Game of Thrones: 601 “The Red Woman” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
It’s been a long wait since the last episode of Game of Thrones ended in agonising fashion with Jon Snow betrayed by his Night’s Watch Brothers and left for dead. 316 full days (not that anyone was counting), 316 full days for those who knew the answers to tease us about his fate. Finally it was time for us to learn the answers, was his death permanent or will he be revived, all was set to be answered as the series returned tonight. Except it wasn’t, and to be honest I didn’t expect it to be addressed this week at all given the show’s previous form of dropping a bombshell and then leaving it for a week before revisiting said storyline. At least here they had the decency to open where they left off and indeed the story at the wall did form the largest portion of this week’s narrative.
So what in fact did we learn? The answer is as disappointing as the expansion of the plot itself, nothing really happens. We see Ser Allister explain his rationale behind his mutiny to his brothers and Ser Davos take custody of Jon Snow’s corpse citing they will have help from others who cared about Jon Snow. As a follow up to one of the most significant moments in the franchise’s history it falls well short of how a show of this quality should be able to deliver. Perhaps the only olive branch that can be taken from the storyline is the developments with the Lady Melisandre at the episodes denouement suggesting that something may be about to happen next week. That said the creative decision to push it back until then has to be questioned. I can appreciate the hype surrounding the Jon Snow mystery, but it’s hung over the show like a spectre in the interim and to keep it in play runs the risk of becoming toxic. This episode had the feel of being written specifically to allow the audience to be toyed with for one more week. Might be worth noting that Kit Harrington’s name appeared in the opening credits, however the same was true last year for Charles Dance who also played a corpse in that episode.
Sadly the Jon Snow storyline wasn’t even the biggest crime this episode committed, that title goes to the episode as a whole because of its inability to deliver a single interesting storyline development for the majority of the characters it visited. The potential of Arya coming to terms with her newfound disability is woeful underutilised. With Daenerys the threat of her capture by the Dothraki is ultimately negated by a strange creative decision that seemingly contradicts her reasoning for dropping the ring in last series’ finale. Jaime and Cersei are also given a scene that shows them coming to terms with their own loss from the previous episode, this see’s the bond between them strengthen as the vow to overcome anyone who opposes them. Sticking in King’s Landing it was nice to see that the writers actually remembered that Margaery Tyrell exists however the scene actually serves as little more than a reminder to that fact.
Speaking of characters who we may have forgot existed, Bran Stark who will make his return after a year out in the cold (quite literally) fails to make an appearance. This is another decision I find particularly odd especially in light of the promotional material which seemed to suggest he will be a key player this year. If there’s anyone who needed a proper introduction it was him. In summary to this section of the review, I feel the episode tried to do too much with too many characters and ended up spreading itself to thin. It honestly feels more like an epilogue to Series Five rather than the start of a brand new chapter.
There were in fact two major developments within the narrative that do set things off in a potentially (we haven’t seen enough yet to actually know) exciting direction. Last season undoubtedly cut down the number of storylines by bringing characters together and killing others off, this episode continues that trend. The first of these see Brienne and Pod finally meet up with Sansa and Theon which I am actually quite upset about because it robs us of two good storylines. Brienne’s choice to abandon Sansa to obtain vengeance against Stannis now seems pointless as the lasting consequences and potential guilt are now gone by a character simply being in the right place at the right time. The decision to bring these characters together also takes away the chance to see how Sansa would have reacted to Theon had they been the only person for each other. I’m hoping the quartet can deliver as good a story as the two potential separate duos would have, however I very much doubt this will be the case.
The second development come from one of last year’s most disappointing storylines: Dorne. To be honest it really doesn’t improve the situation at all, in fact it removes arguably the best character from story arc and the potential reaction of Cersei to the innocent Trystane (who one has to assume was allowed to stay on the Dorne ship by Jaime). It doesn’t make sense either how the situation was allowed to unfold, at the most basic level we have SandSnakes teleporting from a pier in Dorne onto a ship in King’s Landing and guards who have randomly changed allegiance in the space of about three episode. It’s all round shoddy writing that looks as if the creative powers behind the show seen that the storyline was unpopular and decided to shake it up a bit in true Game of Thrones fashion. Well I guess there had to be a graphic death in episode one didn’t there?
It is rather painful to give such a low rating to the episode, especially after such a long wait for it to air. What’s even more disappointing is the manner in which the episode flops, with the creative decisions being the root for all the issues. This is extremely worrisome as having reached the point where the majority of the source material is exhausted. If that means that the writers of the show have more creative reign than ever, this episode does not help to instill confidence that the show will continue to deliver to its reputation. You know the game is up when I actually regretted getting up early to watch the episode this morning which after the gap between series was a particularly bitter pill to swallow. At least we can say that the only way is up from here…hopefully!