Monday, May 29, 2017

Game of Thrones (Re)Watch 6.1: "The Red Woman"

Read the previous piece in this series here.
Read the next piece in this series here.

6.1 “The Red Woman”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Commentary by Jeremy Podeswa, Greg Middleton (DP), and Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne)

Well, here we are. Well and truly beyond the books, in uncharted territory—for us. Benioff and Weiss had a long talk with Martin before they hit this point, so they know what’s supposed to happen in the books, but they clearly just don’t care. I remember reading at one point (and I can’t find it now) Benioff and Weiss remarking that they were relieved not to be “tied down” by the books anymore. They probably meant that fans couldn’t yell about them deviating from the canon plot (they have no idea), but it really came off as “yay, now we don’t have that Martin dude holding us back from being as completely insane as we really want to be!” It feels that by about season three they were seriously chafing under the restrictions of adaptation rather than doing original work, so they went haring off in their own direction, and now, without actual books as a blueprint, they’re free to do whatever they want. And then turn around and blame Martin anyway when people get angry about big shocker moments (like Shireen last season. And Hodor this season).

This episode picks up right where the last one left off, with Jon dead on the ground. Ghost is howling and trying to beat his way out of his cage, which gets Davos’ attention. With the help of Edd and a couple of other loyal men, they take Jon back to his office and lay him on a table—instead of burning him immediately, which is the smart thing to do on the Wall! Okay, yes, that would mean we don’t have Jon anymore, but seriously, they let him sit for days. A) gross; b) what if he got back up as a wight? The men discuss what to do now that only Davos, Edd, and a couple of random brothers are still loyal to the ideals of the Night’s Watch, and Edd goes out to get the Wildlings to help beef up their numbers. Melisandre mourns over Jon's body for some reason; if I didn't know better I'd think she had started to think that maybe he was the Prince That Was Promised but now he's dead, too.

Alliser explains to the rest of the Night’s Watch that yes, they killed Jon, but it was for his own good. Olly makes a determined face. The rest of the Night’s Watch gives in with a few grumbles. Alliser and his posse yell at Davos and his posse through the door, demanding they give up Jon’s body and come back into the fold—except Davos, who’s free to go and take Melisandre with him. Davos has no intention of opening the door and allowing the Night’s Watch to come in and kill all of them. He plans to instead get Melisandre’s help.

Melisandre, isn’t feeling very helpful. Instead, she’s sitting in her room staring blankly into the fire. She’s clearly lost all hope and I have absolutely no sympathy for her because she burned a little girl alive for no reason and then abandoned Stannis without any explanation. Apparently she stopped believing that he’s the Prince That Was Promised, but since we only see her from the outside (and we don’t get her trying to see Stannis in the fire and constantly getting either Jon or a snowstorm). She gets up and stands in front of her mirror, then takes her clothes off, then takes her necklace off and turns into a withered old woman. She heads over to the bed and climbs in, wrapping herself up in the furs.

Remember way back when I mentioned that the screenshot of Melisandre in the tub would be important? Here’s why. We’ve seen her without the necklace before. The implication here is that it’s the necklace holding the illusion magic that makes her look young and sexy. That implication would be a lot clearer if they’d kept the Rattleshirt-is-Really-Mance subplot with the ruby wrist-cuff that held the illusion on him, but whatever.

Normally I avoid nudity in these screenshots, but this is really the only way to see what I mean.

Additionally, this plays right into one of those women-in-horror tropes with women not being what they appear to be and tricking the man/men, especially into having sex with them. It’s the succubus thing, the vagina dentata thing, the vampire thing. Melisandre has been seducing or attempting to seduce every man in the show since she appeared, and you can’t tell me that this reveal—which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in its placement—doesn’t play into the “ew” factor. As often as she’s naked for no reason, it’s clear we’re supposed to see her as sexy and desirable, but surprise, she’s actually a withered old hag using magic to make herself look sexy and desirable, but really you were lusting after a withered old hag all this time. Reducing Melisandre’s power to sex magic—what is what they’ve done in the show—doesn’t allow this reveal to explain her backstory, or why she’s so skilled and wise, or any of the other little mysteries about her background and characterization.

In Winterfell, Ramsay is mourning the loss of Myranda, his partner in depraved crime, who understood him like nobody else did. Gross. The maester asks if he wants her body buried or burned; Ramsay says to feed her to the dogs because something something poetry something something double gross.

Roose has a Talk with Ramsay, complimenting him for winning the battle but scolding him for losing Sansa and Theon. He says if Ramsay had just managed to control himself and not play his stupid games with Sansa, this might not have happened. And oh, by the way, they’re probably about to have to face a Lannister army because technically marrying Sansa was treason.  And if Ramsay doesn’t find Sansa and get her pregnant, Winterfell will go to Walda’s son. Roose really doesn’t understand Ramsay at all, and is just courting his own death at this point. Also Walda’s and her son’s.

Sansa and Theon are running away through the frozen north. Theon gets them ready to cross a frozen river, and Sansa says there’s no way she’s going in the literally freezing river when the air temperature is also below freezing because that way lies certain death. Theon says it’s this or the dogs, and the tone I’m picking up is that Sansa is the one being unreasonable and girly, which is stupid. Theon shelters them in the roots of a fallen tree a few steps from the river, as if that’s going to hide them from the hunters. It doesn’t, so Theon tries to draw them off and tell them Sansa’s dead, but guess who gets discovered in a tree.

Brienne and Pod to the rescue! Pod’s fighting skills have improved; apparently, because he manages to stay on the horse and kill a man. Brienne takes out a few herself, as does Theon. Brienne then kneels in front of Sansa and again offers her service. Sansa, who loves nothing more than tales of knightly valor, whose armor is courtesy, who dreamed of a knight or a prince to protect her and love her, forgets the words accepting Brienne’s fealty. Podrick Payne, the worst squire in the world, has to prompt her.

I cannot express to you how angry I am about this moment. Every single thing Benioff and Weiss do with Sansa takes away everything about her character that is interesting and strong. At least Brienne is happy; she has a purpose again.

The “Dorne” storyline explodes spectacularly in this episode. Doran and Ellaria discuss how Oberyn would ultimately have been a bad ruler because he was more of the adventuring type, and he’s glad fate put them right where they’re supposed to be. Ellaria agrees that Doran would have made a terrible adventurer. Then the maester brings him a message announcing Myrcella’s death. Tyene stabs Aero in the back (Aero deserved so much more from this show), and Ellaria stabs Doran in the chest. Tyene throws a knife, taking out the maester. Ellaria tells Doran everyone in Dorne hates him for not doing something about Oberyn. Doran asks about Trystane; Ellaria says that, like Doran, he’s weak, “and weak men will never rule Dorne again.” She bears him to the ground and stabs him a couple more times just to be sure. And none of the other guards standing around do a damn thing about it, because that's totally believable.

Jaime has returned to King’s Landing with Myrcella’s body, and Trystane is painting the rocks for her eyes. He’s still on the boat, anchored in a small, private little bay, which is why I really want to know what kind of teleportation powers Obara and Nym have that let them go from the docks at Sunspear, where we last saw them, to the same boat as Trystane without any clear means of transport or boarding. Did they swim?

They give Trystane the option of which of them to fight, and he chooses Nym. So Obara puts her spear through the back of his head, prompting Nym (always the wordsmith) to call her a “greedy bitch.” Because not only are Benioff and Weiss horrible at writing politics, they are abysmal at writing women and women’s relationships.

The sheer number of deaths over the next several episodes leads me to believe that Benioff and Weiss were just cleaning house, that some of these characters—including the entire Dorne contingent—were just here because they were in the books. Set free of the books, the show murders the heck out of anyone not deemed absolutely necessary for the plot.

Meanwhile, in the Keep, Cersei tells Jaime about the prophecy, and he swears to protect her. He says they’re the only people in the whole world who matter: “fuck anyone who isn’t us.” Because who needs character development, right?

Over in the Sept of Baelor, Unella is now tormenting Margaery until the High Sparrow comes in and tells her that she really needs to be with Tommen because marriage is sacred, but he can’t let her go until she confesses to her sins. She says she has nothing to confess; he asks if she thinks she’s perfect, and she says nobody is. He thinks she’s on the right track now.

In Meereen, Tyrion’s doing a bang-up job of governing. Varys takes him for a walk, during which Tyrion makes the first of many eunuch jokes, scares a beggar woman by making her think he wants to eat her baby, and discovers that the entire fleet in the harbor is on fire. Great work, Tyrion. We got you to replace Hizdahr and Barristan why? Good thing you’ve got Varys here to roll his eyes and clean up your messes (for now).

Speaking of totally competent men, Jorah and Daario come upon an area with burned bones and, with their Sherlock-like powers of deduction, decide that Drogon’s been here. They keep riding, and Daario speculates that maybe Dany didn’t want to be queen and was actually running away from men like them. Jorah says everywhere has men like them (you’re damn straight). Daario then half-taunts, half-sympathizes with Jorah for being in love with Dany and her not reciprocating. Jorah checks on the progress of his greyscale, which is still spreading. Then they find the torn-up area of grass where Dany dropped her ring (and it somehow wasn’t picked up by a horse’s hoof or trampled deep in the grass).

Further along in the Dothraki Sea, Dany’s tied up and walking like a slave, but somehow still allowed to keep her dragon torque? The riders laugh amongst themselves about how pale and blonde she is, then haul her to the khal’s tent, where what is arguably the absolute worst piece of writing in the entire series occurs. The khal’s bloodriders want to rape her on the spot because the Dothraki are barbarians, remember. The khal’s wives want her killed as a witch because barbarians are superstitious like that. The khal can’t wait to rape Dany himself because apparently there’s nothing better than seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time, but the bloodriders chime in with three things that might maybe be better than seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time and it’s a mix of Conan the Barbarian’s “kill your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentation of their women” and Monty Python’s “amongst our various weapons are surprise, fear, alarm, nice red uniforms, and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope” and oh my god just watch it because there’s nothing I can say that does it justice.


It’s at this point that Dany finally announces herself and all her titles, and somehow they don’t believe her although it’s not like the Dothraki spend all their time riding around the Dothraki Sea in circles. They capture slaves and trade them to the cities of Slavers Bay, and you’re telling me that nobody mentioned to them that they don’t have slaves anymore because of a white-haired crazy lady with dragons? Only when she invokes Drogo’s name do they back off, because it’s the equivalent of her saying “I have a boyfriend” to get the horny dude at the bar to leave you alone. She demands that they take her back to Meereen, but they’re like um, no, you go back to Vaes Dothrak to live with the Dosh Khaleen, because this has totally been mentioned before. The women are super smug about what should be an honor—the Dosh Khaleen are supposed to essentially be the rulers of the Dothraki, after all. Dany is, of course, less than thrilled.

Blind Arya is begging on a street corner until the Waif comes along, tosses her a quarterstaff, and proceeds to beat the crap out of her and saunter off. Nobody on the street seems to notice or care that this is happening. Maybe it’s normal enough for the training regimen at the House of Black and White.

So the first full season off-book is off to a great start! I can’t wait to write up the rest of it. (cries)

Doran Martell
Aero Hotah
Trystane Martell
Sunspear maester
Bolton soldiers

Next week: Brynden and Bran are back. Tyrion’s still a bad leader. Yara wants to be queen. Melisandre raises the dead.

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