WARNING: THIS POST INCLUDES SPOILERS FOR THE TELEVISION SHOW LOST IN ADDITION TO GAME OF THRONES
Sometimes the magnitude of an emotional payoff trumps all else.
The Constant remains my favorite episode of the television show LOST. In the episode, Desmond Hume — a character who had been stranded on the show’s mythological island for years — is afflicted with a supernatural condition which causes his consciousness to shift back and forth between his past and present. He quickly discovers that this temporal fluctuation will prove fatal if allowed to continue. Desmond eventually discoverers that the only way to resolve this affliction is to find a “constant” — something or someone that exists both in his past and present.
In many ways the episode was the moment LOST crossed the science fiction Rubicon. Up to that point the show had flirted with time travel, but The Constant fully plunged the show deep into the realm of temporal paradoxes and the endless speculation that follows. Those who view LOST as an overall disappointment even may point to The Constant as the point at which the show began writing checks it couldn’t cash in terms of mythology and mystery. Yet, The Constant’s greatness was ultimately rooted in something much more simple — one hell of an emotional payoff.
It turns out that Desmond’s constant would be none other than his star crossed lover Penny — the woman he had loved, lost, then tried to win back only to end up marooned on the island. Desmond is forced to find Penny in his past consciousness and convince his then-heartbroken ex to give him her phone number and to answer a phone call on a specific day far in her future. The ultimate payoff at the episode’s end is so emotionally overwhelming that I won’t waste words trying to describe it. Just watch and then try and come up with an excuse when your co-worker asks why your eyes are welling up.
Why have I spent three paragraphs of a Game of Thrones column talking about LOST? Well, last night’s episode, The Door, hit with an emotional impact that was reminiscent of The Constant.1 While Game of Thrones already firmly established a track record of emotionally jarring moments, most came in the form of shocking or unexpected character deaths. The brilliance of Ned Stark, Oberyn Martell, and the Red Wedding was the way in which they subverted audience expectations and narrative tropes to truly catch us off guard. However, last night’s episode struck a different tone. The Door was the tragic culmination of a rather tertiary and simple mystery — Why does Hodor only say “Hodor”?
Several episodes back it was revealed that Hodor wasn’t always Hodor. At one point he was a boy named Wyllis with a more diverse, if not expansive, vocabulary. While this ignited speculation — most of which related to the mystery of Lyanna Stark — Hodor’s true origin came as a surprise for nearly everyone. Up until last night Hodor saying “hodor” was a good-natured meme that added a bit of levity to the usually dark tone on Game of Thrones.
All of that changed with the revelation that “Hodor” actually means “hold the door.” We discovered Hodor’s mental disability was a product of Bran warging into Wyllis in his vision of the past in a desperate effort to hold of a World War Z-esque tide of wights. This paradoxical tragedy — that Hodor’s disability foreshadowed his inevitable doom — delivered a different sort of blow than the gut punches we have come to expect from Game of Thrones. Hodor’s death didn’t leave people screaming “OH SHIT!” like Oberyn or Ned, it left them in sullen silence.2
While the revelation that Bran has at least some capacity to influence the past opened pandora’s box of time travel paradoxes, much like The Constant, the lasting legacy of The Door will be the tragic payoff of Hodor’s character arc. Memories tied to emotion take root deeper within our hippocampi than all others, so regardless of whether the mechanics of time travel are adequately explained, The Door is guaranteed to remain one of the most memorable episodes of Game of Thrones. After seeing so many beloved characters bite the dust on Game of Thrones, perhaps we as an audience felt a certain sense of numbness to character deaths. Yet by channeling LOST, Game of Thrones plucked at our heartstrings in a way for which none of us were ready.3
Goodbye sweet Hodor. You really did hold that damn door.
- Though the actual plot was probably closer to some combination of “Not Penny’s Boat” and Daniel Faraday’s character arc ↩
- Or as RaleighCo’s Shaker Samman texted me “I need a good cry” ↩
- I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge that The Door was directed by Jack Bender, a Lost fixture who directed The Constant and Through the Looking Glass ↩