my post from last year, I summed up the season with something along the lines of: "There is a point where it is just not fun. Watching a TV show should not feel like an extended funeral every week. Maybe that's what you're into in your entertainment, I won't judge too harshly. But I'm not." Or to put it another way: Season 5 fucking sucked. Between the rapes, the child murder, the terrible plotting, and Dorne, it was a disaster of a season.
The problem with Season 5 was not just the unrelenting misery or the "bad poosy". It was a victim of the same larger problem that ruined the last book of A Song of Ice and Fire, "A Dance With Dragons". That's the same larger problem that will cause "The Winds of Winter" to miss my pessimistic 2011 predicted release date of August 2016*. That problem is that George R. R. Martin is stuck. He's been stuck for over a decade now. He does not know how to get from his plodding middle section to the third act. We all know what has to happen: Jon has to become King in the North, Dany has to beat the Slavers and go to Westeros, and (eventually) the Wall is coming down and the Others are invading. But how do you get there? How do you line up all your pieces and just get there?
While GRRM has been struggling with this unsolvable problem, the show has suffered. Season 5 was not just bad bad because the villains won all the time in diablo ex machinas after diablo ex machinas. It was bad because the show was padding itself out. You could see the padding all the way back in Season 4 with entirely created arcs involving Night's Watch deserters and the fookin' legend of Gin Alley, Karl Tanner. Dorne didn't just suck because the Sand Snakes were bad, it sucked because it was irrelevant and took forever. Meereen is awful because it is a sideshow in the books and the show. Ramsay became an annoying character because he was not important to the overall story and to stall for time he was transformed into this ridiculous Hannibal Lecter-esque supervillain.
So Season 6 is not perfect by any means. It has padding, it has bad plotting, it has mistakes. But here's the thing: it gets there. By the end of this season we are at the final act of the story. We are ready for the final wars. And even an uneven season with several mistakes requires a nod of recognition from me. At least it got there.
I guess I cannot talk about Season 6 without mentioning the finale. The finale is... possibly the greatest episode of any TV show I've ever seen. I know I have a hyperbole addiction. It has only been less than a day since the finale aired, so the hype has yet to evaporate from my veins. But the episode 'The Winds of Winter' was utterly extraordinary on nearly every level. This was not just a great episode, it was undeniably the best episode of "Game of Thrones" - by a factor of two or three times anything that has come before. 'The Winds of Winter' not only covered a ton of plot at a pace that should embarrass the writers of Seasons 5 and most of 6, but it was so well made. The cinematography was Academy Award-level, the writing was off the charts, there were Frey Pies! This was an episode so well-done that it made the boring set in Meereen's Great Pyramid into a great visual metaphor, the one patio that seems to be all of Dorne visually interesting, and even made Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke seem like great actors.
But 'The Winds of Winter' was the high point. Season 6 cannot be summed up entirely by just talking about the good. Most of the season was rather sloppy in ways that should have been obvious just looking at the new direction the show was going in. You can look at Seasons 4 and 5 as this awkward growing pain the show has had to endure while trying to wait for GRRM to finish "The Winds of Winters" to no success. Season 6 was when the showrunners had to finally nut up and take over the story themselves. They were very timid most of the season, still holding themselves back. Until finally we had 'The Winds of Winter', this amazing episode that was just massive moment after massive moment. That is the show maturing, being ready to be the story and lead us forward to whatever awaits next.
Season 6's pacing was not so much a constant build towards the huge finale as much as a series of very awkward lurches. The first few episodes had to very busily clear up a lot of the fluff and characters the last season had left the show with. Those being the traitorous Night's Watch faction, the douchebag Dothraki (the Brothraki), an entire faction in Dorne, and to my personal dismay, Roose Bolton. It was a season with a lot of very easy coups. Jon came back to life with almost no fuss other than a little haircut and hung his enemies, Ramsay won the North by stabbing a guy, the Sand Snakes won Dorne by stabbing a few guys, Daenerys won the Dothraki horde by setting some dudes on fire and showing us her boobs. It was all ridiculously easy and convenient, but... it got the job done.
I am not going to defend anything involving some of the worst plot threads of the season. Take Arya's entire training camp with the Faceless Men. It didn't make sense. Arya easily remains herself with little struggle. The Faceless Men barely try to stop her when she leaves. Nobody knows how or why she graduated from the Faceless Men. Also, did I mention that it didn't make sense? It was bad. Seasons of build-up just to have a crappy chase scene through a marketplace and a candle blown out. But as bad as all that was: it did reach the destination. Arya by the end of the arc was stronger than she was before and she was going home to bake some Frey Pies. I don't like how it was done, it was shitty writing, but I got my delicious Frey Pies. How can I complain about that?
Take Meereen. Dany snaps her fingers and wins the Battle of Fire in ten seconds. I can understand how dumb that is. Seasons and seasons on Meereen all settled in the span of five minutes. But at least we're out of Meereen! We can finally sail to Westeros. The story can finally move. I don't care how bad the writing has to be to get us out of Meereen, I'll take anything at this point.
To Season 6's credit, between all my Smarking at the dumb twists and easy stabbings, it has legitimately surprised me. "Hold the Door" was brilliant on so many levels. This was a plot twist that came out of nowhere, all the more shocking that it came from "Game of Thrones", a show I had little love for left after Shireen's murder and Sansa's rape. If a shark can be unjumped, let it be known that "Hold the Door" pulled it off. Hodor, a lovable mentally feeble character is revealed to have been cursed his entire life with the knowledge of his death. He must sacrifice himself by holding a door to save Bran and Meera Reed from the Others. Hodor's entire life has been marked by this one noble act, it is his entire identity. His one word, "Hodor", is a constant reminder of what he must do, "Hold the Door". And all of this is caused by Bran's foolish manipulation of time. Hodor is either a saint or a prisoner in his own body or both, we are unsure. But I am sure that this was genius. So brilliant that was this twist that it was obviously GRRM's work. It only one of the many great plot points that await us in the future... just as soon as he can get himself to actually finish the books.
Battle of the Bastards was good. The finale was fantastic. Season 6 of "Game of Thrones" had at least as many high points as it did lows. Who can complain about Jon finally meeting with Sansa? Jon's parentage finally being revealed? Tyrion being handed his Hand of the King badge and looking happy to finally be appreciated? Cersei drinking her wine while she sows madness through her new kingdom? Jaime coming home to ruin and once again being forced to choose between good and evil? Yara/Asha Greyjob flirting with Dany? Ramsay finally getting eaten by dogs and ending his cancerous influence on the show? Dragons flying to Westeros? The camera lingering on the window long seconds before Tommen leaps in this incredibly sophisticated directorial touch? Franken-Gregor smashing a guy's head in? These are great moments. These are the glue that will keep this show moving.
And with the passage of the ten episodes of Season 6 of "Game of Thrones", the show has now fully eclipsed the books. There is no book content left to be adapted. Even content that I never thought would be covered have already been done, such as the Siege of Riverrun, added only to fill up an episode or two. With only a season or two left in HBO's good graces, "Game of Thrones" has no choice but to keep to this fast pace. There's no more stalling, no more hesitation left. "Game of Thrones" has to move into top gear and wrap this thing up. 'The Winds of Winter' was just our first taste of what "Game of Thrones" can be at full pace. This can be an incredible couple of seasons left.
"Game of Thrones" is not a great show. As an avid book reader for many years now, I was really hoping to have read the ending of GRRM's vision, not seen it. This was not the version of the story I wanted to be shown. But it will end. At this point I'm willing to take anything that will actually finish the story. I know that's not the strongest recommendation in the world. But as the translator for "Mighty No. 9" infamously said: "it's better than nothing". Season 6 of "Game of Thrones" is not the best show on television, it ain't even the best show HBO has in its timeslot. That's the "Leftovers". But if it can manage one ridiculously good episode per season and keep the story moving towards a conclusion - any conclusion - I'll take it.
Fine, this is good enough.
* God how depressing is that? The release date that twenty-year-old BH came up with while angry and sad about a few cliffhangers turned out to be too optimistic. "The Winds of Winter" wait has turned out to be worse than my worst fears. Hopefully it releases before fucking "Kingdom Hearts III".