The Red Woman
|"The Red Woman"|
|Game of Thrones episode|
|Episode no.||Season 6|
|Directed by||Jeremy Podeswa|
|Written by||David Benioff|
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 sixth season premiere episode of HBO's fantasy television series Game of Thrones, and the 51st overall. The episode was written by series creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, and directed by Jeremy Podeswa.
In the episode, the lifeless body of Jon Snow is discovered by Ser Davos Seaworth and loyal members of the Night's Watch protect it; 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
In King's Landing
Jaime Lannister arrives in King's Landing bearing Myrcella's body and promises Cersei that they will have revenge against all who have wronged them.
Arya Stark, now blinded, is sent to beg on the streets and train her hearing senses. The Waif appears and forces Arya to duel her using a wooden staff. Arya fails, and the Waif promises that she will return the following day.
In the Dothraki Sea
Daenerys Targaryen is presented to Khal Moro, who has taken her prisoner. Daenerys explains that she was Khal Drogo's wife and asks Moro to escort her back to Meereen, but he refuses, as widows of khals must live out their lives in Vaes Dothrak, the Dothraki's sacred city.
Tyrion Lannister and Varys walk through the deserted streets of Meereen. Varys promises that his spies will find the leader of the Sons of the Harpy. The two discover that all of the ships in Meereen's harbor have been set ablaze, and Tyrion realizes that Daenerys' forces will be unable to sail to Westeros.
At the Wall
The loyalists take Jon Snow's body into a storeroom. Melisandre is troubled, as she had experienced a vision of Jon fighting at Winterfell. The loyalists lock themselves in from the mutineers, while Eddison sneaks out of Castle Black to get assistance from the Wildlings. Ser Alliser Thorne convenes the Night's Watch and takes responsibility for Jon's assassination. Thorne and the other mutineers surround the storeroom and threaten to attack if the loyalists do not surrender by nightfall. Melisandre goes to sleep in her bedroom. As she undresses, she is revealed to have a physical body many years older than she normally appears.
"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 gave the episode an approval rating of 86% based on 59 reviews, with an average rating of 7.5.4/10, 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 favorite 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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