John Snow with blood

No one was surprised that Jon Snow came back, but it was still exciting

Note: This article contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season six. If you’re not caught up yet, set it aside and come back when you are.

Among Game of Thrones fans, there’s long been an important divide between those who’ve read the books the show is based on (the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin) and those who haven’t. With a show defined by its willingness to kill off important characters with little warning, those who kept up with the books were able to lord their foreknowledge over lesser-read fans. “Oh yes, Robb Stark’s wedding,” they’d grin wickedly, cackling internally in anticipation of the pain you would soon enough know. “That’s going to go great.”

But George R.R. Martin is not a fast writer. The first in the series, A Game of Thrones, was published in 1996. When the show started adapting his books, one per season, he had finished four out of a planned seven. In 2011 he published the fifth. And while he assures his fans that he’s hard at work on the sixth, it’s yet to appear.

So with the show’s sixth season, which came to a close on June 26th, for the first time everyone was on even footing. No one knew what would happen next but the show’s cast and crew, and even they were sworn to strict secrecy.

The result was one of the most enjoyable seasons of the show in a long time. After a meandering and often problematic fifth season (including a scene that made geek culture site The Mary Sue stop covering it altogether), season six barreled through revelations, battles, reunions and ugly deaths at a pace unseen from the show in quite some time.

The thrill of this season was certainly due in no small part to the fact that nobody knew what to expect. The once-smug readers were left to scramble for clues and read up on increasingly crazy fan theories along with everyone else. The entire fandom was only able to speculate on who would live, who would die and who would end the season as the winner of the titular game of thrones. (And did anyone guess it would actually be Cersei? Or that she’d do so much to sit on the Iron Throne?)

But for a show only slated to run for seven seasons – though it currently looks to have two short seasons instead of one standard one ahead of it – the sixth season had a lot of moments that came as no surprise to anyone. At this point plot threads have to start wrapping up, fates have to start intertwining, and mysteries have to be solved.

The true feat was making those inevitable moments still thrilling and adding enough unexpected ones to keep fans on their toes. The Starks’ missing Uncle Benjen returned, Jon Snow’s true parentage was revealed to be exactly what a lot of fans had guessed, Cersei’s prophesy continued with Tommen’s death, Daenerys got her fleet and the Boltons were driven out of Winterfell. But all of it had been so long in coming that rather than feeling predictable, it felt satisfying.

After the sometimes plodding last few seasons, leaving the books behind and letting the writers script for TV rather than adapt long, meandering books seems to have been exactly what Game of Thrones needed.



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