Game of Thrones’s sixth season found droves of fans waiting on pins and needles for its premiere more than ever before, mostly because this is the first taste of new material—books or otherwise—that has surfaced from Westeros in the last five years. With the show finally overtaking the books and George R.R. Martin leaving his world in the fate of HBO, die-hard fans wondered not only where the story would progress from there, but if that world could be emulated in the absence of a new book from the aging author. If the season opener proved anything, it's that the show still knows how to keep everyone on their toes.
Beyond that, what Game of Thrones quietly illustrated through the first episode of the sixth season is that the fate of Westeros does not lie in the hands of Jon Snow, Tyrion, or Jaime, but the growing cast of powerful women.
The life—or death—of the show’s beloved Jon Snow is now in the hands of the wicked Melisandre, who bared all (quite literally) during the first episode’s conclusion. This past Sunday, in true, frustrating Game of Thrones fashion, Snow gasped his first breath just as the credits were about to roll. At what cost, who knows, but in Stannis’s death, power has not only shifted to Davos. The Red Woman may be questioning all that she has stood behind in Stannis, but it is clear we have not seen the last of Melisandre.
Brienne of Tarth—the true embodiment of a heroine— then comes to the rescue. She swoops in with Podric, the Neville Longbottom of Westeros, and saves Sansa and Reek (because that may as well be his name at this point) from the Boltons’ band of brutes. The scene then ends with a very heartfelt knighting of Brienne and a vow to protect Sansa, and therefore the Stark family name.
Love or hate her, Ellaria Sand has spun Dorne on its head. She and her Sand servants killed all of the remaining Martell men on the show, leaving a line that will surely endure in audiences' heads: “Weak men will never rule Dorne again.” At this point, it doesn't seem as though there are many men left in Dorne who could prove her wrong. Oberyn died at the hands of The Mountain unarguably because of his own hubris, and Doran died at the hands of Ellaria because he was too weak to do anything about it.
Yes, Daenerys, Margaery, and Cersei are all imprisoned as of now, but at least they are alive—which is much more than a majority of the male protagonists in the show could say. There is not a single person who believes that Daenerys will be banished to a Dothraki temple for the rest of her life and not get at least one of her dragons back. Sure, Cersei and Margaery’s powerlessness was further revealed in this episode, but the two women nonetheless displayed their resilience against their oppressors. Tyrion and Thorn are two notable characters that may be the head officials of their respective troops now, but without their original leaders—Daenerys in Tyrion and Jon Snow in Thorn—they have lost respect.
The lead female characters in Game of Thrones are neither collectively better nor worse than the males—but that isn't the point. These women are strong, complex, show-stoppers, and in the world of Westeros, as everything seems to be bursting into flames, we can't wait to see who remains standing over the ashes.