There’s a misconception about Star Trek movies that entered the common parlance many years ago and has since become seen as fact. The soundbite claims that all even-numbered films are good while the odd-numbered instalments are bad. This just isn’t true for Trek but it does ring true – to a degree – with Game of Thrones. While I love the whole series, the even-numbered seasons are better in most respects than their odd-numbered counterparts and season 6 highlights this. The fifth season is the weakest of the show but is now followed by what might be the strongest season to date. This is the third and final part of my series of articles charting my rewatch of season 6 giving you fresh opinions gathered on the second go around while recapping the major moments in case you have forgotten them. This time I’ll be focusing on the events that take place ‘across the Narrow Sea’.
Let’s begin with Arya who starts the season as a blind beggar in the narrow streets of Braavos. This is the storyline of which my opinion changed the most on the second viewing, going from finding it fairly dull to one of my favourites of the season. I still don’t think we needed to spend two whole seasons with Arya in Braavos training with the Faceless Men and the plot of her sixth season does mimic her fifth, I admit. She gains the trust of the Faceless Men, trains, gets a mission, goes against orders and then is dealt a punishment. It plays out fairly obviously and dare I say generic but I cannot express how much I love the play. Arya is given her sight back and has to watch and then kill Lady Crane, an actress playing Cersei Lannister in a comedic and crude play (or classic British Pantomime) which recaps the first four seasons of the show from the eyes of the common folk. It’s funny and yet entirely realistic to the world of Game of Thrones and reminds Arya of her true identity: A Stark who must seek vengeance. The storyline features great performances from Essie Davies as Lady Crane (married to underrated film director Justin Kurzel) and Richard E Grant who continues the trend of big actors taking small roles in the series. On the first viewing I failed to see what was going on under the surface (I’m pretty dumb at times) at how the show introduces Arya to another profession, who like the Faceless Men, wear masks but unlike the group of assassins they maintain and even use their own identities under these masks. This shows Arya that she can get revenge on those that have wronged her but also stay who she truly is.
This causes Arya to let her target live and attempt to chart passage back to Westeros which is a decision that causes Jaqen to send the Waif to kill Arya. The Waif stabs Arya in the gut in an incredibly brutal fashion but after getting help from Lady Crane she survives with little more than a scratch. On the rewatch this maintains its crown as the most stupid thing in the season because for the rest of the season Arya should be like Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs, holding her excessively bloody gut and on the brink of death, but instead she’s up and about doing some Parkour next episode in her final confrontation with the Waif after the villainess kills Lady Crane. I love a good foot chase but for the most part this isn’t one with the Waif seeming to act like a Terminator with her weird stares, neck twitches and running style but she kicks the bucket when Arya fights her in the dark using her time as a blind girl as a strength. Next thing we know she’s like a video game character who’s unlocked fast travel because she turns up at the Twins in the season finale giving Walder Frey his just desserts (or Titus Andronicus-style pies). Seeing Frey die is very satisfying and makes Arya’s journey over the last couple of seasons worth it, even if a times it felt like it was dragging.
The full version of the play from Arya’s storyline is available to watch on the season 6 Blu-ray. I recommend giving it a watch because it also includes some audience members commenting on the play that were cut from the episode and who clearly give some meta complaints of the whole series. One woman first states “Violence and profanity, how original” before Arya snaps “Why don’t you stop watching then”. She continues to watch until there is nudity to which she walks off and mutters “Utterly gratuitous, utterly unacceptable”. I can see why they cut this because it’s a very obvious comment on the show’s critics and takes you out of the scene but it’s a fun thing for the special features.
Daenerys’ storyline in season 6 is the accumulation of everything that has happened in Essos thus far. She begins the season as a slave to the Dothraki who are strangely played for laughs in the first couple of episodes but soon return to their menacing ways as they imprison Dany in a temple full of old Khaleesi in Vaes Dothrak. This all leads to one of the best moments in Dany’s story as she burns all the Khals in one swift move and emerges reborn out of the flames to be worshiped by all the major Dothraki tribes. It’s a fantastically crafted scene which mirrors the birth of her dragons as well as finally giving Daenerys the army she wanted in the first season, bringing the story full circle and ending her Essos arc. She finally has what she needs to conquer Westeros and it’s clear from this moment that is what she is planning to finally do.
The Slaver’s Bay storyline has been vastly important to her character, giving her the development and experience needed to conquer a continent, making and beating enemies and learning how to rule. For such a huge plotline, I realised on this rewatch that the ending doesn’t quite land. Dany returns to Meereen to find it under siege by the masters of Yunkai and Astapor and she retaliates in an epic and bombastic fashion that uses the dragons to full affect. The problem is that they play it like nobody will dare rise up against her again when that logic betrays the world that has been created. Once Daenerys leaves, leaving Daario to rule so that she is free to marry, the masters or other enemies will no doubt rise up and try to take over again. I’m fine with this but the show tries to create a finality to the situation and that Dany has ‘won’ which isn’t exactly true and a little too neat for this show. She finally sets sail to Westeros in the finale with new allies in Dorne and the Greyjoy siblings in a sequence we have waited years to witness; let’s hope the payoff is suitably spectacular.
Now that we know the outcome of the Slaver’s Bay storyline, the Tyrion and Varys scenes of the season seem fairly pointless. Despite many, many scenes of negotiating treaties and winning people over to their side it still ends in failure and war until the mother of (dragons) all Deus Ex Machina’s literally flies out of the sky. Dinklage is one of the series’ biggest stars so it’s clear why all this time is dedicated to him despite it being a relatively unimportant season for the character. It sets up and gives experience for his position of Hand of the Queen which he receives in the finale but I feel like the second season did this much better. His accepting of this position is indeed very important and a conclusion to an arc we didn’t even know was a thing and while season 6 shows characters of his ability to hold this position, us viewers already know this and the information shown in his negotiation scenes has already been apparent to viewers for years. His scenes with Grey Worm and Missandei are very funny though and add some levity to the often-dour show.
I do love however Tyrion and Varys’ scene with the Red Priestess Kinvara in which they attempt to convince her and her fellow priests and priestesses to speak fondly of Daenerys. She needs no convincing however as she believes Dany to be The Prince That Was Promised, filling the storyline that is doing little but tread water into an outlet for exploring the more ancillary lore surrounding faith and prophecy. It’s great that Varys is antagonistic towards her instead of his usual level-headed approach because of his mysterious past with the magic of similar priests. It’s a great scene and it’s a shame we never see Kinvara again; I thought she should have travelled to Westeros with Dany as a spiritual advisor similar to Melisandre with Stannis.
Jorah begins the season with Daario which is another great and unconventional pairing in the show creating a really fun dynamic. After ‘saving’ Daenerys he finds himself in a position where he is finally accepted by her and professes his love to her before he has to leave to find a cure for his spreading case of Greyscale. Jorah is one of my favourite characters and his goodbye is deeply emotional and occurs earlier in the season than I remembered. I doubt that he will find a cure and that season 7 will be his last but more surprising things have happened in Game of Thrones.
Now it’s time for Theon and yes, while his story begins in the North and continues in the Iron Islands it does end in Essos. A lesser show would push Theon into a position where he wants to become King but making him a supporter of Yara is a point of genius. His descent into Reek was three seasons long and despite the season’s generally fast pace, the recovery has to be slow. He is making himself pay for his sins, first to Sansa who accepts his apology and then to Yara who does the same. They do have to careful with his undetermined attitude moving forward though because if not he may drift into irrelevancy. Yara is already a stand-out character and it’s great to see her return. She loses the Kingsmoot to her newly returned evil uncle Euron who vows to kill her and join forces with Daenerys but Yara makes contact with Dany first. A convenient way for Daenerys to get ships? Sure, but that scene with Yara and Dany is too good for me to criticize the whole storyline. Seeing these characters collide is always fun but the flirty nature between Dany and Yara is just great and feels realistic with their bonding over their awful fathers. I’m sure we’ll see more of these character collisions in the upcoming seasons.
Now to finish here’s some smaller, more random thoughts about these season 6 storylines:
- My favourite part of the fourth book A Feast for Crows is the Kingsmoot so I’m happy that we got to see it even if it was very toned down in scale in the show. Lack of magical horns was disappointing but ‘Damphair’ made his first appearance!
- Love Tyrion’s quote: “You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying.”
- Arya: “What’s west of Westeros?” Lady Crane: “Nobody knows”. Hoping this is foreshadowing that Daenerys will travel east from Essos to the western shores of Westeros like the books seem to imply.
What did you think about season 6 and do you have any interesting theories for season 7? Let me know in the comments and geek out with me about Game of Thrones on Twitter @kylebrrtt.