Winds of Winter bring sweeping changes on Game of Thrones season finale
A major fan theory is confirmed, while Westeros has a new sadist to fear as Season 6 concludes
NOTE: The following story contains major spoilers about the season six finale of HBO's Game of Thrones.
"The past is gone for good. You can sit here mourning for it or you can prepare for the future," says Littlefinger to Sansa, revealing that all he ever wanted was the Iron Throne, and her as his queen.
The finale of season six was not about cliffhangers (there were none, really) so much as it was about the completion of journeys started, in some cases, in season one. Remember that winter that kept on coming? It's here.
This may sound a little too "tied neatly with a bow" to make compelling television, but it was anything but. The almost 70-minute episode was soaked in blood, razed with wildfire, sprinkled with fan theories long cherished, and throbbing with emotion. The episode's chief weakness was that it almost tried to do too much; making major reveals that leave the viewer breathless and then moving onto the next a little too quickly. It was an episode where revealing Jon Snow's parentage was just another plotline!
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A note on deaths. Sweet...mother...of dragons...so, so many deaths. After a season of miraculous survivals, the finale buried the good and the bad with the efficiency of the Many-Faced God. We may have thought that Game of Thrones show-runners were getting a little soft and sentimental, but it turns out, we were about as right on that account as we were about Cersei having some humanity.
King's Landing: Fire and blood
As the scene in King's Landing opens, music swells as we see the characters getting dressed ahead of Cersei's and Loras's day of judgment. Their clothes are the roles they play: High Sparrow's dirty burlap sack, Tommen's stag crown, a little too big for his head, Grandmaester Pycelle, putting on his limp a he pays a prostitute. By the end of the episode, only one of these characters would be alive: Cersei, clad in a black leather outfit with a chain, like some female Sherrif of Nottingham. Having put that cache of wildfire under the Sept of Bailor to her use, she is now both the first woman to sit on the Iron Throne, and the Game of Thrones' most feared villain.
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Poor Loras Tyrell, tortured and broken, confesses his sins as instructed by his sister, only to have the seven-pointed star carved into his forehead. Margaery points out how odd it is that Cersei is not there. The High Sparrow sends her one-time lover Lancel after her. Tracking one of Maester Qyburn's Little Birds (who, by the by, have been turned vicious and stab Maester Pycelle to death, Lord of the Flies-style), Lancel sees the wildfires about to explode. The reflection of the foul green flames in his blue Lannister eyes is the last thing we see until everyone is wiped out: the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras, their father Mace Tyrell, and about half of the King's Landing nobility who came there to witness what was supposed to be Cersei's demise.
A note on Margaery's death: I really didn't see this coming. She was a complex character, enamoured with power but still a decent person on some levels. It feels a bit like a cop-out that we never got to see her strategy against the High Sparrow play out, but I suppose the moral here was: those who play with fire of religious fanaticism get burnt. Literally. Also, with Margaery out of the way, we now know that the "younger, more beautiful Queen" prophesied to depose Cersei is for sure Daenerys.
And RIP also to the little guy we first met when he was just a wee thing, trying to protect his kitten from his murderous brother Joffrey. King Tommen, upon finding out his beloved Margaery is dead, jumps out of a window, fulfilling the prophecy Cersei heard so long ago about all her children: "gold will be their crowns, gold, their shrouds."
There's a second there where we think that maybe, just maybe, Cersei did this out of necessity and to avoid her own death but no, she's now a through-and-through sadist. She tortures Septa Unella just because she can. Then she brings in the Mountain, who takes off his helmet (eeeeeek!) and we only see the charred blankness of his undead face. He then proceeds to do what must be unspeakably awful things to Unella as Cersei yells: "Shame!"
Castle Frey: Jaime, Walder, and the ultimate comeuppance
Cersei's twin returns to find her perched on the Iron Throne, dressed in black, glowering. It's tough to read his expression as he stands in the gallery but you can see something inside Jaime is turning. After all, he had to spend an entire episode with Walder Frey crowing "me and you, we're exactly the same, man" or something to that effect, and that, after Edmure Tully told him he was evil, something Jaime has never been quite comfortable with.
In an episode full of comeuppances, few were more lurid than the fate of Walder Frey. As fans of the books had hoped for, he is fed a meat pie made from his own sons. But then, a twist: as the girl who served him the pie pulls a knife to his throat, she first pulls off her face/mask...and she is none other than Arya Stark! One more name off her kill list.
Winterfell: Jon and Sansa face tough choices
While the King's Landing had much of the shock-and-awe of this episode, the most emotional moments happened in the North. Having won their childhood home back, Sansa and Jon are touchingly kind to each other, vowing to have each other's back no matter what.
But Littlefinger is slithering about, putting poison into Sansa's ears about how Jon is not to be trusted and how she should join him and be his (Baelish's) queen. She seems to not care and walks away, but as the Northern lords hail Jon Snow as their new King in the North, "The White Wolf," her chin seems to quiver as she looks at Baelish. Is she regretting pledging her allegiance to Jon?
And Jon's got other disputes to settle as well. Davos is finally ready to tear into the Red Woman over her murder of little Shireen. Actor Liam Cunningham, always reliable, is brilliant in this scene, speaking of Shireen as a girl he loved "like his own daughter" with both sadness and anger that's heart-breaking. In a classic Ned-style compromise, Jon banishes the Red Woman instead of killing her, with her reminding him he'll need her to fight the White Walkers.
Tower of Joy: L+R=J
In a season that just kept on giving in terms of fulfilling the fan theories, one of the biggest was realized in the season six finale: the revelation of Jon's mother. The scene, which took place in one of Bran's visions, saw young Ned Stark ascending the steps of the Tower of Joy to see his sister dying, after giving birth to a baby she had with Rhaegar Targaryen.
Weak and afraid, she begs him to promise her he'll protect her son—a scene rendered even more emotional by the dying Lyanna's hard-to-hear whisper into her brother's ear. We see the baby boy open his dark eyes, and the scene then cuts to present-day Jon (who of course still doesn't know the truth about his parentage) finally recognized by the Northern lords who made fun of him his whole life. What will happen when they find out he's not only a wolf, but a dragon?
This scene was really well done in its beautiful sepia tones, actor Robert Aramayo so excellent as the younger version of Sean Bean. It's too bad this scene, so crucial to the overall narrative, was wedged in the middle of an episode and not given more breathing room.
Meereen: Dany and Tyrion
In Meereen, Daenerys is the kind of girl who would break up through a text today. She dumps poor Daario—the girl's gotta seek politically convenient marriages, after all—with the kind of callousness that even freaks her out (she confesses it to Tyrion later). Tyrion and her pledge their allegiance to each other, she puts the Hand of the Queen pin on him, and Peter Dinklage gets his one great line this season: "You're in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying."
As the credits roll, Dany is finally sailing to Westeros to take her throne, flanked by Tyrion, Grey Worm and Varys, and with her dragons flying overhead.
A note on Varys: just minutes earlier, he was in Dorne, brokering a new deal between the Sand Snakes and the always excellent and now grieving Lady Olenna Tyrell. While Varys' speed of arrival to Meereen doesn't seem credible, having the Martells AND the Tyrells on Dany's side against the Lannisters makes for a very interesting state of affairs as season seven starts.
As Sansa and Jon noted: "The Winter is here." And with new players ready to stake out their claims while the White Walkers are pushing south, the winter will be bloody.