I know, saying HBO's Game of Thrones has anything on top of ol' GRRM is bold -- if not outright traitorous -- to some people. But I think there's a good chance that when the credits rolled on last night's episode, "The Door," ol' George stroked his beard and said, "Damn, I wish I'd thought of that."
It was a heartbreaking ending to an utterly terrifying final scene of what was kind of a mess of an episode, an ending I couldn't see coming until it was far too late. The weirdly disjointed nature of it put me further at ease, so that scene hit me with nearly Red Wedding-level impact. (It also helped that I didn't know its title until after I watched "The Door," which then also hit me like a dire wolf to the gut.)
Without that final scene -- which we'll unpack at the very end -- I'm not sure anyone would count "The Door" as one of Game of Thrones' best (or most traumatic) episodes. It actually starts out really strong, as Sansa receives a letter from Littlefinger, who has already made it up north, for a secret rendezvous in Mole's Town. Sansa goes, not for the happy reunion Littlefinger might have hoped for, but to tell him -- and I may be paraphrasing here -- he fucking sucks.
"You rescued me from monsters who murdered my family and then gave me to monsters who murdered my family," she says with utter disgust in her voice. She then boldly asks Petyr Baelish what he thinks Ramsay Bolton did to her… and then demands he answer, just to make him admit out loud what he allowed to happen. Sansa is pure steel in this scene, and her cold declaration that she wants nothing more to do with him is fantastic. All Littlefinger can do is drop the news that her uncle Brynden has gathered the Tully forces at Riverrun.
After that, though, the episode makes its usual stops on various storylines, but they're all surprisingly low stakes, and in some cases a little boring:
• Arya is ordered by Jaqen to kill an actress who seems nice, possibly at the behest of an actress who doesn't seem nice. When Arya tries to drop subtle hints about hey, maybe killing nice people isn't cool, Jaqen flatly tells her the Many-Faced God comes for the nice and not nice alike, and if Arya screws her assignment again, she can get the hell out of the House of Black and White.
• The Kingsmoot is held at the Iron Islands; Yara nominates herself, and Theon manages to give a nice speech proclaiming her the best ruler at which point Euron Greyjoy arrives, announces he actually killed Balon and is going to hook up with fellow would-be Westeros invader Daenerys Targaryen in Meereen (both militarily and sexually). The Iron Islanders immediately happily vote the totally psychotic Euron their new king and Yara and Theon get the hell out of Pyke with all the ships and men who will follow them (well, Yara, at least).
• Daenerys forgives Jorah his betrayals; Jorah shows Daenerys his greyscale, admits he loves her and tries to leave; Daenerys orders him to find a cure to be by her side when she rules the Seven Kingdoms. It's nice, but the look on Jorah's face as he watches Dany's khalasar ride off says he's not feeling particularly optimistic.
• In Meereen, Tyrion and Varys decide they need to do some p.r. for Dany, namely by giving her credit for brokering the peace between the slavers and the people. They meet with a Red Priestess named Kinvara, asking her if maybe the priests of the R'hllor could help spread the word. Kinvara says sure, since Daenerys is Azor Ahai anyways, and then starts talking about killing all the unbelievers, which Tyrion very diplomatically asks her to hold off on.
• Then we check back in at the Wall where Jon is wondering how to hold the Wall and take back Winterfell. Sansa drops the news about the army at Riverrun, but lies about how she learned of it. In the end, Sansa sends Brienne to Riverrun to treat with her uncles, and then embarks on a tour of the Houses of the North that didn't enthusiastically pledge themselves to House Bolton, hoping to gather those loyal to the Starks. Brienne really doesn't want to leave Sansa, but has to follow her orders. This all seems like a bad idea.
Bran has the biggest storyline in the episode, but even that starts out strangely. His first vision with the Three-Eyed Raven is of the distant past, where the Children of the Forest gather around a giant Weirwood tree, surrounded by a spiral of stones. They have a man, a human man, tied to the tree, and a Child -- the same Child who's been hanging out with him and the Raven -- slowly pushes a knife into his chest, clearly sacrificing him, and the man's eyes turn ice blue.
This is a major reveal -- it's the origin of the White Walkers! They were a weapon of mass destruction against the First Men who initially invaded Westeros and took the lands away from the Children -- and yet "The Door" casually announces this news at the beginning of the episode with only a minor "You did it!" from Bran, and the Child giving him a "sorry not sorry" since it was her forests being cut down and her people being killed.
Want to know what else is treated nonchalantly? When Bran sneaks off for a vision of his own, revisiting the same Weirwood tree in the present, now of course in the dead of winter. But when he turns, he sees the army of wights standing there, staring at the tree. Bran walks through them, stunned about the force massed against humanity, until he sees the White Walkers atop their skeletal horses… and the Night's King looks at him, even though he isn't there. Which causes all the wights to also stare at him (or at least the place where he's projected his mind)…. And when he turn around, the Night's King is standing right there, next to him. And he grabs Bran.
Bran is shocked out of his vision, and (justifiably) freaked out; he's freaked out even more when the Three-Eyed Raven says the Night's King has marked Bran -- there's definitely a frosty burn on Bran's arm -- and that this will allow the Night's King access to the cave. The Raven announces Bran must leave, but he doesn't give a timeframe on it, and when we return to the cave in the episode's final act, Meera and Hodor are just hanging out, laughing it up when Meera has a strange feeling and goes outside to discover all the wights and the White Walkers are standing right outside.
What follows is yet another terrific GoT action scene, as the armies of the undead attempt to swarm the cave with their disturbing swiftness. Meanwhile, Bran and the Raven are enjoying a leisurely vision in old Winterfell, watching the day Rickard Stark sent young Ned to be the ward of Robert Arryn in the Vale. A petrified Meera tries to snap Bran out of it to no avail. And poor Hodor is too terrified to move; he can only rock back and forth, shaking, and muttering "Hodor" over and over to himself.
I would like to point out, by the way, that this whole sequence is terrifying. Game of Thrones is not a horror series, of course, but as the threat of the White Walkers has solidified, the show has done an amazing job of making sure everyone understands the threat they pose, by making them frightening in the extreme, most notably in last season's episode "Hardhome," and now in "The Door." When the Children of the Forest throw their magic grenades, it neither slows the wights nor makes a dent in their numbers. When the Children manage to light a wall of fire in front of the cave, the wights just scurry over the knoll the cave is situated under and start digging their way through. Meanwhile, it keeps cutting back to Bran in old Winterfell, where he can hear Meera's screams through his vision, but he can't wake up.
Which is when Hodor's eyes go white and he stands up, in the present. And in the past, at Winterfell, Bran watches young Willas, the giant boy who will become Hodor, collapse to the ground and begin having seizures.
I'm not 100% certain if Hodor has warged himself from the past, or if Bran has done something to Hodor, or something else entirely has happened, but it's almost too late. Bran's dire wolf Summer heroically sacrifices itself to buy Hodor enough time to get Bran on his gurney; Meera gets lucky and tosses a spear with a dragonglass tip, killing one of the White Walkers. The Night's King slowly walks up to the body the Raven, trapped in its roots, and cuts down the old man without hesitation. And finally, Hodor, Bran, Meera and the Child of the Forest run down the cave tunnels. Until they get to a door.
It's barred. Hodor throws his weight into it, over and over again, while the Child holds back what seems to be a flood of wights. Eventually, she too sacrifices herself, allowing the wights to overtake her so that they're all caught in the blast of her final magic grenade. It gives Hodor just enough time to force open the door, and then close it behind him. But there's no latch. Hodor leans back against it, putting all his weight against it to keep the wights inside and Bran safe.
In the present. Meera shouts "Hold the door, Hodor!"
In the past, Bran watches as the convulsing young Hodor screams "Hold the door!"
And it all clicks into place.
Hodor -- giant, innocent, noble Hodor gives his life so that Meera can drag Bran into the night, as the wights tear their way through the door pieces by piece, then through Hodor. And all the while, Meera begs him to "Hold the door," and young Willies screams it too, the words getting more indistinct every time.
I could talk about how masterfully this scene was edited; how it cut between the past and present at the perfect rate for maximum impact; how even the shouts of "Hold the door!" in both past and present kept bumping next to each other, making the eventual mesh into "Hodor" as natural as two people screaming in different eras can be. How the reveal was perfectly set up, by letting Bran see Willas back in the second episode of the season, with all his mental faculties, then waiting three more episodes until we forgot the mystery of how Willas turned into Hodor.
Instead I want to talk about -- and this is a book spoiler, albeit a very minor one -- how it doesn't seem like this scene will be happening in the books. There, Old Nan specifically tells Bran that Willas was kicked in the head by a horse as child, rendering him unable to say anything but "Hodor." It seems like a horrible, normal thing that happens to people in Game of Thrones, and there's nothing to indicate Old Nan is lying. In fact, her tall tales seem to be full of truths (or parts of truths) that the rest of the world has forgotten. Based on the evidence of the books, it seems very unlikely that Martin has or had this fate in store for Hodor.
This means this is the first time that Game of Thrones has pulled off a Red Wedding-level moment that wasn't in the books first -- yes, it was different, but to me the realisation of Hodor's name and his heroic stand was just as emotionally powerful. That Game of Thrones could take its most innocent character and not only kill him off, but kill him off in a way that felt right, crushed me. It was tragic, certainly, but it was also heroic. It wasn't infuriating like many deaths of Game of Thrones are, but it was still heartbreaking. It was awful and wonderful and shocking and perfect.
If I'm wrong, and GRRM planned this, then all credit to him. But as talented a writer as George R.R. Martin is, I have my doubts that reading this scene would have touched me as deeply as what I watched last night.
Goodbye, Hodor. You may have just saved the world.
• Jaqen gives Arya a quick history lesson on the Faceless Men, and it turns out it's not that interesting. An escaped slave was given the gift of face-changing by the Many-Faced god and he killed a bunch of slavers and recruited slaves until he had an unstoppable force of assassins. Pretty straightforward, really.
• Arya watches the play the targeted actress is in, which is basically an adaptation of Game of Thrones' first season, starting with Robert Baratheon's death-by-boar and ending with Ned Stark's beheading. I understand what Benioff and Weiss were trying to do by showing how smallfolk care about the "game" just as much as the White Walkers, at least when it doesn't affect their daily lives; I understand the play was supposed to be terrible, an unsophisticated show for peasants that involves Ned being turned into an imbecile and a lot of farting; and I think Maisie Williams does a great job emoting when she is forced to rewatch her father's execution, except played for laughs. That said, it was still a terrible play and it seemed like it went on forever.
• The Iron Islands stuff has always been the least interesting storyline in the novels, and it's become true in the TV show, too. I assume this is why Weiss and Benioff put it off until this season. None of these people are likable -- Yara has some qualities, and Theon is of course sympathetic, but no one is rooting for these guys, so it's hard to care about their little political drama when it's relegated to Pyke.
• Also, I'm not feeling Theon's newfound confidence and public speaking ability. His recovery from being Reek seems to be happening unrealistically fast (he said about the show where dragons will eventually be fighting ice zombies).
• Varys does not like Kinvara at all. Despite he and Tyrion needing the support of her religion, Varys can't resist talking about how even though Kinvara thinks Danaerys is Azor Ahai, Melisandre also thought Stannis was Azor Ahai and he ended up dead. Kinvara counters by knowing not only about the wizard who had him castrated as a young boy, but also about the supernatural voice that came out of the flames when the wizard threw Varys' member in a fire. Varys shuts up, and hates her even harder.
• So that's it for the Tree-Eyed Raven, huh? Kind of underwhelming, and I understand even less why they felt they needed Max Von Sydow to stand silently by Bran in a half-dozen visions.
• I'm not sure another hauntingly amazing Brienne/Tormund gif makes up for what happened last night, but it's a step in the right direction.
• Hold the door.