Last Night's 'Game of Thrones' Had Genital Warts and Fart Jokes
Besides STDs and flatulence, we also got the answers to some burning questions we've had since we first started watching the series.
All photos by Helen Sloan/courtesy of HBO except where noted
Warning: Spoilers from season six, episode five ahead.
Lady Sansa Asked You a Question
If "The Door," besides being the best episode of Game of Thrones's sixth season and possibly one of the best episodes of the show's run, felt familiar to you, it may be because there are only so many stories in the world. And all stories, and certainly all franchises, are a journey from novelty to ubiquity. This season's culling of its supporting cast and resolution of long-lingering threads—effectively favoring fanbase/plots over creators/characters—is an admission of how conditional, even characteristic, it is of the culture whose expectations it initially challenged. Much more than a show on television, Game of Thrones has become (at least for those who have only seen the show casually, if ever) a byword for misogyny, gratuitous violence, and breathy monologues amid exotic climes. When we debate how much of this is the show's fault, it only proves that we have already digested it; seeing what we can regurgitate is the real entertainment now. This tension between redundancy and nostalgia is present in every scene of "The Door," a classic, reflexive, exciting, and actually thoughtful installment of a show that is negotiating its strange new status as token American pop culture.
The first sign that we're in germane territory is when Sansa confronts her betrayer, Peter Baelish, in Mole's Town. Rather than recount the ills she suffered at the hands of her rapist, Ramsay Bolton, Sansa forces Baelish to say them himself, thereby acknowledging his collusion. Throughout the scene, Sophie Turner is tapped for her actual height, framed by the doorway's rhombus of light while Baelish simpers in the darkness. He oscillates between lying and longing and drops a hint about Jon Snow's parentage. But it's Sansa who dictates the terms of the conversation, as she reminds Littlefinger of his place as a trussed-up-brothelkeep and bluntly refuses his attempt at reconciliation. When she says, "I can still feel what he did in my body standing here right now," it's not played for weepy rape-as-melodrama plot traction, but as a frank reckoning with the violence the show has subjected to its female characters—and the complicity of the audience who watched.
"I've Been Murdered by a Boar / The Great Big Hairy Whore"
Following a bare-knuckles brawl with her waifish rival, Arya infiltrates an acting troupe whose specialty seems to be a play-within-the-play that is basically a recap, as farce, of the first two seasons. Arya is put off by the mockery it makes of her father's death (that Jan Švankmajer-looking wooden head is this week's prop to steal), and seems to be bucking her programming; she also seems to be mimicking the average GOT viewer when she swings from blithe amusement to horror while watching. But The Bloody Hand, as I am told this play is called, which with its canny vulgarity, frilly rhymed couplet dialogue, and fart noises, comes off as good-humored self-parody. Just as The Mousetrap inculcated the key themes of Hamlet as dumb-show while broadcasting its artificiality, the play demonstrates a certain self-knowledge on the part of Lost director Jack Bender (new to Game of Thrones) who shows us a depraved spectacle, milks the high/low resonance for all its worth, then reminds us who the plebes are here. While we're on the topic of metanarrative, did you see the cameo wherein the great Richard E. Grant, Withnail himself, consoled himself that "there are no small parts"? Also, we see some genital warts in this scene.
Let Two Dozen Fish Eat Two Dozen Scales off Two Dozen Eyes
Something is amiss with space and proportion in Westeros, to the extent that it can be hard to estimate how long it takes to travel from, say, Winterfell to the Iron Islands (Theon did it between episodes, but it took Yara half of season four), how many extras comprise an army, or what the population of any given kingdom happens to be. Maybe that's why it's refreshing to see that the Ironborn, amassed for the Kingsmoot, consists of about two dozen bald dudes on a grotty hillock. Theon supports dutiful Yara's vie for queen, but Euron, an out-of-left-field loudmouth-for-the-people, steals her thunder with a lot of talk about his dick. (I'll leave the obligatory electoral commentary to another.) After maligning the word "gallivanting," new-king-on-the-block Euron grossly overestimates his cocksmanship where Daenerys Targaryen is concerned, drowns, and is reborn. But it's all for naught, as Yara and Theon abscond with, like, all two dozen of the kingdom's boats. No sooner has the show recaptured a sense of realistic quantities, however, than Euron demands that his people "chop down every tree you can find," so they can build a fleet of a thousand ships and sail in hot pursuit. Sorry, your Saltiness, but this isn't Warcraft, and I don't think you can just build an army overnight by the labor of two dozen peons.
Across the Narrow Sea, on a mountaintop denuded of drama, we have a simple scene enacted as though with Mattel action figures, where Jorah Mormont confesses his love to the Khaleesi, reveals his fatal case of greyscale, Daenerys's heart breaks, and they part. Lazy writing? Almost certainly. But not everything has to be a big production, and it all seems to fit into this season's getting-shit-done initiative. In Mereen, we meet Varys and Tyrion's new ally, Kinvara from Red Woman Corporate Headquarters. If the Mole's Town and Braavos sequences revealed some schematic contemplation on the show's fallout, this scene counts on our past familiarity with the backstory behind the followers of R'hllor (they're nigh-immortal witches) and Varys (he's a skeptic who only grudgingly believes in otherworldly things) for its drama. The main action does not come from what we see, but what we bring to the scene, a sleight-of-hand that is probably as close to auteur-ist craftsmanship that one can expect from an endeavor the size of Game of Thrones. The same could be said back in Castle Black where Jon Snow and his friends ponder a Risk board and spitball potential allies: Umber, Karstark, Manderly, Glover, and Mormont are minor houses, most of them represented by a single actor, not to mention made-up words. But by getting us to do the work, the feeling of encroaching war is more palpable than an entire army of CGI men-at-arms.
He Held the Door
Does that tree look like Max von Sydow, or does Max von Sydow look like that tree? This is the first riddle posed by Bran's explosive journey into ancient Westeros, where we dig up an extraordinary amount of prehistory. As an insurance policy against rapacious mankind, the elves (can't bring myself to call them the Children of the Forest) created the White Walkers by inserting a capsule into some guy's chest like James Woods in Videodrome; spirals are cool; there's an army of the idle undead serving four metal guys in heavy makeup; and the biggest reveal, which comes after a zombie-attack set piece that's as intense as anything the show has ever done, is that we learn that Hodor has been reliving the moment of his death ever since the time-traveling Bran warged into him to "hold the door."
This last bit rankles. I don't mind Bran's pointless foray into family history when he should be packing for the ice-zombie apocalypse, or Max von Sydow's Jedi Knight–dissolve into black mummy strands, or the grenade-throwing elves, or even the gruesome death of Summer the direwolf at the claws of the advancing zombie horde—but the suggestion that a mentally disabled character that we all loved was actually a plot device-in-waiting, and that his death comes retrofitted with a twist, speaks to a problem in how we're watching this show. Everything has to mean something else; nothing succeeds by its own merit or is allowed to remain a mere detail chalked up to chance or circumstance.
We saw the same thing back at Castle Black: It's in the GIF-ready look Tormund gives Brienne; it's in Brienne's assessment of Jon Snow's single characteristic ("a bit brooding"); and in Sansa's twee, Etsy-looking wolf shirt. Davos says, "I may not know the North, but I know men," which is more knowledge than most of us are privy to. If we read books or watch television to glimpse a pared-down facsimile of our inscrutable world, we also watch to recognize ourselves. What "The Door" made clear is that Game of Thrones knows we're looking and like the Night's King turning to regard Bran with his cold, dead eyes, it is looking right back.
Recent work by J. W. McCormack appears in Conjunctions, BOMB, and the New Republic. Read his other writing on VICE here.