May 23, 2016 Film & TV
Characters catapulted to remote destinations now seem to be circling towards a thrilling climax.
Since its debut in 2011, nothing has heralded the arrival of winter in New Zealand better than the return of Game of Thrones. Winter is coming — time to get out the dehumidifier.
As Thronies around the country get cosy under the comforter for the second half of season six, what’s new with the Lannisters, the Boltons and the Starks?
Oh, nothing much really, except a resurrection, a baby-killing and the long-overdue death of Olly, the worst teen in Westeros.
But big changes are afoot. The past five seasons have acted like a centrifuge, spinning characters around and jettisoning them into the four corners of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond. Across the Narrow Sea in Braavos, Arya has been kept busy with an energetic regime of corpse-washing and Jedi training; further east, naive emancipator Daenerys has had a sharp lesson in neocon geopolitics. Jon Snow survived two seasons wrapped in animal skins north of the Wall, while Sansa ping-ponged across Westeros as the chattel of the Borgian Lannisters, the Machiavellian Littlefinger and sui generis human atrocity Ramsay Bolton.
Meanwhile, Stark scions Bran and Rickon Stark were… somewhere remote and probably very cold. Let’s be honest, you didn’t really care that much.
To say their interactions have been limited would be an understatement. The Stark family, including Jon Snow, a half-brother, were last together in season one, episode two; since then, the show has taken perverse delight in dangling a reunion before us, then snatching it away. Think of Bran’s near miss with Jon in season four, or — rather more heartbreakingly — Arya’s arrival at Walder Frey’s castle just in time for the Stark-decimating Red Wedding.
Finally, in this sixth season, it seems the centrifuge is slowing down.
The characters are still on the move, but the signs point to their being propelled not further away, but towards a climactic central destination. Arya’s interminable assassin training is nearing its end, Sansa has reunited with Theon and is now in the capable hands of Brienne and Pod, and Bran and Rickon, everyone’s favourite Starks, are back with avengeance (hooray!).
And so is Jon Snow. A side benefit of Jon’s crowd-pleasing resurrection was the nullification of his Night’s Watch oath, allowing him to get the hell out of Castle Black for good. Now his watch has ended, the vengeance can begin.
You can’t watch Game of Thrones this year without feeling that things are finally happening.
But while some storylines are starting to circle a conclusion (showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are planning only 13 more episodes once this sixth season is over), others are just spinning their wheels — like Tyrion and Varys, still stuck in a draughty stone pyramid over in Meereen. Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill are two of Game of Thrones’ most charismatic actors, but they haven’t had much to work with for too long now. Daenerys’ fondness for that “breaker of chains” speech would make more sense if she weren’t herself imprisoned by her ex-husband’s Dothraki tribe. And the entire Dorne plot… well, the less said about that unmitigated disaster, the better.
Still, you can’t watch Game of Thrones this year without feeling that things are finally happening. Maybe because we’re mostly “off-book” (author George R.R. Martin’s speed of production having failed to keep up with the series’), perhaps simply due to our position in the story. Whatever the reason, there’s a palpable sense of momentum this season, making it one of the most exciting in years. After all this time, it’s still the best thing about wintry Monday nights.