NOTE: These recaps are full of spoilers and are written in the moments after the reviewer — y'know, me — has watched the latest episode. If you have not watched Season 6, Episode 5, "The Door," then from the next paragraph on, spoilers ahoy. You've been warned and there's no one to blame other than yourself.
Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead run deep now into American culture (the former also running deep internationally). And the two have a lot in common: an ensemble cast, a mythology that is doled out to us in frustratingly small pieces, and frankly, potential. It’s what Lost had. But tonight, Game of Thrones just proved to us why they are the best series on TV right now. The moment this series got free from its source material, they made us hurt, and they didn’t even need gore to do it. The last minute of "The Door" hurts my heart and shocks me more than the death of the Viper, and it needed zero gore to do it.
But let’s rewind to the start of the episode, because it matters. What immediately becomes clear is that the pain of the past informs the present. Rather than deal with Littlefinger taking his army to the Wall, they simply skipped ahead to Petyr Baelish talking with Sansa Stark. He’s already there. Despite his apologies, he only now realized that for all his scheming, for all his chess playing, he forgot that his pawns are people, and his most important pawn was Sansa, who endured every sort of pain that any one human can imagine and survived it.
But she did it alone. Here, Littlefinger pays the piper. Of course she wouldn’t accept his help. His help always came with strings, and those strings, those conditions, have caused her pain that I hope no one ever feels. The fact that Littlefinger is still alive is a miracle.
All that was in the first scene. Our brief look at Dany is less about her and more about Jorah, who endured so much pain, and after being infected with the greyscale, he’s the only subject of hers who’s one hundred percent accepted to die on her behalf. It’s only through his obedience that he may survive, after being given the single order that he must find a cure for his ailment.
But “pain” is this episode’s theme, and we won’t linger long on nice moments. Jon Snow accepts that he’s going to war, and he and Davos debate on how they fight Ramsay, but that’s all table setting. The real scene, while these Men Are Talking, is Sansa and Brienne having a quiet discussion, Sansa to send her most trusted servant to do her bidding and bring back an army.
Brienne simply asks very reasonable questions: Jon seems okay, but the people around him have proven to be wrong again and again. Why trust that Jon Snow is meant for great things when the same people trusted Stannis for great things? After all, Brienne is the one who personally killed Stannis after he failed miserably. Neither Sansa nor Brienne have a good answer. They merely have the problems in front of them.
And yes, all of this leads to Bran. I’m writing this immediately after watching and I’m still not emotionally okay. But we’re going to dig in. Yes, we saw Theon commit to Yara and Euron create a challenge to be King/Queen of the Iron Islands, but is that anything but a diversion now? We'll find out if that matters later. (It certainly doesn't right this moment.)
Game of Thrones does a very neat trick: they set us up to think that Bran will be going into flashbacks and teaching us about the history of Westeros. And the moment he starts becoming powerful, that’s when the White Walkers attack. That should’ve been enough.
But that’s not Game of Thrones’ way. As everyone with the Three-Eyed Raven buys time for Bran, one by one we lose people. What makes Game of Thrones so compelling is that they worked out how these people are lost. We feel little about who falls on their sword first. Lose the child of the forest? Sure. Lose the Three-Eyed Raven? Well, Bran was supposed to take over.
And then the next to give his life is Summer. One more direwolf to go down — that leaves Ghost, Jon’s runt dire wolf, and Nymeria, Arya’s who’s been in the wild and missing for seasons, still alive.
And then Hodor. Game of Thrones could’ve simply had Hodor die. But that wasn't enough. Hodor deserved more, and the show knew that he did. So rather than give him the moment of giving up his life to protect Bran, they went so much deeper. They made it clear to us that Hodor's mental impediment was actually a product of Bran's warging into the past. Through quick scenes, Game of Thrones effectively told us that Hodor's entire adult life was to protect Bran.
For time nerds: Bran is able to affect the past, but the present is only affected because Bran already affected the past. But most of us aren't time nerds. We get the gist: Hodor was always supposed to die for Bran, and in his last moments, we got to see just how deep that impulse ran, and Hodor's instinct to protect Bran at all costs was built long before Hodor even met Bran. We know it, Hodor won't and never will. Yet Hodor died all the same. Because this episode is all about pain. We were taught how characters felt pain so that we could truly feel it ourselves.
Hold the door
His entire life was meant for one single moment, a desperate yell across the years, and as the episode took its time to show us how our characters felt pain, they did so to prepare us to feel the pain of losing the one character we loved and thought would make it.
He didn’t. And like Sansa, we simply have to deal with that pain and go on. It doesn't matter if you guess what happens. We don't care. Whether you predicted this or were completely taken unawares, this pain hurts all the same.
That is the gorgeous, hurtful beauty of Game of Thrones.