Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones exceeded every single one of my expectations. Revenge, revelation, and the most brutal winnowing of the show’s cast since the Red Wedding, all collided into one of the best episodes yet of HBO’s fantasy drama.
I don’t even know where to begin. The sheer quantity of incredible moments in The Winds of Winter have left me reeling. We learned so much tonight. So much happened. So many died.
I suppose I’ll begin with something a bit different, then, to set the mood if nothing else.
For a show that boasts some of the best music on television, somehow Game of Thronesmanaged to up the ante even more in the Season 6 finale. Right from the first scene, and right up until the last, just about every bit was simply gorgeous. An almost mournful piano greets us in the High Sept. Later, during Cersei’s coronation, the urgent rise and fall of strings, dark and moody. The episode deserves awards based on its music alone.
Of course, it was during the trial of Loras Tyrell that I first noticed just how striking the score was, so we’ll follow our ears, through the city streets and up the steps, pitter patter, to the High Sept. We’ll begin in…
“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” ~ Cersei Lannister, to Ned Stark
There were many hints as to Cersei’s master plan once she discovered that trial by combat was off the table. Still, when she actually carries it out the sheer enormity of it is staggering. The cold brutality of her need to survive, her self-preservation, isn’t so much surprising as it is darkly admirable. Ned Stark underestimated Cersei Lannister. So did her own husband. So did the High Sparrow, it turns out, who was willing to play dirty and play mean, but never once suspected how much dirtier his adversary would play.
The entire thing plays out like a scene from The Godfather. Grand Maester Pycelle is lured by Qyburn’s little birds to an ambush. It’s quite the scene. A swarm of little children with knives stabbing the old man to death. Qyburn’s little birds are a very different breed than those of Varys.
Meanwhile, Lancel has followed one such bird down into the cellars beneath the High Sept, into a room filled with barrels of green liquid—wildfire. The boy dashes out and cuts Lancel on the back of the leg—I believe the Achilles tendon—crippling the young zealot. At the far end of the room, Lancel spots candles. It’s a crude time bomb. When the candles melt to the floor, the flame will catch.
He doesn’t make it to them in time to blow them out.
Meanwhile, in the Sept, Margaery is the only one to notice something’s amiss. Cersei hasn’t show up, and while the High Sparrow—arrogant in his newfound power—believes the trial should simply go on, Margaery questions why Cersei and Tommen aren’t there. Cersei must know the consequences, and yet she still chose to remain in the Red Keep. She’s right to tell them all to leave, to run, as fast as they can. But the High Sparrow doesn’t allow it. There’s a moment when you see his resolve falter.
Then he goes up in green flame.
They all go up in green flame. Cersei kills the High Sparrow, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, the Lord of Highgarden himself, and her own uncle Kevan Lannister, all in one murderous moment. In a very big way, this undermines the struggles of Loras, the tragedy of his confession and branding, since he’s killed so soon after. I’m not sure how I feel about this just yet. At least Lady Olenna is still alive, having left King’s Landing on Margaery’s warning (though a warning over something entirely different than what ends up happening.)
Cersei relishes her victory, going down to the dungeon where she has Septa Unella tied to a table. She relishes tormenting her former captor. She sics zombie Gregor on the woman, though I’m not entirely sure what he does to her, as the cameras (thankfully) follow Cersei from the room.
But it’s a Pyrrhic victory. Cersei is the author of her own prophecy. The witch told her she’d lose all her children; but it was Cersei who ultimately provoked Tommen’s death. The boy king, overwhelmed by the monstrosity of his mother’s crime, undoubtedly racked with guilt at his own part in it, and grieving at the loss of his wife and all the other dead, sets down his crown and then steps out the window. Both Cersei’s other children were murdered by her enemies. But she killed Tommen.
Later, as she takes the Iron Throne for herself, having cleared away all her foes, she glances up and sees a newly returned Jaime staring down at her. It’s this moment, in this brief look between the two, that we see their love die. There’s only a few strides between them, but the distance in that look was a yawning chasm. This is when Jaime will abandon her, will start to become the good man that lives inside him unshackled from his wicked, ruthless sister.
Or I hope so, at any rate.
King’s Landing reeks of death. The stench of burned bodies still hangs in the air. Let’s leave as quickly as we can and fly north, past the Riverlands, to the seat of House Frey.
“It wasn’t for murder the gods cursed the Rat Cook, or for serving the King’s son in a pie… he killed a guest beneath his roof… that’s something the gods can’t forgive.“ ~ Bran Stark
Jaime is no fan of Lord Walder Frey. At a feast to celebrate the return of Riverrun to the Freys, Lord Frey tries to talk to Jaime. They’re men cut from the same cloth, Frey tells him. People grovel to their faces, but snicker behind their backs. They’re both kingslayers. Fear, he tells Jaime, is power.
But people don’t fear the Freys, Jaime retorts. They fear the Lannisters. And what good are the Freys to the Lannisters if every time they lose Riverrun the Lannisters have to go and win it back for them?
Poor Walder Frey doesn’t have long to ponder the notion, however. After Jaime’s troops leave, we return to a now emptied great hall. Lord Frey dines alone, and when the serving girl we saw making eyes at Jaime returns to feed him, she brings him pies.
Pies, filled with Lord Frey’s sons.
“Where are my sons?” the old man asks. “They’re right here,” the serving girl says, pointing to the pies.
A moment later, she peels off her face. Sure enough, it’s Arya Stark. She cuts his throat the same way her own mother’s throat was cut, in the very same hall at the Red Wedding. But not before she lets him know that his sons are dead, and that she’s a Stark, back for revenge.
This is a terrific moment—Lord Frey needed to go very badly, and now he can go straight to the same hell as Tywin Lannister and Roose Bolton (there’s a special hell for Ramsay)—but I do wonder how Arya is doing the face-changing thing without actually being one of the Faceless Men. Where does she get the faces? Did she kill someone to take their face? I’m just a little mixed up on the internal consistency of this moment.
I won’t dwell on it long. I mean, we got another great season ending kill from Arya, and another Very Bad Person is dead.
So with that out of the way, and House Frey brought low by one little girl, we’ll fly further north still, to the snow-swept battlements of…
“Promise me Ned. Promise me.” Lyanna Stark to her brother Eddard, in the Tower of Joy.
So much happens in the North, but I want to start with the very most important thing. At least one very big revelation about the R+L=J theory was dropped on us tonight. I wasn’t expecting that until next season, but I suppose next season will be a matter of hammering out the details.
For now, what we know is that after the fight at the Tower of Joy, where Eddard just barely emerges victorious over the King’s Guard, he goes upstairs and finds his sister in a bed of blood. As suspected by many, this is blood from a delivery that’s gone very badly for poor Lyanna. She hasn’t been murdered, she’s dying from child birth.
Bran watches all of this in a vision, but he doesn’t lean in very close when Lyanna whispers into Ned’s ear. All we hear is “His name is…” and we don’t hear what his true name is, and that Robert will kill the baby if he finds out. Robert would have no reason to kill the child if it belonged to Lyanna and just some random person. The only reason he’d kill the child is if it belonged to Rhaegar Targaryen, the crown prince of Westeros, who Robert slays at the Battle of the Trident.
This makes Jon the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna. R+L=J. What we don’t know is whether or not Rhaegar had taken Lyanna as a wife, thus making Jon the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne, or whether they were unwed lovers, thus making him even more of a bastard than before.
My guess? Jon Snow (whose name isn’t really Jon!) is the legitimate son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, making him the true heir, with a far, far better claim to the Iron Throne than Daenerys, who is merely Rhaegar’s little sister. Of course, nobody but Bran has an inkling of this right now.
This revelation—which, yeah, pretty much every book reader who has paid any attention at all was guessing at—is the primary reason that Jon Snow matters so much to the story, and why I knew without a doubt that he’d be resurrected this season.
It’s no accident that during the same episode, Littlefinger tells Sansa that the North will follow her over “a motherless bastard born in the South.”
It’s also quite wonderful when he’s proven wrong. Littlefinger tries to seduce Sansa into buying into his vision of the future. Him sitting on the Iron Throne with Sansa by his side. Perhaps he forgot what happened to her the last time she had dreams of being queen. Perhaps his vision is too big for such a small man. Either way, his careful plotting and scheming doesn’t work out quite the way he’d intended.
In the great hall of Winterfell, as the various Houses and knights and wildlings all argue over what to do, the wonderful Lady Mormont cuts through all the bickering and chastises the Lords Manderly and Glover for their shameful refusal to help Jon Snow. Then she tells the onlookers that she doesn’t care if he’s a bastard or not, he’s her King in the North.
God I love that little girl. She’s officially my new favorite character in the show. Bear Island is lucky to have her. I vote Lady Mormont for queen if everything else falls apart.
Both the remaining great vassals of the North are properly ashamed, and Manderly and Glover each declare for Jon. King in the North! they all chant. Davos joins in. And Sansa looks up at her brother and smiles a genuine, loving smile. Much as she told him earlier on the ramparts, she doesn’t care if he’s a bastard, he’s a Stark to her.
For everyone who has commented and said that Sansa is making power plays against Jon, or that her bringing Littlefinger in on the sly was some way to undermine Jon’s claim, I’d just like to point out how wrong you all were. While I questioned Sansa’s behavior and judgment in last week’s episode, I never once believed she’d plot against one of her last surviving family members.
Of course, Littlefinger will still be plotting and scheming, and now more than ever Jon needs to watch his back, have people test his wine before drinking, and all the rest. “We have so many enemies now,” he tells Sansa. Yes, indeed, and perhaps the most dangerous of them all is sleeping under your own roof.
The Red Lady
Davos confronts Melisandre before Jon over the burning of the princess Shireen. The Onion Knight wants Jon’s leave to execute her for murder, and for a moment it seems like Jon will do just that.
But the Red Priestess begs. She’s ready for death, but the Lord of Light isn’t done with her yet. She can help in the battle against the Night King and the White Walkers. After all, she brought back Jon himself with the Lord of Light’s blessing.
(Davos rightly points out that any god who would have you burn little girls at the stake must be evil, which I think is a very good point. While Melisandre’s god may be against the White Walkers, that doesn’t mean he’s at all “good” or beneficent. Ancient powers dueling it out using humans as pawns rarely has cheery implications for said humans.)
Instead of killing her, Jon banishes Melisandre. She’s to ride south immediately, and will be executed for murder if she ever returns to the North. Davos will do it himself, the Onion Knight tells her, and I half expected him to ride out after her and finish the job.
We’ll ride with her, over the snowy fields, until we can find a fast ship, or a fast-travel location, and zip our way all across the great wide sea to…
“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying.” Tyrion Lannister to Daenerys Targaryen
In my “Ten Predictions for Season 6″ post, I predicted that Dany would finally get moving, and that by the end of the season she would have left Meereen and at least be on her way to Westeros.
That (and many other predictions) have come true, and finally (FINALLY!) Dany is leaving the squalid, amoral, and dreadfully boring slaver cities for Westeros. She’s leaving with a fleet of ships, a horde of barbarian Dothraki, and three dragons. She’s named Tyrion as Hand of the Queen (hey, he’s done the job before under worse circumstances!) and she has her trusted advisers all around her. Only Jorah Mormont and Daario Naharis, the two men who love her, won’t be making the journey.
Even Varys, who only moments before was in Dorne hammering out politics with the Sand Snakes and the Queen of Thornes, is there with her on her ship. I don’t care what anyone says about my fast-travel critique, this is just utterly silly beyond belief. There’s simply no way that Varys traveled all the way to Dorne and then, for no reason whatsoever, magically returned to Meereen so he could travel right back to Dorne. He would have sent a letter, absolutely, telling her to bring her ships to Dornish shores, but make the journey and back again?
Not buying it.
On the other hand, the massive fleet was terrific, and the dragons are always a sight to behold. I didn’t think HBO would give us any more big, CGI cinematics this season after last week’s battle scenes, but I was wrong.
I’m glad to see Daenerys heading for Westeros at last, but I’m with Daario on this one: I pity the Lords of Westeros. They have no idea what’s coming.
( This Article Originally Appeared On Forbes And Remains A Work Of Erik Klain )