(Spoiler alert: this column contains spoilers for the first two episodes of season 6 of “Game of Thrones.”)
As I talked with friends and co-workers about our hopes and dreams for this season of “Game of Thrones” before last week’s premiere, there was a recurring theme.
We all liked the show, but after five years of carefully woven tales of intrigue that built up slowly before an inevitably violent release, we wanted to pick up the pace a little bit. We’re approaching the endgame here, and it was time to get it going.
And good Lord, that’s exactly what’s happened so far this season. We’re two episodes in and we’ve already had a pile of major character deaths. In previous seasons of “Game of Thrones” we could reasonably expect showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss to draw out the Mystery of Jon Snow’s Dead Body for most of the season, but that was dealt with Sunday night during the second episode after he was killed in the season 5 finale.
The major deaths on Sunday were all great examples of “Game of Thrones” dispensing with the pleasantries and getting on with it. Ramsay takes out Roose Bolton in a family coup that was a long time coming — you knew that brutal and ambitious Ramsay wasn’t going to take his dad’s verbal abuse and threats forever. He got the Karstarks involved in this coup offscreen — instead of spending an episode or two orchestrating the whole thing before actually doing it. This whole sequence, communicated briskly in a single scene, is the sort of economy we never would have expected from “Game of Thrones” in previous years. We don’t need to see those machinations to get the point. We know how this world works by now, and so this efficient construction feels just right.
It’s been a couple years since we last saw Balon Greyjoy, father of Theon and lord of the Iron Islands — and instead of spending several episodes reminding you what’s going on over there, Balon gets tossed off a rope bridge in his second scene back. We’re about to have some kind of war of succession over there with the typical patriarchal resistance to Yara Greyjoy, a woman, taking over for her father. Plus, Theon is headed back there now, so it’s likely we’ll get a resolution there sooner rather than later.
We also got to see the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant lay down their cards this week, after 11 episodes of obtuse wheel-spinning with them. Facing off with Jaime Lannister next to the corpse of his daughter, the High Sparrow boasts that though the Faithful may as individuals be poor and anonymous, as a group they can topple nations. It’s a clear threat, one that demonstrates their intentions in a way we could only infer previously.
And let’s not forget the premiere, with Ellaria Sand’s coup in Dorne, which is similarly satisfying movement in the south of Westeros. Both Dorne and the Sparrows were frustratingly late additions to the game, both first taking the stage in season 5. In season 6, they’re fully integrated and taking action like they were there all along, and it’s a beautiful and refreshing thing.
And that’s how it’s going all the way around so far this year. The time for endless machinations is over, and the time for execution (in both the “murder” sense and the “getting stuff done” sense) is here. And for the most part it’s working. Sure, the random addition of Euron Greyjoy is a bit awkward, but he’s certainly not wasting any time, murdering a major character within minutes of making his first appearance. And, thankfully, that kind of pace is the norm right now.
It’s always a valid concern, with a longform serial TV show like this, that the showrunners will be indecisive and set a meandering course when they should be ramping toward a conclusion. We’ve seen it a lot, and been burned by it with shows like “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica.” For now, it looks like Benioff and Weiss are not making that mistake.
Whether the conclusion of “Game of Thrones” ends up being a satisfying event is still up in the air, of course. But at least they seem to be speeding toward that conclusion with their heads up and a brave face. That’s what this show needs, no matter how it turns out in the end.