This was arguably the best season of the tale so far, more for how it was directed rather than any significant difference in the story. The tale itself has been rich and complex from the beginning. The main difference for me was around how sex and violence were slathered on this round.
Violence, which in previous seasons has been lovingly paid attention to, with excruciatingly long shots that were more about turning it into porn than a point, has changed. This series, violence is abrupt and without comment. It is, frankly, much more disturbing, and feeling much more in service to the story this time rather than to baser instincts. Well, not entirely, but there are even moments where we only hear the violence, but not see it. It is a smart change for a show that couldn’t really top itself if it kept going the same course. Nudity and sex were also in rather short supply this season, which was just fine as well. Those aspects, as previously presented, rarely added anything to the stories themselves over the last six years.
It was also the most female-oriented season so far. Maisie Williams’ (Doctor Who) Arya, Emelia Clarke’s (Terminator: Genisys) Daenerys, Lena Headey’s (300: Rise of an Empire) Cersei, Natalie Dormer’s (The Forest) Margaery, Sophi Turner’s (X-Men: Apocalypse) Sansa, and Carice van Houten’s (Game of Thrones) Melisandre really took the stage and the reigns. There was even a delightful cameo from Essie Davis (The Babadook) and continued moments from Diana Rigg (Doctor Who). Despite Kit Harrington’s (Spooks: The Greater Good) storyline, this really was the year women ruled Westeros and the rest of the clockwork kingdoms.
This series had to enter new, non-book territory, and had to tackle a number of interesting challenges set up by the exiting canon. Primarily, from a story-telling and watching point of view, the characters were spread all over the globe, making progress slow. This has been a progressing problem… most notable in the last series by the fact that Bran never even shows up. Add to this the constant dirge of failure and betrayal, and the weight of the show threatened to turn off its audience and drag it completely down.
However, this year we finally start to see the turnaround that was indicated in the previous season with its deathly lows. Positive effects are occurring (and yes, I include revenge/justice in the positive). People are starting to accrete as the final sides are finally selected and begin to make their moves. And probably most importantly, world changing secrets are being revealed, some in just the last few minutes of the season. With only 2 more seasons likely in the offing, a lot has to happen before the White Walkers and their army arrives. Whether they succeed or fail will be based on what happens south of The Wall. The shape of that became a lot clearer, and yet there were still surprising alliances and character growth and thrilling final moments in the super-sized finale. Game of Thrones has yet to lose steam, and it maintains its ability to shock and entertain in equal measures. It is going to be a long year before Winter arrives… but it is finally here!