From Jon Snow to George R.R. Martin, it was a wild year of winners and losers.
With season 6 of Game of Thrones in the books, it’s time to look back over the whole of these last ten hours of riveting television and pick some winners and losers. Battles were won and lost, power grabs were made, and alliances were forged as the show entered into its home stretch, away from the books and into its chaotic final 13–15 hours.
Below, I will highlight some of my chosen Winners and Losers, chosen from characters, actors, creatives, populations, geographic locations, and any other relevant designation. This is who won and who lost the latest season of Game of Thrones.
This doesn’t belong solely to actor Kit Harington. He delivered a fine season of performances. This is really about the character of Jon Snow, who began the season completely dead and ended the season completely King in the North despite having no legal claim to anything. He did so by being the chosen one, a leader of men, a fierce warrior, a child of Ice and Fire, and offing the show’s most gnarly villain in one of television’s greatest battles of all-time. The only person that wasn’t on Team Jon by the end of the season was his direwolf Ghost, who was probably off pouting in the woods after not being invited to the battle.
For years, Djawadi has been Maester of Music on Thrones. He’s composed the music for all 60 episodes and he’s always been an under-the-radar MVP. Without the haunting execution of “The Rains of Castamere,” The Red Wedding is 10% less soul-crushing. In this season – especially in those last two episodes – Djawadi’s work finally stood out. This usually isn’t something a composer tries to do, as their best work is done without calling attention to itself. But the 9-minute track “Light of the Seven,” which played over the opening sequence of “The Winds of Winter,” might be the best single piece of music in the history of television. Take that, Michael Giacchino’s Lost scores.
The beautifully bearded man behind Tormund Giantsbane is going to be the breakout star of Thrones this year. Last year, Sophie Turner turned a rough year for Sansa into a poster spot in X-Men: Apocalypse. This year, Hivju has turned Tormund’s adorable courtship of Brienne and a face-biting battle sequence into several big roles: he’s already starred in the Norwegian thriller The Last King (which I’ve seen and would recommend) and is filming both Fast 8 and Justice League during the Thrones offseason. No one got shipped quite like Tormund. The twist is that he’s hooking up with Hollywood. Brienne is going to be pissed.
On a show like Thrones, it’s not easy for a director to stand out. Much of the visual aesthetic is set and you’re beholden to the will of the writer’s room. Unless you’re a hired gun for big battles like Neil Marshall (“Blackwater” and “Watchers on the Wall”) or the director who had to film Sansa’s wedding night (Jeremy Podeswa), you’re likely to fall somewhere in the middle. In the last two seasons, Miguel Sapochnik – previously known for directing the Jude Law movie Repo Men – lit the world of Earthyros on fire with three of the best episodes the show has ever delivered. He did so with his fingerprints all over “Hardhome,” “Battle of the Bastards,” and “The Winds of Winter.” His work was so profoundly better than everything else the show did that we’re all up in arms that he’s not on the season 7 directors list. The only acceptable explanation is that he’ll be directing all of season 8.
The Ladies of Westeros
Prior to the start of the season, the show’s marketing promised us that year six would finally see the women of this world take over. Less Dany being helpless and more hostile takeovers. Less rape and more revenge. Less Brienne looking out a window and more Brienne in single combat. And they did it! After five seasons of failing some strong women and pushing others into the dirt, Thrones pounded its girl power drum throughout the season. Brienne kicked ass, Sansa went HAM on Ramsay, Arya served up some Frey Pie, Daenerys got back to the real mission, and Cersei… well, Cersei may have lost her last kid, but she finally claimed the Iron Throne. How long any of this will last is anyone’s guess, but I say let these women enjoy their moment, they’ve certainly earned it.
George R.R. Martin
George had a chance to steal this season’s thunder. It’s even possible that the show was stalling a bit so that he could release his book and give us the good news about Jon Snow’s resurrection and parentage. But he failed to deliver his Winds of Winter before the show delivered its version. He’s lost control of the massive machine that is Game of Thrones. He’ll still deliver a book eventually and retake some thunder, but it’s never going to be the same. It’s also never going to be the same for book readers. With Lady Stoneheart in serious doubt, it was a tough year for the “Wait and See” crowd. Even the confirmations the show did offer (R+L=J, Coldhands) felt slight. We’ll still have our theories and our comparisons, but until George delivers the next book, everyone is truly on equal footing. Even then, who knows how diverged these two stories have become.
Religion and Patriarchy in Westeros
The women of Westeros did what appears to be irreparable damage to the patriarchy. As of now, there is only one top tier house left with a legitimate male heir (Bran Stark), but he still has to crawl the final mile to The Wall from where Uncle Benhands left him. And no one knows he’s alive. Even the revelation that Jon is the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark doesn’t change anything – he’s still technically a bastard. Houses Tyrell, Lannister (if you count Tyrion’s fugitive status), Baratheon, Martell, Bolton, and Targaryen have all lost male heirs along the way. Even legally, the patriarchy has been suffocated. The various religions of Westeros are also in a tough spot. The base of power of The Faith went up in a plume of green smoke in the finale and Jon Snow sent his Red Priestess packing. And even though the Red Priestesses of Meereen helped Daenerys’ PR efforts in Slaver’s Bay, none of them were seen riding on the Queen’s ship in that final shot. When the world is truly coming to an end, the key players appear to be ditching belief in higher powers and moving forward with belief in people.
It was a good year for dragons. All three made it into the fight and they are now pants-shittingly-huge. It was also a good year for giants. Despite the fact that they died off as a species, both Wun Wun and Hodor had the most heroic deaths of the season. Direwolves on the other hand, got the short end of the stick. It started with overpromising, courtesy of the juicy rumor that Arya’s pal Nymeria would lead a wolf pack in the Riverlands. Then it under delivered, thanks to two direwolves dying and one going AWOL. Summer got to save Bran before being shredded by wights. Shaggydog got murdered offscreen, then paraded around as a torsoless trophy. Worst of all, Ghost was sidelined by budgetary priorities and only got about 3 minutes of screen time despite the fact that his best friend Jon Snow was the fucking hero of everything this year. As repayment, I will accept an entire episode in season 7 about Ghost, Nymeria, and wolf dreams. I don’t care what it costs. HBO will pay for an extra episode. Make it a webisode if you have to.
You’d think, considering she got to off Walder Frey in the finale, that Arya Stark would be a winner this year. Not so fast, my friends. Think about Arya’s arc throughout the entire season for a moment. She didn’t really change or learn anything important. She picked up some fairly ambiguous murder training, then welched on her deal with Jaqen, murdered one of her co-workers, was an accessory to the murder of Lady Crane, then zipped back to Westeros and continued with the murder list she had 3 seasons ago. Arya is great, but much of her screentime this season was more about the show not wanting to put Maisie Williams on the bench than it was about having something interesting to do with Arya. Had the show treated her more like it did Sam, using smaller doses to move along a plot where very little happens, she would have been in the winners column, for sure. It wasn’t a great year for Arya, despite its end. Though this too shall pass. If it’s sweet little murder child you want, it’s sweet little murder child you’re going to get from here on out.
The Entire Continent of Essos
Our attention has always been directed toward the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros and the lands to The North, but if you look at this map you’ll notice that the continent of Essos is far bigger and less explored that Westeros. Now, at least in show terms, it’s pretty much gone. With Dany sailing her army west and leaving Daario in charge of holding elections in The Bay of Dragons, there’s no more reason to visit the lands of the east. The only caveat would be following Jorah Mormont on his search for the cure for Greyscale, though it’s more likely that he’ll show up in Oldtown knocking on the doors of The Citadel as Gilly looks on, struggling to hold that rapidly growing baby. Unless Dany decides to take a vacation from conquering for a little Daario Downtime, it’s safe to say that we’ve seen the last of Essos.
These certainly aren’t all the Winners and Losers of season 6, just the ones I wanted to highlight. Feel free to leave your own list in the Responses below.