WARNING! For the night is dark and full of spoilers.
“Hold the Door!” That terrible three word phrase is destined to go into the lexicon along with “The Red Wedding” as shorthand for something incredibly traumatic, endlessly upsetting and horrific, but also, at the same time, truly great television. The Door may be this season’s finest episode to date. We can’t tell you for certain, as there’s something caught in our eye…
First, a recap of the plot. The devious Baelish visits Sansa in Molestown, claiming joy at her escape from Ramsay Bolton and delivering news her great uncle Brynden, having recaptured Riverrun, could offer military aid. Sansa, in no mood for honeyed words, makes plain her fury at his betrayal, but later, with Jon and Ser Davos, plans to unite the North behind her to take back Winterfell. In Braavos, the newly re-sighted Arya has a mission for the Faceless God; assassinate an actress in a touring company. But first, she must endure a terrible play made in terribly poor taste. On Pyke, the Kingsmoot to elect Balon Greyjoy’s successor seems to swing Yara’s way with Theon’s support, only for the returning Euron Crow’s Eye, with his plan to wed Daenerys Targaryen and take Westeros, to earn the Salt Throne. Speaking of Daenerys, learning of Ser Jorah’s terminal illness she commands him to cure himself of grayscale and return to her service. In Meereen, Tyrion’s brokered peace holds, but a meeting with a Red Priestess leads to some uncomfortable moments for Lord Varys. And at the nest of the Three Eyed Raven, Bran witnesses the awesome power of the Night’s King. After discovering his origin as a weapon the Children of The Forest created to combat men, the young Stark’s curiosity in the ancient being triggers an all out assault by White Walkers, one that will claim many lives and break many more hearts…
This episode is full of surprises, some pleasant, the rest unspeakably tragic. Let’s rush through the nice stuff, before our inevitable descent into pain. Sansa forcing Baelish to acknowledge the abuse, trauma and suffering she endured thanks to his scheming demonstrates her growing strength as a character. Seeing the slimy mockingbird shrink in her presence was delightful, although as ever one suspects he is playing a game of his own, one that can barely be guessed at. If Brynden the Blackfish has indeed retaken the Riverlands and there isn’t a monstrous trap waiting, we’d be gobsmacked. On the theme of uncomfortable conversations, the sight of eternally self-assured Varys quailing before the Red Priestess was as unnerving for us as it was for him. For a man so armoured with the secrets of others, to see his own laid bare by a stranger, and one he has bitter reason to mistrust, was a fascinating web for The Spider to be caught in. Sceptic though he is, fear of the unknown and fear of the voice he heard as his “parts” shrivelled in the sorcerer’s flames trumps all the knowledge at his command, and the thought that such painful experiences can lead to greatness is both disturbing and a surprisingly appropriate summary of the series at large.
Speaking of “man’s parts…” Penis! For the first time in a (sch)long time, we finally get to see a dong! A long-term criticism of the show is while it is liberal with the boobies, bottoms and lady gardens of its female stars, it has been disappointingly conservative when it comes to the male members (tee hee) of the cast. While a warty, flaccid and entirely superfluously exposed wang on a fake-Joffrey was perhaps a small victory, it is hopefully an indication that with the remaining few seasons some greater equality can be reached. Game Of Thrones is a show we can all enjoy, and a bit more man flesh to even things up can only be a good and long overdue thing. The last significant willy we recall seeing on the show was all the way back in series one, and even then it was as a punchline to a joke. And it belonged to… oh, gods, Hodor!
Hodor. Hodor Hodor Hodor. Hodor! For a man of so few words, how can his passing hurt so much? The gentle (half) giant, one of the last vestiges of happier times in Winterfell, has been a comforting, loving presence and unswerving companion to both Bran and us for so long, it breaks the heart to say goodbye. That it occurred in one of the most heroic displays in the show to date, barring the door against the armies of the undead so his friends Bran and Mira can escape, salves the wounds but slightly. This is tragic. Red Wedding tragic. Like that horrifying event put a generation off nuptials, we may well never look at or hold doors the same way again. The masterful intercutting of young Willis shouting “hold the door!” and it echoing through the ages to the present was powerful and emotive; his whole life has been building to this moment. When the tears have dried the narrative implications of what occurred, that Bran really can influence the past from what we assumed to be a merely observational position, will settle in. Or we can marvel at another breathtaking White Walker attack, tensely executed with flawless VFX. But for now we mourn. In an episode where we said goodbye to the Three Eyed Raven, a Child of the Forest and a direwolf, it was a simple stable boy who grew to be a hero the songs will remember.
Sex Scenes: None. Things are getting almost Downton Abbey up in here!
Nudity: Not much; actress boobies, actor’s bum but crucially, his “leading part!” #FreeTheP
Honourable mentions: the touching reunion between Daenerys and Jorah, among the best work stalwart Iain Glen has yet done, the swagger of Pilou Asbaek’s Euron, Tormund’s continued googly eyes for Brienne. How can she resist, is she made of stone?!
Number of hearts broken: Everyone in the gods damn audience.
Game of Thrones airs on Sky Atlantic 9pm Monday evenings.