Spoiler Alert: The following discusses plot points from Sunday night's Game of Thrones Season 6 episode, "The Winds of Winter," written by executive producers David Benioff & D.B. Weiss and directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
(Check out last week's recap here if you missed it.)
In short: Cersei's been biding her time in the Red Keep all season, and her machinations take an explosive turn with devastating repercussions for King's Landing and the Lannisters forevermore. Sam and Gilly finally landed at the Citadel for his Maester training. Walder Frey hosted Jaime Lannister to his table and reveled in taking Riverrun in the least honorable way possible. However, a very bitchy karma was soon knocking at his door. Jon Snow welcomes the Houses of the North under the Stark banner at Winterfell, and their allegiances are announced. Dany ends an important relationship so she can sail the Narrow Sea to Westeros to fulfill her destiny. And a core mystery at the heart of George R.R. Martin's books was revealed (at least partially).
The last episode of every season of Game of Thrones is typically filled with setups for the next season, but this finale was bursting at the super-sized run-time seams with revelations, twists, VFX wonders and massive groundwork for the final two seasons to come.
I usually find the last episode of the season to be more sedate, thus leaving me a little wanting every year. Not this time. Showrunners Benioff & Weiss ambitiously built up a lot of storylines this season, and they certainly paid off more than expected by the cut to credits.
Let's start with Cersei's Joan of Arc makeover. At the start of the episode, we assume she's dressing for her trial in the Great Sept of Baelor, but it's only as she ascends to take the Iron Throne an hour later that it registers Lady Death was dressing for her coronation the whole time. She definitely put a spin on the whole Arc fire motif in this episode, didn't she? Overall, I had my frustrations with the stalling storyline of Cersei this season. Was she going to get her trial by combat in this century? But at least we got some strong character moments from her all season, and this incredible ta-wist of an outcome.
For all of Cersei's many, many sins, she's always loved her kids. Sure, she had The Zombie Mountain prevent Tommen from attending the High Sparrow's Seven Septon trial to save his life, but she essentially knew that her boy's guilt at Margaery's terrible death would hit him hard. Remember, she didn't dress like a King's Mother, she dressed like a Queen, which is ice-cold water in the veins scary as she now has the ultimate power she's been denied. Her price: None of her children (the last remnants of a pure heart) are left on the earth.
And watching Tommen take that fatal step out the window was quite the visual callback to what Jamie did to Bran, wasn't it? Full circle.
Lena Headey's performance was out-of-control great. She plays Cersei with almost feral hate in her eyes, yet also a terrible sadness that tempers her being a flat-out monster ... up until now. Jaime even looked at her on the throne with fear, as this is a Cersei with nothing to lose. She may love Jamie, but she's been disappointed by him enough that she would survive without him now that their children are gone. So, yes, Jamie. Be afraid.
Aside from that, it was pretty satisfying watching the Sept go BOOM as Cersei and Qyburn's wildfire scheme took out every Sparrow, Tyrell and loathsome advisor to the crown. Poor Margaery and Loras got taken out as collateral, but it was certainly a great way to show the High Sparrow that his gods weren't so merciful after all.
Thank the Seven that Lady Olenna Tyrell is alive! Yes, her entire family line was wiped out in Cersei's Sept move but, honestly, I'm OK trading all of them for my seasonal salty Diana Rigg fix.
Up North, what a difference a season makes for Jon Snow. Dead on a board at the open of Season 6, and cheered as the new King of the North by season's end. Of course, he has spitfire Lady Lyanna Mormont to thank for publicly shaming the Northern Houses who didn't stand with the Starks to take Winterfell back. Imagine the humiliation of a kick-ass 10-year old essentially gelding those old coots more quickly and efficiently than Ramsey Bolton could ever do. That kid could out-freeze the Night King. But back to Jon. It was pretty stirring to see him come full circle like Rob did when he was crowned in the same room by his people.
I thought the whole Walder Frey story was going to play out another way. Instead, we got a Faceless Man move by Arya Stark as she gets vengeance on the man who wiped out, or was responsible for assisting in wiping out, a good number of her family. She mirrored the small smile Sansa shared with Bolton's demise as she took out the old creep like he took out her mother. Seems the Stark sisters have been separated for years, but they certainly have grown up with plenty of darkness in common.
Dany's heartfelt moment with Tyrion was really wonderful. It was a quiet moment of pure honesty, which is so rare in this world and on-going war. The reviled Lannister child was finally in a place where his mind and counsel are respected and wanted. His look when Dany made him her official Hand to the Queen made my face leak. Dinklage FTW again.
It was pretty special to see Dany closing out the season taking point in the lead ship of her armada over the Narrow Sea to Westeros...finally! She's got a coalition of disparate banners (Tyrell, Dorne, Iron Islands, Dothraki, etc...) waving in the wind behind her Targaryen one, but at least she's finally making her power move. Next season will be full of forward movement from Dany, and her dragons, so it's pretty exciting stuff.
Ah, those who love Dany really get crushed don't they? Not that she needs to love Daario, or Jorah, or anyone for that matter. But it's still sad to see someone who genuinely loves in this violent world get their heart stomped on for the siren-song of power. Daario was loyal man and Dany's right: he won't have a shortage of future replacements. But it did leave a bittersweet tinge reminding us of the distancing cost of all this war and power-mongering. My romantic heart sighs.
While the Citadel's Maester library unveiling made book-loving Sam, and me, have a nerdgasm just taking in all of the floors of books and knowledge in that space, it felt less like a storyline and more like moving a chess piece on the board moment. However, it looks like a terrific space for an actual storyline next season for Sam and Gilly. By the way, the Citadel must have the worst book borrowers ever. Who chains books to the shelves unless you have the most deadbeat fine payers of all time.
Those Dornish Sand Snakes really do nothing for me in this show. I was all with Lady Olenna telling those tykes to zip it and just listen to their elders. I know the Dornish boats are important. but going back to them is always tiresome in my book. Here's hoping that changes.
Things to Ponder...
Cersie's been marginalized by men her entire life: Father, husband, the patriarchy of the High Sparrows zealotry towards women, etc. Now that she's got all the power she could covet on the Iron Throne, what will she do with it? She has children to still avenge, but is that enough? Is she the greatest enemy Dany could ever imagine (outside of the Night King's army, because none of those Southerners' eyes are even close to woke with that messm yet)? Two marginalized, ambitious women who have learned the dirtiest tricks of warfare from the men around them? At least we know Dany wants to leave a better world from her reign. I don't think Cersei is thinking along those lines.
Was that Hedwig gliding over Stark country? I'm now going to imagine Westeros was always a possible Ministry of Magic portal outlet. Lalalalala....
OK, the theory that's been percolating about Jon Snow's true parentage for years in the book fandom just got a pretty resounding confirmation with Bran seeing young Ned arrive at Lyanna's death bed after she gave birth to the brown-eyed babe that is Jon Snow. However, D&D got tricky again by lowering Lyanna's death whisper to Ned at such a low volume that the father is not actually revealed to the audience. We can certainly assume that it's Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who spirited Lyanna away from the obsessed Robert Baratheon, but unless we hear it from someone's lips, I'm not closing that book just yet. And since that reveal was pretty much guessed by all of fandom for years, I'm going to assume there might be another little twist awaiting us in that whole lineage story. And if it does turn out that Jon is a Targaryen, well, he's got family arriving soon and her pets make a total mess that is not going to be contained by puppy pads. However, their fire-breath is a likely godsend when the Night King and his army arrives.
That look between Lord Petyr Baelish and Sansa in the Stark Great Hall said a whole lot that makes me wonder. Of course, Littlefinger does what he does best with Sansa by fomenting her unrest at Jon Snow taking the title of Warden of the North. He may not have gotten Sansa to submit to his marriage proposal, but he did plant the seed of his manipulation of her as he poked her about her blood being the true lineage of the North. Will that unrest grow to keep Jon and Sansa from every truly trusting one another?
Arya's back in Westeros and her list still contains some key names, like Cersei and The Mountain over in King's Landing. She's got assassin skills now and it would be interesting if she turns out to be the new Queen's scariest shadow enemy.
What's Melisandre's purpose now that she's been banished from the North? She got more mercy than she deserves after her Lord of the Light murder of poor Shireen. Can she redeem herself and do something good as the Great War looms?
And finally, the Citadel finally sent out a white raven. It's winter, ya'll! Took long enough. However, "Winter is Here" as the new seasonal slogan is way more Charlie Brown than the cool, implied threat of "Winter is Coming." Let's think of something better in the hiatus, shall we?
What did you think of "The Winds of Winter"? What is the storyline you can't wait to see play out next season?