Game of Thrones: The Winds of Winter

"Sometimes, before we can usher in the new, the old has to be put to rest."

Wow.

Game of Thrones finales have always been about setting up the following year's story. For the first few years, that meant a ninth episode in which all the poop hit the fan, and a tenth in which the survivors picked up the pieces and the the pawns were moved around the board, preparing for a new year and a new direction.

Over time, however, that process of setting up the new season has become more and more dramatic and the real gut-punch of the season has moved from the penultimate episode to the grand finale. It started when Tyrion offed Tywin Lannister on the bog in the tenth episode of season 4, while in season 5, the really dramatic beats hit in episodes 8 (the extraordinary battle sequence at Hardhome) and 10 (the assassination of Jon Snow) with episode 9 reserved for the truly nasty action (the murder of Shireen Baratheon).

All that culminates in this, truly a Grand Finale in every sense of the term, because the process of setting up season 7 doesn't mean moving some pieces into place - it means wiping out half the board and rearranging the rest into a simpler, grander formation. The Meerenese Knot and the complex tangle of webs in King's Landing have been cut loose, and the scale of the action has gone global, with the various storylines we've been following for six years finally looking set to converge as Winter hits.

And what a satisfying process it is! We've been waiting so many years for Dany to take her dragons and just go and invade Westeros already, and she's finally doing it. We finally know who Jon's mother is (if not his father, the show is still dragging that out even though readers worked it out years ago) and he has been crowned King of the North in a scene that exactly parallels Robb's similar crowning at the end of season 1. Or, perhaps more accurately, it almost exactly parallels it - the winter light in the Great Hall is colder than the warm fires were when Robb was crowned, and there was no Littlefinger smirking in the background back then.

That scene in itself is paralleled by the crowning of Queen Cersei - finally Queen in her own right after years as wife and mother - which is brilliantly chilling. The crowning of Joffrey in season 1, which it echoes, was ominous enough (and, like the King on the North, that earlier crowning was more brightly lit and coloured in Lannister red and gold, where Cersei and her court wear mourning black) but this is a much more darkly sinister moment, the grieving and increasingly unhinged Queen looming over her subjects like Death itself.

If there's a downside to all this, it's perhaps that the show, so brilliant at being complex and offering us equally conflicted and conflicting people on all sides, has become a little bit more black and white now. If we leave out Littlefinger for a moment, we are left with three contenders for the throne; Cersei on the one hand, who was always pretty awful and has now crossed the line into more or less irredeemable (especially considering she no longer has her children to live for), and Jon and Danaerys on the other hand, both generally 'good' (we've been told repeatedly by characters we like - Davos and Tyrion - that Jon and Dany are good rulers who are worth fighting for over this season) and who could potentially divide Westeros between themselves. Plus the invasion of ice zombies from the north, of course, who are definitely Bad.

Tyrion has joined Dany, Davos has joined Jon, so the only character we like who remains in a dodgy camp is Jaime, and he is unlikely to remain loyal to Cersei now that she's started playing with wildfyre (and he's been reminded how much he likes Brienne). The complex mess of human emotions and ambitions that made up the first two or three series has been replaced with a much more traditional fantasy narrative in which the noble bastard and the scion with the dragons must fight the ice zombies and the Mad Queen. But perhaps that's no bad thing. After all, we've all been desperate for something actually to happen with the ice zombies and/or the dragons for years, and it's hard to deny that this sweeping, epic narrative is rather more dramatic and satisfying in some ways than the mess of plots.

And of course, the plotting isn't entirely done yet. There's still Littlefinger, who has no interest in dragons or ice zombies, only in taking the Iron Throne for himself, and Sansa with it. And Littlefinger's true enemy is Varys, who reminded us all that Dorne exists before, we can only presume, flying back to Essos on one of the dragons, since there seems no other way he could possibly have got to Dany's ships so quickly. When Cersei has gone down in flames and the ice zombies have been defeated, Littlefinger will still be there and will need to be dealt with before Jon and Dany can carve up Westeros between themselves.

Never mind all that for now, though. For now, we can all revel in how incredibly dramatically satisfying it is finally to see action on a grand scale. The Starks are finally back in Winterfell, Dany is finally on the move and while Cersei might think she has won for now, the Lannisters are finally on their way out. Oh, and just for good measure, Walder Frey just got his comeuppance as well, a huge fan-pleasing moment that's almost in danger of getting lost among all the other dramatic developments of this episode. For the first time, a real end is in sight for this show, and I can't wait to see just how we get there.

Bits and pieces

 - I have to confess, I am very disappointed that Margaery went out like that. I thought for sure that she was going to be able to make it out of the sept in time, even if Loras didn't. It seems a bit abrupt that all her scheming and plotting and ambition ended up coming to nothing in the end (but of course, that's equally true of Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon and all sorts of other Game of Thrones characters).

 - Having said that, and entirely understanding that Cersei is awful - I wasn't exactly keen on the High Sparrow either, and have to confess to a tiny feeling of smugness with Cersei as she looked at the destruction she'd wrought. Very wrong of me!

 - Arya was eyeing up Jaime - not, as Bronn presumed, because she wants to sleep with him, but presumably because she wants to kill him. Whatever goes down between Jaime, Arya and Brienne - and something will, or the writers wouldn't have taken such trouble to remind us that Jaime and Brienne fancy the pants off each other - it's not going to be good.

 - The music in this episode was absolutely brilliant, especially in that opening Godfather-style sequence that wiped out half the cast. A really ominous slow-build that effectively ramped up the tension and perfectly underscored Cersei's descent into total megalomania.

 - I'm always interested in what the show does with Dany's costumes. She hasn't gone back to the Dothraki outfits of seasons 1 and 2, but her current favourite dress is much less medieval (seasons 4 and 5) or cowgirl (season 3) either. It looks vaguely Greco-Roman, in a loose sort of way - a sign that Danearys intends to conquer in the grand, old-fashioned style of her ancestors, perhaps.

 - The library at the Citadel was absolutely beautiful, and the business with the Maester some much needed light relief in a heavy episode. I can't help feeling the Library, like the Library of Alexandria, is doomed, though.

 - 'The Winds of Winter' is, of course, the title of the as-yet-unpublished sixth novel in the original book series, A Song of Ice and Fire.

 - RIP: Grand Maester Pycelle, The High Sparrow, Lancel Lannister, all the little sparrows, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell, Uncle Kevan Lannister, King Tommen Baratheon, Lord Walder Frey, Black Walder, the other Frey Junior whose name I can't remember, Jaime's love for Cersei, probably.

Quotes

Jon: I'm not a Stark.
Sansa: You are to me.

Dany: Tyrion Lannister, I name you Hand of the Queen.

Lots of northerners: The King in the North! The King in the North!

Epic in every sense. Five out of four dragons.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

20 comments:

J.D. Balthazar said...

This one was amazing,

As I was watching those first twenty minutes or so, with the build up to Cersei basically fulfilling the mad-kings legacy by destroying the Sept was both beautiful and horrifying. When the eerie green started to glow from those barrels I was instantly afraid that she was going to destroy the entire city. But no, it was just all her enemies conveniently all in one place. Poor Tommen, he was never really designed to be a ruler. And now, Queen Cersei. Wow, that was a long time coming.

Dany is finally crossing the narrow sea, about bloody time. Way back in season one, before her marriages, dragons, and journey's into Slaver's Bay (so aptly named the Bay of Dragons now) her goals were almost laughable. She was wed to a Khal to give her a fanciful notion of becoming Queen of Westeros, with Drogo as her less than silent King. Even though I haven't always been a fan of the directions she has been pulled by plot, it is very satisfying to see her finally take this step and join the rest of the game.

Jon Snow becoming the White Wolf and the king in the North is one of those moments I never even thought of. His path was so clear before, he was going to be Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, and he was going to stand before the white walkers. In one season (and one death), his entire destiny has changed. I am curious what Sansa is thinking about all this, I doubt Jon will ignore her, but how much has Littlefinger affected her ideas of politics? I don't want her to betray Jon, but I can almost feel it happening down the line.

When Walder Frey came back, I was chanting for Jaime to slit his throat, thankfully Arya was already there ready to do it for him.

I'm sorry that Margaery is dead. But her storyline was kind of over, since all other claims to the Iron Throne had to be eliminated for Cersei to ascend. She might've been content whispering into her son's ear, but his suicide made sense as well.

Oh, and that music was just haunting, and perfect for that introductory sequence.

Logan Cox said...

This was definitely their most epic finale yet. Even better than the finales to Seasons 2 or 4.

Everything that happened in King's Landing was jaw-dropping. Despite the fact that she's reached the full height of her deplorability and evilness, I've never been more attracted to Cersei I, Mad Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Lena Headey owned this episode.

The sudden deaths of almost the entire KL cast were all shocking. Somehow Tommen's suicide riveted me even more than the massive wildfire explosion that turned the other side of the city into a fiery hell. Though her love for her children is constantly cited as her one redeeming quality, Cersei is one of the worst mothers ever. So much for protecting her son from "hateful hypocrites."

They trimmed a lot of fat off of this meaty show this season, so many characters and places we'll never see again. I imagine this will allow them to make even better use of their enormous budget, now that there aren't nearly as many actors to keep on and the locations have been considerably reduced.

We now have three queens: Daenerys Targaryen, Yara Greyjoy and Cersei Lannister. We also have three kings: Jon Snow, Euron Greyjoy and the Night King. None of them are on steady ground, since they're probably all going to be opposing each other in the coming seasons. But I know I'm not the only one who sees a Stark-Targaryen union in the future. "Maybe no one" my ass, Dany. Maybe Jon f*ckin' Snow!

It's a bit sadly ironic that despite getting their revenge and regaining their power, the Starks are not at all the people they once were. Sansa is a ruthless game player now, unlike anyone else in her family. Bran has become some kind of supernatural, woodland deity. Arya is no longer an adorable tomboy, but a coldblooded killer who cuts off people's faces and turns men into pies. And we've just discovered that Jon isn't even Ned Stark's son, and the identity of his biological father might complicate his position somewhat. Maybe Robett Glover was right a few episodes back. Maybe House Stark really is dead, even if their name does live on.

topher darling said...

Great review and great episode. I gotta say that I loved it all, from Cersei blowing up the religious fanatics to Arya feeding Fray his sons. Olenna Tyrell aligning her house with Dorne while telling off the Sand Snakes and Sansa rejecting LittleFinger were also great scenes. And Lyanna Mormont reading the Northerners to filth was fabulous just because she's my favorite now.

With a show that has often used and abused women, it seems to be the women now who are the most powerful which is a pretty great turnaround.

Anonymous said...

Great review! The only one I'm truly sorry about is Margaery, closely followed by Loras. For a second I honestly thought that High Septon would let people leave, I know, silly me.
Cersei looks truly empty now, she was less scary when she was yelling around after Joffrey's death.
Also my favorite new character is of course Lady Mormont. Btw did they spend all the budget to the dragons? Can't we see just a few seconds of Ghost, maybe (especially) when Jon is declared as "White Wolf"? Are they trying to make us forget about him and have Jon ride a dragon next season because it would be unfair to have a direwolf AND a dragon both lol.
I'm so happy that we finally saw Tower of Joy (even though I can't really concentrate to the flashbacks because of young Ned aka pre-suit-up-Barney-Stinson and Lyanna whom I always imagined as Eva Green or the actress who plays Morgana in BBC Merlin for some reason)

Lastly I think last shot (the armada) was taking place at least a couple of months later because you can see the Martell sun and the Tyrell rose on some ships from the air shot so Varys would have to come back with the fleet -I'm sure he's upset about missing the chance to ride a dragon though :) Jaime traveling from Twins to KL in such short time is more unbelievable to me.
Veronika

Docnaz said...

What a wonderful finale! Cersei reminded me of Darth Vader and I could hear the Imperial Death March as she walked in her military/mourning regalia. I hope they let her hair grow back some. I know the short hair adds to the cold, hard look, but I miss the beautiful Cersei. The High Sparrow and his kind reflect the situation in Saudi Arabia, where the religious fanatics control the royal family and the government. Creepy in a real world way. I wish Margery had lived ( it is not wrong to wish most of the others had died, I think we all felt that way), I was rooting for her to be queen, I know Jon/Dany are set up to rule, but if Dany can't have children, who will inherit the throne? I could tell Tommen was going to jump out the window long before it occurred, crushing the last redeeming quality in Cersi, the love of her children. Tyrion has been relegated to side kick. It is better w. hen he had a girlfriend to protect. Maybe he will end up with Sansa. I hope the Hound and Arya don't hurt each other, I hope Jaime and Brienne end up together and I shi Dany and Yara.o ,

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I've been a bit critical (perhaps overly so) of some episodes of this season but I cannot fault a single thing about the finale. Everything was amazing. The dialog was picture perfect. Every single scene from Meereen over Dorne (yes even Dorne) over King's Landing over Riverrun to Winterfell was picture perfect.

The casting department deserves some kind of medal for that baby. It was uncanny how much it looked like Jon. Brooding straight out the womb. The transition to Jon sitting at the table literally had me in tears.

The amusing thing is that the revelation of Jon's parentage might hurt rather than help him. We often tend to forget that the Targaryen family name is hated throughout Westeros and especially in the North - remember that they did rebel and overthrew them, and also remember the line, "whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin."

Being Rhaegar's son may mean he has a claim to the Iron Throne - in fact, if Rhaegar and Lyanna found the time to get married, Jon Targaryen is the chief claimant to it, overshadowing Daenerys by being the male heir - but it also means he's not even a Stark bastard and he can't be legitimized as a Stark since his father isn't Ned, and it will not win him any friends where he rule. As crazy as it sounds I think there is a distant possibility he'll end up having to marry Sansa to solidify both their positions and put a rest to questions such as, "who's the heir to the North, his or her children?"

Serving people their children is popular on television this year. Gotham did it a few episodes ago. ;-)

Raya said...

What a fantastic finale!

The whole wildfyre plot wasn't surprising, but it was still very moving. And the music was incredible. I hoped until the last second for Margaery to survive, but I knew it was very unlikely. Loras looked better with short hair, by the way. Unlike Cercei.
Speaking of, if you're going to be the new Mad Queen, having Jaime Lanister by your side might *not* be a great idea. Just saying.

I have to admit that I cheered when that kid stabbed Lancel. I hated the guy even more than the High Sparrow.

Tommen's death was a bit dissapointing. Not because it didn't make sense or because it wasn't sad, but because it felt like he has spent his life being a puppet, and I would have liked him to be a bit more interesting as a character.

I absolutely loved Olenna Tyrell telling the Dornish girls to shut up. I can't stand them.

Again, Lady Mormont was absolutely awesome. That young actress is just brilliant.

The only thing that bothered me in this episode was Lyanna whispering Snow's father's name so that we couldn't hear it. It felt soooo contrived that it made me cringe. I don't see the point of dragging this even longer. I mean come on, will they wait until every single fan has figured it out before they make it official?
By the way Thomas, you might want to move your comment to the spoiler section, the identity of Snow's father is still considered a spoiler by a lot of people...

Anyway, great review for a great finale, thanks Juliette!

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

I was considering it but I've decided to let Josie make that call.

Jon being Targaryen isn't a spoiler because it was established in the episode. Lyanna tells Jon, "If Robert finds out, he'll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned."

It would make no sense for Robert to kill Lyanna's son unless he was a Targaryen. We've also had references on the show to Rhaegar "raping" Lyanna meaning they had sexual intercourse. We know Rhaegar "kidnapped" her. He is Targaryen and it's proven by the events on-screen.

I just think it will be extremely difficult to discuss further episodes while having to think of the "spoiler" that the sixth season finale already spelled out.

Josie Kafka said...

I think it's fine. It's not a book spoiler, more of a book theory that's bled into the online conversation about the show.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

The official HBO site "Making Game of Thrones" has even posted an infographic that's detailing everyone's parentage. Jon is listed as the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna with Ned Stark as his guardian.

http://www.makinggameofthrones.com/production-diary/got-connections-ned-promise-tower-of-joy-infographic

Raya said...

Fair enough! I didn't realize it had become official!

The whole whispering thing makes even less sense, though. Or maybe it's Bran who isn't supposed to know?

I always pictured Dany and Jon forming some sort of alliance, and even knowning of Jon's supposed origins, it never crossed my mind that they might end up fighting each other. Until now. Because you're right, he does have a claim on the throne.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

His claim on the throne depends on whether he is a bastard or not. Also this "conflict" could easily be settled through marriage. Jon the King, Dany the Queen. House Targaryen even allowed polygamy. Jon could wed both Dany and Sansa, technically. No, I don't think they'll go there, but anyway.

The other thing is I don't think Jon wants to rule Westeros. I doubt he even wanted to rule the North, but as Khaless once said, "great men do not seek power. They have power trust upon them."

I don't think we have time left in the show for a war between Jon and Daenerys. Besides going to war on the North would be troublesome for her. The Dothraki would likely freeze to death.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

Also: There is no edit function here, so I will simply post another message.

I think that we're supposed to believe Bran heard it all, but we did not. We only heard the parts we were able to make out. I think Bran heard Jon's real name and stuff like that. You can see his shock when listening to the part of the conversation we're not privy to.

Raya said...

I completely agree that a fight between Daenerys and Jon is very unlikely, but I like the idea. I also like the idea of Daenerys arriving to Westeros and finding someone else on the throne, someone who has a rightful claim. Won't happen, but that's what fanfictions are for ;-)

Anonymous said...

Rewatching Hodor/Hold the door scene... is there a possibility Bran possibly messed up the Mad King in the same vein.(Obviously the Hodor situation was a bit more straight forward with young and old Hodor present but their have been loads of hints and revelations this season that things in the past did not play out how they have been told.
There is a real chance that Bran will warg a Dragon at some point..(Boy has been crippled and useless for ages) he has to have a pivotal role somewhere, maybe even more pivotal than Jon and Dany to justify the importance placed on him...Maybe he warg's a Dragon in the war against the Night King ''Burn them all' in that context makes sense...How this could link with the Mad Kings mind, i don't know but it is plausible.

Anonymous said...

Rules to live by I have gleaned from this episode of GOT.

Rule #1: If you summon Cersei to court, and she fails to show up. Forget the Failure to Appear citation, just get the heck out of dodge.
Rule #2: Never let a pissed off Cersei plan your funeral.
Rule #3: Under no circumstances, ever do anything that will land you on Arya Starks's list.
Rule #4: 11 year old ladies rock.
Rule #5: The US Navy needs to scrap its FA-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, and invest in some Dragons for protection of its fleets.

Brilliant episode in every sense of the word, the direction, the music, the cinematography, especially the scene between Sansa and Littlefinger, when that creep was making his move on Sansa. I mean for goodness sake, Sansa just survived being married to arguably one of the most sadistic characters ever, Roose Bolton. So, I wouldn't think amour is on Sansa's mind right now, perhaps never.

I would give this episode a 5 out of 4 meat pies.

Anonymous said...

Could the alliance Danaerys left her lover behind for, be a marriage to Jon?

Anonymous said...

If the GOT writers read this thread, can you please create a scene where the ladies Lyanna Mormont, and Olenna Tyrell meet?

Hank said...

Two things:

-- Eagle-eyed viewers pointed out that there are Dornish ships among Daenerys' naval armada. Perhaps Varys hitched a ride on one of them.

-- Arya may have eyed Jaime to find a way to hitch a ride to King's Landing, as Cersei is still on her kill list. She may be with the Lannister host as they rode into King's Landing at the end.

Josie Kafka said...

I loved this. All in all, I was very impressed with the way this season seemed to get us back on track and moving toward an actual ending.

My favorite bit was the way that Tommen's death echoed Bran falling in the opening episode. Excellent parallel structure--both, in their own ways, pushed by Cersei.