About this time last year, shortly before Season 5 of Game of Thrones started, somebody dumped the first four episodes online, much to HBO's chagrin. To make sure that doesn't happen again, the network announced it wouldn't send out any screeners for season six. Making matters worse, George R. R. Martin is in no rush to release his next book. The future of the show is uncertain, with the recent news that there may be a mere 13 episodes left after this season, and for the first time, I have no inside knowledge (as a critic or a reader) of what's going to happen.
During the offseason, I've been busy combing through trailers, tracking Kit Harington hairstyles, wading through fan gossip, and otherwise searching the signs and portents for hints about how the next set of stories might unfold. I have some bad news. There are (at least) four things I'm going to hate about season six.
Let's be clear: I love Game of Thrones. In many ways, I love the show more than the books. The high production values and generally flawless casting transform the sometimes laboring prose into searing imagery. The show has the ability to create new fables about power and violence the likes of which most modern audiences have never seen. The show can, however, flounder when Benioff and Weiss (the show creators) make poor choices when it comes to pacing or storytelling. Worse, under a loose guise of historical accuracy, the show too often replicates contemporary misogyny and racism, and does so in ways wholly unnecessary to the plot.
With just mere days before the season six premiere, here are the four things that I—and possibly you—will hate, from least to most important.
Nobody likes an extended dream quest.
Remember Bran Stark? He's currently under a tree talking to the Three-Eyed Raven, an old man fused into the roots of the tree. In the books, cool things were happening to Bran, but internal self-actualization tends to be pretty drab onscreen. We've all seen shows in which the old mystic teaches the young hero how to do magic (note the new Doctor Strange trailer for the latest iteration of the genre). Flashbacks mostly serve as vehicles for exposition, telling rather than showing.
The Game of Theons
I've never much liked Theon, the horny would-be Viking with daddy issues. He's superficial and mostly unsympathetic. There's a reason that Martin, who never saw a sub-plot in which he couldn't invest 100 pages, cut the entire story of Theon's transformation into Reek. His chief antagonist, shaggy-haired Ramsay Bolton, is likewise scarier off-screen, hinted at, rather than portrayed endlessly. Ramsay may be cruel, but he's still no Joffrey. All smiling villains pale before the late golden-haired, psychopathic boy-king.
Meereen: Where plot goes to sputter and die
Both the show and the book stall in the city of Meereen. Its explicit function is to teach Daenerys how to be a ruler, so that when she takes Westeros, she doesn't muck it up. But, really, it's a messed-up display of our own racial politics and the long literary history of using brown people as a means by which to reveal white character development. When you have a white savior called mother, lifted up by a sea of brown hands, with the mission of teaching the colonized people how to be civilized, it's time to take some basic lessons in Orientalism.
Daenerys is back in Dothraki lands (more on that in a moment), but Tyrion, who in season six will tell us his job is to "drink and know things," and eunuch spymaster, Varys, remain in the city, and I'm worried for them. Their road show rivaled only Bronn and Jaime for best odd couple of Season 5, but a road show needs to move in order to keep the song and dance humming. I don't want them stuck inside that pyramid.
All that misogyny
Yes, I know the argument—the historical past on which Game of Thrones draws featured a lot of sexual violence. It's true, though probably not more so than our modern world. We remain a society with great discomfort about women with power. We work out that discomfort across both reality and fiction on a regular basis. Hillary Clinton fills our news feeds, polarizing and powerful, at her most popular just when she seems vulnerable (during her husband's impeachment and public humiliation over his affair, when she took the secretary of state job despite losing to Obama, again during the Benghazi hearings last fall). Fictional Clintons proliferate across our TV: Claire Underwood on House of Cards, Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife—not to mention Madame Secretary, or even Veep.
The fantasy element of Game of Thrones seems to grant the writers freedom play out humiliation fantasy after humiliation fantasy, in ways that would surely be avoided in a modern show. Both the novelist and the screenwriters seem to have no way to write about female character development other than through humiliation, rape, and violence.
And now Daenerys, whose rape by Khal Drogo in Season 1 was depicted as less consensual in the show than in the books, is back in the hands of the Dothraki. A clip in the latest trailer shows her clothes being torn from her body.
Note that despite male rape being frequent in both modern and premodern war, the writers have found ways for male characters to develop without such scenes (with the exception of Theon's mutilation).
Here's the good news: These things I hate about season six are, I think, going to be just small fragments of the early episodes, then we'll move on. Sansa and Theon will likely meet up with the Ironborn. Drogon will soar over the Dothraki and the Mother of Dragons will climb on his back. We'll learn lots of interesting things about Jon Snow. The Boltons will fall. And then, as these plots that have so entwined us over the last few years start to converge, the dead and their Night King will approach the Wall. Winter is finally here.
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