“Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss told us before season six that they believed this was the best season yet. Through five episodes, it appeared they were right. This season came out of the gates on fire, with major plot developments in every episode and one “wow” moment after another — Jon’s resurrection, the deaths of Balon Greyjoy and Roose Bolton, Rickon being turned over to Ramsay, Daenerys burning down the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen and taking over the Dothraki army, and of course, Hodor.
The season did slow down in episodes six through eight, and there have been some plot holes (some of which we’ve touched on in our reviews of the previous two episodes), so if anyone wanted to make a case against this season, they’d certainly have some ammunition. But for me, episodes nine and 10 seal it — this was the best season of “Game of Thrones” yet. (Our own Jerry Thornton makes the case for it being in the conversation for best season of any show ever.)
After getting one of the best battles the show has done (or any show has done) in episode nine, we got the best season finale and one of the best episodes of the entire series Sunday night. “The Winds of Winter” wrapped up some storylines that needed wrapping up while also pushing the show’s larger plot forward, and director Miguel Sapochnik (who also directed last week’s “Battle of the Bastards” and last season’s “Hardhome”) was masterful once again.
This season moved at breakneck pace at times (just look at how quickly so many characters made long-distance voyages), and I think that pace sets us up for a sprint to the series’ finish. We may only have 13 episodes left (split up over two seasons), and there’s obviously a lot that’s going to happen. On to our 7 Points:
1. Mad Queen Cersei
How long will Cersei reign? (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Well, Cersei did it. After plenty of foreshadowing, she used the wildfire under King’s Landing, took out a large chunk of her enemies, and inadvertently caused her son to commit suicide as a result. I’ll admit that I sometimes lose interest in what’s going on in King’s Landing because it seems kind of irrelevant compared to Jon, Dany, the White Walkers and anyone else who figures to be a major player in the ultimate final battle. But damn, this whole opening scene was so well done.
Ramin Djawadi’s music alone was enough to give me goosebumps — so eerie and foreboding. And if that wasn’t creepy enough, we also see the little birds (formerly Varys’, now Qyburn’s) turn violent. Cersei looks calmly evil the whole time, and Natalie Dormer has one last standout moment as Margaery realizes that something is wrong and desperately tries to evacuate the Sept of Baelor. Of all the characters killed in the explosion (we lose the High Sparrow, Loras and Mace Tyrell, and Kevan Lannister too), Margaery will be missed the most. Dormer did a great job and made Margaery both more important and more powerful than she is in the books.
Tommen was always more of a pawn than a king, and it’s not surprising to see him die, but the way he dies (jumping out his window after seeing the Sept blown up) and the way it was shot (just a straight shot with no dramatic buildup) actually made me feel kind of bad for him.
When we go back to King’s Landing later in the episode, Cersei takes the Iron Throne and is crowned Queen just as Jaime returns to the city. Jaime saw the smoldering ruins of the Sept and it’s safe to assume he’s already deduced exactly what happened. Jaime killed Mad King Aerys precisely because he wanted to use wildfire to burn people alive. Now that his sister has actually done it, what is he going to do about it? That’s one of the key questions that will have to wait for next season.
2. R+L=J finally confirmed
The Tower of Joy tease from earlier this season was finally paid off, and Jon’s true parents have finally been confirmed. Bran returns to the scene in his latest vision and we see the aftermath of Lyanna Stark giving birth. As she’s dying, we see her saying, “Promise me, Ned,” after telling young Ned, “If Robert finds out, he’ll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him.”
Everything may not be laid out 100 percent clearly if you weren’t already familiar with R+L=J, but this is all the confirmation we need: Jon is not Ned’s bastard, but rather the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. Ned couldn’t tell anyone because Robert Baratheon was trying to kill every last Targaryen and almost certainly would’ve come for Jon had he known, no matter how much he liked Ned.
Now the question is how Jon finds out about his true parents, and what it means going forward. Presumably Bran will be the one to tell Jon when they reunite at some point next season. As for what it means going forward, Jon having both Stark and Targaryen blood quite literally makes him a song of ice and fire (let’s not forget that’s the name of the entire book series) and opens up a world of possibilities in terms of prophecies (Azor Ahai reborn?) and connections to Dany (she would technically be Jon’s aunt).
3. A new King in the North
King in the North! (Helen Sloan/HBO)
Speaking of Jon, he’s now the new King in the North, thanks in part to a brilliant speech by young Lyanna Mormont, who puts a bunch of other Northern lords in their place because she’s a boss. If Bella Ramsey’s Lady Mormont hadn’t already won the season six Newcomer of the Year Award, this certainly sealed the deal.
The North finally being united is obviously a good sign for the looming battle against the White Walkers. But Jon being crowned king is not the outcome Littlefinger wanted, so it will be interesting to see what happens there. Which brings us to…
4. Sansa and Littlefinger are at an impasse
Littlefinger tells Sansa that all he wants in life is to sit on the Iron Throne with her by his side. Small complication: Sansa has no interest in being with Littlefinger and slides right on by him when he tries to kiss her. Then when Jon is declared King in the North, Littlefinger is the only person in the room who doesn’t look happy.
So what does Littlefinger do now? If he and his army return to the Vale, that would be a significant blow when it comes time for the North to fight the White Walkers. If he and his army turn on the North and start a war, everything immediately plunges right back into chaos. Either way, Littlefinger isn’t the type to just play nice and settle for something less than what’s best for Littlefinger.
5. Arya made some Frey pies
Book readers had been hoping we’d somehow get to see Wyman Manderly and the Frey pies at some point. We see both in the finale (Manderly is one of the lords who declares for Jon), just not together. In the books, Manderly is the one responsible for cooking a couple Freys into pies and serving it to traitors at Ramsay’s wedding.
In the show, it’s Arya who does the deed and serves the pie directly to Walder Frey before slitting his throat. It was a nice nugget for book readers, a satisfying death for a major villain and an interesting development in Arya’s story. It’s now clear that she does plan to seek vengeance rather than just reunite with her remaining family, and she’s willing to go to some pretty twisted lengths to do it. I’m not entirely sure how she has faces to use for disguise since she didn’t actually become No One, but whatever.
6. We found out Varys’ mission
Varys left Meereen on a secret mission a couple weeks ago and one of the places many speculated he was going was Dorne, where he would try to secure a Westeros landing spot for Dany. That’s precisely what he was doing, and he was successful. Adding Olenna Tyrell and the wonderful Diana Rigg to the scene was a pleasant surprise that helped give us the rare Dorne scene that was actually interesting.
The Tyrells and Dorne have been longtime rivals, but they now share a common enemy in Cersei and they appear willing to unite together behind Daenerys (it’s worth noting that Olenna doesn’t explicitly agree to this alliance, but she seems interested, and Varys returns to Dany, which signals success). That would essentially give Dany the entire south of Westeros when she arrives, which would be quite a way to start her conquest. Which brings us to…
7. Dany is finally going west
Dany is westward bound. (Courtesy HBO)
After six seasons, Dany is finally heading to Westeros. Every time it seemed like she was close to being ready, there was some sort of complication that set her back. But now she has her army, she has her ships, she has her dragons, she has a trusted team around her (including her new Hand), she has the means to keep peace in Slavers Bay-turned-Bay of Dragons (including leaving behind poor Daario, who no longer gets to get hot with the Mother of Dragons), and, as outlined above, she has a landing spot.
There could of course still be complications before she gets there (we have no idea what’s going on with Euron and his Iron Fleet 2.0, for instance). But Dany has to get to Westeros at some point, and as we mentioned earlier, there are probably only 13 episodes left in the series. She’s going to have a lot to do when she gets to Westeros, so any potential setback at this point can’t really be too big. Of all the things to be excited about in season seven, Dany in Westeros probably tops the list.