This review and theory article contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones season six, episode one “The Red Woman”. This is your only warning.
The start of the episode brings home what we all kind of knew but didn’t want to admit: Jon Snow is dead, and any hopes for him coming back are not looking very good. There are still hints at him making a come back later on this season, but for now, things are not looking good for the Lord Commander.
So the episode starts out in predictably bleak fashion, as we see Jon Snow dead and Melisandre visibly shaken that her vision of him fighting at Winterfell hasn’t come true. Things continue on the tried and tested theme of “deep despair”, as we are treated to Theon and Sansa running through bitter weather as they flee from the men and hounds of the ever despicable Ramsay Bolton.
However, it’s in this scene that we get one of the very few gleams of hope as Brienne and Pod rush in, just as Ramsay’s men have caught up to Sansa and Theon. In true Brienne style, the men are swiftly dealt with and we get one of Sansa’s strongest scenes. She accepts Brienne’s service, and with the help of Pod, recites an oath to have her join as Brienne looks up at her, clearly touched.
The rest of the episode is just as great, even if it is missing that tiny ray of hope. The first episode is certainly no dawdler, and quickly picks up from exactly where we left off. Things are hotting up all over the place, and that is shown as the several converging threads of the previous season are continued as if we had not been away. Thankfully, it wastes no time in getting back to Daenerys.
Last we saw her, she had been captured by a horde of Dothraki, and this episode finds her being treated as one of the slaves she so detests. Things are looking bleak for her as the Khal promises to “lay with her”, before Dany reveals that she was Khaleesi to Khal Drogo and escapes the fate of being raped by the Khal. The relief for her doesn’t last long, though, as the Dothraki quickly remind her that a widow’s place is at Vaes Dothrak.
The real heart wrencher of this episode comes from a surprising character: Cersei Lannister. I am no fan of hers, never have been, even when all the Westeros action I had was the books. But the scene when she rushes down to the dock, thinking that she will finally see Myrcella again is gut wrenching. You can just see the excitement and joy fade from her face as she sees Jaime and the body behind him, wrapped in a golden shroud.
Despite her being one of my most despised characters, I couldn’t help but feel for Cersei in this scene. The true credit for this scene has to go to Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau for their excellent acting. Lena especially is truly excellent here, as I felt nothing but pity for this woman who has been through the wars as of late.
We also get to catch up with Arya, who has fallen quite far since defying the House of Black and White last season. We only get a taster of what’s in store, though, but book readers will know what there is yet more to come for Arya.
The real winner of this episode though, is the final scene with Melisandre. Last we saw her, she was clearly shocked and shaken to see Jon dead, despite the vision she had seen in the flames. She stands before the mirror in her room, and slowly undresses. Just when I was thinking that this was HBO fulfilling the obligatory boob quota, she removes her necklace and when the shot goes back to her, we see a shocking sight: an old and withered crone.
It is there that the Game of Thrones season six premiere ends, leaving us all but screaming for more. Overall, this was an excellent beginning the series, and wasted no time in picking up old threads and continuing them in interesting ways. It certainly beats previous seasons, where we have spent several episodes dawdling about before anything happens. If season six continues like this, I think we’re in for a treat.
Let’s finish things up with some theories. The thought that was in my mind we saw Melisandre at the end was is this her true form? And the answer seems to be yes, yes it is. With the removal of her necklace, her glamour has also been removed. Book readers will know that Melisandre is centuries old, so it would make sense that this is what she truly looks like.
However, there are a couple of important things to note here. The first, is that the necklace is not a source of power, but more a focus for it. If you look closely, you can see the light fade from the gem set in the middle as it’s pulled away from Melisandre’s skin. This very much leads me to believe that it is simply a focus, so that Melisandre can keep her glamour.
The main important thing, though, is to think why we have been shown this now. There are currently two theories going around: that Melisandre’s faith in the Lord of Light has been rocked, and so she removes her “mask” that she wears in service of him and faces her true self. This follows the theory that the old hag appearance is her true one.
The second one, is that Melisandre has actually given up a lot of her lifeforce to give to Jon Snow, and the old hag form will be probably permanent, unless she also possesses illusion powers in this theory. Resurrection is certainly within the remit of Game of Thrones, even if it has been removed from the show somewhat.
I personally think it’s probably the first one, that is is Melisandre’s true self, and she is coming to terms with what she has seen and her faith in the Lord of Light by taking off her disguise. There are also theories that her appearance is due to the potions she always has, and are nothing to do with the necklace at all.
As the days go on until the next episode, we can only theorise. I am sure of one thing, though: we have not seen the last of Jon Snow.