This is it. Our last season 6 episode before Game of Thrones – finally! – returns to our screens tomorrow night. “The Winds of Winter” is a more than worthy end to a (mostly) worthy sixth season, and even surpasses the drama, tension, and grandeur of episode nine, “Battle of the Bastards.” It begins with a bang (compliments of Cersei) and ends with a long-awaited journey across the Narrow Sea. Are you ready for one last trip down memory lane? Let’s talk a walk together.
Right from the bells tolling, to the King’s Landing players silently dressing for the trial of Loras and Cersei, to those first piano notes, you know that something big is on the horizon. The opening sequence is the most stunningly well put together 20 minutes of Game of Thrones, ever. Miguel Sapochnik’s cinematic direction, Ramin Djawadi’s gorgeous and haunting “Light of the Seven,” and the superb acting of everyone involved combine to create a series of scenes that keeps you on the edge of your seat – right up to the inevitable conclusion.
As the trial begins (with Cersei mysteriously MIA), Loras is brought into the sept looking thoroughly submissive and broken by his captivity. He confesses his crimes, gives up his claim to Highgarden, and stoically submits to mutilation at the hands of the Sparrows. Margaery remains in control, holding Mace back as Loras is cut and later confronting the High Sparrow about the unexpected punishment. She also questions Cersei’s whereabouts and is informed that Cersei never left the Red Keep. Not to worry, Lancel is on the case!
Meanwhile, Grand Maester Pycelle has been summoned to Qyburn’s creepy lab full of creepy children. As they approach Pycelle, Qyburn apologizes for what’s about to happen and tells him, “Sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.” The music becomes more frantic and chilling as Pycelle is viciously stabbed to death. Back at the sept, the all-too-easily distracted Lancel has abandoned his mission to fetch Cersei to pursue a mysterious boy (because a kid running around alone must be up to no good) into an underground tunnel. Lancel gets a stabbing of his own and collapses.
As Cersei calmly and expectantly stares out at the sept from her chamber, Margaery becomes increasingly concerned and tells the High Sparrow that something is wrong, only to be rebuffed (you know nothing, High Sparrow). The music begins cycling – like it’s counting down to something – while Lancel (agonizingly slowly) drags himself past leaking barrels of wildfire. He sees it puddled on the floor with candles that have burned almost all the way down, and realization dawns. The situation becomes desperate as Margaery tells the High Sparrow that they all need to leave and Lancel tries to blow out the candles, but to no avail. The wildfire ignites, the sept explodes, and Cersei drinks her wine and smirks with satisfaction.
Riding high on her victory, Cersei torments an imprisoned Septa Unella. Cersei pours wine on Unella while chanting confess, then does some confessing of her own (now that she’s free from any repercussions). Unella believes Cersei is about to kill her and says she’s ready to meet the gods, but Cersei has much worse in store. As Zombie Mountain approaches the bound septa, she begins to scream. Cersei takes her leave – chanting “shame” as she goes.
The real shame is on Cersei, though, as she neglects to check on her son, Tommen. She made sure that Zombie Mountain prevented him from going to the trial, but after the explosion happens Tommen is left all alone. You can see the devastation and emptiness on his face before he removes his crown and walks to the window, falling silently to his death. Farewell sweet Tommen. You were too good for this world.
Over in the Riverlands, Jaime is oblivious to the devastation being wrought in King’s Landing as he attends a celebration of the Lannister/Frey alliance and recapture of Riverrun. Bronn teases him about all the women who appear to be flirting with him. Jaime isn’t interested – “Not blonde enough?” Bronn asks – and passes them off to Bronn. Walder Frey comes over and makes himself unwelcome, praising their great victory and calling them both kingslayers. Jaime clearly doesn’t appreciate being compared to Walder and insults him and his family, telling him no one fears the Freys – they fear the Lannisters. “We gave you the Riverlands to hold the Riverlands. If we have to ride north and take them back for you every time you lose them, why do we need you?” Burn, Jaime, burn.
Cutting back to King’s Landing, Cersei looks over her dead son with sorrow, resignation, and – perhaps – relief? as the prophecy she has always feared is completed. She tells Qyburn to burn him and place his ashes in the rubble of the sept, so he can join the rest of his family there. Cersei now has nothing left to lose but power, which is a terrifying prospect.
We finally get our first look at Oldtown (which is as beautiful as we imagined), as Sam and Gilly arrive for Sam’s maester training. Sam proceeds to have an awkward encounter with the Citadel’s chief desk jockey, who is uninformed about Lord Commander Mormont’s and Maester Aemon’s deaths and tells Sam his presence is “highly irregular.” Nevertheless, he allows Sam to use the library while he fetches the archmaester. Sam takes him up on his offer (sorry Gilly and baby Sam, but…books!), and the library is everything Sam – and the rest of us – has ever dreamed.
Up in the North, Jon broods about growing up and being shunned from the family table during feasts because of his bastard status. Melisandre reminds him he was lucky – at least he had a family and feasts. This moment of introspection is interrupted when Davos storms in and finally confronts Melisandre about burning Shireen. She tries in vain to defend it as necessary, but a heartbreakingly emotional Davos reminds her it was all for nothing – Stannis and all his men died anyway. As Jon decides whether to execute her for murder, Melisandre insists the Lord of Light isn’t done with her; she can help Jon fight the great war still to come. Jon allows her to live but exiles her to the south, saying he’ll have her hanged if she returns.
Later, Jon stands on the battlements of Winterfell watching Melisandre ride off into the snowstorm. Sansa approaches, and they have a heartfelt conversation about Sansa being instrumental to winning back their home. She apologizes for not informing him about the Vale coming to the rescue (about time, Sansa). Jon reminds her that they need to trust each other; they must present a united front against their enemies. As he walks away, Sansa tells him a white raven arrived from the Citadel. Winter is finally here…six years after Ned Stark first warned us about it.
Olenna Tyrell may have lost her family, but her sharp tongue is on full display as she meets with Ellaria and the Sand Snakes. Olenna shuts them up in quick succession (for which the viewing audience is forever grateful) telling them to “let the grown women speak.” Ellaria offers an alliance to ensure their survival, but Olenna’s future is gone – she’s not after survival anymore. Ellaria counters offering vengeance and justice, before Varys appears to finish with “fire and blood.” It looks like Team Dany has some new recruits.
Meanwhile, Dany is letting one of her team go as she tells Daario he must remain in Meereen to keep peace after she leaves. Dany wants to be available for a marriage alliance and doesn’t want her lover tagging along to Westeros. Afterward, Tyrion attempts to console her telling her that self-sacrifice makes for a good ruler and that he believes in her, after not believing in anything for a long time. Daenerys gives him a gift – a Hand pin – and names him “Hand of the Queen.” It’s an emotional moment for Tyrion: he is accepted and respected, not grudgingly because of his family name, but for who he is.
From one Stark sister to another, as we see Sansa dealing with a jerk of her own. Littlefinger approaches her in the godswood, apologizing for interrupting her prayers, but Sansa is “done with all that.” She asks what he wants and – shockingly – he actually tells her. Littlefinger admits he wants the Iron Throne, with Sansa ruling at his side. He moves in to kiss her, and she thankfully has the good sense to stop him. Before she walks away Littlefinger tries to drive a wedge between Sansa and Jon (again!) by telling her she is the future of House Stark, not some “motherless bastard born in the south.” I’d love to see you say that Jon’s face, Baelish.
Farther north, Benjen leaves Meera and Bran near the Wall – at the weirwood where Jon and Sam took their Night’s Watch vows. He must stay behind as the magic embued in the Wall prevents the undead from passing through. Bran has time for one last vision, so he touches the weirwood and – the moment we’ve all been anticipating! – he is taken back to the Tower of Joy.
Bran looks on as his father rushes inside the tower to find his dying sister, Lyanna, in her “bed of blood.” Their brief reunion is touching but sad, as Lyanna confesses she wants to be brave but she doesn’t want to die. Ned denies this, frantically telling the attendants to help her, but Lyanna stops him and tells him to listen. She pulls Ned close and whispers an unintelligible name before begging Ned to protect him: “Promise me, Ned” (I’m not crying, you’re crying!). Lyanna’s attendant then hands a baby to Ned, and – as the camera closes in on the baby’s face – it cuts to Jon Snow. R+L=J (mostly) confirmed.
Jon of course still knows nothing, as he meets with the assembled northerners and Vale soldiers in Winterfell’s great hall. The men are debating what to do next – many want to go home and wait out the winter. Jon tries to convince them of the threat they face to no avail. Thankfully, the ferocious little she-bear Lyanna Mormont comes to the rescue, taking the rest of the North to task for not stepping up when it was asked of them. Lyanna proclaims Jon her king – despite his bastard status – and the rest of the men join her, calling Jon the “white wolf” and chanting “the King in the North!” All except Littlefinger of course, who looks at Sansa smugly (does he have any other expression?) and causes her smile to falter. And they call Jon a bastard?
Down south, Jaime finally returns to King’s Landing to find the sept destroyed, with smoke still drifting over the city. He spurs his horse on to the Red Keep, arriving in time to see Cersei’s coronation as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms – as the score plays a particularly foreboding combination of “Light of the Seven” and “The Rains of Castamere.” Jaime looks none too pleased as he stares at Cersei on her throne, but she glares back in defiance. I sense trouble in twincest paradise.
The final scene reveals more trouble for the Lannisters on the horizon – literally! – as we see Daenerys finally set sail for Westeros with her new fleet. Varys (who must have borrowed Littlefinger’s jetpack) has arrived with Martell and Tyrell ships in tow. The Greyjoys, the Dothraki, and the Unsullied are all aboard and ready to help Daenerys take back her family’s throne. The music swells, Dany looks expectant and regal, and the dragons soar overhead with the promise of fire and blood to come. She has waited six long years for her moment, and it’s finally arrived.
“Only a fool would trust Littlefinger.” – Sansa to Jon
“Well, father always promised, didn’t he?” – Jon to Sansa after hearing winter has come
“The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.” – Arya to Walder Frey
“If Robert finds out, he’ll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned.” – Lyanna to Ned
“House Mormont remembers. The North remembers! We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He’s my king from this day until his last day.” – Lyanna Mormont to the northern houses
“You’re in the great game now. And the great game is terrifying.” – Tyrion to Daenerys
Introductions: Lord Wyman Manderly, Cley Cerwyn (whose family was brutally flayed to death by Ramsay Bolton), and an adult Lyanna Stark, in the flashback that was promised.
Deaths: Pycelle, Lancel, Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell, Kevan Lannister, the High Sparrow and countless other sparrows, noblemen and smallfolk; Tommen; possibly Septa Unella (depending on how long her torture lasted); Lothar Frey and Black Walder Rivers (dinner – and vengeance – is served!); Walder Frey; Lyanna Stark. Phew. Did I forget anyone?
Beautiful Death for The Winds of Winter, by Robert M. Ball