With the eighth and final season coming at 2am on Monday 15th April, we count down by looking back at some of the show’s best bits (in no particular order), season by season. The re-watch is dark and full of memorable moments.
If you had to sum up Game of Thrones in a word, it would be big. Three words? Really, really big. As HBO’s fantasy epic hits its sixth season, the sheer bigness of the whole enterprise really becomes obvious, and so the show finds itself having to condense and trim down some subplots, explain others in more depth and keep the rest of them going without losing momentum. Over 10 hours, the series not only manages that, but manages it via some of its action set pieces to date. It’s a near impossible feat, and one that cements the programme as one of the best in show even in today’s hugely competitive landscape.
Here are Season 6’s top nine moments:
Melisandre’s real age
The gasp of Jon Snow waking up from the dead was, perhaps, the moment we’d all been waiting for, but it‘s swiftly forgotten when we see more of Melisandre than ever before – just when you think you’re going get the answer to what lies on the other side (“Nothing…”), you instead get a piece of the Red Priestess puzzle, as she takes off her necklace and reveals herself as an old woman who’s been appearing younger all this time. Couple that with soul-searching questions about whether she could ever resurrect someone – and what it means that the Lord of Light’s chosen one, Stannis, turned out to be a mistake – and Melisandre finally starts to become a character in her own right, rather than a two-dimensional cypher whose job is to seduce men and recite spooky premonitions into flickering flames.
The bastard comes back
Season 5 was the point at which Game of Thrones really found its fandom, with everyone endlessly speculating about the identity of the Waif in the House of Black and White – Could she and Arya ever be the same person? File that theory under “silly” – and debating non-stop whether Jon would turn out to be really, really dead or just dead. Kit Harrington’s appearance off-screen only fuelled the fire of gossip and hype, until it became so clear that nobody wanted Jon Snow to go that it was a relief to see him come back to live. Harington’s brilliance is that he only uses the incident to make Jon even moodier than usual, remembering Olly’s betrayal the moment he wakes up – and, seeing as his oath technically ended with his death, deciding that his watch has ended.
Bran becomes the Three-Eyed Basil Exposition
There is so much backstory baked into George R.R. Martin’s books that it was always going to be a challenge to convey all the necessary facts. Bran becoming the Three-Eyed Raven – who turns out to be a close relation of Basil Exposition from Austin Powers – turns out to be a far more effective device that it sounds on paper. That’s partly because he opens up some genuinely well-told flashbacks, including a showdown between young Ned Stark and Ser Arthur Aayne to rescue his sister, Lyanna Stark, only for us we then find out that she’s being guarded in a tower because she’s giving birth… to Jon Snow. (Insert fan theories about Rhaegar Targaryen here.) It’s also because the more he ventures into White Walker territory with his visions, the more the Night King starts to see Bran in return, which, in itself, is a terrifying thought.
The origins of the White Walkers
Ever wanted to know where White Walkers come from? Bran’s journey gives us the answer, as we learn that the Children of the Forest created the ice monsters from humans in an attempt to forge a weapon strong enough to stop them destroying their homeland – a reminder that shades of grey are on on all sides of good and evil, and that war in various forms have been waged for centuries before this one.
It’s easy to think that Daenerys’ authority mostly comes from her dragons, but Season 6 gives us a reminder that she’s a formidable figure in her own right, as she is captured by the Dothraki at the start, and kept prisoner as part of the Dosh Khaleen, the widows of dead Khals, who are never allowed to leave the holy city of Vaes Dothrak. It’s a chapter that’s partly padding, as it once again puts the Mother of Dragons into the cycle of oppressed-then-liberated that defines her narrative arc – almost every season seems to end with a moment of her escaping or flying dramatically towards the horizon atop a dragon. But it also gives a chance for the women typically overlooked by the Dothraki to voice their own experiences – and, of course, a chance to remember that Daenerys is fire-proof, even without her dragons, and is more than willing to torch an entire wooden temple to seek justice and equality.
Hold the door
The saddest, and most surprising, backstory of all comes from none other than Hodor, who has long been one of the sweetest figures in Westeros. Only capable of saying his own moniker, we learn through a Bran flashback that his actual name is Willis, and that he was once a stable boy. But in the present, Bran wargs into Hodor’s body to help him hold the door shut against a whole horde of the undead – and that order (“Hold the door!”) somehow feedbacks through the timeline into young Hodor, who collapses and has a fit that seems him shout the words over and over; as he dies in the present, a sacrifice for Bran and co., that strange disconnect fries his brain until he can only say the condensed version of the phrase for the rest of his life. Poor Hodor. He held the door. He held it, all right.
Ramsay goes to the dogs
The Battle of the Bastards is the closest Game of Thrones has gotten to a pay-per-view boxing or WWF event since Prince Oberyn took on The Mountain. Almost an entire episode devoted to a single battle, it’s a thrilling, breathtakingly directed showdown between Jon Snow and his men and Ramsay Bolton’s army – the former Winterfell ward looking to win back his home. Sophie Turner’s Sansa impresses by calling out Jon for not using her insight into Ramsay’s thinking, and, sure enough, Jon Snow runs into battle incensed at the death of Rickon (a cruel game of Why Do People Always Run In Straight Lines?) and his men end up surrounded by the cool-headed Bolton bastard. But Sansa and Littlefinger turn up in the final hour to turn the tide, and the only thing more striking than the handheld camera placing us in the chaotic battlefield next to Jon is the climax of the whole thing, which sees Ramsay’s face bitten off by his own hounds. Payback is coming, oh yeah.
One of Game of Thrones’ most impeccably executed sequences is the opening to Season 6’s finale, a 17-minute sequence that slowly, carefully, stylishly unfolds the nightmare of Cersei’s cunning plan: to burn down the entire Sept and kill all of her enemies in one fell swoop. We begin with her getting ready for her trial, only for her not to go, and Tommen not to be allowed to leave his room – leaving Margaery, Loras, Lady Tyrell and the High Sparrow and his followers all waiting in the building. But when a young child is seen suspiciously running away, Mace Tyrell follows him through the tunnels under the city to find a stash of wildfire with candles perched atop, and the time slowly ticks down until it all goes kaboom. Natalie Dormer gets one last chance to shine, as Margaery realises something is afoot, while the writers get the chance to grin at how they repeatedly referenced the Mad King’s plan to store wildfire underground and burn all his enemies, planting the seed for Cersei to pick up. Ramin Djawadi’s soundtrack, meanwhile, has never been better than this gorgeous, delicate piano, counting down the seconds to the explosion in a loop of ever-escalating dread. And, just when you recover from that explosive twist, the appalled, grief-stricken Tommen responds by jumping out of the window, leaving Cersei and Jaime on their own anyway. Mesmerising, horrifying, and a mini masterclass in its own right.
Daenerys sets sail
After seasons and seasons of Daenerys flying away, heading to freedom or leading a revolt, Season 6 finally closes with the thing we’ve all been waiting for: Daenerys teaming up with the Tyrells and Martells to get enough ships to head to Westeros, with her Unsullied and Dothraki forces in tow – and, of course, the naval support of the Greyjoy fleet, as Theon and Yara (the scene-stealing legend that is Gemma Whelan) form an intimate alliance with Daenerys (the latter, ahem, being particularly, hilariously intimate). And, above them all, fly the three dragons, each one adding to the anticipation of seventh season that will, at last, bring Game of Thrones’ players into direct contact.