Game of Thrones Revisited: 6.10 The Winds Of Winter
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with explosive season six finale...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
And so we come to the season six finale of Game of Thrones. It's a momentous end to what has been another momentous season, closing the door on so many chapters as the show heads into its end game. The last finale of the standard ten-episode format,
The opening act of a breathless, dramatic affair, as Cersei enacts her endgame to destroy all her enemies. Much of the sequence delivered without the need for dialogue; the preparations for the trials of Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lannister as the key players gather in the Sept of Baelor, accompanied by Ramin Djwadi's racing, atmospheric score, is packed with tension. The presence of the High Sparrow, Kevan Lannister, Queen Margaery and her father Mace Tyrell - all fierce opponents of Cersei's is enough cause for concern. And indeed, when a defeated Loras admits his 'sins' and is absolved by becoming a member of the sparrows, his sister is quick to ascertain that the lack of Cersei and Tommen is a sign of imminent danger.
The build up to the explosion of wildfire is intense. Tommen is all but held prisoner in his room by Ser Gregor while his mother, dressed in a black and silver tunic resembling armour, sips wine and waits. Between Lancel and Pycelle, the insidious act is discovered; the doddering grand master finally meets a grizzly end as Qyburn's young sparrows turn and stab the old man to death while Lancel is drawn deep beneath the sept to discover the candles burning over the exposed pools of liquid green wildfire.
The subsequent explosion and the elimination of so many key characters, is absolutely astounding, something that still feels inconceivable on second viewing. In destroying the Sept, Cersei elimates every enemy she has in King's Landing, friend, ally or otherwise, turning her into a true monster as she sips wine as watches the explosion decimate part of King's Landing. Tommen's suicide is just as bleak, the shot framed against the open window as he steps away to lay down his crown and then walks out of the window to his death. Poor Tommen is a young boy utterly broken, the last innocent to die in Cersei's violent war for the capital.
And Cersei is broken too; when Qyburn asks where she wants her last remaining son buried, she shows no grief or remorse, telling him to burn her son's body and scatter the ashes on the ruins of the sept with his grandfather, brother and sister. The prophecy has comes true and she has lost everything that gave her humanity - her role as a mother. What is left is nothing but a monster. She shows great delight in taunting the captured Septa Unella, revelling in her confessions and the joy her acts brings. While her talk of 'shame' as she locks the door on Unella should be a satisfying moment, the fact that she leaves her to the torments of resurrected Ser Gregor reveals just how evil her act is. You can only imagine the torment she will face and that is more horrific than anything the show could dare show on screen.
The new alliance between the last of the Tyrells - Olenna, the Queen of Thorns - and Elleria Sand of Dorne sets up a new strange alliance as Varys appears to bring them all under the allegiance of Daenerys Targaryen, the one person that could truly stand up to Cersei now. But most satisfying is Olenna's ability to shut down all the bravado of the Sand Snakes, making the most of their irritating presence after almost a full season's absence. As for Varys, the fact that he appears in Dorne mid-way through the episode and then pops up in Daenerys's fleet in the closing moments does seem very much like a bit of artistic acceleration but reflects the faster pace to come next season.
The new alliance and cleaning away of old storylines continues at the Twins as David Bradley makes his last 'living' appearance as Lord Walder Frey. Jamie calls him out on his cowardice and greed - he would be nothing it is wasn't for his Lannister allies. But even that last grasp of power is short lived as Arya makes her triumphant and vengeful return to Westeros. Taking inspiration from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, Arya feeds him a pie made from his own sons before unmaking herself and slitting his throat. It's cold, nasty and absolutely magnificent, a fitting send off from one of the Game of Throne's vilest creations.
In Mereen, it's a bittersweet farewell for Daario Naharis, as Mereen asks him stay and guard the city in her absence. Daenerys admitting to Tyrion that she felt nothing for the man who loved her, shows just how damaged she has become too; she isn't Cersei by far, but she can't even feel the passion for her closest lover. The scene with Tyrion is lovely, the dwarf revealing that he has spent years with no faith in anyone or anything but he has now found it in her. While he has not officially acted in capacity as her Hand, he's fulfilled the role in her absence and there was something heartening as she gave him the pin representing his role in her life.
Bran and Meera finally make it to the Wall, thanks to the aid of undead Benjen Stark, while events take a further tumultuous turn in Winterfell. Sansa and Jon's talk on the battlements is a nice moment of bonding, particularly Sansa saying she considers him a Stark too. But things are quickly undone with Littlefinger's 'suggestion' that she should be the one to rule. With young lady Lyanna Mormont stealing the show again with a rousing speech praising Jon and shaming those allies that never came to his aid, Jon goes from the bastard son of Ned Stark to King of the North, following in the footsteps of the long dead Robb. It's a terrific climax to his season six story, but one that sets the seeds of discord between him and Sansa in the episodes to come.
Season six really sweeps the board clean for the final two seasons and establishing the key players left in the fight. The Winds Of Winter is a thrilling climax, coming close to matching the heights of season four finale The Children in thrills, twists and emotional drama, capped by the amazing final sequence of Daenerys and her fleet finally sailing for Westeros. It was a bold mission statement to end the season on; just how successful it was depends on how you enjoyed the seventh season. But characters were no longer living in isolation from each other. From now on, all the different storylines were about to converge in unexpected ways...