A few days ago, I started binge-watching season 6 of Game of Thrones. I didn’t watch the show as it was airing this year, because I was fairly certain that I never wanted to see any of it again, but some people I trust told me it was worth watching after all, so once it had all aired and no huge controversy had emerged, I sat down to watch it. And shock of shocks, I’m enjoying it a lot.
Of course, because I never planned to watch it but still feel semi-invested in what happens, I’m extremely spoiled for many major plot points. I was dreading one in particular, in episode five, The Door.
Spoilers obviously to follow!
Here’s what I knew, or at least what I thought I knew. Bran and co. are attacked by White Walkers while Bran is in a vision of the past. Hodor dies holding the door closed to allow the others to escape. Echoes of someone shouting “hold the door” travel back in time through Bran, and something goes wrong, causing Hodor to become Hodor (because “Hodor” = “hold the door.”) It sounded really tragic and tear-inducing, with Hero Hodor sacrificing himself to save Bran and Meera.
Obviously, a few key details got lost on the post-episode hype grapevine. Firstly, that it was Bran’s fault that the Night King attacked them and killed almost everyone. Secondly, and more importantly, that Hodor did not choose to “hold the door.” He wasn’t given any choice in the matter. Bran warged into him and forced Hodor to use himself as a meat shield so the others could get away. Meera screamed, “Hold the door,” but she was telling Bran through Hodor, not Hodor himself. There’s no sign that Hodor had any choice in anything he did once Bran started trying to warg into him. And then Bran took away not only Hodor’s life in the present, but also in the past, by somehow simultaneously warging into both versions at the same time, giving young Hodor a vision of his death and leaving him with nothing left except that one phrase that was drilled into him against his will — “hold the door.”
Hodor’s death emotionally affected me, but it didn’t leave me sad, as I expected. It left me angry. Furious with Bran for taking control of Hodor against his will, once again. For forcing Hodor to experience a painful death to gain them a few seconds against the hoard, when Meera can’t possibly run with Bran, when Hodor is a person whose life Bran completely co-opted, from youth onward, to save his own life after his hubris got him in trouble. I don’t know what happens next — that’s the most recent episode I’ve seen, as I write this — but I’m not sure I’ll forgive Bran for this, and I hope in the next weeks he shows remorse. It’s an interesting moral question, but, to me, Bran did something completely unacceptable.
But here’s the thing. I thought I knew what happened in this episode, from hearing people talk about it extensively. And to some extent, I did know what happened, at least in vague terms. Nothing I’d heard was false; it just missed a few details that meant I came to the wrong conclusion. Because my thoughts were formed entirely by other people’s reactions to it, without seeing it myself.
It feels like a reminder, in the internet age of jumping-on-the-bandwagon, that we really cannot comment on media that we haven’t read or watched ourselves. When we rely on hearsay about how something is “problematic” or “feminist” or whatever, when we start criticizing things and discussing them without checking them out firsthand, we can miss nuances of the story that can make all the difference. I didn’t write about Hold The Door — it wouldn’t have really been relevant even if I’d wanted to, based on what I assumed — but I did have feelings about it after it happened. I heard about it, and I felt so sad for Hodor, for his bravery. My reaction to the idea of the scene was very different to my reaction to the scene itself.
And that feels important, when we so often end up with hot topics of the moment, where everyone is talking about the same plot development in a TV show or new bestselling book that people love to hate. If we want to be able to fully own our opinions on media, we have to make sure we experience it firsthand.