“Jon, a raven came form the Citadel. A white raven. Winter is here.” -Sansa
“Well father always promised, didn’t he?” – Jon
The runup to this season of Game of Thrones presented a lot of unknowns. For the first time the series’ history there was no more source material to draw from (thanks to author George R.R. Martin’s slow writing pace). The question became “how would the series fare now that it has run out of material to adapt?” The answer to that question? By delivering its best season (and best finale) so far.
This was a huge episode so let’s get right into my review of “The Winds of Winter.”
SPOILERS BELOW! READ NO FURTHER UNLESS YOU’VE WATCHED THE GAME OF THRONES SEASON 6 FINALE!
A side effect to the grand scope of Game of Thrones is that some of the episodes feel like they just check in at one place before jumping off to the next location that needs to be visited that week. The show can sometimes feel disjointed but it is at its best when its disparate story lines either converge or parallel each other in meaningful ways and “The Winds of Winter” was an excellent example of the show really unifying every corner of its world both literally and thematically.
“The Winds of Winter” featured 3 characters at the height of their power thus far. First, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) has accepted his role as the new King in The North. Dany (Emilia Clarke), has finally amassed a large enough force to cross the narrow sea to Westeros, and Cersei (Lena Headey) who has eliminated every one of her political rivals and crowned herself Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Just about every major character has rallied behind one of those 3 characters(*). With the end of the show upon us, it was high time for battle lines to be drawn and they’ve never been clearer than right now.
(*) Well I’d say Cersei doesn’t really have any allies but the point remains.
Some might find the show’s drift into a more straightforward story disappointing but personally, it is a welcome change for the show. Now more than ever our “heroes” and “villains” are clearly defined. Despite that, I’m sure we’ll have plenty of room for morally gray scenarios in the final seasons. If the show is going to have a satisfying ending, events need to start paying off which means it’s going to follow a more conventional narrative logic (look no further than Jon’s predictable win over Ramsay. Predicated, but still satisfying).
“The Winds of Winter” featured more amazing direction from Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed season 5’s “Hardhome” and last week’s “Battle of the Bastards). Look no further than the opening sequence in King’s Landing for evidence of that. Sapochnik does an excellent job of building suspense and maintaining a real sense of dread throughout. We open with a long, practically wordless montage of various characters preparing for Cersei’s trial accompanied by an amazing piece from composer Ramin Djawadi. We know Cersei is going to do something horrible, the wildfire had been mentioned enough times to ensure that. Yet knowing what was coming only added to the crushing dread that weighed on me. The whole time you’re just waiting for the hammer to drop.
In one fell swoop (and some great CGI) Cersei was able to eliminate every one of her enemies. She has become The Mad Queen indeed. Lena Headey delivered an incredible performance as Cersei soared higher than ever before. She just smiles and drinks her wine. It sent chills down my spine. Yet her victory would be a Pyrrhic one as Tommen kills himself out of grief. Again the uninterrupted shot that preceded his death was stunningly directed by Sapochnik. It left my jaw on the floor. TV Academy, give this guy an Emmy.
Meanwhile, up North, Jon faced a real reversal of his fortunes, Once a bastard, now a king. Jon’s “coronation” was a great parallel to the scene where Rob is crowned King in The North, hopefully, this one works out better. It’s time for the Starks to rise back up. While Jon has never been my favorite character this season was a good one for him (stupid business with his resurrection aside). It’s incredible to see someone once so dismissed by others be elevated to so high a post(*).
(*) With an assist by Lyanna Mormount (Bella Ramsey) who in her 3 appearances has become a personal (and fan it would seem) favorite character. She’s just so feisty and blunt. I love it, keep this girl around!
One quick word on Sansa (Sophie Turner). This has been the best season yet for her. She has truly come into her own as a play of The Game. The way she spurns Littlefinger’s (Aiden Gillen) advances was a real fist-pumping moment. She is no longer someone’s puppet but a person more than capable of looking out for herself. Great work this season from Turner.
We also get a brief scene with Arya (Maisie Williams) who made it back to Westeros in time to cross another name off her list. While I’m not gonna mourn the death of Walder Frey (David Bradley), I am a little scared of what Arya is becoming. It’s was pretty unsettling to watch her murder Walder in cold blood (yes I know this isn’t the first time she’s done it). That said I can’t wait to see her reunite with her family.
One last thing about Jon, our brief time with Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) finally (FINALLY!) gives us confirmation of Jon’s parentage. After teasing us all season with the flashbacks to the Tower of Joy we finally learn that Jon is the bastard son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The theory that R+L=J isn’t a new one to GoT fandom but it was great to finally have definitive proof for it. I can’t wait to see what this revelation does to change the story going forward. We don’t see any immediate fallout from it as Bran is currently the only one who knows it but I’m sure it won’t be a secret for much longer.
After years of stalling (despite some great scenes along the way) Dany and her allies (**) finally set sail for Westeros. The shot that ended the season, of her entire armada setting sail with the dragons flying overhead left me with chills. It has all been building to this(***).
(**) Sans Daario. Dany sure is good at sending the men who love her to the friend zone. Poor guy.
(***) The scenes of Jon and Cersei being crowned, and Dany leaving for Westeros all close out the episode. I had chills throughout. It was a great way to tie up the season.
I felt Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) was rather underutilized this season but the scenes between him and Dany were phenomenal. To see a man as deeply cynical as Tyrion profess his belief in Dany was a huge moment for him and I had a big smile on my face when she presented him with the Hand of The Queen pendant. He truly believes she can make the world a better place. Our Imp has come a long way since season 1. Going forward I believe we will see Dany continue to struggle against the memory of her father and the blood that runs in her veins and hopefully Tyrion will be there to make sure she stays true to herself.
“The Winds of Winter” was easily one of (if not the) best episodes this series has ever done. More than just the climax of this season, this was the climax of the 59 episodes that have come before. Now the show can begin its endgame. The alliances are made and the battle lines are drawn. All the while The Night King is inching closer and closer to the wall. Winter has arrived indeed.
Now the long wait until season 7 begins. It’s gonna be a long 10 months.
Some stray thoughts:
- How great is Liam Cunningham as Davos? His rage at discovering what Melisandre (Carice van Houten) had done to Shireen was so heartbreaking. Kudos to Jon for banishing her. Aside from resurrecting Jon, The Red Woman hasn’t had much to do this year.
- No Brienne or Pod this week. 😦
- This season has firmly established that Benioff and Weiss have thrown out all concept of the time it takes to travel places. Characters have been moving around at record paces (Yara and Theon to Meeren, Arya back to Westeros). The best example was Varys traveling to Dorne and back to Meeren in like 2o minutes. At this point, it doesn’t really matter. Unless something noteworthy happens along the way, it’s more important we see characters at their destinations.
- Speaking of Dorne, how great was Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) putting down the Sand Snakes? She’s so savage, I love it. Cersei has no idea what is coming for her. See writers? All it took to make Dorne interesting was some good characters.
- No Lady Stoneheart. I think it’s time I accept that this book plot isn’t gonna happen in the show.
- While I liked the scene of Sam and Gilly arriving at the Citadel (which hopefully shows up on the map next year), his story has been minor this year. He was only in 3 episodes so this isn’t much of a complaint.
- RIP Margaery. As sad it was to see her go, it was probably for the best. The show needs to focus its plots now that the end is close. It was a fitting end to have her see-through Cersei’s scheme but not in enough time to do anything about it.
Alright, that’s it! So how do you feel about the way this season ended? What has you most excited for next season? Did you like the revelation of Jon’s parentage? Let me know if the comments!