Would that you could judge an entire season on one episode. Because, if all that happened in season 6 of Game of Thrones was the final episode, “The Winds of Winter,” you’d have a pretty great season. Plots moved along. Shocks were dealt out (my favorite involving Arya). And more than anything else, the show seemed like it was moving towards an endgame – and given that rumors tell us we have as few as 13 episodes left, that’s quite a big deal.
Unfortunately, you can’t judge a season based on an episode; you have to look at the whole thing. And on the whole, this was a pretty weak season of Game of Thrones, one that felt like the polar opposite of that finale. Just about every plotline seemed as though it had hit a patch of molasses, sometimes to the point where it literally induced disbelieving laughter out of me (I’m thinking here of the arbitrary fire that beset Daenerys’s fleet when she was just about to leave, you guys!). What “shocks” there were often ended up badly telegraphed, or played out in such a way that they felt muted and empty. That’s maybe nowhere near as evident as it was in the penultimate episode, where two foes fought a battle whose outcome was all but written into the title cards of the episode, and whose excesses often felt less impressive and more tiresome – a big disappointment from the show that brought us “Hardhome.”
But that often was true for the whole season. The resolution to the Jon Snow storyline took about an hour longer than it should have, and many of the moments leading up to it felt tedious, as if the show were treading water and waiting on people to get into place. That felt doubly true with Arya’s storyline, which felt as if the show suddenly realized that it didn’t care at all about it, and had simply been killing time until it could drop her in as needed. It’s also true where a long-lost character made an odd return, one that felt like it should have been more momentous – and more important – than it was.
To be fair, many of these problems are hard-coded into the material itself. After all, George R. R. Martin famously struggled with this very issue as he wrote the books, referring to it as the “Meereenese Knot,” and having it end up delay the books to an infamous degree. And, because of that delay, readers have had a longer time than usual to theorize and hash out ideas, which in turn means that a lot of this season’s big moments had their thunder stolen a bit. That’s not the fault of the show, but it doesn’t make the season work any better at times.
And yet, there’s that finale, which felt like the show finally got all of its ducks in a row, kicked the dust off of its shoes, and got things moving. And it paid off all of the patience it had asked for, and delivered so many great scenes, and even managed more than its share of shocks. And most importantly, it felt like, after a season of inertia and place-setting, there was genuine movement, and exciting movement, at that. It didn’t make up for the slow pacing and lack of excitement before it, but it certainly helped quite a bit. And it renewed my excitement for a show that I had been getting frustrated with along the way.
I still don’t forgive them for wasting Ian McShane, though. And I never will.