Every week this season, Indiewire will be bringing you a unique collection of viewpoints on “Game of Thrones,” as it is a show that elicits a unique sort of reactions. Our writers are well-versed in the world of the show and the culture surrounding it, and we look forward to seeing how their opinions fare in the cutthroat world of Westeros… Sorry, that is, the cutthroat world of television criticism.
LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6, Episode 4, ‘Book of the Stranger’ Gets Lit
What Happened This Week?
From a mythology viewpoint, the most important thing we might learn this week is that the mysterious Children, who helped Bran and Meera Reed find safe harbor in the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree-cave, were the ones to create the White Walkers (to protect them from the invasion of mortal men). But we’ll get back to that, because this episode was eventful.
For one thing, Yara Greyjoy makes her play for the Salt Throne, with an assist from ally Theon, but gets thwarted by uncle Euron. He’s a murdering jerk, but does manage to rally people around the idea of teaming up with Daenerys to take over the Seven Kingdoms… Well, that is, all the people who don’t end up helping Yara steal the Iron Island’s best ships for their own attack.
Arya has a new assignment from the House of Black and White — assassinate an actress who performs regularly in plays recreating/mocking the events of “Game of Thrones” Season 1. (It’s very, very reminiscent of the Players bits of “Hamlet,” because this episode seems dedicated to feeling super-Shakespearan.) While Arya is being asked to murder the actress playing Cersei, she does not seem super-excited about it — however, this is her second chance, and there will not be a third.
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Other happenings in the seven kingdoms: In his continued efforts to keep Meereen under control, Tyrion tries to enlist a Melisandre-esque high priestess of his own named Kinvara, who knows an awful lot about that time when Varys was castrated as a boy. Sansa sews herself a new dress and Jon Snow a new cloak, and meets with Littlefinger secretly to confront him over the fact that his plans to keep her safe did not work out that well. In doing so, she learns that there may be Tully forces available to help her and Jon retake the North — she tells Jon the information, but she keeps secret how she learned it.
Finally, the White Walkers track down the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree, attacking with gusto. The ensuing battle sees the Raven, Bran’s direwolf Summer, one of the Children and Hodor sacrifice themselves so that Meera can help Bran escape… But not before we learn the horrifying truth behind why Hodor can only say “Hodor.” Thanks to Bran’s interference in Hodor’s past, Hodor’s brain became not his own at a young age by one echo from Bran’s trip backwards: “hold the door.”
The Effects of Past Trauma on the Present
“Game of Thrones” rarely does episodes where a thematic throughline ties together the different plot strands. “The Door” is a notable exception. Time after time, a character’s past trauma –– and their choice of how to deal with it –– informs their current situation. Sansa confronts Littlefinger with there memories of Ramsey’s cruelty. Arya’s desperate desire to truly be “No One” can’t prevent her emotional reaction to a lampoon of her father’s execution. Varys faces off with the Red Priestess of Volantis with uncharacteristic spite. Even the Night’s King is a weapon created by the Children of the Forest, who turned on his maker.
And then we finally learn the secret of sweet, lovable Hodor. For a show that kills off characters left and right, this one hurts the most. Hodor is one of the few characters on this show who got to exhibit unadulterated joy. He was never weighed down by politics, family drama and intrigue. No matter which characters or houses you happen to favor, everybody was on Team Hodor. Kudos to Kristian Nairn, who managed to turn a single-word performance into such a memorable character. He will be missed.
And yeah, there was Kingsmoot, and now Yara and Theon are abroad with their own fleet. Dany knows about Jorah’s greyscale. Tormund keeps smiling at Brienne, who has no clue what to do about it. But none of that really matters in the end because, well, hodor.
— Jay Bushman, Award-Winning Multiplatform Writer/Producer (@jaybushman)
“Bran’s going to need therapy”
Do I have the greensight? I just might because before this season started, I revealed my favorite character: “Hodor. He gets the best lines. Truly, there is something intriguing about him and his history. Having Bran warg into him is messed up, though.” I guessed that there may have been some sort of trauma, but I had no clue how this new regime of storytelling, in which we get answers, could be so heartbreaking. And while I’m still reeling from the pathos of Hodor’s suffering and loss past and present, I can’t help but marvel at the implications of what this could mean. Bran’s dreamwalking can change the past, and now I’m left with trying to suss out the logistics of time travel and paradoxes in a fantasy world. Also, Bran’s going to need additional therapy after this.
Also, Dany’s burning of Vaes Dothrak last episode must have created ripples across the show because it was a great week for women (and I’m not talking about that lame attempt at showing male nudity in all of its diseased glory. That’s hardly titillating). Cersei, Lady Olenna, Margaery, Arya, the Child and even the Rachel Weisz-like High Priestess of R’hllor demonstrated that women were definitely players in this game, but I’m the most heartened by Sansa, who faced off with the author of her pain: Littlefinger, who had sold her into marriage to her rapist Ramsay. Although I feel she let off her former mentor in deceit far too easily, it was relieving to hear her make him face the facts of her abuse and how it is still an ongoing ordeal for her. I hope this isn’t just lip service. The show has many plots to service, and Sansa’s experience definitely shouldn’t define her, but I do smell a revenge plot that will be bloody enough for even a Bolton.
Two other quick thoughts: Boo to another direwolf killed (RIP Summer!), but yay to Brienne’s humorous assessments of Jon Snow and Tormund (thanks, fan service).
— Hanh Nguyen, Contributor: The Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, GameSpot, Tech Republic (@HanhSolow)
When Is it Better to Question Versus Wordlessly Follow?
This episode was a wrenching inverse of last week, ending not with the triumph of a queen but the sacrifice of a servant, and the painful, ripped-open feeling of realizing what it can cost to stand up for what you believe in. Allegiance, belonging, loyalty: “The Open Door” came at these questions from all directions, from the thunderously fickle crowd of the Kingsmoot, to Tyrion and Varys’s thorny negotiations with a whole new (sigh!) vampy Red Woman, to Arya’s ambivalent servitude to the Faceless God, to — I can hardly mention it — the loss of Bran’s direwolf Summer.
At the largest level, the episode cohered because of the smart comparisons it made between different ways of being loyal: This was an episode that had ideas about the stuff of which politics is made, and I’m looking forward to thinking through its depictions of when it’s better to question versus when to wordlessly follow. I love the comparison it makes, for instance, between Theon, in service of another, finally finding a voice, and Hodor so painfully giving his up.
I mean all of this as praise — but obviously, the smart ideas aren’t what really made this episode so moving. Not only are the wheels of this plot turning and turning, winding together threads that seemed tangled or astray, the episode was capped by two incredibly compelling scenes that, in the small details of their execution, gored straight into this story’s heart. Hodor’s death, at the very moment his story was explained, was both brutal and satisfying — a good end. And better still was Sansa, excellent Sansa. “What do you think he did?” she asks. Her deliberate steps forward while she confronts Littlefinger with her own suffering are the most satisfying confrontation I have seen on this show in ages, and they make me optimistic about what’s to come, now that Sansa is turning her needle towards stitching the seams of her own powerful future.
— Sarah Mesle, Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books (@sunsetandecho)
Sansa Stark: Resident Badass
It’s hard to believe this is the same series which seemed to be running in place so often in its first few episodes of the season. Mostly because this week’s dose of “GOT” raised the stakes in just about every plotline it touched, from the efforts of Sansa Stark and Jon Snow to build an army which might humiliate the show’s biggest sociopath — which is saying something — to the revelation of how the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers to fight humans. (Considering how many of The Children the Walkers killed in Sunday’s action, this was definitely a case of being careful what you wish for…)
Seeing Sansa confront Littlefinger at the show’s start, I was struck by how often this season feels like an attempt to repudiate all the past complaints about sexism “GOT” has faced. As she threatens to describe in detail her horrific abuse at the hands of Ramsay Bolton after Littlefinger left her with him, Sansa delivers a priceless line – “If you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy” – giving us the cathartic confrontation we always wanted. She also confirms her new status as the show’s resident badass, pushing back against the notion that she’s always being victimized. (That said, I could have done without the gratuitous shot of the young male actor’s, um, equipment in a later scene. Gratuitous nudity is just as bad when it involves men, guys.)
Of course, the showpiece of Sunday’s episode was Bran’s attempt to flee an army of White Walkers while learning a bit more about why Hodor became who and what he is. Bran’s solo journey into the past helps the Night King find them and bypass the magic which had once kept the White Walkers at bay, which was a thrilling sequence. Beyond the eye-popping effects and the brutality of seeing the walkers sweep over the Children like a scene from The Walking Dead, this battle showed multiple characters sacrificing themselves just to help Bran escape the clutches of the Night King.
To bastardize a line from “Saving Private Ryan,” Bran better earn this.
— Eric Deggans, TV Critic, NPR (@deggans)
The implications of what occurred this week are likely to echo for the rest of the season — but the breathtaking final battle was entertainment enough, and the strong character building leading up to it kept us engaged. The deaths this week were sadder than usual, but brought with them some welcome enlightenment.