Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Game of Thrones reviews here.
“The Winds of Winter” was a fantastic episode that ended Game of Thrones‘s sixth season on a high note. A very eventful, murderous, emotional, violent, and incredibly satisfying high note. Is it too early to call it the best episode of the entire series? Perhaps. But it is, at the very least, a definite contender.
“The Winds of Winter” opened with a masterful 15 minutes, a haunting sequence set to some of Ramin Djawadi’s finest work as the series’ composer. The lighting, editing, framing, and cinematography were pitch-perfect, a sense of foreboding present from the very first frame. The tension only rose as the true horror of Cersei’s plan was gradually and meticulously revealed, until it literally exploded in a green inferno, the wildfire destroying the Great Sept of Baelor and killing everyone inside.
And I mean everyone. The High Sparrow and the Faith Militant, including Lancel, died. Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell died. Kevan Lannister died. Even Maester Pycelle was brutally murdered by Qyburn’s little “birds”. And to cap it off, in another instance of excellent camera work, poor Tommen flung himself from a window, plummeting to his death.
This left a void in the throne room, one that Cersei quickly filled, beating Daenerys to the punch and becoming the queen. Even the death of her son turned into an opportunity to seize power. One has to wonder what Jaime, who only recently professed his eternal devotion to Cersei, thinks about her essentially becoming the Mad Queen.
The conflict in King’s Landing had always been plagued with leisurely pacing and a lack of audience investment. But “The Winds of Winter” made the slow burn worth it, delivering game-changing events with far-reaching consequences well beyond the immediate scope of the storyline itself.
One such consequence was Olenna Tyrell, robbed of so many of her House in one swift stroke, seeking an alliance with other Lannister enemies in Dorne. Before this episode, if you had told me that I would be cheering for something taking place in Dorne, I would have laughed. Yet Game of Thrones miraculously made Ellaria and the Sand Snakes relevant, if not yet interesting, by pairing them with other, far more enjoyable characters in Olenna and Varys, who made a surprise appearance and recruited Ellaria and Olenna to Daenerys’s cause.
And with alliances forged and a fleet ready, Daenerys was finally ready to set sail to Westeros. After saying goodbye to Daario, she shared a very touching scene with Tyrion in which she declared him the Hand of the Queen, after which the cynic-turned-believer knelt before her. And they were off, ending the episode with a beautiful sequence depicting her large fleet setting sail, flanked by the three dragons. Things will definitely get more exciting on that front next year.
The opening sequence may have been Game of Thrones‘s biggest massacre of named characters yet, but “The Winds of Winter” was only just getting started. Arya made a surprise return to action in the fist-pump moment of the week, as she used the skills of the Faceless Men to kill Walder Frey—after feeding him his children in a pie, no less. It was a great and truly satisfying moment; not only was it revenge for the Red Wedding, but it was also a return to form for Arya that finally made use of her time in Braavos. In fact, I wouldn’t mind it if next season featured Arya going through her list like the Terminator going through Sarah Connors in a phone book. It might make the Braavos storyline actually worthwhile, even if it still did take too long to end.
Meanwhile, “The Winds of Winter” explored the fallout of the Battle of the Bastards. The tension between Sansa and Jon seems to have dissipated, but that might only be on the surface. Sansa has more of Littlefinger’s qualities than she would care to admit, and as rousing as the scene where Jon was declared the King in the North was (thanks to the always-fierce Lyanna Mormont), there was a hint of displeasure on Sansa’s face. Considering she was overlooked despite being responsible for the victory, it’s understandable.
Jon rallying the Northern Houses was far from the most interesting thing about him this week, though. Bran made one final appearance this season to continue his Tower of Joy vision, and a historic scene was finally played out as Jon was revealed to not be the son of Ned Stark, but Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. A beautiful and powerful reveal years if not decades in the making.
Other tidbits this week included an intense confrontation between Davos and Melisandre over Shireen’s death that featured superb acting by both, especially an emotional Liam Cunningham. Jon made the wise choice in sending Melisandre away without killing her, and I’m interested in finding out with whom she crosses paths next. And Sam and Gilly finally arrived at the Citadel in Oldtown, giving us our first look at the beautiful, long-hyped library.
Throughout this season I’ve talked about setups and payoffs, and it’s only fitting that “The Winds of Winter” was the biggest example of that in the show’s history, paying off literal years’ worth of buildup. Arya got retribution for the Red Wedding. Cersei eliminated all of her enemies, from the small council to the High Sparrow to Margaery and the Tyrells, the main reason she pursued the High Sparrow to begin with. The Mad King’s decades-old wildfire plan was used. Sam arrived at Oldtown. Jon Snow’s parentage was revealed. Daenerys finally headed to Westeros. And after years of being told it was coming, winter has finally arrived.
Rating: 5/5 (Perfect)
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