*Warning: This article contains spoilers up to the sixth episode of the current season and the fifth book of the novels*
Every Sunday at around 10 p.m. (7 p.m. PST), the same thing scrolls across my Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline: It was LIT! That’s been the resounding consensus when it comes to this season of Game of Thrones. Even this week’s sixth episode of the season, which was clearly a set-up episode, provided more than enough twists and action to keep viewers engaged and excited for what’s to come. But why has this season been such a show-stopping roller-coaster?
Season six marks the first time the show has been definitively ahead of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. Although some eagle-eyed book readers have noted that the show is still pulling from some of the released teaser chapters, at this point Weiss and Benioff (or D&D as fans call them) will reveal the answers to some longstanding questions before Martin gets to them in his novels. For the show, this departure from the books could not have come at a better time. D&D sit at a critical juncture. They are free from the constraints of the books and they are also at the point in the story where answers have to come in order to get our characters in formation for whatever showdown they are about to encounter. For the viewers, this has resulted in episodes that feel deeply satisfying after years of world-building.
It’s telling that the ‘previously on’ section of Game of Thrones sometimes references events from seasons one and two. This show has always rewarded close viewing and for book readers, small details have often paid off tenfold. The detailed sets, costumes, and props hold as much information as the actor’s lines for book readers. In this way, book readers are still being given gold stars from the show. For example, Bran’s flashback in episode three to Ned’s fight with Ser Arthur Dayne was filled with nuggets of information that only book readers could pick up on.
But while some readers are happy to see those long hinted at moments made flesh, other readers are frustrated with receiving their answers from the show. To that I have to say it might be time to stop watching. At this point in our story, payoff has to happen and this train isn’t stopping. But for those readers who have made their peace with feeling like Jon Snow for the next few seasons, not knowing is an exciting prospect.
There are also a lot of storylines from the novels that D&D haven’t previously touched on that now seem to be coming into play. The constraints of adapting such a large world into a ten-episode season has resulted in lots of stories and characters being trimmed or cut completely, but it seems like the show is revisiting some stories now that our characters are positioned to actively deal with those obstacles. Like in the Lord of the Rings series, a lot of our Game of Thrones characters spend their time walking (or riding) through the woods and after years of maneuvering our characters to the locations we’ve wanted, they’re now ready to actively deal with some of the obstacles they bumbled into in the books. With Jaime and Brienne both headed towards Riverrun, readers can definitely look forward to iconic book moments coming to screen while still having the thrill of other storylines that have diverged completely from the books.
Show-only fans are also finding a lot to be satisfied by this season. Arya’s storyline at the House of Black and White, which dragged on in the novels, has been fast tracked in the show. Show fans be thankful you will never know the tedium that was Tyrion’s trip to Meereen and if a book reader ever asks you “where do whores go?” throat-punch them and go screaming in the other direction.
A lot of the discussion around this season has been about show-only fans and book readers finally being on the same page because the show is ahead of the books, but in truth the reason this season has been so satisfying is we’ve reached the point where we’re all beyond the page. We’re at that point in the story that everyone can recognize, that point where you can look behind you and see how far you’ve come and when you look forward the end is in sight. We’re at the point where you can see the obstacles ahead, but you know you’ll make it past them. We’re at the point we’ve been waiting for. We can all fly … and I’m going to do it on the back of a dragon.