Monday, August 22, 2016

"Game of Thrones," Year Six

Minor spoilers ahead.

The infuriating thing about "Game of Thrones" is that it gets away with turning in some pretty lackluster episodes because the finales are always exceptional. So Benioff and Weiss get away with shamelessly writing off the Dorne storyline, mucking up much of Arya's trip to Braavos, spending most of the Mereen story stalling for time, and continuing to portray Jon and Sansa as much duller than they should be, because the Battle of the Bastards and the breathtakingly destructive final episode are amazing, and get all the attention. It's a little infuriating, and yet I still end up eagerly anticipating the next round. Let's take this season storyline by storyline, working our way from worst to best:

Dorne has been a mess on every level, and I was glad to see it mostly swept under the rug this year. It's a heartbreaking waste of good talent, but at this point the less we see of these characters the better. Sadly, Arya also had one of the worst storylines, thanks to murky rules about the Faceless God and some downright clumsy writing. While I enjoy all the characters here, including the addition of Essie Davis as a new target, it's never clear what Arya's arc is supposed to be until some hasty retconning in the last episode. Also, while "Game of Thrones" often stretches credibility with regards to surviving injuries, Arya's fights with the Wraith push it too far.

In the mixed category, the Iron Islands are finally seeing some action. The writers reportedly apparently reduced a longer, more involved story into a very brisk one, and boy does is show. The new villain, Euron Greyjoy. scarcely has time to make an impression. At least this means more of Yara, who is a lot more fun when she has other scene partners beyond Balon. Then there's the Brienne/Jamie/Blackfish situation at the siege at Riverrun, which isn't quite its own storyline, but warrants a mention. Blackfish makes more of an impression than Euron or Coldhands in the Bran storyline, but he still feels wasted. The interactions between Jamie and Brienne, however, are good to see.

Faring a little better are Bran, Meera, Hodor, and the three-eyed raven north of the Wall. I like this one mostly for being a source of some really satisfying answers to some of the show's big questions, even if a lot of it was filler. I respect the creators' decision not to have many flashbacks, but the jaunts to the past were sorely needed. It's also fun having Max von Sydow around for a few episodes. I'm also going to put Sam and Gilly here, since their storyline may have been low-key, but there was a lot of character-building for Sam in it. These two have slowly grown to be a comforting fixture in the "Game of Thrones" universe as everyone else is in so much constant turmoil.

Cersei and the Faith Militant at King's Landing built up to something quite memorable, but it felt like a story stuck on the backburner for most of the year. Characters like Jamie and Olenna came in and out, and there were multiple people to follow, making the story one of the more sprawling ones. it was also one of the most narratively inconsistent. I dreaded any time that Tommen had any significant screen time, though Margery and the High Sparrow mostly made up for it. As happy as I am with where the story ultimately took us, I'm very glad that we can put the bulk of this one firmly behind us as the series ramps up towards it finale.

I had some issues with Daenerys and Tyrion, but the highs of their stories were high enough to win me over. Occasionally it felt like they were treading water, replaying the duller parts of previous Dothraki and Mereen arcs, but they're also finally working up some momentum and are on their way out of Essos. Also, I'm so glad that Dany has cut ties with several characters who have been emotionally holding her back for far too long. I'd be happy to see them back eventually, but only after a long break. Dany's messiah moments haven't always worked in the past, but here they're deployed exactly when necessary, to pretty great effect.

And finally, the Battle of the Bastards may be one of the most satisfying episodes of the series. It's epic scale, cinematic as hell, and justice is served on someone who richly deserves it. The lead-up had some vast logic gaps - Sansa and all her allies make some egregious mistakes, and the Davos and Melisadre beef is put on hold for far too long - but I think it works overall. The Starks' luck has been so bad over the past few seasons, I'm automatically suspicious when anything turns out well for them, but this pendulum shift was long overdue.

So now the board has been cleared of many more pieces, and the remaining ones rearranged in anticipation for the bigger battles to come. With only two seasons and a limited amount of episodes left, the end game of "Game of Thrones" is in sight. Things are moving faster, and the fat is getting trimmed everywhere. I have my own theories abut how this is all going to turn out, but as more and more characters cross paths and the scope begins to narrow, I just hope that Benioff and Weiss don't pull their punches.


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