The Winds of Winter

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10: ‘The Winds of Winter’ – the season finale, written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

To me this was the best episode from this season. It definitely felt like a season finale and did not disappoint in delivering grandeur even after being the follow-up to ‘Battle of the Bastards’. The use of cinematography during the episode was but perfect and I’m genuinely in love with Miguel Sapochnik’s direction. It says enough that I am completely aware I will not be able to follow and explore all of the different parallels, nuances and metaphors in the episode here. They’re just so many. Of course, the finale is no stranger to the problems that have plagued the entire season and the show as a whole for some time now. Nowhere is it more evident than in the last two episodes this year – the amount of incredible hard work done by the filming and production design crews. It is their combined effort that keeps the show to such high quality. I’ve previously discussed this – and I’m still completely behind this stance – the only domain in which the show suffers is the writing. After watching the whole season and getting the bigger picture, I conclude that the writers certainly know where they need to have their characters end up – but have no understanding of how to get them there in a logical and consistent fashion. Character motivations and common sense are getting neglected for the sake of effortlessly progressing storylines. And this will certainly come up several times once I get to specifics from the episode.

With a title such as ‘The Winds of Winter’ – the episode can promise nothing less than a taste of the unknown (given this is the title of the upcoming novel in A Song of Ice and Fire) and a view overlooking the endgame of the series. Given the way things ended – Dany heading to Westeros with three dragons and Mad Queen Cersei on the throne (amongst other things) – this points to a female dominated inverted ‘Aegon’s Conquest’/’Robert’s Rebellion’ type plot. This seems quite fitting for the obvious feminist message of the series and while it outlines a lot of possibilities for how the story may be furthered it tells us little of the overall resolution. In any case, that’s what keeps us enthralled in this series to this day – the mystery of the grand conflict. Now winter has come on the show and all of the characters seem to be in position for the final act.

The episode starts off with Loras and Cersei’s trials. This whole fifteen-or-so-minute sequence is marvellous to behold. On top of the brilliant editing it features a fantastic use of soundtrack such as we’ve never seen before on the show. The music completely overruled each scene and worked as a perfect stead for dialogue, making multiple storylines converge seamlessly without making any of them weighing down or slowing the rest. It genuinely felt as if I’m watching a completely different show in terms of style and I do mean that in the most praising of ways. The soundtrack ‘In the Light of the Seven’ is amongst the best pieces of music on Game of Thrones period. Let’s ignore the fact that Pycelle and Lancel’s deaths did not serve any logic but were isolated to build suspense (and certainly did so).

The wildfire explosion looked amazing and pretty much officially marks Cersei’s transition to madness. It also confirms that Bran has visions of the future, although how that works and what exactly his powers are remains completely unexplained. Another interesting issue with the explosion is that it conveniently relieved the writers from the obligations to pay off the High Sparrow’s and Margaery’s individual scheming, which this season had spent an enormous amount of time to set up and tease. We never learned what the High Sparrow really wanted to achieve and we have no idea how the Queen was planning to use her position for the benefit of House Tyrell. And for all we know the writers also haven’t figured it out. To make up for that they decided to give Margaery a moment of pointless foresight, in which she realises the danger she’s in before the Sept explodes.

This all leads to Tommen’s suicide, which was another small scene executed very well – benefiting perfectly from the complete silence. With that, as far as Cersei realises, Magy the Frog’s prophecy is fulfilled. This opens the path for a much darker Cersei – one which has nothing holding her back and nothing to redeem her (as now all her children have died). We get a taste of that during her scene torturing Septa Unella. We finish with the Queen Mother self-proclaiming herself as the new occupant of the Iron Throne in another perfectly framed and even somewhat eerie scene. Anyway given that most of the highborn would have been present at the trial – it’s a miracle that any were left to witness Cersei’s coronation. This all, however, brings us to Jamie’s character and his overall arc.

A big thing this season was the start of Jamie’s redemption and the start of his path towards repaying his Kingslayer moment (which was heavily referenced multiple times this year). Jamie’s honour is now questioned not only by others but by himself, especially after his reunion with Brienne. You can genuinely see the disgust on his face when Walder Frey compares himself to the Kingslayer (kudos to great acting). We see that Jamie does care about his reputation and honour. That does not stop him, however, from continuing to act dishonourably. We learn that Edmure is back in a cell after Jamie specifically gave him his word that he would be accommodated in the halls of Casterly Rock (In Jamie’s defence, I wouldn’t be surprised if this were a continuity error from the writers).

We also get treated to a curious scene in which disguised Arya eyes Jamie (supposedly deciding whether she wants to kill him or not). And we also see confirmation that Bronn is insecure. To be fair, it fits perfectly with some of the terrible dialogue he’s had this year, but to me it feels like it’s a character direction motivated by spite rather than logic or the building of a strong Bronn narrative. Our time at the Twins ends with Arya revealing her identity to Walder Frey shortly before killing him (in a mirror to how her mother was killed). Of course, all this – not before murdering at least two of his sons and baking them into a pie. Given that Arya is certainly not versed in the subtle arts of baking pie (she definitely wouldn’t have payed attention to such lessons as a child and I also doubt Faceless Men training covered that), that is some amazing dedication to the execution of the kill. In the end she must have spent hours on that pie at the very least and Walder Frey didn’t so much as try it. And that’s a terrible waste.

Jamie’s story ends with him returning to King’s Landing and seeing what Cersei had done to the Sept of Baelor. I genuinely expected him to kill her in the finale, but the way things played out restricted him from having such a clean resolution to his arc. In the end, Jamie ended this season in a very low point – seeing the one person he loves descend to madness. This is made worse by his internal conflict of where to place his honour – As the deed of saving the city from wildfire labelled him as an oathbreaker, and now Cersei (who is the embodiment of Jamie’s dishonour – opposite and mirror to Brienne who represents his honour) is the cause of the death for hundreds in the flames of wildfire. He must be feeling extreme guilt at this thought and I’m very curious as to whether he will find a way to resolve this conflict without resorting to more dishonour. I deem appropriate to recall Brother Rae’s words from S6E7: ‘Violence is a disease – you do not cure a disease by spreading it to more people’.

A notable absence from the episode was the Hound (and the Brotherhood) who was reintroduced this season and had a whole episode entirely devoted to him, only for him not to be relevant in the current story. I don’t want to say that this makes episodes 7 and 8 retrospectively worse, I suppose the ‘broken men’ theme was indeed important ideologically for the series, even though at this point it feels completely disconnected and has no immediate consequences on the story. In this case it is still early to judge. We’ve had instances of storylines that lead nowhere, but we tolerated at the time in the hopes they would have some significance and are not just there to mindlessly steal screen time (such as the Missandei – Grey Worm romance). I seriously hope that is not the case for Brother Ray’s teachings and the Hound.

Speaking of ‘disconnected with no immediate consequences’, in Bran’s story this week we finally get the end of the Tower of Joy flashback. Bran’s storyline ended after ‘The Door’ and has only stagnated since. His manipulation of the past and his visions of the future are never again addressed and are not being explored in any way. And other than this one big moment for his character, Bran has not shown his usefulness outside of giving exposition. In the Tower of Joy, we learn that Jon is the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar. We even get a very obvious scene in which Young Ned leaves Arthur Dayne’s sword next to some blooded rags to signify the ‘bleeding star’ from ‘The Prince that was Promised’ prophecy from the books. Anyway, this reveal (as much as fans have been anticipating it for years) serves no immediate function in the story. If I have to be honest, I don’t even know how it would become relevant – I mean – if you think Game of Thrones ends with the relatable male character with a secret heritage saving the day and ruling the Kingdoms, you haven’t been paying attention. The only thing to come out of Jon’s birth right is ruin, and that is underlined by the bad light in which feudalism is portrayed on the show.

Of course, Jon Snow also, similarly to Bran, has an important experience that is not being addressed. After he came back from the dead, everyone just casually took it in and forgot about it. It was never again a topic of conversation and Ramsay was the only character on the show concerned with Jon’s desertion of the Night’s Watch. No one else was even a little bit suspicious.

The Northern storyline this week opens up with Davos confronting Melisandre about Shireen’s fate an entire season later than he would have, provided he had stayed consistently true to his character. To be fair, hadn’t he forgotten his hatred for magic and Melisandre – Jon would not have been resurrected and this season’s plot wouldn’t have happened. Anyway, the scene was a brilliant performance by Liam Cunningham and served as another strong message against violent and radical religion. As an outcome Melisandre is banished South, so would probably bump back into Arya like she promised back in Season 3.

The big conflict in the North, however, remains that between Jon and Sansa (and I have no idea why). Sansa seems to be honest about not trusting Littlefinger. We even get a nice scene of her rejecting his affection, much like her mother did before her. However, she still gives no reason why she failed to mention the huge army whose allegiance she had secured to Jon. She probably just wanted to re-enact that one scene from Lord of the Rings. This is another instance of the showrunners neglecting the journey in favour of the destination (and a lack of insight into conveying character motivations, but we’ll get back to that later). On the topic of Littlefinger, I am extremely curious as to where his character is going to go now as for the second time he seems to be able to manipulate everyone but the person he cares most about. It’s important to note, I guess, that we also have Littlefinger’s confession about his true goal: The Iron Throne – which is quite up there on the list of ‘Most Anti-Climactic Possible Motivations for Littlefinger’.

Now that Sansa is the last known surviving heir to Ned, the widow of the former Lord of Winterfell and has the allegiance of the army that took the castle – it’s only natural that a bastard deserter from the Night’s Watch be named King in the North instead of herself. This makes no sense logically, but still – I guess it shows who really rules the North – Lyanna Mormont. All the Lords proclaimed Jon ‘The White Wolf’ (as he’s a bastard, so his coat of arms colours are inverted) after she told them to. A curious thing to note during the scene where she shames them for ‘refusing the call’ is that her attack on Lord Cerwyn was completely unjustified. In Episode 7 we have a conversation between Jon and Sansa in which Jon refuses to ask for help from House Cerwyn as ‘there’s no time’. Thus Lord Cerwyn was innocent and got served anyway. With that said Bella Ramsey (Lyanna Mormont) is awesome!

As an outcome, perfectly mirroring Rob Stark from Season 2, Jon is declared ‘King in the North’ by everyone (including the Knights of the Vale… for some reason). Even Davos starts chanting, when only an episode ago he stated that his downfall was because he followed Kings. I feel sorry for Davos – he does not deserve all this. Sansa appears to be happy with Jon being ‘King in the North’ until she sees Littlefinger and realises that his interests will have him act against Jon. This, however, is not what the actors were trying to convey. In an interview Sophie Turner states that she feels her birth right is stolen and this has caused a rift between her and Jon. I had to re-watch that scene to get that, but unfortunately the shot never actually fixes on Sansa’s reaction during the proclamation until the very end where she, I guess, is pretending to be happy for Jon. I have no idea. This is all a bit of a miss. In the North, logic has been completely overruled and character motivations are bleak so that conflict can be swayed in any direction necessary. I also can’t help but feel that the urgency of having the Battle as soon as possible was just as fake as that same urgency at the end of last season with Stannis.

This episode we also get a view of Oldtown and the citadel via Sam’s storyline. The Maesters’ Library looks amazing and I love how the globe from the opening credits of the show is hanging there, giving the context of recollecting history. I also found quite funny how easily Sam left Gilly at the prospect of seeing books. The whole bit in Oldtown was quite refreshing, we even get a small scene mocking bureaucracy – showing the Maesters still having Jeor Mormont listed as Lord Commander. As funny as this is, they should definitely know better – at the very least Tyrion knew Jeor was dead last season which means ravens were sent by Maester Aemon – but whatever.

Speaking of Tyrion, back in Meereen he has a very touching scene with Daenerys, in which he is back to having decent dialogue and gets named ‘Hand of the Queen’. Despite his cynicism he says he believes in Daenerys and to me this very much mirrors Davos’ belief in Jon. Sadly, I do think that both characters are making a huge mistake. The show quite often sends the message that rallying behind a person, religion, etc. does not end well. Hence why I think the Varys quote Tyrion paraphrased before saying he believes in Dany is closer to one of the morals of the series.

Also in Meereen Daenerys tells Daario he is to stay and oversee the transition to democracy in the Bay of Dragons (former Slaver’s Bay). Quite hypocritical – establishing this progressive policy of leader election here, whilst she continues to perpetuate feudalism and monarchy with her conquest of Westeros. In her defence, we’ve no idea what system of government she means to implement once she forces her way into power (irony intended). During her scene with Tyrion she also reveals that she has psychopathic tendencies. I feel this is not actually relevant, however, and is just the showrunners poor attempt at not having her look weak. Alas, in their best intention they’ve also neglected to give her character development any significance this season and have failed to give depth to her motivation.

In Dorne Olenna Tyrell is sassing the Sandsnakes and absolutely made this episode for me. The moment she called ‘Barbara’ Sand an ‘angry little boy’ made me cheer louder than anything else on the show. I guess this proves that the letter the Queen of Thornes was writing before leaving King’s Landing was intended for Sunspear. Also revealed to be in Dorne is Varys, which hopefully means the horror that is Dorne will seize to exist and those few remaining unlikeable characters will be absorbed into Dany’s storyline.

The Season ends with Daenerys sailing off to Westeros in her new ships. And I guess she decided to wait for the Martel and Tyrell fleets to come to Meereen first, so they can all immediately sail back in unison. Well, as long as it’s not an inconveniently long journey, right? Varys and Daenerys had not met on the show, so I guess their off-screen introduction to each other was not in any way noteworthy, and the Targaryen has completely forgotten how the Spider tried to have her killed in Season 1. Also we see the thousands of dothraki having no problems being on ships unlike their brethren from Season 3. Because God forbid there be any kind of conflict in Dany’s storyline.

Overall this season is a big improvement from Season 5. The writing is still very much suffering from the lack of source material, but I firmly believe that if you can remove yourself from the lack of logic and the occasional outburst of bad dialogue (like in Episode 8), S6 is pretty amazing. As much as it seems like a bumpy ride, I am positive that we are on the up. The closer we get to the end the clearer the path is for the showrunners to achieve the goals set by the series.

Thank you for reading my review of the S6 finale with some of my overall thoughts on the season. I hope you enjoyed my weekly input and I’m glad that you shared this journey with me.

 

Alexander Petkov

 

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