Even for a show like Game of Thrones, the ending this week was heart-wrenching. And there have been some desperately sad moments and deaths on this show. Talisa, Robb and Catelyn at the Red Wedding; Ygritte; Jon (well, sort of). Yet Hodor’s demise possibly stands as the worst of them all, in particular thanks to the brilliantly effective use of the flashbacks.
As the White Walkers descended on the cave, the back-and-forth with the visions seemed odd, not so much in their existence, but in what they showed. Of all the pivotal moments in the past, Ned’s departure to the Eerie as a child seemed the most straightforward, the point in time with the least to hide. Alas, if only that were true. Suddenly, as the Three-Eyed Raven urged Bran to warg into Hodor – not in the present, but in the past – the reality of how Wyllis came to be Hodor became horrifyingly obvious. We hear Hodor being told to ‘hold the door’, we see Wyllis’ eyes roll back, and that command by Meera is slowly but surely contracted. It was a moment that worked because we saw it coming.
Yet perhaps the most pivotal aspect of the scene was the realisation that to die barring the door has been Hodor’s destiny since his fit. On-screen, it doesn’t register, as the editing makes it in the moment, but at the end of the episode I realised that his death had been signposted for 30 years. From the moment Bran meddled with him and created the connection with the past, Hodor was only alive for one purpose, to get Bran to the Three-Eyed Raven, and to ‘hold the door’. Indeed, in his first moments in the show, Hodor was told to ‘help Bran down the hall’. As well as solid work from Kristian Nairn as he bowed out, special mention should go to Sam Coleman as his younger self for his portrayal in the pivotal moments of the episode.In amongst the angst of losing Hodor, it’s easy to forget that possibly the most important reveal of the show to date happened in this episode, as we discovered the origins of the White Walkers. It was so casually done, seeing the eyes of one of the First Men turn blue, and Leaf admitting the truth, that at first I thought it was a ruse. But no, it would seem we now know for certain – the White Walkers were created by the Children of the Forest to defeat humanity. Once it had settled, I realised I liked this backstory, as it satisfies all angles. It gives them a definitive beginning, yet leaves their development since then still mostly unknown. They’ve certainly gone rogue to some extent, given their indifference to attacking their creators. And what an attack it was. From the Night King walking over the fire, to the wights swarming and scuttling in the tunnel, the sequence had some visually stunning shots, a testament to the consistent quality of the show in moments of peril. With the White Walkers ever more powerful, and Bran now with only Meera for company and no one to guide his visions, it’ll be interesting to see how he copes.
Things did occur south of the wall this episode too. After her big moment last week, Dany had a far more intimate scene this time around. Much though I was glad that her and Jorah are no longer stuck in the cycle of ‘banished, saviour, banished’, it seems slightly jarring for her to command him to ‘find a cure’. I can’t see the show staying with him on his lone journey, but equally, it would be wrong for him to just reappear in the future without his impending death hanging over him. Given these two elements, my best bet is on him cropping up somewhere another character already is and playing a part there. Given the Citadel is home to the largest collection of knowledgeable minds there is, might we see a confrontation between Jorah and, say, Sam, at some point? Probably not, but then again, you heard it here first.Back in Mereen, we got the first glimpse of High Priestess Kinvara. I was intrigued leading into this week to see just how close Ania Bukstein’s portrayal was going to be to Carice van Houten and Melisandre. There was the same dress sense, the same accent, the same creepy omniscience, and, crucially, the same glamor around her neck, yet I still thought there was enough separation of the two. It wasn’t that she was more passionate than Melisandre, but rather the opposite. Whereas Melisandre has always been intellectually superior in her scenes, with none of Davos, Stannis, Renly or Maester Cressen a match for her, Kinvara managed to completely terrify Varys. Part of that was of course the script, but Bukstein certainly sold her lines very well.
I’ll only touch briefly on Arya, as her scenes this week really felt like the first of a two-part narrative with the theatre troupe. The troupe themselves were entertaining, especially seeing a respected actor like Richard E Grant play such a self-deprecating role, yet Arya’s progression was a bit stagnant, with little added to recent episodes. As I said though, I expect the big events to happen in her next instalment.
Weeks after his first moments – pushing Balon off the rope bridge – we were finally reintroduced to Euron Greyjoy. Compared to how he came across in that brief scene, brimming with charisma and ego, the performance by Pilou Asbæk in ‘The Door’ wasn’t quite as good, with the actor seeming to struggle slightly in maintaining the menace of the character, but the scenes on the whole continued the strength of that arc this season.Finally, at the Wall, Jon took a back seat this week, as Sansa continued her development as ‘warrior queen’ of the North. I’ve praised Sophie Turner a lot already this year, but I feel compelled to do it again this week, as she really is the strongest member of the cast at the moment. There was a real strength in her exchanges with Littlefinger, in owning her past and making him face up to his part in it. I had taken the support of the Vale being accepted for granted last week, but Sansa’s real reaction actually makes a lot more sense. Saying that, I don’t expect Littlefinger to go meekly back to the Vale and wait everything out. He’ll do something, we just don’t know what.
This was yet another fantastic episode, with major developments all over and moments that will come to define the show for a long time. Given the relative downturn of last season, it may seem easier to declare episodes this year as brilliant, but as we move to the halfway point, I’m inclined to say these aren’t just a series of one-offs and, bar the slightly jumpy first two episodes, this season represents a return to the quality of old. Long may it continue.