Despite its status as the biggest TV series in pop culture these days, it’s an unexpected-but-promising sign that “The Red Woman” kicks off Season 6 of Game of Thrones with a whimper and not a bang.
The episode wasted no time in picking up the pieces left in the wake of Jon Snow’s death last season with Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) taking the lead, banding together with Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and the Night’s Watch still loyal to Jon.
It was nice to see the show give Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) the chance to make his case: he hasn’t run up against the White Walkers in the same way the Jon did and when you consider the events of last season from his perspective, his decision to remove Jon from power is one with a lot of reasonable concerns behind it.
The episode’s final sequence here played out in chilled silence, revealing that Melisandre’s youth is a supernatural deception and that she’s far older than she initially appears. It’s not the first time the show has worked to confirm a long-running fan theory from the books but it definitely leaves you wondering what’s next for Mel now that both Stannis and Jon are dead.
Meanwhile, in Dorne, things took an even sharper turn from the books that left both Doran (Alexander Siddig) and Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian) dead, along with their faithful-but-ineffective bodyguard Areo Hotah (Deobia Oparei).
“The Red Woman” did a lot to redeem the lackluster debut of the Sand Snakes last season and their vicious coup played out like a natural extension of Ellaria’s (Indira Varma) story, which worked well. Despite this, the sheer amount of talent the show just killed off does give me cause for concern. We’ll have to wait and see.
The other major moves the episode made concerned Daenerys. It was refreshing to see Dany interact with the Dothraki again, and to see Emilia Clarke take her character into a situation where she’s not the one in control.
Joseph Naufahu did a pretty good job stepping into Jason Mamoa‘s shadow as Khal Moro, with his banter with his bloodriders providing the episode’s most unexpectedly funny moment.
Though it was nice to see Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) dive back into the thick of the show’s political sphere, there was ultimately little plot movement across Braavos, Meereen and Kings Landing. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei (Lena Headey) reunited, Arya (Masie Williams) struggled with blindess and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) still locked away in the dungeons of the Baelor’s Sept.
The convergence of Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) proved itself the action highlight of the episode. Her timely arrival to save Theon (Alfie Allen) and Sansa was maybe a little convenient – but it’s easy to overlook that when you think about the long road that’s brought the two characters together. Brienne can fulfill her oath to Catelyn and Sansa finally has someone on her side whose loyalty will never bend nor break.
Compared to previous seasons, it’s the most loose and relaxed Thrones has been in a long time. It really let you breath in the world and gave the talented cast more room to work their magic across the board. If moving on from the safety net of the books means more balanced episodes like this, sign me up.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Game of Thrones airs at 11AM on Monday through Foxtel.