There were plenty of winners in the sixth season of Game of Thrones, but there can be only one MVP. Our staff has some thoughts on who won the year.
Sam Donsky: This isn’t complicated. This isn’t like sports, where you cast your MVP vote after the regular season, only to see a true winner crystallize in the playoffs. This is Thrones, where we vote after a whole season has come and gone. Which means that we don’t have to speculate, run the numbers, or rhapsodize about intangibles. All we have to do is look up and catch the score. Listen: I know it’s not popular. I super know it’s not going to last. And I’m pretty sure we’re not getting that security deposit for the Sept of Baelor back. But Cersei won. She won, and she won big, and let’s worry about the rest later. Everyone else: They’re pretenders. Jon? Yeah, okay, Jon “won.” He’s president of his fraternity or whatever, and that’s cool. Arya? Arya definitely “won.” She “got revenge,” and “is alive,” if you’re into those things. B.O.A.T.S. III: Dany Time? Winner-ish, for sure. But winners of what? Nothing yet. In the end … there really is just no other option. Only one player in the Great Game ended Season 6 on the Iron Throne. And that’s Cersei. And — for now, anyway — that’s all that matters.
Mallory Rubin: This season, Jon:
- Came back from the dead
- Started rocking a man bun
- Hanged that traitorous fuck, Ser Alliser Thorne
- Brought the wildlings into the fold
- Put dream couple Tormund and Brienne in the same room
- Avenged the Red Wedding
- Gave Wun Wun the chance to go out like a boss
- Fluffed Ramsay Bolton’s face for some hungry pups
- Prevented Davos from murdering the person holding the “get out of death free” card
- Defied physics by kissing the considerably taller Sansa on the forehead
- Provided us with one of the most emotional moments in pop culture history (indirectly, but still)
- Reunited the Northern houses
- Became a king
- And, best of all, kept Ghost alive
He did not:
- Burn to death in a hut
- Burn to death on a boat
- Burn to death in a Sept
- Find himself in a confined space with mean, smelly old women
- Have to search for a greyscale cure
- Try to teach Grey Worm to tell a joke
- Addle Hodor’s mind
- Let the Night’s King into the Three-Eyed Raven’s den
- Become Littlefinger’s pen pal
- Get eaten by dogs
- Eat his own kin in a pie
- Jump out of a window
- Do something that made a family member jump out of a window
- See FrankenMountain without his helmet
- Ever go to Dorne
It’s hard to claim that Jon went wire-to-wire when he spent the first two hours of Season 6 as a corpse, but from the moment he took his first, shuddering breath, he won.
Riley McAtee: Dany assembled an army of at least 150,000, set her enemies ablaze multiple times, brought peace to previously war-torn Meereen, took control of her dragons, aligned herself with three Westerosi houses, assembled a fleet too big for our TV screens, and positioned herself to finally (finally!) take a crack at the Iron Throne. But those accomplishments alone do not make her the MVP. Season 6 saw, like, two whole scenes that humanized Dany, painting her as more than a vengeance-thirsty, steely eyed conqueress out for fire and blood on a continent she hasn’t been to since she was an infant. If she does away with the eye roll–inducing inspirational speeches she gives every three episodes, I may actually start rooting for her.
Zach Kram: Game of Thrones has the best opening sequence on television, in large part due to composer Ramin Djawadi’s pulse-pounding score. Djawadi has been the show’s unsung hero since before Ned found some direwolf pups. He’s had standout moments since then — what would the Red Wedding have been without “The Rains of Castamere” to presage all that stabbing and crossbow-firing? — it was in Season 6 that Djawadi truly shone like a comet hurtling through the Westerosi sky.
He gave us a mournful memorialization of Hodor in the moments of the affable stableboy’s final, heroic act. He toyed with viewers by building a sense of glory and wonder before ceding the “Battle of the Bastards” stage to panicked screams and stomping hooves.
And in Sunday’s finale, a 67-minute (wild)firecracker of an episode, he opened with just the right alchemical blend of eerie melancholy and subtle suspense to score the most magnificent 20 minutes in the show’s history.
I’m listening to that last, haunting soundtrack on loop as I type this appreciation of it. Djawadi won the season. Get this man an Emmy already.
Megan Schuster: Tormund Giantsbane, leader of the wildling army and master of the sensual stare, definitely won Season 6. He hitched his wagon to the right horse in Jon “King in the North” Snow, helped lead the charge to recapture Winterfell, and alligned with some powerful, noble houses. Now his people have a home at Winterfell, they’re slowly gaining acceptance from the Northerners, and they’re on the side of the Wall that doesn’t house the White Walkers (always a plus). But his military leadership is not the reason Tormund wins this season.
Tormund wins this season because he gave Game of Thrones fans the truest love story we’ve ever known: Brienne + Tormund = Memes.
Tormund lit a wildfire of the social media variety when he was caught — on multiple occasions — sending sultry glances Brienne’s way. Fans of the show shipped these two faster than Varys could get from Dorne to Meereen, and we can only hope for more romance in Season 7. With Brienne (possibly) on her way back to Winterfell and Tormund stationed with the Starks, it’s only a matter of time before the world gets a little more Brienmund.
Gabe Fisher: Sansa Stark made history by becoming the first character to take home the trophies for MVP and Most Improved in the same season. Long gone are the days where she was just another of the show’s many pawns, moved about the Westerosi chessboard by those more powerful than her, from the Lannisters to Littlefinger. Finally, it seems, Sansa made the leap from mopey afterthought to indispensable power player.
By convincing Littlefinger to rally the knights of the Vale to the Stark cause (and by doing so behind Jon’s back), Sansa was able to both win the Battle of the Bastards — finally getting revenge on her sadistic, murderous husband — and assert her irreplaceable value in the process. While Sansa may have taken a back seat to the new King in the North for now, anyone who watches Thrones should know not to count her out. Just look at this:
Rany Jazayerli: While Cersei won the Iron Throne, her year was hardly free of setbacks. Instead it was Qyburn, working creepily behind the scenes, who threw a perfect season-long game. Perhaps because his ambitions were less grandiose and far more focused — he appears to be chiefly motivated by his loyalty to the Lannisters and the ability to conduct unholy scientific experiments in peace — Qyburn managed to Reagan for 10 straight episodes.
His groundbreaking attempt at corpse reanimation was a smashing success, as his Frankenmonster version of Ser Gregor faithfully executed his commands to kill and torture to the letter. As Master of Whisperers, Qyburn successfully co-opted Varys’ little birds and used them to locate a series-changing cache of wildfire. He had his birds assassinate Grand Maester Pycelle, who had somehow survived six seasons despite being loathed by pretty much everyone. And then his plot to ignite the wildfire, destroy the Sept of Baelor, and kill pretty much everyone on Cersei’s hit list in a spectacular bit of green pyrotechnic theatre went off without a hitch. He ended his year with a promotion to Hand of the Queen.
That, my friends, is how you win the season. Qyburn got closer to the levers of power in one year than Littlefinger and his limitless ambition has in his entire lifetime. And he made it look effortless. The best always do.
Chris Almeida: What makes one an MVP? Usually being a significant part of a successful team. What is Team Dany if not a successful team? And what is Daario if not a significant part of Team Dany?
OK, I hear you. Dude took a pretty big L this week when he tried a bit too hard to become Daenerys’ Westerosi mistress before being firmly denied. Dany is also the most important member of Team Dany, but let’s not be so Westeros-centric. While everybody else heads over to the small continent to kill each other and fight zombies, Daario is (kind of) overseeing the big continent. Seriously, that’s a lot of land and not a lot of danger, comparatively.
Sometimes there is no obvious MVP and you just have to pick the guy who got the most out of a generally poor situation. Don’t worry Daario: Just wait a few months; everybody will be having a horrible time in Westeros and you can subtly tweet about all of the success you’re having on Tinder in Meereen.
Amanda Dobbins: Olenna Tyrell is still alive. Olenna Tyrell is still out for revenge. Olenna Tyrell is still played by Diana fucking Rigg. You guys can complain about Dorne all you want, but historically, Diana Rigg hanging out in a Mediterranean-like environment and making enemies has yielded delightful results. We all know what’s gonna happen on the rest of the show; I’m here for Diana Rigg’s Talented Mr. Dorne adventure. See you on the rowboat.
Kate Knibbs: There’s a fairly long list of reasons why Gilly shouldn’t be the MVP, I’ll admit: she’s barely in the show, she mostly just stands around, she didn’t come back from the dead, and she didn’t convince a slew of beggar children to become stab babies. But she got herself from the Wall to a magical seaside library, lover by her side, without killing anybody or even being rude. I hope she spends the offseason windsurfing and convincing Sam to sneak some of those locked-up manuscripts out of the Citadel.
Alison Herman: In a season where the glacial pace of certain subplots came into unusually sharp relief — not to name names, but a girl finally knows who she is — it’s only right that the MVP award should go to the character who made the most efficient use of her screen time. I’m casting my vote for Yara Greyjoy. In just a handful of scenes, she packed in a family reunion (heartwarming!), a tough-love pep talk (endearing!), and some grade A sexual tension with Daenerys (promising!), crafting a satisfying, compact character arc on a show that is often neither of those things. Also, given everything we know about Westerosi distances and ship speed (i.e., way too much for people with lives), she can apparently teleport. Yara and Varys should compare notes.
Whoever Invented the Teleportation Device
Rob Harvilla: I’m made to understand that this is a physically huge fictional universe, and getting from place to place is an arduous, dull process. The credits are 20 minutes long for a reason, yes? The pilot started with a White Walker attack, and them dudes haven’t even made it to the Wall yet; the Mother of Dragons has likewise been posted up at various Essos hotels for five full seasons now. Nothing in the finale was more shocking than the sight of her actually aboard a goddamn boat.
And yet Varys scooted from Meereen to Dorne, said like 12 words, and then got right back on that same boat. And yet Arya zoomed from the set of Assassin’s Creed out to wherever Walder Frey lives, with time to bake. And yet Brienne blazed right from the Wall to Riverrun, only to immediately make her speedy, stealthy escape via Extremely Visible Rowboat. And yet the knights of the Vale rode into Winterfell in the nick of time. This season’s total disdain for the show’s heretofore convoluted geography was a blessed relief. Make it snappy. We got like 13 episodes left. The series finale could take place on Neptune. Dope.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.