When I’m writing these recaps, I generally try to find a thematic throughline, some common thread that ties the far-flung subplots together. But I honestly think Game Of Thrones, more than any other show I’ve seen save perhaps The Wire, does not intentionally build episodes around theme. Which is not to say that theme is not deliberately and carefully crafted into these narratives, just that those narratives are constructed with the season as the basic unit of storytelling, rather than as a collection of individually complete episodes. The writers are very aware of what their story is saying, on both the explicit and subtextual levels, I am sure. I just think they choose what scenes to group together on any given week based more on plot and pacing concerns than for any particular commonality between the incidents portrayed.
So when I identify a motif that pops up in multiple corners of Westeros in a given week, its always with the suspicion that it is purely incidental, but I tend to go with it because I subscribe to the Death Of The Author as a general principle (not that considering the author’s POV can’t be an interesting exercise), and because any organizing principle is too useful to pass up when addressing such a many-headed beast as this show. But given all that, I think that “The Door” is more consistent than most episodes about history coming alive to confront multiple characters in the (more or less) flesh. The exception would be the Iron Islands, where any discussion of Ironborn’s, and specifically Theon’s, ignoble recent history is secondary to scheming about building new fleets and forging forward-looking alliances with Dany, mother of dragons, breaker of chains…all that…
These developments are interesting, but I think the season’s accelerated pace, which most everyone seems to agree is a positive development, hurts it in this particular case. There is a “be careful what you wish for” element to all this, because comments from book readers have lead me to believe that the kingsmoot stuff eats up a lot of pages of source material, said pages being no one’s favorite (and this is a friendly reminder that we do not discuss said books in these review or comments, though we’re aware that the show has surpassed most of their story points). And I’m glad that they didn’t stretch it across the entire season, particularly since there’s really no question that Euron is going to wind up with the throne – our sympathies lie too squarely with Theon and Yara for GOT to let them just win. But I do think that the process would’ve been better broken up across at least 2 sequences, if not episodes. To cut directly form the kingsmoot to Euron’s coronation-tism and Yara/Theon’s escape was very confusing. It made it seem like they were fleeing directly from the cliffside gathering, but that can’t be right since Euron was expecting them at his inaugural hyper-swirly, and they apparently had time to organize the bulk of the fleet into defecting with them. Making this into two distinct sequences could’ve made these relatively straightforward matters more coherent.
These compression issues are also rearing their head on the macro level, unfortunately. I’m usually willing to make allowances that the broad scope of the narrative means subplots will disappear for extended stretches, and return with different respective time lapses from week to week or scene to scene. So when Bran or Yara disappear for an entire season, I accept that it doesn’t mean they are sitting idle while other characters criss-cross entire continents. In general, I want pacing to take precedence over chronological consistency. But these inconsistencies are getting wider and more frequent. So now we can have a violent coup in Dorne, undertaken specifically to make war on the Lannisters, and then not hear a peep from them for 4 episodes, while Littlefinger can muster and entire army and employ his warp whistle to teleport it from the Vale to the North (and himself to the opposite end of the North) in the span of a single episode. The Iron Islands can cut directly between scenes that must take place hours if not days apart, while Jon’s loyalists sit shiva for a night that extends across a third of the season. Or this episode can tell us specifically that 2 weeks have passed since last episode’s Mereen scenes, while Dany’s scene clearly takes place the following day.
Brienne would sympathize with his conundrum, as she also bristles at having sworn herself to a noblewoman who has de facto allied her with the Lord of Light despite her all-encompassing distaste for his servants and sorcery. She tries to warn Sansa off such alliances, but the girl has a justifiably one-track mind these days. Her sister may have pruned her kill list down to a tight group of all-stars, but the elder Stark girl is ready to cross off entire houses, as well recent allies if Littlefinger doesn’t watch his step. She agrees to meet him (in a destroyed brothel, apparently his preferred location to get reamed by disgruntled female co-conspirators), but only long enough to tell him to get tae fuck, and to cross Blackfish off my MIA list. Apparently Cat’s uncle has been busy rallying the battered remnants of the Riverlands’ armies and ousting the Freys from his family’s seat of power. That is quite a lot of drama to be going on completely off-screen, and I might even be bold enough to suggest that we could have perhaps sped through a couple of scenes of Ramsay being a total shithead in order to make time for some of it.
Meanwhile, across the sea, the other Stark sister gets two distinct history lessons, as Jaqen downloads to her on the origins of the Faceless Men and their role in founding Braavos, and then assigns her to kill an actor starring in a farcical recounting of the first season’s main plot. Then there’s a really direct, utterly superfluous shot of an uncircumcised penis. This felt like a really blunt attempt to address accusations about the show’s exploitative use of nudity in seasons’ past, but someone who is more invested in such things will have to do the calculations of how many female nipples this cock shot balances out. I’d kind of prefer if the show didn’t suddenly grow a conscience about such things 6 years in, simply because it sticks out as as an intrusion of real world sensibilities, a moment where I can see the boom mike dip into this fantasy realm. But also…eh, it’s just a dick, and tweaking our general prudishness about putting them on screen is somewhat amusing in its own right. And they did forego showing us actual genital warts, which is either a moderate sop to good taste or offensive in its own right, or both, as the Lords Of Twitter shalt decree.
But the main event this week is Hodor’s secret origin story and dramatic sacrifice, which is a sentence I can’t believe I actually get to type. Before we get there, Bran gets his own history download about the origin of the White Walkers and the Night’s King, which frankly comes off as rather perfunctory for such a large piece of the mythos. This is another area where I don’t want to spend an entire season watching Bran passively take in backstory, but I’m thinking that maybe the elaborate 5 minute swordfight sequence ( you remember, the one with the foregone conclusion?) could’ve been trimmed to accommodate one other brief flashback establishing the ancient conflict between the Children Of The Forest and The First Men that lead to the kiddos creating the Walkers. As it is, the only reason I had any context for what was going on there was from watching the animated History And Lore supplements from the DVD releases.
But in any case, once Bran draws the attention of the Night’s King, shit gets real. Losing the Childrenz and Raven is no big surprise or deal (points for managing to homage Aliens, of all things, with Leaf the head kiddo’s death), but the abrupt and brutal offing of Summer the wolf is still just setting the stage for the main event, which is one of the best executed time-travel shenanigans I’ve seen, for a story that is not all about time travel. Bran realizing too late that he has inadvertently doomed Hodor to not just a grisly death, but an entire life of semi-mute service is a real gutpunch for him and for us, and serves as the best type of twist – a reveal that is all the more surprising because it answers a question that the audience wasn’t necessarily asking. Part of the reason “I am your father” hit so much harder in 1980 than it will when Luke parrots the line at Rey in 2018 is because his father’s identity hadn’t been a puzzle that audiences had spent the last 3 years trying to figure out. If they had, they would have gone down the very short list of suspects and realized that it had to be either this guy or the other guy.
Which is all by way of saying that the Hodor reveal works, because it savvily relies on Hodor’s origin being a minor enough bit of business that it didn’t seem to warrant obsessive decrypting. Not that it didn’t get some anyway; I read a surprisingly cogent theory a few weeks ago that the former stablehand became simple via unsuccessfully/too successfully warging into a horse, which seemed to gibe with his skittishness in thunderstorms, affinity for carrying people on his back, and even…certain anatomical features…
What’s interesting is that I’ve seen several different interpretations of what is actually going on in the scene. Some people think that Hodor spent his entire adult life knowing it was all leading to this, but I don’t think gibes with his portrayal. I think it’s clear that his disabilities extended beyond a speech impediment; if he still was capable of complex thought, he could’ve learned to write or devised some more effective method of communication over the decades. And I don’t think he really chose to hold the door. That choice would make him an utterly beatific martyr figure, but I think the alternative is just as sad, but more in keeping with the GOT ethos. I think Bran remained conscious in present day Hodor’s body, as we never saw him wake up on the sled, or heard Hodor cry out his catch phrase to mirror his past self learning it. I thought that, knowing that there is no fleeing for the big guy even if he abandons the door, Bran shows the only bit of kindness he can by not allowing Hodor’s consciousness to return to his body. That way he essentially gets to die in his sleep, while Bran has to feel “himself” be ripped apart by zombies. I imagine we’ll hear about it if that is the case, but the brilliant thing is that is packs a wallop either way.
Subplot Report Card:
Braavos: B (the scenes at the theater, both on and back stage, go on for quite awhile, which stands out in an episode that could have really used another minute or two for the Iron Islands)
Wargin’: A (let’s hope that the Childrenz have a getway boat stashed near the back door, or else it won’t make much sense for Meera and Bran to get very far)
Castle Black: A (I complained a bit about Littlefinger’s opacity in the Mole’s Town scene, but it still allowed Aidan Gillen to do more than simply moustache twirl, and Sophie Turner to nail her icy, contained anger. Sansa has never felt more a Stark than in that scene.)
Iron Islands: B- (the great work of Gemma Whelan and Alfie Allen is struggling against confusing editing and the miscasting of Euron)
Dany: A- (Ian Glenn is always an MVP, and Emilia Clarke got to show some actual emotion behind the wall of implacability that has become the character. Her “plan” for him to sort that shit out on his own isn’t much of one, but sweet and straight-to-the-point are rare accolades to be be able to give this subplot)
Mereen: A (Great dramatic work from Conleth Hill, comedic work from Dinklage, and an interesting new dynamic with the Red Faith)
Season Morgulis: Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, Areo Hotah, Roose Bolton, Walda Bolton, Balon Greyjoy, (-Jon Snow), Shaggydog, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, Alister Thorne, Olly, Osha, Khal Moro, Euron Greyjoy (-Euron Greyjoy), Summer, Leaf, The Wargist Formerly Known As The Three Eyed Raven, HODOR
MIA: The Sand Snakes, Bronn, all the Lannisters, all the Tyrells, Frankenmountain/Qyburn (this is the rare episode not to feature any glimpse of King’s Landing), Sam/Gilly, Gendry, Ramsay, Rickon, Walder Frey, Edmure Tully,
Death Watch: I should probably start watching the Next On promos to at least get a sense of what storylines will be focused upon, because I keep picking characters that don’t appear at all. Regardless, I’m sticking with Olenna and/or Loras to go down in the chaos of the Tyrell jailbreak.