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.