With the seemingly infinite number of narrative threads in Game of Thrones, happening across two continents, it was inevitable that the stories would get so fragmented as to be not just difficult to follow, but difficult to write. And so here we are, in season 6, with so much invested in the characters that have managed to survive — yet each week we’re given just the tiniest of morsels to sate our narrative cravings. A revived Jon Snow, a shriveled Melisandre, Unburnt Dany 2.0. And this week, the beautifully tragic origin of Hodor’s name.
We’ve read all the books and watched all the episodes, so we’re all in. But as our own Lara Zarum has argued at length, we have to admit that at the midpoint of this, the show’s sixth season, its become increasingly difficult to argue that the show is compelling. This week’s final scene was tragic, exciting, and heartbreaking, with six years worth of setup coming to a head — but it came after 50 incredibly boring minutes of television.
Last week, Dany had her goddess moment, burning down the temple of the Dosh Khaleen, and uniting the various Dothraki tribes under her pink nude body and flaxen hair. But this week, we see her for but a moment, teary eyed, “ordering” Ser Jorah to find a cure for his greyscale. Even though we know it’s possible (Stannis spent years and considerable wealth to stop his precious Shireen’s greyscale from spreading, only to watch as Melisandre ordered her burned at the stake), it’s hard to care that the old geezer’s unrequited pining has finally been accepted. Varys and Tyrion’s meeting with a red priestess from Volantis is more interesting, if only because she’s able to stop the former in his tracks; the first person we’ve yet seen that’s able to do so. Who is the voice that spoke back from the flames into which poor Varys’s severed unit was thrown? What did they say?
On the Iron Islands, the Kingsmoot is in full swing, and Yara stakes her claim on the Iron Throne, quickly deducing her uncle Euron is responsible for her father’s death, and publicly accusing him. Euron doesn’t shy away from it, claiming he did it for the good of the Ironborn, and that his experience on the seas makes him the ideal candidate to lead their people. He also comes up with one hell of an idea — to build a massive fleet, not just to conquer Westeros on their own, but to give it to Dany, to carry her army across the Narrow Sea and into Westeros, with intentions of conquering by her side. Dany sure does need ships to carry her Dothraki horde and Unsullied army from Essos, but she’s been offered as much before…. Is Euron’s confidence that he’ll be able to seduce her with his ships and “big cock” a foolish one?
At the wall, Sansa receives a letter with the seal of the Vale, a summons from Littlefinger to Mole’s Town. She goes, mostly to yell at him and tell him how bad he screwed her over, and that she wants nothing to do with him or his army of Knights from the Vale. He offers to beg for her forgiveness, or his life, if necessary (but never actually does), and a tidbit of information — her uncle Brynden the Blackfish has retaken the Tully (Catelyn Stark’s family) stronghold of Riverrun, and commands an army of Tullys that will ride to her cause against the Boltons. Foolishly, Sansa turns down his offer of assistance, but then takes him at his word that the Blackfish holds Riverrun, and lies to her (half) brother Jon about the source of the info as they strategize a plan to retake Winterfell. Even after all he’s done to her, it appears she still trusts Littlefinger more than Jon.
In Braavos, her little sister Arya is still advancing — ever so slowly — in her training. Both The Waif and Jaqen H’gar express doubts about her ability to shed her identity as a Stark, but she’s given a chance to prove herself again nonetheless. Jaqen tells her of the history of the Faceless Men, how the first were former slaves that would eventually found the Free City of Braavos and build the House of Black and White. She’s given an assassination assignment, a talented actress in a play that mirrors the false public narrative of Ned Stark’s execution. As Arya watches her father’s name slandered, accused of wanting to usurp Joffrey as King, her face tightens, and we see that Jaqen and The Waif’s doubts about her are not unfounded. It’s unclear where they’re going with Arya’s storyline… she is clearly meant to become “No One,” but if she does, she’s also meant to leave her past as a Stark behind, which is wholly unsatisfying to any Stark revenge or redemption narrative. How does she factor into the Song of Ice and Fire? Does someone pay the price for her to take someone’s life? The Faceless Men seem really hung up on their code, but they’re willing to kill anyone for any reason, as long as you’ve got the coin. How does that jive with their seemingly ascetic lifestyle?
Early in the episode, the three-eyed raven shows Bran how the Children of the Forest created the white walkers, meant to serve as their defense against the invading First Men. It’s interesting to learn that they were born as a weapon, rather than as source of pure evil, but by this point, does it really matter? Especially since, by the episode’s end, we’re finally ready to learn the origin of Hodor. When Bran wakes up in the middle of the night to do some greenseeing without the guidance of the three-eyed raven, it’s not long before it’s clear that he’s fucked up. He comes upon the white walkers and their army of wights, and once the Night King “sees” him, he’s realized his mistake, but it’s too late — the Night King grabs his arm, and in the process, is able to break the magic that blocked him from entering the cave of their refuge.
It’s easy to say Bran shouldn’t have gotten close enough to the Night King to risk this happening, but just like Jojen Reed’s death, this was somehow pre-destined. The three-eyed raven rushes to “teach” Bran as much as he can in their final moments together, as Meera frantically flees the cave with a glassy eyed Bran (who’s still time traveling with the three-eyed raven), killing a white walker in the process. Leaf, one of the Children of the Forest who’s been protecting them, and Summer, his loyal direwolf, sacrifice themselves for their escape. They reach the back entrance, with a horde of wights in pursuit, and they make it out, but someone needs to “hold the door”… It’s the moment Hodor has been preparing for his whole life for. As he’s eaten alive by wights through the door, he’s paralyzed in Bran’s vision of the past, convulsing on the ground as he repeats Meera’s plea… ”Hold the door! Hold the door! Hold door! Hold door! Holdoor! Hodoor! Hodor!” Just try to keep your eyes dry…we dare you.
The only question is, if this was destined to happen from the start, and the three-eyed raven sees both past present and future; how the hell did he not see this coming? When he tells Bran it’s time “…for you to become me,” even though, as he tells Bran, the boy isn’t ready, why didn’t he speed up those lessons so that he would be? Either way, Hodor went out like a G — a fate far more generous than most character deaths in GoT. And Meera and Bran are now on their own, many miles north of The Wall.