Season six of Game of Thrones proved to be the show’s most eventful to date and in no area more so than the south of Westeros. From the Twins to the Riverlands, from King’s Landing to Dorne, the region was a hotbed of show-shifting events and deaths as characters moved across the continent like video game characters with a sneaky fast travel system. Last week I started this series of three articles detailing the events of the season by location to give a general reminder before season seven starts in a couple of weeks and also to see how my thoughts on the season have changed since first viewing.
Let’s start with the Dorne storyline just to get it out of the way, kind of like how the season deals with it. The first episode sees Ellaria and the Sand Snakes kill Prince Doran and Trystane in a successful coup, disappointed in their lack of efforts to bring the Lannisters to justice. In season 5 the Dorne storyline was simplified to the point of irrelevancy and this drastic and sudden change in the political landscape was little more than wiping away a failure, and doing so in the first few minutes of the season no less. On my rewatch I was disappointed to see Doran walking around without his wheelchair before his death because it would have been much more interesting for the only time we see him out of his chair to be when he slumps over dead. The chair represents one of the titular thrones and it’s a shame such visual thematic metaphors were left out for the sake of pace. We then don’t see a return to Dorne until the season finale in which in a very short – and once again rushed – scene sees Ellaria join forces with both Olenna Tyrell and Daenerys against Cersei setting up a huge conflict in season 7.
We mustn’t forget Sam and Gilly’s plotline this season which sees them travel pretty much the entire length of Westeros, first to Sam’s home and then to Oldtown where Sam hopes to become the new Maester of the Night’s Watch after Aemon’s death last season. It’s very much a transitional season for the characters which derives from the show’s inherently novelistic approach although it’s strange how it takes all season for them to get to Oldtown when other characters are travelling across continents and seas between episodes, or even within the same episode like Varys in the season finale. I wish that Sam had stopped off at Braavos and bumped into Arya (more on her next week/article) like he does in the books but instead he goes straight to his ancestral home of Horn Hill to leave Gilly and Little Sam with his family. This culminates in a dinner scene which is funny but profoundly uncomfortable thanks to Sam’s horrid father Randyll and arrogant brother Dickon. Sam comes to his senses and leaves with Gilly and Little Sam, stealing the family Valerian Sword and travelling to Oldtown. While enjoyable this storyline does feel ancillary and in the season that starts to conclude and wrap up many stories it’s probably unnecessary.
Cersei’s philosophy in season six is that ‘before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest’. It’s easy to look back and see Cersei as a mastermind capable of brilliant strategy because of how her story ends: sitting upon the Iron Throne with many of her enemies’ dead by her hand but in fact her season is full of tragedy and failure. The season is bookended with the deaths of her children as she discovers Myrcella’s death in the premiere which initially puts strain on her relationship with Jaime. They soon make up however and seem unstoppable until their plans fall apart. Held under what is essentially house arrest in the Red Keep, Cersei is kept out of small council meetings, her plan to raid the Great Sept of Baelor is foiled when Tommen joins forces with the church and her trial is jeopardised when trial by combat is outlawed throughout the Seven Kingdoms.
This of course builds to the trial scene which begins the season finale and is one of best, if not the best, sequences ever on the show. The shocking deaths and the bombastic special effects make it memorable but it’s true power is conveyed through Miguel Sapochnik’s masterful directing and Ramin Djawadi’s amazing score. Sapochnik is best known for the big battle episodes such as ‘Hardhome’ and ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ but he truly shines in this perfect sequence and Djawadi’s music has been a part of my personal soundtrack since the day the episode aired offering a piece tangential to Thrones music of the past while being something truly new and fresh. Among the dead of the Wildfire explosion are Lancel and Kevan Lannister, Mace, Margaery and Loras Tyrell and the High Sparrow himself. Let’s not forget however that the ever pesky Qyburn has his ‘little birds’ kill Pycelle at the same time, a gruesome farewell to a fun and underrated character of the series. Cersei’s actions lead to her last remaining child, Tommen, killing himself which finally cements the prophecy told by the witch in the flashback that began season 5. Cersei acts desensitised to the death, losing her humanity and everything else on her way to ultimate power.
While multiple important characters die in the finale that doesn’t mean they didn’t have interesting storylines of their own this season; let’s explore. Margaery’s story is truly fascinating this season with how she deals with her situation being the perfect contrast to how Cersei dealt with hers at the tail-end of season 5. Instead of humiliating herself and taking the easy way out, she keeps her calm, bides her time, sees through the High Sparrow’s mind games and plays her own. Truly a master of manipulation she has everyone believing that she has repented her sins up until the moment she realises Cersei has bested all of them, the façade crumbling, apparent in her shocked face upon her death. Speaking of the High Sparrow, you have to truly nail the casting for me to be so captivated by numerous speeches of religious mumbo-jumbo and Jonathon Pryce is perfect; I could listen to that guy talk for hours.
The Hound makes his return this season, trying to live a normal and less-violent life with the help of Ian McShane’s Brother Ray. I’m trying to think up some good insight into the situation but can think of little more than how I want more Deadwood in my life. Get on that HBO! Anyway, Ray and co are killed by some pesky outlaws sending The Hound on a Liam Neeson-style revenge mission which ends in their deaths and our favourite burn victim joining the Brotherhood without Banners (remember those guys that we haven’t seen from season 3). This storyline is fine and The Hound is a fun character but along with the Riverlands storyline and Arya’s overlong arc it makes episodes 6 and 7 really drag.
The Riverlands play a major part this season with ‘Red Wedding’ survivor ‘The Blackfish’ under siege by the Frey army. Jaime comes to aid the Frey’s while Brienne comes to try and rally Tully to Jon and Sansa’s aid. On the rewatch this seems like nothing more than wrapping up a loose end before the show enters its final act and even goes out on a whimper with ‘Blackfish’ dying off-screen. The Frey’s retake the castle and Edmure Tully, who was used as a hostage and betrays his Uncle because he is promised freedom, ends up betrayed and back in his cell. An all-around lacklustre mini-arc but it does enable some good character beats for Brienne and Jaime.
Brienne’s season is probably the most hectic this year with her starting in the North, rescuing Sansa and Theon from Ramsey’s men. She then escorts the young Stark to Castle Black where she has some great interactions; first with Davos and Melisandre as she boasts about killing Stannis and then with Tormund who is completely and hilariously enamoured by her but sadly the feeling isn’t mutual. She then travels to the Riverlands and while her scenes with ‘Blackfish’ are perfunctory if little else she once again has amazing chemistry with Jaime. It’s the relationship at the crux of both their character arcs and here they find themselves on opposite side claiming that if push comes to shove they will have to fight each other. Brienne leaves Riverrun just in time and instead of giving chase, Jaime lets her go with an emotional and very important wave, signifying that their friendship is stronger than their allegiances in the conflict. A perfect little moment which will probably be their final one together. Oh, and Podrick is along for the ride too.
Finally, we get to Jaime himself and it’s a shame that the Riverlands arc proves to be another storyline to get him out of King’s Landing while something big happens with Cersei just like his journey to Dorne made him miss Cersei’s incarceration last season. His arc does seem a little in transit after the leaps and strides his character made in the first four seasons although this season cements his current frame of mind instead of adding to the journey. The aforementioned moments with Brienne are fantastic but the scene with him talking to the captive Edmure may be his best of the last few seasons. He truly accepts and outs his love of Cersei to Edmure, no longer hiding it and once again quoting that memorable phrase which ended the very first episode in such tragic circumstances: “The things we do for love”. This true acceptance then makes his return to King’s Landing in the finale all the more dramatic as he finds out what evil Cersei is truly capable of; the look on his face says it all and is burned into our minds as the credits roll. Could Jaime be the prophesised Valonqar destined to end Cersei’s life as stated by Maggy the witch? I can’t wait to find out.
Now let’s conclude with some smaller, bullet-point worthy thoughts on the storyline in the South:
- While Doran’s death is the most important in the Dorne storyline I was more sad to see Areo Hotah, Doran’s bodyguard, die. I’m not entirely sure why but I grew attached to that character in the books despite him doing little but stand around.
- We finally get to see Oldtown in the finale which is cool for a book fan. It was the briefest of glimpses so hopefully there’s more in season 7.
- Olenna makes for a great sparring partner for Cersei this season and ushers in more small council meetings. They were missing from season 5 and have always been a highlight of the show, getting better as the characters become more developed.
- The Mountain – especially after trial by combat is outlawed – has little to do but bash a few heads into walls (and rip them clean off) but with the return of The Hound could the fabled ‘CleganeBowl’ be on the cards?
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.