Game of Thrones has always been enthralling. Fascinating characters, storylines and locales. Well, except Dorne. Screw Dorne. For those familiar with the books, it’s been a curious thing to see how the show takes it’s own steps, which aspects are used, recycled, merged or discarded entirely. But until the end of Season 5, there was always a guide to the show, a structure from the text that we knew would provide a backbone to the series. Then the show only went and passed George RR Martin’s work. The end result was pretty spectacular. While the endgame has been shared between author and showrunners, not having to conform to the published text has truly unshackled the show. While before we’d get probably at least one “OMFG” moment every Sunday to light up twitter, Season 6 threw 3 or 4 of them our way in a single episode. It was as if someone lit a fire under the show…or to be more exact, a dragonfire.
As ever, the season deals with multiple plots, involving groups of characters across different regions of the continents of Westeros and Essos, linked in one way or another in the struggle to claim the Iron Throne. Its no spoiler to say that up North, the resurrection of Jon Snow at the wall sets in motion an arc that reunites members of the Stark family before they go head to head with the Boltons to reclaim their home seat of Winterfell and with it, the rule of the North. Beyond the wall, Bran Stark continues his training, learning to channel his prophetic abilities into an ability to glimpse the past. South, at King’s Landing, the Crown, or specifically Cersei Lannister’s conflict with the High Sparrow and his militant order that have taken over the church reaches it’s tipping point while a coup in nearby Dorne leads to another faction emerging to challenge the rue of the Lannisters. Across the narrow sea in Braavos, Arya Stark continues her training with the Faceless men, while in Essos, Daenerys finds herself held by a Dothraki horde, one which she soon takes control of and folds into her forces to allow her to finally achieve the strength needed to retake her throne and rule over Westeros.
While a brief synopsis sounds daunting in terms of the shows scope, one of the reasons this season was so thrilling is because loose ends start to be tied up. People are brought together with others, alliances made, battles fought, nefarious plans come to fruition, in some cases through elegant writing, in others through a cataclysmic event obliterating landmarks and characters alike.
At the end of season 6, the sprawling list of locations and people that populate them is whittled down dramatically. It’s clear we’re entering the home straight and the relentless pace and resolution of this season imbued it with a incomparable energy. This is further compounded by how it contrasts with he previous year. Season 5 was mired in misery for the most part, cherished characters ran the gamut of physical and emotional brutality that made for gripping, but at times exhausting viewing. Much of this season brings karmic revenge for the miscreants of season’s past. Characters such as Sansa and Arya, steeled by years of pain bring the first wave of retribution and it’s juicy as hell to watch.
More-so than past seasons, this one does strip away some of the political maneuvering. Some may lament how it’s a little less cerebral, but upping the action quotient makes for thrilling viewing. The standout is the Battle of the Bastards, an episode filled with visceral action, a breathtaking feat on par with the battle of Hardhome last year, showcasing the gritty, claustrophobic intensity of medieval battle. While the action sets a new benchmark for the show, the it still invests you in the characters and their relationships, using them as the bedrock upon which the spectacle unfolds.
THE PACKAGEHBO have always delivered a Blu-ray with a pristine image quality in seasons past, and this one is no different. It’s a superb transfer, showcasing impressive detail through. Hues tend towards the cooler end of the spectrum, blues and greys come through often, but it generally maintains a natural palette. It really shows off the impeccable production design of the show, as well as the action sequences, notably those that employ CGI. it’s remarkable how much more impressive the show is in these moments, both in terms of scale and execution, than it was only a few years ago.
The release contains all 10 episodes, spread over 5 discs, housed in a fold out case and high quality slip-case. Special features, as usual with the Game of Thrones releases, are plentiful and detailed below.
- In-Episode Guide – A nifty interactive feature that has accompanied past releases. In “interactive viewing mode”, popups appear onscreen at times during the episodes allowing the viewer to navigate to a inscreen text box which offers more detail on characters, locations or histories. It’s a very well executed system and probably of great use to those who have trouble telling their Martells from their Tyrells.
- Histories and Lore – Again a feature that has been present in previous seasons. In it, there are 18 featurettes which retall historical tales to expands on the shows mythology. They’ye polished productions and are each narrated by a cast member connected to the piece. For example Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy) narrates segments on The Old Way and The Kingsmoot, both looking at Iron island traditions, while Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) narrates segments recapping Vaes Dothrak and The Dothraki. They’re great additions for people who want to not only refresh their knowledge of the show but expand it beyond what is shown on screen.
- The Battle of the Bastards: An In-Depth Look – Behind-the-scenes piece examining the production challenges of creating this epic event, including explorations of VFX, stunts, and interviews with key cast and crew.
30 minutes – really great detailed look at this centerpiece of the season
- Recreating the Dothraki World – Behind-the-scenes piece looking at the creation of Vaes Dothrak and its importance to Dany’s evolution.
about 20 minutes
- 18 Hours at the Paint Hall – A “day in the life” style documentary, following three different camra units on one day of filming during the season. Runs about 30 minutes and offers some nice looks at the logistics of making the show.
- Deleted Scenes – Three are short moments that add little, just extra dialogue lines from existing scenes. The fourth is actually a longer version of the play Arya watches in Braavos. Running a little over 10 minutes, it’s a nice addition, especially in terms of appreciating the great actors cast as this band of players.
- Audio Commentaries – There is at least one per episode, featuring the director of the episode and a number of cast members who have particularly pivotal roles in that installment. Cast who contribute include, but are not limited to, Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon), Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm), Kristian Nairn (Hodor), John Bradley (Samwell Tarly), Hannah Murray (Gilly), Ian McShane (Septon Ray), Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell), Essie Davis (Lady Crane), Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark), Kit Harington (Jon Snow), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister). Three of the episodes contain two commentaries, these are the ones with larger production values/action scenes, with the second commentary featuring technical crew members including visual effects supervisors, camera operators, and directors of photography. From the few I listened to, they not only showcase a lot of the details that go into the episodes, but a lot of the camaraderie between the people who work on the show.
- Digital download code is included.
If that’s not reason enough to peak your interest, remember this is the season where Lyanna Mormont became the best thing on TV.
THE BOTTOM LINEIn terms of the Blu-ray, HBO continue to treat their fans with a deluge of special features. It’s another handsome release from them that does justice to perhaps the greatest season of Game of Thrones so far. Season 6 is fueled by a well earned fury. Bringing impressive action, more backstabbing and delicious satisfaction as the North begins to exact it’s revenge. Season 7 can’t come soon enough, but this release is the best way to tide yourself over until it arrives.
Game of Thrones Season 6 is available from HBO Home Entertainment on November 15th.