Early in “The Door,” Game of Thrones’ best episode so far this season, Jaqen the Faceless Man asks Arya if death only comes for the wicked and leaves the decent behind. Of course, we all know the answer too well. But of the dozens of good people (and direwolves!) we’ve seen cut down, it’s hard to argue any had an exit as anguishing as poor Hodor.
Bran’s curiosity meddled with the present and the future affected the past as he reached into the network of weirwood trees (with the Three-Eyed Raven’s training, he can now see what the trees have seen throughout time) and witnessed first-hand the answers to two of Westeros’s biggest mysteries: Where White Walkers came from, and why Hodor is—alas, was—incapable of saying anything but his own name.
It was men’s destruction, of course, that birthed the White Walkers when the Children of the Forest—the imp-like beings that inhabited Westeros long before the First Men came along—found themselves and their sacred weirwood trees being cut down by humans. “We needed to defend ourselves,” says Leaf, the one who speaks to Bran.
This has huge implications that require a bit of knowledge about the past. Quick history lesson: In George R.R. Martin’s books, the Children and the First Men warred for around two thousand years but reached a pact another four thousand before the Long Night, the extended winter in which White Walkers first appeared. (Azor Ahai, the Prince Who Was Promised that Red Women like Melisandre are always going on about, led both the Children and the First Men in the battle that drove the White Walkers back into the Lands of Always Winter.)
Leaf doesn’t specify exactly when Bran’s vision—of a man being turned into the first wight—takes place, so it’s difficult to straighten out the timeline the show is going with here. But we can presume the Children created White Walkers in retaliation against the worst of the First Men, failing to foresee the pact that would eventually bring peace to both. Perhaps they underestimated how long it would take the Walkers to build an army strong enough to defeat the men—or perhaps they simply lost control of the Walkers during the Long Night.
Either way, this is all fascinating stuff—a little too fascinating for Bran to resist sneaking back to the scene of that first wight’s creation when the Three-Eyed Raven isn’t looking. But without the Raven’s help, Bran, still relatively inexperienced, ends up not in the past, but in the snow-covered present—with the Night’s King and his army of Others staring right at him.
It brings havoc to the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree in a breathtaking siege that rivals the startling beauty of “Hardhome”—those magical blue-glowing fire bombs!—and the nail-biting spectacle of “Blackwater Bay.” Most of all, it’s utterly terrifying. Wights tear into the sacred tree like a horde of termites, claiming Summer (protective of his little lord to the end), the Three-Eyed Raven himself, Leaf (who goes out in a blaze of glory that would make Vasquez from Aliens proud), and the other Children while Meera struggles to drag Bran—stuck warging in the past, watching his young father and uncle at Winterfell—outside.
The grisly deaths shock and titillate the way all Game of Thrones deaths do, but it’s Hodor’s demise that hits a note so shrill, so grindingly heartbreaking, that I truly don’t know anyone could watch without bursting into tears. (I certainly did.) Meera’s shouts to Bran to warg into Hodor become screams for Hodor to hold the door—the slurred, anguished phrase that, as it turns out, became the last thing young Wylis ever said.
In this moment, Bran is both greenseeing into the past and warging into the Hodor of the present day—a unique set of circumstances that allows young/past Hodor to hear Meera’s shouts in the present. (Bran’s powers are such that he can somehow affect events of the past, as we almost saw him do at the Tower of Joy when young Ned Stark heard greenseeing Bran’s shouts.) Young Hodor’s eyes go milky white, the way they do when Bran wargs into him, and he begins convulsing. His fate is set even as his future self is torn apart. And it’s the most gutting scene of this show I can recall.
Tearjerker moments abound in “The Door.” Another comes when Daenerys—now positioned by a new Red Priestess as Essos’s answer to the reincarnated Prince(ss) Who Was Promised—gives Jorah as explicit an expression of love as he’ll ever get from her. He shows her his decaying arm, a sight that pushes her to verge of sobs. Just as Iain Glen promised us last week, Jorah declares his love again. (“I love you, I’ll always love you,” a The Bodyguard-esque moment so stirring even Daario Broharis knows not to interrupt.) Dany commands him to travel the world and do the near-impossible: find a cure for greyscale.
It’s the kindest thing she could have said—but also the most important in extending his life: Characters don’t last long on Game of Thrones without clearly defined missions. Jorah now has a new one. We’ll see the Mormont ex-lord again.
Elsewhere in Essos, Arya is exposed for the first time to the outside world’s perception of the Starks. (Ned, who we know died for his honesty, is portrayed in a farce as a fool for ever trusting the Lannisters. Not an unfair assessment, frankly.) More importantly, the scene serves as catch-up for Arya on what happened to her family after she left Westeros. Should she stick around for more plays—as she likely will, since she's tasked with killing one of the actresses—she may just learn enough about the brutalities her family has suffered to rouse her to return to Westeros. Stark reunion times two!
Over in the Iron Islands, Yara and Theon lose the kingsmoot to Euron, who bamboozles the Ironborn with warlike rhetoric and big promises of building a fleet and forging an alliance with Daenerys. It should be surprising that Yara loses. After all, she’s led the Iron fleet to several victories and has won the loyalty of scores of men. She’s more qualified than Euron, who spent the last several years running trivialities like Celebrity Apprentice—sorry, I mean pirating—completely removed from state affairs and politics—sorry, I mean the Iron Islands—but hey, this is 2016. Nothing surprises anyone anymore.
Yara’s loss (hopefully temporary at best—she, Theon and scores of right-minded Ironborn flee with the best ships) is at least balanced by the joy of seeing Sansa play the game of thrones so damn well. She confronts Littlefinger, the man responsible for so much of her pain, with Brienne by her side. And though she could easily have Brienne cleave him in two, she refrains. She realizes Littlefinger—who, for now at least, seems sincerely contrite—could be useful in her plan to retake Winterfell, and she begins to calculate, even going so far as to lie to Jon in order to keep her meeting with Baelish a secret.
(Fashion side note: “The Door’s” first scene depicts Sansa sewing, the skill she loved as a young girl at Winterfell, back when she sewed all her own dresses. Sansa has had to assimilate into the houses of monsters for four years, changing her dress, her hair, and her demeanor each time. Making herself and Jon wolf fur-lined cloaks that recall their parents’ regal ensembles is not only an aesthetic choice, it’s symbolic. The Queen of the North is here to conquer. Bow down.)
“The Door” continued this season’s near-perfectly balanced reapings of the rewards set up so carefully in seasons past. Apart from masterfully crafted heartbreak (having Hodor delight at the idea of scrambled eggs was a nice touch, you jerks), there was humor, catharsis, and delight (Brienne’s scandalized disdain for Tormund and on-the-nose dig at “brooding” Jon were things of pure beauty).
Game of Thrones is only getting stronger as it rockets toward its conclusion—and we’re so glad to be along for the ride.