Review: Game of Thrones recovers its bloody mojo

In this compelling and superlative drama, the audience watches a ghastly truth emerge

Teaser trailer for the upcoming episode of Game of Thrones. Video: HBO

 

The treatment Sansa’s character has received has proven one of the more controversial elements of Game of Thrones, as it’s frequently been violent and graphic without much purpose.

In this episode, we see her confront Little Finger and his strange accent with the truth of what happened to her. It’s one of the darkest, most emotional scenes in series six to date (even if much worse is to come), so much so that when Little Finger whimpers “I didn’t know” he looks almost wretched enough that you might just believe him. And Sansa shows she’s made of steel.

Later on in the episode, Brienne also cracks a joke. Emotions? Humour?

Is this episode about to get Game of Thrones back firing on all cylinders?

Is that a tear in your eye, Varys?

Also breaking character this episode is Varys. He and Tyrion decide to form an alliance with the lord of light’s followers, which makes sense given their leader has fire-breathing dragons, but makes no sense when you consider that the priestesses don’t have a great track record for backing a winner.

However, in negotiations, the red priestess, in a chilling bit of exposition, describes how Varys became a eunuch. He’s so upset he scrunches his eyebrows and quivers a bit – which is as emotional as you are every likely to see Varys. Nicely played, red priestess, nicely played indeed.

Alliances form

Uncle Brynden has retaken Riverrun, which is good for the Starks. Elsewhere John, Sansa and Davos plot which families they can rely on for support in order to shore up their rising, though Sansa keeps Little Finger’s involvement to herself.

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Meanwhile, Yara’s attempt to gain control of the Iron Islands is thrown into disarray after her uncle Euron shows up, steals all her good policy ideas (build ships, conquer world) and seizes power for himself. That’s how it’s done, Alan Kelly. No sooner has Euron been made king than he announces his first act as ruler: “Where are my niece and nephew? Let’s go murder them.”

Sensing a cabinet reshuffle, Yara and Theon nick the best ships and flee the islands. One assumes they are off to the GoT equivalent of Ibiza.

A fine bit of theatre

The assassin formerly known as Arya is being put through her paces, and despite pulling some cracking MMA moves, and having a weapon, Waif looks to have the makings of her with some straightforward boxing skills and a savage uppercut. Yet again, tradition trumps modernity in Game of Thrones.

She’s given a second chance and told to kill an actress in a play, and we get a bit of back story of how the original faceless men established Braavos. At the theatre, she watches a scurrilously revisionist production that portrays Ned as a doltish simpleton, King Robert (accurately) as a drunk, and the crowd cheers Joffrey’s ascension.

The whole thing does seem purely contrived so Richard E Grant can gamely wheeze “You must do better my dear. There are no small parts.”

That’s the best theatrical turn in Game of Thrones since Barry McGovern went full Waiting for Godot in season four.

Everyone is guilty

The nymph-like Children of the Forest, it turns out, created the white walkers to attack men and save their sacred trees. But they are not the only ones who will be feeling a little guilty for past indiscretions. Because then there is . . .

That final scene

If this series of Game of Thrones has been a little dull, with too much exposition and wandering around the seven kingdoms, the final part of this episode relights its fires in spectacular fashion.

Bran, having being constantly warned by the Three Eyed Raven about staying too long in visions, decides to go on one on his own, where he finds himself facing the white walker army and the Night King, who grabs his arm. He snaps out of the vision, but he has been found and the walkers are on their way.

The ending is by far the best part of the series so far. The walkers arrive and swarm around and into the tree, its protection broken by Bran’s foolishness. He is again in a vision with the Raven, and as the walkers fill the tunnel they pick off first his wolf, then the Raven and then the forest children one by one, as Hodor, while being controlled by Bran, drags him on a litter down a tunnel. Bran and Meera escape out the door, and as Meera drags Bran off into a storm, she pleads with Hodor “Hold the door.”

As the walkers rip the door apart and start to tear into Hodor all he can do is scream “Hold the door”. Back in the vision realm Bran watches a young Willis fall down as if in a fit, also screaming and, like the best drama, the audience watches the horrifying truth emerge inevitably, just seconds after most will have put it together.

Hodor’s state of mind is directly brought about by Bran; one of the most blameless characters in the show has been annihilated for purely trying to do the right thing. The others are now murdered, and the tree is destroyed.

And Game of Thrones has got its bloody mojo back.

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