REVIEW: Game of Thrones : Season 6 Finale

imageIn a season which had a pedestrian build-up, to say the least, slowly putting in place the pieces it needed to deliver an impressive finale and it didn’t disappoint. After setting it all up, the final two episodes roared to life with explosive scenes that redefined the phrase “must see television”. All the plot threads have had significant screen time dedicated to establishing events but the payoffs were more than worth the wait. If you’ve not caught up then do not hamper your enjoyment by reading further, there will be spoilers!

imageLast week saw the epic ‘Battle of the Bastards’ for Winterfell and certainly lived up to expectations. Fortunately good triumphed over evil as the Starks recaptured their home and Ramsey Bolton finally got his just desserts. More than that the episode saw a truly spectacular battle. It’s epic scale alone set new standards for what can be achieved with a supposed TV budget. There was a gritty, and at times suffocating, realism which heightened the brutality and the chaos of such a battle. From the very start there were moments where the viewer is left concerned that things were not going to go the way of the Starks, beginning with Rickon’s death. This was at the hands of an arrow from Ramsey Bolton, at his most manipulative and despicable that continued as he instructed his archers to shower down arrows on his own men, building a grotesque wall of corpses with soldiers from both sides. With the Wildling Warriors and Jon Snow surrounded all seems lost. imageBut then as the audience’s collective heart sinks, Sansa and Littlefinger come to the rescue with the Knights of the Vale. The overhead shot of the cavalry sweeping away the Bolton army was beautifully created, sending Ramsey into retreat behind the walls of Winterfell to little avail. Jon Snow gets his shots in as he pummels at Lord Bolton’s sickening face but it would be for Sansa to have the final triumph and the last shot of the show. Ramsey’s cruelty ultimately proves his undoing and Sansa walks away with a subtle smile knowing she has got her revenge.

‘The Winds of Winter’ picked up the mantle from ‘Battle of the Bastards’, an episode many have considered to have been one of the best the show has produced, and somehow delivered even more punch. From the very outset there is a beautiful melancholy tone, beginning before a musical note is even heard as a lone bell, watch out for it later, chimes impending doom. The incidental music then assists the drama so skilfully and has to be acknowledged.

imageAll the scenes in King’s Landing for effectively the last two seasons have been building to this moment, the Trial of Cersei Lannister before the Seven Gods. The rise of the Faith Militant had of course proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation by Cersei, having to endure the humiliating walk of shame at the end of Season 5. But you always knew she was going to have her revenge and boy did she, also wiping out the Tyrell’s at the same time. Loras admits his guilt and dedicates his life to the Seven Gods, meaning the graphic mutilation of his pretty forehead. His life didn’t have long left however as, in a plot stolen from Guy Fawkes, wildfire tore through the Great Sept of Baelor in another spectacularly delivered effect. Yet in a typically unexpected twist Cersei’s greatest victory resulted in her cruelest loss as King Tommen drops to his death in a shot similar to the humourous demise of Denholm Reynholm in ‘The IT Crowd’. You feel that with all her children gone, like Lady Olenna Tyrell, there will be no limits to her madness.

imageThe extended running time of ‘The Winds of Winter’ was fully utilised as a number of threads were tied together, such as Sam and Gilly arriving at Oldtown and Shireen’s brutal demise last year finally catching up with Melisandre. Arya Stark’s personal journey finally begins to be accelerating as she ticked another individual off her kill list in this episode. The time spent learning the ways of the House of Black and White finally come to fruition as she wreaks her revenge on Walder Frey on behalf of her mother, brother and all the viewers shaken by the events of the Red Wedding.

For the really hardcore followers Bran’s journey into the past would reveal the true identity of Jon Snow’s parents, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The gut wrenching realisation that after all this time Ned Stark was not in fact his father but had kept up a lie to protect his sister’s son was another example of how incredible Game of Thrones is as a television series. As well as delivering the explosive sequences and epic battles already discussed it also provides deeply intelligent plotting which elevates it to the ranks of a television masterpiece.

imageJon Snow’s own journey during this season, which of course started with him being dead and in need of resurrection, also ends in triumph as he is declared ‘The King in the North’. Once again however it is young Bella Ramsey who steals the scene as Lyanna Mormont, shaming the other Lords of the North, turning the tide and triggering the acknowledgment of his place as ‘King in the North’. A particular thread still left outstanding is that of Sansa Stark and Littlefinger, the lecherous and goateed individual revealing his intentions for the Iron Throne in this episode. However you feel that Sansa will not ever forgive him for handing her over to the Boltons and his comeuppance may come in Season 7, when he will surely pay a heavy price.

imageAnother exciting prospect for Season 7 is of course the fact that finally, FINALLY, Daenerys is making her move for the Iron Throne and heading for Westeros. The building of her army has taken an eternity but now she stands with Dothraki and Unsullied warriors, the ships of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, an alliance with the Martels and Tyrells, the council of Tyrion and Varys plus three freaking dragons! As will probably be the case there might be an extended period of build up before a battle between the Lannister and Targaryen armies that will surely raise even higher standards for epic television storytelling than we have already enjoyed in Season 6. Beyond that I predict we will also be treated to a thrilling climax between fire and ice because lest we forget in all this excitement, “Winter is Here”.

REVIEW: Game of Thrones: Season 5

Game-of-Thrones-logo-S5-Tyrion1-810x400Now I have to admit as much as I adore this show I have really struggled to get into this season. Over the 10 episodes the plotlines have meandered through with some notable conclusions. The previous 9 episodes led up to a season finale which certainly had its fair share of dramatic resolutions. Ultimately the majority of the season is pedestrian in the way it limped along, only to be accentuated with controversial and excessive scenes before the dramatic conclusions that rounded it all off.

Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch

This story arc provided the closing scene for the finale and for many came as quite a shock. I had thought that if he was to be murdered by his own men it would’ve happened before this point so I was not expecting it. When Jon Snow was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch he became a marked man and he further antagonised his comrades with his determination to bring the Wildlings south of the Wall. Perhaps his biggest mistake was appointing Ser Alliser Thorne as First Ranger, never hiding his contempt for Snow and expressing his disagreement with his decisions. Ultimately all of these actions would see his undoing and trigger the shocking scenes that concluded the season.

Whilst many will be mourning over the departure of one of the shows main pieces of eye candy the reverberations on the story from here will be potentially even more catastrophic. Having faced the White Walkers Jon Snow appreciated the scale of the task that was facing the whole of Westeros. The White Walkers provide a very real threat to life south of the wall but without Jon Snow it seems that the odds of success for the Night’s Watch have taken a serious blow.

It was an interesting decision for the whole season to conclude with the death of Jon Snow but smart in terms of generating a reaction of viewers on social media and the additional press interest and comment. The final shot, looking down on a deceased Snow, with blood trickling, he must’ve been on an incline of some sort, will stick in the mind of the viewer and hopefully encourage them to watch the next season. However, by consistently killing off likeable characters such as Jon Snow, removing Samwell Tarly from the equation too, it makes it more difficult for viewers to reengage with the show the following year. One of the strengths of the show is the unpredictability but viewers ultimately want to see the good people thrive and the others getting their comeuppance. One individual who does indeed get his just deserts is Stannis Baratheon.

Stannis Baratheon messes everything up

It is hard to argue that anyone had a more catastrophic conclusion to the season than Stannis. His army arrived dramatically at the Wall in the conclusion of season 4 but it took the whole of season 5 for him to move onto Winterfell. This highlights the slow and plodding nature of the first 2/3rds of the season. What those episodes do achieve is by bringing Stannis and his daughter closer together, only for that to be completely thrown out of the window when the manipulative witch Melisandre exerts her influence. The scene of Shireen being burnt at the stake is disturbing but fortunately we are spared any shots of the young princess ablaze. Although this decision sees the snow melting for his army’s assault on Winterfell it also results in half of that army deserting and his wife Selyse taking her own life. There are many occasions in this show where individuals seem to act in a way which is not really consistent with how real people would act but Selyse is clearly so affected by the death of her daughter that she feels compelled to take her own life. Melisandre also shows her real cowardice, fleeing Stannis’ side and retreating to Castle Black. Stannis in his determination still attempts to attack Winterfell but that also proves unsuccessful. It appears that Stannis has met his end, slain by Brienne, but as we did not see the death it remains open to debate if he will return or not.

It would appear that Stannis has got what he deserved, putting his faith in the words of Melisandre and his decision to sacrifice his daughter. However, this will have an effect on the rest of Westeros. With the Baratheon army defeated it seems the Lannister hold on the Iron throne seems to have tightened. However, of more concern is perhaps the fact that the Bolton’s still hold Winterfell.

Sansa and Ramsay Bolton

One of the most disturbing scenes of the whole season follows the marriage of Sansa Stark to Ramsay Bolton. It caused plenty of reaction on social media and rightly so but was consistent with the grotesque character that Ramsay Bolton has become since his introduction into the series. However, this season sees no retribution for Ramsay. Fortunately, the season finale does see Sansa finally reach Theon Greyjoy as he kills Myranda and the two of them leap off the wall. But their fate remains unclear and this will be a plotline to continue further in the next season. Unfortunately, with the Bolton’s still holding Winterfell it is going to be difficult for Theon and Sansa to evade the repercussions.

Cersei’s plan works against her

Ah Cersei Lannister! She is perhaps one of the most realistic characters in the series, intrinsically protective of her family and her children in particular. Sometimes that maternal instinct gets the better of her and it certainly did in this season. Her initial plans to counter the growing influence of the Tyrell’s by re-establishing the Faith Militant works perfectly as both Loras and Margaery are arrested. However, it would backfire spectacularly as she too was arrested. In the season finale we are forced to endure a long and uncomfortable scene of Cersei doing a walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. Whilst many would feel that this is all of her birds coming home to roost finally it still makes for difficult viewing. As a character she rings true to reality, she is flawed. Her obsessive controlling instincts in order to protect her children balanced against her poor decision making in other aspects of her life make her a fully rounded character. Going forward into Season 6 Cersei is now back in the Red Keep and it is difficult to see anything else than spectacular and bloody retribution. King Tommen has been largely absent, appearing in only half of the episodes during Season 5, and as a result it is hard to consider him as anything other than a weak King, which probably means a most undignified end to his reign.

The boredom of Dorne and Meereen

One of the biggest problems with the pacing of Season 5 is that whenever there was an element of momentum it was immediately lost by moving to Dorne or Meereen. The Martell and Sand Snake’s plotline is frankly tedious and ultimately accomplishes absolutely nothing. The death of Myrcella is predictable given the ill-feeling of Ellaria Sand for the Lannisters following the death of Oberyn in Season 4. But for it to take 10 episodes is a journey akin to having your fingernails pulled out.

Similarly the political unrest in Meereen is completely uninteresting. Daenerys seems to have lost sight of her goal of being on the iron throne, which is what we as viewers want to see. As the ‘Mother of Dragons’ we want to see those dragons go to war against the Lannisters et al. Instead we have to endure the political instability of Slavers Bay with the Sons of the Harpy rebelling, the fighting pits and it simply doesn’t interest this member of the audience. What is interesting is the potential of a Daenerys and a Tyrion Lannister alliance which had been alluded to throughout the season only for them to be separated towards its conclusion. Instead, Tyrion is now in charge of the poisoned chalice of dullness that is Meereen but on the plus side we did see the return of Varys. The dynamic between these two characters is golden and hopefully we can look forward to more of that in the next season.

Arya’s learns to be no one

From boredom to utter confusion, Arya’s time in Bravos. Maisie Williams is fantastic in the role as Arya, a character who has been on a journey since seeing her father executed and you almost feel that it has been building to this point, her teaching in the House of Black and White. Of course this was punctuated by her killing of Meryn Trant. Now he was clearly portrayed as an individual deserving of a grisly demise but was it really necessary to show his preference for young girls by having him drag off a frightened youngster in ‘The Dance of Dragons’. This may have been an attempt to provide a reason why Arya would be in a position to kill Trant, or to have the audience cheer her on while she kills him, it still seemed unnecessary to show scared girls getting beaten by him. But he was actually a character who got his just deserts in the series; even if the death was a little brutal it was very well done on a production level. Arya would feel the repercussions of that action however as her story concludes with her losing her sight. Where her story goes from here now is open for debate. Perhaps it will make Arya more powerful, being able to see what others do not see. Overall the whole plotline for this season confused me greatly, removing multiple faces from Jaqen’s supposedly dead body until finally Arya herself is revealed. It is this unpredictability that makes this programme one of the best on television and keeps people watching, even if they don’t fully understand what’s going on.

Hardhome and the White Walkers

The undoubted highlight of the whole season was the White Walker attack on Hardhome. The whole sequence was realised brilliantly, truly epic and up to the high standards of ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ the previous year. Although an entire episode had been set aside for that battle, it seemed that somehow the attack of the White Walkers topped it in terms of scale. This brings us on to the threat of the White Walkers. When the ‘Night’s King’ raises his arms and all the fallen rose up as more undead soldiers, it was a real spine-tingling moment.

As a result the only conclusion I can reach is that ultimately all these plot threads will prove irrelevant because when the White Walkers do move the whole of Westeros is doomed. There’s an image going around social media of George RR Martin writing in a book with the text “and then they all died”. I can honestly see that happening at this point.