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Why Season Six of Game of Thrones Could Be Its Best Yet

And why it doesn't matter if George R.R. Martin's books ultimately end up telling a different story.

by | April 21, 2016 | Comments

GoT-Season-Six

 

HBO’s official logline for the sixth season premiere of Game of Thrones states, “Jon Snow is dead.” But in a world filled with White Walkers, dragons, three-eyed ravens, and whatever the thing that used to be Ser Gregor Clegane is called, anything is possible.

Plus, as those of us who have read all of the books can tell you… Well, we don’t really know, either.

Game of Thrones’ sixth season is the first one in which most, if not all, of the major storylines we see will originate onscreen. That means no more debates about whether a particular plot twist played out more effectively on the page or on the screen. No longer do those familiar with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books have the advantage — or disadvantage, if you’re spoiler-averse — of knowing about certain plot twists in advance.

Indeed, with the exception of a few fortunate folks in the entertainment industry, the author, and the Obama family, nobody outside of HBO or the cast and crew of Game of Thrones can tell us whether Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is truly dead. Until 9 p.m. Sunday, April 24, we’re all in the dark, and it’s full of terrors.

That should be celebrated.

As much as everyone wants Martin to just finish his next book already, the fact that the TV series has moved ahead of the written word means we all get to enjoy the deliciously uncertain future together.

It also means Game of Thrones’s executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have been cleared to put their imprint on the series.

Maisie-Williams-Arya

The fact that the TV series has moved ahead of the written word means we all get to enjoy the deliciously uncertain future together.

Granted, according to previous reports, Benioff and Weiss have discussed the plot trajectory of the remaining books with Martin, as one would expect. A franchise as valuable and lucrative as Game of Thrones could not possibly move forward without an official bible and an established endgame.

Besides, the executive producers have already made significant divergences from elements established in A Song of Fire and Ice, but most of these choices really haven’t taken the story that far off the road. The majority of Benioff and Weiss’s changes are completely understandable and necessary, from a logistical point of view. The books contain dozens of characters occupying various stations and branches on a forest’s worth of family trees. We get why a number of them have yet to appear, and perhaps never will.

As for the ones who made it into the show, some remain among the living in the books but, frankly, needed to exit the series. The tragic end of Stannis Baratheon’s quest for the throne, for example, was handled well and dispensed with a character whose accomplice, Melisandre (Carice van Houten), is far more interesting, if polarizing.

But now that Benioff and Weiss have been entrusted with the entangled fates of the remaining Starks, Lannisters, Tyrells, Greyjoys, the last Targaryen, and everyone else in Westeros, they have the perfect opportunity to course-correct.

Will the producers embrace that idea? That’s the more important question than whether Ned Stark’s bastard will rise again.

Given last season’s mixed reception of just about every episode (with the exception of “Hardhome“), Benioff and Weiss appear to be on more precarious ground with critics, as well as a number of viewers.

True, it won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama, one of 12 it scored in 2015. Regardless of any mistakes the writers have committed and will commit in the future, Game of Thrones is one of a scant number of series that enjoys the coveted status of being somewhat review-proof: the plot would have to utterly implode for viewers to abandon it.

Even if that were to happen, its smoking remains would still give rise to commentaries, podcast analyses, and reaction videos.

And the liberty granted to Weiss and Benioff doesn’t come free of an iron price. We can and do overlook the small stumbles, but the skewering of their largest mistakes, especially ones they repeat time and again, is heartily deserved.

Emilia-Clarke-Daenerys

Game of Thrones spins the stories of some of TV’s most inspiring female characters.

Some of Benioff and Weiss’s choices proved to be downright alienating, particularly for female Throneys. For women, watching Game of Thrones can be something of a Faustian bargain. Nary a season passes without scenes that all but fetishize acts of violence against female characters. Recall, if you will, the orgy of sexual assault at Craster’s home in season two, or even more egregious, Ramsay Bolton’s violent rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) as Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) was made to watch.

The former seemed to be inserted for the purpose of titillation or mere voyeurism, as opposed to highlighting the terrible fate of those women; the latter merged a crime that happened to a character in the books who has not been introduced in the series into Sansa’s plot arc. The choice to do so was also completely unnecessary.

Yet Game of Thrones also spins the stories of some of TV’s most inspiring female characters, foremost among them being the Mother of Dragons, Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). Assassin-in-training Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) has a huge fan base as well, as does Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), who is impressively fabulous when she’s wasted on Arbor Gold.

Meanwhile, loyalists to the honorable Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) may be quick to point out that her lackluster season five storyline tops the list of improvements to be addressed. Indeed, with so many characters to develop and service, a few — including Brienne – received short shrift while others probably could have gotten less screen time and not lost any of their impact.

This concern may, in part, inspire worry about the turns Benioff and Weiss will take as they draw this new section of the Game of Thrones map, plotting the show’s remaining journey. These missteps, if that’s what one believes them to be, were made when there was already a structure in place, a framework from which they deviated.

Peter-Dinklage-Tyrion

Benioff and Weiss have a chance to make their mark on Westeros in a way that’s noticeably different, and possibly even better, than what we’ve read in the pages.

Then again, consider “Hardhome,” last year’s jaw-dropping, brilliant showcase of Weiss and Benioff’s imaginative punch. The executive producers leapt into the unknown, choreographing a chilling battle that revealed the overwhelming threat posed by the White Walkers, an evil force that has lurked around the fringes of the action since the show’s beginning. “Hardhome” at last showed the Walkers’ terrible might, adding a sharp urgency to the battle for the Seven Kingdoms.

Though that action sequence created what may be season five’s most indelible memory, equally as stunning – albeit much quieter – was a conversation between Dany and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) over wine during the same hour. Bonding with one another by telling tales of family dysfunction, this moment between “two terrible children of terrible fathers,” as Tyrion put it, did not take place in the books. But it’s one every fan must have been aching to see. As tonally disparate as these scenes were, each rocketed the show’s plot forward in a meaningful fashion. That’s what we want – many more frames like these.

Is there reason to worry that Game of Thrones will fly off a cliff without Martin’s books to guide Benioff and Weiss? Of course there is. This is television we’re talking about; anything can go wrong, even with the best of series.

Greater than this concern, however, is the possibility for real invention. Benioff and Weiss have a chance to make their mark on Westeros in a way that’s noticeably different, and possibly even better, than what we’ve read in the pages. And if Martin takes the tale in an entirely different direction than what we see on TV, terrific. That means more stories to enjoy, with different surprises.

As for Jon Snow, he may be dead, but do you really think he’s gone? Please. Remember – that which is dead may never die, but rises again, harder and stronger.

You would be familiar with that saying, she wrote smugly, if you had read the books.


Former Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic Melanie McFarland is a Seattle-based writer and an executive member of the Television Critics Association who writes for various outlets, including Variety, Salon, and Geekwire.

Follow Melanie on Twitter: @McTelevision

  • Gimhana Fernando

    Aside from Unbent, Unbroken, Unbowed every episode of GoT S05 was
    atleast “good” with Hardhome being by some distance the high point. If every episode but Hardhome got “mixed reception” like this article says, why did they score the episodes so highly?
    The bar for any given episode of Game Of Thrones is set so incredibly high that now, even an episode we might’ve once considered good can be seen as average or mediocre. And that’s the real challenge the show runners face.

    • Jaysus

      This writer seems to be a SJW who still salty about the rape scenes.

      Pro Tip: If GoT triggers you, STOP WATCHING.

      • SimpsonsGoldenAge

        Excuse me but I don’t expect to watch a raw, violent series about real people living in a barbaric patriarchal world and be triggered thank you very much.

        • Drew Foster

          What does being triggered mean?

          • Derp

            “Trigger” is like when something that suddenly happens to you, make you to remember a trauma, or make you to be bothered, it happened with me once when a friend started to impersonate me to mock me to everyone (even if I get that as a joke, I was not offended, but it makes me to remember when people used to bully me in school so I get nervous), actually when that happened I didn’t even called it “trigger”, and I make an effort to get prepared when this happens and tried to don’t get nervous anymore, I think it’s weird how some people act like the world that needs to make an effort to don’t remember you from this trauma

          • Ankit

            admit it. You are a weakling. Everyone get’s bullied in school. Its the weak who likes to dwell on it and refuse to live in the reality. If it causes you so much pain, get into therapy.

          • Peter Franck

            “everyone gets bullied in school ?” bull-shit!!!!!

          • SimpsonsGoldenAge

            God, your sarcasm detector is seriously problem.

        • Ankit

          LOL. People like you are found a dime a dozen. The internet is literally littered by weaklings who get offended by everything. Everything is patriarchy’s fault isn’t it. Well do understand that if it wasn’t for patriarchy, we would still be living in the caves.

        • SandraHvar

          Oy vey people, SimpsonsGoldenAge is saying that they wouldn’t watch a show like GoT if they get their knickers in a twist every time something happens that is fully to be expected of a show set in such a time and place!

      • KyleVPirate

        Funny thing is that while everyone talks about that scene, Theon on the other hand was mutilated and got his penis cut off and no one batted an eye

      • tiny raptor

        “The choice to do so was also completely unnecessary.”

        So is any choice for this show…

    • Chapa Lenko

      well we killed or crippled all most any interesting character on the show, we running out of ideas so we just do things that are only good for shock values, like rape or burning of little girls. but hey!!!! im sure this season we will have new character that will die horrible just because we running out of the original characters to kill. and lets not forget the stone people -__- lol. because the winter zombies are not good for hot climates. so we need hot climate zombies.

      the emperor has no clothes!t
      the fact is that this show got boring and no one have the guts to say it…so they call it good!
      just like Tarantino’s hateful 8.

      • Gimhana Fernando

        “Boring” is completely your opinion. Judging by the ever increasing viewership, you’re in the minority.
        People call the show good because that’s exactly what it is. If the drop was as bad as you make it out to be, they’d make a big deal out of it.
        The haters don’t have a point to make, they just want their voices to be heard.

        • Chapa Lenko

          i think i made allot of points about why its bad…..as for increasing viewership.
          well it started as a very good show, and thats why everybody loved it. today its a brand! they have fan boys, and they can literally show black screen for 30 min and everybody will say WOW ITS BRILLIANT(the sopranos did something similar).they have bigger budget and they invest in advertising ALLOT! you see GOT every where, its similar to what apple is(by the way near the GOT article there is a photo of Steve jobs :).

          i watched the hateful 8 in theater. lol a woman near me was a sleep, i got inspired by the guy in front of me and finally beat the lvl on candy crash that i was stuck on. then every body went out and star talking about how good and smart it was. -__- many years ago there was a movie named passion of the Christ. that had the same effect. its funny but people afraid to say its bad.

      • Ankit

        #triggered

    • Ankit

      what did you expect from Ramsey? A loving and tender kiss on the cheek and some nice 10 minute foreplay, before having intercourse in the missionary position? It’s fucking Ramsay the psychopath. Why don’t you grow up a little and then start watching the series.

      • Gimhana Fernando

        Here’s a tip; learn to read before commenting.
        I didn’t once mention the off screen “rape scene” in my comment above because it didn’t bother me nearly as much as it did a lot of people. In fact the only thing disappointing about it was that it was predictable.
        The worst parts of that episode were Arya’s snail pace development and the god awful Sand Snakes vs Jaime/ Bronn parts.
        Mediocre episode, not an unforgivably bad one.

        • Ankit

          Here’s a tip: Fuck off.

          • Gimhana Fernando

            Classy. Forgive me for thinking you had at least average intelligence.

          • Ankit

            I told you to F off. You couldn’t even understand a simple command. How intelligent of you.

          • Gimhana Fernando

            I simply chose not to give a shit about your moronic and laughable “command”. Good day.

  • Drew Foster

    I think in hindsight the rapes are not without merit. I believe the creators had in mind a juxtaposition. The irony of course is that the juxtaposition is referred upon Reek. But still, Reek’s suffering is then positioned as a vivid suggestion to us of what we would want for Ramsay to suffer.

  • Milleneum Draasul

    People need to grow up, “Ramsay Bolton’s violent rape of Sansa Stark” was entirely off screen and completely in character for the sadistic monster. This is a world in which women were treated badly, sad, but true. Put your big boy (or girl) pants on if you are going to watch this show.

    • Ankit

      Well it’s not your fault that the internet is littered by SJWs.

  • Jan Terri

    What is this show about?

  • Johnny Vineyard

    I disagree regarding the rape scene. It was hard to watch, but vital for the characters of Sansa and Theon. Sure, it could have happened behind the scenes, but the discomfort and disgust felt by the viewers was absolutely necessary to sell the idea of Theon regaining his senses and Sansa joining hands with him to escape. Ramsey’s “training” of Theon was tested several times prior, so to break the training required something truly extreme. Sansa needed a strong impetus in order to be desperate enough to rely on Theon at this point as well.

    Ramsey’s absolute cruelty is nothing GoT has been shy about, but to bring Sansa and Theon together, I can’t think of an alternative that is more realistic than that situation.

  • mr. Bluff

    JS is dead, but will he stay dead? I don’t think so.

  • tess💕

    I’m late to the game. I just started binge watching. Started season 2 this morning. Loving it.

  • FooFighters

    oh good grief, what a terrible article.

  • Logan Emmert

    Did anyone else notice that the author gets the title of the book series mixed up? Small mistake, but it’s a glaring one for me…

  • Barry Gregory

    So the Dorne storyline is completely different. In the TV incarnation Prince Doran is just what the sand snakes claimed he was – lazy, cowardly and incompetent. And now dead.

    That’s just a tad different from the guy who has his schemed his way into the position of having the rich and powerful kingdom of Dorne, the only part of Westeros untouched by war, untouchable behind its mountain borders, poised to get revenge on the Lannisters while keeping them sweet with a marriage alliance.

    Lazy writing.

  • IDCaredou

    I don’t get what all the hype is about this show. It might as well be porn with a plot. But I suppose that’s why it sells.

  • jgfox

    Very fine analysis. I’ve read the books and in many ways the HBO series is superior. Not in the overall vast scope of Martin’s story …. which would be impossible to tell in only one series … but in the interaction of the major characters. Martin has a tendency to develop a great character and have him or her wander off in some unknown direction and not interact with the major characters again. He often introduces an interesting character, describes in numbing detail his history and family … and then … nothing happens involving the character. HBO will have a conclusion to this Epic … of course, with some chances of a sequel or prequel. Martin can’t seem to find a way to wrap up all the loose ends and his recent novels just leaves more loose ends.

  • kevinwires

    One of the greatest fight scenes in the series was between the Hound and Brienne . This was not in the books. In terms of sexual violence toward women, it is a violent place and time. The author pointed out Ramsay Bolton’s rape of Sansa while Reek watched. Reek also was raped by Ramsay and in addition had his member cut off. You can complain about the amount of violence, but then I would ask why are you still watching this show.

  • DoctorZin

    I’m sure this has been discussed at length, but I can’t read further as I’ve not seen this week’s episode yet; I have NO IDEA how good it is because I haven’t SEEN it yet.

    But, I will declare it the best episode of the season!!

    F*** whoever decides to rate something without even the false pretense of having seen it.

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