The Red Woman
|"The Red Woman"|
|Game of Thrones episode|
The Red Woman, Melisandre, reveals her true form following her loss of faith.
|Directed by||Jeremy Podeswa|
D. B. Weiss
|Featured music||Ramin Djawadi|
|Cinematography by||Gregory Middleton|
|Editing by||Crispin Green|
|Original air date||April 24, 2016|
|Running time||50 minutes|
"The Red Woman" is the first episode of the sixth season of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 51st overall. The episode was written by series co-creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
The body of Jon Snow is discovered by Ser Davos Seaworth and loyal members of the Night's Watch protect his lifeless body; Melisandre has begun to lose her faith in the Lord of Light; Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy flee Winterfell, Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes seize control of Dorne; Jaime Lannister returns to King's Landing with the body of his dead daughter; and Daenerys Targaryen is taken prisoner by the khalasar of Khal Moro.
"The Red Woman" was positively received by critics who found the episode to be a satisfactory launching point for the season, and praising the scenes involving Sansa and Brienne, as well as the closing reveal with Melisandre, although the Dorne storyline was criticized once again for feeling too abrupt and deviating greatly from the books. For filming of the episode's closing reveal, the director used similar technique to the body double of Cersei Lannister in the previous episode. The episode title is an allusion to the epithet used to describe the Red Priestess Melisandre. In the United States, the episode premiere achieved a viewership of 7.94 million in its initial broadcast, and a same-day total including the streaming services HBO Go and HBO Now of 10.7 million viewers, a record for the series.
In the North
At Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton mourns the death of Myranda, but commands that her corpse be fed to the hounds. Roose Bolton warns him that, despite their victory, they could be facing the wrath of the Lannisters in the future, and as such, they must secure the loyalty of the North's other nobles. Roose blames Ramsay for losing Sansa Stark, who, as a child of Eddard Stark, could have been used as a figure-head for the North. As such, Roose implies that he will disinherit Ramsay if he cannot retrieve her and his unborn child is a son.
Meanwhile, Sansa and Theon Greyjoy flee through the nearby forests. Upon being cornered by a squad of Bolton soldiers, they are rescued by Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne, who attack and kill the soldiers. Brienne again offers to pledge her loyalty to Sansa, who accepts.
Doran Martell receives news of Myrcella's death and is aghast, but he and Areo Hotah are immediately murdered by Ellaria Sand and Tyene Sand, while the palace guards look on without intervening. Ellaria states that his people have become dissatisfied with Doran's inaction against the Lannisters. As Doran dies, he pleads for his son's life, but Ellaria vows that weak men will never rule Dorne again.
In King's Landing
Jaime Lannister arrives in King's Landing bearing Myrcella's body, and returns to his sister Cersei Lannister. Cersei recounts the prophecy which Maggy the Frog told her as a child, when she was told all her children would die before her and she would be left with nothing. Jaime promises that they will have revenge against all who have wronged the Lannisters, heightening the importance of his and Cersei's staying close.
In his ship still docked in the harbor, Doran's son Trystane is painting stones for Myrcella's funeral. Obara and Nymeria Sand board his ship and enter his cabin, stating their intent to kill him. Despite proclaiming that he does not want to fight his family, he attempts to defend himself from Nymeria but is stabbed through the back of the head by Obara, killing him instantly.
Tyrion Lannister and Varys walk through the streets, which are largely empty because of Daenerys's absence and fear of the Sons of the Harpy. Tyrion observes that Daenerys' enemies are growing, including former slaves and former masters. Varys promises that his spies will find the leader of the Sons of the Harpy. The two discover that someone has set fire to all of the ships in Meereen's harbor, and Tyrion realizes that Daenerys's forces will be unable to sail to Westeros.
In the Dothraki Sea
Daario Naharis and Jorah Mormont continue to trace Daenerys Targaryen's location. Jorah takes a moment to observe his worsening greyscale. They discover her ring in the middle of thousands of hoof-prints, deducing that she has been taken by the Dothraki.
Daenerys is presented to Khal Moro, who has taken her prisoner. Moro initially wishes to rape her, but treats her with respect after Daenerys explains that she was Khal Drogo's wife. Daenerys asks Moro to escort her back to Meereen, but he refuses to let her leave, as widows of Khals must live out their lives in Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki's sacred city.
Arya Stark, now blinded, is sent to beg on the streets. The Waif suddenly appears and forces Arya to duel her using a wooden staff. Arya fails because of her blindness, and the Waif promises that she will return the following day.
At the Wall
Following the murder of Jon Snow, his dire-wolf Ghost begins to howl as the sun rises above Castle Black, attracting the attention of Davos Seaworth, Eddison Tollett, and a few other loyalists. They release Ghost from his nearby pen and take Jon's body into a store-room, whereupon Melisandre briefly visits and is troubled, as she had experienced a vision in the flames where Jon was fighting at Winterfell. The loyalists become fearful and also lock themselves in from the mutineers, with the exception of Edd, who sneaks out of Castle Black to get assistance from the Wildlings against the mutineers.
Ser Alliser Thorne convenes the other black brothers and takes responsibility for Jon's murder. Several black brothers accuse Thorne and the other officers of treason, but Thorne wins them over by citing Jon's actions and stating that Jon would have destroyed the Night's Watch by letting in the Wildlings. Alliser and the other mutineers then surround the store-room and promise Davos and Jon's friends amnesty if they surrender, but threaten to attack if they don't open the door by nightfall.
Elsewhere, Melisandre, who has been sullen following Stannis's defeat and Jon's death, goes to sleep in her bedroom. As she undresses, she removes her ruby necklace to reveal a physical body many years older than she appears to be.
"The Red Woman" was written by the series' creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Some elements in the episode are based on the sixth novel in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, The Winds of Winter, which author George R. R. Martin had hoped to have completed before the sixth season began airing. It also contains elements from the chapters "The Sacrifice" and "The Blind Girl" from A Dance with Dragons. With this episode, Jonathan Pryce (High Sparrow) is promoted to series regular. The episode has the introduction of new recurring cast member Joe Naufahu, who plays Khal Moro. It was the first episode followed by After the Thrones, HBO's after-show hosted by Andy Greenwald and Chris Ryan. The episode had a premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre two weeks before the premier of the episode on HBO. There was a lot of speculation prior to the episode regarding whether the character Jon Snow would remain dead or return to life. Fans speculated that Melisandre would be the one to bring back Snow to life, after and before the title of the first episode was revealed to be "The Red Woman".
Liam Cunningham, who portrays Davos Seaworth, spoke about the writing of the episode following its airing, and revealed how he reacted to the scene, saying "It was initially shocking. You know what I thought was my favorite bit, and I said it to David and Dan, it was at that moment when the reveal comes and you kind of go, 'Oh my God,' it puts things into context with Melisandre. It doesn't explain or blah, blah, blah. … It's confirmed like, she's a witch, but there was such a touch of humanity. When she went to the bed and got into the bed and covered herself up… it was like a really striking moment in this weird madness of humanity."
John Bradley, who portrays Samwell Tarly, also spoke about the scene, saying "And what I like about that, and seeing her like that is you know then that her sexuality over the course of the last few seasons, we've seen her use as such a tool -- that's all very deliberate. She presents herself in this way as this beautiful woman because she knows the effect that that can have on people. She knows the effect that that has on Stannis, and that can make men do unadvisable things. So the fact that she did that and she uses that power in that way to have this influence on people. That puts her into context as somebody who really does know what she's doing."
"The Red Woman" was directed by Jeremy Podeswa. Podeswa previously directed the fifth season episodes "Kill the Boy" and "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken", the latter of which received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. The budget for the sixth season increased compared to the previous seasons as each episode had an average cost of over $10 million, totaling approximately $100 million for the full season, setting a new high for the series.
For the closing reveal involving Melisandre, the director of the episode stated that a similar technique to the body double of Cersei Lannister in "Mother's Mercy" was used, with Carice van Houten wearing prosthetic makeup for the face that was then transposed onto the real body of an old woman. Podeswa stated, "The idea is there's an indefinite indeterminate quality that she could be ancient. We were limited by choosing to use a real person rather than a complete [computer generated] creation. Because what does a 400-year-old person look like? We don't know. So if you try to create that, then you're creating something that looks beyond our known reality. Here you feel like she's very old without putting a number on it."
"The Red Woman" was viewed by 7.94 million American households on its first viewing, which is slightly lower than number of viewers for the fifth-season premiere, 8.00 million, marking the first time in the show's history a season premiere received less ratings than the premiere and finale of the season that came before it. HBO notes that two replays later in the night and early figures from HBO Go and HBO Now push the total to 10.7 million viewers, a same-day record for the show, meaning that the episode received an increase in viewerships. The episode also acquired a 4.0 rating in the 18–49 demographic, making it the highest rated show on cable television of the night. In the United Kingdom, the episode was watched by 2.19 million viewers according to overnight ratings (2.289 million viewers over 7 days and 2.554 over 28 days), a record for the pay channel Sky Atlantic. The UK viewing figures reached an all-time high. The 2am simulcast attracted 60,000 viewers. Similarly it broke the Australian record as the most watched show on pay TV, with 721,000 viewers in the overnight figures and 1.1 million in the final tally. Over a million had downloaded the episode within 12 hours of airing, with Australia having the most illegal downloads of the episode by a single nation.
Reviews for "The Red Woman" were very positive. The episode was praised for its humor, Brienne's reunion with Sansa and Theon, and the revelation regarding Melisandre's true age. Rotten Tomatoes assembled 38 reviews and calculated an approval percentage of 89% with an average rating of 7.6/10, and the consensus reading: "A solid season opener, The Red Woman balanced its ongoing mysteries with a bit of humor and featured Sansa's touching reunion with Brienne of Tarth."
James Hunt of What Culture wrote in his review of the episode; "It was a good return to the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond), one that was filled with tension throughout, and set about re-establishing the pieces on the board." Ellen Gray of Philadelphia Daily News noted in her review of the episode; "First episodes are always difficult. So many people to check in on. Or kill. Or swear vengeance upon. Still, things are off to several promising starts." Mark W. Pleiss of PopMatters wrote in his review of the episode; "The most recent episode of HBO's Game of Thrones largely evaded the two major questions from the previous chapter, and instead lined up its sixth season to gravitate around the heroics and cunning of its female protagonists." Tim Surette of TV.com wrote that Melisandre is one of his favorites characters. 
In isolation from the rest of the episode, many critics were baffled by the drastic changes to the Dorne storyline. For io9, Charlie Jane Anders called it "the absolute worst" part of the episode, and criticized the Dorne storyline in general for giving Doran Martell "a grand total of ten minutes' screentime" before suddenly killing him off, given that he is alive in the novels and his major subplot from the books - that he was simply feigning a desire for peace while planning to betray the Lannisters - was not introduced at all before his departure. Alan Sepinwall from HitFix also disliked the Dorne scenes and summarized, "I'll settle for not needing to audibly groan every time the story returns to Dorne, frankly." For Vulture, Nate Jones wrote an op-ed piece specifically criticizing the Dorne storyline in seasons five and six, culminating in the changes in the season six premiere, which it felt to be bizarre and illogical - purely relying on shock value when the characters' actions don't make sense upon closer analysis. Jones was also critical of how it was altering the female characters in Dorne, saying that they were changed from the novels to be "the kind of violent, scantily clad women that emerge when creators want to pay lip service to feminism, but don't have the time or inclination to create actual three-dimensional female characters."
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