Game of Thrones: “The Winds of Winter” Season 6 Finale Review

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Season six of Game of Thrones has done a spectacular job pointing us in the general direction of the end of the show. Along the way, it managed to include huge payoffs that have been coming for seasons. Frankly, going into “The Winds of Winter,” it was easy to think it could have been a more reflective finale based in the sheer amount of things that happened in the nine episodes before it. But no, we weren’t even close to done. This episode, much like the one before it, was nothing short of a masterpiece.

Sure, maybe the King’s Landing storyline took too long to get where it was going this season, but it paid off massively. The 20 minute opening scene was simply one of the best things Thrones has ever done. The slow build as everyone got dressed and ready for the trial was haunting. The commencement of the trial, as Loras gave his life away to be under the watchful eye of the High Sparrow, was rightfully complicated. But Cersei and Tommen are absent, but still separated. The Queen Mother looks over the city that has chewed her up and spit her back out more times than she can count. Tommen is pathetically held captive by the Mountain. The gorgeous score keeps the tension high as we’re slowly shown exactly what’s happening. Margaery acts as our avatar in the scene, picking up that something is very, very wrong. Then boom, a giant green explosion that mercilessly slaughters every character in King’s Landing besides Cersei, Tommen, and the Mountain. It’s a moment that, for how complicated it is emotionally, reminds us why Thrones is one of the best shows on TV. There’s sadness for the loss of Margaery, a likable character who schemed like the show’s best villains but for noble causes. There’s the cheer-worthy incineration of the High Sparrow. For Cersei, there’s respect and fear. And then there’s Tommen, who silently jumps to his death, re-opening the seat on the Iron Throne and changing the game of the series entirely.

Does Cersei mourn him? Lena Headey’s pitch-perfect, Emmy worthy microexpressions tell us she does, but not in the same way she did Joffrey or even Myrcella. Those were battles she lost. This is a battle she won, and even in the battles you win, there are still sacrifices. The moment where she leaves the Mountain to deal with Septa Unella is horrifically satisfying. The throne is hers. The city is hers. The kingdom is hers. But the Mad Queen won’t stop short of the world. When Jaime returns and witnesses the crown put on her head, he’s not only looking on as Tommen’s father and Cersei’s lover, he’s looking on as the Kingslayer. This is a pivotal moment in both their series long arcs. Cersei and Jaime were introduced as icy villains and then brilliantly humanized to the point where their villainy was in question. Cersei’s isn’t anymore. If anything, we’re witnessing the rise of one of TV’s all-time great villains with the best likely yet to come. But the question remains, when will it all be too much for Jaime? Their enemies aren’t only growing, they’re coming together.

Varys’ trip to Dorne doesn’t bode well for them. But it does bode well for Daenerys, who just gained important allies in the form of what’s left of the Tyrells and Dorne. There’s a giant war brewing and Dany is going to need all the help she can get. But, by her own decision, Daario will not be one of the ones to help her anymore. Just because Daenerys is finally heading to Westeros doesn’t mean her time in Essos didn’t matter. That’s why Daario must stay behind, to preserve everything she accomplished while she goes to take her rightful seat across the sea. But she’s not alone without Daario. In one of the show’s more touching moments, Dany hands Tyrion the pin that signifies him as the Hand of the Queen. She had it made herself, commenting on how she thinks she got the design mostly right. Since meeting last season, Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage, not to mention the writers, have knocked every scene they share out of the park. Now they sail together, to hopefully a brighter future for the many people we love around Westeros.

But she’s probably no longer the only Targaryen. Bran’s visions finally show us the end result of Ned’s attempt to rescue his sister Lyanna. But she’s dying after giving birth. She whispers something to her brother and the camera cuts from the baby’s face to Jon. He’s not Ned’s bastard, he’s someone else’s, the popular theory being Rhaegar, the son of the Mad King, which would make him Daenerys’ nephew. It’s a lovely reveal that, like Dany riding off to Westeros, is so hopeful and powerful after all these grim seasons. Once the camera cut to Jon, that mood stuck around as the houses of the North declared him King of the North, a seat that is rightfully his.

An unfortunate potential pair of wildcards to his future are Sansa and Littlefinger. The latter thinks she should be Queen of the North, something she says she doesn’t need. But the glance they share as the swords go into the air for Jon is foreboding. Maybe Sansa is more power hungry than she realizes. I do hope the show doesn’t start pitting the Starks against each other, but Sansa’s growth this season has been fascinating and rewarding, with this being the most natural place to take her next.

Arya, meanwhile, is clearly already in a very dark place, though also an admittedly satisfying one. After Jaime leaves the Freys behind in Riverrun, the lord of his house eats dinner and wonders aloud to his servant where the rest of his family is. Well, removing the face of his servant, Arya reveals that she chopped them all up and put them in his food. She then waits a beat just to see his reaction and slits his throat the same way his men slit Catelyn’s. Arya can cross Walder Frey off her list. How easily she accomplished this is just so satisfying, especially compared with the high tension when she killed Meryn Trant last season. This moment is an unexpected surprise in a finale that was so loaded with surprises that I’m still reeling myself in.

“The Winds of Winter” breathlessly accomplished an insane amount of things. In one episode, Jon Snow was declared King of the North, we learned half of his parentage, Arya murdered one of the show’s biggest villains, Cersei was declared Queen of the Seven Kingdoms after killing everyone, and Daenerys got on the boat that’s going to take her to Westeros. Thrones has truly never been better that it was in these last two episodes. This season may very well be the best of the show. These payoffs six years in the making are helping justify every tangent the show ever went on. I’ve said it in my reviews before and I’m sure I will again next year, but there has never been and never will be again another show like Game of Thrones. We’re in the midst of one of the most significant masterpieces of fantasy, television, and long-form storytelling ever. Now comes the painfully long wait to come back to Westeros. But more so than season premiere before it, we’ll be starting season seven in a completely different Westeros, one with noble kings and one hell of a Mad Queen. Finale Grade: A / Season Grade: A-

Some Other Notes:

  • Oh, right, Sam was in this episode too. He did some goofy Sam stuff and it was fine. He walked into a really cool looking room where he’s going to read a bunch. Maybe he can just sit out of season seven?
  • Where is Arya going next? Is she reuniting with her family or finishing of that list? Granted, I’m not sure who I think should kill Cersei at this point. Maybe Ellaria, Tyrion, Olenna, Arya, and the rest of the Starks can all hold the same, very long spear.
  • So, Melisandre is definitely going to get some heroic death in the fight against the White Walkers that prevents Jon or Davos from actually killing her.
  • No Hound this week. That’s the only storyline from the season the finale didn’t touch on at all.
  • Um, bye Benjen Stark.
  • I love how Cersei had the young orphans of King’s Landing on her side. Even as the prophecy about her children fulfills itself, she’s still a mother of sorts. When Dany show’s up at King’s Landing, are we going to call it “Battle of the Mothers?”
  • I also loved Cersei’s fabulous, gothic, tyrannical new attire.
  • How many seasons have ended on the sight of Dany doing something hopeful and her dragons doing cool flying moves into the distance? Whatever, it hasn’t gotten old.
  • Thanks for reading through this spectacular season of TV! I’ll be back reviewing Game of Thrones again next year, so, until then.

By Matt Dougherty

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