The Red Woman

(10 comments)

State of Play

(They're genuinely helpful in quantifying what the episode did.)

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister

Lions of King’s Landing: Jaime Lannister, Cersei Lannister

The Dragon, Daenerys Targaryen

Ships of the Wall: Davos Seaworth

Burning Hearts of the Wall: Melisandre

Roses of King’s Landing: Margaery Tyrell

Snakes of Dorne: Elyria Sand

Direwolves of Winterfell: Sansa Stark

Direwolves of Braavos: Arya Stark

Spiders of Meereen: Varys

Kraken of Winterfell: Theon Greyjoy

Shields of Winterfell: Brienne of Tarth

Stars of King’s Landing: The High Sparrow

The Sword, Daario Naharis

Flayed Men of Winterfell: Roose Bolton, Ramsey Bolton

With the Bear, Iain Glenn

The episode is in nine parts. The first runs eight minutes and is set at the Wall. The opening shot is of the Wall at sunrise, as the camera pans down into Castle Black.

The second runs ten minutes and is set in Winterfell. The first section is three minutes long The transition is by image, from Jon Snow’s dead body to Miranda’s. The second section is seven minutes long. The transition is by dialogue, from Ramsey and Roose talking about Sansa to Sansa.

The third part runs six minutes  and is set in King’s Landing. The first section is four minutes long. The transition is by hard cut, from Brienne’s anguished face to the sails of Jaime’s ship. The second section is two minutes long. The transition is by hard cut, from Jaime holding Cersei to Septa Unella’s book.

The fourth part runs two minutes and is set in Dorne. The transition is by hard cut, from Margaery in her cell to a garden in Sunspear.

The fifth runs one minute and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Doran to Trystane Martell.

The sixth runs four minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by hard cut, from Trystane’s corpse to an establishing shot of the city.

The seventh runs nine minutes and is set in the Dothraki Sea. The first section is three minutes long. The transition is by faction, from Varys and Tyrion to Jorah and Daaario. The second section is six minutes long. The transition is by dialogue, from Jorah and Daario concluding that the Dothraki have captured Daenerys to Daenerys among the Dothraki.

The eighth runs two minutes and is set in Braavos. The transition is by hard cut, from Daenerys to a street in Braavos.

The ninth runs five minutes and is set at the Wall. The transition is by family, from Arya Stark to Jon Snow. The final image is of Melisandre going to bed.

Review

For what is surely the most highly anticipated episode of Game of Thrones ever - the first 100% off-book episode (well, 90% - Arya’s still in A Dance With Dragons) - this is a shockingly thin and uninspiring thing. Given that… I’d say there’s a fine line between a languid start and just trolling the audience, but it’s not that fine a line, and the title is on the wrong side of it. It refers to the biggest thing in the episode, I suppose, but that’s not saying much, and given that it also refers to the best bet on how Jon Snow is going to come back it’s more than faintly cruel.

That said, there’s something brave about the decision, and moreover with how understated the resultant episode is. The fact that so much of the Castle Black material is just Davos and some random Nights Watch people in a small room with Jon’s body, and that Dolorous Edd is the only actual sympathetic Nights Watch member with a name at this point is bold. That we don’t even get to the “never been much of a fighter” scene that’s been trailered and that they released a clip of is perhaps back to trolling, but still, the point stands: the confidence involved in making this episode a slow burn with an extra-understated finish speaks highly of the show.

All the same, there are some real weak spots in this episode, and the lack of anything substantive to compensate for them makes this tough to like. The Dorne massacre is shockingly bad - the elimination of nearly the entire cast of last season’s big new setting in three minutes, culminating in a bad quip is such an utterly ridiculous sequence that it’s hard not to just take it as an apology for the entire Dornish fiasco last season. Of course, “reduce Dorne to Elyira and the Sand Snakes” is what exactly nobody asked for, and it’s difficult to see how this is going to work as a plot given that there are no characters for Elyria to play off of anymore. Also, why are two of the Sand Snakes in King’s Landing, and moreover able to kill Trystane, who it’s absolutely unimaginable isn’t in custody as a hostage? This isn’t even fucking trying.

Meanwhile, the Arya scene is, while not bad, painfully perfunctory, and the Tyrion scene isn’t a lot better. Longer, yes, but existent seemingly mainly to disprove the hypothesis that it’s impossible to give Dinklage and Hill a bad scene. It’s alarmingly inept in its construction - at no point does either character in it actually take any action to achieve any goal. It’s always nice to have a Tyrion/Varys scene, but they’re clearly not rare treats at the moment, and man, is there anyone who wouldn’t rather have seen Tyrion and Missandei walking around Meereen? As for Daenerys… she gets four lines, all of them of the same generally defiant note. It’s fine, and a scene that has to happen, but again, not particularly inspiring.

What is good? The manic, despairing Cersei - her citing of the prophecy to Jaime, and the absurdly rash, reckless reply he gives. Unlike, say, the Tyrion/Varys scene, it bothers to show what’s interesting about the current status quo, which is Cersei in a fatalistic, despairing position without actually being in any danger as such. Cersei has been a villain for so long that it’s both strange and energizing to see her in a position where she can’t really function as an antagonist and her motivations are largely sympathetic. Really King’s Landing in general is good. The Margaery scene is curiously slender, but suggestive, with Natalie Dormer clearly enjoying getting to do something new with the character and doing a tremendous amount of heavy lifting with her final expression.

And the Sansa/Theon/Brienne/Podrick scene is also wonderful, both because it’s about the only one besides the Dorne massacre where something is allowed to happen and because what happens is long overdue and seems likely to be a compelling set of characters. Actually, first and foremost because of Gwendolyn Christie, who has never been better than this. The look on her face as she pledges her service is one of the most frighteningly moving things in the history of the series. Sophie Turner’s reaction is at once perfect and plausibly Turner just reacting in awe at her already skilled co-star abruptly discovering an entire range. It’s a pity that Sansa is otherwise being written as Susan Foreman, but the fact that she ends the scene as the de facto leader of the group is promising in the long term.

But where does that leave us? There’s surely fireworks to come, such that a slow start is going to be interesting in light of the whole. It ultimately says good things about the show that it’s capable of being so deliberate in making a counterintuitive choice at this point. I remain very much a Game of Thrones optimist. None of that makes this anything other than an anticlimax. It’s the televisual equivalent of writing for the trade. Which is fine, even in weekly serialized television. But man was it out of touch with the mood of April 24th, 2016.

Still, it'll get at least one week at number one in the ranking.

  1. The Red Woman

Comments

Jarl 10 months, 1 week ago

The Trystane/Sand Snakes thing had me WTFing out loud in front of the whole family. I think I worked it out, though. He's painting the eye-stones, and this is after news of the death has reached Dorne, and shortly after his father implies his son's absence. So, as I see it, the moment he heard what happened to his beloved, he boarded a ship so he could be present at the funeral and make the eye-stones for her, and the Snakes killed him before the ship departed. Meanwhile, through poor visual storytelling, the establishing shot either looks a lot like or else actually IS the establishing shot of the other ship arriving at King's Landing, when really Trystane is in the harbor of Dorne. After news has come down about the Coup, the Snakes arrive to take him out, before the ship can depart.

And as for the sand snakes and Elyria, the way I see it is we want the good storytelling, but we need the bad writing.

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Goodluck 10 months, 1 week ago

More patient and attentive people have done the hard work for me and pointed out that Trystane was on the same boat (with a distinctive faded orange mast with the red sun sigil) that Jamie sailed in on at the beginning of the episode.

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The Oncoming Hurricane 10 months, 1 week ago

Regarding the Trystane debacle, it's dealt with on the show's website as we can see in the pic here: http://watchersonthewall.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Areo.jpg

'Unable to set foot in the capital, Trystane remained on the ship, where he was ambushed and killed by two Sand Snakes'

Except this creates a plothole so big it should swallow the show...these are the same two Sand Snakes that were present on the shore watching his boat leave. They teleported 200 fucking miles (or whatever the distance from Dorne to King's Landing. You could have had other Sand Snakes as extras to resolve this problem, but no...you used the ones that it was impossible to be there for. Great job.

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Matthew 10 months, 1 week ago

And yet the behind the scenes stuff shows the opposite - Jamie sent Trystane back to Dorne, and presumably that's where the Sand Snakes kill him. That makes, I don't know, 10% more sense than what's in the show. Still not great though.

http://www.makinggameofthrones.com/production-diary/objects-from-dorne

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Matthew 10 months, 1 week ago

(OK, it's Jaime, not Jamie. Never got used to that.)

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SpaceSquid 10 months ago

I'm not a naval expert, but my own head-canon has Obara and Tyene jump on a faster ship than Trystane's pretty much immediately after we last saw them. It certainly seems plausible that there are more speedy vessels than the kind of luxurious ship you'd build for the heir to Dorne.

None of which makes the scene less lazy or awkward. Still, at least it had the most vicious sight gag the show's managed to date; points there, I guess.

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ScarvesandCelery 10 months, 1 week ago

Emmy award winning writing, people! This does raise one important question - what happened to Bronn? Presumably it'll come up, but still.

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ScarvesandCelery 10 months, 1 week ago

Captcha screwed - I meant to reply to the link to the clip in Jarl's comment

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The Oncoming Hurricane 10 months, 1 week ago

The new Arys Oakheart (please, no)

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glengarry 10 months, 1 week ago

I wasn't a fan of Conleth Hill's work here, actually. Unless they are deliberately making him slowly transform into Maijin Buu as a result of sunstroke or whatever.

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