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Nothing that happened in Game of Thrones‘s sixth season finale, “The Winds of Winter,” was particularly shocking. In fact, the episode’s most prominent moment had been predicted by fans for a number of weeks. But that was perfectly fine, as the episode offered a number of strong character moments and set things up for next season and the show’s final push toward its end.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a number discussion with people centered around Cersei’s plan, and the prevailing opinion was exactly what happened: she would acquire some of the remaining wildfire and blow up the Sept. It was a simple enough plan to deduce as the David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, and their staff did a good job of laying the narrative framework throughout the season. Normally, having a plot point telegraphed to the point this one had been would erk me more than intrigue me, but what Cersei’s actions and their aftermath said about who her character has become outweigh the clear paint-by-numbers elements of plotting.
Cersei is one of Game of Thrones most complex characters. We’ve known from the early days of the series that she desperately wants more than what she has been allowed to achieve. Thanks to the strictures of this society, she has been denied what she believes to be her rightful place of power, whether that be as the ruler of Westeros, a member of the High Counsel, or even the head of House Lannister. Where Jamie is content to obey the orders of those in power and Tyrion is content to work behind the scenes to create change and offer advice, Cersei wants power. And, as we saw this week, she’s done playing nice (or, at least her version of nice, wherein only a few people suffer or die for her wants). I’m not entirely convinced we will get the “Mad Queen” arc fans seem to be expecting, as I can’t see the show getting rid of Cersei and leaving a power vacuum for Dany to slide into when she eventually reaches King’s Landing, but we do know that Cersei is destined to die at the hands of her little brother- which could just as well mean Jamie as Tyrion.
The major question we are left with at the end of this season arc is what will Jamie do? Jamie, as he told us in his speech to Edmure, loves Cersei. Truly loves her. And he has done some pretty heinous things to protect her throughout the series. But he also loved his children. The losses of Joffrey and Myrcella, while an indirect result of Cersei’s machinations, weren’t so easily linked to her as Tommen’s suicide. Will Jamie blame her for the death of their son? Will he recognize that Cersei should not sit on the Iron Throne, as he did with Mad King Aerys? Or will his love for Cersei stay his hand? Rather, will Cersei manipulate him once more into falling in line behind her rather than taking his own stand for what is right. Time and again we’ve seen Jamie abandon any principles he has when he’s around Cersei. For story purposes I can certainly see that happening here, as much as it would disappoint me to see Jamie once again fall under Cersei’s sway- at least until something happens that causes him to be the one to kill his sister and fulfill the prophecy.
Cersei’s actions do more than give us insight into how far she will now go to grasp power (which, apparently, also includes not particularly caring too deeply for Tommen’s suicide- a moment that harkened back to Jamie shoving Bran out of a shorter tower in the pilot). It also cleared the game board of a number of inconsequential characters who had, in the case of most of them, long outlived their usefulness to the show. My one major critique of the show this season is how long it has let several arcs run (mostly Arya’s Braavosi journey and Ramsay’s entire existence), and the High Sparrow’s command of King’s Landing is another one on the list. I was a bit disappointed that Margaery was a casualty, as I thought the show might have finally figured out what to do with her (one of the smartest characters on the show, Margaery was too often pushed to the background by several of the more flashy King’s Landing characters and never really found her footing until these last few episodes). But clearing out the Sparrow, Mace, Loras, and Kevan (along with Pycelle) trims the cast neatly and with purpose, streamlining the ungainly large crush of minor characters in King’s Landing for the final two seasons of the show (as of now, the plan seems to be producing two shortened final seasons to round out the series, but we’ll see if HBO lets that be the end of things or if they will push for more).
Rounding out the show’s list of ungainly plots that lasted way to long, Dany is finally on her way to Westeros. While I suspect most of us could have done with this plot point moving more quickly to reach this point, I’m just glad it’s finally happening. The most interesting development, at least for me, was that the remaining Tyrell army (which, as we saw on the steps of the Sept a few weeks ago, is still in decent shape) will be throwing their support behind Dany’s cause. While I anticipated that Dorne would back a Targaryen return to power (Oberon’s- he of the Mountain head smashing- sister, Elia Martell, was married to Rhaegar Targaryen- Jon’s father- and she was killed, along with her children, at the order of Tywin Lannister), I didn’t see the Highgarden alliance coming. But it makes a great deal of sense. It also lines up the nearly all of the remaining Houses with power along two battle lines: Team Stark in the North and Team Dany in the South.
Speaking of Team Stark, things are looking pretty chummy up North now, aren’t they? While I’m a tad confused about when Sansa and Jon decided that he was going to be the leader of Team Stark (I assume it was meant to be conveyed during their conversation on the wall of Winterfell, but I didn’t really see when it actually occurred), it makes complete sense. And if Jon knows what is good for him, he will put Lady Mormont on his High Counsel immediately. She’s clearly the MVP of Team Stark. Did you see how every Lord in that room cowered when she called them out? And how gobsmacked Jon looked throughout the whole thing? Yes, Littlefinger is going to be a problem (as the Knights of the Vale are the largest remaining army in the North, I don’t see Jon getting very far without them). And I’m not entirely clear on Jon’s plan moving forward- is he going to concentrate on fighting the white walkers or is he planning on taking King’s Landing and then fighting the white walkers? If it’s the former, well, things will get interesting when he runs into Dany and her armada. Unless Jon has been enlightened as to his parentage by that time (or can convince Dany he’s family and not a foe through other means), I can’t see Dany being particularly kind to the Starks, who she sees as supporters of the Usurper Robert Baratheon.
A good season finale provides us with answers and even more questions, which is exactly what “The Winds of Winter” did. Yes, the answers were largely answers that fans had worked out for themselves along the way, but the questions are what really matters. That is what will propel the show forward into its final arcs (and great swaths of those arcs are now visible, with most characters only have a few options on which way they will move forward from this point). Sure, that removes some of the speculation from the series, which, in the case of show that has relied heavily on audience surprises like Game of Thrones, can be a minor handicap moving forward. But if the show keeps its focus on using these arcs to drive their characters forward (please, for the love of all that is holy, no more season-long arcs with characters learning things they could have learned in a few weeks), these final seasons of Game of Thrones could be truly great.
— I was less taken with the first stop on Arya’s Revenge Tour that I suspect most people were. Yes, Walder Frey was odious and needed to be killed, but I don’t want Arya’s purpose to become checking the remaining names off of her list. Arya was once one of the show’s most dynamic characters, and I do not want to see her reduced to a one woman revenge machine- no matter how satisfying that might be to some fans. I was, however, intrigued that Arya left Jamie alone. It was clear she was sizing him up for a kill, but she didn’t go through with it.
— In the episode’s most pointless digression (or, rather, a moment that could have easily occurred earlier in the season and didn’t need to be in this episode), Sam is at the Citadel. Which is all well and good, but we know he won’t become a maester by the end of the season (barring a major time jump). So, he’s at the Citadel to search the library to find some magical secret to defeat the white walkers. I just hope we don’t get a season of Sam researching.
— Speaking of magical secrets, here’s the key future plot point revealed in the episode: The Wall has magic that keeps the white walkers out. File that item away for later use.
— Even though Dany is on her way to Dorne, we still have the hanging Euron plot thread to deal with. So, I don’t anticipate smooth sailing.
— I found myself rather impressed with Cersei’s plot to seize power, until I saw her torture chamber for the Septa. I think I’ve reached my limit with Game of Thrones torture sequences, because that whole thing just made me incredibly queasy. If the show is choosing to go the Mad Queen route, they definitely set up the groundwork there.
— Best part of the Highgarden-Dorne-Targaryen alliance? Getting more Lady Olenna.
— Anyone have any idea how Varys got from Dorne to Meeren so damn fast? Time travel? His own dragon? I understand that Game of Thrones is now playing fast and loose with the concept of time, but that was just ridiculous.
— And last, but certainly not least, we finally know for certain that Jon Snow is actually the bastard son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. So we have two Targaryens left on the game board and three dragons. Will we get a third Targaryen so that all three dragons will have Targaryen riders?