Warning: Major spoilers ahead!
At the end of a captivating 69 minutes, we saw the pieces fall into place in the Seven Kingdoms. The stage is set. The Game of Thrones season 6 finale was a breathtaking work of art. From the musical direction to the cinematography, to the storytelling panache of director Miguel Sapochnik and some hefty dramatic acting from the likes of Liam Cunningham and Lena Headey in particular, ‘The Winds of Winter’ was something to marvel at.
Yes, it may not have matched the spectacle and sheer budget-flexing bravura of The Battle of the Bastards, but it was a different type of episode. Whereas last week’s blockbuster battle was the cleansing of a horrible bastard, this was the staging of a great war, the culmination of many a storyline and, quite simply, one of the most exquisitely produced episodes Game of Thrones has ever offered us.
From the fulfillment of Cersei’s prophecy by way of ‘burning them all,’ setting King’s Landing ablaze with a spectacularly insane whirlwind of pyromania that swiftly obliterated the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant, along with Margarey Tyrell and dozens of trial-watchers along with it. It was the scene with which the episode opened and it was a sequence made all the more hypnotising by Ramin Djawadi’s haunting score. Indeed, it was the finest arrangement of moving images and music this show has conjured up (and there’s been some memorable ones down the years).
Strangely, it was the confirmation that Jon Snow was the child of Lyanna Stark in the Tower of Joy flashback that was perhaps the episode’s most forgettable moment. Bran looked on as he saw Lyanna gave up hew newborn baby to a dumbfounded Ned. What was disappointing was the excruciating tease of whether or not he is also the offspring of Rhaegar Targaryen, whose presence was missed.
In Winterfell, Ser Davos finally confronted Melisandre over the burning of Shireen Baratheon in season five. “Tell him [Jon Snow] what you did to her,” Davos raged. As Melisandre revealed to Jon what she had done, Davos seethed with rage, eyebrows heavily furrowed and exercising all constrain not to execute the remorseless Red Priestess himself. With Davos demanding immediate execution, Jon Snow portrayed his inefficacy as a leader in merely excommunicating her to the south, but not before she warned of the looming White Walker threat. “You have seen the Night King,” she reminded him.
Meanwhile, Littlefinger was busy planting a very dangerous seed in Sansa’s head, urging her to imagine the picture of him on the Iron Throne with her by his side. Jon’s questionable leadership tactics and the eternal collusion of Littlefinger, now within a whisper of Sansa, paints an uncertain portrait for Jon/Sansa’s alliance in season seven. You wouldn’t think the Stark princess would betray her brother, but anything is possible in this multi-layered drama of course.
Speaking of Starks, Arya utilised the unique abilities of literally being ‘No One’ to surface at Riverrun and cut Walder Frey’s throat. “My name is Arya Stark,” she whispered to him after serving him a couple of pies stuffed with his carved up sons. “The last thing you are ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.” Consider the Red Wedding avenged.
Last but not least, we finally (and we mean finally) got to witness Daenerys ready her army and set sail for Westeros, accompanied by Tyrion, the newly-crowned Hand of the Queen, the Iron Fleet and all three of her dragons, heading for a tantalising face-off of conquerors with Cersei. “This is actually happening,” Tyrion remarked. Yes, it really is.
Of course, Daenerys will not be welcomed with a cinematic embrace by the newly-crowned Queen. Cersei’s ascension was a chilling one, unsettling in how soulless she seemed walking down towards a smirking Qyburn. Her expressionless mask made one think this is what she had planned along and, with an absence of emotion, she had made peace with it. Jaime wasn’t thrilled at her coronation, staring at the maddened Queen in a moment that was clear-cut in what it meant: their love was dead. So, too, were their children, including Tommen, who had proven his cowardice by hurling himself from a window, unable to live knowing his mother’s crime and, pertinently, his role in it.
“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying.” Tyrion Lannister to Daenerys Targaryen.