Entering its sixth season, Game Of Thrones reached a point that excited and frightened fans in equal measure, while the fifth season had introduced original elements – such as Tyrion meeting Dany – season six would be the first to actively go passed the books and bring in new material, some of which would be unique to the show but some of it spoiling elements that Martin had not yet written.
As a book reader I was ok with this, there’s enough of a difference between both mediums that the show wouldn’t spoil a great deal and it works out for the better, the fifth season suffered a little from holding back in order to end with a cliffhanger that left Jon Snow dead in the snow after being betrayed by his Night’s Watch Brothers. With Season 6 allowed to forge its own path, we got something that brought Thrones back to what made people love it in the first place.
Part of what made this Season so work so well was that it actively felt like the characters were moving into place for the final act, the major players especially but even side characters like the long-awaited return of The Hound provided a hint of what’s to come for their future in the series. As a main character, Arya’s story suffered the most, feeling a little too dragged out across the ten episodes, plus her brief moment in Episode 7 where she’s flaunting in the open and gets caught off-guard, stabbed in the gut and walks away like it was nothing pushed the suspension of disbelief a little too far, even for a show that features dragons and Ice Zombies. Even so, her final reclamation of her name after two years, and her return to Westeros to exact violent, cannibalistic revenge on Walder Frey – mirroring a story Bran tells about The Rat Cook back in Season 3 – showcases a very different, much colder Arya Stark than we’ve seen before.
Across the Narrow Sea Dany finds herself returned to the Dothraki, their new Khal not pleased to see her, until Dany reminds him who the Dragon Queen is. Out of everyone, Daenerys has been held back the most with her time in Meereen being the stuff of
annoyance and mockery, but now with her taking control of the Dothraki, the city and her
Dragons – as well as a timely appearance by Theon and Yara Greyjoy on the escape from their murderous Uncle Euron, a small role sure to expand once his use of dark magic becomes more evident – Daenerys Stormborn Of House Targaryen is finally making her move West.
North Of The Wall, Bran practises with The Three-Eyed Raven to see events of the past, though the discovery comes with the tragic realisation that even as a viewer Bran can do damage. In one of the Season’s highlight episodes, The Door, we get a glimpse of the power of The Night King, expanding on his already chilling destruction of Hardhome, as well as the discovery of how Hodor came to be through the fault of Bran’s meddling with time, it’s one of the hardest hitting moments in Thrones history. Outside of that, Bran’s storyline allowed the show to confirm several long-running theories from the books and show respectively, the enigmatic Coldhands makes an appearance and is shown to be the long-thought dead Benjen Stark while the now famous Tower Of Joy sequence proves once and for all, the linage of Jon Snow.
Yes, Jon Snow, the bastard of the North, the White Wolf, now confirmed as Jon Targaryen to the delight of fans everywhere. Ever since The Red Wedding and the death of the Starks the show has lacked a central focal storyline, well now we can say that this is far and away Jon’s show now, easily his Season with his death, his resurrection, his life, his wars, his victories, even his birth playing a big part through all 10 episodes, coming to a head in the
epic ‘Battle Of The Bastards’. Thrones has done wars before, Blackwater, The Watchers On The Wall and Hardhome are all among the best the show has to offer, but Battle Of The Bastards (Or BOB as it’s lovingly referred to) pips them all with complete emotional destruction. All Season long, Jon has found himself at the head of a War he didn’t want anything to do with but knows he has to fight it, having been murdered by one family, he tries again with another to save his home from the hands of literal bastard Ramsay Snow.
From Rickon’s death – putting the Dead Stark Counter up to 27 or least it bloody well feels like – to Jon almost getting crushed by his own men trying to flee from the battle, this is the best Episode 9 Thrones has ever pulled off, providing a massive scale and hopeless odds to create one of the best TV Battles put on the small screen, outside of the show itself the only thing to come close is the final episode of Spartacus. It’s an incredible experience made better by the first actual win for the Starks in far, far too long.
Aside from Jon, the main player this year was Cersei, recovering from her humiliating Walk Of Shame and the death of her daughter, she teams up with Jaime to try and take down the High Sparrow who is slowly but surely digging his claws into Tommen, with Margaery using both as pawns to try and free herself and her brother Loras. For a good while it seems like Cersei is losing with High Sparrow’s influence digging deep into the city, that is until the Season Finale and a little scene called The Green Trial.
The whole Winds Of Winter episode was a incredible feat from beginning to end with Jon Snow being crowned King In The North, The Tower Of Joy reveal and Arya killing Walder Frey all bringing the pieces of The Game into their final positions but it was the opening that caught people off-guard and proved the episode and the Season as one of the series all-time best. Arguably more shocking that The Red Wedding due to book readers being unaware for once, The Green Trial put a literal bomb underneath the feet of some major players in The Game then had Cersei light the fuse, it’s a moment as shocking and as explosive as the Show gets, perfectly building up through the uneasy tension as slowly but surely people realise something’s up, not realising how right they were.
If you read into it there are some narrative issues, most notably that Jaime’s bypass with The Blackfish was in essence to remove him from King’s Landing long enough for Cersei to pull off her Mad Queen plot without interference. But the fallout is too good not to sit up and take notice off, Cersei may have won the battle but the war’s not won with Olenna teaming up with The Martylls and Dany to exact revenge, Tommen, her last child, committing suicide in the horror of what she’s done to the city and Jaime presumably ready to fulfil the prophecy and choke the life out of her, we’re about ready to see a very different Cersei, a Cersei without her children, a Cersei completely empty inside and now sitting on The Iron Throne. The parallels between her and Jon through the season are evident, both have to recover from a personal attack, both struggle to recognise who their allies are anymore and both fight back to reclaim power, but where Jon was titled King for saving his people, Cersei was crowned Queen for destroying them.
Aside from a few hiccups, Game Of Thrones Season 6 takes the series back to its great heights, providing some solid structure for the final run as well as two of the show’s best episodes with Battle Of The Bastards and The Winds Of Winter. It’s still a show that managed to top itself week in/week out but now with the show being unhindered by the source material, it’s entering a stage that’s leaving fans anxious to see what is next. And for good reason.
Full Season 6 Score – 4 and a half hairpieces out of 5
Standout episodes – The Door, Battle Of The Bastards, The Winds Of Winter.