A review of tonight’s Game of Thrones coming up just as soon as the warts clear up in five years or so…
“Hold the door!” -Wyllis
For the longest time, Hodor was one of the most reliable sources of Game of Thrones humor — less on the show itself, though there were occasionally laughs or huge smiles to be had at his mono-vocabulary (case in point: his delight at being recognized by Sam), than as a fun way to talk about the show:
What did you think about what happened to Bran last night?
What’s going to happen next?
Who is the prince who was promised?
Etc. But Hodor — or, as we should probably refer to him in the aftermath of his incredibly heroic, incredibly tragic, death, Wyllis — was far more than a running gag. He was yet another little person (metaphorically speaking) of Westeros whose life was destroyed by the larger forces at play, who became a victim not only of wars between men, but of those between ice monsters and tree creatures, and of the way the series’ past informs its present — and, in this case, of the way the present can influence the past.
Once Bran got a glimpse of the young, verbal Wyllis, it was only a matter of time before we found out how and why he became Hodor, and my mind went to relatively earth-bound scenarios: a horse-kick, or an emotionally traumatic event. The actual explanation was far more powerful and painful: Wyllis became Hodor because many decades in the future, he would be needed to save Bran’s life at any cost, and the combination of Bran’s time-travel magic and Meera’s frantic pleas for him to “HOLD THE DOOR!” rippled backwards through time until they swallowed Wyllis whole and spit him out as a sweet, innocent creature capable of only saying a frantic, contracted version of that command. Seeing Hodor die under any circumstance would have been a tough blow: seeing it cross-cut with the story of how he got that way(*), and realizing Wyllis became Hodor because he had always in some way been Hodor — that his entire existence was made slave to this one moment — was just devastating. It’s one of the most memorable, beautiful, gut-wrenching death scenes in the show’s history, and certainly for so relatively minor a character, as if the storytellers were trying to make up in death for the grandeur Wyllis was denied in life.
(*) In the first Game of Thrones episode directed by Lost veteran Jack Bender, who has some experience with sequences where characters exist simultaneously in the past and present.
“The Door” had a lot of moments where the past reached out to slap one of the characters — or us poor wrecks in the audience — across the face. We learned, for instance, that the Children had created the White Walkers as weapons against men, only a few scenes before being wiped out by the zombie army(**). Sansa forced Littlefinger to confront the details of her serial rape at the hands of Ramsay, while Arya had to witness a cracked mirror version of the deaths of her father and Robert Baratheon. Wyllis’ death hit the hardest of those, because of its permanence and the revelation of his larger tragedy, and because it came at the end of the series’ most jaw-dropping action sequence since this same army descended on Hardhome, but it was far from the only grand moment.
(**) The entire zombie assault on the cave sequence was reminiscent of Ripley and the Marines scrambling through the ducts in Aliens, but particularly the way Leaf’s use of her final magical grenade — and let’s pause for a moment to consider the beauty of the phrase “magical grenade” — evoked the ends of Gorman and Vasquez.
There’s always the danger of a big action climax erasing the memory of everything else that happened in the episode, in the same way Bran’s powers and Meera’s screams erased Wyllis’ powers of language. But “The Door” was a pretty damn splendid episode of Game of Thrones long before the White Walkers and their army surrounded the cave, where nearly any other scene would have been the highlight of an episode with a less epic climax.
If “The Door” had only, for instance, featured Arya getting to watch a theatrical retelling of the story of Game of Thrones season 1… dayenu. That was not only a nice nod to the show’s spiritual roots in England, where Shakespeare and other playwrights made drama out of tragedies (in this case, a very recent one), but also a lively and amusing reminder of how so many of the show’s stories must look to people who only have one small part of the picture, or who live as far away as Braavos. In this version, for instance, Tyrion is every bit the monster his reputation paints him as, Joffrey’s not a saidst, and Arya’s father is peak Stupid Ned Stark, which at once feels unfair to him and a pretty apt portrayal of how he ultimately behaved in season 1. And forcing Arya to witness her father’s death again — and get a chance to kill a version of Cersei, albeit one who seems much nicer (and more kindly disposed to little people) than the genuine article — is an effective way of testing whether she truly is A Girl, or if she’s somehow, despite surviving the drink at the Faceless Men’s temple, Arya Stark under there.
Meanwhile, Sansa’s confrontation with Littlefinger was a wonderful delayed bit of justice for both her and Game of Thrones. The creative team took a lot of deserved grief last season for at times treating Sansa’s rapes as a story to which she was incidental, and only there to inform Theon’s character arc. Benioff and Weiss can’t change the past like Bran, but they did a much better job in the present at making clear exactly how much that was meant to be her story, and her suffering, by ordering Littlefinger to consider, and even recite, the details of what Ramsay did to her. This so far has been an excellent season for various Game of Thrones victims to regain control of their own narratives — even Theon gets to do this back at the Pyke, where he and Yarra are clever enough to steal a bunch of ships while Uncle Euron is busy being tested by the Drowned God — and as much as Sansa and Jon Snow could have used the help of the Vale’s army, it was awfully satisfying to have Sansa reject any help from this man, because she finally understands that no good ever comes from doing what Lord Baelish wants, except to Lord Baelish himself.
Even Varys was stunned to be confronted with a memory of his past, as Red Priestess Kinvara forced him to relive the memory of his mutilation, and, through that lens, to reconsider his atheism where the Lord of Light is concerned. Varys’ dumbstruck, even frightened, expression in that moment is one we’ve never quite seen from him, and he wasn’t the only character showing us a brand new face. We’ve seen, for instance, angry Dany, and confused Dany, and pained Dany, but the purely sad Dany as she absorbed the news of Jorah’s condition and his plans for suicide was a mode she’d never quite been in before, not even when Khal Drogo succumbed to his wounds. (At that time, there was more than a bit of rage at the manner of his death mixed in with pure grief.)
Or maybe Daenerys was yet another of this week’s time travelers, and that look on her face had something to do with her knowing what was coming at the end of the episode to one of the show’s most beloved characters. I didn’t have a mirror handy for this episode’s climax, but I imagine my expression at that moment and her earlier one weren’t too different.
Some other thoughts:
* It feels like it’s been a long time since we’ve had a King’s Landing-free episode, but in fact it happened twice just last season. Plus, the play did give us a kind of virtual King’s Landing. Still, the show’s only gone without a stop in the Westeros capital — and without an appearance by Cersei — a handful of times across five and a half seasons.
* Also, from a map obsessive’s perspective, interesting that the final credits location this week was Meereen, with no Vaes Dothrak, which goes against the usual tradition of always showing King’s Landing, Winterfell, the Wall, and wherever Dany is, but keeps alive the spirit of the map rules, in that she’s on her way to Meereen.
* The Blackfish! There’s a name we haven’t heard in a very long time. I wonder if Brienne’s travel to Riverrun will resolve the fate of Uncle Edmure, or if Tobias Menzies’ day job on Outlander will prevent that and leave poor Ed stuck in one of Walder Frey’s dungeons.
* I had been warned by book-reading friends that the Kingsmoot would last forever and a day, but it went by much more briskly than, say, our own current election cycle. One thing the show hasn’t done a great job at, even with its ability to digitally create armies and masses of humanity, is to give us a sense of just how big the population of the Iron Islands is. It looks, based on what we’ve seen of the place, like Theon and Yarra have taken off with the whole Iron Fleet — perhaps to steal Euron’s idea out from under him? — but it’s said they took the fleet’s best ships, not all of them.
* Speaking of people who may be about to embark on long sea voyages, if Jorah is looking for a greyscale cure, might he need to travel to Dragonstone to find out how Shireen’s condition was stabilized? Or, since Stannis said he brought in help from both sides of the ocean, might the answer be closer to our favorite kilt-wearer’s current location?
* Dolorous Edd realizing that he has somehow become the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was amusing, but sadly overshadowed by the comic genius of Tormund’s lovelorn gaze at Brienne earlier in the scene, and her disgusted response to that. This romance is going to take some patience, I suspect.
* Stop killing Max Von Sydow before giving him enough to do, sci-fi and fantasy storytellers. That is all.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org