This is it, folks. Season 6 started off very strong with the resurrection of Jon Snow, followed with several big reveals that even us in the book nerd community didn’t see coming. Post-Hodor, the season hit a slump, leading myself and many others to question where this season was headed. However, last week proved that the preceding few episodes served as a less than perfect tidying up of loose ends that made room for the Battle of The Bastards. While every season’s ninth episode is action-packed, last week was one of the epic-est battles ever committed to film, or hard drive, or uploaded to the cloud, or whatever they do now. Game of Thrones had already changed the entire entertainment landscape, with several other channels and studios rabidly hunting after ‘the next GoT’. The scale and precision with which last week’s episode was executed took things to another level altogether.
This week, The Winds of Winter raises it again, not with amazing battle sequences but by finally setting alight the tightly packed tinder and giving us the first signs of the great conflagration that the entire series has been building towards since its very first episode. This is a long one, so buckle up guys, here we go.
Cersei gazes from her apartments in the great Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing, looking quite ominous in her new black getup, as her son Tommen, his wife Margaery and the High Sparrow prepare for Cersei and Lora’s long-awaited trial. The bells of the Sept ring out as each participant gets ready for the trial of the century. Tommen is looking distraught as he dons the crown. After being toyed with for so long, pulled in every political direction by Margaery, the High Sparrow, and his mother, he’s just hoping that nothing awful happens today and he can just get on with his life with his mother and his wife. His dream of a Disney-style story is not happening, this is the wrong show for happy endings.
Just as we leave Tommen and enter the Sept of Baelor, the soft keys of a piano sound in what is another example of the stupendous use of music in the series. As in previous seasons musical motifs hint at emotions and machinations that barely exist without them. Seriously, Ramin Djawadi deserves whatever award it is that people get for making awesome music in TV shows. We watch as the Sept fills with spectators, Loras is lead from his cell, and the High Sparrow arrives with a delegation of six other Septons that make the United States Congress look ‘diverse’ in comparison. Soft strings build on the melody as the old white dudes take their seats and Tommen is summoned from his chambers, but he delays leaving to mope a just a little bit longer. Lulls in the musical arrangement punctuate the moments as they piece together to build the greatest spectacle in the series so far.
Loras Tyrell is led before the seven Septons and summarily confesses to everything (including profligacy. Don’t be afraid to Google it). The High Sparrow’s smug face soaks it all in as Loras gives up his claim to Highgarden and is branded into the Faith Militant. His dad, Mace Tyrell, does the first sensible thing of his life when he freaks out and tries to put a stop to the mutilation. Margaery holds him back and tells him “faith is the way.” Poor Margaery, she was so good at the game and was so close to winning it for a while but when you play against Cersei Lannister, you win or you die.
Cersei, still in her quarters within the Red Keep, finishes with the final touches of her evil Disney queen outfit, then the piano motif returns when the door opens to Tommen. He’s finally quit sulking and is ready to head to the Sept. The zombie Mountain is there to prevent just that. Our big clue that something really bad is definitely going to happen during the trial is followed by Margaery confronting the High Sparrow. She claims he broke his promise to keep the Knight of Flowers safe, but in a real dick move the pope without shoes reminds the Queen that he only said he would let Loras leave after the trial. When everybody realizes that Cersei doesn’t plan on attending her trial, the converted cousin Lancel Lannister is sent to fetch her. Something bad is going to happen. We all know it, and when Lancel spots a suspicious kid and follows him to the crypts or sewers or whatever underneath the Sept, the music continues to swell ominously. Grand Maester Pycell, in the meantime, is whispered to by another small child and led to the super-creepy Qyburn’s lab. Even if you don’t recognize them as Qyburn’s little birds, the awesome music (no I won’t shut up about it) and the well-known fact that little kids are terrible and nothing good ever comes of them should clue you in as to what’s about to happen. Pycell is stabbed a few dozen times as the high voices of a choir of children join the haunting dirge for damn near half the named characters left in the show.
Lancel continues down the dark hallways and ends up in a storeroom of barrels leaking a mysterious glowing green goop (hint: it rhymes with mildtyre) when one of the creepy devil children manages to stab him directly in the part of the body that lets him walk. Giant church organs pound into existence to emphasize the crippling wound and the Gollum-looking murder-child takes off. Lancel tries to be a hero and extinguish the candles that are slowing burning down to the pool of wildfire and he almost makes it. In the Sept, Cersei is about to be tried in absentia, but Margaery, poor, sweet, kickass Margaery tells the High Sparrow to STFU and “forget about the gods!” because she knows that Cersei is a maniacal bitch and is planning something big. She tries to leave, taking her brother with her, but the Faith Militant holds them all back. The moment is heart-breaking. The panic of the Tyrells, the slow dawn of realization on the High Sparrows face, and Lancel, who witnessed the destructive power of wildfire during the Battle of the Blackwater back in season 2, who can’t do a damn thing.
The Sept goes full-on nuclear and evaporates in a giant pillar of eerie green flame. Cersei sips her wine and smiles, content that her enemies are now ash and glass while Tommen takes off his crown and steps out the window, whether from grief at the loss of his wife or just because he can’t live in the world as it is. Cersei’s reign as the Mad Queen has officially begun. Her monologue to the captured Septa Unella is the most authentic look into her mind so far and it paints an unsettling, if not revelatory, picture. She leaves Gregor “The Zombie” Clegane to keep Unella company and we’re shown a shadowy glimpse of his mangled face as Cersei leaves her, chanting “shame, shame, shame.”
In the Riverlands, gross Lord Frey toasts to the Frey-Lannister alliance after the recapture of Riverrun. Jaimie, King-Slayer and greatest wingman in the realm, and Bronn talk women. After Bronn runs off with two women, Lord Creep Frey tries to, I don’t know, bond(?) with Jaimie. They’re both Kingslayers after all. Jaimie isn’t having it and takes off, leaving the lecherous lord with ’no one’.
Oh, look it’s Sam! In a startling sea of death and dismay, Sam, Gilly, and Little Sam’s arrival at the citadel of Oldtown is downright jolly. As they approach the gorgeously rendered Oldtown and it’s towering lighthouse, a vast unkindness
of white ravens can be seen announcing the arrival of winter in full to all corners of the Seven Kingdoms. From the awkward introductions to Sam’s pure joy at being admitted to the Alexandrian-esque library, the scene is a remarkable dose of positivity and comedy after the Westorosi version of 9/11. John Bradley kills it (“life is a little irregular” LOL) his sense of overwhelming delight and intimidation while he's exploring the library, and finding the astrolabe from the title sequence, is palpable. Only dampened by the fact that Gilly and Little Sam aren’t allowed in.
In the newly reclaimed Winterfell, Jon is reminiscing about times gone by to Melisandre when the very pissed Davos Seaworth stomps into the room and hurls the Princess Shireen’s toy at the Red Priestess. Davos knows exactly what happened and he wants to make sure Jon knows too. Melisandre confesses and tries to justify burning a little girl alive by explaining she only does what her lord commands. Davos, already lord of the one-liners, gets his best line yet, responding, “If he commands you to burn children, your lord is evil!”. He continues to lay the smack down on the Red Witch and pleas to execute her but Jon decides to exile her instead. Watching Melisandre ride away, Jon is joined by Sansa and they discuss who is really responsible for the victory at Winterfell. They each try to pawn the power off on each other and Sansa even apologizes for (stupidly) not telling Jon about Little Finger and the Arryn army, though she doesn’t explain why. Later, Sansa is chilling in the Godswood of her old home when Baelish pays her a visit. He confesses his dream of sitting on the Iron Throne next to her and proclaims his weird love for her. Sansa isn’t feeling it though and bails, but not before Little Finger plants a few more seeds of malevolence. Sansa has grown a lot since her second marriage and I can only hope she knows what to look out for from Lord Baelish from now on. It’s interesting too, to think of where Jon is after this. If the kind of god who resurrected him also commands children to be burnt, what does that make Jon?
Now we know, finally, what Jon really is. The mystery that started twenty years ago with the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire is finally solved. But first, Dorne. The weakest plot and locale in the entire series gets a huge boost from a visit by the Queen of Thorns. The new ruler of Dorne and the Sandsnakes offer an alliance (after Olenna puts them all in their place, her style) not just with Dorne but with a goofy ring of a bell, Varys arrives and offers ‘fire and blood’ to avenge the death of house Martell. A triple entente of Dorne, Highgarden, and Targaryen is going to be real tough to beat, but the new Queen of the Seven Kingdoms has almost nothing left to lose. Speaking of Dany, she’s preparing to leave Mereen with her new fleet. She breaks up with Daario, and hangs out with Tyrion. The relationship between the Dragon Queen and the commander of the Second Sons was kind of ‘meh’ but the growing bond between her and Tyrion has twice the chemistry even without forcing romance into it. When Dany gives Tyrion the gift of a Queen’s Hand pin I almost lost it. About damn time. After everything Tyrion's been through it’s nice to see him recognized for his ability.
Just before the biggest reveal of the whole damn series, the disgusting Lord Frey is eating alone, served by one of the girls who was eyeballing Jaimie earlier. He’s upset his gross sons are late, but a girl points out that they’re already here, in the pie he may or may not have already eaten some of. He lifts the crust and finds a fingernail, confirming that it is not in fact pork. Finally, the girl removes her face and it’s ARYA FREAKIN’ STARK! She slits the old goat’s throat and watches him bleed out. I hated Arya’s story since all this magic-face-stealing-ninja nonsense started to get jumbled but this was really satisfying. Maybe she’ll finally get back into her murder-list instead of doing dumb stuff and making me yell at my TV.
North of the wall, Benjen ZombieStark lets Bran and Meera off like 30 damn miles from the wall because the wall is magic and he can’t get any closer. Doesn’t mean you have to take the only horse with you, dick. Nobody seems upset about it though and Bran settles down by a Weirwood tree to answer the question people have been asking since the series started. What's in the tower!?
Turns out R+L=J is true. In a scene almost directly out of the Game of Thrones book, Ned finds his sister in a bed of blood and she begs him to keep a promise because “if Robert finds out he’ll kill him”. Ned is handed a baby as his sister begs him to promise. We focus on the baby’s dark eyes and jump immediately to Jon’s eyes as the score, once again, just freakin' kills it. BOOM! The long-standing theory that Jon is a secret Targaryen is confirmed! Apparently, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen eloped from their respective marriages and had a love-child in the midst of the war they started. Now we can all stop arguing.
Then, to top it all off, Jon is holding a meeting of Northerners, Wildlings, and Knights of the Vale. After putting down the brewing racism with another reminder that ice-zombies are coming, they go on to discuss the who, exactly, is the new lord of Winterfell. 10-year-old Lady Mormont puts all the complaining Northern lords to shame and proceeds to nominate Jon as a new King in the North. The show works and even the houses that refused to participate in the Battle of the Bastards proclaim him their king.
Finally, Jaimie warps back to King’s Landing to find a giant crater where the Sept of Baelor used to be. He manages to make it to the Red Keep just in time for Cersei’s coronation. Cersei’s new garb makes her look evil as all hell and I think Jaimie knows it (and even might be a little turned on by it). I can’t believe we have to wait another year before we see what the inevitable fallout between these two holds.
Likewise, I'm pretty bummed that we have to wait to see Daenerys' arrival in Westoros. Her new dragon ships look pretty slick, though.
Game of Thrones has it’s ups and downs just like any other long running series, but nothing else has raised the bar nearly this high in terms of production value and plot complexity. Even those who don’t watch, or actively dislike the show, have to respect the sheer epicness of the endeavor the showrunners have undertaken. Inevitably this golden age of television will continue to shine as more and more shows attempt to match the maturity and complexity of Game of Thrones’ plot and the unprecedented scale of it’s set pieces. Now if only George R. R. Martin would hurry up with the next book so I can at least gain some insights into next season. Even if there’s no Lady Stoneheart. I am pretty stoked to take a break from these articles though. Writing them is tough but since my editor refuses to be 'spoiled' I have to edit them myself too. Good riddance. Until next year anyway...