In 'Game of Thrones' Season 6, Who Won the Game?

Revisiting the best and worst parts of Season 6 now that our watch has ended. 

Just as all men must die, all seasons of Game of Thrones must end. Now that our watch of Season 6 has ended, we can step back and assess it as a complete season of television, with its high points and low points.

Winner: Big Setpieces

Season 6’s big moments — like Hodor’s death, The Battle of the Bastards, and the Wildfire Sept explosion — were all spectacular. Hodor’s death packed an unexpected gut-punch and a surprising revelation about a character who was seemingly one-note, The Battle of The Bastards pulled the viewer into an epic hour long gritty battle sequence, and the Wildfire explosion was one of the most stunning and elegant action sequences the show has ever done. We also can’t forget about Bran’s terrifying visit with the Army of the Dead. In its big moments, Season 6 delivered.

Loser: Anywhere that’s not Westeros

Tyrion’s plot line was its most aimless yet, wasting a great character for the majority of the season. He spent Season 6 struggling to rule Meereen, a place the writers could never make the audience care about, in scenes that felt like stalling for time. Daenerys’ visit to Vaes Dothrak resulted in the kinds of scenes we’ve witnesssed many times before — that tiresome fire-rebirth, crowds of people bowing in awe while she leaps on a dragon — which the writers apparently thought were novel. Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya’s storyline saw a nonsensical end in which she suddenly started behaving irrationally to the point where it sparked fan theories and demonstrating the ability to survive fatal gut wounds purely for the purpose of speeding the story along. An infected wound killed Khal Drogo and brought down Lancel Lannister, but the rules apparently change for Arya. That’s sloppy writing. We can’t take wounds seriously if they change arbitrarily depending on the character.

Everywhere that wasn’t Westeros, then, saw sub-par subplots.

How did Arya survive the same thing that killed Khal Drogo and Lancel Lannister? 

Winner: Payoffs galore

More than any other season, Season 6 delivered cathartic moments and had us wearing satisfied smiles at the end of episodes. Ramsay Bolton got the just rewards we’ve been waiting for since Season 3, eaten by his own dogs as Sansa looked on. Jaime Lannister rode his horse up steps, and it was awesome. Daenerys finally set sail for Westeros. The Hound came back and killed someone while delightfully criticizing the way he died (“Those are your last words? ‘Fuck you?’ Come on, you can do better. You’re shit at dying, you know that?”). We got confirmation on the long running fan theory about Jon’s real parents. Arya killed Walder Frey in the same place he killed Robb and Catelyn. We saw two Starks together for the first time since the Red Wedding in Season 3. Overall, Season 6 was jam-packed with moments fans have been waiting years to see.

Loser: Lame writing shortcuts

Unfortunately, in order to deliver these big moments, the show took some shortcuts. Arya killing Walder Frey was great, but it wasn’t quite earned, as the show didn’t do a satisfactory job of explaining why and how she is now “no one” jut because she killed The Waif. Similarly, Varys apparently owns a teleporter, as the season finale saw him pop up in Dorne and Meereen in quick succession. Viewers are not stupid, and one of the great things about Game of Thrones is that it usually does not write down to us. But Season 6 had more plot lines that require leaps in logic than ever.

It was also more simplistic than previous seasons. One of the reasons “Blackwater” is an excellent television battle was because it wasn’t good versus evil. We were unsure who would win, and nothing was black or white. “The Watchers On The Wall” was the same way; while we were rooting for Jon, we could see the Wildings perspective. While the Battle of The Bastards was visually stunning, it lacked complexity, as it was our heroes fighting against cartoon villains and they were obviously going to win. Jon is now a stalwart hero, not affected by his brush with death in a way that’s meaningful or intriguing. George R.R. Martin might be comically slow; might bog his story down in too much extraneous details, but he turns fantasy tropes on their heads. Without his subtle shades of grey, instead of being a subversive fantasy show, Game of Thrones is now mostly just a fantasy show. Though Cersei’s ascension to the throne was a positive sign for the future.

#### Winner: Fan theories

Season 6 brought many long-running fan theories to life. The Gravedigger is indeed the Hound, it’s confirmed that Coldhands is Benjen Stark, Frey pies are real, Mad Queen Cersei happened, and R+L= J. If you are an intense Game of Thrones fan or even a casual internet browser, chances are you felt vindicated to see one or more of these come to life onscreen at last. Season 6 rewarded eagle eyed and long devoted GoT fans.

Loser: Fan theory teases

Season 6 dangled the fan theory Cleganebowl in our faces, raising hype only to cruelly snatch it away. But so long as The Hound and The Mountain are still around, there’s always next season. Hype never dies.

Media via HBO