The phenomenon that is Game of Thrones returns next month for its penultimate season and, just like the last few years, I’ve been watching the previous season in preparation. When watching the show for a second time, away from all the hype and media buzz, it’s a different experience altogether and that’s what this series of articles is all about: charting new opinions while giving a general recap of the season to refresh your memory. This part will focus on all the goings on in the North of Westeros from resurrections to that epic battle and beyond. Let’s begin.
This show is great at making people look dead. A weird thing to say but true; it’s not just Jon Snow’s lifeless corpse but also Alliser Thorne’s hanging which is incredibly well done from initial redness of the face which becomes paler as the scene progresses and the glassy eyes staring into oblivion. I guess the best place to start is with Jon Snow who is dead as the season starts. Everybody knew he was coming back when the show first aired and so many people glossed over the scenes with people talking about his death (I know I did) because they would be irrelevant in just a couple of episodes. On a rewatch you may think these scenes become even less important because we know for sure he’s coming back but in fact it’s quite the opposite. Characters like Edd and Davos act just like they would if he was dead for good and they completely sell the situation as real. The writers could have not put much effort into these scenes because their reactions would be unimportant later but it’s all done so honestly, mixed with the patience I had the second time around, the death and aftermath works brilliantly. The whole staging of Jon’s body, primarily in his resurrection scene, is fantastically done too with inspiration being taken from ‘The Anatomy Lesson’ by Rembrandt and his return comes at the perfect time at the end of the second episode. This isn’t The Walking Dead where it would be dragged out over a season, or even the new Twin Peaks which is testing my patience with the whole ‘Dougie Jones’ arc for Cooper.
Jon’s story is bookended with some great stuff but mid-season isn’t the best. The trip across the North to rally support to take down the Boltons is cool, introducing us to characters like Lord Glover and the badass that is Lyanna Mormont, but Jon is the most uninteresting character making these rounds with Davos and Sansa being the more watchable negotiators in these situations. They rally support, beat Ramsey (more on that later), take Winterfell and Jon is proclaimed ‘King in the North’ in a sequence which mirrors Robb’s final scene in the season 1 finale. The most interesting thing however comes from Bran’s plot which through his magical-flashback-plot-device-for-a-brain sees that Jon is actually of Targaryen blood being the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Watching this second time I’m still baffled at the ‘reveal’ because of its subtlety. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing but, while Lyanna and Rhaegar have been mentioned on the show multiple times, it is never stated, just implied, at who the father of the child is. Book readers like myself know instantly because it’s been a theory since 1996 but I’m surprised they didn’t outright state Jon’s heritage for more general audiences who may be confused by the dense history and bloodlines of the world.
Davos is one of my favourite characters in the show despite largely being an accessory to someone else’s story. He managed to make Stannis likable (Team Stannis forever!) and does the same for Jon. Not that Jon isn’t likable but he’s needs someone who isn’t so dour to play off against and now that Sam is gone Davos has a great rapport with him. Consequences are the key to good drama and Davos’ discovery of the nature of Shireen’s death is great and suitably heart-breaking as he breaks down in tears while accusing Melisandre.
Speaking of the Red Woman, she starts the season in a very interesting place. After Stannis’ defeat she has lost her faith which is perfectly symbolised in her taking off her magical necklace which reveals her true centuries old self before climbing into bed defeated. Rewatching the season made me realise just what an important move it was to feature Melisandre so heavily in the first couple of episodes (the premiere is named after her) because she has to stand alone now that she is no longer part of Stannis’ plotline. Jon gives her a much-needed purpose and the fact that she has allied herself with ‘hero characters’ actually made me sad for her when she is banished in the season finale for her past actions. Looking back I gain a new appreciation for season 5 but also at how the writers are able to manipulate us into feeling sorry for a character who has done terrible things we are against with the consequences of those actions; Jaime Lannister was the same way.
After rewatching the season I remain conflicted on Sansa’s arc. Her plot starts great with her meeting up with Brienne and Podrick and then having an emotional reunion with Jon despite them never having any screen time together in the whole series prior to the ‘reunion’. Her first scene with Littlefinger is one of my favourites of the season in which she confronts and threatens him over his treatment of her. This, the fact that she is the one pushing for war with the Boltons and her execution of Ramsey makes us think we are getting the Sansa we were promised at the end of season 4 but not soon after she sheds her independence once again falling back under the spell of Littlefinger. I still don’t understand or like that she keeps Littlefinger’s support for House Stark hidden from Jon and it just feels like a convoluted way for Littlefinger to save the day.
Looking back I think Roose’s death is the most shocking of the season; it was expected but never as early as episode 2. It gives Ramsey room to become the straightforward villain of the season which works well despite not feeling like Game of Thrones. The show is always better when the characters are given many different layers and become complex characters like Jaime Lannister who went from seemingly evil to a hero whose love for a woman dictates everything. Ramsey is just a simplistic psychopathic bad guy but GOT is having to ramp up the story as it hurtles towards its conclusion and it feels like a necessary evil (quite literally).
And now I come to The Battle of the Bastards – or BoB for short – and I have no idea what to say. It’s one of the most spectacular sequences ever made for television and there’s not much point recapping it because I’m sure you all remember it. It’s just as intense on the rewatch and works not just because of the scale and action but because the director Miguel Sapochnik underpins every moment with emotion. Tormund and Wun Wun are the MVPs of the battle and the war of words between Jon and Ramsey beforehand is an incredible scene which was desperately needed; while Sansa has a history with Ramsey is was important for Jon to finally meet him before they face off. While BoB is undoubtedly incredible it is missing some snow especially considering it takes place as winter is being ushered into the Seven Kingdoms but I know from a technical level it would have been too difficult. Also, Sansa rides off before Ramsey mentions that he hasn’t fed his dogs in a week so it’s strange how she can throw that line back at him in the episode’s final moments.
Bran returns in season 6 after taking a year off to do some time travel training with the Three Eyed Raven. The visions are great sequences giving valuable insight into the past of Ned Stark at two different ages and while they exist for little more than visual exposition of setting up Lyanna Stark and then her death it is a treat for a fan of the novels to witness these events and characters we have only read about as legends. I’m still geeking out over seeing Arthur Dayne and his swordfight with Ned Stark and co is one of the best in the series. Seeing Max von Sydow in the series just shows at how huge Game of Thrones is if they can get actors of that calibre for such small roles; it makes me excited to see Jim Broadbent in season 7. Bran’s storyline culminates in possibly my favourite episode of the show ‘The Door’ which deals with the creation of the White Walkers at the hands of the Children of the Forest and sees the Night King bring his army to kill Bran. The ticking clock motif returns from ‘Hardhome’ and while Bran and Meera survive, Hodor doesn’t. Under the terrific direction of Jack Bender (Lost and Child’s Play 3!) the episode answers the origins of Hodor which is a mystery that I never knew was a question that needed an answer. Rewatching that sequence I realise how horribly it could have gone wrong to dabble in the sci-fi time travel/distortion realm but it is pulled off perfectly and Hodor’s demise intercut with his beginnings is excruciatingly emotional and my favourite moment of Game of Thrones to date.
Now for some quick additional thoughts on the storyline in the North this season:
- Where’s Ghost? I know it costs a lot of money to make that CGI Direwolf but we didn’t see him very much after the second episode. For all we know he stayed at Castle Black but we presume he’s still with Jon.
- Anyone else get major The Shining vibes when Melisandre revealed her true nature?
- Don’t forget that Melisandre prophesised meeting Arya again back in season 3 so expect them to meet up again in season 7 (or 8).
- For the ‘big bad’ of the season Ramsey’s absence is felt in the middle of the season.
- Benjen returns as ‘Cold Hands’ from the novels and while cool it does feel like he was only included to tie up a loose end and his explanations are very brief.
- Rickon and Osha return to be killed off and while Rickon was little more than a plot point I will miss Osha who was an underrated character of the first few seasons.
- Jon making Edd Lord Commander and then telling him “Don’t knock it down while I’m gone” feels like foreshadowing to me. I’m certain that The Wall is coming down next season.
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.