Only read if you have seen Game of Thrones Season Six, Episode One.
Oh, Brienne’s face! Oh, Cersei’s face! Oh, Melisandre’s face (and parts beyond)!
Beloved Throners, come here. Come into the light. Let your Mother of Kittens see your beautiful faces. It’s been too long, but look, you’re as sensual as ever. Your lips are like firm ripe sausages, your skin as soft as a fluffy towel, and your eyes as piercing as a Dornish spear through the back of a skull.
Your humble recappespondent is so glad to be back with you. Let us shake off any initial awkwardness (perhaps along with our robes?) and buckle down to some hardcore recapping.
It’s all become clear why the Hall of Faces has been the lynchpin of HBO’s advertising for Season Six of Game of Thrones.
For not only did this debut episode do its usual job of going around the Westeros/Essos grounds more efficiently than a hoarder on kerbside collection day, it put its faces right in our face. Whether it was facing off, facing up, facing facts or saving face, we were left in no doubt how our favourites and not-so-favourites (that’s you, Ramsay, you cg**m sht) are positioned for the season ahead.
Of course our most beloved face remained heart-stoppingly still for the entire episode, but don’t worry, I’m not panicking about that at all. Sure, I gulped a Xanax smoothie directly after the episode finished, but I remain confident we’re going to see a Snow drift back into our lives very soon. Somebody turn on Jefferson Airplane - it’s time to dive down the rabbit hole and get fr-ea-ky.
Episode 1: The Red Woman
It began as it ended - with Jon Snow dead in his namesake. Luckily Ghost’s howls of pain were loud enough to be heard over the biting north winds, drawing Ser Davos to the sight of Jon’s exquisite corpse.
Dolorous Edd and a small pool of other faithful friends gathered to help Davos take Jon inside and lay him on his Lord Commander’s desk. A good choice; I too would lay Jon on his Lord Commander’s desk should the opportunity ever arise. There’s a joke there about rigor mortis, but I am far too classy a recappespondent to make it.
This coming together of like-minded, Jon-friendly souls - aka, decent godsdamn people - was such a joy to watch. Edd figured out immediately that Ser Alliser Thorne, a guy who’d give Richard Nixon a run in the shitty personality stakes, was responsible for Jon’s death, and only a few people (and Ghost!) could be trusted.
I suspect Ser Davos, a one-time smuggler, was always a natural leader, before Stannis showed him mercy by chopping off his fingers. Stannis is gone, but that has not left Ser Davos floundering like any run-of-the-mill dependant lieutenant. We see ample evidence of his natural capacity to give orders, act wisely, and judge character as he works out how to deal with this latest turn of events. He’s the one who figures out despite being outgunned, outmanned, and outplanned by the rest of the traitorous watch, there is no point in facing a quick death by trying to kill as many traitorous Night’s Watchmen as possible, which was Edd’s initial plan.
Ser Davos reminds him they weren’t the only friends Jon had, and Edd gets the message - it's the Wildlings, stupid! He slips out to no doubt light a fire under Tormund Giantsbane’s capacious bottom, while the others stay holed up to protect Jon’s body.
The always antagonistic relationship between Melisandre and Davos appears to be thawing, as she’s the only person the faithful group will let in to examine the corpse. It makes sense, given they have a lot more in common now. Crestfallen by the realisation Stannis was not her mythical warrior of prophecy, she suffers a double blow with the loss of Jon, and her face is truly worth pitying. “I saw him in the flames, fighting at Winterfell,” she intones, no doubt crushed by the thought of not having the opportunity to knock up a shadow baby with him. Sorry, Kate Bush, but there’s nothing in that man’s eyes, let alone a child.
Thorne himself is quite happy to declare his role in The Most Beautiful Boy in the World’s demise, convincing the Black Brothers he had to do what he did because Jon would have ruined the Watch with all that “tolerance” and “big picture thinking”. Actually, forget Nixon, Alliser Thorne is really Donald Trump. Next he’ll be making the Wildlings pay for repairs to The Wall.
Jon’s temporary mausoleum is surrounded by his one-time brothers, and Ser Alliser Trump insists they’ll be treated fairly if they give up. He even offers to let Ser Davos ride south as a free man, complete with a fresh horse. “And mutton,” Ser Davos demands, with more cheek than a faulty g-string.
For the Onion Knight has Ser Alliser Trump’s measure, and the group agrees that if they let him in, they will be slaughtered. While they hope Edd and the Wildlings can make it back before sundown, Ser Davos suggests recruiting Melisandre. “What can one woman do against forty men?” one watchmen cries, and Seaworth’s face is priceless. “You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do,” he responds, his seemingly forgotten hatred of Melisandre a confirmation of his status as a good guy. Which puts him in terrible, terrible risk. Please don’t kill Ser Davos.
And quick aside - anybody else notice that Olly sure did age up between last night when he stabbed Jon Snow, and this morning when he attended the Watch meeting with Ser Alliser? Must have been one of those growth spurts.
Of course we waited the rest of the episode (don’t worry, I’ll get to that) to see Kate Bush launch into a stirring rendition of Don’t Give Up, do some spooky Asshai magic and un-Avada Kedavra Jon Snow. But no.
It turns out that Kate Bush isn’t the only chanteuse with whom Melisandre has something in common. She goes a little bit Barbra Streisand when she removes her robe and her bejewelled choker to show us that The Mirror Has Two Faces. Beneath her porcelain skin and firm, youthful musculature (and boobs) stands the face and body of a woman far, far older. Stooped, sagged, grey, glorious.
In one image, it’s an indictment on what a woman must do to have power in this world. Melisandre draws on sexual energy; ergo, the face she presents must remain young, beautiful, tempting. My reaction is a classic contemporary feminazi dilemma - my soul screams hooray, but my vanity wonders where I could pick up one of those handy chokers. I’m generally a rationalist type, but if following the Lord of Light means being able to magick yourself into a slim seductress, sign me up. My overly extensive collection of make-up and diet shakes indicates I’m already a sucker for any cult that promises eternal youth and pert buns.
Still, I hope resurrection will be on the cards in episode two. After all, Jon Snow’s body has yet to be burned, so it’s still ripe for re-entry. Into the world, of course. And I’m sure Kate Bush will bounce back. She is the Rubbaband Girl after all.
In Winterfell, BOOOO HISSSS Ramsay Bolton is “mourning” his mistress Myranda, who face-planted into the cobblestones courtesy of a well-timed Theon Greyjoy shove. A kennel master’s daughter, she was one fearless bitch, and he pledges to repay the pain she suffered one thousand times over. Oh joy, as if Ramsay needed more levels.
BOOO HISSSS Roose Bolton congratulates his son on routing Stannis’s army, and confirms that the last Baratheon brother did indeed met his end. Suck on that, Stannis-Is-Alive conspiracy theorists. Roose, calm as always, then works to undermine Ramsay’s confidence by reminding him that a broken Baratheon army is no match for a properly prepped Lannister onslaught. And if Ramsay doesn’t find Sansa, his legitimising claim-bride, that’s exactly what will happen. “A reckoning will come,” Roose monotones, intriguingly calm about potential ruination at the hands of angry North Men.
The elder Bolton then issues the mother of all passive-aggressive threats. If there’s no Sansa, then Ramsay can’t sire an heir. And if he has no heir, well… “Let us hope the maesters are right and Lady Walla will have a boy.” Oh GOSH I hope that happens. Actually, wait, maybe I don’t. I get the feeling Ramsay will treat a boy child worse than old Craster north of the wall.
Ramsay’s hounds are in hot pursuit of Theon Greyjoy and Sansa Stark, who are running through wintry forest in an exemplary tribute to Taylor Swift’s Out of the Woods video clip. Sansa can’t face going into a freezing river to hide their scent, but Theon gently but urgently convinces her. It’s a gorgeous moment of trust, and another step in the Redemption of Reek. And it makes us realise there was an upside to the whole whiskaway-willy situation - no shrinkage.
The tactic is in vain however, since Bolton’s men eventually find the pair. Theon tries to hide Sansa in the roots of a fallen tree, but it’s no good. All seems lost, with the Flayed Man decorative motifs on the soldier’s backs a stark reminder of what punishment may await them back at Winterfell.
AND THEN THE MOST AWESOME OF AWESOME THINGS TO EVER AWESOME HAPPENS.
Brienne, beautiful, mighty, brave Brienne, gallops up on her horse and F-KS SHIT RIGHT UP.
Oh man, what utter joy. She is thrown from her horse, set upon by Boltonese bastards, but gets back up and keeps fighting, slitting throats with glorious gusto. Even Podrick Payne, her batman (or should that be Robin to Brienne’s Batman?) manages to stab off a goon.
And when Podrick himself is threatened, it’s Theon who grabs a discarded sword and plunges it into the back of the attacker. It’s a callback to Season One, when Theon shot the Wildling holding Bran hostage. Despite all that has happened to him, all his own screw ups, loyalty to the Starks remains a deeply held value. Oh Gods, I think I’ve developed a massive soft spot for Theon. This cannot end well (for a variety of reasons).
With the BOOOO HISSSS Bolton drones dispensed with, it only remains for Brienne to once again pledge her sword and service to Sansa, just as she did to her mother Catelyn. Sansa, long past her “brave knights and fair ladies” stage, still knows how to conjour the courtly language when the need arises. Although she doesn’t quite get through her part of the pledge without a little help from Pod, which is possibly the most adorable moment of the show.
Brienne’s face as she is accepted by Sansa is transformatively beautiful. She is not whole without a purpose, a reason to fight, someone to protect. Her face glows, and it’s not just the glare off the snow. Once again, it’s the women of Game of Thrones showing what true courage looks like, and I couldn’t be more thrilled at this new Scooby gang.
Down in King’s Landing Cersei Lannister gave us good face as she waited for the boat bringing Myrcella Water back to her. After her Walk of Shame, the arrival of her beloved only daughter would be some welcome news. And as much as I loathe Cersei in so many ways, I couldn’t help my heart breaking for her as she realised her daughter was dead.
Later, as she and Jaime reflected on their loss, she talked about how good, sweet and pure Myrcella Water was. “I don’t know where she came from,” she said. “She was nothing like me, no meanness or jealousy.” Throners, I couldn’t help it. I LOVED Cersei in that instant. The self-awareness is stinging. I had never thought Cersei really knew herself, but she does, she really does. She knows she is incapable of basic decency, and so her fight to keep her children safe was not just lioness pride, but the knowledge that they kept a check on her character flaws. They gave her humanity.
Of course, right on cue, Jaime was there to fire her up again with his stirring mantra: “F-k prophecy, f-k fate, f-k everyone who isn’t us.” Reflective Cersei will no doubt be boxed away again quickly, clamped down on more tightly than extreme kegels. Let off the leash to indulge in her flaws, Cersei will no doubt cause chaos once more.
We catch a brief glimpse of Margaery Tyrell, aka the Queen of King Tommen, aka Royal Clothes Horse and Baby Maker Kate Middleton. Huddled away in her cell, her former finery reduced to rags her life appears to have become an episode of Prisoner, with the stern Septa Unella doing a fine impression of The Freak, interrupting scripture readings with calls to “Confess!”.
“She is over zealous,” explains the High Sparrow, who comes in to offer nothing much more than cheap talk to Margaery, frankly. He doesn’t give her any information on whether her brother Slow Lorus is OK, and despite her insistence that she doesn’t have any crimes to confess to, maintains she has a long road to travel. Before what? Will she be made do a Cersei strut herself? Honestly, what is Big Bird playing at? He’s a true believer, surely. But what good is all this relentless purging? Will he only be happy when everyone else is wearing grubby oversized nightshirts like him?
And hey, what about all that death in Dorne? Poor Prince Doran, so trusting of the villainous and passionate Ellaria Sand. He told her to stop plotting, so she must have stopped. Like seven hells she did. That was a classic Game of Thrones "Surprise! Murder!" moment, when Doran opened up the raven's note, gasped in surprise at the news of Myrcella Water's death, then copped a dagger to the chest courtesy of his dead brother's paramour. Daughter Nymeria was in action too, taking out Area Hotah (possibly the most thankless role in the show to date?), and the messenger, while the guards stood silent.
It was a particularly brutal scene, watching Ellaria stand tall over a bleeding Prince Doran, begging for the life of his son. Doran knew himself; knew he was not an adventurer like the dead Oberyn, but was the kind of ruler the Red Viper never could be. Who cares, says Ellaria. You're weak, you don't know your people, you don't know that they hate you. Of course, we don't really know either, given the Dornish scenes so far show only royals and palace guards in the damn place, but that's a budget issue. "Weak men will not be allowed to rule Dorne anymore," she declares. Valar Morghulis, indeed.
Over in Meereen (home of the prized Meereeno wool), Varys and Tyrion are taking a stroll around a city at a standstill. Disguised as merchants, they see the damage caused by the Sons of the Harpy rebellion and Daenarys’ flight. Hungry citizens, scrappy prayer meetings, Lord of Light infiltration, murderers around every corner, insubordinate street art - and the whole of Daenarys’ fleet up in flames. “I guess we’re not going to Westeros after all,” quips Tyrion. How will they rule a city where they are no longer welcome (“Mhysa is a Master/Kill the Masters”), and have lost their one unifying symbol, the Queen?
Jorah Mormont and Daario “Maario” Noharis are on the hunt for the Khaleesi, following a trail of dragon leftovers up into the mountains of the Dothraki Sea. They discuss reasons why she might not have come back, including, as Maario suggests, escaping from “men like us”. “I’ve been all over the world,” replies Jorah. “And there’s no escaping men like us.”
Oh, boom. “Men like us”. Men who mean well, but do bad things. JORAH SUMS UP THE PATRIARCHY, YO.
He also manages to find Daenarys’ pearl ring, a really lucky coincidence when you think about it. But the ring confirms that she’s been taken by a Dothraki horde, and he and Maario continue their rescue mission. Because they are men like them. Jorah’s greyscale is spreading, but he says nothing of it. Because he is a man like him.
As for Dany herself, she’s busy being subjected to physical flagellation and verbal affronts courtesy of two Dothraki bloodriders.
They make all manner of lewd suggestions about her hair, whether the carpets match the drapes, all that sort of thing. They threaten her with sexual violence, although one does cheerfully suggest that he prefers his sexual conquests to be able to talk, “otherwise we are just dogs”. Ahh, the sensitivity the Dothraki are known for.
Eventually Dany is brought before a new Khal, Moro. Now Moro in my dictionary means the Cadbury Mars Bar ripoff currently only found clogging up boxes of Favourites (closely followed by the Cherry Ripe and the Turkish Delight), so he sounds too delicious to be scary.
Dany informs Khal Chocolate Bar that she is Daenarys Stormborn, of House Targaryen, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Breaker of Chains, Mother of Dragons, Yada of Yada. He doesn’t seem impressed, and intends to have her for himself that night, despite the protestations of his wives that she must be a witch.
Like a true dudebro, he only backs off when Dany tells him she was married to Khal Drogo. It turns out to be forbidden to touch widows of former Khals. And, it is known, that the only suitable life for a former Khaleesi is hanging about in Vaes Dothrak with all the other widows. Dany is not impressed. Jorah said she was too smart to enjoy being Queen of Meereen. That remains true, but it’s got to be a better option than, to misquote Satre, “Hell with Other Horse People”.
Yay! Best Moments
Honestly, the Brienne/Bolton Battle was hard to beat. But for comedy’s sake, I have to make it the Python-esque scenario of Khal Nougat-and-Caramel describing seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time as the finest thing in life, only to be challenged by his bloodriders. “OK fine!” he eventually concedes. “Seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time is one of the top five finest things in life!” I tell you, nobody expected that from this episode.
Zing! Best Lines
I was sorry to see poor Trystane Martell dispensed with so early in the piece. He was a very dishy young thing, and was very likely going to be added to my ogling roster. However, the master stroke - Obara Sand’s spear through the back of his head - really was a master stroke. And it allowed her sister Tyene to deliver the corker line “You’re a greedy bitch, you know that?” I noticed that the Sand Snakes had sexy new costumes this time around; maybe they’re going to step up the zingers as well.
Ramsay Bolton’s breathtaking declaration that Myranda’s body was “good meat” and should be fed to the dogs was as disgustingly messed up as it was completely and utterly expected.
Arya’s brief appearance as a blind beggar on the streets of Braavos seemed a bit tacked on. Don’t get me wrong, I love Arya as much as the next gal, but I want her plotline to move faster. I know, I know, she’s got to pay for her mistake in taking a face when she wasn’t yet No One, but damn it, Meryn Trant deserved that eye stabbing. And a bit of street biffo with That-other-chick-from-the-House-of-Black-and-White-who-doesn’t-seem-to-have-a-name-and-so-is-really-hard-to-reference just wasn’t that exciting.
Apart from that, my only complaint was the lack of action for some characters we so love to watch/hate watch. For example - no Littlefinger? I mean, I hate the guy like I hate tomato on a sandwich, but it would’ve been nice to place him somewhere so I can keep a watchful eye on the creep. A glimpse of the gorgeously goofy Sam Tarly would have been a sight for sore eyes. And I was so hoping to see Bran and Hodor again! No Hodor! Denied!
That’s it for our first episode, beloved Throners. Another nine juicy hour-long morsels to savour. Oooh, my mouth is watering more than a sweaty gardener flagrantly ignoring drought restrictions.
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Thank you all SO much for joining me again this season. These recaps honestly are soul food for me, and your comments and discussion points are the most delicious of desserts. Valar Morghulis!
Check out the Raven On Podcast for this episode, featuring the sultry tones of Stuart Layt: