Game of Anticipation: I think it’ll be good.

There’s a little point-counterpoint happening at Winter regarding the tone of Season 6. Dan Selcke (who is now among my editors at FanSided; hi, Dan!) is nervous that 6 will be too big, loud and cluttered. Ani Bundel says, basically, the producers know what they’re doing. Dan’s analysis of the season we’re told to expect is:

Clarke is making some pretty tall claims here. On the one hand, they give fans reasons to get excited. Who doesn’t want to watch television that’s “epic” and “mental” and “big?” On the other hand, after seeing the show stumble a bit in Season 5, I’m nervous those are polite ways of saying “loud” and “sensationalized” and “ungainly.” I’m afraid that the producers think the audience will respond to big, flashy moments and are determined to provide them at the expense of nuance and depth. I’m afraid that, in trying to give us the show they think we want, they’ll turn it into a show we no longer enjoy.

Whereas Ani reassures us:

Dozens of interweaving plots featuring hundreds of cast members, some of whom spend years on the show and never work together, has been the hallmark of Game of Thrones since the very beginning. It’s why the show continues to stick with the “round robin” format for episodes. There have been times when we’ve had up to eight different plotlines check-ins one hour. It’s why when we have single subject episodes, like “The Battle of Blackwater” they stand out. And that happened during Season 2, when the show was still holding mostly faithful to the novels. It bears noting that, though Season 5 was the least faithful year yet, it was also the first where the show was streamlined to the point that it began to pull away from the round robin format. Instead, by the middle of last year, we were starting to have episodes with longer check-ins that only focused on three or four locations, alternating between two major plotlines, and then buttoning the hour with an extended scene in another.

I share Dan’s anxieties, a little bit, and I also share Ani’s optimism. At the center of Dan’s worry about the substance of S6 is some promotional talk from Emilia Clarke, such as:

  • From an interview with the LA Times: “It’s just go, go, go, go. Shocking moment to shocking moment. Epic moment to epic moment. It’s mental; it’s epic.”

  • From an interview with The Daily Star: “We’re just going to hit the audience with every episode, coming up with something more mental that the last. I can’t believe some of the twists in store.”

  • From an interview with E! News: Game of Thrones Season 6 will have “the biggest moments on television that have ever existed.”

With this in mind, I see where he’s nervous. At the same time, I’d like to put her rhetoric in context. Ms. Clarke does not make her living as a journalist. She could also, possibly, be a good writer when she decides to write something, but her role with Game of Thrones is as a performer, and in this particular context, her job is promotion, not description. She’s doing a tricky balancing act, to get people excited about the new season, but not tell us anything useful about what’s actually happening. There are people out there (like your blogger) who will milk every possible drop of potentially useful information out of every last image and utterance we get from actors ahead of the season, and Emilia is expected to deny us any speculation fodder. As far as that goes, I think she’s done a good job. I can’t make any predictions based on what she’s told us, and I have already established that I will run predictions on basically anything that sits still for a few minutes.

All I’m saying about Emilia is I won’t be surprised, and I won’t be disappointed in her, if we get S6 and find that she may have exaggerated just a tiny bit regarding those big moments and epic twists.

Right? So, both Dan and Ani refer to the storyline of Sansa becoming Ramsay’s new bride as an example of what they anticipate from the new season, and I will use it, too. Dan remarks that the showrunners decided to make that particular deviation from the books because, basically, they wanted to have more fun with Sansa, and I agree that’s a very sketchy reason to write a storyline. However, Ani reminds us that the deviation allowed for a great deal of streamlining of plots in a way that saved a lot of time and made the show easier to follow.

I would like to add that not only did Sansa’s return to Winterfell allow disparate plot elements to converge and accelerate, it was done really well. Some of you may remember that I squawked and squealed and protested when I saw that storyline happening, but once it was established, they did great things with it. (Best example: “They weren’t Bran and Rickon!” BOOM.) I know a lot of fans were unhappy about seeing Sansa get raped, and I won’t deny it was uncomfortable, but all fans do not have to agree on what was done right. We can discuss how the wedding night could have been presented differently, but narratively and thematically, that rape was inevitable. And, relative to what happened in the books, it could’ve been so much worse. But seriously, the reason why I was so pissy when I first saw Sansa getting pushed into Ramsay’s arms was that I don’t respond very well to being wrong. In this case, they made a major change from the books, and they handled it really well. That the show is diverging from the books is no cause for alarm.

All that said, I am mildly worried that S6 will be overly preoccupied with the big, fast, epic things and not leave enough space for the small, gentle, subtle things. Behind Emilia’s talk of everything being mental, epic, shocking, go-go-go-go, biggest moments on television, may be a season that’s so plot-oriented that it doesn’t have time for character development. That’s a concern. But even there? D&D will probably manage some things better than I’m expecting.

For example, there’s the Dorne storyline, which is also among Dan’s complaints about S5. And, sure, it was badly handled. I am uninterested in Bronn’s musical talents, and if I never see Obara’s scowling face again, I won’t miss it. However? Among all that ridiculousness, there was something good that a lot of fans seem to have overlooked, and that was Jaime showing up for Myrcella. A lot of things went wrong in what they did with Dorne, but because of Jaime’s interest in Myrcella, that storyline was not pointless. Stupid? Mostly. Misguided? Perhaps. But there was something in there that needed to happen; putting Jaime in Dorne allowed him to show us that he wants to be a parent to his children. Making that deviation from the books allowed us to see the “I’m glad that you’re my father” moment. The one thing the show did well in that ridiculous farce of a storyline was a subtle bit of character development.

Of course, I may also be the tiniest bit nervous that D&D still don’t quite know what to do with my dear Brienne and her loyal squire Podrick. The complaints about her coincidentally crossing paths with the Stark girls can be explained in terms of her serving a purpose to other characters’ plots, at the expense of developing her character. One may get the impression that she and Podrick spent most of Seasons 4 and 5 doing what they did because D&D didn’t really have anything good for them to do in that span of time, but even there, we did get the “nasty little shits aren’t worth crying over” scene. Even when the showrunners were mainly killing time with our big swordswench, they managed to allow her some character development, and it was in a positive direction. That was the part where she rightly decided to start doing things differently with her squire, and I can make a substantial case for S6 being the part where that relationship is finally paying dividends.

Overall, I think we can expect a good season. I think they know what they’re doing.