The FOTS team re-assembles to break down the year’s big moments, predict the future, and debate whether Jon+Sansa should be a thing.
[What follows is the transcript of our chat. We couldn’t possibly cover everything, but we tried. It has been edited for clarity and grammar. Also, Since the show has passed the books in almost every respect, we didn’t discuss spoilers so much as “educated speculation.” Still, you’ve been warned.]
DAVID MCGINNIS: Hey, gang! Welcome to our third-annual FOTS Thrones Roundtable. Let’s start with this — how would you describe your gut reaction to Season 6 as a whole?
CHASE BRANCH: After a fifth season that left a lot of people wondering if D&D could really pull this off while leaving the cozy confines of Martin’s pre-plotted books, S6 is a HUGE turn back in the right direction. I’d put this as either the best or second-best season (behind S4.)
SEAN KNIGHT: I feel extremely justified in my defense of Season 5. It’s clear that this is what they had planned all along. Some of it was still rocky, which was to be expected, but this season was all about the payoffs. After the emotional toll last season took on its audience, it was a welcome reprieve. And yet it felt very much in tune with last season as a whole. It was a natural extension of what came before.
NATHAN JAMES: Amen. This whole season has been about switching from the deliberate pacing of Martin’s world-building into breakneck-speed storyline resolution, weaving the threads together in a flurry of fan appeasement.
DAVID: I remember in last year’s Roundtable you, Nathan, said something like “I’m not sure there’s anything Benioff and Weiss can do” to redeem Season 5. Would you like me to put those words in a pie for you?
NATHAN: I was wrong. They came off a season that beat us into the ground and here they lifted us up. I think this is the first finale I cheered for. Actually, I’m pretty sure there was a cheer-worthy moment in every episode this season.
BRIAN SCHROEDER: And yet, Cersei blew up basically every other main character in King’s Landing…
NATHAN: I was very shocked that Margaery and Loras went out like that.
DAVID: I think “fan appeasement” is a good first topic. Or “fan service,” or whatever you want to call it. Some have said that the showrunners are abandoning GRRM’s worldview in suddenly giving the Starks a string of victories. I disagree — I think this is just the universe finally righting itself — but I want to hear your takes.
SEAN: The seeds for everything that happened this season had been planted long ago. This is the natural arc of the storytelling. Fan appeasement has never been this series concern.
CHASE: This is why GRRM is kind of a genius. We’ve spent 5 seasons repeatedly learning that fairytales do not happen. GRRM and D&D burn children, kill kings, behead the heroes, and have completely subverted expectations about how this story SHOULD play out. Now, if the show takes a turn for the better (or slightly nicer?), GRRM gets to subvert our new expectations, those very ones he’s spent 5 books building, once again.
NATHAN: I would hope that at some point in GRRM’s narrative there are some victories for the Stark family. I mean, Martin said the ending would be bittersweet, but there’s a pretty solid line between “bittersweet” and “no payoff, why did I read all of those?!” I think everyone was pretty exhausted by the end of Season/Book 5 with all the darkness that was setting in. It seemed like no one with any goodness in them could pull off a win.
BRIAN: I don’t think giving the Starks some victories is fan service as much as it necessary. If that doesn’t happen, what even was the point of the Starks being focal points at all?
CHASE: Sean is right. This is the natural arc for the stories, not just something forced in the narrative as a reaction.
DAVID: The idea that this is an “adjustment” from fan criticism is misguided, for sure. That said, from a social standpoint, the show has pretty definitively come out in support of its female characters, which was a big area of controversy in previous years. Sansa, Dany, Yara, Arya, even Cersei basically end the season on top.
NATHAN: Oh yeah, the ladies of the show are really getting their due in the upcoming narrative. I’m pretty sure Jon, Bran and Tyrion are the only males of note left in the show.
NATHAN: Knew I’d forget one.
DAVID: And Ricko–wait, no.
CHASE: The finale left almost every army on the show in the hands of a female commander. Cersei with the Lannister army. Dany, Olenna, and Ellaria Sand with the Dragon/Iron Fleet. Even Sansa is currently firmly set as Jon’s right hand (until Littlefinger messes that up).
SEAN: And it’s about time, though the moral shadings are as gray as ever. How are we supposed to feel about Arya becoming a cold-blooded killer with almost no remorse? Cersei has completely gone off the deep end. Even Dany showed a vicious streak that seemed to worry Tyrion, though he clearly believes in her. This show has always been about good people forced to comply with the cruelty of the world around them. No one is really a good guy anymore. Maybe still Jon Snow, but the women are now just as ruthless and complex as any of the men on this show.
BRIAN: Davos is a good guy, because it’s impossible for him not to be.
DAVID: I adore Davos, but I worry for him. I hoped he might end up the new Lord Commander, but that doesn’t seem like the safest job right now. He’s still critical to the show, though, as a counselor figure for Jon and Sansa. And, obviously, he was indispensable in facilitating Jon’s resurrection. Who are your other MVPs? Other than Lyanna Mormont, obviously.
NATHAN: Can anyone dispute that Lyanna Mormont absolutely KILLED it every second she was on camera? And that speech calling out the other houses… perfection.
CHASE: I think Lyanna Mormont is cute for a handful of episodes. I do not want her around long term.
DAVID: Strong disagree, Chase. I think every episode needs a picture-in-picture box of Lyanna Mormont just reacting to what’s happening.
CHASE: Well, she’s the unwavering, no-shades-of-grey moral compass at the moment. How has that historically worked out on this show?
SEAN: MVP of the season by far (for me) is Lena Heady. Cersei’s character arc is the most fascinating in the long-term development of the show. It’s hard to believe that she could top her walk of shame, but she did with some ice queen looks that rival even Robin Wright in House of Cards, a big-ass explosion, and one ruthlessly nasty monologue. Next in line for me would be Sophie Turner, who has come such a long way since Season 1 and after all she suffered last season, it was thrilling to watch her take command of the Starks’ future… though Littlefinger putting a wedge between her and Jon will be interesting to watch unfold, too.
DAVID: Important question: Is Sophie Turner a good actress, or just good at standing still? I mean, I think she’s good, but…
SEAN: I actually think she was even better last season — her stuff with Theon was heartbreaking. But a lot of fans were too busy being outraged about her rape to notice.
CHASE: Sansa is more of a Most Improved Player for me (and she’d still lose to Yara). I’m not sure anyone really stood head and shoulders above everyone else for me this season, but I’d like to throw some love out for Iwan Rheon, aka Ramsey Bolton. It’s a testament to his acting that we never seem to blanch at the idea that Ramsey is doing these things. We swallow them as completely believable.
DAVID: Lost in all the noise about how wretched and monotonous his character was, Rheon was actually quite good! Especially in “Battle of the Bastards.”
CHASE: If the internet rumors are true that he was the second choice to play Jon Snow, and then the producers were like “Well, we’ve got a hero — how about the most vile villain the show has ever seen?” and he pulled it off flawlessly? Amazing.
BRIAN: Tormund/Brienne are the real MVPs.
DAVID: THE YEAR OF ‘SHIPPING!
NATHAN: And we’ve made it to ‘shipping! Yay! Can we talk about how badly everyone wants to see a Dany/Yara thing happen?
CHASE: Let me take a couple lines to say that, as much as Thrones gets gruff for “sexposition” and “t*ts and dragons,” Yara should be seen as a sex-positive role model for Theon. She doesn’t have a cock either, and she seems to be doing just fine.
DAVID: 1) Briemund 2) Daeneryara 3) Jonsa
NATHAN: Is Jonsa really a thing?!
CHASE: Jonsa has a big supporter right over here.
NATHAN: I mean, at present they believe themselves to be siblings, and at best they’re cousins… and by “at best,” I mean definitely
CHASE: They’re only cousins. Westeros has seen worse.
NATHAN: I suppose that’s no stranger than wanting to see Jonaerys … some hot Aunt/Nephew action.
BRIAN: And even Jonaerys isn’t as strange as Tyrion/Dany, some totally normal and not at all strange possible half-sibling action.
DAVID: Next season, once Bran makes it south and is like “guys, I’m alive, and I speak for the trees, and Jon is totally a Targaryen”…and Jon and Sansa lock eyes…
DAVID: Let’s get real, though. The Real MVP of Season 6 was The God Miguel Sapochnik.
SEAN: Absolutely right about Miguel Sapochnik. The man can do spectacle better than anyone who has ever directed for the show, but his handling of the finale was masterful. It actually felt like a director’s piece instead of someone herding David and Dan’s vision along.
CHASE: Sapochnik actually gets to DIRECT. He pivoted from Braveheart to a chamber picece in the opening moments of the finale. Most other directors are just there to execute the formula.
SEAN: I’ll say it — “The Winds of Winter” is the best episode they ever pulled off for that very reason, Chase.
NATHAN: Yeah the cinematography, music and direction in the finale were on point.
CHASE: Djawadi’s music — da real MVP.
DAVID: I go back and forth over whether his 30 minutes in “Hardhome” or the first 30 of “Winds of Winter” was a better sequence. Either way, he’s a genius, and needs to direct every finale going forward.
NATHAN: I’m sold.
CHASE: Or just every episode.
DAVID: It’s important to note that Sapochink is developing a film about “a robot built to protect the life of his dying creator’s dog.” I mean…
NATHAN: C’mon, the lock-down shot of the window, and Tommen taking off his crown, and that painful pause before he goes all Assassin’s Creed out of it… Gorgeous.
SEAN: It was the culmination of everything put together that made it so memorable. The show has never been better acted, written, directed, scored, etc. Everything fit together so elegantly. My jaw was on the floor for most of the episode.
CHASE: Was this the best episode because it really represents the best quality we saw all season? Or because people died and stuff got blown up? I’ve definitely heard some complaints that this season was “boring” (strong disagree), but even a show like GoT can’t do huge battles and twists every week. Nor should they. Even something as huge as GoT doesn’t have the budget or the room for it, and doing so would destroy the narrative arcs. Thrones would become The Walking Dead. Nor do they have time to show six episodes of Varys riding on boats.
NATHAN: Well, if that’s ALL you are, then it’s TWD, but if you’ve built for five seasons then I think you’re allowed to reward your viewers with a bloody, explosive, whirlwind tour of everything being resolved. We’ve had our dinner, we ate our vegetables and from here on in it’s mostly dessert. And we earned it.
CHASE: LOL perfect, Nathan.
BRIAN: I cannot understand why someone would think a season that ends with Dany, her dragons, and seemingly half the military might of the entire world finally coming across the Narrow Sea is boring.
DAVID: That’s another thing. I don’t get how some of the audience can complain about “when do we get to the fireworks factory” and then “UHHHH DO THEY ALL HAVE JETPACKS?” Like, you’re getting what you asked for. There are 13 episodes left now. How much of that do you want to spend watching people walk around?
NATHAN: So, we have to assume a significant passage of time between scenes. Heck, I think most of the season was out of chronological order in regards to the timing of the storylines and that things were arranged for optimal narrative flow (as well they should be).
DAVID: That’s certainly true.
CHASE: Here’s the problem. You can’t have Olenna in Dorne seeking revenge for all those deaths until they happen, and that’s 30 min into the finale. If you want Varys and the Martells and Tyrells as part of that fleet, that’s how it has to play out. I just wish they’d make it more clear.
SEAN: The nature of the story has always caused the show to feel disjointed, as we have to cover small individual one-off moments in order to fit characters into the larger narrative. Everything in the finale felt organic and part of a whole, not just a string of story elements edited together.
NATHAN: Anyone else disappointed in a lack of Ghost and Sandor Clegane in the finale?
DAVID: I always miss Ghost! And I do want to talk about Clegane, but back to an earlier point…while the finale killed off seemingly half the cast (just in time for contract negotiations, clever producers), we’ve gotten this far without mentioning HODOR. Has there been a more emotional death on the show? It speaks to how strong this season was that an hour like “The Door” suddenly becomes an afterthought.
CHASE: “The Door.” The most earned moment of pain in the show’s history? ALL THE FEELS on that one…
CHASE: If you had to pick out the one remaining incarnation of true good on the show, it was Hodor. Still, that death felt earned.
NATHAN: Agreed. I wasn’t startled, or left feeling robbed — it was heartbreaking, but it was his destiny… you can’t really argue with that.
SEAN: “The Door” was great for its final heartbreaking moments and a testament to how good the storytelling can be. I cried for Hodor. I screamed, threw a tantrum, and sobbed hysterically for Robb and Catelyn in the Red Wedding, but that’s just me.
NATHAN: I’m still not over Oberyn Martell. My breakdown over his death was like one of those gamer videos where a kid loses his mind and puts his keyboard through his monitor. You know?
DAVID: That proves, I think, that the most effective moments of tragedy come organically out of the narrative. It’s not added for shock, or just to facilitate another character’s growth. Hodor actually reminded me of Charlie from LOST, in another TV episode directed by Jack Bender, no less.
CHASE: It also should be noted that’s a direct GRRM plot point.
DAVID: Right. It was always part of the plan, and was foreshadowed and deployed perfectly.
CHASE: “If your god does this, your god is evil.” –Davos
NATHAN: Yeah, that was a good line. I’m almost a little disappointed in how quickly the revelation and confrontation with Melisandre was resolved.
SEAN: Thrones has been good at making all the show’s deaths feel distinctly different from one another, especially when it comes to major characters.
NATHAN: Good point, Sean. Except for the Blackfish… we were all robbed on that one. “Here’s an awesome character with giant brass balls”, *dies offscreen*
DAVID: I think we can all agree that this season was overwhelmingly better than the last — only two scenes with the Sand Snakes, and in the latter they are only there to get insulted — but what else didn’t quite work for you?
SEAN: I would consider the siege at Riverrun one of this season’s few blunders. It wasn’t on the level of Dorne, but it felt sloppy and rushed.
NATHAN: “Siege.” That was barely a siege.
SEAN: And then in turn it affected the Walder Frey murder by Arya… if the “siege” had been built up more with Frey having an actual active role this season, I probably would have cared more. It was a neat little trick from Arya, but its impact was blunted.
CHASE: My biggest frustration is the occasional lack of clarity. The non-linear timeline is one example, but what was going on in Braavos? Was Arya leaving and returning to Westeros Jaqen’s plan all along? That doesnt seem to fly within the bounds of the religion, but Arya does seems to be hauling around a duffel bag full of faces, and I have to assume Jaqen let her take them.
NATHAN: Well, I mean, we’re totally off-book now, but I think the biggest thing the book fans are all calling for (that they’re never going to get) is Lady Stoneheart. And, given how far to the periphery the Brotherhood without Banners has been pushed, I can understand why.
DAVID: Yeah, it looks like B&W have something else in mind for them. I’m not convinced that the Hound was ever meant to return to the story proper in the books, outside of that glimpse of “the gravedigger.”
CHASE: Yeah, the show and the books have become very different things. No Strong Belwas. No Stoneheart. The Identity of Coldhands. But I think that’s all perfectly fine. These two things can exist concurrently.
SEAN: Considering the Hound has joined up with the Brotherhood and the Red Woman has been banished, I have a feeling they will be a major player next season. And Arya still has a lot of names on that list.
NATHAN: That’s a great point, Sean. The Riverlands pretty much were relegated to a side story in every episode it was featured, and that did that thread a huge disservice.
DAVID: That said, with Cersei’s trial, uh, postponed, CLEGANEBOWL could be back on…just in a different form.
CHASE: Perhaps with MORE meaning if Sandor (The Hound is dead) can strike an avenging blow for the Faith after Cersei’s decimation.
NATHAN: And while I’m complaining about a lack of resolution for the Hound, I’d like to complain about no Brienne after her rowboating away…and we all know how long people can be f–king rowboating in this show.
DAVID: [Gendry waves, from far, far, far off in the distance]
SEAN: I was convinced Brienne wouldn’t make it through the finale… I honestly don’t know what her role is at this point. She’s served her purpose.
DAVID: I guessed last season that the Lady Stoneheart revenge role would be shared by Sansa and Arya. I’m happy that’s the case, not because I was right, but because I think it’s a much cooler direction for those characters to go. I mean, right now in the books Sansa is still trapped in the Vale.
CHASE: The Sansa/Ramsey story is a complete show fabrication.
NATHAN: Well, Jeyne Poole as “false Arya” seems like a lot to squeeze in there.
CHASE: But there’s something to be said for streamlining. Thrones only gets 10 hours a year.
DAVID: And that number’s going down for the last two seasons. That’s a good segue, so let’s wrap with this: What do you want to see next year?
SEAN: The thing I’m most excited about is watching the new dynamic between Jamie and Cersei, now that all of their children are dead and the woman he loved has become a monster.
DAVID: And there’s still one last piece of the Valonqar prophecy to fulfill… I think we can expect that Season 7 will be Cersei’s delicious downfall, than whoever’s left takes on the Night King in 8. Hopefully at some point, Varys, Grey Worm, and Theon can form my long-awaited Eunuch Support Group.
NATHAN: My hope was that we’d see Dany invading the Seven Kingdoms and find ourselves, as viewers, struggling with who to root for as the other characters are forced to unite to face a foreign invader… but that’s clearly not the way it’s going to go down.
DAVID: The most tension will be between Dany and Jon, clearly. They have to unite to fight the Walkers eventually, but what happens after?
SEAN: Fire and blood.
CHASE: I’m excited to see where the show goes in regards to Jon’s parentage. Though the show is trying to squeeze every bit of mystery out of it, I think we’d all agree that Rhaegar Targaryen is going to eventually be confirmed as Jon’s father. The question now is, how does he prove it? What evidence does he have once Jon realizes this for himself? “It’s cool, my assumed dead brother saw it in a tree vision so just take my word for it” probably isn’t going to fly. How does he prove he’s both Stark ice and Targaryen fire? Is there some sort of evidence in the Winterfell crypts? Or perhaps we’ll finally see the elusive Howland Reed?
NATHAN: I’m waiting for a dragon to see Jon and recognize him as a Targaryen. I’m also hoping Jorah meets Jon and says something along the lines of “Nice sword.”
CHASE: I also want to see the Wall fall. That’s what I’m calling as my final sequence of S7. Even Benjen quietly dropped that “me and the White Walkers can’t pass the Wall as long as it stands” line during the finale.
DAVID: I think that’s a smart guess, Chase. Benjen basically set up a neon sign for it.
NATHAN: I figured the Wall would come down because of the mark on Bran that seems to allow the Night King to follow anywhere.
CHASE: If the White Walkers somehow manage to bring the Wall down and it doesn’t involve horns, does that mean the horns aren’t really important? Or do D&D just not have 25 min of plot to devote to horns, so “f– it. They did it with magic”?
DAVID: I think whatever magic is yet to be discovered on the show probably has to come via Sam, otherwise, what else is he for? (Other than gliding across bookshelves like Belle in Beauty and the Beast.)
SEAN: Cersei dies by Jamie’s hand, completing both of their arcs, and the Wall comes tumbling down. My guess for how it all ends next year.
BRIAN: Jamie as the Queenslayer is such a perfect arc that I’m upset it never occurred to me until yesterday.
CHASE: There’s one thing we know for sure: the end game is Dragons vs. Walkers. Ice and Fire. Dany rides Drogon, the black dragon. Jon, “The White Wolf,” rides Viserion the white dragon. Bran the Greenseer “rides” the green dragon Rheagal.
NATHAN: Wow. I like that idea a whole lot more than “Tyrion Targannister” being the third head of the dragon.
DAVID: Seven hells, Chase. I just got chills. But for a series (TV and books) that have spent years bucking convention, is that kind of predictability a bad thing?
CHASE: I don’t think so. Part of the reason the plot is “predictable” is because a rabid fanbase has spent years analyzing it and predicting it. It’s a testament to the narrative that people can find logical end points. What if Tyrion suddenly killed Dany, crashed a dragon, and became a wight? Less predicatable? Yes. Fulfilling? Not at all.
SEAN: I would say it only feels slightly predictable because of how good the showrunners have been at laying these tracks year after year. There will be plenty of surprises in store, but the major story beats have been foreshadowed for years. If the show just wanted to shock us for 2 more years that would get old fast. Resolutions are not a bad thing. Also – none of us called Hodor’s fate. That was genuinely surprising. Thrones has not lost its edge.