Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10 "The Winds of Winter" review

Well, that’s the finale of season 6. And oh boy, what a finale it was. The usual rule has always been that episode 9 is the big kaboom and episode 10 is more or less the cleanup, but in season 6, this doesn’t really hold true anymore. With a flurry of well-paced and perfectly strung together moments, “Game of Thrones” presents one its best episodes ever, taking you for an emotional rollercoaster ride. So without any further ado, let’s start the geographical breakdown.

We start (barely) north of the Wall for what seems to be the last time in quite a while, as Benjen Starks leaves Meera and Bran since he can’t get through the Wall. That should be something to remember for the opening of season 7, as the White Walkers will find this interesting. While Benjen rides off to destroy some zombies and go down heroically in the process, thereby removing himself from the narrative for good, Bran finally asserts the mantle of the “Three-Eyed Raven”, whether his training’s finished or not. Let’s hope he doesn’t succumb to the temptation of the Dark Side.

He uses his powers to finally end the season-long tease of the Tower of Joy visions, climbing up the stairs with Ned. While the room is unfortunately missing the blue roses, he finds a bleeding Lyanna, dying and giving him Jon and her last wish. “Promise me, Ned!” Promise fulfilled.

At this juncture, we should take a step back and talk spoilers. R+L=J really hasn’t been a fan theory at this point so much as a fact for quite some time now. I don’t know of any people who really disputed this. Therefore, the revelation here can’t come as a big surprise. But as with other spoilers of season 6, for me, it really doesn’t matter. It’s not the plot in and of itself that matters, it’s the execution and how we got there. In this case, it’s perfect, and I have to admit that I cried despite knowing full well what was coming. What a beautiful, beautiful reveal. So far, it’s only for the viewers (it remains unclear if Bran really got everything that was happening, especially Lyanna’s whispered message about how Robert would kill the babe), but it won’t stay that way.

And isn’t it convenient that Jon is right now on a rather unsustainable path? Since the battle was won, everyone seems to agree that it really was a masterful stroke to charge into the Bolton after all, and reverence for Jon knows no bounds. Sansa forgot the lesson that the trappings of power are important, and that those trappings skew heavily male. So, admitting that she should have told Jon about the knights is important (it would have been ridiculous if she hadn’t), but she totally failed to assert her dominance over them and to make clear that they’re HER knights. Littlefinger is still worming himself into her brain with the distrust of Jon, and ironically, it’s entirely justified.

The northern lords (the Vale lords remain conspicuously silent), egged on by a pissed off Lady Mormont skewering them for refusing the call, proclaim Jon the King in the North, since OBVIOUSLY he’s the only Stark left standing. Jon smiles a bit uncomfortably, perhaps realizing that he’s just taking Sansa’s birthright away, perhaps not. Sansa’s smile seems very forced, in any event. It remains to be seen in season 7 whether or not she’ll fall in line and try to bring the knights of the Vale over to this new kingdom and the fight against the White Walkers who for everyone but Jon so far only featured in big talk.

Speaking of big talk, Melisandre also has her day of reckoning coming as Davos presents her with the result of his detective work and trembling asks Jon for leave to execute her. Melisandre is still entirely shaken herself. Her defense is pretty feeble, as there’s not much going for her, and she knows it. She was wrong, and a lot of people died, and then she wrongly burned a child, and even more people died. “You’ll need me” didn’t do much to alleviate those facts. What would she do, after all? Offering bad advice yet again? Jon’s decision is classical middle ground. Seems like she’ll pop up again in Dany’s vicinity, but we’ll see. It seems like a fitting end for now, riding away ignominiously.

By the way, it’s officially winter now. The reveal was put from Riverrun to Winterfell, which seems only fitting. After all the “Winter is coming” of earlier seasons, Jon’s dry remark about them having been warned rings true. I have an idea for the tagline of season 7, and I guess HBO has, too.

The political situation, however, still remains fluid. The North has reasserted its independence, with the knights of the Vale being complicit but having no real beef in what’s happening now. The Iron Islands are scoured clean, as a good part of the fleet is currently carrying Dany to Westeros and the other half is trying to…what? Euron is strangely absent, one has to say. It seems like a curious omission right now, since our last impression of him was watching Yara steal his fleet. Let’s see how this will play out in season 7. I really hope he won’t turn up in Dany’s path and get insta-roasted, proven to only be a motivator for Yara and Theon to go to Dany.

In the Riverlands, meanwhile, Jaime has to suffer through a banquet with Lord Frey. It has been a while since we last saw him, and given the structure of the season so far, you’d be forgiven if you thought he was going to die now. Before he inevitably does, however, we get another great exchange with Jaime, who is not exactly pleased that Walder Frey thinks they’re soulmates and tells him just what he thinks of him, which isn’t anything good. Frey then tries to drown his sorrows in wine and meat pie, only to discover that Arya is here, killed his sons, fed them to him and now kills him. I guess this is the only scene of the episode that leaves me oddly unfulfilled. It’s not only that Arya’s attendance is really jarring – between her teleporting from Braavos, Jaime teleporting back to King’s Landing between two scenes and Varys teleporting to Meereen within the span of twenty minutes, the show has finally decided to kick out travel times altogether, and maybe for the best given the greater narrative cohesion – but that it seems just one big moment too many. There is quite a lot payoff this episode, and I feel that checking in with Euron in an unremarkable scene and saving this one for later might have preserved some impact, but then again, with the number of episodes left still in the balance, it might be that there really isn’t much of a better moment to get rid of some Act-One-trash. We’ll see once season 7 rolls around.

The opening of this season finale, though, is set in King’s Landing. And what an opening it is. Accompanied by the eerie piano and violin version of the theme, preparations are made for the big trial. We see Cersei, Tommen and Margaery clothing themselves (or being clothed), the High Sparrow and Lancel doing the same, and people streaming in the Sept, all in excruciating detail. The suspense is building and building, and we get our first appetizer with Loras’ trial, which ends rather quickly as he foreswears his house and is mutilated to join the Sparrows. It’s only then that everyone realized that Cersei isn’t here, and it’s considered rude not be present for your own trial. It’s rather fitting that Loras admitted to the sin of arrogance last before being sentenced, as the High Sparrow is guilty of the same sin, dooming himself and everyone else as he ignores Margaery’s more prescient warning. She understands Cersei well enough to know that she’s up to no good, and wouldn’t you know it, all the foreshadowing of those wildfire cashes under the city pays off as Cersei uses it to blow up the Sept of Baelor and everyone who’s in it.

The filming in this sequence is exquisite, with beautiful camera setups, astonishing shots and great costume work. The…thing…that Cersei wears screams of Targaryen, and mad Targaryen to boot. She’s an evil queen now, finally pushed over the edge. With glee, she watches the Sept (and the surrounding blocks) explode and the city going off in smoke. Meanwhile, Gregor kept Tommen in his room, preventing him from having the same fiery fate. It’s the last time that Cersei tries to interfere with fate, as Tommen fulfills the prophecy on his own, falling to his death in a haunting sequence.

Partner in crime is Qyburn, who fully took over Varys’ role in book!King’s Landing, using the Little Birds to murder Pycelle and Lancel and to blow up the sept. No one is left in the capital now to oppose her, all political opposition blown up, crushed or stabbed. Afterwards Cersei, still clad as angel of revenge, takes out the same on the last person still in her grasp to have wronged her, Septa Unella. Cersei’s right when she tells her that it’s her own sin to have enjoyed making her suffer, but not even Unella deserves what’s happening to her as Cersei reenacts a sick version of the Walk of Shame on Unella. She’s now firmly in villain territory, not fighting the little devil on her shoulder or Maggy’s prophecy anymore, and in case everything was too subtle up to this point, she gets a nightly, sparsely lit crowning ceremony in which she still wears the evil wardrobe and seats herself on the throne, while everyone watches in subdued silence. Jaime, having made it back quite in time for the finale, watches her with apprehension, and she returns the glance. There’s a prevailing sense of certain doom hanging over all of this. Jaime can feel it, and Cersei is long past the point of caring.

Not only are the North and the Vale in open rebellion, the Riverlands in chaos thanks to Arya (who I guess will rescue Edmure) and the Ironmen on a race to first ally with Dany, in a surprising reversal of traditional alliances, the Queen of Thorns made her way to Dorne, where she manages to make the Sandsnakes funny for once, if only as the butt of a joke. It’s only natural for her to want Cersei dead at any price, now that she basically extinguished house Tyrell. While I mourn for all the context the “Fire and Blood” speech had in the books, one has to admit that it works perfectly here to get the emotion stirring in an economical timeframe.

And let’s not forget Sam, who finally arrived in Oldtown! Because this show is as ambitious as it gets, they play this scene basically as Harry’s arrival in Hogwarts, with some light comedy thrown in. With only two shots, we get everything what we need to know about Oldtown. It’s fully established, and it’s gorgeous, and I can’t wait to revisit it. Thumbs up approval.

And with that, let’s end the review in Meereen, where Dany parts ways with Daario Naharis. She realized she’d need to make marriage alliances in Westeros, and having a foreign sellsword lover isn’t going to help. Plus, as she admits to Tyrion, she’s not feeling anything anyway. Daario takes it like a true sportsman, mourning that every woman coming after Dany will only be a shadow. Well, that’s true enough, but command over the Bay of Dragons (nice touch) should be a fine consolation, and it’s good that someone gets a reward without soon dying for once.

Tyrion, in the meantime, professes to being a cynic, but he bonds with Daenerys by telling her that she truly overcame his skepticism and that he really believes in her, for which she makes him Hand. It’s testament to the gargantuan ability of all the people involved, especially Clarke and Dinklage, that they can sell a moment in a way that makes my cry the second time this episode with virtually no buildup for this. Tyrion talked to Dany once before her return, she flew a dragon twice, and that’s basically it. For a cynic, that was surprisingly easy. But who cares, the dream team-up is here, and they absolutely nailed it.

For all their troubles, they get a real great money-shot to close the season as we see the fleet with Targaryen-painted banners setting sail to the west, with the dragons flying along the whole length and the Unsullied lined up for battle on the decks. Even Varys is there. This makes no sense at all, but it looks absolutely great, so who gives a fuck? Way to end a season, Game of Thrones, and to close one of the best episodes you ever pulled off. I’m really excited for the next season in a way I haven’t been after seasons 4 and 5. So, for everyone who has been along with me for the ride, thanks for reading. We’ll see each other again soon, I have no doubt.


  1. From the shows perspective it is lining up fairly obviously that Jon and Dany will connect and perhaps romantically.... Do you think there is any possible path that puts Sansa and Tyrion back together? When it is all said and done could Sansa look back on her time with Tyrion and realize of all the men she had been with, he was the only one who truly cared about her feelings? It would be poetic in a way George is typically not. But the show on the other hand...

  2. greetings...TV Sansa storyline going forward is a puzzle. technically, is she still married to Tyrion? was there an annulment "off screen" that happened? I enjoy tv Sansa more so than book Sansa. The latest P.O.V Sansa chapter in Winds of Winter made me cringe a little. Well, another thorough review Mr.Sasse. We don't always agree however I do appreciate your keen eye in all the details of the tv show. So sad the season is over already...i enjoy listening to your podcast-BLAH as well, hopefully there will be a season 6 review in the near future.

    1. We just recorded it. And no one in-universe cares about the marriage with Tyrion.

  3. Very nice information. The game of thrones season 6 episode 1 is really awesome. I watch this episode may times.

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