Game of Thrones fans beware! The night is dark and full of terrors, and this review will have spoilers. Which could be a scarier prospect.
If you're in need of a catch up, you can read this to get you up to speed. This week: Wow. Grr! Heh! Run! Sob.
Sansa receives word from Littlefinger and she rebuffs his offer assistance in person.
Does Littlefinger truly feel remorseful for what happened to Sansa at the hands of Ramsay? It certainly feels that way, though knowing him, he could just be playing up to that in order to stop Sansa from having Brienne behead him. Still, the scene gives Sophie Turner a chance to unleash cold fury – simply forcing him to confront what Littlefinger, even if it was through inaction instead of on purpose, is responsible for – and was a cracking start to an episode. Nice to have Sansa venting her righteous anger again after all her tribulations.
Anya continues to train. She's assigned to watch and prepare to kill an actress (Lady Crane, played by Essie Davis) who is performing locally.
The theme of anger continues in Arya's story as she's confronted with a painful part of her past and worries about her second chance at assassinating someone for the Many-Faced God. Though her fight scenes with the Waif were taking on the feeling of the Slowest Training Montage Ever, there's some much needed relief (comic as well as everything else) in her assignment. The play-within-the-show is a comedic highlight, poking fun at the books and series' own history, and yes that's Richard E. Grant playing Robert Baratheon and giving new meaning to "hamming it up." Plus Kevin Eldon as a buffoonish Ned! All that is the perfect counterpoint to poor Arya's pain as she watches events that have scarred her for life being used as entertainment. Imagine someone from Macbeth watching The Reduced Shakespeare Company... Maisie Williams plays it perfectly, and we'll be happy even if we get to spend a brief time in the actors' company again.
Beyond The Wall
Backstory time for Bran as he witnesses the Children of the Forest create the Night's King.
The White Walkers as the ultimate WMD in Westeros? Yes, the Children, threatened by the advance of the First Men, created Brian (our name for the Night's King) and led to all the trouble in Westeros. Bad elven-type forest-dwellers, bad! A dramatic and cool way to fill in some of the backstory (even if it would seem to deviate from the book's tale of forbidden love and an ambitious leader), this has the chill of human sacrifice and the beautiful photography of a National Geographic spread.
It's Kingsmoot time in Pyke as the next ruler of the ironborn is chosen. And it's Euron! Yara and Theron make good their escape before he can be crowned.
Sounding for all the world like a poke at America's current election year – a strong woman who believes she's earned the chance to lead is threatened by a chatty bloke who insults everyone – it's a caustic look at politics in the Iron Islands. The typical waft of Westeros sexism returns as the roaring crowd chooses Euron over Yara, who they have trusted to lead in the past. And poor old Theon: despite agreeing to support his sister, he's still the recipient of jokes about his missing naughty bits. Solid Trumping from Pilou Asbæk, who also does well in the scene where he's effectively drowned to be king (would hate to think what this lot do to witches!), but Gemma Whelan is once again the standout as Yara, who sees which way the tide is turning and makes a break for it.
Daenerys learns of Jorah's condition and orders him to find a cure. She rides out with her new Dothraki army.
A quiet week for Dany and co., but a much needed pause after last week's fireworks. The pain in Dany's eyes upon learning of Jorah's grayscale infection is palpably brought to life by Emilia Clarke, and Iain Glen typically acts the hell out of the wounded warrior. Now we just want him to start a big charity cause, complete with coloured leather wrist straps in a Quest For The Cure scenario.
Tyrion and Varys recruit a Red Priestess (Kinvara, played by Ania Bukstein) to help them convince the people that they should stay loyal to Dany.
Another refreshing change of gear for these two. While we do love them as a comedy double act, Varys in particular scores some glimpses of real emotion as his own tortured past is brought up by Kinvara. It's an effective little moment, and there's still at least one laugh line with Tyrion providing the weekly crack about Dany's long list of names, "Mother of Dragons, Breaker of chains... All that."
Beyond The Wall
As the Three-Eyed Raven slumbers, Bran takes the chance for a little solo vision questing, but falls afoul of the Night's King
Whoops. Silly Bran. If you thought the birth of the Night's King was the main horror event of the episode, then you'd reckoned without Bran's brush with the death-dealing White Walkers. And in a supremely creepy moment, the Night's King sees him, and all the wights turn to look. It's enough to send an army of shivers marching down your spine. Someone needs to teach that boy a lesson about not wandering off on the astral plane alone! But if it means captivating imagery like tonight, we'll allow it.
Sansa and Jon start planning how they're going to re-take Winterfell and the North. Brienne is assigned a particular task and is concerned about Sansa's safety.
The planning meeting is all well and good, but it's the heart to heart between Sansa and Brienne that makes this particular visit to the castle work. There are so many layers here: Brienne's worry for her charge, her comments about the others – nailing Jon in particular (see the summary), the steel spine that the Stark daughter has developed and a real sense of the quick friendship that has developed. And the brief nudges of humour are still welcome, even from Jon and particularly Tormund giving Brienne a "hey, baby" smirk and receiving an eye roll in return. Get that rom-com fan fiction written, people. Before it's too late.
Beyond The Wall
Bran's foolish actions bring doom down upon his small party and the Raven. A sacrifice is made.
Hodor. Hodor. NOOOOOOODOOORRRR! The biggest scene of the episode is also its most tragic as the Night's King brings his army to the Raven's cave. We could quibble with little aspects – Leaf's giving her life to save the others with a magic grenade smacks of Walking Dead-style deus ex machina, but it's spectacular nonetheless. And can Meera and Bran really escape the wights given how slowly they're moving compared to the undead critters, even with Hodor holding the door as long as he can? Still, it's all forgiven with the brutality of the White Walker army, some astounding scenes – the Night's King and his lieutenants crossing the fire, while the wights cannot and swarm elsewhere, the presumed death of the Raven in fantastical style – and that final heartbreak. Just as we learn how Hodor became the man we knew, he goes out like a hero. Sure, we don't see him die, but Kristian Nairn, who has played him all this time, has given an interview saying it's the character's final episode (barring flashbacks) as far as he knows. It's an incredibly sad and yet rousing moment for the character and full credit to the team for pulling off the whole scene.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, there are a few reasons. First and foremost, aside from John Snow's oh-so-predictable resurrection, this is the first seismic event since the show deviated from the books. This is something no-one knew was coming. Secondly, it wasn't just that Hodor died – it's not as if the show has ever been shy about offing major characters – it's the heartbreaking knowledge that Bran, whom Hodor loved, was not only responsible for his death but for his entire condition. The mechanics of exactly how will likely remain fuzzy until George R.R. Martin publishes The Winds of Winter, but it seems like Meera's entreaty to "Hold the door," while Bran was simultaneously controlling Hodor's body in the present and watching him as a boy in the past caused some kind of short-circuit. The command to hold the door became imprinted on him in the past, causing a seizure that left him unable to say anything but a truncation of that command from that moment on. the result is both hugely tragic and immensely impactful (it's been five books and six seasons coming) and undoubtedly one that will cement Hodor's place as a fan favourite character forever after.
Quite simply this was one of the best episodes of the show to date and a highlight in a season that has been building well after a sluggish start. But now we're going to go and have a quick weep over Hodor. What if he becomes a wight? The brain boggles...
Highlight: Hodor! Hodor! Hodor!
Kill of the week: We've explained the saddest death, but it's also RIP Summer, who falls prey to the wights. Dire wolves are becoming seriously endangered.
Quote of the week: "He seems trustworthy. A bit brooding, perhaps, but I suppose that's understandable, considering..." Sing it, Brienne.
Random thought: Forget Sean Bean playing Ned Stark's ghost in Ned Reckoning. We'll cast Kevin Eldon instead. Sorry Sean... Your chance just died.
Season 6, Episode review guide