It seems like the general consensus is that “The Door” is not only the best episode of Season 6 so far, but also the best episode of Game of Thrones since last year’s “Hardhome.” There’s a lot to like, from the earth-shattering revelation about the White Walkers to the wonderful skit in Braavos that reenacted Season 1. It also helped that the episode didn’t waste time with Ramsay Bolton or Dorne. Yet, I think one reason the episode worked so well is that we didn’t expect the big revelation about Hodor.
In general, I’m wary of stories that rely too heavily upon mystery. I get frustrated when shows keep teasing audiences about some unsolved mystery. It comes across as a cheap trick to convince viewers to keep watching. The most notorious example of this storytelling strategy is Lost, which, as the series finale proved, was all mystery with no substance. The show constantly teased viewers with mysteries that were never solved, including deliberate red herrings (polar bears?).
The ending of Lost shows the risk of this type of storytelling. It’s possible to string viewers along for a while, but eventually the story has to end. And if that ending doesn’t provide a satisfactory payoff to those mysteries, it can undermine the entire story. After all, a mystery is only as good as its resolution. The best mystery stories include a clever resolution.
This had been one of my biggest fears about Game of Thrones. The show spends so much time teasing audiences that I worry it won’t be able to achieve a satisfactory payoff. Perhaps the biggest remaining mystery is about Jon Snow’s parents. Yet, the mystery has been so hyped over the years, subject to so much fan speculation, that I worry the inevitable revelation will prove anticlimactic. Over the past five years, Game of Thrones has hit us over the head with the idea that Jon has a great destiny. His resurrection in “Home” only helped to build expectations. If it turns out that Jon’s parents are in fact Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark (as posited by the popular R+L=J theory), then will the inevitable revelation be as exciting? Will having predicted the secret ahead of time diminish the impact? If it isn’t R+L=J, will fans be disappointed?
SPOILER WARNING for Season 6, Episode 5: “The Door”
Which brings me to “The Door.” At the end of the episode, we learn the truth behind Hodor’s name. Bran Stark learned how to travel into the past with the guidance of the three-eyed raven, where he observed Hodor in his youth. Near the end of “The Door,” White Walkers attacked the three-eyed raven’s cave while Bran was having one of these experiences. As he fled, he ordered Hodor to hold the door against the White Walkers. However, because Bran’s mind was still in he past, he also issued this command to past!Hodor, which warped his mind. Thus, “hold the door” became “Hodor,” which Hodor nobly did as wights tore him to pieces.
It’s a great plot twist, and easily one of the most dramatic moments in the entire show, but it works all the better because few saw it coming. The show had hinted that Hodor had a past as far back as Season 1, but it never emphasized the mystery. The show briefly reminded audiences about Hodor when Bran visited past!Winterfell in “Home.” But it’s to the show’s credit it never hinted that Hodor was destined to perform great deeds, much less that his origin story tied into one of the most important revelations in the story thus far. We were asked to accept Hodor as he was, a faithful, loyal servant. When we found out last Sunday that Hodor’s condition was tied to Bran’s new powers, it was all the more powerful for being so unexpected.
The way the show handled the Hodor revelation has rejuvenated my faith in the show. No matter what happens with Jon Snow’s lineage, I’m hopeful that the writers have a few more surprises up their sleeves. Sometimes the best mysteries are those we don’t know about.
Dom Nardi is a Contributing Writer at Legendarium Media. He has worked as a political scientist and as a consultant throughout Southeast Asia. In addition, he has published academic articles about politics in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. You can find more of his writing at NardiViews.