JESSICA ZAFRA | Honor, duty, courage, Hodor
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If you have not seen last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, do not read this. Don’t even go online. Cover your eyes and ears.
For the past week I have not been able to look at a door or get into an elevator without my throat tightening; such is the power of the last few minutes of “The Door”, Season 6, Episode 5 of Game of Thrones. Hodor the running gag has turned out to be the embodiment of honor, duty, sacrifice. Bravo.
Having read the books I knew the Red Wedding was coming, and enjoyed the shock of non-readers learning of the brutal event for the first time. Then the Purple Wedding, the trial by combat, the murder in the toilet, the assassination. Readers used to have an advantage, but now the series has gone off-book and we’re all at the dark mercy of the showrunners. It’s exhilarating.
It was obvious that Jon Snow was coming back, the show had too much invested in him, but who would’ve known that the fate of Bran’s human pack-horse would be so affecting? And that the writers would make it even more wrenching by introducing a time-travel element? To execute this complicated move, the producers hired director Jack Bender, whose experience in warping reality was honed on Lost. In an earlier episode, Three-Eyed Raven (in the books it is a Crow) trainee Bran Stark visited Winterfell past and saw his father, his uncle Benjen (Who is almost certainly returning), his aunt Lyanna (Remember her name), and the stable boy Wylis, whom he knows as Hodor. Wylis’s vocabulary extends beyond “Hodor”, so what happened?
A causality loop. Bran goes on a greensight expedition by himself, and makes an amateurish mistake. Oh Bran, Bran, your mom told you not to climb the towers and you did and now you’re crippled. Then Max Von Sydow tells you not to hang around the past too long, and what do you do? The mistake allows the White Walkers to break the spell of protection and enter the weirwood. Bran’s mind is still in the past so Meera yells at him to wake up, then she yells at Hodor to hurry up. The White Walkers and the wights attack, easily overcoming the Children of the Forest—a situation rich in irony, as Bran had just learned the Children created the Walkers to protect them from humans.
Bran in the past hears Meera in the present. So does Wylis, who has a seizure and falls to the ground thrashing. He keeps repeating the words Meera says to him in the present— “Hold the door”, which in his spasms is shortened to “Hodor”. Bran wakes up. Terrible things happen. I thought that Summer the direwolf, who has saved Bran so many times in the past, deserved better, but given the senseless deaths of so many of Thrones’ characters, he at least goes in a noble cause. This season has not been kind to the direwolves, whose fates are intertwined with their Starks. Jon’s direwolf is named Ghost, and Jon has come back from the dead. Arya’s missing Nymeria is still alive in the books, leading a pack that is terrorizing the riverlands.
There are some awesome homages. The Night’s King slashes at the Three-Eyed Raven, who vanishes in smoke as his cloak falls—Obi-Wan Kenobi. Leaf buys Meera and Bran a little time by drawing the wights to her and then taking as many of them with her as she can, like Vasquez in the air vent in Aliens.
Then there’s Hodor. As the scene weaves from past to present, we realize that he had always known this would happen. For thirty years it was all he could say. It’s wrenching to think that he lived with this dreadful knowledge from the moment he had a seizure as a boy. You can see the dread on Wylis’s face as he writhes on the ground. The past is already written, said the Three-Eyed Raven, the ink is dry. Bran’s interference didn’t change it. This was always going to happen, and when the moment came Hodor did what he was meant to do.
You could argue that Hodor didn’t have a choice in the matter, that he had no agency. I would like to think that even in his state he could’ve refused. He could’ve run away long before the weirwood. Instead he chose to do his duty. No one could be braver.
I do not know if Hodor’s story is exactly the same in George R.R. Martin’s future books—maybe the show will affect the books like a causality loop. But this is how to do a plant-and-payoff. Good job.