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Game of Thrones Review: "The Winds of Winter"

          Game of Thrones season six has generally been good but bumpy, entertaining but nothing all that special. Yeah we got Jon Snow and the Hound back, yeah we got to see Jon and Sansa reunite, yeah we got to explore some of the history of Westeros before the events of the show, but it hasn’t been the most thrilling. Then last week they gave us “Battle of the Bastards” a spectacular epic show that I declared the best of the season before this episode brought the season to an end. I’m not reneging on that statement; “Battle of the Bastards” I still think is better, but damn, “The Winds of Winter” named for George R. R. Martin’s yet to be released book, comes pretty close. If anyone had problems with the direction of the season or some of the storylines, these last two episodes easily make up for it.
          Hell, the first twenty minutes alone are pretty damn spectacular and shocking with a body count that rivals anything in the series, including the Red Wedding. It opens wonderfully with shots of each of the major players preparing for the trial. Eventually the High Sparrow and all his minions as well as as the Tyrells, Kevan Lannister and numerous others assemble at the Sept of Balor. Despite Cersei and Tommen being absent, Tommen detained by the Mountain, the Sparrow tries Loras who desperate to end his suffering confesses all his crimes and is branded a member of the Faith Militant. All the while the suspense and mood are building incredibly. It’s quite obviously the calm before the storm. Margaery is suspicious by Cersei’s absence and warns the Sparrow about it. And she had good reason. As Grand Maester Pycelle is killed in Qyburn’s crypt by his “little birds”, Lancel discovers an enormous amount of wildfire directly beneath the Sept just in time for it to blow. The Sept of Balor and everyone in it including Margaery, Loras, Mace, Kevan, and the High Sparrow are instantly obliterated. Cersei smiles at the destruction from her place of safety, while Tommen shattered by what he sees commits suicide (in exactly the same way as a character from Boardwalk Empire, I wonder if it’s more than coincidence). This whole event is incredibly shocking, not necessarily because the characters who died were so beloved (it’s sad we’re never going to know what Margaery was plotting though), but because it was so swift. Even the Red Wedding was a slower tragedy. Cersei gets her revenge on the Septa who had tortured her, confessing all her crimes before having her slowly killed by the Mountain. But she hadn’t counted on Tommen’s death, in fact went to lengths to save him. And I love how cold she was to it, that now with all three of her children dead, there’s nothing left to feel. She’s gotten her power back and more, but it’s cost her just about everything she’s loved. It’s such an incredible sequence, perfectly acted by Lena Headey, and what’s most incredible is it’s just the beginning.
          Though it wasn’t quite focussed on as such, this episode was pretty much a Red Wedding for the Tyrells, as like that event for the Starks it all but wiped out the house. But like the Red Wedding, one did manage to escape. Olenna was sent away a couple episodes back and now she’s pissed! We see her in Dorne, finally returning there after nine episodes where she’s making an alliance with Ellaria Sand who’s now in charge down there, both of whom are now out for Cersei’s blood. And who else should show up but Varys, making friends as he promised he would. And now it looks like a Tyrell-Martel-Targaryen alliance is coming for Cersei. Meanwhile we check in with Sam again as he and Gilly arrive at the Citadel (which reminds me a lot of Minas Tirith) to begin his training as a Maester. After a light-hearted moment with a dull bureaucrat he explores the grand library. 
          At the Twins, Walder Frey is celebrating his victory and the retaking of Riverrun. He and Jamie have a conversation about being good warriors and the grandness of the Freys conquering the Tullys. But I love that Jamie points out that the Tullys fear the Lannisters, not the Freys, and they’d have nothing if it weren’t for the alliance. He, Bronn, and their host leave just in time for Walder to be served dinner in a suspiciously empty hall. When he inquires the serving girl where his sons are, she reveals subtly that they’ve been killed and baked into the meat pie before taking off her face revealing Arya (looks like Arya’s trying to enter the Fleet Street barbershop business). In a pretty triumphant moment, Arya makes sure Walder knows she’s a Stark exacting vengeance for the death of her brother and mother, and kills him. It’s a good moment and though it doesn’t quite make up for her lacklustre storyline this season, it’s great to see Arya have hers. Her surviving brother Bran has been taken as far as Benjen can go. As he leaves Bran and Meera, Bran once more travels to the scene he’d left Ned. He follows Ned into the tower in time to see Ned’s sister Lyanna dying, and confirms what many have suspected since the earliest books: she’s the mother of Jon Snow. She has Ned promise to raise him but not reveal his identity, that he is in fact Ned’s nephew rather than son, and more than that, is the son of the former prince and technically an heir to the the Iron Throne. 
          Despite this big reveal, Jon’s still in the dark, but has other concerns. In Winterfell as he’s talking with Melisandre, Davos confronts her about Shireen’s death. She admits to the crime but makes a point of telling Davos that Stannis was responsible too. Fuming, Davos requests she be executed, but Jon exiles her instead threatening to have her executed if she returns to the North. Davos promises he’ll do so himself. The fact that Melisandre survived makes me wonder what’s going to happen to her now. Jon and Sansa also have a scene where they each defer to the other to be leader of House Stark and Jon stresses how important it is they trust each other. Sansa meets with Littlefinger who creeps on her more revealing his desire to be King with her by his side, and that it’s the motivation behind all his actions. Finally the surviving Northern houses come together along with the wildlings to plan their next move, in lieu of the white walkers coming. Jon manages to convince them to work together, after which young Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey continuing to be awesome in the role) stands up, shames the houses who ignored Jon’s call in the fight against Ramsay, proclaims her loyalty to his Stark blood and declares him King in the North. Just as they had at the end of season one for Robb, the other houses follow suit, including Glover (I like that it looks like we’ll be seeing more Tim McInnerny next season!) Littlefinger though, isn’t looking too happy.
          While Jon is King in the North his aunt Danaerys is preparing to leave Mereen and take back Westeros. She dismisses Daario from her service on Tyrion’s advice, but he leaves with some understanding and goodwill. One of the best moments in the episode is when she talks to Tyrion afterwards, and he sympathizes with her feelings and fears. Tyrion also notes he’s been a cynic all his life but in her he’s found something to believe in. Then rather sweetly, she names him Hand of the Queen and gives him a replica badge. And unlike last time he was Hand, he looks genuinely honoured. It’s wonderfully acted by both Clarke and Dinklage. And Tyrion has his work cut out for him going up against his sister. Yeah, in King’s Landing, Jamie arrives just in time to see Cersei crowned Queen, Tommen really having no other successor. After what she’s done I think it’s pretty safe to say she’s now the Mad Queen. She may not enjoy that throne for long though, as now she has countless enemies who want her dead. 
          Because at last we see Danaerys’ invasion fleet and her varied forces: Theon and Yara Greyjoy, the Ironborn, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, Varys is back with the Martels and Tyrells, and of course her three dragons! Not only is this an extraordinary visual but you really get the sense of size and scope. You really believe that no power in Westeros can stand against this force. I wouldn’t want to be Cersei right now.
          This was a truly incredible finale but one that came at a cost. So it’s a farewell to Julian Glover, Jonathan Pryce, Natalie Dormer, Finn Jones, Ian Gelder, Dean-Charles Chapman, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Eugene Simon, and David Bradley, all of whom were excellent in their parts. Vengeance was a strong theme of this episode with Cersei, Arya, Olenna, Ellaria, and Dany all either getting revenge or plotting it. And to that point, this episode and season was a great one for women -most of the major players with power wound up being female! This was the longest episode of the series at almost an hour and a half but it does earn it’s runtime as like the previous episode it’s one of the best of the series, and absurdly good for an hour of television. It’s one of those shows that astonishes you is on TV! Indeed Game of Thrones on a whole has had that effect, with every season feeling more epic and cinematic. While season five going into season six wasn’t the most intriguing apart from the anticipation of Jon’s resurrection, season six going into season seven looks unbelievable! I’m glad after six years, Dany’s finally within reach of Westeros. I’m glad my favourite characters, Tyrion and Davos have survived to be awesome in yet another season. It certainly looks like the end game’s coming, season seven’s probably going to be the show’s last. But man is it looking good! The Song of Ice and Fire is set to begin. The Targaryens are coming and winter has come!

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