(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Welcome to another season of Game Of Thrones reviews for those who have not read the books the series is based on. Since critics won’t be receiving screeners this season, each week I’ll publish the episode page once the broadcast ends and add my review to the page when I finish. That way newbies have a spoiler-free place to discuss the episode as soon as possible. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss whats coming? Thats what our experts reviews are for.

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Valar morghulis, the high school jock nod of Westeros, soaks up all the attention. All men must die. It has a romance to it. But its decidedly less sexy counterpart is no less important to the bloody feudal politics of Game Of Thrones. Valar dohaeris, all men must serve—that’s the subject of “The Door,” a two-hankie tribute to the people around all the anointed ones. No wonder the action stays out of King’s Landing.

(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

In the Iron Islands, a national convention of ship captains and super delegates elects a leader. They only get two choices, although the producers strive mightily to make us think it might be three. The music of temptation builds as Theon enters the circle and looks around at the men who view him as Balon’s legitimate heir. But he points to Yara and tells them, “She is your rightful ruler!” There’s not much suspense here, but it’s as meaningful a testament to Theon’s growth as we’ll find. The old Theon, the one who tried to take Winterfell, is gone. Now he might find redemption in service to people like Sansa and Yara. He’s doing a good job rallying support, but he can’t compete with Euron’s insult comedy about Theon’s good grooming as a hostage of the Starks and his torture as a hostage of the Boltons. Truly hilarious stuff. But Euron also makes some grand promises to the people. If they vote for him, he’ll ally with Daenerys Targaryen, who must be in want of a fleet as well as a husband, and together they’ll conquer the world. The Ironborn eat it up. Majority rules, Euron is anointed king, and Yara and Theon flee with the best ships and their loyal followers.

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Where might they be going? The producers never seem to care. In this case, I have no doubt they’re just withholding that information so we have something to wonder about over the next week or so. Maybe they’re headed to the Wall to pledge their strength to Sansa. Whatever the answer is, we’ll likely find out. But right outside Vaes Dothrak, in the middle of a damn continent, Jorah tries to leave Dany to protect her from greyscale, and he just starts walking away. Where could he possibly have been going? Where did Jon Snow think he was gonna go before Sansa showed up? Did Davos have even a single destination in mind after the mutiny was quelled? We’ll never know, because all three departures were forestalled by other events. But leaving questions like those hanging just makes smart characters look thoughtless. There are ways to serve the queen from afar, but not if you don’t collaborate.

(Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

Dany’s back to being imperious about Jorah’s betrayal and subsequent refusal to get lost. But as soon as he shows his arm, she cracks. She’s visibly upset, her face continuously twisting into new expressions of that pain. Like Yara and Theon sharing a look across the convention floor, she shows a flood of feeling without bursting into tears. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” she tells him. It’s an impressive performance on its own, and all the more so coming from Emilia Clarke, who has essentially been practicing different ways to be icily authoritative over the past several seasons. It’s a talent she wields for good at the end of the scene, commanding Jorah to remain in her service. He’s been her greatest ally and asset for years now—and I’m including the dragons—and it’s such a relief to see her realize it. You can’t buy service like that. But there is the problem of the greyscale, so she orders him to ride off in search of a cure. Again, I have no idea where that might be, but at least we know his goal. And something saved Shireen after all. (Don’t say the Lord Of Light.)

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(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

The episode opens with a similar scene, only this time it’s Sansa evaluating Littlefinger’s service. It’s brutal, and maybe more so for all it leaves to the imagination. “Did he cut you?” he asks Sansa at her command. She wants him to guess what horrors Ramsay inflicted on her body, and that’s the only revealing question in the reverse interrogation. We know he beat her. Cutting her is different. And the rest she says ladies aren’t supposed to talk about, even though the brothel they’re in has heard worse. As always, it’s a pleasure to see Sansa making her mark on the world, to borrow a phrase from Yara. But it’s also a thrill to behold a scene all about a pivotal question: How loyal is Littlefinger to Sansa? In the pro column, there’s his love for Cat and Sansa’s resemblance to Cat. In the con column, he did tell Lysa, right before pushing her through the moon door, that Cat is the beginning and end of the list of women he loves. During their time together, Littlefinger seemed like he was giving Sansa decent advice. He certainly didn’t seem to know much about Ramsay. But Sansa has a good point: If he, of all people, didn’t know, then he’s an idiot, and if he did, he’s her enemy.

Instead of an answer, we get another question. Littlefinger doesn’t put up much of a fight to stay with Sansa, which is probably all the answer we need. He’s no Jorah or Brienne. But he offers some parting advice: Reconnect with the Tully army at Riverrun, recently retaken by the Blackfish. The question is whether any of that is true. Because Sansa lies about the origin of that intel to her court, I suspect it’s going to turn out to be false. Why would Littlefinger make that particular lie, though? He wants the knights of the Vale to make their mark on the world, but he can’t just wield them to whatever end he wants. Some of them heard Lord Robin direct them to help Sansa. As usual, Littlefinger’s plots feel like supervillain Rube Goldberg machines in action. Someday we’ll finally have the finishing piece and everything will start to make sense as his next target drops dead. As for now, neither Sansa nor Brienne question the truth of his claim in so many words. Brienne does bring other concerns to her lady, and she does ask why Sansa lies to her brother, but that’s as far as she’ll go in her position as devoted knight. They could at least send a raven to Riverrun and wait to see how whoever’s there replies. Alas, Sansa and company roll out, leaving Edd and, like, seven crows left to man the castle.

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(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

The Braavos plot also brings up a long-running question to no avail, this one less intriguing but more so than usual. Is Arya ready to serve the Many-Faced God? She says she is. It’s a reflex now. Unfortunately she never seems to give it much thought. Is she ready to give up on ever seeing her family again as Arya Stark? Is she ready to give up on her dreams of killing Cersei and Ilyn Payne and all the rest? These are the fundamental questions of this subplot, mostly subsumed under scenes of the Waif beating Arya up and the bare outlines of what is basically just a supernatural cult of assassins.

(Photo: Macall B. Polay/HBO)

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“The Door” at least pokes at the dilemma. Arya’s target is an actress, and the play she’s performing when Arya finds her happens to be the royal struggle of Westeros. Arya witnesses an actor profaning her father—reliving the moment of standing in the audience as Ned is beheaded before a raucous crowd of misinformed peasants, and she hears for I think the first time that her sister is betrothed to a Lannister. What better way to distract her from her purpose as a servant of (a rival actress by way of) the Many-Faced God? Unfortunately that dilemma is still barely there. Instead the most headstrong Stark kid—and that’s saying something—is stuck training for a job she couldn’t even identify when she started and itching to graduate without considering the consequences. “A servant does not ask questions,” Jaqen instructs. Maybe Arya Stark should reconsider whether she has it in her to be a servant. No matter how she comes down, the question is what’s important here, not the call-and-response rituals of the Many-Faced God.

(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

Another servant of another god, Kinvara the red priestess of Volantis, brings up some similar questions. She tells a skeptical Varys, “We serve the same queen. If you are her true friend, you have nothing to fear from me.” But she doesn’t serve Dany. She serves the Lord Of Light. The Many-Faced God is pretty exaggerated as gods go. The faces have some magical properties, but the work of the Faceless Men seems entirely earthbound. There’s nothing celestial about contract killing. But we know the Lord Of Light is capable of some mighty deeds, or at least the rituals invoking him are. So there’s room for discussing what happens when the Lord Of Light comes into conflict with Dany. What happens when she agrees with Tyrion that enough non-believers have been purified? And why is Varys so skeptical of Kinvara? He knows how to be obsequious better than anyone, but he’s putting his foot down here? The suggestion, which lingers thanks to the cut away from Meereen, is that he might not serve Dany. Which immediately strikes me as absurd—more smoke and mirrors playing at intrigue, another incomprehensible Littlefinger long run. But I guess time will tell.

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For all its puffed-up hints and evasions, “The Door” is surprisingly forthcoming on the macro scale. We find out how the first Faceless Men arose out of the mines of Valyria to found the Free City Of Braavos, the faces they wore in life now lining the hall in the House Of Black And White. We get front-row tickets to the whole Drowned God thing, which we’ve seen, but never in such detail. The ritual entails actually drowning Ironborn. Euron’s lungs take in some salt water right in front of us, and if he’s anointed king, he’ll survive. Nobody even tries to resuscitate him. He has to awaken and spit up on his own, and lucky for him, he does.

(Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO)

And then there’s Bran, who rushes through his final lessons before an army of White Walkers destroys the school. First he discovers that the Children Of The Forest created the White Walkers in a ritual sacrifice involving strapping men to trees (the ones that now have faces that bleed tears in godswoods) and driving a blade into their chests. The White Walkers were meant to be a defense against humans, whose deforestation endangered the Children. Here Bran might have learned—it’s hard to tell what sinks in—a central lesson of the show. There is no such thing as serving good. Whether you’re a fire priestess or a Faceless Man or a loyal knight, you’re serving a person. And people aren’t pure. So queens make bad decisions, hands reinstitute slavery, monks of the Many-Faced God murder for faces, servants of the Lord Of Light burn children, Children Of The Forest sacrifice men. Whatever Bran’s role is as the new Three-Eyed Raven, it won’t be in service of some generic force for good. That doesn’t exist. He can only try to do the right thing as he sees it.

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The climax of “The Door” begins with Bran wandering through an army of wights who stand motionless. When Bran gets to the back, the Night’s King turns and looks at him, directs the wights to look at him, too, and then grabs Bran’s arm. Luckily Bran’s allies wake him up, but Bran has a scar on his arm now, the mark of the Night’s King, and apparently it allows the Walkers to enter the tree cave. Just go with it. It means the end of the tree cave and some exciting action. Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven are in the past when the Walkers attack, leaving Meera and the Children to defend them.

(Photo: HBO)

Hodor is sitting there scared, as usual, unable to attack without Bran warging into him. It’s one wild moment after another: The Children fire-bombing a defensive perimeter, the Walkers chilling the fire as they walk past (the wights remain trapped on the other side for the moment), Meera joining Sam and Jon on the list of people who have vanquished a White Walker, the Raven dying in the present and transforming into a smoke of ashes in Bran’s vision, and Bran inexplicably fixated on Wylis in the past while his body lies prone in the present. One by one Bran’s allies die defending him: the Raven, Summer, Leaf, and ultimately Hodor. It’s just hectic enough to keep us guessing—for example, is Bran gonna wind up stuck in Hodor’s body?—so that we’re not totally prepared for its drama.

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(Photo: HBO)

Bran never resurfaces. He’s watching Wylis in the past, even though he can hear Meera shouting for him to warg into Hodor. Finally he does, and Hodor gets up and starts kicking wight ass. Suddenly, in the past, Wylis has his first “epileptic fit.” In the present Meera drags Bran on a sled off into the night, and Hodor holds the door to the cave shut from the outside. Meera shouts, “Hold the door!” and in the past Wylis starts crying, “Hold the door,” which eventually becomes “Hodor!” The episode closes on Hodor, the most faithful servant, being torn apart by Romero zombies as Wylis cries, “Hodor! Hodor!” for the first time. It’s a heartfelt goodbye to a character who’s been around from the beginning, and it’s an all-bets-are-off demonstration of Bran’s power. It’s not completely clear what’s happening, but Bran is apparently capable of splitting his consciousness. That is, he can “man” Hodor’s body while staying fully aware of himself in his vision of the past. What’s more, he can affect the past while he’s in it! He isn’t just a silent witness. Maybe Ned did hear his son calling outside the Tower Of Joy. What else might Bran be able to go back in time and “fix?” Or maybe he can’t change the past, because all that’s happened has happened despite his interventions from the future, such as Hodor being the man he is. In any event, Bran made an independent man the perfect lifelong servant by hijacking his body while time-traveling. Chosen ones, am I right?

Stray observations

  • “The Door” is written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Jack Bender, who directed much of Lost.
  • R.I.P. Several Children Of The Forest, a White Walker, the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer, and Hodor. Bran and Rickon’s triumphant returns to the fold have not been very kind to their guardians.
  • The Ironborn crown is driftwood. I know they abhor pretension, but I’ve seen that kraken hearth. Surely they can come up with something better than sticks.
  • Did Euron torch Dany’s fleet on his way back to Pyke? Or conspire with those who did—like Varys, perhaps?
  • Euron: “Where are my niece and nephew? Let’s go murder them.”
  • Dany issues an order to Jorah: “I command you to heal yourself and then return to me. When I take the Seven Kingdoms I need you by my side.”
  • Tyrion discusses with the council a plan for a messenger to spread the news of Dany’s good leadership to the people of Slaver’s Bay. When Varys asks where they could find such a trustworthy messenger, Tyrion says one of Varys’ lines back to him: “Who said anything about him?”
  • Sansa: “The Umbers gave Rickon to Ramsay. They can hang.” Agreed!
  • Davos elegantly punctures the idea that Northerners are different, more loyal, than other men. “How many rose up against the Boltons when they betrayed your family?” That shuts Sansa up for a moment.
  • When Sansa and company leave Castle Black, a crow asks Lord Commander Edd if they can shut the gate. Edd answers, “I’m not the lord commander.” Then he looks around at the seven men left. “Yeah, close the bloody gate.”

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