Every week throughout season six, a handful of Vox's writers will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones. Before you dig in, check out our recap of the season premiere, as well the archive of our entire discussion to date. This week, we'll be hearing from culture editor Todd VanDerWerff, culture writer Caroline Framke, foreign policy writer Zack Beauchamp, and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.
Caroline Framke: Game of Thrones is so entangled in its own mythology, the mythology of its source novels, and its cultural cache as HBO's record-breaking ratings darling that the most exciting aspect of its sixth season is the fact that it can — and will — go off-book.
With George R.R. Martin still writing The Winds of Winter, which the season is ostensibly based upon, Game of Thrones' current status is "a mishmash of straggling storylines from the books and developments that have arisen from the television show's deviations from those books." Viewers who've read them still know more than viewers who haven't, but as "The Red Woman" proved, season six may surprise us all more often than not.
And to that I say: Bring it on.
Or, to quote the ever-elegant Jaime Lannister: Fuck prophecy.
Book adaptations are singularly difficult beasts to wrangle. There will always be disconnect between the page and the screen; what translates well in text might not resonate when filmed, and vice versa. Game of Thrones is particularly challenging in this respect, thanks to the sheer scope of its story, its huge cast of characters, and its stature amongst its fans.
The more beloved a book is, the more complicated it is to adapt for TV or film. Fans expect to see a story play out in front of their eyes like it did in their head, but they still want some sense of newness and wonder. It's a difficult balance to strike — and in season six, it's one Game of Thrones largely doesn't have to worry about anymore.
With "The Red Woman," fans of Martin's novels had to contend with a whole mess of surprises, some more contentious than others. Sansa Stark and Brienne of Tarth finally found and swore fealty to each other, a meeting that felt inevitable on the show, but would have happened much differently in the books, where Sansa wasn't the woman who had to withstand Ramsay Bolton's so-called "games." In Mereen, Dany's entire fleet went down in flames. In Dorne, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes fucked shit up by taking out the region's ruling prince, Doran Martell, an important political player in the books. Oh, and Melisandre revealed herself to be several centuries old.
And so the conversation around the season premiere has been a bit more muddled than it's been in past seasons. Previously, there was a clear divide between readers and viewers. Now, everyone's in the muck together, clinging to details both subtle and blatant to parse out their meaning.
Throughout "The Red Woman," characters grappled with the fact that their best-laid plans have gone horribly awry. If everyone has a preordained destiny — a theme Game of Thrones has maintained since the beginning — the episode served as a bracing reminder that life can always take a sharp turn from what you thought was the designated path.
Arya got her justice, but was immediately blinded for it. Jaime traveled to retrieve his daughter, only to return to Cersei with yet another corpse. Queen Margaery is rotting in a prison cell. Melisandre saw Stannis ruling the seven kingdoms in her magic flames, but now he's just another fallen contender to the Iron Throne. Oh, and Jon Snow is dead — at least for now.
In other words: Jamie probably isn't the only one who wants prophecy to go fuck itself.
So even if "The Red Woman" wasn't quite as exhilarating as some of Game of Thrones' past episodes, it at least succeeded in making confusion an immersive experience. Neither the characters, nor viewers who've read the books, know what's going to happen now.
Read the recap. Come back soon for more discussion.