This blog is published after the ‘Game of Thrones’ simulcast. Do not read ahead unless you have seen season six, episode ten, ‘The Winds Of Winter’, or want to find out what happens. It contains lots of spoilers etc.
We’re all talking about
How, exactly, do you follow up an episode like ‘Battle Of The Bastards’? Perhaps one of the finest hours of television, it’s unlikely we’ll see a battle scene as well-shot as that until, well, whenever Game of Thrones shoots The War For The Dawn and the Night’s King gets what’s coming to him.
This season finale was always going to slower-paced and involve more storylines, drip-fed over its running time. And that’s exactly what we got.
In some ways – OK, many ways – it was disappointing, raising about as many questions as it answered. Where was The Mad King and Jaime flashback, for a start? The biggest moment was undoubtedly the long-awaited return to the Tower Of Joy flashback, but boy did showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss make us wait for that.
Perhaps the worst-kept secret in fantasy fiction, there was, in the books, at least some mystery around the R+L=J theory but this series has ladled on the hints since the first episode. More than tantalising tips of the wink, it was heavily signposted, leading to a sense of ‘get on with it’ when it was finally revealed.
Jon Snow, the bastard son of Ned Stark, is in fact not the bastard son of Ned Stark at all, but his nephew. The former Night’s Watch Lord Commander is actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned’s sister Lyanna. Rhaegar, killed at the Trident by Robert Baratheon, was the elder brother of Daenerys, although she was born after he died. Jon was hidden and kept safe by honourable Ned, on the strength of his promise to his dying sister.
This makes Jon Snow – or will that be Targaryen, or Targaryen-Stark if he goes double-barrelled? – a rather interesting prospect; it could turn out he’s blessed with his father’s family’s aversion to fire, and knack of controlling dragons. He may well even be the person the whole saga is built around. The book series is called A Song Of Ice And Fire, after all. In being half Stark, half Targaryen, Jon Snow IS made of ice and fire. The great houses’ respective mottos were heard here too – “Fire and blood”, said Varys, as he signalled his intent to resurrect House Targaryen, while Jon and Sansa remarked that Ned’s oft-repeated line “Winter Is Coming” had finally materialised.
But was the Jon reveal worth the wait? Or rather, did the show do justice to this earth-moving revelation? Not really. It more confirmed what we’d all as good as known or guessed for so long. But then that’s one of the downsides of being the world’s biggest, most-speculated-about TV show; it’s lost the ability to shock, and the wildly imaginative fans have worked out or second-guessed the plotlines before they’ve had chance to happen.
It was good to see Jon and Sansa have that post-battle debrief, and there seemed to be a vague apology from her for not telling him about the Knights of the Vale – although she was right not to, he’d have only sent them into battle early to be mowed down by archers – and a vague promise not to keep any more secrets from each other. Little does either know the size of the secret being concealed from them regarding Jon’s parentage. The Northmen, prompted by the mighty Lyanna Mormont, were busy declaring their allegiance to the King Of The North whose name is Stark. What will they say when they find out he’s a Targaryen?
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What else happened?
The episode opened on the day of Cersei and Loras’ respective trials. Only Cersei didn’t bother going; instead she watched from a window while her frankly outrageously well-executed plan came to fruition.
Just as Loras was confessing his sins and having a lovely symbol carved into his forehead, Ser Frankenmountain collected Tommen, and Qyburn’s little birds ran amok around the tunnels of Kings Landing. Lancel fell for it, so too did Pycelle. “Sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest,” the Grand Maester was told, although the message could apply to just about anyone in this episode.
Lancel was stabbed as he stumbled upon the wild-fire store, and before Margaery could evacuate the Great Sept of Baelor, boom. Cut to Cersei who took a quick victory sip, happy her enemies were all but gone, and all it took was a load of stashed explosives and an IKEA tealight. We will never get to find out whether Margaery was playing the long game or not.
Septa Unella was never going to get away lightly, and she was quickly being wineboarded. Her next punishment, however, was heavily implied to be rape, which is both all too predictable in this show, and completely unacceptable. Is it not possible for Game of Thrones to punish a woman without rape being involved? This is 2016, and the show has made a point of developing strong, powerful women characters, but here we are after the controversy surrounding Sansa’s treatment at the hands of Ramsay watching another character go through the same. Sexual violence is never far from the agenda. Shame, cried Cersei as she left the room. Shame indeed – shame on the writers, shame on HBO and Sky for allowing this once again.
(Post-publish add in response to a number of commenters – my reading is that The Mountain was there to rape Septa Unella. We didn’t see the punishment, admittedly, leaving it to the viewers’ imagination, but given the show’s form, that’s what I took from it – The Mountain was, after all, instructed by Tywin Lannister to rape and murder Elia Martell, so the character has form too. I heard clothing being removed after the reveal of Gregor’s face, and he stood at the foot of the table she was strapped to, then she started screaming. I’ve been called over-sensitive for objecting to this, whatever. Society has a big problem with rape culture, the internet has many, many forums written before the episode positively hoping rape was the punishment dished out to Septa, and scenes like this, to my mind, reinforce the problem. I’m not objecting to the fact it’s shocking, I’m more upset by the fact it’s not. Here ends my explanation. If you don’t agree, fine.)
Jaime arrived back at Kings Landing to a giant pile of smoke, midway through his sister’s coronation. He must be livid – he goes away for a week, and yet another child of theirs is dead. To lose one is unfortunate, two is careless, but three? That’s just bad parenting. “And long may she reign,” said Qyburn at the end of the ceremony. I’d say until about the fourth episode of the next series when Jaime kills her, proving he’s a non-discriminate monarch murderer.
We finally caught up with Walder Frey, seen only briefly this series, and after trading a few barbed lines with Jaime, quickly got his comeuppance. First, there was the pie containing his two sons, and then there was Arya, in disguise. She’s obviously kept a few faces from the House of Black and White, but that does raise a few questions; how do you store an old face? Do they continue to bleed? Do they smell?
Arya was on screen for all of a minute, and that was more entertaining and eventful than her entire storyline over the past two series. How she got from Braavos to Riverrun in the space of an episode is anyone’s guess, but she was there, and there’s another name knocked off her list. Plus, she’s not far from Winterfell now.
We briefly saw Sam and Gilly, arriving at the Citadel where Sam walked into the world’s biggest library. What secrets will he uncover in there? How to manufacture dragonglass? Or Valyrian steel? Or the secret of making his dad laugh?
Davos confronted Melisandre in the episode’s most-powerful scene. Liam Cunningham’s work as The Onion Knight has been brilliant this series, but it was hard not to feel Jon made a mistake sending Melisandre away. She’s one of the only people who knows what’s coming, but then on the other hand, she did set fire to a child on a hunch.
Littlefinger finally admitted his heart’s desire to Sansa – yes, he wants to marry her, but only so she can sit next to him while he’s on the Iron Throne, and Dorne made a short reappearance. While it was exciting to see Ellaria team up with Olenna to offer her revenge on the Lannisters, and Varys emerge from the shadows to utter the Targaryen house motto, those Sand Snakes don’t get any better the more you see them.
We saw Uncle Benjen again, we saw Daario Naharis have his heart broken, the Greyjoys lending their fleet to Daenerys in order to get her armies over to Westeros, and Tyrion anointed hand of the queen.
While many pieces are now in place ahead of the next series, this episode did feel a bit like the final third of The Lord Of The Rings: The Return Of The King, with its multiple false endings. In fact, after the first few scenes, The Winds Of Winter felt like one big denouement and I was willing it to end some way before the credits rolled.
That’s been a common feeling this series, which has been badly paced and laden with storylines that either go nowhere or drag like a seal’s arse. The news Game Of Thrones is going to make two more shortened series was at first met with disappointment, but given the alternative, it’s a sensible choice.
What does it all mean
We now know Jon’s parentage, he’s raising an army in the north, Arya is heading back, so too Bran, and Daenerys is heading west with an army several thousand strong. Things are shaping up nicely for a battle against the Night’s King and his undead legions.
It also means we are due more flashbacks in the next series, as we didn’t see Jaime earning his name as the Kingslayer.
Melisandre and Davos’ showdown was excellent, but for sheer high-stakes, Cersei blowing up the Great Sept was fantastic.
Predictions for next series
Euron Greyjoy and Cersei will be the villains in the next series, but their reigns will be limited. The show now has 13 hours to wrap up all the characters moving into the correct place and the resurrection of House Targaryen with Jon Snow part of it. Perhaps he’ll marry Daenerys? Targaryens, after all, are big fans of incest. There is no time to waste.
Hopefully that means no more scenes like the one with Tyrion, Missandei and Grey Worm drinking wine and telling jokes, no more Faceless Men, no more Sand Snakes and no more stalling flashbacks.
If you have been reading this blog each week, thank you. Aside from the ungodly hour it’s shown in the UK, it has been a pleasure to write. Valar Morghulis.