Like basically every episode of Game of Thrones in the last three years, “The Door” is a mixed bag. However, like most episodes in the last two seasons or so, the bag is mostly full of shit. Interestingly (and disappointingly), this episode spends a ton of time either retreading ground that has already been covered in the series or lampshading some of the show’s more nonsensical decisions.
Speaking of lampshading nonsense, the episode jumps right into that at the start of the hour, which opens with Sansa receiving a letter from Littlefinger and going to meet him in Mole’s Town. The scene that ensues is at once glorious and absurd as Sansa takes Littlefinger to task for selling her to the Boltons, tells him that he’s either stupid or evil, and threatens to have Brienne kill him before rejecting his offer of military help and sending him on his way. I want to love Sansa’s dressing down of the man who bartered her into an abusive marriage, and it’s obvious that the show’s writers expect us to cheer for her newfound empowerment, but it’s simply not even a little bit earned. Mostly, it just feels somewhat out of character for both Sansa and her erstwhile “ally” (though not for Brienne, who continues to be portrayed on the show as one-dimensionally brutish).
Sadly, the recognition—nearly a full season’s worth of episodes later—of Sansa’s wedding night trauma and the horrors of what she endured at Winterfell rings somewhat false. Sansa tells Littlefinger and the audience how she feels, but there’s been no other indication before now of these feelings. I suppose several episodes of Sansa looking sad let us know that something bad was happening to her, but since her escape there’s been not a peep about how she’s dealing with things. I can’t remember it being mentioned at all before now, and in fact much of Ramsay’s abuse of Sansa has only been implied, mostly by Sansa looking wan and puffy during her time at Winterfell. For a show that is all about being shocking, this one is remarkably coy when it comes to addressing something real (domestic abuse) and seems more than content to spend much more time dealing with the more fantastical elements of the stories it’s trying (rather unsuccessfully) to tell. And so far more time has been dedicated to Ramsay’s daddy issues, Theon’s redemption arc, and even to the touching reunion between Jon and Sansa (another emotional moment that was entirely unearned) than on Sansa’s character growth and recovery from the trauma she’s supposed to have experienced. Even Sansa’s sudden closeness with Brienne doesn’t feel quite real, since we’ve barely seen them on screen together and they’ve hardly exchanged more than a couple of words with each other.
One of the biggest problems I’ve had with Game of Thrones for some time has been exactly these kinds of scenes. They’re moments that work, sort of, out of context and by giving the writers a lot of credit for all the things that can be kinda-sorta inferred from the show enough to make some kind of sense out of what we’re seeing. But these moments never hold up to any kind of scrutiny, and the application of just the tiniest bit of critical thinking will break whatever spell the show has managed to cast. Sure, we can use our imaginations about Sansa’s abuse at Ramsay’s hands. We can assume that she has been experiencing cold sweats and nightmares and other effects of that trauma. We can guess that during the journey to the Wall she and Brienne bonded and she shared some of that with her new friend, which forged a bond between the two women. But why should we, the audience, have to do all that work? There is always a certain amount of filling in of blanks when we consume stories, but this show relies on the audience’s knowledge and understanding of storytelling conventions (and often on the audience’s familiarity with the books) to a shamefully degree. It’s lazy, and it’s disappointing, and it only gets worse the longer the show goes on.
When the show isn’t condescending to the audience with pathetic narrative shorthand, it’s simply spinning its wheels, as it is in Arya’s Braavos storyline. Nearly three full minutes are spent on Arya receiving another beating from the Waif, and it’s as senseless as it is repetitive and visually uninteresting. It’s well-worn ground at this point, and it’s frankly boring. Even Jaqen H’ghar’s story about the origins of the Faceless Men is dull, and it’s not helped by the fact that it’s close enough to the story given in the books to show that the writers did actually read them but different enough from the book story to prove that D&D didn’t actually understand it. I know David Benioff has said that “themes are for 8th grade book reports,” but shit like this makes me doubt he reads and comprehends material on an 8th grade level at all. Like, when Benioff said this it was kind of derisively–as if he’s beyond all that, with his MFA and all, but it seems much more likely that he just really, really doesn’t “get” ASOIAF.
Moving along, though, Arya gets her second official assignment as a prospective member of this cult of death. This time, she’s to assassinate an actress, Lady Crane (played by Essie Davis from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries!), who performs with her troupe near the docks. I guess this is supposed to be a very loose adaptation of the Mercy chapter from The Winds of Winter that GRRM released ages ago, but it isn’t, at least not in any meaningful way. I did kind of love the pro-Cersei propaganda play that we get to see parts of in this sequence, which has better dialogue than most of the show has had for two and half seasons. I could have done without the close-up shot of the Joffrey actor’s diseased dick, but this stuff is otherwise fairly unobjectionable, if only due to its extreme blandness. Arya’s misgivings about killing Lady Crane could be interesting, but we’re given such a small glimpse of the actress (most of the time spent with the troupe is dominated by the male actors) that it’s hard to have any particularly strong feelings one way or the other about the matter. And, really, Arya having to make a hard choice in order to gain or keep her place at the House of Black and White is “dramatic” fodder that was already chewed over last season. It’s fine, but it would be nice to see more forward movement in this story line, especially as all the rest of the Stark kids seem to be moving towards some kind of reunion.
From Arya, we travel north of the Wall to see what Bran Stark is up to, which is not a whole lot. However, this brief (right around two minutes) scene contains what ought to be a major revelation: that the Children of the Forest are the ones who created the White Walkers, as weapons to fend off the invading humans. The impact of this information is somewhat diminished by the short length of the scene, however. There’s barely time to process the news before we’re whisked away to the Kingsmoot.
Which is an enormous letdown. First, no one but Yara is willing to make a claim to the throne. Then Yara is quickly shouted down by men who would rather have Theon than his sister because she has a vagina. Also, apparently all the reasons why Theon got a cold welcome at Pyke years ago after being raised at Winterfell no longer matter, even though he’s just as dickless these days as Yara is (unlikely, to say the least, to produce a legitimate heir of his own) and clearly broken down by the torture he experienced at Ramsay’s hands. It’s okay, though, because Theon throws his support behind Yara, which gets this apparently very fickle crowd chanting for her after all. But, surprise! Old (well, young) uncle Euron is home, and he’s going to win the Ironborn over by bragging about how he’s got a big dick. Yara accuses him of murdering Balon, even though there’s no reason for her to think this, but Euron’s just like, “Yeah, I did. What are you going to do about it?” because it’s not like kinslaying is one of the worst cultural taboos in Westeros or anything. The men quickly shift their allegiance to Euron, so Yara, Theon and some men loyal to them book it out of there and steal the whole Ironborn fleet while Euron is busy being drowned and crowned. This is probably a wise decision on Yara and Theon’s part, since the first thing Euron does once he’s done coughing up sea water is round up a mob to go murder his niece and nephew, only to be comically amazed as he sees the whole Ironborn fleet hightailing it out of there.
This is definitely the most unintentionally hilarious sequence so far this season, but it’s also one of the most disappointing ones. None of this makes very much sense, and it’s a sad bastardization of this plot from the books. GRRM’s Iron Islands chapters are generally considered a weak spot in the books, but they’re at least coherent there, and the actual Kingsmoot chapter is an excellent one. Here, it’s reduced to a couple of minutes of spiritless stump speeches and dick measuring, with Yara and Theon’s leaving, presumably for Essos, the most interesting thing about it. It’s a weird adaptational decision, really, to have Yara taking over (at least in some measure) the role filled by Victarion Greyjoy in the books. It works, theoretically, and well, on several levels, but the show could have told a much more economical and sensible story around this decision by simply giving the Ironborn to Yara after Balon’s mysterious death and having her make the choice under her own steam to go join forces with Daenerys, especially if they aren’t going to introduce the dragon-controlling horn Euron brings back from his travels. In a season that has so far been characterized by a growing string of significant character deaths and a systematic working towards bringing all its various plot strands together, it seems strange to introduce Euron at all and stranger still to write this conflict with Yara. Are they really going to waste time having Euron chasing Yara down all across the world? That seems stupid. Also, what factor of warp speed do we think the Ironborn fleet is going to use to get to Meereen in two episodes (since it looks like we won’t see them next week)?
Next up is some Daenerys stuff, because why not? She’s still pissed off at Ser Jorah, but his saving her life (him?) complicates things. Just as she’s about to probably forgive him, Jorah shows her his greyscale-covered arm and tells her that she has to send him away. This forces her to recognize that she really does love him (him?), though, so she commands him to go find a cure for the disease. Meanwhile, Daario stands around awkwardly because he’s clearly a third wheel here. In any case, they finally part ways, with Dany leading her khalasar back to Meereen I guess and Jorah heading off into an uncertain future. I guess we’re supposed to find this sad, but Jorah is unlikeable and Daenerys is so stoically wooden that it’s hard to have any very strong feelings about it other than relief that this garbage storyline is drawing to a close. While the whole Daario/Jorah rescue thing was ill-conceived from the start, the truth is that this amounted to some fairly significant forward movement for Dany, and at this rate I fully expect to see her at least setting out towards Westeros by the end of this season or the first episode of the next one.
Meanwhile, in Meereen, there’s another storyline spinning its wheels and retreading old material. It’s been two weeks since the deal with the slavers to stop the Sons of the Harpy from terrorizing Meereen, and the previously daily killings seem to have stopped. Varys is ready to call this a win, but the next concern on Tyrion’s plate is public relations. They need to find someone the people like to convince the Meereenese how awesome Daenerys is, which is a speech Tyrion delivers like he’s on an episode of Mad Men. Cut to the next scene, when they’ve managed to bring in Kinvara, the High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis (and a bunch of other titles, enough to give Daenerys a run for her money), who is definitely on board with talking up the Dragon Queen to the people of Meereen and elsewhere. What’s not explained is why anyone cares who Kinvara is or what she has to say, since she’s the leader of a minority religious cult from Volantis, and there haven’t been many red priests and priestesses in Meereen. It’s not even very clear how she managed to get here from Volantis so quickly. Varys isn’t really on board with this whole religion thing, but Kinvara impresses him/cows him into submission by bringing up Varys’s traumatic childhood experiences, because goodness knows we could all stand to hear more stories about how Varys became a eunuch.
Kinvara might seem creepy, but she’s not as creepy as this show’s writers’ obsession with castration. They literally don’t go an episode without bringing it up at least once anymore. It’s interesting that, in a season that is so heavily buzzed about for the increased prominence of women in the narrative, the writers are more obsessed than ever before in exploring themes of emasculation, both literal and figurative. It betrays a kind of bizarre neuroses on their part and they subtly cast aspersions on nearly every woman on the show. Even as the show is being talked up for improving its treatment of its female characters, nearly every one of them is being shown as mannishly aggressive, irrational, deceitful, or shrewish. In the meantime, there are multiple occurrences each week of insecure, toxic masculinity. Neither of these trends are new ones for the show, but they certainly seem to have been ramped up this year.
Back at the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree, Bran is bored while everyone else is asleep, so he decides to go into a vision without his mentor’s guidance. He gets to see the army of the dead, which is big enough to fill a whole valley. He walks through the ranks, and I was certain he was going to see a face that he knew—his uncle Benjen, maybe—but he doesn’t. Instead, when he gets to the other side of the snow zombie army, he gets grabbed by the Night King. This breaks the vision, and the Three-Eyed Raven tells Bran that the Night King is coming for him, so it’s time for Bran to take the Three-Eyed Raven’s place. Bran isn’t ready, obviously, which isn’t very encouraging. While Meera starts packing their things and getting ready to escape, Bran goes into another vision and we’re taken to Castle Black, where Jon and Sansa are hammering out some war plans.
Jon quite rightly points out that they need a lot more men than they have if they want to take Winterfell, but then the rest of the discussion is driven by Sansa and Davos, who are arguing over the best way to bring in more men. Sansa suggests going after the smaller houses of the North, which Davos dismisses until Jon backs up the idea as a good one. Sansa also lets slip about the Tully army to the south, but she lies about how she knows about it. Soon, things are settled. Jon, Davos, and Sansa are going to round up men in the North, and Sansa is sending Brienne to Riverrun for the Tully troops. Brienne is worried about leaving Sansa unprotected—Brienne doesn’t trust Davos and Melisandre, which is smart even though it’s framed as unreasonable in the narrative here—but it looks like she’s going to go after all, though she leaves at the same time as the rest of them. As they all ride out of Castle Black together, Dolorous Edd realizes that he’s Lord Commander now, by default I guess.
Honestly, I just have a hard time caring very much about the Jon and Sansa stuff right now. I did like Sansa’s gift to Jon of a furred cloak like their dad used to wear. That was sweet, although I wonder where Sansa got velvet for the new dress she made for herself. And I laughed out loud when Brienne called Jon brooding. And I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Tormund making eyes at Brienne. But I could have done without Davos mansplaining to Sansa and Jon having to step in to rescue her by saying the same stuff she’d just said. This isn’t the worst plot going on in the show right now, but it’s not exactly a standout bit of writing, either.
The episode ends back with Bran and company. Meera and Hodor are still packing when the temperature suddenly drops cold enough that you can see their breath on the air. Meera runs outside, only to find that the place is surrounded by zombies led by the Night King and three more White Walkers. What ensues is a frantically paced action sequence (think World War Z-ish) that is poorly lit, fake-looking, and results in the deaths of everyone except for Meera and Bran. Somehow, it manages to feel underwhelmingly low stakes even as several characters are killed in quick succession, and none of the deaths of all the remaining Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer, and Hodor feel as momentous as they ought to. After the revelation earlier in this episode, it might have seemed as if the Children might play some important role in stopping the menace they created, but apparently not. The Three-Eyed Raven gets a cool death effect as he explodes into black scraps of stuff in Bran’s vision, but it’s moved past so quickly that there’s barely time to register it happening, much less mourn.
Of all the character deaths so far this season, Summer’s is the most legitimately shocking and arguably the most infuriating. The show has always struggled with figuring out how to integrate the Stark children’s dire wolves, and the last couple of seasons they seem to have just given up on the whole idea, symbolism and thematic significance be damned. This season, however, the show has moved on to just unceremoniously killing the poor things. Bran’s bond with Summer in the books is perhaps his most important relationship as he discovers his powers, and it’s one of the few things that made his chapters readable at all, so it’s been very disappointing that the show has basically pretended as if the wolf doesn’t exist at all. This quick and dirty death only adds insult to injury.
The death that gets the most screentime this week is Hodor’s and it’s absolutely agonizing to watch. We learn that “Hodor” is a corruption of Meera’s pleas to Hodor to “hold the door” behind them as Bran and Meera flee into the snow, leaving Hodor to die. This death is certainly better thought out than Summer’s, but I’m not sure it’s any less awful. Certainly, it’s terrible to watch, but it’s also, from a meta standpoint, terrible to the character as well. The explanation offered here for Hodor’s disability is contrary to what is given in the source material (even if D&D do say that GRRM told them this), and it makes Hodor’s very existence—at least as we know him—all about Bran and this single moment. Sure, there’s a sort of tragedy about that, but it also leaves Hodor as a disposable character, without even the agency to make the decision to sacrifice himself for Bran. Considering how the books explore some ideas related to the ethics of Bran warging into Hodor at all, the idea that Hodor would be used this way in the show is actually pretty fucked up. That the show goes on to turn it into a lengthy scene of hyper-tragic torture porn, blatantly manipulating the audience, only makes it worse.