Monday, August 29, 2016

Westeros Uninhibited: Game Of Thrones Season 6 Progresses Beyond The Source Material!

The Good: Good character development, Good plot development, Decent performances
The Bad: Exceptionally detail-oriented for obscure events and characters from prior seasons, Some truly unsatisfying character moments.
The Basics: Game Of Thrones Season Six pushes the narrative of Westeros forward, while relying very heavily on obscure characters and events from prior seasons to make any genuine sense.

I have not been a fan of Game Of Thrones, despite watching it for years with my wife. My wife is a big fan and she had read all of the books and has been eagerly awaiting each new episode of the television series. After a few years of being generally underwhelmed by the first few seasons of Game Of Thrones, I decided to binge watch the first five seasons of the show before watching Season Six. While individual seasons might not grab me, I found by binging the show, I cared more about the characters and their sprawling journeys than I did when it was spread out. That also made me a bit more excited about sitting down to watch and review season six of Game Of Thrones.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones was arguably the most inherently exciting as it depicted events not written in the source material. After the climax of the fifth season (reviewed here!), Game Of Thrones progressed beyond the novels that George R.R. Martin had written. Treading into new territory allowed the show to stand on its own, return some characters to the narrative and attempt to winnow down some of the storylines.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones picks up moments after the powerful final events of season five, which means that some of the major characters from the prior seasons are no longer in the narrative and several others have serious challenges to overcome. In addition to returning Bran Stark to the narrative, those who are keeping track of the various claims to the throne of Westeros would note that the sixth season is the first to begin without any truly legitimate candidates fighting for the throne (Daenerys's claim is now three generations removed from legitimacy and Tommen, legitimate or not, is the king and no one is directly combating him for the throne at the season's outset). As such, season six of Game Of Thrones opens with several series's of internal conflicts and struggles, as opposed to a continued war narrative that has dominated the prior four seasons.

The sixth season picks up immediately after the climax of the fifth season with "The Red Woman." There, Jon Snow's body is found by Sir Davos and Snow's one remaining ally at The Wall. While the Red Woman retreats in shock and Sir Alliser seizes power over the Knight's Watch, Sansa Stark and Theon flee Winterfell. Hunted by Ramsay's forces, they are rescued by someone who owes the Boltons more than they know! Blind in Bravos, Arya begs on the street and is attacked by one of her old comrades. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to find the Sons Of The Harpy when they burn the fleet of ships in the harbor. Jaime returns to King's Landing to tell Cersei of Myrcella's death. In Dorn, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes depose Prince Doran and Daenerys discovers what her fate is supposed to be if she stays with the horsemasters.

Bran returns to the narrative in "Home," where he is trained by the Three-Eyed Raven, in the process witnessing his father's childhood! Arya is reunited with her mentor as the Iron Isles sees a change in leadership. Roose Bolton's son is born and Ramsay feels threatened, so he seizes Winterfell. Jaime squares off against the High Sparrow and Tyrion releases Daenerys's two imprisoned dragons. Davos appeals to Melisandre to try to resurrect Jon Snow.

In "Oathbreaker," Jon Snow gets up, much to the chagrin of Davos. Arya continues her training as No One and Daenerys is stuck with the other Khaleesi widows in Dothrak. When Ramsay consolidates power in the North, one of the lords he wants obedience from brings him Osha and Rickon. Bran sees more of the past, when he witnesses the truth behind one of his father's favorite stories. Varys finds out who is financing the Sons Of The Harpy and Cersei creates her own network of spies. As his final act as Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch, Jon executes the people who murdered him.

Daenerys's rescue is the main push of "Book Of The Stranger," though the episode marks the return of Littlefinger, Loras, and Margaery. Theon arrives back in the Iron Isles and pledges his allegiance to his sister, Yara, while Littlefinger manipulates Lord Arryn into committing the Vale's forces to rescuing Sansa. Sansa arrives at Castle Black, where she is reunited with Jon Snow. Soon after, they receive word from Ramsay that he has Rickon and Sansa urges Jon to take back the North with the wildlings. In Meereen, Tyrion tries to compromise with the other leaders in Slaver's Bay with a gradual phase out of slavery, much to the chagrin of Grey Worm and Missandei. While Cersei and Olenna Tyrell make an arrangement for the forces of House Tyrell to take out the Sparrows, Jorah and the sell sword make it to the capital of Dothrak. There, they work with Daenerys to thwart the Khals and free the Queen.

Bran's training dominates "The Door," which also spends significant time on the Iron Isles. Brandon Stark is brought back to the past with the help of the Three-Eyed Raven and he witnesses how The Children created the White Walkers. In Bravos, Arya is given her first assigned kill. Theon vouches for his sister's claim to rule the Iron Isle and both are surprised when their uncle materializes with a plan to take over the world with the help of Daenerys. In Dothrak, Danerys learns of Jorah's infection and tasks him with finding a cure, while Tyrion and Varys turn to a Priestess of the Lord Of Light to get the word out about the peace they brokered in Slaver's Bay. When Sansa is reunited with Littlefinger, she turns him away and volunteers to act as ambassador in the North to the houses there to raise an army against Ramsay. And when Bran wargs on his own, he finds himself in direct contact with the White Walker King and his army, which sets off a tragic attack on the Three Eyed Raven's cave.

"Blood Of My Blood" picks up with Bran fleeing . . . and he is rescued by Benjin, who was thought lost years prior north of the wall. Sam and Gilly make it to the Tully's manor, where they are accepted by Sam's mother and sister, and insulted by Sam's Wildling-hating father. That inspires Sam to finally stand up to his father and take Gilly with him. In King's Landing, the forces of House Martell square off against the High Sparrow, only to learn that Margaery has essentially given them Tommen to earn her freedom. Arya once again betrays the Faceless Men in refusing to kill her mark, leaving their care. And Daenerys is reunited with Drogon, which allows her to inspire the Dothraki who are following her.

Sandor Clegane turns out to be alive in "The Broken Man." He is living with a small community of religious people who found him after Arya left him for dead. Jon Snow, Sansa, and Sir Davos visit some of the minor houses in the North that have not yet aligned with Ramsay and attempt to bring them into Snow's army, while Jaime and Braun reach Riverrun to try to convince the Blackfish to surrender the castle. In King's Landing, Margaery manages to get a message to her grandmother before her grandmother flees for High Garden. Theon and his sister prepare to sail for Meereen to beat her competition to offering Daenerys their fleet first. And in Bravos, Arya is hunted by The Waif.

In "No One," Arya is hunted by The Waif and has to choose between being a Faceless Man and going her own way. Brienne and Jamie reunite at Riverrun where Jamie attempts to get the castle back from the Blackfish and Brienne tries to bring the Blackfish and his soldiers over to Sansa's cause. And after bonding with Grey Worm and Missandei, Tyrion is horrified when the Masters return to Meereen and attempt to attack it from the sea.

"Battle Of The Bastards" features Daenerys liberating Meereen and making a pact with Yara. And Ramsay and Jon Snow go head to head for the climactic, titular conflict.

The season finale was "The Winds Of Winter," which saw Cersei making her move on the High Sparrow, Jon Snow consolidating his support in the North, and Daenerys naming Tyrion her Hand and gaining allies to help her get to and take Westeros!

Game Of Thrones continues to add new characters and forces in its sixth season and with the Iron Isles becoming suddenly relevant, there is the feeling for viewers that the cycle of violence and power struggles might never end . . . or it might not end with any satisfactory sense of resolve. Killing Baelon Greyjoy inspires the show to add yet another significant character in what is a seemingly insignificant part of the narrative. Season Six of Game Of Thrones increases the burden on the writers and producers to tie everything together in subsequent seasons to make viewers believe it was worth it.

Many of the plot developments in the sixth season of Game Of Thrones are dependent upon actions in prior seasons to understand. Arya's final act of the season is entirely dependent upon viewers recalling a story one character told another in one of the earliest seasons of the show. Similarly, Davos's anger when he discovers the charred stag near Jon Snow's camp is utterly incomprehensible within this season. The frustrating aspect of this is that attentive viewers who piece together all of the details from past seasons to fully understand season six of Game Of Thrones are still left with huge gaps in character motivations - like why The Waif has it out for Arya.

The season is also notable for the way it brings back some generally obscure characters - like Benjin, the Blackfish, Thoros Of Myr, etc. - at plot convenient times and expects viewers to be invested in them and remember who they were. While Game Of Thrones is based upon a series of novels and the television series tries to mimic the complexity of a novel, there is surprisingly little heart to the complexity of the show in its sixth season. Zombie Benjin felt like a plot seed; the Blackfish was a background character to an army that was never a serious contender for the throne of Westeros, so his return in season six lacked any real impact. At best, the Blackfish acts as a medium for a character conflict between Jaime and Brienne. But that character conflict goes nowhere; it is built into their characters at this point (they are on opposite sides of a fight now) and the sixth season of Game Of Thrones does not see Jaime growing beyond his simplistic commitment to the Realm. How is it that by this point, after Ramsay has killed his own father in his quest for power, that Jaime cannot see that having Ramsay as an ally is not a viable long-term strategy?! And why the hell would anyone - Jaime included - ever dine with Walder Frey?!

In the prior seasons of Game Of Thrones, it has been difficult to invest in the struggle for who rules Westeros and the split between the civil war in Westeros and the looming threat of the undead north of the wall has been unsatisfying. Season Six of Game Of Thrones struggles to redirect; there is no civil war at the outset of season six, but the show does not really ramp up the impending fight with the White Walkers. Instead, much of season six of Game Of Thrones is designed to delay the White Walker fight and restore the Kingdom to a state of civil war. There is still an attitude of "who cares?" about the struggle for Westeros. In King's Landing, religious zealots have taken over, but because it was Cersei in the fifth season who unleashed them, it's hard not to feel like the horrible crap that the citizens of King's Landing are enduring is a function of Cersei being a lousy character to begin with.

Fortunately, even as the plot reverts to something more familiar (it would be interesting to see how the basic plot of the season lined up with the essential plot of the first season), most of the characters in Game Of Thrones actually progress and develop over the course of the sixth season. In the sixth season of Game Of Thrones, the characters who are still standing are:

Tyrion Lannister - Ruling over Meereen with the help of Varys, Grey Worm and Missandei, he begins to hunt for the Sons Of The Harpy. His first major idea is to release Daenerys's two remaining dragons from their captivity. He tries to make peace with the other two cities by phasing out slavery there and having them cut off their funding to the Sons Of The Harpy. He reluctantly turns to the Lord Of Light's forces for aid in spreading propaganda about Daenerys. He is finally rewarded for his service and intelligence,

Varys - Advising Tyrion in Meereen, he uses his spy network to find out how the Sons Of The Harpy are being financed. He is even more wary of the Lord Of Light's priestess in Meereen, arguably because she knows so much about him. He goes on a diplomatic mission to the far reaches of Westeros to get Daenerys what she needs to get to Westeros from Meereen,

Jaime Lannister - He returns to King's Landing. There, he is reunited with Cersei and discovers how much power the Faith Militant have accumulated. He allies with Cersei to try to influence the Small Council and take the capital back from the Sparrows. He attempts to rescue Margaery with House Martell, but is removed from the King's Guard by Tommen. In retaking Riverrun for the King, he does everything he can to not have to go up against Brienne, including letting her escape,

Cersei Lannister - Shaken because the witch she met as a child's prophecies have come true, she is relieved when Jaime stands up for her. Tommen finally visits her and expresses his guilt for not being able to protect her. She begins using the zombie version of the Mountain to eliminate her enemies. When the Small Council walks out on her, she tries to manipulate Olenna Tyrell into fighting the Sparrows for her. When Tommen joins the Sparrows, she orders Jamie to retake Riverrun from the Blackfish for the Frays. While he is gone, she makes her move to defeat the Faith Militant in King's Landing,

Margaery Tyrell - She refuses to confess to the High Sparrow, even after she is told that Tommen has been despondent since she was imprisoned. She is given the opportunity to see Loras, finally, and tries to convince him not to give in to the High Sparrow. Soon thereafter, though, she convinces Tommen to join the High Sparrow. She figures out Cersei's endgame moments before her plan is executed,

Daenerys Targaryen - Captured by a different Khal, she is told that she is expected to return to a temple in the capital of Dothrak where all the widows of Khals live out their lives. When her allies arrive, she plots to save herself and gain command over the Dothraki in one ballsy move. She accepts Jorah's love and help, but sends him away to try to find a cure for greyscale. She is reunited with her dragon, which helps her wield the authority she needs over the Dothraki and Meereen,

Jon Snow - Having been betrayed and killed, he is resurrected by the power of the Lord Of Light. After slaying his enemies within the Knight's Watch, he declares his watch over and is reunited with Sansa. He tries to organize the North against Ramsay, with Sansa's help. He moves to save Rickon, thwart Ramsay and retake Winterfell,

Sansa Stark - Effectively fleeing Winterfell with the help of Theon, she accepts Brienne as her protector. After arriving at Castle Black, she rallies Jon to take back the North for the Starks. She comes to loathe Baelish and rejects his friendship when she encounters him again. She acts as ambassador for Jon Snow and fights to reclaim Winterfell for the Starks. She understands Ramsay and tries to use her knowledge to save Rickon and stop Jon Snow from falling into Ramsay's trap,

Lord Petyr Baelish - He arrives back in the Vale, lying as always. He manipulates Lord Arynn into committing the Vale's forces to fight Ramsay. He is pushed away by Sansa, who finally sees him for the liar he is. Despite that, he manages to keep his word to Sansa as the most important moment,

Brienne Of Tarth - After saving Sansa, she and Pod pledge service to Sansa. When they make it to Castle Black, she has the chance to reveal to Davos and Melisandre how Stanis met his end. She is made uncomfortable by Tormund and the way he looks at her, though she is also disturbed by Sansa lying about how she obtained information about Sansa's uncle. She is sent to try to get the Blackfish's forces for Jon Snow, but works to stop Jaime from degenerating into a bloodthirsty monster,

Ramsay Bolton - Threatened by the birth of his younger brother, he slays his father, step-mother, and the newborn to consolidate his control over the North. Murdering Osha, he holds Rickon Stark hostage to bait Jon Snow into open conflict with him. He goads Jon into a fight,

Melisandre - Her true nature is revealed after she is powerless to save John Snow. She is as shocked as Davos when Jon Snow is resurrected. She follows Jon Snow around, but does little to influence him . . . until Davos learns what she did to Stanis's daughter,

and Arya Stark - Blind as a consequence for killing a person she had a personal vendetta for, she learns how to be no one as a blind beggar. When she finally surrenders, she is granted her sight back and continues to train to be a faceless person. When she finds herself captivated by an actress she is supposed to kill, she betrays the faceless men and is hunted by the Waif. Having trained blind, she develops a clever trap to thwart her enemy.

The sixth season of Game Of Thrones is where Sophie Turner finally begins to excel as Sansa Stark. Early in the season, she is forced to play a wider array of emotions - more than simply the spoiled girl or the victim - and she nails it. It's virtually impossible to watch Turner's Sansa in the snow and not feel like one is freezing to death! Turner makes a good transition over the course of the season to strengthen Sansa's character. While many of the other female actors - most notably Maise Williams and Lena Headey - do great work at presenting their characters, they were badass to begin with.

Ultimately, despite how insular and self-referential it has become, season six of Game Of Thrones features enough character development and high points for plot development to make it well worth watching and adding to one's video library.

For other works from the 2015 – 2016 television season, please check out my reviews of:
Grace And Frankie - Season 2
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 3
The Walking Dead - Season 6
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 2
Legends Of Tomorrow - Season 1
Jessica Jones - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 2
House Of Cards - Season 4
Doctor Who - Season 9


For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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