It feels strange to learn something so grave and so terrible in a scene less than a minute long. The Children of the Forest made their own destroyers, sacrificing men on the roots of their heart trees and giving them a new and awful life as the White Walkers, a bitter sword forged to defend against the onslaught of mankind. And what are they if not man’s dark mirror? Their king appears to rule unquestioned. His subjects look where he looks, march where he points, and even rise from death at his command to serve him to the uttermost limit of their bodies’ ability to endure. Fearing extinction, the Children unleashed winter on the world. The vastness of this decision echoes in the present day. The Walkers share the nature of all weapons in that they are as quick to kill their makers as their makers’ foes.
War is annihilation, of the other and of the self. Game of Thrones has been telling us this since Eddard Stark’s death ripped the stitches out of seven kingdoms still bearing festering wounds. The revelation of the White Walkers’ origin passes quickly, absorbed by a confused and frightened Bran before the ten-minute mark has passed. The revelation that closes the episode is smaller, more personal, less consequential, but its tragedy cuts deep. That Hodor’s life is a cruel circuit cut through time, that the only word he can say is a corruption of a mission instilled in him by an ancient sorcerer and his desperate apprentice, feels like solving a riddle only to realize that you don’t want to know the answer. As the gentle man who cared for Bran and acted as his legs and his strength is torn apart in the act completing his final task, it’s hard not to tie these two awful secrets together. Hodor is another weapon forged by magic, sharpened until his purpose became his name, his identity, his every word, and the people who made him have committed a terrible crime by doing so.
The eponymous sequence at the close of ‘The Door’ may be a riveting, heartbreaking triumph, but it’s far from the only thing the episode has to offer. From the drowning of kings to the soul-scorching lesson Sansa teaches Littlefinger, ‘The Door’ towers as one of the series’ finest outings yet. And with LOST ‘s Jack Bender helming the camera, it does so with atmospheric beauty and a bevy of cinematic flourishes. From the windswept wastes of the North to the flickering shadows and whirring staves of the House of Black and White, light and dark come alive. Particularly foreboding is Tyrion’s measured exchange with Kinvara, high priestess of R’hllor, followed by the sudden reveal of the blazing chandeliers hanging above her. Using the fanatical clergy of the Red God to talk Daenerys up in her absence feels like an ominous return to High Sparrow territory, opening the doors to public burnings and all the hideousness of zealotry let loose. The shot holds all of that latent menace in its seconds-long gaze.
The ruined brothel where Petyr and Sansa meet is likewise an arresting scene, an echo both of Littlefinger’s utter corruption as a human being and of Sansa’s violated and damaged personhood. Littlefinger is all remorse and denials, but Sansa silences him with icy disregard for his platitudes and a keen nose for his bullshit. Instead of ordering Brienne to mess him up, though, she employs a much more disturbing blade. She forces him to speculate on what Ramsay might have done to her. As he squirms and tries again and again to apologize and move on, she simply restates her demands, and when his imagination fails, she bludgeons him with the awful truth that Ramsay’s touch still lingers on her, that the wounds she suffered are not some maidenly sullying but a daily misery recalling her tormentor’s rapes and beatings. “Did he cut you?” Petyr ventures weakly. Sansa doesn’t even deign to answer. Littlefinger, forced to share the pain of someone he covets and imagines he cares for, is visibly distressed. It’s powerful stuff, and Turner and Gillen nail it to the wall.
The scene has a reflection in Dany’s goodbye to Jorah. Both center on an emotional confession between estranged parties, and both end in a parting of ways, but where Sansa’s is a painful, electrifying testament to her complexity and uniqueness as a human being, Dany’s and Jorah’s is a tender farewell and a mutual admission of love. Frustrated by Jorah’s stubborn refusal to stay away, grateful for his dogged service and his having saved her life, Dany debates over what to do with the ragged knight. He answers the question with a look at his greyscale-stricken arm. Dany’s heartbreak gives the dying man a chance to tell her of his hopeless love for her, to finally erase the last specter of deceit between them with an admission that she will never return his ardent feelings.
She does love him, though, and as Daario stands by awkwardly, trying to give the two old friends their moment, she orders the departing Mormont to seek out a cure and heal himself. It’s more a way for her to tell him what his friendship and service mean than it is a real or plausibly real course of action. Jorah will most likely die in the desert, and Dany will most likely never see his body. And as goodbyes go, this one, set against the dusty backdrop of Vaes Dothrak’s girdling mountain range, is both beautiful and melancholy. The quiet connection the two actors project is a reminder that they’ve been together longer than almost any pair of characters in the show’s entire run.
‘The Door’ is an episode that holds us in place, that forces us to witness the ugliness of violence and of employing other human beings as our tools and weapons. As Arya strips herself away in preparation for a senseless contract killing, as Euron is drowned and, resurrected, seeks out murder as his first kingly act, as a kind and good-hearted man presses his back against a door and holds it shut as he was told, a circle forms. It wends back through the centuries and across the frozen plains and bitter mountains. It joins Wildling and Children, Night’s Watch and red priests in a ring of blood and misery eternally pumping new strife and violence into itself. War is death, and it is coming, and it has always been.
And no man can hold the door against it.