How are we here already? How has the season finale of Game of Thrones Season 6 arrived so soon? Colder than The North and crueler than the Freys, the concluding hour – well, 69 minutes – has presented itself to us, and now we must wait a further 10 months before returning to the Seven Kingdoms.
However whilst this is a time of great sorrow, it is also a cause for celebration. There is little doubt that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have crafted the quintessential season of the show, and they have done it off their own backs. Every episode this year has been exceptional; purposefully building character, landscape, politics and drama. It has been woven with the tightest of threads, delivering eye-watering spectacle and fan-service at every opportunity.
Following last week’s masterpiece “Battle of the Bastards” (full review here) – now the highest rated TV episode in IMDb history – it is fair to say that “The Winds of Winter” has some enormous boots to fill to match its predecessor. In fact, the boots are Wun-Wun sized.
But then again, this is not just television; it’s Game of Thrones, and this is no ordinary season finale. Episodes 9 and 10 paired prove this show is in a different stratosphere creatively and thematically. Perfectly complimenting the developmental story and movements throughout Westeros, our concluding adventure delivers the definitive end to the definitive season.
The Title: “The Winds of Winter”
What Does It Mean?
As we saw last week during the enthralling battle between Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton, the Starks have rightfully returned home to Winterfell. However regaining their Northern land is only a portion of the ordeal. Winter is still coming.
Seasons in Westeros aren’t like ours. Winters can last for years and even decades. Babies can be born and raised and die before ever experiencing a summer.
The longest, bitterest cold spell is set to sweep across the lands, and with it will arrive the army far more fearsome than a united Bolton-Umber front: the army of the dead.
The Night’s King is still at large, as is his sprawling ensemble of White Walkers and zombies, and they are coming for the former Lord Commander.
Clued up fans will also know that “The Winds of Winter” is the title of George R.R. Martin’s long-awaited sixth book – the first since 2011’s “A Dance with Dragons”, and the one he did not finish in time for production of Season 6.
Most Shocking Moment:
The sheer quantity of incredible moments in this season finale has left this writer reeling. This is unlike any previous tenth episode of Thrones. It was brimming with jaw-dropping sequences, paired with such rich character information and developments. To choose a single Most Shocking Moment is impossible, so I’m opting for two.
Firstly, the most prolonged and speculated fan theory – one we even provided coverage on ourselves – has all but been confirmed: R+L=J. Bran Stark has taken upon his premature position as the Three Eyed Raven and enters a vision. He finds himself back at the Tower of Joy as father Ned rushes upwards to the gruelling sounds of a woman’s screams.
He bursts through the door to find younger sister Lyanna laying in bed, drenched in blood. The camera passes upwards and we see a sword engraved with a star insignia; “born beneath a bleeding star”. Bran remains at a distance and fails to hear all of Lyanna and Ned’s engagement, but the message is clear enough. She is dying, and she needs someone to care for her baby: her bastard baby. Son of Rhaegar Targaryen.
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.
What this means, as chances are you already know, is that Jon Snow is the most legitimate heir to the Iron Throne. Far more so than half-sister Daenerys Targaryen who is just Rhaegar’s little sister. The problem is however, the only one who knows such information is Bran, and he isn’t exactly in the best shape or location…
Secondly is the demise of one very particular key player. Many fall in “The Winds of Winter”; in fact it serves up the most brutal and ruthless winnowing of primary cast members since “The Rains of Castamere”, but one of these deaths is entirely reactionary to the carnage that ensues moments prior (we’ll get to that later…)
Staring quietly from the vast windows in his chambers, King Tommen Baratheon looks out over the sheer malice and monstrosity of mother Cersei Lannister’s actions. Racked with guilt, anguish and wallowing, the placid King – the ruler who united the Crown and the Faith, abolishing Trial by Combat which his mother should have faced – sets down his royal headpiece and silently drops from the window.
The King is dead, and the witch’s prophecy came true: all of Cersei’s children would die. Joffrey and Marcella were murdered at the hands of their enemies, but she killed Tommen.
It would be easy and indeed fair to comment on Cersei’s actions here, but we are saving them just a little while longer. The Seven Kingdoms are a dense political landscape; a place where moves are made as subtly and overtly as a house may seem fit.
In “The Winds of Winter”, we see Varys build alliance with House Martell in Dorne who are attempting to recruit House Tyrell and Highgarden in their desperate bid against those in King’s Landing.
We also bared witness to Petyr “Littefinger” Baelish’s real agenda behind the Knights of the Vale saving Jon Snow’s fragile army at the Battle for Winterfell. He wants Sansa Stark – Lady of the North – and he believes (like everyone perhaps Bran…) that she is far more suited to ruling at Winterfell than a “motherless bastard born in the South”.
Plus Tyrion Lannister earned his stripes and honour in Meereen by being appointed as Dany’s Hand to the Queen – which was just beautiful. But the most elongated game got underway here too, and it was beyond satisfying.
A girl is Arya Stark, and she is going home. It is so joyous to see her back in Westeros following her long stint in Braavos at the House of Black and White. She is now a fully-fledged assassin; a Faceless man, but not a nameless one. She has “Needle”. She has her list. She is ready for revenge.
Walder Frey has reclaimed Riverrun thanks to Jaime Lannister and his men. The Freys are holding their usual celebratory feasts – often at the expense of another’s work – and it’s clear than the Kingsguard has cottoned on too. Fundamentally, the Freys are redundant. They aren’t fearsome or powerful, just cruel and deviant. They aren’t brave or bold, just sly and without honour.
Jaime makes it very clear to Walder that he and the Lannisters do not need them. They are tired of retrieving the Riverlands whenever the Freys lose them. Kingslayers they both may be, but it’s Ser Jaime that actually drew his sword.
Lord Frey isn’t given much time to ponder the harsh realities of his ally however as soon it is time to eat. Seated alone, a serving girl who had previous made eyes at Jaime enters, presenting him pies.
In typical slimy fashion, he slaps her rear and asks “Where are my sons?”. “They’re right here,” the serving girl returns, pointing to the pies.
Yes, that’s correct: butchered and blended Frey children are the filling to his pastry dish. Eric Cartman style.
Moments later, she peels off her face to reveal Arya who slices Walder’s throat the same way her own mother’s was at The Red Wedding. The murder even happens in the very same hall.
After three seasons – that’s 30 episodes – where the repercussions of the Frey’s despicable crime which butchered the King in the North and fellow Starks have been declined, finally a pay off. His death is savage, merciless and just terrific. Arya is deadlier now than ever; ruthless in fact, and she is just getting started.
Best Overall Moment:
You knew it was coming and you have waited long enough. The best overall moment of this utterly impeccable season finale was actually more than a moment: rather the introductory 20-25 minutes.
The cinematic scale, prowess and purpose of the episode in general is a marvel, but the opening scenes are of towering quality. They are earth-shatteringly brilliant and continue to prove that after 60 episodes of Thrones, there is still nothing that can match it creatively. It is a fizzing, boiling cauldron that stirs with such precision that the overall broth intoxicates with every sip.
Firstly, let’s comment on the aesthetic. The first thing all audiences will notice here is the score. It is beyond dramatic and takes the forefront of the stage. Rather than complementing the scene, it defines it. Composer Ramin Djawadi and his musical department deserve Emmy and Golden Globe awards for their work in these few scenes alone.
It is so impeccably grand, yet entirely appropriate. Haunting and mournful keys trickle as we reach the High Sept. Alarming brass and strings pierce as the tension builds. The atmosphere is alive and resonates from the moment the opening titles conclude, and you are held in a vice-tight grip from then onwards.
Now onto the nitty gritty. It is the day of Cersei’s trial. She is to face the Seven Gods and stand for her crimes against the Crown and the Faith. Residents of King’s Landing parade into the High Sept, as does the High Sparrow, Queen Margaery Tyrell, house Maesters and a fellow accused: Ser Loras Tyrell.
One such member of the Small Council is absent however. Grand Maester Pycell is late after an evening’s debauchery with a city prostitute and is quickly lured away by Dr. Frankenstein himself, Qyburn. Remember Qyburn’s “little birds” from earlier this season? Well they aren’t exactly similar to Varys’…
Armed with blades, a gaggle of children pounce on Pycell, peppering him with repeated knife blows. The old man is quickly released from his duty. Cersei and son King Tommen’s absence from the trial does not go unnoticed. As Loras commits to his ills – including laying with Renly Baratheon – and devotes his life to the Faith, the High Sparrow asks Lancel to retrieve the missing party members.
He becomes hot on the tail of a “little bird” who is acting suspicious and follows its path down into the cellars below the High Sept. Soaked in darkness, he is surrounded by potential threat, but soon he notices something glowing brightly in the distance. It’s lime green and everywhere – wildfire.
As Lancel attempts to breach closer, the young boy dashes from the blackness and slices the young zealot with a knife. He falls to the ground and drags himself towards the endless row of illuminated barrels. Two vast pools of green liquid are soaking in the cobbles, and sat gently in the centre is a candle. One which is burning. Lancel simply cannot reach to put the flame out in time.
Meanwhile, in the Sept, Margaery is the only one to notice something’s amiss. She questions Cersei and Tome’s absence, proclaiming that she is aware of the consequences for their evasion. The High Sparrow – perhaps arrogant in his new-found power – wills for the trial to commence regardless, but the Queen commands for everyone to leave and run as fast as they can. It isn’t enough. She and the public become barricaded by the Faith Militant and time runs out.
The High Sparrow goes up in roaring green flame.
They all go up in green flame. Cersei kills the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras, the Lord of Highgarden himself, and her own uncle Kevan Lannister, all in one murderous thunderclap. Whatever masterplan the Queen was forming – and believe me, she was – it doesn’t matter anymore. She, just like the High Sept, is now rubble; ash.
It is such a biblically shocking and powerful moment which builds with brutal purposefulness. Capped and concluded by perhaps the most striking image: a smirking Cersei, glass in hand, staring out from the Red Keep at the glorious mayhem she has unleashed. In this frame, and indeed later on as she takes a seat on the Iron Throne, she looks crazier than The Mad King himself…
“The Winds of Winter” was unequivocally the perfect climax to the perfect season of Thrones.
Every detail – from the major to the most intricate – was crafted and nurtured with the utmost excellence by all the creative forces and cast involved.
Despite a lack of source material and a lingering sense of uncertainty, Benioff and Weiss have proven themselves masters of this dense, unforgiving landscape and changed the face of the show that continues to thrill, chill and spill.
And with such a euphoric high comes a wallowing low: it’ll be a desperately long wait until April 2017…