“Wow!” is the first this that sprang to mind after watching the final episode of season 6. The second was “It was perfect.” It was paid into fan speculation and theory, surprised us and even underwhelmed us. The narratives of all the main players in this series were rounded up neatly (in this super-long episode!) as we feel the chill of the winds of winter.
We open at Kingslanding, and everyone is tense on the morning of the trials of Cersei and Loras Tyrell. Remember, previously, that King Tommen had abolished the right to a trial-by-combat under the instruction of the High Sparrow. This is a trial by the Gods, and we all know how fair that is. Loras (Finn Jones) goes first, overlooked by a court packed with people including Kevan Lannister, his father – Mace Tyrell – and his sister, Margaery (Natalie Dormer). He doesn’t hold out for long, confessing to sins such as homosexuality and laying with traitor Renly Baratheon. He swears to serve the Seven, denouncing his titles and right to sire children, a fact the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is quick to solidify by having the Seven Pointed Star carved into his forehead.
One down, one to go, though it doesn’t take the High Sparrow long to deduce that Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) will not be showing. Unbeknownst to them, Tommen is prevented from leaving his chambers by The Mountain, and Margaery states that – in defying the Seven and her trial – there must be a more sinister reason behind Cersei’s refusal to show, regardless of the consequences. She is of course, proven right, for whilst Grand Maester Pycelle is stabbed to death by children (really), Cousin Lancel happens upon Cersei’s hidden treasure: wildfire, and surely enough a spark sets the sept ablaze and takes half of the population of Kingslanding with it. Gone are the High Sparrow and his flock of devoted cronies (except Septa Ulenna, who is left to be tortured by The Mountain), alongside Kevan Lannister, Margaery and Loras as well as their father, Mace Tyrell. It appears Olenna had a lucky escape.
Privy to this cinematic spectacle is young King Tommen, who watches the entire thing unfold from his balcony. He does not flinch when he realises that his beloved wife is no more, but instead calmly steps up and launches himself off the ledge. The third of Cersei’s golden children, dead. It appears the prophecy delivered by witch Maggy the Frog (season 5 episode 1, if you need a reminder) has finally been fulfilled, and what is left to rein in the new Queen now she no longer has her children to protect? For how long shall Mad Queen Cersei sit on the Iron Throne? If the look that Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) throws her way (later in the episode) is any indicator, it may be a short reign..
In an episode that is so crammed with tying up its loose plot threads in time for the next series (by time travel half the time, it seems), it is incredibly easy to forget that which falls outside the big three stories. As such, you can be forgiven for forgetting, come the end of the show, that Arya (Maise Williams, in an appearance so brief that it may as well have been a cameo) hacked Walder Frey’s throat to pieces after shedding an unnamed face. It is a creepy and bile-inducing shadow of when her mother Catelyn had her own throat slit at the infamous Red Wedding. One more down on Arya’s kill list, and she is evidently getting a taste for blood. She took full relish in serving Walder Frey his own sons – in a pie – and even took the opportunity to scout out Jamie and Bronn as they dined. She knows their faces now, though odds are they won’t see hers coming.
A brief flit to a more northern part of the North and Sam (John Bradley-West), Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Little Sam have finally made it to the Citadel, where maesters are trained. It is more comic relief than anything else, but we get a sneaky peak of the glorious library and its wonderful orary which – the eagle eyed amongst you will notice, I’m sure – is the one that has graced the opening credits for all of these years.
Whilst we are on brief flits and tying up loose ends, Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead Wright) inconvenient strolls through memory supply fans of both the show and the books with what they have been hungrily waiting for for some, say, 19 years now. He returns us to the Tower of Joy scene from earlier in the season, where we finally follow a young Ned up the steps to the screams of his younger sister, Lyanna – but these are not screams of her moment of murder; she is dying from childbirth. She whispers the child’s name (inaudible for us, boo) to her brother and says that Robert (Baratheon, her husband, he who was boar-ed to death) would kill the babe if he found out, and the only need to do so would be if it were a threat to Robert’s claim to the throne. The child would only be so if he were the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryan, therefore R+L=J: CANON. Cheers and tears everywhere, but where Rhaegar and Lyanna married? Is Jon legitimate with a real claim to the Iron throne? Or is he still a bastard, yet now with a blacker cloud following him than the one he was originally burdened with?
The most frustrating part of all this, of course, is that Bran is currently the only person privy to this information, and he’s stuck on the wrong side of the wall with only Meera to drag him back into the North (Coldhands/Uncle Benjen cannot pass thanks to the spells that prevent the dead from passing – sneaky season 7 plot point thrown in there, eh?). Who knows how long it will take him to find and tell Jon, if he ever does manage to? Not that his elder brother-of-a-fashion isn’t having some uncharacteristically good luck now that the Starks are back in Winterfell. Despite telling Sansa (Sophie Turner) that he believes she should be the Queen in the North, following the stead of young Lyanna Mormont (the excellent – Bella Ramsey, who appears to have survived the Battle of Winterfell) the leaders of the other northern houses declare Jon (Kit Harington) to be King. Is Sansa happy with this? It’s hard to tell, as despite stating her love for her brother her dalliances with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) behind Jon’s back hold her in questionable stead, for better or for worse. Does she trust either of them? Either way, it seems that Littlefinger will be sticking around, and he does have a good nose for sniffing out an opportunity to manipulate someone, after all. And one gained is another one lost, for Davos (Liam Cunningham) finally founds the ashes of the pyre where Princess Shireen – daughter of Stannis Baratheon – was burned to death at the end of last season. He puts 2+2 together, and 2+2= Melisandre. The Red Woman (Carice van Houten) has the grace to be ashamed once confronted by the Onion Knight in Jon’s presence, but states that the Lord of Light has kept her alive for a purpose which has not been fulfilled yet, so instead of sentencing her to death, Jon banishes her from the North for good, and states that should she ever return that she will not be leaving the North alive.
Whilst partnerships are severing up North, travel further South and alliances are being made. Olenna (Diana Rigg), perhaps the sole surviving Tyrell of note following Cersei’s explosive plot, is in Dorne and in discussion with Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), who is now – for all intents and purposes – Queen. But why? Well, a time-travelling Varys (Conleth Hill) is about to spill all. He’s rounding up the scorned houses to join the plight of Danaerys Targaryan, as after six whole series (and far too long messing about in Slaver’s Bay) and she is finally ready to set sail for Westeros. You heard it, we’re talking Tyrell-Martell soldiers and Unsullied-Dothraki warriors shipped over via Greyjoy transportation. It’s finally getting real. The Mother of Dragons (Emilia Clarke) names Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) her new Hand of the Queen, and he will come in handy (oho!), after all, who has been on the wrong side of Cersei more times than he?
(Oh, and Daario gets dumped.)
I would say that I can’t wait for more extra-long episodes, but I won’t hold my breath; it’s already been reported that next season we are going from ten episodes to seven . Oh, and it won’t be on til even later next year, as shooting doesn’t begin until September. Got to make everything look all wintery of course.
Was this the best episode of Game Of Thrones so far? Many have already complained that there has been too much fan service now that the show has overtaken the books, but really, what is to be expected? The arcs of some characters have been foreseeable – or perhaps inevitable – for a long time. Dany was always going to set for Westeros (duh) and Jon was always going to exceed his bastard status. After Robb was murdered, who was the likely replacement as King in the North (albeit, by a highly detoured route)? The ascension of Cersei was not a given; there will be many more surprises yet.
So where do we go from here? No one knows. The only certainty now is that
Winter is here…