The first rule of time-travel stories is almost always that when you try to meddle in the past, you inevitably wind up creating the present you were hoping to avoid. This is at once ironically satisfying and allows for time travel to logically exist. (Everything else creates so many paradoxes that your brain will start to hurt.)
So it is on Game of Thrones, where Bran makes his first major alteration to the past, almost accidentally, by leaping into the brain of child Hodor and apparently warping it so much that all the kid can say is "Hold the door!" which, with time, becomes "Hodor." It's an attempted instruction — the grown Hodor is holding a door against a surge of wights and White Walkers — but instead, it destroys a man's mind.
And so it goes in "The Door," which continues the previous episode's trend of offering up some major, important answers regarding Game of Thrones' mythos. And many of those revelations impact some of the show's most major characters (even more major than Hodor — sorry, Hodor). Here are five winners and seven losers from "The Door."
Winner 1: Sansa Stark
For roughly the first half of this episode, Sansa is riding high. She tells off Littlefinger when he comes to apologize. (He rescued her from monsters, then sent her off to other monsters, she spits.) She threatens to kill him. She rightly recognizes that the North might not rally around Jon but will rally around her.
Now, Sansa does some questionable stuff elsewhere in this episode, which we'll get to in a minute. But the focus on her character, though it might seem surprising at first, makes sense when you consider how "The Door" is more or less split into three parts, with each one centered on three of the four surviving Stark children (because nobody cares about Rickon).
We spend a little time with Dany, the Greyjoys, and Tyrion, but we don't visit King's Landing, which is unusual. And I'd wager the strength of "The Door" stems directly from how it features the Starks so centrally. For as much as both Game of Thrones and the books it's based on have tried to expand beyond the Starks and Lannisters, they're still the heart of both (with a Dany chaser). And thus both thrive when the Starks or the Lannisters are in the spotlight.
Winner 2: Euron Greyjoy
Not only is Euron portrayed by the terrific Danish actor Pilou Asbæk, but he also gets the kingship of the Iron Islands, even after he admits he killed his brother to become king.
And he has a solid strategy to put Pyke near the center of the universe for once. He's going to sail over to Essos, find Daenerys, offer the use of his fleet if she marries him, and then use both his fleet and her army (and dragons) to burn the world.
Knowing Dany, Euron's plan feels a touch optimistic, but you can see where he came up with the idea, and it's a solid one nonetheless.
Plus, the sequence in which he is made king — which involves him being drowned, then dragged up on land to see if he will cough up the seawater — continues the season's focus on the beauty and primacy of ritual. Director Jack Bender's camera joins Euron beneath the waves for the moment when he expires, eyes wide, and then Bender holds just long enough on Euron's seemingly dead body to make his resurrection feel like a bit of a surprise.
Then, for fun, Euron sets off to kill his niece and nephew. This guy gets things done!
Winner 3: Jorah Mormont
Jorah's ongoing attempts to get back into Dany's good graces finally pay off in "The Door," as she thanks him for saving her life twice. She can't welcome him back into her service, but she also can't send him away yet again. Naturally, that's when he reveals the greyscale that's moved even further up his arm.
So Jorah finally gets what he wants, which only took nearly dying many times over to make it happen. The scene where Dany tells him to go out and find a cure is poignant — the Jorah and Dany pairing is one of the few on Game of Thrones that has barely changed over its entire run, in that both actors have shared scenes together in every season — even if the task she assigns him is impossible.
Of course, this suggests he might end up hanging out with Davos and Melisandre, who both knew someone whose greyscale had been halted. Hmmmm…
Winner 4: The Lord of Light
There's a whole group of Game of Thrones book readers who interpret the series as a tale of a conflict between the old gods and the new. And while this notion has filtered out into the show in some ways, it hasn't quite been as integral to what's happening on TV as it is in the books.
But "The Door" offers a hint about the Lord of Light not just being real but tugging on strings behind the scenes. When a Meereenese Red Woman comes to visit Tyrion and Varys, she balks at Tyrion's suggestion that maybe they shouldn't use the dragons to light citizens on fire until the land has been purified. After all, the queen has followers of many different faiths.
Yet the Red Woman turns to Varys and reminds him of the voice he heard from the flames in his childhood, the one that spoke to him after he was castrated. Is there a chance this was the Lord of Light? Varys seems a little rattled by it, at least.
Winner 5: People who never read the books
I usually sit through the "behind the scenes" featurette that follows every episode of the show, just to see what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss say. And in this one, they explain, forthrightly, that the episode's big Hodor reveal comes directly from the mouth of George R.R. Martin himself.
And, of course, the reveal makes sense — his name is "Hodor," after all — but it also suggests that even though Benioff and Weiss are picking and choosing what they want to adapt from Martin's upcoming books, they're still generally adapting what's to come, and book readers are spoiling themselves on major revelations just by continuing to watch the show.
Martin, of course, could head in a different direction and do something else. But he also seems bogged down in lots of plots that are deeply frustrating him. The show's streamlined approach has gotten us to this point with plenty of lumpy storytelling, but we've still arrived in a relatively efficient fashion.
Loser 1: Hodor
"With great power comes great responsibility" is one of the oldest lessons in fantastical storytelling (yes, even older than Spider-Man), and as Bran — according to Benioff and Weiss — downloads seemingly the entire contents of the Three-Eyed Raven's brain (bye, Academy Award nominee Max von Sydow!), he now has immense power but little notion of how to use it.
When Bran asks the Three-Eyed Raven if he's ready for this, the Raven says, unequivocally, "No." But there's no time for any additional education or instruction.
To drive this point home, the episode presents the scene where Bran scrambles Hodor's brain as a kind of horror film.
Yes, it works — in that Bran seemingly realizes what his entire life has been building toward — but the boy also ruins somebody else's life in the process. And then Hodor dies, before we figure out if he's at all clear-eyed about what's happened to him.
What's more, Bran now has the ability to change the past, which, as outlined above, rarely turns out well. Hodor is maybe just the first victim here.
Loser 2: The Children of the Forest
I don't know if the handful of Children who live in the tree with the Raven are the last remaining ones (if you're still a little confused by them, they are, for all intents and purposes, elves), but they all give their lives to get Bran out of there when the White Walkers attack.
In a final irony, Bran learns from traveling into the past that the Children created the White Walkers, as an attempt to guard themselves against humanity.
The Children are one of the most intriguing parts of Game of Thrones' mythology, because we know so little about them and because there are only a handful of them remaining. So I would have liked at least one to stay alive to tell Bran a little of the series' deepest, darkest past, but having the wights kill them all off preserves that mystery, which is probably best.
Loser 3: Sansa Stark
Unlike at various other times on Game of Thrones, in "The Door," at least, Sansa's moments of winning far outnumber her moments of losing — especially when it comes to telling off Littlefinger for treating her as a bargaining chip. But she is playing a dangerous game when it comes to the Tullys, lying about how she knows of the return of Riverrun (saying she heard about it from Ramsay, rather than Littlefinger) and trying to keep Littlefinger out of the process, which doesn't seem a) possible or b) all that wise.
Sansa being a little headstrong makes sense (she is, after all, still a teenager), but that's rarely a great quality in a leader. If she's going to retake the North, she'll need to have plans that make sense beyond, "Wreak vengeance."
She'll probably do alright for herself, but when Brienne (one of the show's few purely moral characters) is asking you why you're lying, you have a problem.
Loser 4: Yara and Theon
On the one hand, you could argue they're winners, since they consolidate much of the Iron Islands' fleet and run off into the ocean ahead of Euron while he's being made king. (Nobody thought to keep an eye on the siblings, apparently.) And with so much water to hide in, maybe the Greyjoys will just fall off the map.
Probably not, though. They'll likely find somebody to back their claim to the Iron Islands' throne, so that Yara might sit upon it. Yeah, I'd rather have Yara as my ruler, too, but they're about to become very wanted fugitives, sailing the seas, trying to stay one step ahead of Euron.
On the other hand, he has to build a bunch of ships. Though on the other, other hand, everything that should take months or years on this show (like traveling from Riverrun to Castle Black) instead takes days, so he'll probably have those ships ready by next week.
Loser 5: No One, previously known as Arya Stark
The sequence where she lurks around the theater to find a way to kill off one of the lead actresses, as well as the scene where she excels in her training, makes for some of the episode's stronger stuff. These moments increasingly feel like flashbacks in some Christopher Nolan movie about the adult Arya, master assassin, remembering her training as a child while she faces down some more powerful threat.
But at the same time, Arya was forced to watch how the Braavosi interpret what happened in the Seven Kingdoms, an interpretation that features a just and kind Joffrey and a dunderheaded Ned Stark. For someone who knows the truth, it must be hard to keep her rage in check.
Then again, she does, so maybe she's a winner after all. She's finally overcome herself.
Loser 6: Fans of theater living in the general Braavos area
While the Braavos theater scene maintains some progressive ideas about allowing women to perform onstage for the vaguely medieval period in which the show is set, that play looked just awful. Who will be the Braavosi Shakespeare and elevate these terrible works to great art?
Loser 7: Book readers who really wanted the horns to be part of the show
Weird horns that apparently have various mystical powers (like the ability to shatter the Wall, say) pop up with surprising frequency in the books. In particular, the books' version of Euron says he has a horn that can control dragons.
Well, in keeping with the show's, uh, earthier tone, the horn is gone. Instead, Euron says he'll control Dany with his giant fleet and his impressive penis. Again, that's more in keeping with the show (which keeps the magical stuff to even more of a minimum than the already less-magical-than-most-fantasy-series books do), but it also probably means the horns just aren't going to make it into the show.
Goodbye, horns. It would have been fun to realize you probably didn't work after all.
Agree? Disagree? Join me in comments to chat about this episode and culture in general at noon Eastern.
And while you're there, answer my question: What's the biggest question you still have about the backstory on Game of Thrones? I'll save my answer for comments.