The sixth season of Game of Thrones has engaged with fan service — in which a show acknowledges that it knows what fans want — more than any previous season. It’s a move that makes sense, since the show has run out of novel blueprints to work from. The Song of Ice and Fire fans are a dedicated group who have had ample time to come up with myriads of fan theories. And without George R. R. Martin getting his shit together, fan theories are the next best thing to having printed pages to adapt.
But fan service is a tricky area. Creating fiction for the will of the public risks teasing and prodding fans — which is not appreciated and can lead to fan-rage. Let’s examine how Game of Thrones has done in Season 6.
The Kind of Fan Service That Makes Fans Feel Smart
By re-introducing Benjen Stark in “Blood of My Blood” and confirming his identity as book character Coldhands, Game of Thrones employed the right kind of fan service. We were able to predict it before it happened, which made us feel smart, but it was still an exciting revelation. It was satisfying for book fans to see an intriguing character finally make it onscreen, and it was satisfying for show fans to realize that not all long-lost characters will go the way of Gendry and never be seen or heard from again. Ever.
But on the other hand, the show also brought Jon Snow back in the way that most fans predicted, telegraphing Melisandre’s involvement from a mile away. And while that, too, made us feel smart, its lack of follow-through in terms of meaningful impact on the plot or Jon’s character has made it feel indulgent — like the show was exploiting the fan-service just to create hype between seasons. This realm of fan-service, then, has been a mixed bag.
The Kind of Fan Service That Nods At Fan Theories
It’s an unlikely theory at best, and the show navigated it appropriately: For theory aficionados, it was a nice easter egg. For people who have no idea about the theory, it was just a fun scene.
However, a similar theory was smashed to pieces, and fans did not appreciate it. When Game of Thrones brought back The Hound and continuously alluded to Cersei’s trial by combat, Cleganebowl — the theory that The Mountain and The Hound will fight to the death — seemed all but confirmed. As a result, when it was quashed in “No One it felt like a fan-service manipulation tease.
The Kind of Fan Service That Remembers The Small Moments
Podrick’s magical dick has been an ongoing plot point ever since that Season 3 scene implying that the shy squire is apparently dynamite in the sack.
It’s never really been re-visited since, which makes it all the more entertaining. But “No One” alluded to it when Bronn grabbed Podrick’s junk — just like fans grab the actor in real life — and said of Brienne, “I’d fuck her. You’d fuck her, wouldn’t you?”
This was an all-around fan-service success then. Podrick’s sexual proficiency is a small moment that’s incredibly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but acknowledging it was a harmless and easy way to make fans smile.
On the other hand, the Stark’s relationships with their direwolves are ongoing small moments, and Season 6 has extended a middle finger to all Direwolves and Direwolf allies.
The Kind of Fan Service That Creates Something Fun and Unexpected
Tormund’s clumsy crush on Brienne is a spectacularly fun development that the internet has fully embraced. It’s not something most people predicted, simply because the possibility of these two characters meeting has never been on the table before. Now that it is, it makes perfect sense with their characterization — they’re both loyal, proficient in battle, and have had questionable experiences with bears — and their interactions are the show correctly predicting what makes fans happy.
The Kind of Fan Service That Ruins A Good Thing
Season 6 has give Tyrion the Jack Sparrow treatment. It’s taken a once delightful character renowned for his irreverent quips and proceeded to ruin him by giving us too much of a good thing. Mistakenly assuming that Tyrion’s quips are enough to carry the limping carcass of a story that is Meereen, the show has indulged in Tyrion’s Comedy Hour with Grey Worm and Missandei instead of giving us meaningful plot or characterization. We are not entertained.
There has never been a show like Game of Thrones before — a show this big that has overtaken the original story. On every level, then, Season 6 has been a television experiment. And like all experiments, there has been trial and error. Hopefully the final two episodes of the season, with their fan-service heavy names, will come out on the right side of history.