Uhhhh... best episode ever, right? You thought (hold) "The Door" was the best. Then you thought "The Battle of the Bastards" was the best (better than I thought, at least). Well now you know for a fact that "The Winds of Winter" was the best episode of Game of Thrones to date. Wildfire explosions! A grandmother telling the Sand Snakes to shut their traps! Death by church bell! A prepubescent tween putting burly men in their place!
WaterWineboarding Shame Nun!
But it wasn't the individual moments that made "The Winds of Winter" such a fantastic watch. "The Winds of Winter" felt huge and fresh because it didn't feel like any episode of Game of Thrones that came before it. From the opening scenes in King's Landing to Dany (Emilia Clarke) actually GETTING ON A BOAT (hallelujah!), Game of Thrones splashed some water on its face and went for it as it heads into the final chapter of its complex and lengthy story. And it was ushered in with things we've never seen the show do before.
Ramin Djawadi's piano-dominant score was a gorgeous way to elevate the importance of Loras' trial and unlike anything the show has ever done. Whoever is standing next to director Miguel Sapochnik, please give him a high five because his choice of shots — which seemed freer and more creative than the traditional camerawork usually favored in the show (carrying over from his stellar work in "The Battle of the Bastards") — breathed in new life to quiet the haters and nitpicky fans alike. And co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss crafted an excellent script that targeted what fans wanted, and by that I mean pairing Olenna "The Queen of Thorns" Martell (Diana Rigg) with the Sand Snakes. It's true what they say about second acts: They're the most difficult parts of stories to write, and "The Winds of Winter" rejuvenated the series because we left that second act in our wake and motored into the third and final act of Game of Thrones.
Those achievments made "The Winds of Winter" great, but what made the episode the best was the sense of urgency. These weren't just culminations of Season 6 storylines, they were the ends of stories that had begun since the pilot. We're so used to Game of Thrones looking for any excuse to tack on a few hours with side quests or new obstacles — especially in the previous two seasons — that the Season 6 finale had the feeling of Benioff and Weiss finally getting to tell the story they've always wanted to tell.
We're in the home stretch, folks. And it feels goooood. Now watch out for that flying church bell and let's discuss what happened in "The Winds of Winter."
"Long may she reign." - A bunch of people who really hope "long" means something like five more minutes
Everything that's happened in King's Landing since day one has been leading up to Cersei (Lena Headey) taking the Iron Throne. She's always been the smartest Lannister by far — aside from when she decided to give the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) so much power, of course — and Game of Thrones (usually) rewards smarts over anything else. With her combination of cunning and ruthlessness, sitting Cersei on the Seat o' Swords felt long overdue, especially since she's been the one who was really in power since her late husband and late sons had their shots at being king.
To get her there, Game of Thrones needed to get past the problem with the faith militant, a problem that has kept King's Landing in frustrating standstill mode for far too long. So it was with a huge sigh of relief that Cersei had the whole sept blown up — along with anyone involved in Ser Loras' trial — with the stocks of wildfire that the Mad King never had a chance to ignite.
Let's count the casualties: The High Sparrow (good riddance), Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones), Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths), Mace Tyrell's mustache, Measter Pycelle (Julian Glover, murdered by kids), Kevan Lannister (Ian Gelder), guy crushed by a flying church bell, the High Sparrow's army of bible-thumping maniacs and a whole bunch more. I'll miss Mace dearly, but I'll part with a thousand Maces as long as one High Sparrow goes with them.
Engulfing the sept in a lime-green blaze wasn't so much a tactical move on Cersei's part as it was a culling by Benioff, Weiss and Martin, as if Game of Thrones solved the problem of the bottleneck that's plagued the King's Landing plot by lopping off half the bottle in one fell swoop. Can't you just imagine Martin, a man who can spend pages describing a random character's doublet, looking at his watch and realizing in a panic that he has to wrap this up soon? "Ummm.. and then Cersei blows everyone up." Man, I LOVED this scene. Goodbye, dead weight!
Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) didn't seem quite as thrilled.
Another beautiful (and unusual) shot from Sapochnik, as the boy king leapt to his death in a literal interpretation of King's Landing. Cersei's prophecy was now fulfilled and all three of her children were dead: two by actual poison and the third poisoned by his mother's scheming ways. Everyone in Cersei's way of the Iron Throne was now neon-green ash or a puddle of muck on the ground, clearing the way for the most somber inauguration until January 20, 2017. No one seemed thrilled to watch Cersei put on the crown, nor should they be. Cersei outliving her children and being handed a plate of power is a terrible combination for all, and Jaime's side eye towards his sister/lover implied what we were all thinking: This is going to be the Mad King all over again.
"Winter is here." - Sansa Stark
"The Winds of Winter" was so good that it didn't even matter that we knew what was coming. Cersei's use of the wildfire was telegraphed and correctly predicted by the internet hivemind, but it was still a blast. And the popular R+L=J theory — which guessed that Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was the son of Dany's brother Rhaegar Targaryen and Ned Stark's sister Lyanna Stark — was also proved true through Bran-vision after being the subject of much discussion by book readers for years. Well, technically we only got the L portionconfirmed because we didn't hear everything that Lyanna said, just the "If Robert finds out, he'll kill him" part. We'll have to wait until Rhaegar is on an episode of Maury to find out if he's really the father.
But the secret is now out, and it's more evidence of Game of Thrones moving toward its endgame quickly. And make no mistake, Game of Thrones is so much better when it's looking at the bigger picture and pushing its main characters toward a direct collision. Even though he doesn't know it yet, Jon has a legitimate claim to the throne and that puts him on an entirely different track. Just the idea that there's finally someone who might actually be deserving of the Iron Throne — sorry Dany lovers, she's never shown a real aptitude for leading — changes the whole makeup of the series. Think about it, anyone who has ever really wanted the throne has been a jerk or lacked the qualities to be a great leader. Dany's been the closest, but she can't even be mayor of a city without it catching on fire at some point, and sometimes she goes on a random walkabout just because. Jon, the show's de facto hero, is our guy. Our kind of boring guy, but our guy nonetheless.
However, I'm holding out my own J+L=Awesome theory. Listen up: Jon is single. Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) is single (I hope, I mean, she is like 10 years old). Hook it up, you two, let Jon take the throne and then die, and then BAM Lyanna Mormont — the pre-teen scene stealer from Season 6 — is the Queen of Westeros. You want to see Westeros turn its s--- around in no time? To quote the great Private Hudson from Aliens, "Why don't you put her in charge?" She's a real ball buster and the exact person Westeros needs in this time of discord. When Jon looks back on his kingdom, he'll fondly remember the time when a tween girl rallied the houses of the North to his favor when he couldn't. There is nothing this young woman can't do.
Whoa, too soon, Lord Manderly. This dream is an arranged coupling for power, not a night in The Bachelor's Fantasy Suite.
If we're also looking ahead, what's with the tension between Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon? Sansa gave the worst excuse about why she didn't tell Jon about getting the Army of the Vale for the Battle of the Bastards, something about not trusting Littlefinger? Whatever, girl. Jon's right, they have to trust each other, and part of that means telling someone when you have an extra couple thousand troops for a battle. Now that Jon is effectively the King in the North, will his quarrels with an increasingly vocal — and smart — Sansa get in the way? My Magic 8-Ball says, "Probably."
"Have a nice slice of Frey-to Pie." - Arya, basically
If the first 58 episodes of Game of Thrones were about watching our beloved favorites die gruesome deaths, the last two episodes made up for them. Ramsay Bolton became dog food in "The Battle of the Bastards," and Walder Frey (David Bradley) got crossed off of Arya's (Maisie Williams) list in "The Winds of Winter." As gratifying as it was to see the inside of Walder's throat, I wasn't the biggest fan of how this went down mostly because where the F did she come from? The last time we saw her she was inching out of the House of Black & White in Braavos and now she suddenly shows up in Riverrun to kill Walder?
This sets a scary precedent, and that's the idea that Arya can show up anywhere and kill anyone at any time. Maybe she'll pop up from behind a potted plant in Zombie Mountain's quarters. Maybe she'll crawl out of Cersei's wine glass and stab her in the throat. She could scoot out of Melisandre like a shadow baby and kill her, too! She could be right behind you now. It seemed a bit cartoonish to me is what I'm saying, and Walder deserved a much better drawn-out death, if you ask me. However, I did like Arya's ode to the Scott Tenorman episode of South Park.
So what does the death of Walder mean for the overall story? It's a pretty big deal, actually. Assuming that the death of Walder causes chaos for House Frey since there are so many Freys and heirs to the throne I'm sure no one can remember who is the oldest and therefore the rightful heir, it throws the balance in the North out of whack. The Boltons are gone and the Freys are a broken house, meaning the power of the Lannisters is diminished as they spiral down the toilet of the end of their reign. Cersei's rear may be on the Iron Throne now, but she's just keeping it warm for someone else. Jon should be able to mop up the North with no problem.
"How about the fact that this is actually happening?" - Tyrion
I've been pretty harsh on almost all things Essos over the last several seasons, because all I've wanted was for Dany to get on a boat and start lighting Westeros on fire. There was no better indication that Game of Thrones is done doing donuts and ready to move forward than the final shot of Dany, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), the Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Greyjoys, and the rest of Dany's motley crew (did I see a Martell ship in there?) sailing toward the mainland.
All aboard the S.S. Oh Yes! There isn't really much else to say exceot that it's finally happening, guys! Sure, it should have happened about three years ago, but better late than never. I'd suffer through five more seasons of the slave masters popping up now and again if it meant we still got this scene. Dany crossing the water is the definitive sign that Game of Thrones is nearing its end, and there's no turning back from here. If you want to talk about forward momentum, this is it. Meereen will obviously go to hell and become a slavers' paradise once again, but who cares, because Dany is on the move in the right direction.
I would assume that would mean Season 7 will be about Dany (and Jon) taking the Iron Throne from Cersei, though the specifics are to be determined. Would Dany yield power to Jon if she finds out that he is Rhaegar's son? Or would those two come into conflict as they both have their sights on the power? And please, don't root for Dany and Jon to get together; she's his aunt. We've already seen how incest does and it's not good.
Once that's in place, Season 8 will be the final boss, as the White Walkers march into Westeros and it's up to Dany and Jon to fend them off and let everyone live happily ever after. It will be the final verse in the song of ice and fire, and even though we've all known it was coming, it's never felt more real than now.
NOTES FROM THE RAVENS
- Kinda disappointed I didn't get a shot of some Dothraki scared s***less on one of Dany's boats. These horse barbarians love water as much as the Wicked Witch of the West, yet they were happily carrying along like they were hunky, tan pirates from the Las Vegas strip's Treasure Island casino show. Not even one shot of a guy getting sick overboard? And yeah, I would have GIF'd that barf.
- I didn't cover it in the meat of the review, but congrats to Sam on making it to the Citadel and getting his nerd on. Wow, the Citadel looked really, really good (for a library). My one question: why did his carriage drop him off so far away from it? Pay the extra coin and get front door service, cheapskate, especially since your girlfriend Gilly is lugging around that 40-pound baby.
- This might be an unpopular opinion, but I'm still rooting for Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish to win it all.
- Admit it, you'll miss Walder. When he was wondering where his sons were, he said, "What are they doing? Trimming their c*nt hairs?" Grouchy old men with potty mouths are always welcome on my television.
- I like to think Hot Pie baked that Frey Pie. Miss you, kiddo.
- So, Dany leaves Meereen and comes back to find it on fire and in the middle of an assault with the slave masters who formed a treaty with Tyrion, and she still names him Hand of the Queen. Ha ha, that's one hell of a way to get a promotion.
- Poor Daario (Michiel Huisman). Now he and Ser Jorah can rule House Friendzone together.
- Melisandre (Carice van Houten) got the boot from Team Stark after Davos (Liam Cunningham) brought up some evidence that she was responsible for roasting Shireen. But she's a believer, so don't think we've seen the last of her in her support for Jon Stargaryen. Also, if someone brings you back from the dead and you become king and loved by all, shouldn't that person get a free pass for past transgressions? If I'm headed into war, I want the person who can cheat death on my side.