Kristian Nairn as Hodor
Credit: HBO

We went from the happiest episode of Game of Thrones ever last week, to easily one of the saddest.

With tonight’s “The Door,” season 6 continues to rack up what’s looking like the drama’s highest body count yet — we’re only halfway through the season and have lost name-characters every week. But none have been as gut-wrenching as the loss of poor Hodor, with Thrones delivering a triple mind-freak punch by revealing the origin of his condition, his dreadful demise, and Bran’s responsibility for both.

Plus, oh yes, the Starks lost another damn direwolf.

We start with…

Mole’s Town: A place whose very name, like Flea Bottom, tells you that the property values are never going to be high here.

We get Sansa’s long-awaited face-off with Littlefinger. She rightly rips him for selling her to a sadist. “Would you like to hear about my wedding night?” she asks, and plenty of viewers yell, “No!” Sansa continues: “I can still feel it, what he did in my body standing here right now.” Shudder.

Littlefinger is smart enough to not argue. He looks uncharacteristically shamefaced and uncertain. “I made a mistake a horrible mistake,” he says. You think?

Yet Littlefinger isn’t the only one who’s uncomfortable here. Sansa almost looks as if she’s addressing the audience. She’s confronting us with the rawness of her ordeal. It’s a smart scene because tackles the most controversial decision in the history of Thrones from a perspective that some felt was lacking in season 5 — exploring the emotional and physical impact of Ramsay’s actions on Sansa.

Littlefinger saves one bit of news to reveal at the end: Sansa’s uncle, Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully, has re-taken his home of Riverrun from the Freys (Tywin Lannister gave Riverrun to the Freys as a Red Wedding gift). This means she could be able to wrangle a Tully army in her fight against the Boltons. And Littlefinger says his Knights of the Vale will be there for her too, not that she wants his help.

Actually, two bits. He can’t resist calling Jon Snow her “half-brother.” He wants Sansa to trust him, and only him, and their newfound alliance might not serve his eventual purpose. So he plants that tiny seed on the way out the door.

Braavos: Arya and the Waif are practicing staff fighting. I’m wondering if the staff is going to be Arya’s preferred weapon moving forward, like Morgan on The Walking Dead. She could inflict some serious damage against Georgia-based zombies with those skills.

The Faceless Man enters and says he’s ready to give Arya another shot. Her task should be exceedingly simple: Kill an actress named Lady Crane. She’s warned not to mess it up. Arya goes to check out her target’s play. We’re hoping for Hamilton because this would probably be the only way we’re ever going to get to see it. But no — the troupe is putting on the stage version of Game of Thrones. The actors tell the story of the rise and fall of King Joffrey. We feel play-within-a-play meta dizziness as we realize Arya is tasked with killing off an actor playing a part in a warped mirror version of Game of Thrones within Game of Thrones.

At first Arya is amused, but then the play’s hillbilly version of Ned Stark comes along. At one point she watches from the crowd as fake-Ned gets beheaded, just like he did in the first season. Except now Joffrey is sympathetic, Cersei is caring, Ned is ambitious, and Tyrion is sinister. The broad strokes of the story are correct, but the playwright’s assumptions about the characters’ motives are wrong, and I wonder if this is the Thrones writers’ way of riffing on the show’s own online commentary. That would add yet another meta level to this whole endeavor and I suddenly have to hit pause, take a few deep breaths — and this is all before Game of Thrones abruptly turns into a time-travel show.

Then suddenly given a random backstage shot of male full frontal nudity, and now this really feels like some reverse version of Thrones.

Arya notices Lady Crane drinks rum and nobody else does. So that will be her killing technique.

Near Pyke: The Iron Born gather to elect a new king. First of all, that these guys even have an election is surprisingly democratic for Westeros — especially since the Iron Islands folk never seemed particularly progressive. They combine a debate and vote into one big event called a “Kingsmoot,” which needs to be the name of a beer as soon as possible.

We see that Jon Snow isn’t the only one to get a haircut this season as Theon has been given a serious trim as well. Haircut, armor, the man looks like Theon again.

Theon keeps his word and firmly supports his sister Yara’s claim to the throne. You can see he’s struggling to keep himself together and it feels heroic for him to just to stand there and not fall apart doing it. The lords appear to on the verge of electing their first female leader.

Suddenly Theon’s evil uncle Euron enters. You’ll recall he secretly killed King Balon on that rainy bridge a couple episodes back. Euron appeals to the Iron Born by slamming the Balon’s failed wars, promising to build the largest fleet of ships ever, and repeatedly mocks Theon’s lack of genitals. I guess we should all be grateful our political system would never support a candidate who uses a election debate to bully his opponents and brag about his junk.

Euron says his plan is to take his ships to Meereen and lure Dany to his side. We would like to see him try that.

Euron sways the voters and is elected king. He then has to participate in a baptism-like ceremony to honor the Iron Islands god, the Drowned God. The candidates head is dunked under water, he has to breathe it in, and if he somehow survives, he’s got the job for life — “what is dead may never die” indeed. I wonder: If surviving being drowned was required to win our presidency, would that make our candidates better or worse? It would certainly make the swearing-in ceremony more compelling.

Yara and Theon know they need to make a run for it, so while Euron is getting dunked they run and steal his precious fleet. Their fears prove correct as the first thing Euron wants to know upon being revived is where they are so he can kill them. Once he realizes they escaped, he orders men to start building ships to go after them. So basically the slowest chase scene ever has just begun.

Vaes Dothrak-Adjacent: A proper reunion now for Dany, Daario, and Ser Jorah. Well, mainly Dany and Ser Jorah, as Daario just stands there slightly uncomfortable.

Jorah decides to reveal his greyscale to Dany, who outright weeps at his condition. I can’t remember if we’ve actually seen Dany cry since season 1.

“Tyrion Lannister was right,” Ser Jorah declares. “I love you. I’ll always love you.”

Our hearts melt at that. It’s a deeply touching exchange. I really want them to hug, but that’s probably not a good idea.

She commands him to go hunt for a cure to his advancing disease. He doesn’t want to go, but she wisely tells him she’ll need him by her side as she rules Westeros. In other words, he’s now forgiven, finally. And as usual, Dany is doing exactly the right thing. She’s given him a purpose and hope.

Plus, frankly, now Dany can fool around with Daario without having to deal with Ser Jorah being all sulky and bummed about it.

Meereen: The insurgency has paused. Tyrion is still in the spin zone and looking for a way for Dany to get the credit. So he summons a Red Priestess named Kinvara to help spread the word of the Dragon Queen’s greatness. This seems risky. The last leader to try to enlist the church for political muscle was Cersei and that didn’t work out too well.

Kinvara could be Melisandre’s cousin. She’s just as creepy, and likewise has a red dress, distracting boobs, and an ultra-confident fanatical glaze. She’s even wearing one of those black chokers and we wonder how old she really is.

She declares Dany is “the one who was promised.” Okay, so this refers to the Lord of Light’s prophesied figure in human form, the reincarnation of a guy named Azor Ahai — a warrior who long ago defeated an army of the White Walkers. Melisandre thought Stannis Baratheon was the one who was promised, and that seems even sillier now than it did in season 2. With Jon resurrected, Melisandre’s now thinking Jon is the Chosen One. But now here comes along this other cocky Red Priestess who says it’s Dany. Personally I’d bet on the girl with the dragons.

Even though she’s giving the Meereen team what they want, supposedly, Varys can’t help but object. “You’re always right, everything is the lord’s will,” he says with rare outright snark.

Kinvara then manages to unnerve Varys to a degree we’ve never seen before by knowing the whole backstory of how he was castrated. She warns him that as long as he’s Dany’s friend he has nothing to worry about. So great, now there’s two of them.

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Castle Black: Strategy meeting. It’s like King Jon Snow’s small council meeting. Or is it Queen Sansa Stark’s small council meeting? The idea is to lobby various houses to try and rally them to Team Stark vs. Team Bolton. Sansa drops the intel from Littlefinger that the Blackfish has retaken Riverrun and could join their cause, but then, interestingly, lies to Jon and claims Ramsay told her instead of Littlefinger.

They get ready to leave and we get a few rapid beats:

— Tormund continues to un-armor Brienne with his eyes, until she’s finally outright rolling hers. We have an interview with Gwendoline Christie about this whole Brienne-Tormund thread we’ll post Monday morning.

— Sansa sends Brienne to go to Riverrun to get the Tully’s army. Brienne hesitates, not wanting to leave her with so many rape-y types. Sansa insists. Brienne smartly asks if she trusts Jon, why she lied to him. Sansa looks like perhaps she’s not sure herself.

— Jon leaves a miserable Dolorous Edd in charge of Castle Black, as the 999th Lord Commander, with winter coming and an army of undead ready to march into Westeros. The place is all yours, Edd!

Weirwood Tree: And now we come to the main entree in our recap dinner. There’s several Bran sequences tonight and we’re going to hit all of them now.

The first has Bran warging-with-permission back in time. Way, way back to the creation of the Night’s King. The Children of the Forest were battling with the First Men. They stabbed a man (with dragonglass and created the Night’s King, a golem, a Frankenstein monster, to use in their battle (the stuntman who plays the Night’s King also played his human form, by the way). But the experiment apparently misfired when the Night’s King rebelled and created his own army of dead wights.

Pulled out of his vision, Bran is annoyed at Leaf — it’s their fault for creating these monsters. But Leaf points out that humans shouldn’t have attacked them in the first place. So there.

Later, it’s the middle of the night, the Raven is asleep and Bran is bored. He reaches over to the tree. He takes an unauthorized trip and discovers the army of the dead. He’s there with hundreds of thousands of wights. He walks through them. He should stop, but he doesn’t. It’s like he’s playing a video game and is just about to kill a level Boss. He reaches the Night’s King, who looks straight at him. Bran turns and sees all the undead are looking at him, too. It’s an extremely creepy shot. Suddenly the Night’s King grabs him. Run Bran, the phone call is coming from inside the house!

Bran wakes with a scream, the King left his mark on his arm. The Raven knows what’s happened and explains Bran has to leave, they’re no longer safe, the Night’s King now has their secret cave on his GPS and his ETA is sooner than they think.

Meera and Hodor are excited at potential post-cave breakfast options when Meera’s breath turns cold — they’re here.

The dead army are outside, and even Leaf’s holy hand grenades can’t stop the White Walker commanders, only their zombie wights who swarm over the cave.

Meanwhile Bran wargs back to old Winterfell as the Raven tries to catch him up on what he needs to know, and he isn’t coming out despite Meera’s efforts to wake him. Meera needs Bran to warg into Hodor and get him to carry him out.

Summer attacks wights and gets killed too. We’ll come back to that.

The Raven gets killed in the cave and turns into a fragmented black cloud in Bran’s vision.

Leaf uses a grenade to take out a bunch of swarming wights, and herself, like Vasquez in Aliens.

Meera springs into action, grabs a dragonglass tip spear, and kills a White Walker.

Meanwhile Bran and the Raven are still in his vision and about to seriously mess with the space-time continuum. It’s like Bran is Marty, the Raven is Doc Brown, and now they’re about to f— everything up.

Bran finally wargs into Hodor and gets him to pull him down a long tunnel, the cave’s backdoor escape route. Meera and Bran get to The Door… yes… The Door! Hodor shuts it just in time to keep the wights in. Meera screams that he’s got to hold the door. The Raven tells Bran he should listen to his friend. Bran locks eyes with young Hodor, a.k.a. Wylis, who can suddenly see him, too. Wylis has a seizure as Bran commands him to hold the door.

What happens next is awful, and thrilling, and revelatory, and so very tragic. Wylis in the past starts repeating “hold the door.” His screaming gradually becomes … “Hodor.” And we realize: It was this brain-nuking command by an increasingly powerful Bran Stark that caused young Wylis to become Hodor in the first place. Which is horrible enough. But then what happens next makes it so much worse. The wights start stabbing Hodor to death with their skeletal fingers. Hodor is being killed. The Night’s King is directly responsible (we’re assuming Hodor’s dead), but yet so much of this is unavoidably Bran’s fault …

Or is it the Raven’s fault? How much did the Raven know, exactly?

Or is “fault” the wrong word to use here? Hodor seemingly had a destiny, a purpose, and it was to help Bran get North to become the new Raven and then save his life. He did that. So is this a tragedy?

Either way, as fans pointed out on Twitter: We now realize that every time Hodor has said his name he was describing his own eventual death. Recently I rewatched the Thrones pilot and there’s so much sadness now in those early moments, knowing the tragedies that will befall so many characters. With Hodor, our knowledge changes our perspective on the character rather radically without changing the positive things we feel about him.

And now Bran is being pulled by Meera through the snow. What will they do next?

As for Summer … there’s a theory out there that all the direwolf names are prophetic. I never put much stock in that, but it’s edging closer to being convincing. Summer was killed by the demons of winter (winter is coming, and so goes Summer). Jon was brought back to life (he’s like a Ghost). Sansa had Lady, who was killed by the Lannisters (the theory, which is reaching now, speculates the Lannisters likewise “killed” Sansa’s gentle lady-like side). Robb and his army blew down south, or blew out (like a Grey Wind). I’m not sure how this all applies to Shaggydog (except that Rickon, with his wild mane of mussed hair, looks shaggy himself). And how Arya’s long-lost Nymeria comes into play is anybody’s guess (though there was a warrior queen in Dorne with the same name). The reason I bring all this up, aside from being fun speculation, is that with a theory like this there’s a unifying master plan behind each direwolf demise that — like Hodor — will make sense in retrospect.

The episode, by the way, was helmed by first-time Thrones director Jack Bender (who was the main director on ABC’s Lost). Welcome to the party, Jack.

MORE: Read our exclusive interview with Hodor actor Kristian Nairn about his character’s heartbreaking exit.

MORE: We also have an interview with Bran Stark actor Isaac Hempstead Wright sharing his feelings about the tragic twist.

MORE: Gwendoline Christie discusses that Tormund crush.

And now a trivia question for a Hodor T-shirt from the HBO Store. Tricky, but on point: How many times in this episode do we see present-day Hodor (not Wylis) say the word “Hodor”? So not in voice-over, not in Winterfell, but actually see him on camera say the word in the cave. (Previous winners ineligible, send your guess to gotpodcast@ew.com). Speaking of which: Tomorrow we’ll have another edition of the podcast with more to give away, and, as usual, we’ll have plenty to discuss (subscribe and listen). (UPDATE: New episode posted below).

Episode Recaps

Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series A Song of Ice and Fire.

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