If you thought the cinematography couldn’t get any better than episode nine, you were mistaken. “The Winds of Winter” was one of the most intense episodes of Game of Thrones yet, coupling a tension-building score with eerie scenes to create the perfect atmosphere for the game-changing season finale. [Major spoilers follow.]
Before anything else this episode, we were treated to an almost 25-minute trip to King’s Landing, where Cersei was out for blood, and this time, she meant business. With palpable tension mounting in the air, we watched on the edges of our seats as we found out exactly what Cersei was planning. As the Wildfire hidden beneath the Sept of Baelor was ignited, we saw an eerily familiar image of green flames spreading through the vaults beneath the Sept of Baelor – the exact scene which we saw in Bran’s vision earlier this season. Previously, we’d assumed that Bran was witnessing what would have happened if Mad King Aerys had successfully razed King’s Landing. Now, we’re left questioning whether Bran could have actually seen the future.
The death count was high, as Wildfire consumed the Sept, taking the High Septon, Margaery, Ser Loras, Mace Tyrell, Lancel Lannister, and a large number of the people of King’s Landing with it. But it didn’t end there, as later we saw that Cersei’s actions had claimed another unexpected casualty: Tommen, possibly the most passive King to have ever ruled Westeros, took his own life after learning what had happened.
We couldn’t help but feel sorry for Tommen, who never asked to be a part of the game of thrones, and who despite being King, had never truly possessed any power in King’s Landing. He failed to protect first his mother, then his wife, and then his people, and there was nothing Tommen could have done to stop Cersei’s quest for vengeance. And so it happened, that Cersei inadvertently fulfilled part of the prophecy she has spent her life in fear of: that her children would die before her. Now, all that remains to be fulfilled of the prophecy is that a young Queen (Daenerys?) will usurp her, and that she will be killed by her younger brother – but will it be Tyrion or Jaime?
In Winterfell, Littlefinger painted a “pretty picture” of himself upon the Iron Throne, Sansa at his side. For a moment, Sansa seemed to fall for Littlefinger’s perceived charm, but turned away from the schemer at the last moment. Viewers have been wondering for a while what Littlefinger’s end-game might be, and now that we know, it seems at once laughable and worrying. While the chances of Littlefinger sitting on the Iron Throne are slim right now, we know that the ex-Brothel-keeper has a habit of surpassing expectations.
Also in Winterfell, Jon Snow gained the loyalty of the North, and Melisandre received a rather mild punishment for the murder of Princess Shireen. Like Davos, I would have liked to see the Priestess executed for what she did, but by sending her away from Winterfell, Melisandre’s story has been left open, and there’s no knowing where she will work her magic next. While Melisandre has shown dubious ethics in the past, she is undoubtedly a powerful ally to have, and may be a fearsome enemy if she turns on the Starks now.
For what it’s worth, my personal bet for the next season is that Melisandre will seek out the Brotherhood Without Banners to learn more about the power with which she resurrected Jon Snow, and in doing so, come across the Hound, and maybe even Arya. Alternatively, with Brienne and Podrick seemingly still roaming somewhere near the Riverlands, it might be with Westeros’ favourite female knight that she meets her match.
We caught only a brief glimpse of Sam and Gilly, as Sam became every bookworm (i.e. me) when he looked in awe upon the vast library of the Citadel. At the moment, Sam’s relevance in the plot is looking unclear, since with Jon gone, it’s difficult for us to feel truly invested in whether or not Castle Black gains a new maester. However, I do get the feeling that Sam might find a little more than he bargained for in the Citadel’s extensive library, and hope that he might even be able to find something which will help them to defeat the White Walkers.
Other characters we saw only briefly were Varys and Lady Olenna, who had travelled separately to Dorne to meet with the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand. It was entertaining to see Olenna react to the Sand Snakes in much the same way as I do each time they appear onscreen, and hopefully Olenna can be the firm and sensible hand they need to prevent any more thoughtless bloodshed. From the Martell and Tyrell sigils which eagle-eyed viewers might have spotted amongst Daenerys’ fleet at the end of the episode (presumably a significant time later), Varys was successful in his negotiations, and the houses have pledged their support to the Mother of Dragons.
Walder Frey was having a bad day at the Twins, but as we know, a bad day for Walder Frey is a good day for us. First, he insulted Jaime by reminding the Kingslayer that the two aren’t all that different, both being traitors and mockeries, only for Jaime to respond with his own insult, reminding Walder of his cowardice. Then, his day got even worse, when a disguised Arya Stark served him up a helping of Frey pie. Yes, Frey pie, made up of Walder Frey’s own sons. Finally, revealing her face, Arya slit Walder’s throat, mirroring the murder of her mother, Catelyn. This scene was another of Thrones’ hugely satisfying moments, and gave promise of more sneaky assassinations we can hope to see from Arya in the future.
The finale also gave us the moment book-readers have all been waiting for: the rest of that Tower of Joy scene. We should have known they would make us wait until the end of the season to find out the truth behind the Jon Snow parentage rumours, and I’m glad to say that it was completely worth it. The scene saw Lyanna asking a young Ned Stark to make her a promise, and ended with the appearance of a baby, her baby, which we saw merge into Jon Snow in the transition between scenes. Book-readers will know that the Tower of Joy scene occured shortly before Ned returned to Winterfell with Jon, who he claimed was his own illegitimate child. This means there is a strong chance that the baby Ned took back to Winterfell was in fact this child, the child of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.
We always knew Ned Stark was far too honourable to cheat on his wife, Catelyn, and now we pretty much have an official confirmation that Jon is actually Lyanna and Rhaegar’s son. This is huge news, as it means that Jon Snow is in fact Daenerys’ nephew. While he’s still illegitimate (Rhaegar was married to Elia Martell at the time), this places Jon just that little bit closer to the Iron Throne than we previously thought.If anyone but Bran ever finds out, that is.
In Meereen, Daenerys left her lover, Daario Naharis behind to watch the city in her absence. Whilst I’m glad to hear Danaerys isn’t going to leave the newly renamed “Dragon’s Bay” unguarded, leaving her now jilted ex-lover in this role is some questionable logic. Hopefully, Daario won’t be too bitter, and will remain loyal to Danaerys. For a moment, we were reminded of how young the Mother of Dragons really is, but the overwhelming impression we got from Daenerys this episode is that she isn’t going to let anything stand between her and that throne. In a touching scene, she made Tyrion the Hand of the Queen, and saw that the dwarf’s loyalty has been won. Daenerys is looking stronger each episode, with more and more support rallying behind her.
The slower, tension-building episodes we’ve seen this season were undoubtedly worth it, as they culminated in this narrative-driven, unpredictable and heart-pounding cliffhanger season finale.
We now seem to have three main factions in Westeros. We have Danaerys, the fan-favourite, accompanied by Ironborn, the Dornish and the Dothraki, making her way across the Narrow Sea to reclaim the throne which was taken from her family. We have Cersei, driven by hatred and vengeance, having achieved her vengeance and lost her children, officially ruling Westeros. And we have Jon Snow and Sansa Stark in the North, with the added wildcard of Littlefinger, who it turns out, is yet another hopeful contender for the Iron Throne.
The War of the Five Kings has ended. Now, it’s the time of the Queens.