Season 6 of HBO's Game of Thrones premiered on April 24, and for the first time, the televised adaptation of George R.R. Martin's sprawling fantasy series has almost completely moved beyond the books (with the exception of the Greyjoys, but more on them later).
The "leave the source material behind" ball really got rolling last season, with the death of Stannis Baratheon and the Battle of Hardhome being highlights. Lesser narrative diversions were taking place all along, and while Stannis's death and "Walker War Z" north of the Wall were probably coming in Winds of Winter, due to be published some time before the heat death of the universe, Season 6 has so far explored almost completely uncharted territory for viewers and book readers alike.
This is mostly a Good Thing. Show runners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were clearly operating under restrictions in the show's first seasons, but the runaway success of the series — along with Martin's glacial writing pace — has allowed them to expand the universe and take some risks. Not all have succeeded (*cough* Dorne *cough*), but it's clear Game of Thrones has veered at least somewhat away from what GRRM has planned for future volumes.
There's also another unforeseen benefit: We book readers are no longer able to lord our knowledge of coming events over you TV-watching scum and post highlight reels of your hilarious Red Wedding reactions on YouTube. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a new avenue for their shittiness: complaining about the departures from GRRM's narrative.
The best example of this season's nerd rage has been over the depiction of Ser Arthur Dayne. Or rather, the depiction of his swords. In the books, Dayne is referred to as "The Sword of the Morning" and is on the short list (along with Barristan Selmy and Daemon Blackfyre) of the GOAT Westerosi swordsmen. A big part of that legend was his sword, Dawn, forged from the metal of a fallen star and sharp as Valyrian steel (just like the original Tony Orlando version). Needless to say, in "Oathbreaker," Dayne is shown wielding two swords in front of the Tower of Joy, neither of which looks particularly celestial.
I don't know B&W's reasoning for the deviation, but I can surmise: Rather than waste time on expository dialogue about Dawn and a blow-by-blow of Dayne's accomplishments, just show the motherfucker fighting with two swords. He takes out Ned's entire group without breaking a sweat, and only loses thanks to Ned Stark's and Howland Reed's dirty trick. Which, as the Three-Eyed Raven is quick to point out to an aghast Bran, are more important to winning a war than a stand-up fight.
So what does the future hold for upcoming seasons, or even the rest of this season? That's a tricky question to answer, especially because of new developments related to the whole "upcoming seasons"
thing. While HBO has renewed GoT for a seventh season, an episode order has yet to be announced, and it's speculated that the final two seasons (B&W have repeatedly said they want to wrap things up in eight) will be seven and six episodes, respectively.
That's...problematic, not just because it's difficult to imagine the landscape of the show as it exists wrapping up in [counts fingers] 19 episodes. Tyrion and Daenerys have yet to get out of Essos (hell, Daenerys only engineered her departure from Vaes Dothrak last night), Ramsay the Bastard (in more ways than one) is tightening his hold on the North, even as Sansa finally reached Castle Black and the White Walkers move to strike, Sam is on his way to become a maester, a process that takes decades, the Faith Militant still control King's Landing, Arya has a ways to go before she becomes a Faceless Man, and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present. We're dealing with a lot of shit.
In the short term — and this isn't anything you couldn't piece together yourselves after obsessively frame-advancing the latest season trailer — House Bolton has to fall, and Daenerys finally needs to consolidate power and start maneuvering to invade Westeros. The idea of "assembling an army to retake the Iron Throne" has literally been the sole constant (besides boobs) since Season 1, even if it was poor golden-crowned Viserys who first made the call. Everything else — from the Greyjoys (a constant irritant I expect to be definitely squelched by next season) to the Faith Militant (what are Lancel's odds in a fight against Zombie Gregor Clegane? Better than Douglas vs Tyson?) to whether or not Ian McShane is the Elder Brother — is distractions.
Whether that's Martin's feeling or not remains to be seen. B&W have already said that even though they know GRRM's basic blueprint (the three apparently met in secret at Martin's Santa Fe home to discuss the endgame for all the major characters), they're taking different avenues to get there. On one hand, this is an interesting experiment; on the other, it's a possibly misguided approach that assumes book readers will continue shelling out hardcover prices for a story they already know the end to.
Manufactured declarations of immediacy aside, there's still a long way to go. Whatever resolution is coming won't arrived until 2018, at the earliest, and it's a safe bet Martin's next two books won't be available before then (and I'm fairly confident Winds of Winter won't even be out). Is 19 episodes enough to wrap up the sprawling plot lines and conspiracies of Westeros? Will it even be 19 episodes? What is love? Baby, don't hurt me.
Meanwhile, big events are definitely planned for the current season. Internet sleuths were keen to point out it sure looks like Jon leading an army against the Boltons, while Cersei and Jamie will finally make their move to dislodge the Faith Militant. We'll get a Kingsmoot on Pyke, but are we going back to Dorne? No, I don't think so. One thing is certain; whoever ends up riding the dragons against the White Walkers, I'll be writing about this damn show until the bitter end.