At this point, there have just been too many episodes to say “The Door” is the best hour Game of Thrones has ever produced. But it’s got to be in the top five, and certainly the best of this season so far. Previous episodes have rocketed back and forth between moving things forward too fast and not moving them forward at all. But every plot thread last night had real forward momentum, while still maintaining the slow burn tension this show is good at. And it topped it off with an emotional gut punch of an ending.
Let’s start with Sansa, whose transformation is rapidly becoming one of the best and most rewarding aspects of this season. Even at the end of last season, could you imagine her going toe to toe with Littlefinger in a contest of intelligence and will and self-possession and actually fighting him to a draw? But that’s exactly what happened.
Sansa didn’t quite succeed in weaseling out of Littlefinger just what he did and didn’t know about Ramsey Bolton’s psychopathy before he married her off to him — the man remains the most inscrutable and stone-faced inhabitant of Westeros. But Sansa definitely flummoxed him. Littlefinger didn’t have a compelling explanation for what he claims was a terrible mistake, and he and Sansa both knew it. And what really drove the point home was when she forced Littlefinger to contemplate the specific acts Ramsey inflicted on her, and he couldn’t get his vocal chords to work. Thinking about sexual violence is one thing; actually forming the words to describe the concrete details is another matter. Game of Thrones hasn’t always been able to keep it’s tonal and moral footing while frankly presenting the way Westerosi culture treats women as subhuman things. But this was one moment when that frankness stood it in good stead: A show with a more PG-rated history would not have been able to put the same weight behind Sansa’s dialogue.
At the same time, Sansa is becoming the fulcrum around which the team of Jon, Davos, Brienne, Tormund and Podrick is turning. She’s debating political strategy with Davos and propping up Jon’s spirits with a newly-sewn cloak with the Stark emblem. It’s the same role her mother played, and in many ways Sansa seems poised to do it even better: smarter, fiercer, more grimly, but also without any sign she’s lost track of her moral compass.
Arya’s storyline, meanwhile, involved a much more literal and painful callback to the journey the Stark children have endured, as she sat through a play in Braavos recounting the deaths of Robert Baratheon and Ned Stark and portraying the latter as a fool. I’m still not entirely sure where Arya’s storyline is going here — the play, while a fascinating emotional moment, was also something of a standalone scene. Perhaps she’ll ultimately conclude that the philosophic devotion of the Faceless Men to dealing out death randomly and capriciously — even to random stage actresses who seem to have done nothing wrong — doesn’t sit well with her?
We’ve got a lot of other characters facing leaps into the unknown after last night as well.
The conversation between Varys and Tyrion and the Lord of Light’s priestess in Meereen was supposed to be a simple matter of political bargaining: The priestess gets access to the seat of power in Meereen, and Tyrion and Varys get her help in selling the peace they’ve brokered with the other slave cities to the rest of Meereen’s population. And the priestess is willing to help. But she also revealed a creepily detailed knowledge of Varys’ past, and confirmed the sorcery who castrated him was in fact another of the Lord of Light’s followers. (Though one not held in high regard, it sounds like.) Varys and Tyrion are probably the closest thing Game of Thrones has to modern secular skeptics, and it was compelling and unsettling watching them confront the existence of the supernatural. The priestess may be lending them her assistance, but they seem to have also opened up a dark and mysterious can of worms here.
Over on the Iron Islands, Theon made good on his promise to support Yara’s claim to the throne at the kings moot, only to have Euron Greyjoy show up to undermine everything. They were still able to escape with some followers and some ships (Actually, a lot of ships — just how big is the Iron Island’s fleet?) before Euron could effect their execution. His scheme to offer Daenerys a fleet to sail to Westeros was hair-brained — especially the notion that he could wed the Mother of Dragons — but within the needs of the overarching story that’s forming it sort of fits perfectly. Maybe Yara and Theon have the same idea?
As for Daenerys herself, we only got one scene with her. But I don’t think Emilia Clarke has ever nailed the performance so perfectly. The look of grief and horror warring with self-possession on her face when Jorah revealed his greyscale infection was something to see. The character’s reaction was also perfect: This was the sort of situation where you’d expect the scripts of tradition and hierarchy to fall away in favor of two human beings peaking honestly with one another. Instead, Daenerys turned those very scripts into a way for her to finally say what Jorah means to her: Your Queen commands you to heal yourself, because she cannot rule without you at her side. Even if fulfilling this new charge seems obviously a dementedly impossible.
Jorah is a man who’s entire life has been defined by those traditions, his failure to always live up to them, and the fact that in Daenerys he’s finally found a cause that makes the whole question of service and loyalty and submission to a ruler seem worth it. What could he do, except square his shoulders and accept this new mission?
Finally, let’s talk about that scene that gave “The Door” its title.
A few stray details: Bran actually seems to have brought the invasion of zombies and White Walkers upon them by grasping the tree for a vision unsupervised. Yet the Three Eyed Raven was remarkably cool-headed about that screw up, even as it cost him his life. Also on the subject of mistakes, apparently the Children of the Forest created the White Walkers in an attempt to fight the incursion of humans into their world, only to have the gambit go horribly wrong? Hopefully we’ll dig into that more, because it was a massive reveal tossed off in an almost “by the way” fashion.
And I’ve been surprised by how good a job the show did investing some emotional resonance in the Children of the Forest even with little screen time. Watching them throw their magic bombs or whatever those were at the wights and the White Walkers was over-the-top special-effects-wise, but it gave the last of the Children a hell of a way to sacrifice herself in the tunnel to save Bran and Meera and Hodor. (Did any other fans of Aliens immediately think of Vasquez blowing herself up in the airshaft when they saw this?)
But none of the last night’s sacrifices matched Hodor’s for sheer pathos. For multiple seasons this oddball giant has essentially played as comic relief — unflagging loyal, but also unable to say a single word except “Hodor.” Now we know it’s actually a garbled version of “hold the door,” a message Meera literally seems to have sent to a young Hodor across space and time, via Bran as a conduit. Six seasons of jokes and cheery affection built upon a single act of unbelievable strength and will to hold the horror floor of zombies at bay just long enough for Bran and Meera to escape — the request of which left poor Hodor psychologically scared most of his life, up until that final moment. Just hold the door.
So I guess we’ve confirmed that, while the past may be written, Bran in the here and now has had a hand in writing it? So far the circularity of this season has been purely thematic: the past reaching into the present to give the characters a sense of purpose and place, and a story to continue and to find their part in. But now it’s become much more literal: The past is shaping the present and vice versa, all of it maybe collapsing into one contiguous whole.