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Game Of Thrones’ most cryptic saying also has the most heartbreaking origin

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Month Of Thrones

We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.

The moment

We finally learn what Hodor’s been saying all along

The episode

“The Door” (season six, episode five)

Game Of Thrones has introduced a king’s ransom’s worth of terms and sayings to the pop culture lexicon. There’s “Valar morghulis” and “The night is dark and full of terrors,” two expressions that are as matter of fact as they are ominous. Similarly, “Winter is coming” is both a prediction and threat, and just as meme-able as “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” Even your local barfly can class up their act by quoting Tyrion Lannister to their fellow patrons: “That’s what I do. I drink and I know things.”


Every bit as quotable if, for a long time, indefinible, is a single word: “Hodor.” The character’s limited speech in the source material was never really explored, but fans’ love of the gentle giant, combined with Kristian Nairn’s amiable performance, imbued “Hodor” with the same kind of universality as “I am Groot.” “Hodor” came to mean anything and everything: “yes,” “no,” “I’m terrified,” “Bran sucks” (okay, maybe not that last one). And Hodor returned that admiration, nobly serving Bran until the bitter end—he might have occasionally needed a warging to get the job done, but Hodor also understood the danger of supporting a Stark, and did it anyway. His courage is all the more commendable because it’s a result of Hodor overcoming justifiable fears.

At this point in Thrones’ run, the adaptation was diverging from the source material out of necessity—David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had had to plan for the series catching up with (and later, outpacing) George R.R. Martin’s books. “Book Of The Stranger” reunited Jon and Sansa earlier than expected, and “The Door” gives great poignancy to a name and word we’d heard for years without ever really understanding it.


It all begins with Bran’s hubris, when he decides to take his Three-Eyed Raven lessons up a notch by zooming around on his own, only to end up in the clutches of the Night King. That touch allows the Night King and his army of White Walkers and wights to break the spell around the tree, where Meera and Hodor were just daydreaming about what it’ll be like to be back home. The Night King kills the Three-Eyed Raven as the rest of his ilk kill the remaining Children Of The Forest and Summer. Bran wargs into Hodor so they can make their escape with Meera, but something unusual happens: His warging somehow extends to the past, where a chatty lad named Wylis—as Hodor was originally known—interacts with a young Ned Stark.

In the present, the trio makes it out into the cold, but Meera shouts at Hodor to hold the door and keep the wights from reaching her and Bran as she drags the latter into the forest. Back in the past, Wylis goes into convulsions while echoing Meera’s words, and through the repetition and madness “hold the door” becomes “Hodor.” His name turned out to be his final act in service of the Stark family, but even more heart-wrenching is watching Wylis be robbed of his speech, childhood, and agency, destined for a life of ridicule and servitude. Hodor was always a fan favorite; now he was a hero. But although heroes usually bear some sacrifice, this still felt like an inordinately high price to pay. It wasn’t just Hodor who lost his life—it was also Wylis.

What we said then

From our experts review: “‘The Door’ puts the emphasis on the tragic in Hodor’s tragiheroic final moments. The mechanics, as with other parts of the scene, remain opaque—all we know is what we see, as Bran is warging into Hodor while simultaneously observing Ned’s childhood journey to the Vale as witnessed by Wylis. And then it all starts happening: Wylis starts seizing in the past as Hodor is being controlled in the future, and then a portal between two times opens as Meera’s cries of “hold the door” are screamed by Wylis in abject terror, eventually morphing into “Hodor.” And as a book reader, it was that moment I’d been waiting for—the show finally claiming its own moment of carefully constructed, emotionally devastating poetry as ‘Hodor’ is born and dies in the very same moment.”


Elsewhere in the episode

Arya’s been given a second chance to become no one, but she empathizes too much with her mark, an actress whose only crime is being more talented than her costars. Jorah prepares to leave Daenerys’ side for a third time after telling her he has greyscale, but she just charges him with finding a cure. Back in Meereen, a different Red Woman renders Varys speechless, for a change. Theon backs Yara at the kingsmoot, but the ironborn are too backwards to accept a woman ruler, so they end up throwing in with the usurper Euron. Plans are made to unite the other houses against the Boltons, and Sansa meets with Littlefinger for the first time since he pushed her into Ramsay’s cruel arms. Most important, we learn that the Children Of The Forest, primordial beings who predate the First Men, actually created the Night King. Desperate to beat back the invaders, the Children Of The Forest unleashed an even greater threat by inserting a blade of dragonglass into the heart of the man would be Night King. And now you know the rest of the story!


Previously:R + L = J + minds blown”