It gives me no pleasure to type this once unthinkable sentence; I don’t care about the end of Game of Thrones. It’s sure to come to an exciting but entirely rote conclusion. I’m writing and publishing this a few weeks prior to the release of the final season, and if it turns out to be fantastic I’ll leave this review unaltered as a monumental to my utter wrongness. But the seventh season severely lowered my expectations.
I’m sympathetic to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, they’re good writers who were on solid ground when they were directly adapting intricately plotted novels filled with Big Moments that were destined to become Event TV. Now their series has surpassed the books, and in addition to everything else they have to map out entire seasons and come up with their own Big Moments on a yearly basis. No wonder the seventh season felt so… ordinary.
At this point I’m looking forward to the final season of Game of Thrones like I’m looking forward to the next Fast and the Furious. Which isn’t as big of a dig as it sounds like, I love spectacular action scenes and there’s sure to be quite a few. But I’m expecting heroes to either prevail or die noble deaths, villains to get punished, and life in Westeros to go on.
The sixth season, which you may have noticed is the season I’m supposed to be spotlighting here, was also written without the novels as a roadmap. It also panders more to what the audience wants. It also has not one damn surprise in the entire year. Yet it’s my favorite of the Game of Thrones seasons. And that’s because for whatever reason, predictability became inevitability. Pay-offs that had long been seeded in George RR Martin’s stories were depicted onscreen, often with a great deal of power.
If you’re a longtime reader of A Song of Ice and Fire, there’s a lot you’re eagerly anticipating. For all that GRRM is praised for being subversive, there are still some events that pretty well HAVE to happen for the sake of a satisfying story. Jon’s lineage, Cersei’s revenge against the High Sparrow, Ramsay Bolton’s comeuppance, why Hodor can only say “Hodor,” Dany setting out for Westeros. I’m sure that GRRM will take winding, unpredictable journeys to these same plot points, but the show has the advantage of a talented creative crew who’ve been given a lot of money. Their best option is to make all of these moments into pure spectacle, and that’s what they do. The sixth season spaces grand, cinematic pay-offs throughout its final season, to hugely satisfying effect.
The tone of the year was perfect for me as well. GRRM’s first three books, which make up the first four Game of Thrones seasons, are famously dark and difficult stories and they were accurately captured onscreen. It’s been interesting seeing D&D try to find their own take on the material as they moved into the largely original material. Season 5 I thought got TOO dark to the point of being nihilistic. But Season 6 retooled a little bit, becoming a show in which hard fought victories were possible, and justice could eventually catch up to the villains. There are entire scenes that are meant to provoke awe and hope in the viewer, something I never even thought Game of Thrones was interested in.
Finally, Season 6 friggin’ cleaned house. Martin by his own admission has twisted his series into a knot, introducing stables of new characters and plot threads at a point in which any other story would begin streamlining. That’s a mistake the season didn’t make, hardly an episode would pass without an entire group of supporting characters getting written out, usually violently. If you were a nonessential character in Westeros this year you had less to fear from Ramsay or Ser Gregor than you did a couple of showrunners intent on paring down the cast in order to pay for some bigger battle scenes. Maybe it’s not that cynical, I don’t know. All that matters is whether or not these character or plot threads came to grand satisfying climaxes (climaxi?) and for the most part they did.
I had a lot of fun watching Game of Thrones in its sixth year, which isn’t something I can always say even in its better years. It was big, filmic, bold, and unlike with the first few seasons, I didn’t know what was going to happen. Well, I did, but it was easier to pretend that I didn’t.
If I Had to Nitpick…: Jon Snow’s resurrection played out in pretty much the most expected way, without much fanfare or any real consequences. It was unfortunate that it was the first of many big payoffs, because it got the season off on a bit of a weak start.
Notable Episodes: “The Door.” You know why. “Battle of the Bastards” and “The Winds of Winter” between them paid off pretty much so much of what we were waiting for.
Honorable Mentions: The second half of A Storm of Swords is the best part of the books, and the fourth season becomes one of the best for successfully adapting most of its big moments.