Game of Thrones series 6: spoiler-free review

It’s beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you drown.

Drowning. Everyone’s drowning. Pretenders to the throne of the Iron Islands must endure a trial by water to show that they are fit for the crown. Meanwhile, young Brandon Stark is lost in the past, able to watch the doings of his ancestors, invisible as a ghost. Should he stay too long, he too will drown, submerged in ancient history.

Perhaps George RR Martin is also drowning, engulfed by his own creation. Six series in and famously, the original novel sequence has now slipped behind the TV series so that the viewers are as up to date as the readers.

In the beginning, series 6 feels a bit patchy. The dialogue especially suffers. A king is described as ‘lousy’ and another character is told to drink their ‘goddamn’ ale, words which jar in the mouths of people who otherwise speak with British accents and rhythms.

Fortunately, as the series picks up towards its bloody conclusion, the direction hits new heights. ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ in episode 9 is both a gory horror story and a thing of beauty. Bodies literally lie heaped up one on top of the other, whilst soldiers flail around them in the mud.

Miguel Sapochnik, the director of that episode, has clearly plugged in to the two greatest screen battles: the visceral slaughter of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995) and the painterly art of Akira Kurasawa in the battle in the rain at the end of The Seven Samurai (1954). Game of Thrones has moved far beyond what we thought TV was capable of.

Another element of the production that keeps improving is the costume design. In the beginning, it was a marvel to see how the costumiers made this faux medieval world look real. Now that the budget is no problem, many of the costumes are virtual works of art, especially those worn by Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger.

Despite the beauty, what we really want to see is Shakespearean action: revenge, treachery, reversals of fortune and sudden unforeseen triumphs. Series 6 has all this and more – even a ‘play within a play’ starring Richard E Grant, typecast as the old ham that we all know and love.

Staggering numbers of characters die in series 6 and yet the cast of thousands never seems to falter. Furthermore, through Brandon’s vision quests, we discover more about the history of Westeros, making Game of Thrones a richer and more immersive experience than ever.

Series 7 promises much, especially now that the whole world looks set for a Clash of Queens as the women pick up the pieces of their male relatives’ shattered dreams.

 

Series 6 unusual guest star: The Seventh Seal, The Exorcist, Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, the planetologist Kynes in Dune, Star Wars: The Force Awakens: is there anything that 87-year-old Max von Sydow cannot do? He even brings gravitas to the role of the Three-Eyed Raven, Brandon’s spirit guide on his journey into the past. All this despite the fact that he’s basically playing a one-thousand-year old man who sits in a tree.

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8 responses to “Game of Thrones series 6: spoiler-free review

  1. Episode 9 was briliant, I thought the earlier scenes of the episode reminiscent of The Lord of the RIngs were going to be the highlight until later on in the same episode which was immensely ambitious for a TV show and it worked. Half way through this episode my friend Tom and I (who were streaming it on a mobile in the hostel in Boston to avoid spoilers) took a break, went for a walk and were pointed in the direction of some people doing crystal meth down an alley. It was a night of TV references that one.

    I think there were parts in the season that didn’t convince…the utimate end of episode nine and the fate of a certain character seemed a little unconvincing but that can’t detract from the scenes that went before.

    • I know what you mean. At the start of the series, there was also a run of people being assassinated in the same way which didn’t ring true either. It does seem that the first few episodes tend to be a bit weak, and then they pick up towards the end.
      I also liked that the scene in the temple in episode 10 was very reminiscent of the conclusion to the Godfather part I…

      • I thought the season openers were one of the strongest…having said that I have only watched them once so will need to rewatch them to see, it was just good to have it back on TV at the time. I forgot to mention in the last post that Richard E. Grant was brilliant, he was so low key it took me a moment to realise it was him as there are so many familiar actors in it…Ian McShane’s role wasn’t what I expected either. The temple scene again, I thought from past traumas the whole revengeful thing would have been a lot grimmer.

      • I think we’ve all got acclimatised to the violence now. I said to my wife (who doesn’t watch it), “oh nothing much happened in GoT today”. And then I remembered that an elderly man had been hacked to death by a bunch of kids, and someone else had been torn to pieces by a pack of dogs, etc. etc.

      • My wife just discovered GoT this year and has devoured every season/series in short order. She can’t get enough. But she’s also confirmed for me that I would’t like it. I knew this from what little bits I’ve caught of it. There is too much sex and violence in our entertainment in general, I think, and in GoT in particular. But I was weaned on Tolkien. I like my good guys to be very good, and my bad guys to be very bad. And the worst bad guys (like Sauron) I want to be so bad that the writer knows they can’t make an appearance or else he couldn’t write them bad enough. I’m a “classic” fantasy guy, I guess, is really all I’m saying, a dying breed, and GoT is a bit too much for me.

      • I don’t know if you’re a dying breed but it does seem that ‘low fantasy’ is in in a big way these days.
        Having said that, the first series of GoT was more like historical fiction, but the number of monsters and the amount of magic has grown and grown as the series has gone on. Series 6 is becoming very Tolkienesque.
        I also dislike the excessive violence of GoT, especially that enacted against women, but the storyline keeps me hooked!

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