So here we are at the end of Season 6. The finale. The conclusion of one story and beginning of another. And it did feel like a conclusion. Three arcs wrapped up this week with the consolidation of power in the North, the departure of Daenerys from Dragons’ Bay, and the end of the Baratheon line. As usual, we’ll take a look at each in turn.
All Hail Cersei, First of Her Name
“The Winds of Winter” opens on the trials of Loras and Cersei with an especially beautiful score by Ramin Djawadi. The music carries us away with the outstanding cinematography of this montage as the preparations are made. We see soaring shots of the crowd entering, close-ups of the Queen putting on her revenge finery, Tommen adorning his golden crown, the High Sparrow reveling in his righteous piety, and Loras huddling in a cell. In two minutes the show established where all of our major players were physically and politically without saying a single word. It was beautiful.
Loras’ trial goes mostly according to the script as written by Margaery and the High Sparrow, with him confessing his sins and declaring himself for the Church. It was heart-breaking to see a once-proud man who would make kings reduced to a groveling self-hating zealot. Don’t worry, though, his suffering wouldn’t last long.
Lancel Lannister got an extended action sequence, chasing the little bird into the tunnels beneath the Great Sept and witnessing the horror of the old wildfire stores. Stabbed and hobbled, he saw the leaking green ooze worthy of ninjitsu-wielding turtles pooled on the floor around him, a pair of candles burning down towards an explosive finish. Lancel, bless his silly heart, tried to extinguish the flames. It was a heroic and tragic effort to save himself and all those in the sept above him. It was also a great juxtaposition to his cowardly entry into the series as a naive and seduced youth who cowardly liquored up the king so he could die on a hunt. Say what you want about the faith militant, but it made a man out of Lancel.
Margaery also sensed the trap. It was rewarding to see her 1) catch on to Cersei’s plan immediately and 2) plead for everyone to get out. She could’ve snuck out, maybe with her brother and father. Instead she tried to warn everyone. However, the High Sparrow thought himself invincible and his men barred the doors in the confusion. It would cost them all their lives as the wildfire detonated beneath them and destroyed a large section of King’s Landing.
Tommen watched this all from his window. In another great scene with no dialogue, we see a centered shot on that open window with him standing in the middle looking out at the destruction and death of his wife. We then see him take off his crown, turn away, and walk off screen. The camera stays locked on that open window, and immediately you sense the doom in the air; you feel the danger of that open window and the destruction outside. And, right on cue, Tommen walks purposefully back into frame and throws himself out. The horrors of the Great Game (as Tyrion calls it) were too much for him. He was too sensitive. We always knew that. He could not adapt, and so he folded.
Cersei, meanwhile, got to give her confession to Septa Unella, who had been asking for it not-so-nicely for two seasons. Well, she finally got what she wanted. Cersei confessed to everything, and she told her she did it all because she wanted to. She didn’t even seem mad that Septa Unella had tortured her. She understood. Unella had tortured her because it felt good. So now Cersei would return the favor, because that also felt good.
The tragedy, of course, is that with all of her children dead Cersei could finally claim what she always wanted: unfettered power. It was an extremely bitter-sweet episode for Cersei. She is no longer the Queen Mother. She is no longer a mother. She is no longer number two. She is no longer a pawn to be moved about by cloddish men. She is no longer replaced by a younger and more beautiful queen. Westeros (or some small part of it that King’s Landing still controls) is hers and hers alone.
The lighting and costumes of her coronation scene were gorgeous. Dark flames emphasized her sheer dark dress and intimidating metal shoulder plates. Her short-cropped golden hair perfectly befitting the dark queen she has become. She even has a necromancer, Qyburn, and zombie bodyguard, Gregor Clegane, at her sides. She has realized her life’s ambition, but the cost was tremendous and you could see that strain on her face. This was not a moment of joy. It was a moment of sadness. “I hope it makes you happy” Dario tells Daenerys of her ambitions to seize the iron throne. Cersei shows us that it can be just the opposite: failure in success. And so we leave Cersei to try to manage the molten disaster that is the Seven Kingdoms.
All Hail Jon Snow, King in the North
Jon Snow also got to realize one of his life’s ambitions: legitimate recognition in the north. He told Melisandre how hard it was for him as a boy to sit way in the back of the feast hall while the rest of his family ate on the dais. She then curtly remind him that many children do not get feasts at all. Point taken, but you still understand the disappointment a child would feel at such second-class treatment. It would leave a chip on your shoulder, and Jon definitely has that chip.
Davos then got to confront Melisandre, who freely admitted what happened to Shireen. You could see the pain and doubt in her face. She knew what she had done was a mistake, but only after it didn’t work. Melisandre has always been more interested in results than methodology, a view not shared by the fastidious Jon Snow and Davos Seaworth. Jon’s weakness has always been his Ned Stark-like stubborn moral code. He is not good at detecting/using deception or compromising. The result here was that he banished the Red Woman from Winterfell, even after she pledged to help him fight the armies of the undead. This could be another fatal mistake, and one she won’t be around to resurrect him from. Maybe that is another reason he sent her away: so she couldn’t bring him back. You’d think the gift of life would be a blessing, but Jon has seemed haunted ever since. He tried ordering her to leave him dead. Maybe some part of him thinks he should be dead, and that he broke the rules by coming back. Another symptom of that strict Stark ethical code.
One Stark who subscribes to that code less and less these days is Sansa. Littlefinger confronted her in the garden, finally exposing his goals: taking the Iron Throne with her by his side. He moved in for another snowfall kiss, but she put aside his creepy uncle advances this time. While definitely the right move short term, she could be making another powerful enemy for the fledgling House Stark.
Sansa also looked a little miserable at the celebratory feast where all of the northern families declared for Jon Snow. One by one they got up and proclaimed him King in the North: the White Wolf. The focus of the scene, however, was Sansa’s shared glances with Littlefinger, who looked more than a little annoyed. She was giving up the opportunity to claim Winterfell for herself. Littlefinger no doubt wanted her to seize control and then marry him, uniting the North and the Veil. That would be a nearly unstoppable force. And his plan almost worked. Now they sit divided.
Much like Cersei, Jon also appeared less-than-happy at his coronation. He tried nudging Sansa in the direction of leadership by giving her the Lord’s quarters, but the bannermen made their declarations for him. He was the military commander, even though he had led a losing force. The victory really belonged to Littlefinger and Sansa. Having just relinquished command of the Night’s Watch, Jon once again finds himself in charge, this time of a much larger and more unstable alliance of northern houses and wildlings. Jon may be a great swordsmen and a good commander, but his leadership skills have always left something to be desired. We shall have to wait the long wait for season 7 to see how this plays out. Especially when Dany comes calling, because she probably won’t want an independent North and Iron Islands. Maybe a marriage proposal could be in the works…
All Hail Daenerys, Liberator of Dragons’ Bay
Back in victorious Mereen, Dany and Tyrion’s trust for each other continues to grow. She listened to his counsel and broke up with the jealous and vain Dario Naharis before sailing west. The time for idle games is over; she has a continent to invade.
She and Tyrion shared a beautiful moment afterwards when she named him Hand of the Queen. The pin settling onto his chest and the look of intense pride and fulfillment on his face was wonderful. Daenerys is a conqueror, but Tyrion is a ruler. He will manage whatever kingdoms she conquers with unparalleled skill. They really could conquer the world together.
We got a last parting shot of our Dragon Queen as she set off in her new fleet, sails painted with fresh Targaryen and Greyjoy sigils. The shot panned up over the massive fleet as her dragons soared out in front, harbingers of the destruction she could bring to those who stand against her in Westeros.
It seems likely that her first stop will be Dorne, as the Martells and Tyrells have forged an uneasy vengeance pact against the Lannisters and alliance with the return of the Targaryens.
Odds and Ends
We got brief glimpses at Arya and Bran. Arya got to cross one name off her vengeance list when she slaughtered Walder Frey after feeding his two sons to him in a pie. That girl might be stir crazy, but you have to give her an A for effort. That was a lot of butchery and baking for a reveal that only lasts a few seconds before she kills him too. It also added a level of menace to the earlier scene with Jaime and Bronn when the disguised Arya had been staring at Jaime so coquettishly.
Bran was counseled by Benjin on the old magic keeping undead creatures (such as himself) from passing the Wall. It will be interesting to see where Bran is headed now and how the undead army plans to pass into Westeros now that Winter has come. Stark reunion in Winterfell, anyone?
Sam also had a great scene at the Citadel in Old Town. I would watch an entire spin-off series about his training at the Citadel under the grumpy Maesters. There are like 12 different Marvel shows, can we get two Games of Thrones please? They could rotate so that new episodes would air 6 months of the year. Think of the cheers and jubilation that would erupt in the streets. Come on, HBO, just think about it!
“The Winds of Winter” was a practically perfect way to wrap up a great season of Game of Thrones. The pieces are all in place for Season 7 as we head towards the conclusion of the series. Cersei is now Queen with allies nowhere to be found. Dany is invading Westeros with allies in the Tyrells, Martells, and outcast Greyjoys. Jon is King in the North. And Littlefinger is a dangerous wild card floating between the Starks and Lannisters.
I must also note that it was a near-flawless victory for the women of game of thrones. Dany, Ellaria, the Queen of Thornes, Cersei, and Yara are all firmly in control or ascendant. Only Sansa seemed to miss her opportunity to seize the North, at least for now…