It’s been a while since we last got to see our favorite (and least favorite) characters in Westeros. The upcoming seventh season of “Game of Thrones” is probably the most anticipated season yet, due to its later-than-usual premiere date in July and the explosive season six finale preceding it.
With every season of “Game of Thrones,” the stakes get higher and higher as we inch closer to finding out the fate of the coveted Iron Throne. Among fans, a Rotten Tomatoes survey conducted for Business Insider said that season six is the fan favorite, but it’s also the least-loved season among critics.
The show got better when it wasn’t confined to being a strict adaptation of the lengthy book series. And while some storylines in season six were adapted from the books, the story had more focus – it brought characters together instead of drifting them apart, and it had some of the best action sequences that television has ever seen, rivaling even big action films.
Here’s why season six of “Game of Thrones” is the best season so far:
The story is more accelerated than other seasons
Things moved a bit slowly in early seasons, mostly for Daenerys and Bran and his friends – leaving Bran out of season five was one of the best moves the writers have made. Things also moved incredibly slow for the ever-impending Winter, which took six whole seasons to actually arrive.
Remember how Daenerys spent most of season two hanging out in Qarth? Remember how much time we spent watching Daenerys figure out what to do about Meereen? Three seasons. Of course, Daenerys needed her time in Slaver’s Bay to prepare for ruling Westeros, but her time there got a little dull and irrelevant to the series as a whole until Varys and Tyrion arrived to speed things up.
In the first few seasons of the series, there was a lot of traveling. We did get to know these characters along the way, and some characters got to know each other through their adventures on the road (Brienne and Jaime, Jorah and Tyrion, for example), but now we don’t need to see the journey – just the destination.
Season six also has a narrowed focus
This is only natural for a show in its final two seasons, and it’s the best time for it to happen. TV shows that add unnecessary story arcs and too many new characters in their final hours usually don’t end well.
As the characters in this world get closer to each other and the show nears its endgame, the story has more focus. No more side stories that ultimately lead nowhere, no more time for romance: Ygritte is dead, Shae is dead, and Daenerys said goodbye to Daario Naharis for political reasons, which also translate to story reasons.
To narrow the focus, the show has also done what it does best: kill people. With Ramsay Bolton gone, Cersei is the primary villain, and Euron Greyjoy a close second.
At this point in the show, the only side story that really exists is Sam and Gilly at the Citadel. But Sam has stuck around all this time for a reason, and his presence at the Citadel will definitely pay off in some way.
Thematically, season six works better as a larger, more cohesive story
Season five also follows a similar pattern. Though earlier seasons were well-written, episodes lacked an overall arc, which can cause them to feel more like a series of scenes stitched together. There was rarely a common thread, especially with Daenerys so far away from what was happening in Westeros.
In season six, the episodes (and season as a whole) are more thematic and bleed into each other more naturally.
There’s less discussing politics and battle, and more actual politics and battle
Due to a smaller budget in earlier seasons, “Game of Thrones” found clever ways to avoid showing a costly battle, instead focusing on some small-scale, bloody moments. In season one, we see the Battle of the Green Fork between Robb Stark’s army and Tywin Lannister’s army from the perspective of Tyrion, who just happens to take a blow to the head and passes out as soon as the battle begins. The screen cuts to black and once it’s back, the battle is over.
During season two, the show got dramatically more popular than the first season, but its first major battle episode, “Blackwater,” was still condensed. A lot of the action was quick and dark, as the battle takes place at night. The episode took place solely in King’s Landing, and focused on a lot of up-close scenes between characters in the Red Keep.
The Dorne storyline took a backseat in season six (like it should have the whole time)
Oberyn Martell was such a captivating character gone so soon that he built up a lot of anticipation to see more of Dorne. And once we did, it was disappointing. The storyline in Dorne throughout season five felt cheesy, tacked on, and as if it was taking place in a different world, or even a different show.
But the decision to have Ellaria and the Sand Snakes massacre the men of Dorne in the season six premiere – and not revisit them until their brief appearance at the end of the season finale – worked because it made us think about their imminent threat to Cersei and King’s Landing without showing them. It’s a relief that the writers figured out that Dorne is much more interesting in absence.
There’s less gratuitous sex, nudity and violence
Yes, this is “Game of Thrones,” so there will always be boobs, butts, and blood. But as the story has become more about who’s going to win the Iron Throne, the nudity and violence aren’t necessary to draw people in anymore. The people who love “Game of Thrones” love it for the unexpected and thrilling plot twists, the lovable (and hate-able) characters and its intensity. There’s no need for there to be any gratuitous violence and sex anymore.
There will always be violence, but at this point the most violent moments are necessary to the characters such as Arya, or essential to move the story forward, like the Battle of the Bastards.
Since Littlefinger doesn’t run a brothel anymore (or does he? With him you never know), there isn’t much reasoning behind having naked women everywhere anymore. In the show’s final two seasons, there also won’t be much time or reason to devote to explicit sex scenes. Sure, it happens, but now it’s more important than ever to watch Cersei scheme, Jon take on the White Walkers, Arya check names off her list, and Daenerys take over the Seven Kingdoms.
The stakes are higher
Anyone can die at anytime in “Game of Thrones.” But in season 6, the stakes were higher than ever. There are threats everywhere: Zombie The Mountain, the Faith Militant, The Sons of the Harpy, White Walkers, wights, Cersei Lannister, and Arya Stark.
Going into season seven, Queen Cersei thinks she’s safe from all her enemies, because she literally exploded them. But she has no idea what’s coming, or who. But we do – and that’s what has made the build up to this new season so exciting.
While some of the backstory felt a little unnecessary for book readers, it was gratifying to visualize it for the first time on screen, and to confirm some theories that have been circulated about Jon Snow for years. It was also exciting to get another glimpse at a young Ned Stark, who we started this whole journey with back in season one.
Season six embraces the fantasy elements of Westeros
“Game of Thrones” smartly made a gradual introduction to the world’s fantastical elements. The show had to feel real realistic before introducing Daenerys riding a huge dragon, Bran time traveling, and Arya changing her face to kill people.
The movie-level scale
“Game of Thrones” has always been made wth movie-level quality, but this season went to greater and greater lengths with each and every episode.
Since the show has grown, so has its budget. By the time season six rolled round, “Battle of the Bastards” got an action-packed clash of armies that took up much of the hour-long episode. The episode even started with Daenerys and her dragons taking back Meereen, a far step forward from season two’s “Blackwater.”
Lady Lyanna Mormont
The fiery Lyanna Mormont was one of the highlights of season six, and will probably be crucial to the fate of House Stark.
More relatable human relationships
As the story accelerates and narrows its focus, season six brings characters together who we’ve seen all over the map of Westeros for the past five seasons. The unlikely pairing of Tyrion and Daenerys, Jon and Davos, Brienne and Sansa, Sansa and Jon, Sansa and Littlefinger, Varys, Olenna and what’s left of Dorne add an element to the story that gives us more people to root for in the end.
Women driving the narrative — and taking over the world
Jon Snow is King in the North for now, but plenty of women are taking the Seven Kingdoms by storm. There’s Queen Cersei Lannister (she’s bad, but whatever!), Sansa Stark, Daenerys Targaryen, the Sand Snakes, Olenna Tyrell, and Yara Greyjoy. As a bonus, Arya Stark is wandering Westeros with Needle and her hit list, and Brienne of Tarth will do anything to protect Sansa from Littlefinger and anybody else who gets in her way.
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