And... Exhale. Congratulations, you have made it through yet another season of Game of Thrones ladies and gentlemen. In many ways a unique season where the show finally raced past the book and left GRRM's slow writing caboose in the dust (surprising that he allowed one of the biggest reveals of the series to be dropped on HBO over in his writing, but I guess money talks, or more aptly whispers quietly into young Ned Stark's ear). That means this was also the first season where both the book fans and the show fans were just staring at each other going "huh?"
SPOILERS:This is a given. This is a GoT article. You don't want spoilers you don't keep reading. It's 2016 and I think we should all agree that we expect others to know how the internet works.
Okay, let's get going. Because it feels like last night both David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were both having their cake and eating it (before smashing whatever was left with a giant hammer). GoT finales are usually reserved for the slow burn nightcap to action-packed penultimate episodes, something we fully expected give how precisely climactic the "Battle of the Bastards" felt. The show is known to slow down, tie up the biggest questions and set up new mysteries while leaving fan satisfaction in the back-seat, abandoning us all whispering frantically "maybe next season" in a dark room.
In that regard, the Season 6 ending felt both very uncharacteristic for a show with a habit of pouring wildfire over fans emotional stability and I imagine very orgasmic for it's creators to finally drop all of the facts and reveals including... DRUMROLL:
J=L+R: A fan theory 20 years in waiting that Jon Snow is in fact the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen and not the only living evidence of Ned's one night of weakness in the loins. It was something GoT fans have speculated on ever since Book 1 (or Season 1, relative) and was pretty much assumed to be true at this point. It was more of when and how rather than if the reveal would come, and boy did the show creators milk it, down to the dramatic cut. We get the long close up on baby Jon (who's hair is looking suspiciously fresh out the womb -- does Lyanna just have a baby barber on deck?) that lingers a little too long on this side of uncomfortable, before cutting to seasoned adult-Jon claiming his rightful place (somewhat ironically).
This of course puts a damper on Littlefinger's plans, who finally admitted his true intentions (if I ever am in a hostage situation, I want Sansa Stark to be my negotiator). He still has a play to make, but the eventual "Jon Snow is actually a Stark AND a Targaryen" truth bomb really ruins his plans to crown Sansa and rule with her. This makes Jon the rightful heir to the throne, the one he worked so hard to get not as much out of want as out of obligation where really he could have just safely sat in it (also known as the reverse-Hillary), leaving Littlefinger out in the cold. It will be interesting how savvy Sansa plays him and his desires and whether or not she still has a play to make to swing this silent conflict.
Speaking of female characters, the show just kept going with pouring the fandom through the episode. We get a little bit more of Lady Olenna doing what she does best: scheming, this time with the Sand Snakes. We get the triumphant return of Arya to Westeros, finally starting to take her revenge in the most satisfying way possible (I am fully prepared to have a well thought out discussion about time/location traveling in GoT). And Dany is coming back!
The Dany return is like a three-hour foreplay session transitioning into the main event. We knew it was going to happen almost always (there was always that one moment of doubt), and as with J=L+R, it was just a matter of when. The show finally got her royal bum on a boat and sent her to reclaim what's rightfully hers, but not before giving us a satisfying moment with Tyrion, one Alan Sorkin would be proud of. As we finally set into the show's conclusion, the creators figured it's time to start setting Daenerys up as a fit ruler for the Seven Kingdoms.
Last week, I wrote that it's a good time to be a woman in Westeros, and this episode seemed to double down on that statement. The show stood up on it's podium, walked up to the mic, yelled "bad bitches only" and then proceeded to pour gasoline on the elated crowd. We started with establishing Cersei as your go-to villain (since everyone still continues to ignore that the Night King is coming), and it did it so well. It brought her character arc full circle from making us hate her, to giving her a moment of sympathy to her going full Palpatine on literally every important person King's Landing. She has descended into madness and it makes it ever so powerful because of how complete her character was in its development. Like the prophesy it is coming full circle.
This makes Jaime's character arc intriguing as he has witnessed his sister do the one thing he literally killed a King for. As far as emotional affection metronomes go, Jaime is all over the place. At one point, I was really rooting for him (as much as you can root for a dude who's okay with pushing kids out of the window and getting down on the low with his sis). He seemed to be on his way to redemption before threatening to catapult babies at a castle. I think that's where the line was drawn. As always, the show however toys with our expectations and now Jaime has yet another prophecy to fulfill to gain our love back. He can be the valonqar Cersei was promised. The "little brother" (he came after her out of the womb, by seconds, but still). This reveal would be very GRRM and once again, years in the making.
The show also gave the minor female characters some play, including everyone's favorite Lyanna Mormont (Queen in the North?!). While I still love her (and her resting bitch-face), maybe it's time to start asking about her acting range? The girl is young and she will be fine. She already has a crowd of dedicated fans, so just do a Lyanna spin-off already. Regardless, was there really a need for that speech outside of continuing the hour-long orgasmic fan-service episode? Not sure. That is not to say that it detracted from the show, but it felt rather unnatural and almost un-Game-Of-Thrones-esque.
And that is the most apt way I can think of describing this whole experience. As fantastic and satisfying as it was in the end, it felt unnatural from the way the show normally flows. It hit too many traditional tropes and handled it's reveals like your standard, hyper-excited cable television show. You get a reveal, you get a reveal; you get a badass scene, you get a badass scene. The show was never going to win the grueling battle with the books on a natural timeline. There is just more you can do with writing. Tell a more complex story on a page. Now that the show passed the literary timeline however, all bets are off; it gets to progress the plot on its own terms because frankly we don't know any better. It gets to lean into fan expectations faster and make the hype more wide spread (word to Twitter). And in that, it has become a little less Game of Thrones and a little more something else.
Don't get me wrong, it's still a phenomenal show, almost every bit as satisfying as before (and as the books). However, it lost some of its defining characteristics. Seasons 1-5 were real life. AF (as the kids would say). It was where good didn't necessarily always triumph and where your favorite characters were never safe. It cherry picked just the right tropes while also dismissing others and making for a very unique viewing experience. It toyed with your emotions kind of like Arya did when she revealed to Lord Frey what the secret ingredient in his delicious pie was (hint: it wasn't love). Now? Now it's just rolling in the fan votes for your favorite Westerosi Idol contestant. For better or for worse.
I guess we'll see next season.
*originally published on Armchair Society.