This review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS for the episode to be discussed, if you do not want certain plot points or story spoilt, please do not read further.
After months of waiting, of wild speculation, Game of Thrones returns to our screens to answer the burning questions left over at the end of season five. Did Myrcella die? Did Sansa and Theon survive their jump? What happens to Daenerys? Is Arya blind forever? Is Jon Snow dead, and if so will he come back?
The first episode of season six visits all of these stories, and whilst it slowly begins to dish out answers to the things fans have been clamouring to know it leaves the most important one unanswered for now, Jon Snow does not return from the dead in this episode. I feel that it's important to get that out of the way first.
The scenes at Castle Black are some of the more important ones in the episode, and that's reflected in the fact that it's the only story in the episode that has two separate sections, where every other story has just the one. Ser Davos finds the body of Jon Snow, left in the courtyard of Castle Black beneath a sign reading 'traitor'. With the help of Dolorous Edd and a handful of Nights Watch brothers they manage to secure themselves in Jon's quarters with the body, joined by Ghost and Melisandre.
Alliser Thorne has not just managed to turn those members of the Nights Watch who took part in the murder of Jon, but has managed to talk around the rest of them to his way of thinking. Realising that they are no match for Thorne and the rest of the Watch on their own, Edd heads out to find help from people who owe Jon Snow their lives, the Wildlings.
In Kings Landing Cersei is reunited with Jamie, who has returned with the body of their daughter Myrcella after she was poisoned at the end of the last season. Despite being an evil woman you can't help but feel a little sorry for Cersei here as a mother who has lost yet another of her children. It's made even sadder by the fact that unlike Joffrey Myrcella was a nice person.
The Lannisters are a hard family to like, Jamie and Cersei have done despicable things over the course of the show, and even before then, and whilst Jamie has gone a way towards redeeming himself slightly the more we find out about him Cersei has firmly stayed in the 'evil bitch' category. I doubt anyone is going to reverse their views on Cersei just because of what has happened to Myrcella, but it does show a much more vulnerable and human side to the character that we rarely see.
Elsewhere in Kings Landing we briefly catch up with Margaery Tyrell, who is still being held captive by the High Septon and his religious army. Nothing much really happens with Margaery here to move her story forward, and it feels more like a reminder to the audience that she's in custody rather than anything else.
In Dorne Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes make their move against Prince Doran when the news of Myrcella's death reaches him. Ellaria stabs Doran through the heart, and as he lays on the ground dying, tells him that Dorne is tired of weak leaders who do nothing to get revenge for the deaths of Elia and Oberyn Martell. His guards watch, unmoving as he dies, indicating that many are standing behind Ellaria and her desire for revenge, and that Dorne may be going to war with the Lannisters very soon.
The deaths of the Dornish royal family aren't just limited to Doran, however, as two of the Sand Snakes confront his son, Trystane, aboard his ship at Kings Landing. The scene builds towards a fight scene as Trystane prepares for combat against Nymeria, but expectations are suddenly subverted as Obara stabs him through the back of the head with her spear whilst his back is turned.
The moment comes as a complete surprise, to both the audience and the character, but it is one that everyone should really have seen coming as they show has historically been full of these kinds of moments.
In Meereen we join Tyrion and Varys as they walk the streets of Danny's kingdom, surveying the damage left behind by the Children of the Harpy and their campaign of terror. Despite having been left in charge of the city last season it would appear that Tyrion is able to walk the streets of Meereen with little trouble, though I am sure that as the series progresses he will become better known to the citizens of the city and become a target of the Children of the Harpy as well. Despite Danny having left the city in a blaze of glory on the back of Drogon it would appear that the Children of the Harpy are still causing trouble as we discover the docks have come under attack and Danny's fleet burned beyond repair.
Danny herself has been captured by a Dothraki horde under the command of Khal Jhaqo. Despite being treated as a slave, with members of his Kalasar tormenting her about raping her, it is through a combination of strong will and the fact that she was Khaleesi to Drogo that sees her freed from her restraints and treated with respect. It would appear that despite Drogo and Jhaqo having been rival Khals in the past the traditions of the Dothraki are very strict, and that Danny will be treated with the utmost respect due to her position.
Whilst Danny was hoping that Jhaqo would assist her, and offers him a thousand healthy horses for his Kalasar in return for return her safely to Meereen, Jhaqo refuses, stating instead that as a widow to a Khal Danny must be taken to the Dothraki capital of Vaes Dothrak, where she will live with the other widowed Khaleesi's for the rest of her life.
Luckily for Danny her two most loyal men, Ser Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis, are hot on her trail, tracking her across the Dothraki Sea. Following the trail left by Drogon and his kills they discover the place where Danny was captured by the Dothraki, giving them a clear route to follow to find their queen. In this scene we also see that Jorah's greyscale is spreading.
In the north Sansa and Theon have survived their jump from the walls of Winterfell and are running for their lives from the men and the hounds that Ramsey has sent after them. With the pursuers hot on their trail and Sansa running out of strength Theon attempts to lure the men away, giving her the chance to escape. Despite the plan failing it shows that Reek is now long gone and Theon is back, having the bravery to be willing to put his life on the line to save Sansa's life.
Luckily for the two of them help arrives in the form of Brienne and Podrick, who manage to kill the Bolton men and save the two of them. Having realised that Brienne is indeed out to help her and has her best interests at heart Sansa accepts Brienne's oath of loyalty and takes her into her service. Together the four of them begin to head north to Castle Black and Jon.
Things are faring less favourably for the other Stark sibling as Arya is still blind from the events of the season five finale, and is surviving by begging on the streets of Bravos. It's not clear is this is part of her training, but I suspect that since the end of the last season Arya has not been with the Faceless Men. That changes though as the young girl from the House of Black and White returns, giving Arya a staff before attacking her with her own and beating her. She leaves Arya defeated on the ground and tells her that she will see her tomorrow. It looks like Arya's training is due to continue, despite her going against the teachings of the Faceless Men when she killed Meryn Trant, and that her loss of sight is a part of that training.
The episode ends where it began, at Castle Black, where we are given one of our most surprising revelations and shocking moments as we discover Melisandre's big secret. Throughout the episode, and since the defeat of Stannis Baratheon, we see that Melisandre's faith in the Lord of Light has been damaged, perhaps to the point where it is beyond repair.
In the final moments of the episode Melisandre strips and removes her ruby necklace, as the necklace comes away we see the real Melisandre for the first time, a withered old woman. There have been hints in the series, and even more in the books, that Melisandre is much older than she appeared and was using her magic to look youthful.
The books have included mentions that Melisandre only needs to sleep one hour a night, and that she does not require food or water to survive, and now showrunner David Benioff has confirmed that during conversations with George RR Martin it was mentioned that Melisandre is 'several centuries old'.
What this shaking of her faith and the reveal of her true self means for the show is yet to be seen, but considering that many, myself included, were counting on Melisandre and her magics to be the person to bring Jon Snow back to life means that what happens to her next could be very, very important to the series as a whole.
'The Red Woman' spent a lot of time catching up with many of the players of the story rather than delving deep into one particular character or plot thread, but manages to set the stage for important developments going into the next episode.