Just kidding. Full spoilers ahead!
Jon Snow remains dead, Doran and Trystane Martell have been murdered by the Sand Snakes, Cersei doesn’t (immediately) flip out after Myrcella’s death, Arya, now blind, is still training with the Faceless Men, Daenerys will be brought to Vaes Dothrak to live out her days, Sansa and Theon escape Winterfell with help from Brienne and Podrick and Melisandre is secretly an old woman. Did I mention spoiler alert?
We are now in the midst of what could be considered the most important annual cultural phenomenon of the past five years: the newest Game of Thrones (GoT) season. Like the white walkers’ possessed corpses, countless legions of fans rose from the death-like purgatory that is life without GoT to watch the first episode of season six, “The Red Woman.”
“The Red Woman” follows the conventions of most GoT premieres; it is not one of the most exciting episodes in the show’s history, spending most of the time resolving cliffhangers from the end of the past season rather than pushing the story in new directions. This is not to say the episode was bad or even mediocre. Despite not being particularly epic in and of itself, the season six premiere built the scaffolding necessary to construct a thrilling season as a whole.
I will break down Game of Thrones’ myriad characters into three broad groups: the ruling families in the three southernmost kingdoms (the Lannisters, Martells and Tyrells), those associated with Daenerys in Meereen and the Dothraki Sea, and the Stark children (mostly scattered across the north, with Arya in Braavos).
Impending war looms over the three southern kingdoms. Myrcella’s poisoning drives Jaime to promise Cersei “everything they’ve taken from us, we’re going to take back and more.” Ellaria Martell and the Sand Snakes assassinated Doran for refusing to wage war on the Lannisters. While the Tyrells are technically allied with the Lannisters, their allegiance remains conditional on good Lannister behavior. Cersei’s backhanded tattling on Sir Loras and Margaery to the High Septon, and their resulting imprisonment in season five, certainly won the Lannisters no favor. Although the Tyrells’ position is unsure, war certainly seems inevitable between the Lannisters and Martells.
Daenerys’ future lies in the hands of a Dothraki Horde across the Narrow Sea. Ser Jorah and Daario Naharis pursue her diligently. Tyrion and Varys preside over the unruly city of Meereen with the help of Grey Worm and Missandei. Of the three groups I mentioned, “The Red Woman” reveals the least about the futures of Daenerys and company. The only truly new information is that Daenerys will be taken to Vaes Dothrak. However, hearing Tyrion discuss ruling — with Varys’ “little birds” feeding him information — can make any fan’s hair stand on end; his clever competence is refreshing after Daenerys’ struggles with the city.
Unlike Tyrion’s several rises and falls from grace, there has been very little fortune for the dwindling Stark family throughout Game of Thrones. “The Red Woman” provides the Starks some much-needed relief. Sansa and Theon escape Winterfell and Ramsay Bolton’s hunters, finally uniting with Brienne and Podrick. A faceless man (she had the face of a woman, so shouldn’t George R. R. Martin call them faceless people?) challenges Arya to fight with sticks as Arya sits blindly begging. The faceless man beats Arya severely but leaves saying, “See you tomorrow;” Arya’s training has not been totally abandoned. Bran and Rickon remain MIA, probably pushing farther north.
While Rickon’s relevance (past, present and future) in HBO’s saga is hard to discern, Bran and Arya’s supernatural training will certainly make them powerful, extremely viable players later in the series, perhaps even within this season. Their extraordinary trials at such young ages (in the TV show Arya is 12, Bran is 10), their natural predisposition to magical abilities, their Stark heritage and the simple fact that they have survived this long implies that they will play integral roles. When the newly empowered Stark children discover that some of their brethren still live — considering that they are totally unaware of this now — watching them reunite and join forces may be breathtaking.
And now, full circle, we return to the implausibly dead Stark child: Jon Snow. It cannot be permanent. A group of loyal Nights Watch men, under Ser Davos, took and protect his body, we have seen people raised from the dead in GoT before, and Melisandre sees Jon Snow fighting in the flames. The episode’s conclusion reaffirms that Melisandre possesses at least some magic, even after her missteps with Stannis. We have seen the Red Priest of Thoros raise men from the dead before. Resurrection exacted a heavy toll on the priest, but what more does Melisandre have to live for? The removal of her brooch, rapid aging and melancholy expression were the acts and appearance of one who has lost faith.
Let HBO’s classic plot twist serve to remind fans that things are rarely as they appear in George R. R. Martin’s universe. Look forward to a season of shocks and surprises about characters we thought we knew. My prediction: Sansa wins it all in the end (minus most/all of her family).
I can’t explain why I think Sansa will win it all because it’s my secret theory.