The sixth season of Game of Thrones was a Fourth of July fireworks display that began with the resurrection of Jon Snow and culminated with Cersei Lannister executing an “inside job” terrorist attack on the capital that destroyed her enemies and inadvertently elevated her to the Iron Throne. It was a lot to absorb. The show has always been ambitious, but this season embraced its cinematic tendencies and turned the dial up to eleven: Dothraki leaders burned alive, a set piece battle outside Winterfell with bodies piled thirty deep, Dany’s dragons unleashing hell on the Masters seeking to reclaim Meereen and of course, the poignant end for Hodor – one of, if not the most haunting image in a series rich in them.
The show has never shied away from spectacle, whether it was lopping off Ned Stark’s head, the weddings-cum-assassinations in Red and Purple, or the battles in Blackwater Bay or Hardhome, shit is always real in Westeros, but with the show pivoting towards its final bow, the immediacy of each new plot twist has become more acute. And while many of the jaw dropping moments from earlier seasons were known to book readers ahead of time, freed from George R.R. Martin’s text and perhaps nodding to fan criticism, the show runners made female empowerment the dominant theme this season. It was not just the ascendance of Cersei to the Iron Throne or Dany’s voyage to begin her invasion of Westeros, it was 10-year old Lady Lyanna Mormont flashing more swag than Kanye, Ellaria Sand burying a knife in Prince Doran’s heart, Yara Greyjoy refusing to accept the usurpation of her claim to the Salt Throne, Sansa Stark calling in the Knights of the Vale to steal victory from the jaws of defeat, Arya Stark embracing the lessons of cold-blooded assassination but in service of her own vendettas, and Brienne continuing to swing the biggest sword in the Seven Kingdoms. In season six, sisters were truly doing it for themselves.
For a show that prides itself on spectacle, this season was exemplified by the many great conversations that, to borrow from Tyrion, took place in elegant (and not-so elegant) rooms. From Jorah and Dany’s parting to Brienne and Jamie’s reunion, the emotional high notes abounded. And this is where fans are truly rewarded. Sansa and Jon’s reunion is colored by regret and the deep scars we have seen each suffer. Lady Olenna’s dismissiveness of Cersei as she watches King’s Landing consumed by the High Sparrow’s strict orthodoxy is wrapped around a history that includes the former hatching a plot that resulted in the murder of the latter’s son and would end with the latter annihilating the former’s son and grandchildren in an explosion of wildfire. Having invested so much time into the cultivation of these characters, the small two-person scenes that dotted this season oftentimes packed more wallop than the grandest CGI display.
Of course, any show completing its sixth season will inevitably attract naysayers. Indeed, thought pieces suggested Battle of the Bastards was the show’s “jump the shark” moment for the apostasy of giving fans what they wanted – the brutal death of a vicious character and a victory for the good guys. And there may be something to be said for diminishing returns from constantly upping the ante, but do not tell me for one second you did not stare at the screen blankly as Tommen took a header out his window even as the flames rose from the destroyed Sept of Baelor. Any TV show closer to its end than its beginning will inevitably find its universe shrinking; it is a simple matter of arithmetic. There is only so much time left to tell the rest of the story and like chess, the sport Game of Thrones is often compared to, there are fewer (but more important) pieces on the board at the end than the beginning.
Those chess pieces are now clearly established. Cersei is the queen of a rapidly sinking ship. She has alienated her house’s allies, all of her children are dead, and judging from Jamie’s look as she is crowned, may have lost him as well. Jon is “King in the North,” but it was Sansa who saved his skin and Littlefinger looms ominously in the background. Lastly, the idea of Dany as some sort of Westerosi Barack Obama bringing together a disparate coalition under a “Yes, We Can” umbrella is contra the show’s history but also contains an interesting piece of irony. The Mother of Dragons has now merged forces of the Dornish and the Dothraki, the Iron Born and the Unsullied, all in the name of taking down the Lannisters, yet her closest advisor is the brother of the current occupant of the Iron Throne. The kingdom has been in an almost perpetual state of war since the series’ inception, which makes Dany’s vision of a world left better upon her death both refreshing and a bit naive. After meeting Tyrion and musing about the various houses jockeying for power, Dany says that she does not want to stop the wheel, she wants to break the wheel; but restoring her family to power will merely reinvent it.
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