Every year, I nearly die of anticipation for the swelling chords of the Game of Thrones theme song pouring through my TV speakers as a brand new season kicks off. I love the HBO drama so much that I read all five 1,000+-page books in less than 3 months, a rate so blistering that I basically had a paperback attached to my face at all times. (I even attempted to condition myself to no longer experience motion sickness so I could read during my daily train commute to work, which is *pretty* much on par with blind Arya getting the crap beaten out of her by the Waif in terms of self-inflicted suffering for the sake of a goal).
To help tide myself over until the July return of the fantasy saga, I’m binge-watching all 10 episodes of the last season in one day. This condensed binge is not for the faint of heart. Side effects may include sunlight deprivation, muscle atrophy, and desensitization to boobs and horse deaths.
Season 6, Episode 1 starts on the same frame where the last season ended, on the bleeding corpse of poor, dumb, pretty Jon Snow. In King’s Landing, Cersei had recently finished the world’s most excruciating Walk of Shame, only to find out that her only daughter Myrcella was killed in Dorne. Daenerys is being held captive by a horde of Dothraki who have no idea who she is (Miss Stormborn if you’re nasty). Melisandre takes off her ruby necklace and it turns out she’s a withered old woman in a scene that is like a reverse of those Snickers commercials. These are dark days in Westeros.
Events pick up quickly. My Bloody Mary kicks in right around the time as Melisandre’s magic, and by the time we’re two episodes in, Jon has been raised from the dead. Post-resurrection Jon seems less mopey by half and rocks a man bun for the rest of the season. My heart swells when he's reunited with his long-lost half-sister Sansa, who’d traveled through figurative hell to finally find safety with one of her family members. After the abuse and emotional hell that Sansa has gone through over the last several seasons, it’s good to see her happy and safe. She even used her X-Men money and made herself a gorgeous black gown embroidered with a wolf, which is the Westerosian equivalent of a power pantsuit.
Across the sea, Daenerys is stripped of her power and her badass silver dragon necklace (seriously, where can I buy her jewelry? Send me etsy links please), banished by a sexist group of Dothraki men to live in a yurt with all of the other widows of Khals. Dany hates it and looks as miserable as the sole single woman at a baby shower when all of the other moms start telling their own birthing stories. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long (or, in a marathon-specific time tracking method I like to use known as ‘one sleeve of Girl Scout cookies in’) for Dany to burn down the hut of Khals with them trapped inside (Yaaaas Queen!), grabbing her power back and winning the awe of a horde of new followers in the process.
Over in King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime struggle to wrestle control of the crown back from the High Sparrow, or as the Queen of Thorns (and zingers!) calls him, the “shoeless zealot.” The High Sparrow has more than a few sneaky tricks up his burlap sleeve, and recruits Margaery and Tommen into the Church. Now several hours deep into the marathon, I find that it takes more energy to focus on what’s going on over the course of so many plot threads. Why are we spending so much time watching Arya watch Braavos street theater? Why don’t the Iron-born make a better crown for their king than the piece of driftwood/boho-Coachella-headband Pinterest fail that Euron wears after winning the Kingsmoot? Why did I decide to spend 10 consecutive hours of a perfectly good Saturday sitting in a dark basement?
My last question is answered once I get to the final stretch of barnburner episodes. God, I love this show and it’s worth every one of these unburned calories I’ve ingested all day on the couch. I get myself a generous Cersei-sized pour of red wine and settle in to watch the shit go down. Sansa, Davos, and Jon prepare for war with Ramsay, in hopes of winning back Winterfell. I must give a shout-out to the tiny but fierce Lyanna Mormont, the 10-year-old Lady of Bear Island, who commands her House with confident authority and is pretty much Westeros’s Elizabeth Warren. Sansa warns Jon about Ramsay Bolton’s psychological traps, but Jon doesn’t listen to her, and poor Rickon Stark died as he lived, as a walking plot device. The Battle of the Bastards is brutally filmed and an intense sequence to watch, with bodies piling into mounds, arrows turning flesh into bloody pulp, and faces growing so coated with blood and mud that you can pretty much only tell which person is Jon Snow by his signature man bun. Just as Jon, Tormund, and Davos think that all hope is lost, the Knights of the Vale ride up en masse to save the day, thanks to Sansa’s letter to Littlefinger. My eyes teared up a little upon seeing House Bolton’s banners cut down and replaced with the sigil of House Stark. For those of us on the American side of the Shivering Sea, we’ve needed to see a moment like this since, oh, last November 9th or so.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Cersei pulls off the biggest power grab of all time by literally blowing up all of her enemies with a hidden stash of wildfire. I mean, this is why this show holds such a big piece of my heart: powerful women burn down rooms full of people TWICE IN ONE SEASON. The cherry on top is the scene of Cersei exacting revenge on the nun who had tortured her by tying her to a table and pouring wine on her face while dryly intoning the word “shame.” This is the most Cersei of all Cersei moves.
In the final scenes of the season, Jon is declared King of the North, while Sansa and Littlefinger exchange glances (oh and by the way, he’s the son of Rhaegar Targaryen). Cersei takes the Iron Throne and is crowned Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men. And across the sea, Daenerys and her squad (now including Tyrion, Varys, Theon and Yara Greyjoy, the Unsullied army, the Dothraki, and 3 dragons) are on their way to Westeros to burn even more shit down. The screen fades to black and the theme music swells through the speakers. I’m 10 hours older. I feel like I’ve run a marathon even though I’ve barely moved. My attention span and has been stretched to its limits, and my liver feels like it was pummeled by Gregor Clegane. I’m afraid to emerge from the basement because my eyes don’t feel like they can handle natural light.
But seriously, is it July yet?