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Game of Thrones season 6 premiere ends with a shock, reminding us how little we know

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Who are these people, really?

The following recap contains detailed spoilers about the show's sixth season premiere. Those who haven't watched it yet and are looking to remain unspoiled, this is your warning. Check out all of Polygon's Game of Thrones coverage.

"You played your games with her," Roose Bolton tells his son in the beginning of this episode. "You played your games with the heir of the Iron Islands and now they're both gone." There is no heir without Sansa, and also no support from the North. Ramsay's demonic and cartoonish need to hurt others has hurt his family, and his father's controlled rage at the turn of events is rather amazing.

It's clear to everyone that Ramsay is a liability to the Bolton name and prospects, and yet he remains alive. Many characters aren't so lucky.

Here we are, at the beginning of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, and now we're in uncharted territory. We'll have to decide what's "canon" after everything is said and done in both formats, the book and the television show, but for now the show's challenge is making us care again. The characters have been through so much, with so many dead, that soon it seems like the show will simply be one long, empty shot of the snow-swept lands of the North.

"Fuck prophecy, fuck fate, fuck everyone who isn't us"

Game of Thrones has flirted with becoming torture porn so many times that it's hard to see a path in which this season is engaging without feeling like we're just catching up with characters in the moments after a figurative car accident.

"I've seen what his hounds do to a person, this way is better!" Theon tells Sansa after she claims a walk through frozen water will kill her. There will be no "happy" ending for these people, as even the smallest hope has been scraped from their minds like the last bit of flesh from a well-gnawed bone.

Then Brienne shows up, however, and massacres the Bolton retrieval party and Sansa accepts her pledge of loyalty, albeit with some help from Podrick. It was an exciting sequence, and doesn't pull punches with the violence or the idea that Brienne may have been overmatched. Sansa needed a way to feel safe, which is something she's lacked for a very long time. Brienne needed her sense of duty and mission refreshed. They gave each other something very important in that scene, and both seemed thankful for having found the other.

And yep, it was a pretty great way to reinvest the viewer.

In other parts of the world...

"Fuck prophecy, fuck fate, fuck everyone who isn't us. We're the only ones who matter, the only ones in this world. And everything they've taken from us we're going to take back and more. We're going to take everything there is," Jaime tells a grieving Cersei.

Their daughter, Myrcella, is dead and Jaime's entire mission to Dorne has been for nothing, but they're also reinvested in their personal war against the world. They find themselves in a world of selfishness and pain and, in their own way, they have decided to lean in.

game of thrones season 61 HBO

Speaking of Dorne, the ladies have taken over, and they're not that interested in playing fair. "Weak men will never rule Dorne again," we're told. The prince is killed after the king is stabbed, and the young man is surprised by a blade from behind, shoved through his head, after he was led to believe at least a bit of a duel was coming. Bad move. No one should expect a fair in fight in this world.

"I've been all over the world, there's no escaping men like us," Jorah says, and that's kind of the show's problem, and one it has only sporadically been able to mine successfully. It may be an honest admission about people's inability to learn or to accept defeat, but everyone we care about has been put into dire circumstances with little help. There's a clear path going forward, however, and the show will either dutifully follow it or attempt to subvert in some way.

I was a bit surprised at how linearly the markers for the rest of the season seem to have been put down, but it will be weeks before we see how many of them pay off.

Arya will continue some form of training, even though she's blind. Davos will likely find the help of the Wildlings and Melisandre to escape that room and perhaps bring back a certain character we've been asking about throughout the break. Daenerys will have to convince the Dothraki she shouldn't spend the last of her days with the widows of other Khals. And through it all, there lies Jon Snow ... very much dead.

Odds and ends

  • Tyrion and Varys have a nice scene where they get to walk around Meereen talking about how many threats they face, which is pretty much where they're comfortable. They watch the fleet burn with a nice "well, that's certainly a thing that's happening" attitude.
  • So the best things in Dothraki life are, in no order:

  1. Killing another Khal
  2. Conquering a city and taking her people as slaves and taking her idols back to Vaes Dothrak
  3. Breaking a wild horse and forcing it to submit to your will
  4. Seeing a beautiful woman naked for the first time
  • The reveal of the "real" Melisandre reminds us that this world is stranger than we are often led to believe, and assumptions we may have made about existing characters could always be false. It's also an effective way to prove that magic and manipulation aren't all-powerful, this is not the position or powerlessness in which Melisandre expected to find herself
  • Podrick's getting pretty good with that sword!
  • So OK, how many episodes until Jon is brought back? Does anyone want to call it now? I almost want them to wait until the season finale, and just have his body be lying on that table the whole time