But sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Oh boy: have Game of Thrones' season finales been stepping it up lately. The finales to seasons four and five were easily the best season finales the show has had thus far, and now here comes "The Winds of Winter", a masterful follow-up to the equally masterful "Battle of the Bastards". D&D take this finale to clean house and set up all important surviving characters for the end game, in which all of the show's remaining story lines are set in Westeros, and the ultimate threat of winter and the White Walkers draws near. When I say "all remaining story lines are set in Westeros", that should be a giveaway that, yes, Daenerys Targaryen is FINALLY heading to Westeros after spending all of seasons one through six building her power and ruling in Essos. Unfortunately for Daario Naharis, he is forced to stay behind and keep the peace in Meereen, and whether or not this is the last time we will see Daario is still to be determined. I have a hard time believing that D&D are just going to do away with this character: one who has been so close to Daenerys for the better part of four full seasons. All the more anticipation for season eight....
So our Dragon Queen is on her way, but what she doesn't know is that she's going to be coming home to an incredibly messy Westeros, particularly a messy King's Landing, thanks to good ol' Cersei. Cersei has always been one of the show's main villains, but this story line involving the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant has turned her into something of an antihero. She's never tried to oppress these religious fanatics because she disagrees with their beliefs; she simply wants to avoid having her son and others close to her be brainwashed by these people, knowing it would knock her from her position of power. Unfortunately, she fails to prevent Tommen from falling under the High Sparrow's influence, but only a fool would assume that Cersei doesn't have another plan up her sleeve. In a maneuver that is like something Michael Corleone would do in The Godfather trilogy, Cersei and Qyburn dispatch of all their enemies at once: Qyburn has his "birds" (we finally learn that Varys' birds were children on the streets) kill Pycelle, while Cersei uses wildfire to blow up the Sept of Baelor and kill the High Sparrow, Margaery, and all the other poor souls that gathered for Cersei's trial. It's kind of amazing how the power can shift so quickly: one moment, Cersei looked like she was at her weakest and like everyone was against her, and the next, she is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Her desire for power has grown stronger and stronger over the years, and no matter how much we hate her, I think we still have to give her props for being able to wipe out all of her King's Landing enemies just like that. If someone is to ever knock her from power, they're going to have to do it with the force of 1000 armies. It's still far from a perfect day for her though, as Tommen commits suicide open learning of Margaery's death, and Jaime comes home to see Cersei's coronation, giving her a concerned look from afar.
So Cersei has emerged triumphant over the High Sparrow and his followers. "The Winds of Winter" is also a triumphant episode for the Starks, who right now look to be making something of a comeback after experiencing nothing but death and heartache ever since the series began. D&D give fans a moment they've been waiting for ever since "The Rains of Castamere": the death of Walder Frey. Arya is back in Westeros, and she gives us our first taste of her new ability to wear the faces of others, taking on the face of one of Walder's female servants. This perplexes me a little: despite rejecting the title of "No One", how is Arya still able to wear the faces of others? The only time we ever saw her wear someone else's face was when she stole one from Jaqen, and that resulted in her going blind. I'm okay without a full-blown explanation; I would just be happier with a few more details on how she was able to leave Braavos with this skill in hand. Anyway, Arya slits Walder's throat and kills him in the exact same fashion her mother was killed. Taking the time to ensure ALL of your enemies are dead is something a lot of characters don't seem to do in Game of Thrones. Then again, did Walder Frey ever know that Catelyn Stark had a daughter who was on the run? Whatever, the important thing is that Walder is dead, and justice for The Red Wedding is finally done.
Arya's not the only Stark who has come back home: Bran is on his way home too, after his adventures beyond the Wall. D&D thankfully don't send us into the in-between seasons break without giving us a little more information about one of the biggest mysteries that they showed us briefly earlier in the season: what did the young Ned Stark go up and find in the Tower of Joy? We find out that Ned goes up to find his dying sister Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi), soaked in blood from childbirth. D&D give us the ultimate tease: Lyanna whispers into Ned's ear the name of her newly born son, except that her words are muted out after we hear her say, "His name is." It's actually better story telling that D&D hold off revealing what Lyanna says until the end of season seven, because the name of her son is arguably the greatest secret in all of Westeros, and its reveal would upset the entire power structure as we know it. The transition from the end of Bran's vision to a head shot of Jon in Winterfell should be all we need to deduce that Lyanna Stark's son is Jon Snow.
No, the name "Jon Snow" cannot upset the entire power structure of Westeros as we know it, but it's more than enough to help Jon earn the title of the new King in the North. It's quite fitting that Jon, after all his experiences with the Night's Watch, would one day find himself back home in Winterfell, taking on the title once held by Ned Stark. Jon has always tried to live out the ideals of honor and loyalty he had been taught his whole life by Ned, and despite all the struggles and setbacks, Jon has never given up on those ideals, and he will continue to honor Ned Stark's legacy and help that legacy live on by instilling these ideals into his reign in the North. The crowning of Jon Snow as King in the North should also speak volumes about how the other Houses in the North are willing to put aside the questionable nature of a bastard son ruling as King, knowing that another war much greater than anything they could ever imagine is drawing near. The last thing the North should care about right now is the fact that a bastard son is their new King; the living are all the same to the Night King and the Army of the Dead, so the last thing the living should do is be divided among themselves.
Funny I say that, because there is definitely some beef between some of the characters in the North right now, none greater than the hatred that Davos feels towards Melisandre upon learning that she was responsible for Shireen's death. It's as if Shireen's deafh and Stannis' defeat completely broke Melisandre, and now instead of the almighty red priestess that everyone feared, she is now a satanic witch that everyone wants dead. Just when it seemed like Jon's resurrection was going to help Melisandre bounce back (and it has, in some capacity), she gets exiled from the North by him. Pretty sad that no one ever gave her a hearty "you're welcome", because much of what has happened this season would not have been possible without Jon coming back from the dead. It's a heart-wrenching scene overall, all the more effective for not having any music playing and for taking place in a quiet chamber where everyone's voices are fairly echo-ey. Melisandre is finally confronted about one of the most crushing deaths to ever happen in Game of Thrones, and o course it would happen now, at the end of one of the most feel-good, triumphant two episode stretches that the show has had in a long time. It's not goodbye forever for Melisandre, but her exile does complicate matters further as the Long Night draws closer.
The very first episode of Game of Thrones was the first of many warnings about how winter is coming. Just about everyone has said "winter is coming" at some point from then up until now, and no matter how repetitive or annoying that it was to hear, nobody was lying. Winter was coming, and now, it's finally here. The warm days of summer have ended, and this winter season will bring more than just cold and snow: it will bring the greatest war the country of Westeros has ever seen. "The Winds of Winter" masterfully puts Game of Thrones into place for its final run, delivering all sorts of exciting and memorable moments that continue the recent trend of masterpiece season finales, after "The Children" and "Mother's Mercy" from seasons four and five, respectively. A whole host of characters like the High Sparrow, Margaery, and Walder Frey get the axe, and the various positions of power such as ruler of The Seven Kingdoms and King in the North are now in the hands of the likes of Cersei Lannister and Jon Snow, two characters that have been around since day uno. Combine all this with Daenerys Targaryen finally sailing for Westeros, and you've got yourself immense excitement for how the rest of the series will play out, now that all of our main characters are starting to come together. We are certainly entering a different phase of Game of Thrones unlike any we've experienced before. We've heard the hype. We've heard about winter coming. We've heard about characters proclaiming how they plan to rule. The time for talk is over. All that remains on the game board are the biggest, most powerful pieces, and when these pieces clash, the action will be more fiery and intense than anything we've ever seen before. Hold on to your hats: they don't call it The Great Game for nothing.
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