Two weeks ago, I asked the question of whether Game of Thrones, with so many unanswered questions heading into basically it’s final episode (because “Battle of the Bastards” was going to be so Northern Centric), could truly give us a satisfying ending in the Season Six finale. Would the show truly be close enough to a conclusion that thirteen episodes (the number of episodes rumored to be left) would be all that it takes to end the show’s run?
Well, after the longest episode in the show’s history, the answer to that question is an emphatic yes!!! All it took was a giant green explosion, a Targaryen queen setting sail, and a stirring speech from a bad ass ten year old girl to tell us that indeed, thirteen episodes is all we need to get to the end.
That’s not to say that I’m happy thirteen episodes are all that’s left. I would love to see two more full ten episode seasons before parting with the show I’ve loved for the past six years. But last night’s episode helped me to understand why showrunners David Benoiff and DB Weiss thought thirteen was possible to bring a satisfying conclusion to the show.
It makes sense because, after last night, we are basically down to three sides: Jon in the North, Cersei on the Iron Throne, and Daenarys on a boat with three dragons and multiple armies at her side. Working out the politics of Westeros between those three (along with a few other players floating around in various locales) is a much less daunting task now that the Boltons, Freys, Tyrells, and Meereen (not destroyed liked those others, just left behind in the narrative) are all out of the way.
Now, I know the Whitewalkers are looming. And with Bran about to cross that wall, the connection they need to attack the armies of men may not be that far off. But dealing with the army of the dead was going to be much more difficult with all the other factions fighting with each other for power in Westeros. And while I don’t expect these three sides to necessarily align with each other (at least two of these groups should be fighting each other come season seven), the fight for control of Westeros has become more centralized than it’s been at any point since the first season.
And to get to that point, “Winds of Winter” began with Cersei taking out all her enemies (and I mean every stinking one of them) in one fell swoop.
And for this review, I’m going to do things a little differently. Instead of taking each of the different locations in the story and combining all their narrative parts, I’m going to recap the show as it happened (with a few exceptions), bouncing back and forth between the various locations.
In a season filled with amazing technical achievements for GoT (“The Door,” “Battle of the Bastards”), the opening sequence of “Winds” might’ve been the best one yet. The slow build of the music begins with all the invested parties preparing for the morning’s trials. The build for this scene was fitting considering that the King’s Landing story line has been like bomb with a long fuse waiting to blow all season. Everything between Cersei and her enemies seemed small in scale. But all those little events lit the fire that would eventually lead to the seasons largest explosion (both literally and figuratively).
Looking back, it’s interesting to see how well Cersei dressed for a trial she had no intentions of attending. The choice to wear all black, however, was clearly not an accident.
Loras’s trial is first and he confesses to everything he’s been charged with. He wants to serve the Faith now and plans to renounce all previous holdings and titles to do so. I was saddened here by the slow death of House Tyrell. Little did I know of the full obliteration that was coming.
Back at the Red Keep, Tommen is ready to head over to the Sept. But Frankenmountain won’t let him leave his room (hmm…) Pycelle is called down by one of those “little birds” Qyburn hired into his service with candy several weeks ago (hmm…again) to aid the king. But instead of finding the king, Pycelle finds Qyburn and more little birds. But these little birds have knives and they stab the Grand Maester to death.
Lancel is sent to find out what is keeping Cersei. He sees a “little bird” with a torch head into the underground tunnels of King’s Landing. Lancel follows and discovers the large amounts of Wildfire being stored there before the “little bird” runs out and stabs him.
In the Holy Sept, Margaery strongly suspects Cersei is up to something. But the High Sparrow won’t have it. Ser Holier than Though insists there will be a trial, ignoring all that astute political sense that got him to where he is at this point. Margaery tries to flee with Loras, but the Faith Militant won’t allow it.
Lancel sees the small candle lit on top of the leaking Wildfire and slowly crawls over in a futile attempt to stop what is about to happen. The music that’s been building through this entire scene accentuates Lancel’s agonizing crawl to blow out that candle. Lancel is too late. The flame meets the Wildfire, creating an explosion that kills everyone inside the Holy Sept. Cersei looks on and the condescending smirk we haven’t seen since sometime last season returns to her face.
And just like that, Cersei takes out every person that’s been opposed to her since the beginning of Season 5. Well, all but one person. Septa Unella, who tortured her frequently when she was a captive, is tied up in the Red Keep. And though the large Septa is ready to die, Cersei won’t allow it yet. Instead, she’s leaving the Septa with Frankenmountain and locking the door.
Tommen sees the carnage at the Holy Sept and is horrified. The young king as been on edge all season, doubting his abilities as king as everyone took turns using him as their puppet. Finally, the stress of being pulled between family, faith and his queen bubbles over as Tommen puts down his crown and drops himself out the window to his death.
Cersei looks over the dead body of her last remaining child, but is not weeping this time. One thing kept Cersei sane and human: her children. Now with her children gone, what kind of monster will King’s Landing be subjected to? She wants Tommen burned, his ashes laid on the Holy Sept to join those of his brother and grandfather.
Completely unaware of his lover/sisters actions, Jamie is at the Twins where the Freys are hosting a party celebrating the recapture of Riverrun. And no one in Westeros is better at taking credit for something he didn’t do than Walder Frey. His family had to be rescued by Jamie and the Lannister army, yet here he is boldly proclaiming their equal victory.
Jamie is quick to point this out to the Lord of the Riverlands saying “It’s House Lannister they fear, not House Frey.” Jamie also asks, “If we have to ride north and take them back for you every time you lose them, why do we need you?” A serving girl also takes an interest in Jamie during the dinner. But I’m sure she’s just an attractive extra cast to make googly eyes with Jamie.
We have a new location folks!!! Oldtown, the richest city in Westeros and home of the Citadel, where the Maesters train. But it’s a little scary that the men in charge of keeping the history of Westeros are so behind on there’s. Apparently, they stopped watching Game of Thrones after season 2, as they still think Jeor Mormount (the Old Bear) is Lord Commander. Of course, Sam’s note, coming from Lord Commander Jon Snow, is out of date as well. So I guess everyone in Oldtown needs to have a GoT binge watching party soon to get caught up.
Sam is allowed study in the library, but Gilly and little Sam are left in the lobby. It’s funny how this entire episode sees a real female empowerment movement take hold, but the Maesters are still just a big men’s club. Sam is in awe of the many shelves of books his eyes behold. I’m curious what information Sam will be finding here that could aid GoT’s end game next season.
Speaking of the former Lord Commander, Jon stands in the halls of Winterfell talking with Melisandre when Davos walks in and throws the toy stag at the Red Woman. The Onion Knight demands she confess what she did to Shireen, and the priestess admits to everything, including being wrong about Stannis. Melisandre’s had a real crisis of confidence this season and she finally admits why here. I really didn’t think after last week that Jon could sentence the woman who brought him back to life to die. But he does send her south, demanding that she never return.
At the start of this scene, a white raven was sent by the Citadel, signaling that Winter has finally come. I find it odd that this raven was sent North, where it’s been winter for two seasons. But these are the same people who revealed earlier in the episode that they are about four seasons behind in their Westerosi history.
Sansa meets to talk with Jon and apologizes for not telling him about her talks with Baelish and the Vale. To which, Jon says, ‘Yeah, I know Sansa. I mean what the hell?” Well, no he didn’t say that. And unfortunately, we never really got a good explanation for why Sansa didn’t tell her brother that more men were available. But Jon knows he can’t trust many people and he’s choosing to forgive her (or not really understanding how terrible of a thing it was not to be told that) and trusting his blood, as he doesn’t know who all he can trust at this point.
One of the real strengths of Season Six was the lack of Dorne in the narrative. So I don’t think I imagined that very large collective groan from Game of Thrones viewers when the Dornish scenes from the season premiere were shown in the “previously on” segment.
But at least this scene had the Queen of Thorns representing the entire audience when she told the Sand Snakes to shut up. That needed to happen well before the Sand Snakes ever spoke a word last season, but better late than never.
Lady Olenna wants revenge for the death of her entire family and she’s seeking out the Dornish, who hate the Lannsiters just as much as she does. But to her surprise, Ellaria Sand has already been in talks regarding a major alliance. Two weeks ago, you’ll recall that Lord Varys left Meereen to secure an alliance for the Dragon Queen. That alliance was Dorne. And if the Sand Snakes can maintain their vow of silence established this episode, it might actually be watchable.
Speaking of Daenarys, she’s finally secured peace in the former Slaver’s Bay (nice touch having her change the name to “Bay of Dragons” before she left). Now, I’m not going to analyze how rushed and simple that process became because I really don’t care. Bottom line, the Mother of Dragons is finally exiting Meereen and is on her way to Westeros.
But before that can happen, she has to tie up a few loose ends. One of those is Daario, a potential complication if she arrives in Westeros needing a marriage to secure the peace. She’s leaving Daario and his Second Sons (at the recommendation of Tyrion) in the “Bay of Dragons,” where they will be tasked with maintaining the peace she’s leaving behind. Then it’s on to talk with Tyrion, who she officially appoints as her “Hand of the Queen.” Before receiving that title, Tyrion advises Dany on the Game of Thrones, saying “You’re in the great game now. And the great game is terrifying.”
Back in the Riverlands, one of those game players continues to gloat as a servant girl he doesn’t recognize walks in and gives him pie. He wonders where his sons are, and an ominous feel not felt in that hall since the Red Wedding sets in. The girl says “Your sons are right here” and another collective sound (this one of anticipation) could be heard among book readers all over in the world.
Lord Walder has been presented with a piece of Frey Pie. The ingredients; his two sons. Frey pie was a strongly suspected part of a dinner that took place in “A Dance with Dragons.” And now here it is, placed perfectly as Arya removes the face she was wearing and reveals herself to a horrified Lord Walder.
I worried a few weeks ago that the two seasons Arya spent in Braavos would be wasted. If she was just going to come home as Arya Stark, what was the point of spending all the time becoming “No One?” As it turns out, it was all worth it to have her peel back that face and become the cold blooded assassin she means to be now that she’s back in Westeros. She slits Lord Walder’s throat (the very same treatment given to her mother at that ill-fated wedding) and the look on her face while Lord Frey bleeds out is just terrifying. I expect Arya’s sudden appearance to become one of the best elements of the show’s remaining episodes.
While Arya is playing super assassin, her sister is dealing with creepy uncle Petyr. Despite serving her on a plate to her rapist, Baelish still thinks he can pursue creepy romantic feelings with Sansa. He does make clear his desires in this scene: he wants to sit the Iron Throne and wants Sansa as his queen. And he’s got a compelling case. Who are the people more likely to follow: a true Stark born in the North or a bastard born in the South?
Beyond the Wall
That was your cue Bran to confirm the worst kept secret in the history of literature/television. Benjen has taken Meera and Bran as far as they can go, as he reveals the Wall has magical powers that kept him (and other ice zombies) from crossing it. He places Bran in front of a Weirwood tree, where he decides he’s ready to find out what was in that tower back in the third episode.
He follows young Ned up the steps to see his sister Lyanna with blood all over her bed. He wants to help her survive, but his little sister knows better. She’s about to die and needs Ned to do something for her. Hearing her whisper “Promise me Ned,” the iconic lines Ned heard in his thoughts throughout that first novel were extremely satisfying here as a nurse put a baby into young Ned’s arms.
Right after seeing Jon born, we see Jon today, overseeing a hall of northern lords and the Knights of the Vale as they discuss what to do now. Most seem ready to prepare for winter, but Jon informs them of the battle that is coming. Jon’s taken a season away from the looming Whitewalker threat to focus on getting Winterfell back. But now, he appears poised to play Paul Revere for the rest of Westeros, screaming “The Whitewalkers are coming!!!!”
But first, he must secure the other houses of the North. And for that, he needs the help of LYANNA FREAKING MORMONT!!!! This girl needs wrestling theme music playing every time she’s getting ready to speak with famous wrestling announcer Jim Ross screaming “LYANNA MORMONT IS HERE!!!!
The Lady of Bear Island scalds the other Northern Houses who didn’t aid Jon in his quest to take back Winterfell. She says that House Mormont will only stand behind one king, and his name is Stark (or Targaryen, but I guess we can figure how that works next season).
In response to her fiery speech, the other northern lords apologize for not coming to aid Jon when he called. They kneel, and the room raises their swords, erupting with the chant “The King of the North, The King of the North.” Sansa is pleased at first, but the smile quickly leaves her face as she looks back at Littlefinger, who is not pleased with this development as he looks on in the back of the room.
While one throne is established in the North, the first ruling queen of Westeros is crowned in the South. With Qyburn now wearing the pin for the Hand of the King, Cersei takes her seat as Jamie walks in, unsure of what he’s seeing. His men returning from the Riverlands arrived to find the Sept burning.
But while there’s a king in the north and a queen in the south, another queen rides the waters, her boats headed to Westeros with an army of unsullied, another army of Dothraki, and three dragons flying overhead.
-I wonder how Jamie will respond to Cersei’s bit of “diplomacy,” especially considering how he just ended a siege without shedding any blood.
-This season has seen the development of a true “express lane” to get between Westeros and Essos. The Greyjoys and Arya both quickly transported between the two continents. But neither of them hold a candle to Varys, who made it Dorne and back to Meereen in the same episode.
-The reveal of magic at the Wall brings back the importance of Bran being touched by that Whitewalker. If Bran should ever cross the Wall, could the Whitewalkers follow?
-The Tyrells and Martells have been bitter enemies throughout Westerosi history. So for them to be meeting to form an alliance shows just how desperate both sides are and how much they desire revenge against Cersei.
-The Frey Pie scene in the books was the work of Wyman Manderly, who is strongly suspected to have killed two Frey messengers who’ve disappeared and backed them into a pie that he feeds to Bolton and Frey guests at a dinner. The Lord Manderly presented tonight did not initially resemble the master manipulator from the text. But being that he’s the Lord of the North’s richest city (White Harbor), he should be extremely important moving forward.
Questions for Next Season
-How long before Daenarys is on the shores of Westeros?
-How will Jamie and Cersei’s relationship change now that she’s blown up half of King’s Landing?
-Will Littlefinger use his knowledge of Jon’s true parentage to create friction in the North? Or will that knowledge come to Jon’s aid for the major battle to come?
-Will Arya proceed to take out everyone on her list? Or will she have other targets in mind more central to the show’s end game?
I have a huge week of articles planned to wrap up this season, including the annual season obituaries (with two parts necessary) and a look at whether the show or Martin’s book is the superior work (I’m sure that won’t get anybody worked up). Here’s the launch schedule:
Tuesday: Obituaries part 1
Wednesday: Obituaries part 2
Thursday: The Tower of Joy Explained
Saturday: Ranking the Seasons
Next Monday: Which is Better: The Show or the Books?
Thank you so much for reading my recaps throughout this season. Now let’s help each other get through another long ten months of waiting until season 7.