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Phew, that was a close one.

The last season of Game of Thrones, season five, represented the rock bottom for a show that had been slowly slumping for at least four years now. After rewatching those episodes for review last year, I began to fear that the series’ apex had already passed us by. The ten episode plot was lethargic, the motivations were felt aimless, the new characters were underwhelming, and the writers were mistaking misery for entertainment. Thank god, then, that the showrunners noticed the problem, because season six is an extensive improvement. What follows is a (very) quick breakdown of what worked and what didn’t.

Vague spoiler to follow.

 Game of Thrones: Season Six
The Best of Season Six:
  • The plot progresses efficiently. This is immediately clear in the first episode, which catches us up on season five’s biggest events and allows season six to move along on  its own trajectory, as opposed to wasting four or five episodes wandering listlessly from location to location.
  • The big revelations and shocks tend to serve the plot and rarely feel like cheap shots. The best example is probably Cersei’s (Lena Headey) explosive victory, which killed some very likable characters, but it tied up an extended subplot that had certainly run its course.
  • In regards to the previous point, one of the most distressing events of season five was Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) capture by a new group of Dothraki. I assumed that she’d stumble through the events of season one and just as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) had finally caught up with her. Thankfully, this subplot wasn’t only solved in the first four episodes, but it actually helped strengthen Daenerys’ character and left Tyrion and Varys to ponder more challenging existential threats.
  • It turns out that it worth waiting a complete season to learn what Bran Stark’s (Isaac Hempstead Wright) had been up to since the end of season four. His subplot elegantly fills in franchise backstory/mythology and brings a different, more imaginative level of fantasy to the series. And, boy. does that Hodor (Kristian Nairn) reveal still sting.
  • It has become a Game of Thrones tradition for the second to last episode of every season to revolve around a very large battle sequence. Season six’s ‘Battle of the Bastards’ between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) is a different kind of smash-up than we’ve seen from this show. The sequence is stunning enough that it almost makes up for the otherwise boring and gross Ramsay subplot. Almost.
  • The season ends with the glimmer of an endpoint in sight. Seasons four and five just kept introducing new wrinkles, until it was hard to maintain emotional investment. Finally, we’re trimming fat and bringing together the key players for a showdown.


 Game of Thrones: Season Six
The Worst of Season Six:
  • Really, season six’s biggest crime was reintroducing The Hound (aka: Sandor Clegane, portrayed by Rory McCann) and wasting him as part of the one subplot that could’ve been skipped entirely without damaging the ongoing plot. This isn’t even to mention the fact that we were promised an appearance by Ian McShane on Game of Thrones, only to have him spout nonsense philosophy and die off-screen in a single episode. I’m sure the writers have plans for The Hound, come finale time, but I’m seriously doubting his purpose at this point.
  • Arya’s House of Black and White adventure became entirely tedious. There were some cool sequences – her final showdown with ‘the Waif’ (Faye Marsay) is fantastically staged – and Maisie Williams’ performance continues to impress, but the whole thing feels like a stopgap. It appears that her assassin training is finally done, though, so hopefully the whole thing will pay-off.
  • The Dorn subplot continues to go nowhere. All of the previous two seasons’ attempts to build it up as an important piece of the puzzle appear to have been abandoned within the first episode. This is fine, because it means the audience can mostly ignore it and its characters, but also reeks of failure, since they’re clearly going to be important in season seven.


 Game of Thrones: Season Six

Video


Game of Thrones is still shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and season five (like season four) is spread over four BD50 discs. The 1080p, 1.78:1 transfers look generally the same as previous seasons, aside from the changes to the colour palette. Every season seems to get a little more post-production graded than the last. However, season six’s cinematographers have taken a step in the right direction, opting for a more natural and eclectic palette. Darker locations and frozen areas in the North are still nearly monochromatic with cold blues being the only hues to pierce the icy whites, but warmer locations, like Meereen and King’s Landing, are no longer dominated by only three or four hues. There’s even a hint of gradient glow to outdoor shots, which, surprisingly, adds to the already impressive texture. On the other hand, the cinematographers continue pushing their luck when it comes to darkness. When I watched the series on the 1080p HBO GO stream, I couldn’t tell what was happening during most of the nighttime sequences set at The Wall and The House of Black and White. While the Blu-ray’s steadier image stream is sharp and complex enough to reveal the subtle highlights and delineate the various shades and details, it’s still outrageously black. Any attempt to fiddle with my television’s brightness settings proved futile. There are some banding effects throughout the episodes and a little bit of blocking noise during those pitch black sequences (fewer than last season), but no notable edge haloes or sharpening effects.

 Game of Thrones: Season Six

Audio


Last year, Game of Thrones jumped onto the next-gen audio bandwagon (the first television show to do so) by including Dolby Atmos on re-releases of all previous seasons, as well as season five. Once again, season six comes pre-loaded with an Atmos track, thus negating the need for audiophile fans to repurchase it again in the near future. Don’t worry, guys, I’m sure they’ll figure out a new way to snag your money soon enough. I don’t have an Atmos-ready system, so this review only pertains to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 core soundtrack. The effect is similar to previous seasons. While battle scenes and dragon attacks stand out as the loudest and most expressive moments, there are plenty of other beautifully mixed moments peppered throughout dramatic sequences. The winds, waves, and rain of the Iron Islands, for example, have never sounded better. Of course, those with Atmos capabilities will still want to squeeze every ounce of noise out of stuff, like the White Walker attack on the Three-Eyed Raven’s tree base, the Battle of the Bastards, and Daenerys’ dragon attack on the slavers. Composer Ramin Djawadi continues to outdo himself with the series’ music. He builds variations on the original title theme while also developing more unique and impactful action cues, culminating in the final episode, which opens with a deeply melancholic piano/cello motif and ends on a rousing denouement.

 Game of Thrones: Season Six

Extras


Disc One:
  • Commentaries:
    • Episode 1 with director Jeremy Podeswa, director of photography Greg Middleton, and actor Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne)
    • Episode 2 with writer Dave Hill and actors Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton), Iwan Rheon (Ramsay Bolton), Liam Cunningham (Davos Seaworth), and Ben Crompton (Dolorous Edd)
    • Episode 3 with director Daniel Sackheim, production designer Deborah Riley, and actor Dean-Charles Chapman (Tommen Baratheon)

Disc Two:
  • Commentaries:
    • Episode 4 with actors Nathalie Emmanuel (Missandei), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), and Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm)
    • Episode 5 commentary one with actors Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy), Pilou Asbæk (Euron Greyjoy), Ellie Kendrick (Meera Reed), and Kristian Nairn (Hodor); commentary two with prosthetics supervisor Barrie Gower, camera operators Chris Plevin & Ben Wilson, and executive producer Bernadette Caulfield
  • Recreating the Dothraki World (20:15, HD) – This first featurette looks at the design of Vaes Dothrak, the new Dothraki characters, special effects creation, and what this new adventure brings to Daenerys’ bigger story.

Disc Three:
    Commentaries:
    • Episode 6 with director Jack Bender, director of photography Jonathan Freeman, and actors John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) & Hannah Murray (Gilly)
    • Episode 7 with producer/writer Bryan Cogman and actors Ian McShane (Septon Ray) & Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell)
    • Episode 8 with director Mark Mylod and actors Essie Davis (Lady Crane) & Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister)


 Game of Thrones: Season Six
Disc Four:
  • Commentaries:
    • Episode 9 commentary one with director Miguel Sapochnik and actors Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow); commentary two with director of photography Fabian Wagner, visual effects producer Steve Kullback, and visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer
    • Episode 10; commentary one with executive producers/writers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and actors Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) and Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister); commentary two with special effects supervisor Sam Conway, camera operator Sean Savage, and producer Chris Newman
  • The Battle of the Bastards: An In-Depth Look (30:01, HD) – A behind-the-scenes examination of the season’s epic showdown. It explores the narrative and emotional aspects of the scene, the logistics of safety for humans and horses, digital and practical effects, weather problems, and the battle’s historical inspirations.
  • 18 Hours at the Paint Hall (28:17, HD) – This behind-the-scenes featurette, which originally aired on HBO as a program slot, follows three shooting units as they converge on a single location (six separate stages in the same building) for a single day from 3:00 am to 9:00 at night.
  • Histories and Lore – An 18-part, animated, interactive look at the mythology of Westeros and Essos as told by the characters themselves:
    • The Old Way (4:25, HD) – Narrated by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk)
    • The Kingsmoot (3:45, HD) – Narrated by Euron Greyjoy
    • The Sunset Sea (4:05, HD) – Narrated by Euron Greyjoy
    • War of the Ninepenny Kings (2:49, HD) – Narrated by Brother Ray (Ian McShane)
    • The Great Tourney at Harrenhal (6:06, HD) – Narrated by Meera Reed (Ellie Kendrick)
    • Robert’s Rebellion (6:07, HD) – Narrated by Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau)
    • Vaes Dothrak (3:56, HD) – Narrated by Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen)
    • The Dothraki (4:43, HD) – Narrated by Jorah Mormont
    • Northern Allegiances to House Stark (4:56, HD) – Narrated by Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner)
    • Children of the Forest vs. the First Men (4:43, HD) – Narrated by the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow)
    • Brotherhood Without Banners (3:56, HD) – Narrated by Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye)
    • Oldtown (5:35, HD) – Narrated by Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) and Qyburn (Anton Lesser)
    • House Dayne (4:11, HD) – Narrated by Young Ned Stark (Robert Aramayo)
    • The Little Birds (3:12, HD) – Narrated by Lord Varys (Conleth Hill)
    • Knights of the Vale (5:35, HD) – Narrated by Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish (Aidan Gillen)
    • House Tarly (4:35, HD) – Narrated by Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner)
    • Riverrun (3:35, HD) – Narrated by Brynden ‘the Blackfish’ Tully (Clive Russell)
    • Great Sept of Baelor (4:23, HD) – Narrated by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce)
  • Three deleted scenes (11:08, HD)
  • In-episode guides (all discs) – In-feature resources that provide background information about characters, locations, and relevant histories for every episode.


 Game of Thrones: Season Six
In addition, the Digital Copy (UV and iTunes) includes its own exclusive extras (note that the Blu-ray extras are not included as part of the Digital Copy alone):
  • Inside Game of Thrones: Prosthetics (3:52, HD) – A look at the technical aspects of the make-up effects.
  • Season Six: A Beginner’s Guide (7:41, HD) – None other than Samuel L. Jackson narrates a primer on the last five seasons.
  • Season five recap (3:56, HD)
  • The Dothraki World (6:24, HD) – A slightly shorter and different version of the Blu-ray featurette.
  • Bran’s Journey (9:02, HD) – An exploration of Bran’s training and adventures throughout season six.
  • Five The Game Revealed episodes – These cast & crew interviews originally played after each episode aired, though they are paired into two episode parts, here.


 Game of Thrones: Season Six

Overall


It feels good to love Game of Thrones again, especially as it enters the early phases of its final stretch. Assuming the writers don’t have another several dozen subplots, we’re on track for a truly satisfying conclusion. HBO continues doing right by their most expensive series on home video with another good-looking Blu-ray collection, including a stunning Dolby Atmos soundtrack and a bevy of informative and entertaining supplemental features.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not


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