While I've kept most plot details to a minimum, please be aware that this review does reveal one MAJOR SPOILER from the sixth season's second episode.
Be sure to check out our reviews for season one, season two, season three, season four, season five, season one (Dolby Atmos Steelbook), season two (Dolby Atmos Steelbook), season three (Dolby Atmos Steelbook), and season four (Dolby Atmos Steelbook).
"The north remembers."
Nail-biting cliffhangers are a common component of serialized storytelling, helping to keep audiences engaged and back for more episodes when a show returns from hiatus. And with the deadly conclusion of its fifth season, 'Game of Thrones' sure did offer one monster of a cliffhanger, seemingly depicting the demise of yet another major character. But, unlike the series' many other shocking deaths, the murder of Jon Snow couldn't help but feel like a ruse. Sure, it looked like the honorable hero's watch came to a pretty clear end, but with so much story left to clarify with his character it seemed like there had to be some kind of twist coming. Thankfully, rather than drag out the inevitable, the show's writers address this issue early on, bringing the bastard back to life by the end of episode two. And with an army of undead invaders lurking just beyond the wall, his resurrection couldn't come soon enough.
Based on George R.R. Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire," the show once again focuses on the fictional medieval land of Westeros and all those who vie for its control. After being revived from beyond the grave, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) sets out to reclaim his ancestral home of Winterfell from the nefarious Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon). At the same time, the royal family at King's Landing deals with a religious uprising led by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). And across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) watches over Meereen as Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is held captive by the Dothraki. All the while, the White Walker army continues to grow as temperatures continue to drop.
With the majority of the show's published source material now exhausted, this is the first season to go almost entirely off book, using the broad strokes of George R.R. Martin's remaining story to carry us forward. And though the show continues to offer riveting material and several truly masterful installments, the storytelling doesn't quite measure up to some of the series' earlier seasons. Perhaps in part due to the absence of Martin's immensely detailed novels to cull from, there are times when the narrative doesn't feel as nuanced or layered as it has in the past, and certain arcs come across as a bit more generic than usual.
Though I'm happy to have the character back (and I'm confident his return will be featured in the books as well), Jon Snow's resurrection is very predictable and anticlimactic -- making all the deception and lying from the production about his departure seem quite unnecessary in retrospect. Likewise, I do wish there were more ramifications as a result of his resurrection. He gives up on his Night's Watch vows and seems a bit angrier and broodier than usual, but by and large Jon is basically still Jon, robbing his death of any true impact or consequence (at least, so far). Thankfully, while his rebirth could have been handled more interestingly, the character's return does ultimately lead to one of the season's most gripping and satisfying plot threads
Outside of Jon Snow's arc, the rest of the season's storylines are mostly strong as well, but there are some less engaging developments here and there, with Arya and Jamie's arcs coming across as the weakest. With Arya, we basically just get a retread of season five's storyline, offering now redundant Faceless Men training. With Jamie, however, we actually circle back to address a plot point not touched upon since season three, and though this arc shows promise early on, it eventually fizzles out and goes nowhere, making me wonder why the writers bothered to bring the storyline back at all. On a similar note, we also return to the Iron Islands to pick up on another previously skipped over plotline, and though this arc has a more satisfying payoff, it feels a bit rushed.
More evocations of the past and a certain sense of repetition go on to inform much of the season as a whole, and while this gives certain beats a level of déjà vu, the tactic also works well to further some of the season's larger themes about rebirth and breaking cycles. As a new generation attempts to seize power from those who ruled before them, they struggle to avoid making the same mistakes that came before. And so, while we see Daenerys give yet another rousing speech to a horde of Dothraki, or witness another man proclaimed King in the North, it's all part of the show's strategy of looking to the past before finally moving forward. In fact, this is taken rather literally with the return of Bran Stark who, after a one-year absence, is now able to witness key events from the show's history through a delicate helping of fantasy time travel.
This new development actually leads to one of the show's most powerful, surprising, and utterly devastating twists during the conclusion of episode five, reaching an emotional peak that helps to make up for some of season six's other less effective instalments. Likewise, there are key instances and episodes where the production team really stretches their creative (and budgetary) muscles, breaking away from the show's usual stylistic trappings. This is most evident during the masterful opening sequence of episode ten, offering an uncharacteristic use of rhythmic, cross-cutting editing and a haunting piano melody (both rare for this series) to effectively usher in the show's third act with a memorable bang.
And speaking of bangs, episode nine, "Battle of the Bastards," manages to deliver on all fronts, offering not only the show's most impressive battle sequence, but also one that can easily rival many big-screen efforts. Directed by Miguel Sapochnik, the episode creates an unrelentingly visceral experience, making it feel as if the viewer is right there with Jon Snow and his outnumbered army. Both epic and intimate in scale, we stay close with Jon for most of the battle as chaos erupts around him, including during an incredible sustained Steadicam shot and a truly suffocating moment where bodies begin to pile on top of him. I've seen many depictions of medieval warfare on television and in theaters, but "Battle of the Bastards" reaches a level of cinematic immersion that I'm not sure I've ever experienced before.
Marked by some sporadic lulls and a few absolutely stellar high points, 'Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season' features some of the show's very best and weakest moments. But even at its weakest, the series is really only lacking when compared to itself, and episodes like "The Door," "Battle of the Bastards," and "The Winds of Winter" continue to demonstrate why this remains one of the very best shows on TV. With the season's closing image, the writers triumphantly mark the beginning of the end for their story, offering a tantalizing tease of what is left to come in the show's final two abbreviated seasons. After six years of ominous warnings, the Stark's words have finally come to pass…
"Winter is here."
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
HBO presents 'Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season' in a Blu-ray/Digital Copy Combo pack. Four BD-50 discs are housed together in a foldout case that comes packaged in a sturdy outer case with a cool lenticular cover that features several past and present cast members' faces in the House of Black and White. With that said, the foldout case is unfortunately a bit cheaper in construction compared to previous season sets, stacking discs together in pairs across just two panels. An insert with instructions for an UtltraViolet/iTunes digital copy is featured as well. After skippable promos, the discs transition to standard menus. The packaging indicates that the release is region A coded.
The show is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Fans of the series on Blu-ray know exactly what to expect here, and thankfully the show maintains its reputation for very high picture quality with another fantastic video presentation.
There are some minor signs of noise and false contouring in darker scenes (particularly in skies), but by and large the encodes are free from egregious artifacts. Clarity is fantastic, bringing every painstaking detail of Westeros to life with intricate fine textures and depth. Major set pieces are especially impressive, including the epic Battle of the Bastards, enabling viewers to make out every bloody soldier and stampeding horse in wide shots. As always, the color palette varies by location, offering a mixture of warm, cool, vivid, and intentionally drab hues. With that said, as winter gets closer and closer, episodes tend to mostly veer toward a blue and gray cast, offering a comparatively depressive look. Even so, certain colors (like Sansa's red hair) still pop nicely against the cool tones. Contrast can hedge toward the dim side in certain shots, though outdoor daytime scenes in sunnier locations still carry bright whites, and black levels are balanced well, maintaining solid shadow detail in darker sequences.
The cool winds of winter do cast an appropriate shadow over the show's images, but 'Game of Thrones' continues to look very strong on Blu-ray.
Following suit with season five and the show's Steelbook editions, season six is presented with an English Dolby Atmos soundtrack (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core). Likewise, a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 track and several foreign language audio and subtitle options are included as well. It should be noted, however, that the discs default to their standard Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks upon startup, so Atmos and TrueHD users should make sure to switch the audio settings in the menu before watching any episodes.
Dialogue is clean, full-bodied, and well prioritized throughout, giving ample to presence to every line -- whether they be in the Common Tongue, Dothraki, or Valyrian. As in previous seasons, the soundstage transitions between quieter, intimate environments and expansive outdoor locations, offering subtle or more aggressive ambiance depending upon the setting. Crackling fire, dripping water, and creaking wood add personality to various rooms, ships, and dungeons, while outdoor markets and forests feature directional clatter, wind, birds, and other appropriate atmospherics seamlessly spread throughout the room with natural imaging. Of course, the show's big action scenes provide the most overtly impressive uses of sound. With that in mind, the climax of episode five, "The Door," is particularly noteworthy with its incredibly tense White Walker attack full of undead screeching, rocks crumbling from above, and hefty explosions. We also get our fair share of dragon action, especially in episode nine where the beasts take to the skies to rain down flames upon attacking ships, filling the room with fiery effects and blasting catapults. The real headliner here, however, is the Battle of the Bastards, resulting in an absolutely assaultive barrage of sustained chaos from all directions, placing the audience directly in the action with clanking swords, piercing arrows, and stampeding horses engulfing the soundstage along with deep, thunderous LFE. Bass also gets a nice workout with the return of wildfire, offering some nice new demo material for fans looking to piss off their neighbors.
As immaculate as the mix is, I did detect one extremely minor anomaly during episode nine at around the 26-minute mark. As a horn bellows in the distance, I detected a faint high-pitched electronic distortion with every horn blow. It's present on all of the audio tracks on the disc, including the foreign language ones, but it is not present on the HBO Go stream of the episode. Thankfully, it only lasts for a few seconds and I didn't notice any other anomalies during any other episodes.
Despite what appears to be a nearly imperceptible distortion, this is a demo worthy mix through and through, offering Atmos users another batch of amazing episodes to test out their systems.
As fans have come to expect, HBO has put together a fantastic and extensive collection of supplements, including thirteen commentaries, a behind-the-scenes documentary on the season's epic Battle of the Bastards, and a great look at the series' deep history and lore. All of the extras are presented in 1080p with Dolby Digital sound.
'Game of Thrones: The Complete Sixth Season' isn't quite as consistent as the show's very best seasons, but its highpoints are among the show's most powerful. The video transfer is exceptional and, outside of what appears to be one very minor anomaly, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is demo-worthy. Like previous sets, the supplements are comprehensive and entertaining, rounding out a great release for one of the best shows on TV. Very highly recommended!