For the first time in Game of Thrones history, the training wheels have come off and the writers will have to navigate Westeros without George R.R. Martin. And they proved what they were made of in Sunday night's Season 6 premiere.
The start of the season means that a thousand lingering questions book readers have asked since the last book in Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series may finally be answered. Sort of.
Truth be told, it's not George himself who'll be resolving these cliffhangers, but Game of Thrones writers David Benioff and Dan Weiss, and they have their own version of the story to tell.
Central to the new Martin-free series is the fate of fan-favorite Jon Snow, who fans learned in the premiere is so dead that only magical intervention of some kind will bring him back from the brink. And as hinted in an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Benioff and Weiss aren't inclined to do what the fantasy genre dictates and save the good guy.
"Was any gambler dumb enough to bet money on Voldemort defeating Harry? In traditional fantasy, when the forces of darkness are arrayed against the armies of light, everyone knows who's going to win. And that's one of the elements that bored us about traditional fantasy: the predictability of it."
It would certainly be unpredictable to keep Jon Snow deader than a doornail. But to those intimately acquainted with the books, that may be a stupid decision.
As Slate pointed out in its review of the season premiere, "The Red Woman," Game of Thrones is venturing off-book, which means that "anything could happen." Plenty of things that haven't happened in the books played out on screen: Tyrion trying to figure out how he's going to rule Mereen in the absence of its queen; Sansa escaping the clutches of Ramsay Bolton to be saved by the ever-loyal Brienne; Daenerys possibly heading to a life with fellow khal widows; Melisandre revealing herself to be a not-so-sexy old crone and actually magical despite her incompetence in vision-interpretation.Critic Willa Paskin called the episode "unsatisfying." It comprised a series of catch-up scenes that focused briefly on a handful of Game of Thrones' massive cast, reminding us of where they've been and hinting at where they're going to go.
Without Martin's books, Game of Thrones writers have quite a challenge ahead of them, as Esquire pointed out -- to encapsulate an epic, gigantic world and story into one-hour pieces. The premiere hints at how the season is going to go: some major storylines will probably be cut.
And after Sunday's episode, many fans may be wondering if Jon Snow has been cut out of the Game of Thrones world permanently. Fans saw their favorite Lord Commander laying in his own blood, with vacant stare and pale skin. He was rushed inside under the watch of his direwolf Ghost, the handful of loyal friends he has left, and Ser Davos Seaworth. Hints were made that the Red Woman may have to work some of her voodoo.As Forbes pointed out before the Game of Thrones premiere, keeping Jon Snow dead would be a huge mistake and create big problems for the show. That is, if fan theories about his parentage (still a mystery in the books) are correct, as Paul Tassi explained.
"Book-reading conspiracy theorists, or even hawk-eyed show-watchers know there's more to this mystery. They know that the mystery of Jon Snow's true parents, not just his mother, has implications for the entire fabric of the universe."
For those who are unaware, Ned Stark's bastard may actually be the son of his sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys' big brother), a secret the honorable Eddard took to his grave. To make a long story short, Jon may fulfill the same prophecy the now-dead Stannis Baratheon supposedly fulfilled. He already meets many of the criteria, and Melisandre has seen him in her visions.
If this theory is on point, Jon Snow as Azor Ahai would be the Lord of Light's warrior against the forces of death in Martin's world (the Many-Faced God, Drowned God), whose minions are the White Walkers.
Given his central role in the over-arching story, it's highly unlikely, according to these arguments, that Game of Thrones sans George will keep Snow dead. But how he'll be resurrected isn't yet clear.
"There's simply no way the show continues on without him, given the mystery they've left unsolved, and his potential to fulfill one of the show's central prophecies," Tassi wrote. "Or, he's really dead for good, and the series has taken its most nonsensical turn ever. But I doubt it."
What did you think of the Game of Thrones premiere?
[Photo via HBO]