You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!
Spoilers below the cut
Well, boys and girls, another year has come and gone. At long last, I will be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on a Sunday night. There will be another post later looking back at this season and doing a full-scale comparison to where the story is going in TWOW (or not, I might get bored), but for now let’s talk about this episode.
Oh boy headers!
The beginning sequence with King’s Landing was stunning. That was peak Game of Thrones right there. That might be the best the show has ever been – a 15-minute horror movie, tense, taught, and sleek. The music track “Light of the Seven” (har har what a name) felt a little out of place in Westeros – since when do we score GOT with a piano? – but honestly I didn’t mind. Because lord almighty. It was powerful and complex on all levels – a victory over the oppressive, misogynistic religious fanatics, but also an atrocity committed against the good, innocent people of King’s Landing. The use of the children as extensions of Cersei’s vengeance while her own child dies alone was – I mean, holy shit. There’s so much to think about, to process. The costumes. The new crown! Queen Cersei Lannister. The face of Gregor Clegane. Wineboarding Septa Unella.
The death of Pycelle really captured a lot of what I loved about this episode. They took existing material (the epilogue to ADWD) and recontextualized it for the sake of adaptation. In the epilogue, Varys kills Pycelle and Kevan to clear the way for Young Griff. But without Young Griff, the political map is completely different. The image of the children-as-murderers is still a powerful, horrifying sight, so they retooled that for Creepy Uncle Qyburn. (More like QyBurn Them All, am I right?)
Cersei’s costume also mirrored Dany’s costume in this episode, another strong connection as we enter the endgame. I do wonder if they’re setting up a Euron-Cersei force against the Tyrell-Martell-Targaryen force. But more on that later. All in all, King’s Landing was incredible from start to finish.
And what better way to cut away from that unbeatable King’s Landing sequence than with a smash cut to Walder Frey shouting FOR THE LANNISTERS! This scene complemented Cersei’s stuff perfectly, because we see that Walder Frey is what you become when you become consumed with revenge. Old, bent, crooked, and purely hateful. Jaime sees it too, and it makes him uncomfortable to think that Walder Frey is his future. And let’s just skip ahead here and say Hell Yeah Arya. A solid conclusion to her story, as she re-emerges into the world of Westeros. She’s a little monstrous now, but she’s also in a great position to meet up with any number of character groups (more on that later, too).
Scrapping ASOIAF characters is ok sometimes
Earlier I said I loved how they recontextualized existing material to fit the show. That holds even for the more controversial decisions – giving the Sand Snakes the “Vengeance, justice, fire and blood” lines, giving Lyanna Mormont the North Remembers speech, and giving Arya the Frey Pies story. On one hand, they assassinated the characters of Wyman Manderly and Doran Martell to re-tool these stories. On the other hand – the hell with it, it’s fine.
Because here’s the thing – in TWOW, Doran Martell will be one of two men. He will either be a shell of a man, quietly watching his nieces and daughter burn the world before he dies quiet and alone. Or he’ll give himself fully to vengeance, committed at last to seeing the Lannisters destroyed root and stem. If it’s the former, that’s a great character story but not really worth the time and money to produce. If it’s the latter, why not condense that story into Ellaria Sand? I also think it helps undercut the catharsis of Dany’s triumphant voyage. The Sand Snakes are monstrous, cruel, impulsive parodies of their father. Do we really want our beloved Dany working with them? Moreover, it creates a great parallel in the show – Olenna and Ellaria have each poisoned a child of Cersei Lannister. This is not a case where the show is weaker for trimming the fat; instead, I think it invites all sorts of really rich storytelling possibilities. Yes, Varys popping up out of the hedges to say his little “fire and blood” line was cheesy and over-the-top, consistent with the rest of the episode. But you know what? I liked it. Fight me.
As for Wyman Manderly – while I love the North Remembers plot in the books, and how Wyman is responsible for undermining the Bolton cause from within, I think the show’s interpretation of the North makes just as much sense. They are war-weary and winter-watching; they accept a sour peace over more war. That’s fine. I don’t think that ruins the characters in any way. Giving Arya the Frey Pies story was a littttttttttlle much. But again, I think it takes a crucial bit of development from the books – Wyman is kinda monstrous and revels in his revenge – and uses it to develop a character who frankly matters more than Wyman Manderly. I will never complain about them elevating characterizing moments from minor characters to major characters.
Okay, that was all over the map. Geeze. Let’s talk about the North.
First – oh yeah, we find out Jon’s parentage. That was dope. Seriously though, it’s pretty crazy to think that now, 20 years after the first book came out, the biggest character secret of the series has finally been answered. Jon’s parents are Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. I’m very excited to see how they time this reveal to Jon. Because in case you didn’t notice, Jon’s whole claim to be King in the North rests on Ned Stark’s shoulders. Jon has defined his personal and political identities entirely on Ned Stark.
Littlefinger was weird this episode. The sky was also blue. Bit of a fascinating little conflict here – Jon and Sansa want to trust each other, but Littlefinger is about to worm his way in there and try to do to Jon what he did to Ned. And how did they resolve the plot weirdness from the Battle of the Bastards? Well, Sansa apologized, I guess. So that makes up for the thousands of dead soldiers, Jon’s near-death experience…
The King in the North scene was “supposed to evoke the first King in the North scene,” which was really subtle and I totally didn’t notice that at all oh wait it was just a carbon copy of that scene. Again, that’s fine. Whatever. Again, the R+L=J reveal undercuts the power and catharsis of that moment. It’s darker because we know the truth about Jon and we know what happened to the last King in the North.
Okay, on to Meereen.
The Bay of Dragons
I was glad Dany said she didn’t care about Daario because boy oh boy neither do I! There was some great character work for Dany in this episode, though; she realizes she didn’t feel anything for a man who was utterly devoted to her, and that’s a powerful plot point. Tyrion, as usual, might as well not exist. Oh sure, it was fine, but “I believe in you” was a little on-the-nose. And again, we had to be told that. I didn’t really get that this season, that he was doing it all for Dany. I see where they tried to establish that, with the dragon scene, but for the most part he just spun his wheels until it was time to leave Meereen. It was a big character moment here, but it felt like we skipped to the last page of a book without sitting through the middle. But hey, how about that final scene with the fleet? Now THAT’S what I call podracing.
The best scene by far in this episode goes to Samwell Tarly, though, in the library of Oldtown. I loved the way Oldtown looked, for starters; that’s how it SHOULD look. They’ve really been nailing the matte paintings this season. And the Citadel! The bureaucrat was straight out of AFFC, and I’m so glad we saw the library. That was tear-jerking. Also I forsee a lot of image macros about “how it feels to read ASOIAF after watching GOT.” But seriously, it was a lovely little scene that made me feel feelings. You need happiness every once in a while. Not everyone can be a revenge-obsessed lunatic or a brooding bastard.
And I think that wraps it up for actual content in this episode. Overall? Lot of huge moments. I’m not sure all of it was warranted or set up well – lots of last-minute developments and speeches. But I didn’t mind, watching this episode. It blew my mind, and that’s enough to keep me happy.
Let’s talk about where the story goes from here.
Already, the producers and actors have been hinting at a coming conflict between Jon and Sansa over who rules the North. That’s too bad, but I could see it happening in the books, too. I think we’re pretty much where we’ll be at the end of The Winds of Winter – Dany arriving in Westeros, Cersei in mad power, Jon in Winterfell, Arya returning to Westeros. There are a few wild cards and exceptions. The Brotherhood Without Banners apparently went nowhere this season; the whole Sandor Clegane plot was just a fanservicey waste of screen time, as far as season 6 was concerned. I’m sure he’ll be back for season 7, though, and bringing him back for s6 means they don’t have to keep his involvement a secret. Melisandre, Arya, Brienne, and the Brotherhood are all within spitting distance; I expect them to join up in some configuration early next season. I also expect the Wall will fall pretty soon – if not early s7, then at the end for sure. I also expect Jaime will kill Cersei at some point. His character arc – while different from the books – is still taking him to the same place: killing Cersei.
Like I said earlier, I expect Euron and Cersei will team up somehow. Early next season, I could see Euron attacking Oldtown (as he will in the books, I’m sure), with the possible return of Randyll Tarly. It’s not clear if the Tarlys are in on Olenna Tyrell’s Dragon Plans. I expect that Jon Snow will be distracted from the True War by two things: Sansa & Littlefinger, and Bran revealing his parentage. Dany & Tyrion will spend season 7 fighting Cersei across Westeros as winter comes. Season 7 will be the first half of the book A Dream of Spring, I’m betting, where the chosen ones are all in position but they’re still caught up in their personal conflicts. The end of season 7 and beginning of season 8 will mark the turning point; Euron and Cersei will die, probably, Jon Snow will turn back North, Dany will point her surviving dragons at the Others, and Bran will fulfill his destiny by being the key to defeating winter. Season 7 will be a mess of politics and wars; Season 8 will be about the Dream of Spring, our heroes fighting hard for a nigh-impossible victory over death itself.
Now here it is: overall, how was Season 6?
Better than Season 5, that’s for sure.
This season plowed through the plot. Some characters had solid arcs and stories with depth, other characters were a monotone until the finale. The production was insanely good. The show looks incredible, sounds incredible, feels incredible. The writing…look, there are better-written shows, obviously. But I disagree with the idea that the writing is “bad.” I think it’s generally clever and entertaining with occasional gigantic dumb things. I mean, I already mentioned Sandor Clegane. The discourse around Game of Thrones gets really depressing sometimes; everyone has a different part of the show they love to hate, and when you really enjoy that part of the show it’s hard not to feel insulted when someone calls it stupid. Season 6 gave me everything I wanted – twists and turns, revenge, pathos, wiener jokes, great musical cues, and fantasy spectacle unlike anything else on TV, ever.
7/10, would watch again.
How Does Season 6 Stack Up?
And for those wondering, here’s my ranking of the six seasons so far from worst to best:
#6 – Season 5. Morose and brooding, it was like spending an entire season inside the head of Jon Snow. Dark, dreary, and gloomy, this is a season that looks much better when it sits contextualized in the rest of the story. A few very well-done spots – Hardhome, Stannis, parts of Meereen – make this season important, if not more enjoyable.
#6 – Season 2. The huge missteps with Jon and Dany’s stories mean that about half the season just draaaaaaags. Saved by Theon, Stannis, and Robb, although Cat’s material this season was weaker than it needed to be. But on rewatching this, I found I was having way more fun than I had watching season 5. For sheer watchability, Season 2 avoids the bottom spot. Besides, hard to rank the season with Blackwater at the very bottom.
#4 – Season 3. I love season 3…but it also had the bloated, painful, Ramsay torture scenes. And I still think those were mostly unnecessary, and contributed to the Ramsay exhaustion the audience felt in Seasons 5 and 6. We’d seen Ramsay do horrible, horrible things; they plateaued early on Ramsay with Season 3, and that rippled out to hurt the rest of the story going forward. Couple that with weird Catelyn anti-development and the stagnation of Sansa, and you get a season that drags in all the wrong places. On the other hand, this has Kissed by Fire, the second-best episode of the show. So hey, roller coaster all around.
#3 – Season 6. Hey, here it is! I would watch the hell out of Season 6. We got our Bran back, we got massive, crushing plot developments (Hold the Door, Battle of the Bastards, Vaes Dothrak, the Trial By Fire), but we also got some serious pacing problems (Tyrion and Dany, f’rinstance) and the continued prioritization of spectacle over sense. But overall? Hell yeah! And I’d rank The Winds of Winter way up there on my list of top ten episodes. Not sure exactly where yet but hey it’s only been like 20 hours.
#2 – Season 4. Man, what isn’t good in this season? Jaime? Sure. Ramsay? Yeah, I guess so. The weird exclusion of the Tysha conversation between Jaime and Tyrion? Well yes. The over-the-top lunacy of Craster’s Keep? Okay, stop, come on. Aside from those boogers, it’s a great season from start to finish; we get Watchers on the Wall and The Children (I know some people hate The Children but dammit I loved that episode). We get Olenna and Marge, we finally have Sansa doing something other than marinating in teenageryness.
#1 – Season 1. Almost goes without saying, I think. They captured the Once and Future King spirit of A Game of Thrones perfectly here, both with scenes straight out of the books and invented scenes. And honestly, it makes sense. They had something like three or four years to write season 1, to really edit and polish and make it good. The rest of the seasons have been written in a matter of months. Season 1 was like an artist’s first album, the one with the songs they’ve been writing all their life. The low budget meant a lot of quiet character moments, which used to be the strongest part of the show. The first season had space to breathe, and it was all the stronger for it.
Well, thanks for sticking with me if you read all this guff! It’s been quite a season, and I really enjoy writing these up every week. No matter what, I’m always grateful that Game of Thrones even exists. All the problems with it are trivial compared to how amazing it is that a fantasy political drama is the biggest TV show in the world. Continuing in the proud tradition of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones has continued to keep fantasy in the spotlight.