Game of Thrones season 6 episode 1 spoiler-free preview: quietly momentous

As the smash-hit series breaks away from its source material, Huw Fullerton finds a sombre but interesting first episode

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Perhaps we expected too much of this episode, the first since Game of Thrones overtook the George RR Martin novels it’s based on. For those expecting constant shock and awe, they may be left wanting – but what we did get was fascinating place-setting after the momentous finale of season five last year.

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Not to say that there aren’t shocks and twists in this week’s episode, far from it. One surprising magical moment at the end of the episode will be discussed for days afterwards, while two bloody action scenes in the North and Dorne provide ample excitement for this premiere.

But the episode’s real work is in setting up the new status quo, with Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys now powerless, Sansa’s (Sophie Turner) prospects looking up and the Lannisters on the warpath, while across the narrow sea Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) adjusts to attacks against his authority and Arya (Maisie Williams) hits rock bottom.

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Tyrion’s in trouble again…

And as we meet a few new characters (including a surprise Dothraki comedy duo – no seriously) and say goodbye to a few others, it seems even more like the showrunners are carefully rearranging their world for momentous change, even if we’re not quite seeing it yet. It’s like watching an unfinished painting – we can observe the basic lines, but it’ll take time and added detail before we understand the whole picture.

So overall it’s perhaps a quieter episode than we might have expected, but one that promises momentous and exciting things to come. And based on a few hinted plans, it seems like maybe, just maybe, some of the good guys could come out on top for once.

Now, that WOULD be a divergence from the source material.

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Game of Thrones: The Red Woman will air on Sky Atlantic tonight (Monday 25th April) at 9.00pm