Being one of the best shows on television year after year isn't easy, but if any show has accomplished that task, it's Game of Thrones. It seems the show continues to get better with each passing season, and season six was the show at its absolute best.
It wasn't always so clear that was going to be the case. Heading into season six, there were more than a few things stacked against it. For starters, it would be the first season of the show to be nearly 100 percent free of the books, which meant the story would be entering uncharted territory for both readers of George R.R. Martin's novels and TV watchers alike. The show would become the primary means by which Martin's original story would be told, and that, no doubt, made more than a few fans of the book series uncomfortable.
There were also expectations to manage. Season five was yet another strong season for the show, and it ended with a number of major cliffhangers that, if not resolved soon enough, could have been a major strike against season six.
Turns out fans had nothing to worry about. Unshackled from the books, it felt as if the show could finally move at its own pace. Within two episodes, Jon Snow was alive once more. By the middle of the season, not only had Daenerys returned to Meereen, but she did so with a massive Dothraki army. The season's 10 episodes flew by, with no filler or wasted space in between. Every scene had purpose.
If it wasn't clear at the beginning of the season, by the end, it was obvious: Game of Thrones is throttling full-speed toward its conclusion. Showrunners aren't interested in dragging the show out or coming up with filler episodes and side plots. The creative visions behind the show know the story they are telling, Martin's story, and aren't wasting any time in seeing it to the end. There are only 13 to 15 episodes of the series left, and there's little doubt that each one will be filled to the brim with action, drama and major events.
It's a far cry from Martin's book series. While A Song of Ice and Fire started strong, Martin's work continues to feel more bloated and drawn out with each passing book. It certainly doesn't help that the last several books in the series have been released years apart, with the sixth installment still underway after being in production for more than five years.
In that way, Game of Thrones is now the definitive version of Martin's original tale. It is the version most fans will be familiar with, and it's the version most fans will see concluded first. Though it might be less complex and lack various side characters and sub-plots from the books, its more streamlined take on Martin's story makes for undeniably captivating television episode after episode, season after season, year after year.
It was in season six that major events fans had been waiting years for, in some cases since the first episode and and first book, finally happened: the truth about Jon's real parents, the return of House Stark to Winterfell, the death of Ramsay Bolton, Cersei's ascension to the Iron Throne, Dany's fleet sailing for Westeros, Arya's revenge on the Freys, the origin of the White Walkers. Fan favorite characters are, at long last, meeting for the first time or being reunited after multiple seasons of being apart. By cutting out numerous side characters that would have only bloated an already-crowded show, showrunners delivered with season six more than 10 hours of television that was riveting from beginning to end.
Of course, season six wasn't perfect. Showrunners continue to show a lack of understanding when it comes to the show's Dornish plotline. It's not only different from that of the books, but it's one of the rare instances where the show's version of events is far inferior to Martin's written work, completely lacking in subtlety or charm. Sometimes, it feels like events on the show move almost too quickly and characters frequently travel across continents, or even across an entire ocean and back, in as little as one episode.
Many of the show's weaker aspects or nit-picky criticisms have been front and center in previous seasons, but it is in season six that, for the first time, it felt like none of them mattered. Each and every episode is simply so captivating and well-made that, to complain about differences from the books or the fact that Varys can seemingly teleport from one location to another, seems frivolous. Game of Thrones is riveting television through and through, and season six was the show firing on all cylinders for the first time. However, that's not the exciting part. If the show's trend of only getting better with each season continues, it seems like the best episodes of the show may be kept for the end.