Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “The Red Woman”:

Jon Snow is still dead!

Forgive the bluntness, but given the time Game of Thrones has spent hyping this over the last year, the former Lord Commander’s fate will inevitably prove the first thing anyone wants to know or discuss, at least until said fate changes. And that’s fine, for the record; Jon’s death is still a fair twist by either TV or storytelling rules, but given the likelihood of resurrection, and the manner in which George R.R. Martin’s books aren’t necessarily guiding the show’s hype anymore, it’s harder to know what to make of the show’s incremental storytelling.

That’s the thing you’d almost forget in a year of wall-to-wall conspiracy unraveling and set photos, that for all the buildup to “The Red Woman,” this is still that boilerplate Game of Thrones framework, drifting from one character or another at a time. In a way, it’s even easy to feel underwhelmed by the premiere, which offers a few notable bits of triumph, some questionable table-clearing, and more than a few overall question marks.

Apart from the fate of Jon Snow, a title like “The Red Woman” draws a curious amount of attention to Melisandre, given the character’s rather limited appearance. Carice Van Houten at least gets to show a newer side to the character, broken and uncertain of her religious visions, and it’s fitting that “The Red Woman” drops that visage literally as well. The reveal itself doesn’t do very much, in that Melisandre concealing a much older visage falls pretty well in line with a portrayal so supernaturally confident in her own wisdom, and it would seem unlikely that the older form takes up any permanent residence. It’s just a deeper look into the character, one likely laying groundwork for Davos to restore her confidence and aid in a rousing escape, but not any radical recontextualizing of what we know.

The hour’s other significant shock lies in killing off the Martell regime, which itself could represent either a huge course-correction on their lackluster presence last season, or rather David Benioff and Dan Weiss taking something of a shortcut to start reigning in an endgame. Both Doran and Trystane’s fates at the hands of the Sand Snakes unfurled rather quickly as well, but it’s at least of interest that the guards all simply look on, presumably leaving Ellaria to lead Dorne explicitly toward vengeance against the Lannisters. The feeling is undoubtedly mutual, now that Cersei and Jaime seem ready to strike back, so … yeah! That’ll heat up, I guess.

Unlike some things.

Probably the biggest moment of the premiere itself belongs to Sansa and Reek’s escape, and the subsequent reunion with Brienne and Pod, likely as close to triumphant as Game of Thrones has been for any of those characters in recent seasons. Even amid the chaos of fleeing, it felt right to see Sansa experiencing her first tender human contact in years, while Theon too got to reclaim a bit of his past in cutting down the final Bolton guard to save Pod. Happiness tends not to last on Game of Thrones, nor do meetings between characters significantly off-book, but it certainly points in a far more lucrative direction for the four than anything Season 5 had to offer.

Playing catchup with other characters got the shortest end, between Daenerys meeting Khal Moro and learning what they ultimately intend for Drogo’s widow (not without the requisite rape threats first!), though it’s safe to say the Khaleesi won’t keep to that direction too long. Meanwhile, in her abandoned Queendom, Tyrion and Varys seem to be doing alright for the moment, even if the Harpys burning Dany’s fleet felt like an almost-meta acknowledgement that the storyline wouldn’t be headed to Westeros anytime soon. The Lord of Light seems to be creeping into her corner a bit more too, something trailers have corroborated, which may have had the most to offer beyond some humor and exposition.

Elsewhere … take your pick! Margaery hasn’t broken to the Sparrows just yet, Jorah and Daario are still hot on Dany’s trail, and Arya’s still blind and an object of derision for The Waif. No big changes since last we left. It’s funny; for all the talk of TV withholding payoff these days, “The Red Woman” didn’t really answer any of the burning questions consuming fans over the last year, but didn’t revel in any cruelty as such. Perhaps without literary landmarks to guide us, Game of Thrones can’t help feeling just a tiny bit more aimless.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • Presumably the mutineers left Jon Snow’s body under the traitor sign as a warning, but why unattended, if he planned to admit the deed later?
  • Good to see Ramsay humbled a bit by Myranda’s death, but of course he’d just end up feeding her to the dogs.
  • I guess Sansa and Theon just survived that fall, then.
  • Pod helping Sansa finish the oath was adorable.
  • Everyone gave the Dornish fight choreography last year some appropriate guff, so of course Areo Hotah doesn’t even get to go out swinging.
  • Was Trystane always on a separate ship than Jamie? Were the Sand Snakes always on it, or did they slip aboard closer to Kings’ Landing?
  • At least we got some explanation on how Jorah managed to zero in on Dany’s ring.

Game of Thrones Season 6 will return May 1 with “Home,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.