'Game of Thrones' review: The symbolism and symmetry was strong with season six
In the latest episode of Game of Thrones, there is a poignant moment when Tommen, the erstwhile king on the titular Throne, jumps off a balcony in King’s Landing. Restrained in his room by The Mountain, he witnesses the wildfire destroying half the city – including his wife and his recently accepted faith and its keepers – in silence. As the eerily haunting ‘Light of the Seven’ plays in the background, he silently takes off his crown, leaves the frame, returns, stands on the ledge, and jumps. That’s all we see – nothing grotesque, as has been the show’s usual practice. Yet the scene is horrifying – the unwitting party to his parents’ crimes, young Tommen was an incongruently straightforward character and even the suggestion of his suicide hits hard in a show littered with gruesome deaths.
But the scene is also very symbolic.
In the first episode of Game of Thrones, another young boy fell off a window. But Bran Stark didn’t fall off, he was pushed by Tommen’s parents Jaime and Cersei Lannister, after he discovered their incestuous liaisons. Bran’s fall was the catalyst for all the events that virtually started the game of thrones, and with Tommen’s fall, Game of Thrones once again showed its crafty devotion to symmetry and symbolism.
Interestingly, Jamie had said ‘the things we do for love’ while pushing Bran off, a line he repeats this season while threatening/coercing Edmure Tully to reclaim Riverrun. One of many instances where season six featured callbacks to the earlier seasons, especially the first.
Since the very first episode, Game of Thrones has been very high on symbolism.
The first episode, ‘Winter is Coming’ (another reference, to the Stark motto and the oncoming tribulations the House will face) showed a Direwolf, the Stark sigil, dead in the forest, leaving behind six pups. The cause of death was being stabbed by a stag, the sigil of House Baratheon. If that wasn’t overt enough, one of the pups was a runt, given to Jon, the bastard child, and the five were kept by the five Stark children.
The show is littered with similar such references, panning seasons. Of course a major reason for this is having George RR Martin’s extensive source material, A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series on which the show is based. But credit is due to showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss who have faithfully, and often beyond the call of the book, translated this to the visual medium. And in the sixth season, which went beyond the books, there was a particularly liberal amount of such callbacks, foreshadowing and Easter Eggs.
Maybe it was because it was the first season that took the story beyond the books or maybe the television writers had more liberty with the characters or maybe even because it was the such a crucial season, with the plot moving at a much faster pace. Either way, it was a treat for the fans, especially the eagle eyed variety that populates the internet forums, to spot, analyse and share these. And for reviewers, it made for a good reason to have a healthy obsession with the show’s previous episodes.
Though the sixth season largely blew hot and cold (this may or may not be a reference to the series), it was these moments that mapped the journey of the show and stood out amidst the mixed responses. All the ten episodes may not have been consistent in their plot or pace, but the parallels they evoked took the viewers back to the initial seasons, reviving a lot of what made Game of Thrones such a breakthrough television show in the first place.
Part of this was the Stark resurgence, part of it was Daernerys finally making her way to the Iron Throne she has coveted practically for the entire series.
A particularly large section of the show's fans are aligned to the Northern House and the sorry fate of their remaining members was a constant grouse. But this season rectified that and we saw them rally around and extract their revenge.
Starting from Sansa's escape in the first episode to Jon Snow's resurrection (who we now KNOW is definitely half Stark) in the second to their reunion and trip to Winterfell, Bran's flashbacks to young Ned to the return of Rickon and Arya with her eyesight and killer instinct – season six finally saw the Starks have a relatively positive storyline . Which is in stark contrast to the previous few seasons which saw them dying or being crippled.
Note: They even raised two Starks, Jon and Benjen, from the dead.
Further note: But they couldn't stop and killed Rickon and Hodor and two Direwolves instead.
And there was more than enough nostalgic imagery to establish this throughout the season, culminating with the reappearance of the Stark sigil atop Winterfell in the opening credits.
Remember how at the Red Wedding, Roose Bolton plunged a dagger in Robb Stark? He met his end in the very same way at the hands of his son Ramsay. Incidentally, Ramsay met his end in much the same way he killed his step-mother and step-brother, after being fed to the dogs by Sansa. And remember how Walder Frey betrayed the Starks and laughed about it? He was killed in the same way Catelyn Stark died, by none other Arya Stark, who slit his throat and baked his sons in a pie. Talk about sweet revenge.
In Bran's vision, we are introduced to the previous generations of Starks, in the exact same way that we saw the new generation in the first episode, down to the camera angle. The brother are practicing combat while the sister walks in, overshadowing them. Even the words younger Ned says, have been / will be used by Jon.
And there were Jon and Arya parallels, both walking out of their current positions, as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch and No One in The House of Black and White, and returning home. Another Easter egg - in the first episode Ned says that the man who passes the sentence must swing the sword, and that's exactly what Jon did before leaving.
Jon's coronation scene in the last episode - where the Northern Lords proclaim the 'White Wolf' the King of the North – is a direct callback to when Robb, the 'Young Wolf' was hailed by the very same title in season three, right down to the nod to Stark woman sitting next to him. Another interesting parallel - the oath Sansa and Brienne take in the first episode is again very similar to the one given by her mother to Brienne.
But it was not just the North that remembered the previous seasons. In the east, Daenerys – the fire to their ice in the overarching narrative – finished an almost complete circle, from forcibly being married to a Khal in season one to forcefully becoming a Khal (or Khaleesi) in the sixth season. At the start of the season, she was a captive to a Dothraki Khalasar and by the end of it, she was leading the Khalasar across the sea to fight for her – all she had to do was burn down the Khal and emerge unscathed from the flames, again. But the scene six was not a callback to the first season finale, as much as a buildup on it. The first time she sat with Khal Drogo's pyre with three dragon eggs, nobody knew what to expect. This time, she (and the audience), know very well what is going to happen when the Mother of Dragons smiles mysteriously at the leering men who threaten rape, in a building made of inflammable materials and lit fires all around. She will burn it all to the ground.
After her fiery appearance that made the Dothrakis bow down to her, she went even further by rousing them with a war-mongering speech strikingly similar to the one Khal Drogo made in the first season. Except, she was riding a dragon as she voiced her intended violence. Juxtapose these scenes and we can almost see Daenerys' long-winding, fiery journey of six seasons – from an ambitious woman to an unflappable ruler. Then she was a mourning widow who had to kill her husband, now she is strong woman who leaves her lover behind without any qualms. Then she wanted only vengeance, now she wants war.
Speaking of juxtapositions, this writer mentioned the similarities between the scene when Daenerys is carried as Mhysa in Meereen to when Jon emerges out of a stampede. The comparative bird's eye shots can be used as the image next to the dictionary entry titled 'A Song of Ice and fire'.
But the symbolism wasn't only restricted to book title. The play Arya saw in Braavos during her assassination assignment, was a refresher course in all that has happened so far in King’s Landing. Which, to be honest, is just a series of deaths, but over the course of a few episodes, the play covered Ned, Joffrey, Tywin, all meeting their ends.
And then there were the more esoteric references, one specifically for the book readers. Even though George RR Martin did not write any episode (he is in the process of finishing the next installment, The Winds of Winter) or even much of the plot as of now, his influence could be seen. R + L = J was finally, finally confirmed, which essentially means that Jon Snow, the Bastard and murdered Lord Commander, is the one who brings together the eponymous Ice and Fire. Born in the Tower of Joy to Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targareyn, he is the 'promise' Ned kept to his sister in her 'bed of blood'. But this wasn't the only reveal. If the symbolic clues are to be believed, Jon Snow/Stark/Targareyn is also Azor Ahai or the prince that was promised. The tale in the book series has it that the prince promised by the Lord of Light or the legendary warrior will be born under a bleeding star, which most people expected to be a red comet like we have seen before. However, there was both a star and blood on Lyanna's deathbed - a sign that Jon, who is a bona fide prince by birth and had earlier been resurrected by the Red Priestess Melisandre, is the one that Lord of Light promised. And with the loyal cult of Brotherhood without Banners, along with The Hound, returning to our screens, this could play a huge part in the 'wars to come' aka the war against undead.
Coming to the episodes, the 10 episodes of this season can be broadly divided into three categories:
1. Seven Hells, that happened
The Door, Battle of the Bastards, the Winds of Winter
2. Seven blessings, this happened
Home, Book of the Stranger, No One
3. Oh Gods, what is actually happening
The Red Woman, Oathbreaker, Blood of my Blood, Broken Man
The episodes, each individually reviewed on the site, had some poignant moments, some fan theories confirmed, some shocking scenes, some visual spectacles – the usual scintillating fare we see every season. But in the end, it was the symmetry and symbolism that set the sixth season apart.
And this symbolism – Ice and Fire, Jon and Daenerys – in quest for the throne, Cersei, the lone lion with a prophecy to dread, the coming war against the White Walkers, Bran as the Three-Eyed Raven and Littlefinger's scheming mechanisms, has all set up for a hopefully even bigger and better seventh season.
Seven is a significant number in the Game of Thrones universe, with the faith being tied with the number. Hopefully the faithful who are waiting for season seven will be rewarded, unlike what happened to the keepers of the faith in the season finale.