SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES UP TO THE SERIES FINALE
Game of Thrones, Season 6, Episode 5; “The Door”
HBO Official Synopsis: “Tyrion seeks a strange ally. Bran learns a great deal. Brienne goes on a mission. Arya is given a chance to prove herself.”
There are a lot of female empowerment moments on Game of Thrones, which is hardly shocking in a show with as many great and complex female characters as this show has, but few stick out quite like Sansa and Brienne confronting Littlefinger. Sansa has overcome the challenges that Littlefinger had put – partially thorugh his ignorance of Ramsay’s evil, though mostly through his own choice – and she stands in front of Littlefinger, with the power to have him murdered right then and there. But she does something which for Littlefinger, is so much worse; he lets him know the pain and horror that his mistake has lead to. It’s a badass scene, and I remember that this was the first time I was really sold on the Sansa/Brienne pairing.
This episode has some really significant action north of the Wall with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven. We get to see the creation of the White Walkers, which doesn’t end up feeling like as big of a deal as it should (because the action later in the episode overshadows it).
It’s significant, but it just doesn’t feel significant. A lot of the other villains are so much more complex, so to have a villain that just wants to kill because he was designed to kill. It feels a little simpler. Ramsay and Joffrey are psychopaths, but they feel more interesting than the Night King in this way. (We’re told that the Night King specifically wants the Three-Eyed Raven, but we’re only told that that’s because he wants to erase human memory – which feels flimsy to me.)
The scene where the Night King grabs Bran is exceptionally nightmarish, and starts to feel like a nightmare that Bran is having trouble waking up from. There’s logic in this scene – if Bran can affect the past through his visions, then the Night King can reach him through the same visions; that’s neat. It also does have an interesting Biblical allusion going on; Bran tries to take knowledge from the Three-Eyed Ravens tree and because of that he destroys their safe little paradise and brings death to their cave.
Then, the thing that this episode is best-remembered for; the revelation of Hodor’s true purpose.
This scene is absolutely heartbreaking, but it was more shocking than most other Game of Thrones deaths. Sure, the revelation of “Hodor” having a deeper meaning of “Hold the door” is surprising, but that’s not why this scene stands out as one of Season 6’s most dramatic and memorable. It’s hard to watch because Hodor is so innocent. Hodor’s death feels different from the character-deaths that this show is known for, like Ned, Robb, Jon, Stannis, or whoever you want. They all made very clear strategy mistakes that resulted in their deaths. But Hodor’s death wasn’t a consequence of his mistakes, it was just because he was loyal to Bran.
Favorite Line: “Hold the door” going to the last “Hodor” is heartbreaking. The way Hodor says his name the last time in the episode is just full of exhaustion and
Favorite Scene: See above.
Season 6, Episode 6; “Blood of My Blood”
HBO Official Synopsis: “An old foe comes back into the picture. Gilly meets Sam’s family. Arya faces a difficult choice. Jaime faces off against the High Sparrow.”
In this episode, we get the first scene from Braavos in Season 6 that I actually really love, in which Arya watches a play about the War of the Five Kings. Across this episode and the next, we see that it chronicles the action of King’s Landing from the time that Robert Baratheon dies to the time that Tywin dies. And it’s interesting to see the fact turned into fiction; Cersei is (only) a loving mother, Joffrey is a gentle and kind boy, Ned is a bumbling oaf, and Tyrion is a sinister and near-demonic villain. Robert’s death played for laughs. Ned’s death is depicted as being an effort by Tyrion. We watch as the crowd sympathizes with characters we’ve hated and how they laugh at the death of Ned. But most of all, it reminds Arya of who she is. For me, those are always the best parts of her Braavos story; the parts when she remembers who she really is.
Also, this is one of very few episodes to have frontal male nudity, which I think is good for the sake of representation, but also, the way it’s done is very unexpected and, one might say gratuitous. Rather than tastefully working it into a sex scene, it’s just suddenly… there. We’re watching the action in Braavos and then, without any immediate context, we’re shown a close-up – mind you, an extreme close-up – of a , as one of the Braavos actors examines himself for warts. (And I will say the fact that it’s the prim-and-proper Joffrey actor does make for a humorous contrast.) Again, I should say that I’m not opposed to male nudity within the context of the story. Ideally, it would be as frequent as female nudity. But this use just feels so… odd?
This episode has the return of Uncle Benjen, undead, who is sometimes referred to as Coldhands. I’ll be honest, I kind of hate the Deus-Ex-Coldhands version of Uncle Benjen we get. Obviously, the way he comes to the rescue of Meera and Bran makes for an exciting action sequence. But I hate that this character is only used – in this episode and in the penultimate episode of Season 7 – but he only seems to exist to come to the rescue of characters who are in trouble north of the Wall. At that point, he’s not a character, he’s just a plot convenience.
Part of me thinks I shouldn’t judge this Coldhands by the one we see in the book, but I just wish this character rode an Elk instead of a horse, as he does in the book. And you’d probably say, “well, they have an easier time training horses than they would training elks, don’t you think?” But people ride dragons. Are you going to tell me there wasn’t enough room in the CGI budget for Benjen to ride an elk? (But of course, that wouldn’t solve the issue of Benjen being a plot convenience as opposed to having actual depth to his character, but still; I would have loved to see it.
I feel like I’ve talked before about Daenerys’ big scene in this episode, in which she gives a motivating speech to the Dothraki, asking them to cross the sea with her and “tear down [Westeros’] stone houses” and “kill [her] enemies in their iron suits.” Again, as much as I hated how sudden her turn to the dark side was in the series finale, I do really like how her speech in that episode manages to put a dark cloud over this one. Again, I wouldn’t defend her sudden turn to evil in the finale, but at the very least, it does add a little more flavor to this scene here.
Favorite Line: Daenerys’ speech, which again, is good on its own but even better with the context of the finale.
Favorite Scene: The play! It’s just some great worldbuilding; it reminds me of the final season of Avatar, in which we see the exploits of the main characters from the perspective of the Fire Nation in the form of a play.
Season 6, Episode 7: “The Broken Man”
HBO Official Synopsis: “The High Sparrow considers another target; Jaime confronts a hero; Arya makes a plan; memories are awakened in the North.”
Okay, so this show only has five cold opens; so for the other 68 episodes, they go directly into the opening title theme. That means that when they do have a cold open, it packs a bit of a punch. From the instant we see that this episode starts with a cold open, we can tell it’ll be significant.
And it starts with something rather different for the show – people living in peace. What a concept! Fans of Deadwood or American Gods or John Wick might recognize character actor Ian McShane. But then, we see the groups carrying logs to the sept that’s being built. We see that there are two groups of four people carrying logs, and a third log being carried by one person… it makes for an odd shot, and brings attention to that last person… who is then revealed to be the Hound, whom we presumed dead.
I appreciate the life that the show gives to the Hound (similar to where many theorize he is in the books); but what I appreciate even more is that it takes it away from him. It’s like the end of The Searchers – the Hound wants a life of peace, but ultimately, cannot have it. The difference here being that the violence comes searching for him.
Jaime’s journey to Riverrun is a great story arc. It brings Bronn back into the story, and for that reason alone it’s great, but it’s also interesting just to watch Jaime’s siege tactics, and also to see how he treats with the Blackfish. He goes to the Blackfish – who, by the way is something of a Boba Fett because of how little he actually appears versus how much the fans adore him.
But it’s interesting because this is the first time we see Jaime go about his duties as a knight and a soldier since losing his hand. and he just generally seems more uncertain and insecure, but also more cautious. Compare this to his confrontation with Ned in Season 1, where the two immediately fought.
Olenna and Margery talking with Septa Unella in the room is a great scene which showcases what we love about both characters; Olenna is biting, and Margery is crafty. I particularly like how Margery does a great job convincing the faith that she’s still pious while still showing her loyalty to Olenna. She’s giving the faith the illusion of servility, but still scheming against them.
But the episode’s best emotional throughline is Jon and Sansa’s recruitment of the Northern houses. It’s just a healthy variety of scenes; I like watching him struggle with Lord Glover. During his negotitations with the Wildlings, it’s cool to watch how humble he is, and see how that makes him a great leader. And most of all, this episode gives us the amazing Lyanna Mormont, who absolutely silences Jon and Sansa with her snarky courage, but still joins their cause because she knows it’s right.
And a lot of people like to criticize the part of this episode where Arya gets stabbed, because “she’s an assassin being hunted by assassins, shouldn’t she be better at hiding,” or “if she’s stabbed in the stomach that many times, shouldn’t she die?” which yeah, whatever, I guess so, but none of that stuff hinders my enjoyment.
In this series, I’ve discussed before how I like when the episode title ties back into the theme of the episode, and this one especially; “The Broken Man.” The Hound is broken because he feels guilt for the things he’s done. Jon is broken because his cause is hopeless in the face of the odds. Jaime is broken because everyone either hates him or doesn’t respect him. Theon is broken because of his PTSD.
Favorite Line: There were a lot of lines from this episode that I almost picked, but I settled on this summation of Lyanna Mormont: “We are not a large house, but we are a proud one. And every man from Bear Island fights with the strength of ten mainlanders.”
Favorite Scene: The Hound comes back! By then, we all knew the fan theories, but that didn’t diminish the shock or delight in seeing him again. And as I’ve said, this is a great use of the cold open.
Season 6, Episode 8: “No One”
HBO Official Synopsis: “Jaime weighs his options; Cersei answers a request; Tyrion’s plans bear fruit; Arya faces a new test.”
One really cool thing about the opening of this episode is how it starts with the Lady Crane as Cersei monologue, but we see how it has changed after Arya’s advice. Namely, after grieving she swears revenge and gets angry. One thing about that which is cool is that that is closer to Cersei’s actual reaction when that happened in Season 4.
She then saves Arya’s life, and it’s nice to see the two together. The two characters have a nice chemsitry, and it leads to the first mention of “What’s West of Westeros?” line that motivates Arya’s storyline after the finale.
A lot of people seem to take issue with the chase scene between Arya and the Waif, and again, I just don’t care. People say stuff like “It’s just too similar to this chase scene from Terminator!” or “She was just stabbed the day before, how does she move that fast?!” And again, I just can’t bring myself to care. Her Braavos storyline was never my favorite, and the chase is fine, but most importantly, it marks the end of her time in the city. Her last line to the man who resembles Jaquen – “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home” – is the proud and powerful declaration that tells us that we’re going back to Westeros.
Also, I like the scene where the Hound encounters the Brotherhood. It all slightly feels like a ploy to get him back into the story, but if there’s any characters I could see the Hound partnering with, I suppose the Brotherhood makes sense.
Also, fun fact; the Brotherhood member from the first scene who gets his head chopped off? The showrunners found him in a Jon Snow-look-alike contest hosted on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
In the Riverlands, we get a hilarious reunion between Bronn and Podrick, and an emotional reunion between Jaime and Brienne. This gives Brienne the chance to parley with the Blackfish, and I’m sad that he doesn’t end up taking it, because I would have loved to see him fight at the Battle of the Bastards, even if his army wouldn’t have. But for the character, I suppose him standing his ground at Riverrun makes more sense.
Mostly, this episode has the difficult task of being the last before two absolute masterpieces. It’s decent enough, but we’re all waiting to get to the really good stuff.
Favorite Line: “A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell; and I’m going home.”
Favorite Scene: The reunions in the Riverlands OR getting to hear Lady Crane’s revised monologue.