As a reader of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books, it felt decidedly strange going into the Season 6 premiere of Game of Thrones. With the exception of some parts from A Feast of Crows, going forward the TV series is moving beyond events in the first five published books. We’re still waiting for publication of The Winds of Winter, the penultimate book in the series.
And, to be honest, the first episode of Season 6 felt like a tour of the fresh corpses throughout the Seven Kingdoms: Jon Snow, Princess Myrcella, Ramsey Bolton’s equally sociopathic girlfriend Myranda, the newly assassinated Prince Doran and his son Trystane, not to mention a boatload of non-speaking background characters.
I’m probably missing a few, but you get the idea.
There’s hope that Jon Snow is only MOSTLY dead and not ALL dead, or he will be resurrected into a kind of zombie-ish character. After a year of the producers insisting he’s dead-dead, it still seems absurd to kill him off completely when the mystery of his parentage has not been resolved.
But what really stood out to me in this episode was how much minor characters can matter, particularly in a dark epic tale.
With the “death” of Jon Snow, there’s a big drop in the “hero” factor in the story. We have Daenerys, yes, and there’s Tyrion, who, for all his cynicism and the blip in his recent past when he murdered his girlfriend and committed patricide, still has a big rooting factor. Sansa, Arya, and Bran are still heroes in training.
There’s such a big hero vacuum that it has been difficult not to root, at least a little, for the ruthless Cersei. Last season she was punished for her misdeeds by being forced to walk naked through the streets of King’s Landing and has lost two out of her three children to assassination via poison.
This is where the minor characters are saving this show from devolving into a story of unbearable despair.
Let’s start with Davos Seaworth, also known as the Onion Knight. Sent to Castle Black by Stannis Baratheon so he would not interfere with the ritual burning of his daughter Shireen (one of the low moments of Season 5) Davos discovers the body of Jon Snow after he has been set upon by a group of traitorous Night’s Watchmen.
With a few of Jon’s loyal friends, Davos locks himself in with the body and refuses to surrender to the odious Alliser Thorne, who lead the group of assassins against Jon. While he hopes for help from the Wildings and his once-nemesis Melisandre, Davos knows full well that the odds aren’t in their favor. That he put himself in the middle of something that really isn’t his fight simply because it’s the side of GOOD makes me love this character with all my heart. Unlike Jon (and most of the Starks, let’s face it) Davos is not hobbled by an idealistic nature. He knows what’s what. He sees the danger in front of him, whereas if Jon–and Ned and Robb–could have done the same, they might still be alive.
Next are Brienne and her squire Pod—Brienne isn’t a minor character, but Pod certainly is, and he has moments when he really shines some light on this dark affair. After Sansa and Theon escape the Boltons, their men are hot on their trail. Just as they are about to be captured, Brienne and Pod show up.
As we expect of her, Brienne does a fierce job of kicking some Bolton ass—but so does POD. (During the scene, I kept muttering, “Don’t you kill off Pod, don’t you DARE kill off Pod!) They don’t kill off Pod, and though he’s not as seasoned a fighter as Brienne, he does a pretty good job of helping to finish them off. Brienne kneels in front of Sansa and offers her services to her—just as she had before to both Arya and Sansa and been refused. This time, Sansa accepts, and there’s a touching moment while making her pledge to Brienne when she stumbles on the wording, and Pod prompts her so she can say it correctly.
Outside of Meereen, we join up with the newest buddy flick, Daario & Jorah Search for Daenerys. Again, it’s Jorah’s loyalty that brings some lightness to the dark proceedings. Though Daenerys doesn’t have romantic feelings for Jorah, he’s still driven by his love for her. Daario, on the other hand, seems far more cynical (and one wonders if he will turn out to be a traitor at some point.) In the meantime, watching the two men in her life join forces to find her is alternately amusing and disconcerting. (Jorah’s case of greyscale, the disease he picked up while bringing Tyrion to Daenarys, means we have at least one more death to add to the pile at some point in the future.)
Not all the minor characters are benevolent, and the most memorable for me from this episode are the High Sparrow and Septa Unella, two religious fanatics who feel powerful enough to imprison both the sitting Queen and the Queen Mother. In a form of Good Cop, Bad Cop, the High Sparrow and Unella try to get Margaery to throw her brother under the bus (or the Westeros equivalent of a bus). So far, she’s resisting, but looks ready to crack.
It’s Unella who really shows the power of a well-conceived minor character. Last season, she herded the naked Cersei through King’s Landing ringing a bell every few minutes, intoning “Shame!”
Just from that, Unella became both a cosplay at conventions and a Halloween costume.
If you’re wondering why I’m not talking about the Sand Snakes in the Dorne portions of the story, that’s because they are examples of how NOT to use minor characters in your story. They need a separate post of their own—if I can stomach writing about them.
The big moment in the episode was the reveal–literally–about Melidandre. While she’s more a feature character than a minor character, it was a doozy and showed that not every major plot turn or character reveal has to belong to the main characters.