In the words of my wise friend Ellyse, “Whatever Game of Thrones lost after season 2, they got it the fuck back again.”
This weekend’s episode, cruelly and cuttingly entitled “The Door,” carried an emotional heft I did not know the creators of the show to be capable of until they crushed me beneath it. From beginning to end, from the wall to Vaes Dothrak, the minds behind Game of Thrones told a tale of uncompromising sorrow that was capable of moments, despite their horror, of startling beauty.
The tour de force begins in the north, when Sansa answers a summons from Littlefinger. Her mouth curled with disgust, Brienne a pleasingly thuggish crony behind her, Sansa finally confronts the man who sold her from one torment to the next. With no background music to provide the viewer with a pace to the scene, Sansa asks the little, fearful man, “What do you think Ramsay did to me?”
She doesn’t settle for his mere discomfort. She pushes the issue, her eyes cold and angry, her anger the chilliest shade any Stark has ever thrown. (And those paying attention to the hair and costuming of the show will notice she wears the same style she did in the pilot, when she was still happy and all the Starks were still alive.) She forces Petyr to acknowledge and understand her trauma. And when she tells him she is still reliving the brutalization Littlefinger indirectly subjected her to, when she tells him “I can still feel it, what he did, in my body standing here right now,” we shudder, because we can only imagine.
In Braavos, Arya continues her training to become a nameless, faceless agent of death. Jaqen H’ghar gives her a task, a new name to give to the Red God, and it should come as no surprise that the task forces her to confront yet another scarring element of her past. Her target is an actress who appears in a play that essentially retells the events of Season 1. The production smacks strongly of Lannister influence, portraying Joffrey as a decent person and Ned as a gullible, bumbling fool who should’ve seen what was coming to him. Arya must watch the pantomime of her father’s beheading, must relive one of the hardest moments of her young life – but, of course, she takes the feels with a steely resolve, determined to bury her sorrow along with her identity.
In the Iron Islands, Yara and Theon try to politicize their way to power. It is a heartening moment, when Theon the perpetual turncloack finally exhibits some signs of loyalty and goodness, standing by his sister’s side to take a secondary role. But it goes to shit when Euron shows up, makes a couple crude jokes about his man-parts, and steals the show. He might be the new king of the Iron Islands, but Yara comes out on top when she steals literally all his ships while he’s being coronated (if indeed that’s what we should call the strange drowning ritual that occurs in the corner of Westeros I’m still not convinced I should really care about all that much). Yara’s plight is a conspicuous distillation of the gender politics in Game of Thrones: she’s a capable, powerful woman, caught in an unapologetic masculinist sausage fest – and while she can’t ever win the games people are playing, she can still find a way to beat them.
In the dry heat of Essos, Daenerys casually surveys her most recent collection of soldiers. (Hair fans will get another case of déjà vu here, noticing the strong resemblance her braids bear to the getup she had when she laid utter waste to Slaver’s Bay.) In contrast to the last episode, however, she turns away from her devoted masses and pays attention to Jorah, her beloved father figure/creepy love interest/unforgiven traitor. Their relationship is as complicated as the expression on her face as she tries to approach him – a confrontation from which she is spared when he reveals his gnarly rock-man disease. In a show of surprising tenderness and naïveté, Daenerys commands Jorah to find a cure for himself, so that she doesn’t have to rule Westeros without him. She may have just committed mass regicide down the hill without so much as messing up her hair, but she is still a child, still human, and the show won’t let us forget that.
If you thought you’d had your heart torn open and sewn back together enough for one night, though, you were in for one hell of an ass-kicking. The biggest moments of the episode were easily claimed by Bran. In his first scene, we see through flashback that the White Walkers (aka the major boss enemy of this whole damn show) were first created by the Children of the Forest – get this – to protect Westeros from men. It is a chilling twist to the mythical storyline we have been given little reason to invest ourselves in until now. If the magic of Westeros, the elemental powers of nature, can turn against men, what exactly are the stakes of the war to come?
Pretty fucking high, it turns out. The White Walkers’ zombie minions come smashing into Bran’s glorified tree fort at the end of the episode in epidemic-level droves. Bran is infuriating and useless during the ensuing chase sequence, caught in the middle of a flashback, lingering for one last time in his old home and chilling with the boy version of his father. Most of the good guys present die, including Bran’s wolf (RIP Summer, in more ways than one), but Meera, Hodor and Bran manage to narrowly escape into the whiteout northern waste. Hodor, though, must stay behind to hold the zombies back. And it is at this moment that Bran somehow manages to connect with the Hodor from the past – in flashback Winterfell, they lock eyes, and Hodor and Bran both hear Meera calling at him from the future to “Hold the door!”
Young Hodor collapses, as one would if they were nonconsensually connected telepathically to their future self. Meera continues to cry, “Hold the door!” and back in the present, Hodor does so, with the pure, tragic valiance of the simple-minded. Young Hodor of the past shouts the same words while he seizes on the ground, “Hold the door” eventually morphing into the shortened “Hodor” as his future self is torn to pieces by winter’s wights.
The camera comes to rest right in front of young Hodor’s face, horrified to blankness, and then the screen cuts to black. Just like your wasted, sorry heart.