Game of Thrones spoilers ahead…Duh…
Even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones (and by “don’t watch” I mean “secretly torrent in your bedroom at 2 a.m.”), you know that for nearly a year fans of the hit HBO fantasy series have been asking one question: What the hell happened to Jon Snow?
At the end of last season, Snow (Kit Harington) was brutally stabbed by a group of rebel members of his Night’s Watch, who feared he was bringing their order to ruin. As this season begins, the now-masterless knight Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham) and a group of Snow’s friends have essentially taken his body hostage, laying his cold corpse out on a table and waiting for the rest of the Night’s Watch to issue demands.
The premiere of Game of Thrones’ sixth season is titled “The Red Woman,” and for many fans that seemed to signal the key to Snow’s ultimate fate. The titular woman is Melisandre (Carice van Houten), a cryptic priestess who worships the “Lord of Light,” a God whose power has been proven to resurrect the dead. But that’s not the real reason for the episode’s title. In fact, Snow remains nothing but a body throughout. “The Red Woman” is not about Jon Snow. It’s about transformation.
Much has been made of the fact that this season is the first to be (mostly) not directly based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels (Martin’s not done writing them, but the show must go on), and showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss seem to be seizing the opportunity to remind us that nothing is what it seems. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), blinded in Braavos, begins to realize that her tragedy is all just a test. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), captive to a Dothraki horde for essentially the second time, realizes that all her titles may buy her respect, but not power. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), who’s been in power before, realizes that he doesn’t understand the true nature of reigning in his new realm of Meereen. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), newly gifted with a protector in Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), finds new hope in the midst of desperation. In Dorne, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) orchestrates a violent, swift regime change. And in King’s Landing, the sibling-lovers Jaime and Cersei Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Lena Headey) vow to reclaim the power they’ve lost even as the religious fanatic High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) seems to hold sway over the city.
These are all compelling storylines with tremendous potential, but the episode’s title inevitably brings us back to the Red Woman, and the Wall, and the question of Jon Snow’s mortality. The episode beings with Davos, and the few remaining Brothers of the Watch loyal to Snow, carrying his body to safety. It ends with Melisandre, possibly the key to Snow’s future (if he has one), stripping down for bed and revealing that her fiery-haired priestess persona is only a glamour. We’re left with the image of a shriveled crone, confronting her true self in a mirror before resigning to sleep.
This image, naturally, raises more questions than it answers, but it also becomes a powerful metaphor for what this show is now. Melisandre had, for four seasons, been the person who seemed to have all the answers on Game of Thrones. She skated over the rest of the landscape, sexy and placid and quietly brutal, as we watched the maiming of everyone else. She seemed immune to the dismemberment and violation and abduction and blinding of every other character (save perhaps Davos, who might be the only Honorable Man left on this show, though he was maimed before we met him). Now we see that it was only a mask, and that even she doesn’t know what’s next. It might seem cruel that we end the episode still unsure of the answer to its central question—Seriously, what in the name of Christ happened to Jon Snow?—but that’s the point. The woman who seemed to see everything can barely even look at herself anymore, and in showing us just how withered and weary that’s made her, we confront the future of this show.
Game of Thrones is not without its problems, but its writers have brilliantly opened its first truly uncertain season by transforming the Woman Who Saw the Future into someone who finds herself without a clue.
So strap in, folks, because all bets are off in this game.