow. Ghost’s cries of anguish at his master’s death were mirrored by fans as they saw that the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch really was dead, and that if he’s coming back it won’t be any time soon. The scene itself was fine, but it left me with one nagging question in my mind – why was the body left there? Was it a ‘we’re in charge’ gesture or a plot hole? We all know that men of the Night’s Watch are wary of the dead being resurrected as wights, so leaving a dead body lying around inside Castle Black seems like an unnecessary risk. Such an oversight felt like a convenience for the writers to allow Jon Snow to come back, rather than an understandable decision by the characters in the “Game of Thrones” universe.
Melisandre (Carice van Houten) made her entrance almost immediately, entering the makeshift tomb of Jon Snow to speak to Davos (Liam Cunningham). She expressed confusion at the sight of the dead man and explained to the group surrounding the body that she had seen him in the flames fighting at Winterfell, with a look of anguish on her face which explained just how much her faith had been tested by the events of the previous season.
Melisandre’s words gave weight to the theory that Jon Snow will come back this season, because many people thought that they could see Jon fighting at Winterfell in the trailer, and we know from that trailer that the Boltons will face a battle at some point this season. Furthermore, it is likely that at some point the White Walkers will get past The Wall, so Jon could fight them at Winterfell to bring Melisandre’s vision to life. Either way, it seems like a strange specification on the part of the writers to have Melisandre say exactly what she saw in the flames if that isn’t then going to come true.
This scene was followed by another at Castle Black, as we saw Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) placating a crowd of outraged Night’s Watch men following Jon’s death. He told them that he had performed the act along with the other officers, and that he did so for the sake of the Watch, not for his own selfish reasons. This wasn’t a particularly hard sell, which was slightly annoying, but the men at The Wall are murderers, rapists, and thieves, so to convince them probably wouldn’t be that difficult (particularly when they know that if they disagree with him he might stab them to death).
It’s hard to argue against his leadership skills or his rationale here, but he clearly misses the bigger picture. Jon Snow was one of the few people who had seen what the Night’s King was capable of, and he was also able to bring the wildlings on side, which is obviously going to be important if The Wall is to stand. I can understand why Thorne doesn’t see this, because he’s been fighting against the wildlings for the majority of his life, but when he says that Jon would’ve been the end of the Night’s Watch he must also realise that trying to take on an army of the dead with only 50-ish men would lead to the same sad outcome.
After the initial scenes at the Wall we travelled to Winterfell, where we saw Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) share a sincere moment with the body of Myranda (Charlotte Hope). He explained his love for her and told her that he would avenge her death, and this scene served to show that whilst Ramsay is the most evil character on the show (move over Night’s King), he does have feelings. Those feelings ended up being used for comedic effect when Ramsay said that the body should be fed to the hounds, but it added another dimension to his character nonetheless.
This scene was then followed by another at Winterfell in which Roose (Michael McElhatton) and Ramsay had a heart-warming father-son conversation… or not. They spoke about Sansa (Sophie Turner) and how they desperately needed to get her back in order to cement their hold on The North, and Roose made a veiled threat to Ramsay that if he didn’t solve the problem then his unborn child would take Ramsay’s place as heir to The North. The scene was mostly a reminder for the audience of what happened last year, but it also explained what the Bolton’s motivations would be for the rest of the season, and suggested that at some point this season Ramsay and Roose may actually come to blows.
After hearing about how important Sansa is to the Bolton cause, we watched on as she ran as far away from Ramsay as she could, accompanied by Theon (Alfie Allen). The scene itself was quite good, with Sophie Turner looking mesmerising in the snow, but some aspects of it didn’t make a lot of sense. Personally, I thought that the Bolton soldiers were quite tame when they found the pair, because although they were given orders to find them and bring them back to Winterfell they could’ve roughed them up a bit. Roose isn’t a nice man and neither is Ramsay, so presumably their soldiers would follow suit and take pleasure in the pain of others.
Nevertheless, I liked how Theon did something heroic for once because I’ve grown very tired of the Reek angle. I actually thought that his moment of bravery would’ve been a great way for him to die on the series, because it would’ve been redemptive given that he would’ve died for the Starks whom he had previously let down. I still think that his transformation has felt forced and happened far too quickly, but it makes sense that the writers would fast-track his storyline as fans of the series are pretty sick of seeing him act like a coward.
Another character who finally did something positive for the Starks was Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), who saved Sansa’s life and went some way to fulfilling the oath she made to Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) back in season two. Many of the reviews that I’ve read have cited this as an emotional moment and their favourite part of the episode, but I have to say that personally I wasn’t affected by it. I liked the music that was playing in the build up to the scene, and I thought that Gwendoline Christie’s performance was great – her intensity in action sequences is always fantastic – but it didn’t really get me. It felt like a scene which will be significant going forward, but it also felt a little bit too convenient for my liking.
In King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) had to deal with the loss of her daughter, as Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) returned from Dorne with Myrcella’s (Nell Tiger Free) corpse and a soon-to-be-dead Trystane (Toby Sebastian). Lena Headey’s performance in this scene was perfect, as we saw the joy turn to ash in her mouth (Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) promise was finally fulfilled as he inadvertently caused his niece’s death by sending her to Dorne in the first place) when she realised that she was going to see her daughter again, but not as a lively young woman, rather, as a lifeless body. She was as excited as I think we’ve ever seen her when she heard that a ship was returning from Dorne, even though she tried to hide it, but she ended up looking more broken than she was at the end of her walk of shame.
The conversation which followed between Cersei and Jaime wasn’t very powerful, at least not in my opinion, but I thought the performances were pretty good. It’s not that I didn’t like the scene, but these days I find it hard to take Jaime seriously when he’s talking about destroying his enemies, given that he’s no longer a great fighter and he’s grown a conscience.
I did think that it was interesting to gain insight into Cersei’s thoughts about the Maggie the Frog prophecy, because last season it played a huge role in her behaviour towards Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and also informed her decision to have Jaime go to get Myrcella back. Having her verbally address this in the episode explained to the audience that the flashback we saw last season was important and played a significant role in Cersei’s poor decision making, in a sense making the prophecy self-fulfilling, and the fact that Cersei was so willing to accept the validity of that prophecy represented a shift in her personality; from a position of control to one of self-pity, vulnerability, and perhaps most importantly – shame.
Skipping over the throwaway scene in which The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and one of his annoying henchman played good-cop-bad-cop with Margaery, the next important scene of the episode took place in Dorne. Last season Dorne didn’t go down very well with fans – it felt disconnected from the rest of the show so nobody could get behind Jaime’s rescue mission, especially because we never really got a feel for Myrcella as a character.
However, this episode has given Dorne a chance, because what we saw was probably the best moment in the setting so far. To see Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) kill Prince Doran (Alexander Siddig) was a real shock to me and I suspect everyone else, because this is something that hasn’t happened yet in the book series and also because Doran was the brother of Ellaria’s former lover Oberyn (Pedro Pascal). I was personally expecting Ellaria to be the one who got killed off in Dorne, as Doran had warned her last year that any further treason would be punished severely, but instead we saw a brutal and memorable death scene involving a not-yet-explored character.
I have to say that on the story side of things the scene was a little bit strange, because Ellaria basically killed Oberyn’s brother in an effort to avenge him, but at least this scene will bring Dorne into the fold and possibly start a war with the Lannisters. I’d be interested to know whether or not these murders were a reaction to Dorne’s reception last year, or if they are a storyline which will happen in the books that the show has shot forward to, but this remains to be seen. It feels like the former to me, because I don’t think that you cast someone like Alexander Siddig if you know that the character he is going to playing will be given barely any screen time… but I could be wrong.
With Prince Doran dead, the episode then showed us all just what the Sand Snakes are capable of, as they brutally disposed of Trystane as though he was a fly that needed swatting. I still don’t know exactly how they made it onto the boat that Trystane was on, because it seems like it would’ve been difficult to hide on such a long journey, so maybe they went on a separate boat… maybe. It’s not particularly clear right now so I hope that they address the issue in order to ensure that this admittedly cool scene makes sense going forward.
I’m also not sure what the timeline is meant to be, because the episode was filmed in such a way that it seemed as though Trystane died after Prince Doran, but surely the Sand Snakes couldn’t have known exactly when to kill him because they were miles away and there was no form of communication to get a message across. This isn’t necessarily a problem, but how could they be sure that Prince Doran would condemn Ellaria’s actions? If the plot was in place from the moment that Ellaria kissed Myrcella with poison on her lips then a situation could’ve occurred where killing Trystane would’ve jeopardised their overall plan. I suppose the point I’m making is that either: 1) the plan wasn’t fool-proof, or 2) the plan hasn’t been properly explained yet on the show.
In any case, this scene has breathed life into an otherwise dying storyline, and I’m excited to see what the Sand Snakes get up to over the course of the season. Hopefully Nymeria (Jessica Henwick) and Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) will remain in and around King’s Landing, causing all sorts of mayhem and killing their enemies. Maybe they could kill Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) so that we can have a more exciting king on the throne?
Over in Meereen, Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) are ruling over a city which is in tatters after the attack on the fighting pits by the Sons of the Harpy. The people live in fear and the whole place is on the verge of a revolution, which is made all the more problematic by the fact that we see a red priest preaching to peasants on the streets. We all know from experience that red priests/priestesses can be extremely dangerous, so the Lord of Light could prove to be another unwanted complication for Tyrion as he attempts to keep the peace between the masters and their former slaves.
Watching Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill play-off each other has been great ever since they started to become friendly back in season two, but in this instance I could’ve done without the comedy that the writers forced into the scene. We’ve heard ‘Varys is a eunuch’ jokes before so having Tyrion make fun of him for not having any genitals wasn’t exactly inspired, particularly because it was a completely pointless bit of dialogue. There was also a weird joke made about Tyrion not being well-spoken in Valyrian which felt all too similar to a joke which was intended to make the same point at the end of season five. Neither of these jokes felt necessary and neither made me laugh – I want to take events in Meereen seriously this year and joking around just doesn’t help.
Nevertheless, the fact that there was a mention of Varys’ little birds and their mission to find out who the leader of the Sons of the Harpy is got me back on board, because when this person is finally revealed it should be a high point of the season. Hopefully it’s someone who we already know.
It will also be interesting to see what’s done about the boats in Meereen after they were all destroyed in this episode, because Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) can’t simply fly to King’s Landing on her own atop Drogo and expect to take the city. She needs her army and they need ships. This could be where Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) comes into the wider story, because he must have some sort of role in the big picture for him to be cast so late in the game, and we all know that The Greyjoys like two things, power and ships – they have one of these, and if they help Daenerys take the Iron Throne then they could very well get the other. Balon (Patrick Malahide) has previously said that he doesn’t want to help someone else take the Iron Thorne because the Greyjoys take what is theirs by force, but he might not be around for very much longer. This is all speculation, but it does make a lot of sense.
Speaking of things that make sense, wouldn’t it be great if all the storylines on the show were well-conceived and thought out? Well, they aren’t. Jorah (Iain Glen) and Daario’s (Michiel Huisman) scene was by far the worst of the episode, as they magically followed Daenerys’ tracks, found a ring in the middle of nowhere, and generally annoyed me to a point where I felt like turning off my TV. The scene, at least in my opinion, didn’t feel like it belonged on “Game of Thrones” – it felt more like something out of “Xena : Warrior Princess” from back in the day.
I have to admit that I haven’t been a fan of Daario ever since Ed Skrein was replaced by Michiel Huisman at the start of season four, but it wasn’t just Huisman’s performance that made the scene painful to watch. For one, I really didn’t like that Jorah took a look at his greyscale again; 1) because Daario didn’t question the fact that he randomly stopped, and 2) because its sole purpose was to remind the audience about the disease. It played no other role in the narrative and will be quite jarring when binge-watching the DVD’s because he does it more than once in the space of a couple of episodes for no apparent reason. The whole scene was awful.
I also wasn’t particularly fond of Daenerys’ battle of wits with the Dothraki leader, Khal Moro (Joe Naufahu), although at least it gave us an insight into what she’ll be up to for the first few episodes of the season. It’s not that any of the performances were particularly terrible in this scene, but for me Daenerys was far too assertive given that her petulance could’ve got her killed and basically ruined the entire show. She might feel more powerful than in previous seasons, but in fact she’s in the same position that she was in when the story began, with no allies, no dragons to be seen, and seemingly no common sense. The audience knew that Daenerys was in no real danger, but the character should’ve acted as though she thought that she was. Plus, we’ve seen Daenerys listen in on a foreign tongue before only to reveal that she in fact speaks it fluently, so there was nothing particularly surprising for us when she started speaking in Dothraki to the new Khal.
A scene which I did enjoy was Arya’s (Maisie Williams). It was a short scene, but as she sat on the streets of Braavos begging for change, trying to come to terms with life as a blind and faceless woman, I was captivated. Maisie Williams was incredibly expressive despite the fact that her eyes were clouded over, and she sold me on the idea that Arya was blind. I just hope that Williams gets enough screen time in future episodes to really push this storyline, because Arya has the potential to once again be one of the best characters on “Game of Thrones”, provided that she’s given the chance.
Finally, the episode took us all back to the Wall to end where the episode had begun, and for some reason Alliser Thorne thought that he could defeat Stannis Baratheon’s (Stephen Dillane) right-hand-man with idle words and false promises. He politely offered a pardon to any man who would put down his sword and leave the room… an offer which nobody in their right mind would accept because Thorne had just stabbed his commanding officer to death in cold blood. Still, Davos replied politely, staying put in the room and mentioning that Melisandre could be of help if he and the men of the Night’s Watch were going to protect Jon’s body whilst staying alive. This season Davos looks like he’s finally going to be a leader on the show, something which he’s shown he has the mind for ever since he was first introduced, so I’m excited to see what he will achieve in the next nine episodes.
After Davos mentioned The Red Woman, we were treated to a scene which will surely quash fantasies the world over. Melisandre looked into the fire with pain etched on her face, before standing in front of a mirror and looking at her reflection with sadness in her eyes. She then proceeded to disrobe and take off her necklace, which made me roll my eyes because I didn’t understand why she needed to be naked… until she was naked. Melisandre, one of the most beautiful characters on the show, became an old crone with wrinkles upon wrinkles, white hair like string modestly covering her head, and posture that makes the Hunchback of Notre Dame look like an Olympic athlete.
She became the opposite of what she has been since the first episode of season two, as the scene showcased her true form, and marked a symbolic transformation for the character. We saw that The Red Woman had been broken by Stannis’ death and that she was losing who she was; we saw that for all her trickery and power she is still as vulnerable as any other character on the show. The Red Woman is The Red Woman – the beautiful and powerful priestess we’ve seen throughout the series – but Melisandre is something more. Her beauty and her strength have been representative of her power from day one, but now we see that both of these aspects of her persona are false.
What this will mean for her in the future is unclear, but it seems like a focus for the season will be the humbling and subsequent rising up of characters (Sansa, Arya etc.), so maybe Melisandre will get a similar arc and perhaps regain her confidence by resurrecting Jon Snow. If you remember back in season three Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) (the red priest who had resurrected Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) several times) spoke to Melisandre about his crisis of faith, and how when things seemed darkest the Lord of Light showed himself through the resurrection of Beric. Perhaps this scene will take on greater significance now that Melisandre is losing her faith.
This episode was called “The Red Woman” for a reason, as the final scene placed Melisandre at the forefront of the series, changing every scene that she has been involved in so far. Initially she was a wildcard for Stannis – she could do amazing things, but he didn’t even take her to the battle of Blackwater, and by all accounts he valued Davos’ opinion more than hers. With Stannis gone, Melisandre can actually be seen as the main character in their storyline, with every scene involving Stannis playing a part in her development up to this point rather than his.
Overall, “The Red Woman” was a flawed but enjoyable hour of television, which was epitomised by the fact that the final scene was excellent yet marred by a continuity error (which I have intentionally ignored because I feel that it has unfairly become the main talking point of the episode). It had to juggle a lot of characters, which it did admirably, but I think that the short amount of time spent with certain characters like Tyrion and Margaery meant that their scenes lost a lot of their intended impact. I loved the ending, and I thought that the scene in Dorne was great, but there were plenty of moments which could’ve been improved. It was a good start, but I hope that future episodes focus more on one or two characters so that narratives can be properly explored and enjoyed.