Monday, 23 May 2016

Game of Thrones - The Door

Contain spoilers.

Sometimes the best answers are the simplest. More often than not it's easy for big shows like Game of Thrones to get caught up in their own scale and take their stories to places they don't necessarily need to go to. Game of Thrones has been guilty of this in the past, but this sixth season has seen an enormous resurgence of smaller, more intricate and personal storytelling, and none of this is best represented than in the final scene of "The Door". Not only is the concluding sequence to this terrific episode nail-bitingly intense, but it divulges answers to smaller questions that we didn't necessarily need answering, yet once we're given the answers it's difficult to imagine not knowing them. Let's face it, Hodor is not a particularly emotional character, nor is he even a remotely big player in the grand scheme of things. Yet the show takes the time to make him matter, giving him a triumphant and poignant death whilst also allowing us to understand his disability for the very first time. The result is quite simply breathtaking.

Bran's storyline North of the Wall took up most of the screen time tonight, as we visited three separate visions. First, we learnt where the White Walkers originated. Again, it's an important reveal that is treated accordingly, but given a simple and effective answer. The Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to fend off the First Men, yet the Walkers ended up being vengeful against everyone, including the Children themselves. It's an effective reveal in that it's not massively shocking - it never should have been - but also allows the Walkers to feel more a part of the story now. Everything North of the wall is so detached from the rest of the world that the Walkers didn't really feel like much of a threat to anyone south of Winterfell, but the knowledge that they were created for the sole purpose of killing the First Men (who, of course, populated Westeros) allows their threat to feel global rather than small. Should the Walkers break through the Wall by the end of the season, the threat that they pose will feel twice as real now that we know this.

Bran's second vision was a more simple one; he enters the vision alone for the first time and finds himself surrounded by Wights, but he is seen by the Nights King who grabs his arm. Bran awakens to find the Three Eyed Raven telling him that he has been marked and that the Walkers can now enter the cave. It feels slightly rushed and the mythology perhaps isn't as well mapped out as it should be, but what follows is simple extraordinary. The Wights attack in a thrillingly intense sequence, and both Summer and the Three Eyed Raven are slaughtered. Bran, from inside a vision, hears Meera's cries for help and manages to split his consciousness between the vision in the past and Hodor in the present, which brings forward a sequence of events that results in Hodor's death in the present and his disability-inducing seizure in the past. The origins of Hodor's name - the young Hodor, named Wyllis, hears the echoes of Meera's orders to "hold the door" through Bran's consciousness, and has a seizure repeating those three words until they all slur into one - is wonderfully simple, and it creates a poignant ending for what could have been an insignificant character. It's an emotional conclusion to the episode, but one that feels fully rooted in the humanity of the characters it represents.

Whilst the bulk of the episode lay North of the Wall, the rest of the screen time was perfectly balanced between the multitude of stories. We briefly checked in with Sansa and Littlefinger in a sequence that saw Sansa act more powerful and controlling than ever. We saw Arya take on her newest test in the form of poisoning a play actress, but she expresses doubt over whether it is the right thing to do. One gets the feeling a girl won't remain in the House of Black & White for much longer. Dany learnt of Jorah's grayscale, and in a touching sequence sends him away to find a cure but promises she won't conquer Westeros without him. Tyrion and Varys recruit the help of a new Red Priestess, but after Varys expresses doubt she wins him over by discussing how he became a eunuch. Yara laid down her claim for the Salt Throne, but her Uncle Euron succeeds in being crowned. Yara and Theon steal his fleet, and set sail for an unknown location. In other words, this was another episode that pushed every story forward in the right direction without sacrificing the characters at the heart of them all.

After a fifth season that suffered from a meandering approach to narrative and a lack of real character progression, Game of Thrones is ensuring it does not make the same errors for season six. The stories are more streamlined now, the focus has been tightened and we're advancing through everything at a rapid pace. But what's most impressive is that the show hasn't sacrificed the interesting characters within all of this. The season's second episode, "Home", worried me that the show would lose its hold on these characters, but since then the season has undergone an enormous course correction and has somehow made these characters even more thrilling, even more exciting, and even more dynamic. With the characters strengthened even more it will allow the stories they tell to feel stronger, and now that the show is showing signs of winding down this couldn't be happening at a better time. This is shaping up to be a stellar run for the show, and with the endgame now firmly in sight, I for one cannot wait to see which twists and turns still lie ahead of us.

Notes - 

  • "Hold the door! Hold the door! Hold the door! Holdthedoor! Holdthdoor! Holdadoor! Hodadoor! Hodador! Hoddor! Hodor! Hodor! Hodor!"
  • That final sequence really was just as thrilling as it was touching. What an ending.
  • I am kind of disappointed in how the episode handled the ways in which the Walkers found Bran's location. Game of Thrones is normally extremely specific and intricate with its mythology, it always sets things out well in advance. This felt kind of rushed and, if I want to be really harsh, lazy. Luckily all that followed was excellent, so it's easy to dismiss. 
  • I can't express how much I loved the Sansa-Littlefinger scene. Sansa properly addressing what happened to her last season and refusing to let it slide away it just brilliant. Credit to D&D for allowing this to form part of her vengeance plan and no longer feel like simple shock value.
  • Kinvara's take down of Varys was pretty great. We don't see Varys shaken very often.
  • I still ship Brienne and Tormund.

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