The sixth season of the television blockbuster ‘Game of Thrones’ was a major turning point for the show. After following the plot of George R. R. Martin’s epic novels, the show found itself outrunning the unfinished book series. For the first time, show runners David Beinoff and D.B. Weiss had to use their knowledge of Martin’s world, the clues he had offered them and a lot of their own imagination in order to drive the story towards its conclusion. For their first foray into uncharted territory, was the sixth season going to triumph or collapse?
The answer isn’t quite so simple - with the freedom to now do what it wanted, this season still spends a lot of time treading water. ‘Thrones’ is renowned for its myriad of complex storylines, but with many, many characters at play, the trick was always knowing who to focus on and when. For the bulk of this sixth season, the storytelling unexpectedly slows down even further. This benefits some of the storylines, especially Jon Snow’s (Kit Harrington), which starts to become one of the more interesting threads, but others slow down to practically a halt. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) seems stuck in perpetual purgatory with her training in Braavos, Daenarys’ (Emilia Clarke) storyline actually appears to go backwards, and even the delicious machinations at Kings Landing are reduced to endless monologues from the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). It also doesn’t help that major plot twists (such as the thunderously dumb revelation about Hodor’s (Kristian Nairn) name that totally undercuts the drama of his death) land with a dull thud. At first, it really does look like the series has completely lost its way, really testing its audience’s patience.
And then, as is want to happen with ‘Thrones’, it turns around at the last second with a series of episodes that rank amongst the finest the show has ever had. The penultimate (and Emmy-winning) episode ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ is a masterclass of action storytelling, the battle itself a violent, horrific and devastating piece of filmmaking. It also draws out remarkable performances from its cast, and brings bloody retribution to one of the series’ most diabolical villains. You’ve barely recovered from the episode before you’re hit with the finale, ‘The Winds of Winter’, a series of narrative shocks and twists that finally> blasts the story forward with unexpected velocity, all the while justifying many of the unusual and frustrating narrative choices leading upon to it. These two episodes are the perfect showcase for why ‘Thrones’ is such a remarkable series, demonstrating the tremendous skill and talent of those in front of and behind the camera, especially from director Miguel Sapochnik.
Each season of ‘Game of Thrones’ is like a bow being drawn. It takes its time, carefully pulling the bow back with just the right amount of force, as frustrating as it may be, before releasing it to achieve a perfect shot. The sixth season pushed that frustration to the max, more so than any season before, but the shot itself was possibly its finest to date. With only fourteen episodes left (hopefully), it’s now clear that the series is hurtling towards its climax, the pieces moving into place for some final retribution. Looking back over the sixth season and understanding the justification for every decision in hindsight, its short fallings don’t sting quite so much. It might make some odd decisions here and there, but the moments of greatness are a powerful reminder why ‘Game of Thrones’ is one of the biggest television event series in history.
Each season of ‘Game of Thrones’ is like a bow being drawn. It takes its time, carefully pulling the bow back with just the right amount of force, as frustrating as it may be, before releasing it to achieve a perfect shot.
PICTURE & SOUND
‘Game of Thrones’ has always set a high standard for television on Blu-ray, and the sixth season is no exception. The 1080p 1.78:1 transfers on the ten episodes are stunning, textured and crystal clear. It’s always thrilling seeing this series in 1080p, the higher resolution showing off detail that is missed in the lower resolution broadcast versions. The series also now comes with Dolby Atmos as a standard for audio, and that’s especially exciting for this season with its extraordinary sound design and score. The balance is top-notch, and the explosive moments of the show hit with terrific sonic force.
There are no surprises with the special features of the sixth season, but this isn’t a bad thing, the series often offering a high standard of material. As always, we get audio commentaries on every episode (multiple commentaries for episodes five, nine and ten), featuring multiple members of the cast and crew. There are also in-episode guides complementing each episode, going into specific detail about each of them.
The first video-based feature in the set is ‘Recreating the Dothraki World’ (20:15) on Disc Two, which looks at the series’ return to the Dothraki culture. The rest of the extras though are relegated to Disc Four, which include ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (30:01), a thorough and exciting look at one of the finest sequences in the entire series, and ’18 Hours at the Paint Hall’ (28:17), a fly-on-the-wall look at one day on the set of the show. There’s also another set of Histories and Lore, short animations covering the history and cultures of Westeros narrated by members of the cast, and Deleted Scenes (11:08) from the series.
JB Hi-Fi are also following tradition and releasing their own limited edition version with a fifth disc of extras, which includes two new featurettes - ‘Inside The Fight For Meereen’ (23:59) and ‘Bigger Than Reality: Creating The Visual Effects’ (21:43).
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