Game of Thrones has a reached a seriously bizarre plight in its latest season. Despite ratings for the show being very good and a lot of audiences enjoying the excellent action episode ‘Hardhome,’ the series has hit something of a brick wall in terms of cultural capital. The biggest take away I’ve had from most folks over this last season is a sense of exhaustion over the show’s direction and tone, especially after the slew of very alienating “shocking moments” that punctuated this latest season. What’s more this year just didn’t seem to have the same fanfare and clamor that accompanied previous seasons.
Some people might argue it’s because of how dark this season’s big moments were but previous installments like the Red Wedding or the Death of Ned Stark were thoroughly dark and audiences still found them to be exciting and compelling. Personally I think it has more to do with the audience and creators clashing but that’s an article I’ve already written. Regardless HBO seems aware that change is in order for Game of Thrones season 6 so they’ve announced both Max Von Sydow and Ian McShane to the series. In addition HBO execs have actually set a time limit on the show, saying that it will most likely not extend beyond 8 seasons.
Max Von Sydow has been confirmed as playing Bran’s Greenseer tutor. This seems to further cement Bran’s return for season 6. It should be interesting to see how the show addresses his storyline as this time jump wasn’t present in the original books. The biggest question book fans have is how much will the show drag out Bran’s “training” with the Greenseer. It’s possible the show will just keep him in a more passive role throughout this season but far more likely that Bran’s plot will take a series leap forward beyond the limits of the books. However, given how much Game of Thrones has broken free from the source material over the last 2 seasons it’s possible Bran’s progression will be in a very different direction from the books as there has been a swirl of rumors suggesting he’ll be taking on a more villainous role in the show.
As for Ian McShane his role is still unknown at the time of writing. Most speculation seems to lean towards him playing one the Iron Born characters from the 4th book A Feast for Crows. Their story was mostly excised from season 5 so a lot of fans have assumed it will return in season 6 but most of the key players in that arc have yet to be introduced. There’s Victarion Greyjoy, a powerful Iron Born captain and brother to the King Balon who is sent on a difficult quest to the edge of the world and also Euron ‘Crow’s Eye’ Greyjoy, a malicious and scheming brother to the king with his own machinations. Personally I think it’s more likely McShane is playing Randyll Tarly, a Southern Lord sworn the house Tyrell and father of Sam Tarly of the Night’s watch.
Tarly’s something of a standard character type for the series, a gruff, old world military commander and lord with a firm focus on lineage and the future. He’s basically cut from the same cloth as Stannis or Tywinn so it would make sense if the show wanted to introduce him at this moment in time. In the books he’s tied into an ongoing effort to mop up any remaining rebels in the Riverlands and appears only in Brienne’s storyline. However, now that the show has strayed so far from that it wouldn’t really work as a way to introduce him. What strikes me as a more likely point of appearance would be in dealing with the fall out from Season 5’s Dornish arc. At the end of that arc it seemed pretty clear a major conflict was coming between the crown and the Martels of Dorne so bringing in some Tyrell forces under their greatest general Randyll Tarly would make the most sense as a next step.
The most important announcement as far as I’m concerned though is the 8-season limit. That’s only 3 years away, which might not seem like a short time but it really is. Game of Thrones is currently HBO’s biggest success story of the modern era and tends to drive a lot of their other more focus shows like VEEP or Girls. With True Detective season 2 stalling out I have to wonder what HBO will do to try and keep the fires burning after Game of Thrones is gone. I’d expect to see a lot more chances taken and large scale weird stuff green lit from them over the next couple years as we grow closer to the end of the line for Game of Thrones.