TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 5 “The Door” (USA, 2016)

Just because Benioff & Weiss are somewhat free from George RR Martin’s murderous ways in Game of Thrones’ source material, doesn’t mean the showrunners are any less capable of bringing us to tears. In what will be one of the most talked about scenes of the year when this season is over, a simple phrase takes on a heartbreaking, mind-blowing meaning while some of the biggest developments to date creep into every other corner of the show’s tremendous universe.

“The Door” starts off quiet enough. Littlefinger secretly meets with Sansa outside of Castle Black in Mole’s Town but doesn’t quite see the warm reception he would have hoped for. Sansa doesn’t trust Lord Baelish because of his part in marrying her to Ramsay, recounting the wicked torture she had to endure while the show’s master manipulator was nowhere to be found. Since arriving at Castle Black in last week’s episode, we’ve been seeing a much more headstrong Sansa, determined and focused on defending the North and reclaiming Winterfell, something Petyr quickly picks up on and uses to atone by informing Sansa that Brynden “Blackfish” Tully (whom no one has seen since the Red Wedding) has amassed an army at Riverrun.

With her sight back, Arya’s progression through her training at The House of Black and White is speeding up, and what can often be a slow story arc finally has some great, exciting material to play with. It’s nice to introduce a little bit of vibrancy into the dreary time spent with Arya too, taking her to a rather hilarious play poking fun at the Lannister vs Stark ordeal from the first two seasons. Having to assassinate an actress whom she doesn’t know, and whom she doesn’t feel deserves it, is Arya’s “second chance” on her path to continue in her training, an interesting angle but one I hope doesn’t stretch to any more than one or two episodes.

Furthering the Stark-heavy lean of the “The Door”, our third Stark kid to catch up with is Bran, who is still playing around with time in the Three-Eyed Raven’s cosy, anti-White Walker lair. Only now he pushes into one of the episode’s major reveals – which feels a bit rushed – in that the Children of the Forest were the ones who created the White Walkers in the first place, needing something to defend themselves against those north of the wall. Whether this has anymore implications beyond an “oh shit!” moment remains to be seen, but it sets the mood for the heart-pumping final act when the episode returns its focus to Bran, Meera, and Ho(ld the)d(o)or.

The Iron Islands enjoyed a fair chunk of “The Door” and rightfully so. The Kingsmoot – a democratic process to crown the next King of the Iron Islands – is an entertaining and memorable part of the books and while it’s rushed through here, it’s good to take some time and acknowledge this oft ignored part of Westoros, even if Victorian has been scrapped from the show. Perhaps the most satisfying part in all of this is seeing Theon somewhat back to his old self again, in actual armor and showing confidence as he sticks up for his sister against his uncle Euron, albeit unsuccessfully.

It was also surprising to hear that Euron has plans to cross the sea and marry Daenerys. I didn’t think they’d work that angle into the show, but having it here indicates that it does have a bigger implication to what Martin is doing with the final two books. Bringing the Ironborn from relative obscurity into a big as a fold as Dany taking on Westeros opens up some great possibilities, but for now Euron needs to be established as a villain by chasing after Yara and Theon, who abandon the island before their uncle can be crowned.

The other major non-Stark development here is over with Jorah who finally admits to Dany his love for her before revealing his rapidly developing greyscale and assuring her that he will kill himself before it gets to his brain. Having Dany tear up at this is a big emotional payoff for those who are fans of Jorah (totes hilarious “nice guy” memes aside), made even more touching when she commands him to find a cure and save his life before returning to her. This effectively sets Jorah off as a puzzle piece to fit into other parts of Westeros, with theories implying that he may end up at Castle Black (Jon Snow still has the Mormont family sword) to find a cure.

Tyrion and Varys get a small scene with some big implications for how things are going to be for Dany when she gets back to Meereen. Tyrion is essentially handling the PR for the Queen of Dragons, and in a showing of how devoted he is at getting this thing right, he aligns himself with one of the most effective mouthpieces in the world: religious nuts. Striking a deal with a red priestess (the young Kinvara) may prove to be a mistake for Tyrion, but at least he has the ever mistrustful Varys by his side, bringing up the question of Stannis Baratheon as proof that Lord of Light fanatics aren’t always right.

These are some pretty big forward movements for the show, continuing an amazing five-episode run that reiterates the series as one worthy of all the hype. This episode really is all about the happenings north of the wall though, and it culminates in Hodor’s tragic death at the boney hands of those terrifyingly fast Wights (and Bran’s disobedience).

Almost every show on television always has that one younger character who makes a stupid mistake and unwittingly puts everyone else in danger by not listening to some instruction. In GoT’s case it’s Bran, who mentally wonders off to see more of the White Walkers only to be noticed and marked by the Night’s King, confirming that indeed Brandon Stark can actually interact with the past, affecting the current timeline. This mistake magically ruins the invisible barrier that was keeping the White Walkers out and so the Night’s King and his army are able to infiltrate and cause complete chaos, leading to quite a few deaths in this “blood” bath.

As a result the Three-Eyed Raven, the Children of the Forest (at least the ones who are present), and even poor Summer (stop killing the Direwolves!) are killed off quite quickly, but not before Leaf is able to help Bran, Meera, and Hodor escape…through a back door. And that door starts to take on a deeper meaning as the show jumps back and forth between the present and the past in a cruel attempt to milk us for all the tears.

Bran was stuck traveling into the past, back at Winterfell, so wasn’t able to to warg into Hodor directly to fight of the wights. Instead, Meera’s plea to ‘warg into Hodor’ is heard by Bran in the past, who then transfers himself into past-Hodor in order to control present-Hodor, essentially bringing young Wylis’ mind into the future where he, as Hodor, has to “hold the door” against the Wights. This complicated mind-fuck sends poor Wylis into a fit, where he is repeating the phrase “hold the door” so much it eventually becomes “hodor”, right before the Wights kill him as an adult (essentially leaving the young Wylis in a stupor). It’s a surprising and emotionally hard-hitting explanation for the origins of Hodor, making his death all that more affecting by connecting the dots while the stress from seeing the show’s most innocent character getting killed is serving as a visceral gut-punch more hurtful than anything Game of Thrones has hit us with before. Director Jack Bender sure knows how to tease the most emotion possible out of a scene – he was one of Lost’s primary directors – and he proved that here. I love and hate him for it.

Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Highlights:

  • Hodor’s origins explained in the most poignant way.
  • Theon stepping up at the Kingsmoot
  • Dany’s command to Jorah
  • The play in Braavos
  • Tormund’s awkward flirting with Brienne
  • Sansa’s confidence

Lowlights:

  • Some major scenes felt rushed (ie, Children of the Forest creating White Walkers).

Stray Thoughts:

  • I love the whole dark, cloudy “I Am England” tone that’s been kept consistent for The Iron Islands, effectively dark much like the time spent first getting to know Stannis and The Red Woman over at Dragonstone.
  • Jorah supposedly heading back to Westoros could have some exciting implications for the Battle of the Bastards, assuming that Jon Snow/Castle Black would the storyline he is merged with.

Episode MVP: Hodor

Game of Thrones screens in Australia on Foxtel every Monday at 11am.