Recurring Cast: Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Liam Cunningham, Iwan Rheon, Jonathon Pryce, Carice Van Houten, Gwendoline Christie, John Bradley, Aidan Gillian, Conleith Hill, Nathalie Emmanuelle, Jacob Anderson, Natalie Dormer, Iain Glen and Kit Harrington?
Jon Snow is dead. As Davos and the remaining faithful Night’s Watch protect the body and prepare for Thorne’s backlash, Sansa Stark flees Winterfell, aware that the appalling Ramsay Bolton is on her tall. As for the other Starks, Arya is weak, blind and helpless as her training to become No One takes her to dark places and Bran’s evolution into the Three Eyed Ravens takes him deeper into the past, where he is inches from uncovering a kingdom changing secret. That’s if the White Walkers and their Night King don’t catch up to him first. But it isn’t just the Starks who are fighting for their lives in Westeros. Cersei Lannister might have escaped the clutches of the High Septon, but King’s Landing still finds itself at the religious zealot’s mercy, as she awaits her trial. With the council losing its faith in her, Tommen being seduced by other forces and Jaime’s attention called to the Twins to help the Freys defeat Brynden Blackfish, Cersei must outwit the Septon herself with the help of the devious Qyburn and the newly-mutated Gregor Clegane. Across the sea, Meereen is struggling, as its ruler, Daenarys is kidnapped by a rival gang of Dothraki, leaving Tyrion in charge, who must balance Myreen’s straight-laced honour with dirty-tactic politics. Wherever the crows turn, the Game of Thrones is being played.
It takes about an episode to realise that the television is finally free of the books. Certain changes in pace and director decisions suggest that the book is being kicked into the past, as the show unleashes a few decisions they have been dying to make since they have been adapting the show. For one, a few cream of the crop actors get to step fully into the spotlight at the expense of other characters. It must be said, and this is no bad thing, that Liam Cunningham and Davos are much bigger players this time around, almost always chipping in, perhaps in scenes where the character doesn’t necessarily need to play. Iain Glen also has prolonged scenes to strut his stuff. We could argue that this is a good thing, as both characters are great to spend time with, but their added screen time could be the pros to a couple of hefty cons Season Six makes. I felt that the television producers, sensing the end of this great show is near, are in the process of some pretty major trimming sessions. Almost every episode sees a character killed off or cut out of the season. Yes, this is a large part of the show and there are a few gasp-out-loud moments that come from a shock death far earlier than you anticipated. But at the same time, these kills often felt anti-climatic. It is hard to embellish free of spoilers, but it became clear that the writers weren’t sure how to develop a handful of side characters, so simply put them at the centre of the story, as an excuse for a quick death. A handful of characters that have been missing for a few seasons now return, only for us to discover their only job is to be killed off, so the writers don’t spend next season panicking about explaining what happened to them. A few strong actors must be a little disheartened that they left the show on such swift terms, rather than getting a juicy send-off that had far-reaching impacts on the future of the season. There are also a lot of side-plots that feel a little weak. Tyrion has a poor season here, reduced to bargaining with arrogant slave masters, a story arc that doesn’t quite fill out as much time as someone hoped, so Tyrion’s scenes are spent, trying to make the audience laugh. As much as Nathalie Emmanuelle and Jacob Anderson step out of their usually stiff characters a little thanks to these scenes, it hardly feels cutting edge Game of Thrones. Tyrion used to be the character we looked forward to seeing and now he is the odd one out of the show, a crying shame. Cersei’s story is good, trapped in a game of chess she is severely losing, but the pacing is off. The finale is terrific, an explosive action-packed pay-off, butchering more characters than I can count and sending the season off with a bang, but the build-up to get there is painfully slow, monologue after monologue and several false-starts with the Mountain. Arya is the same, her arc trapped bonding with a travelling theatre, a new character introduced that soaks up precious time that could be spent livening up the rest of the proceedings. Several episodes do the job, and little else.
Not that Game of Thrones is ever bad. No, while this is the weakest season to date, it still boasts a lot to celebrate. The little things are still firmly in place. Two characters are put in a room together (Walder Frey and Jaime Lannister, for instance), and it joyfully picks apart both characters, little interactions that make the show so enticing. Ramsay Bolton is never not on the screen without doing something so villainous it makes the audience secretly love him that little bit more. Samwell gets to the Citadel in a scene that it so joyfully Sam that it becomes a pleasure to just watch the character do nothing at all. However, while the good things entertain, Season Six’s downfall is that there just aren’t enough big things to amaze you. Season Six saves its show-stopping moments for the ending few episodes, and the rest of the season is a simple, mildly enjoyable wait, as the writers slowly move their pawns into position. That being said, the few amazing moments the show does have are phenomenal. A beautiful tracking shot that follows a hero I couldn’t possibly name around a battlefield. Daenarys takes over her Dothraki captors with her wits and ferocity. One character heart-breakingly leaves the show in a sacrifice that fans will be talking about for ages to come. Hold the door, indeed.
Final Verdict: Still engaging, but weaker than usual, due to the writers fumbling about with their pacing and clearly prioritising storylines over others.