‘The Winds of Winter’
Love or hate last week’s episode (and it would seem I was in a clear minority in holding the latter opinion), it served a clear purpose overall to consolidate the two arcs it featured. With Ramsay gone, the focus can turn to the more pressing issue of the White Walkers, while Theon and Yara are now just a part of Dany’s cohort, rather than requiring separate screen time of their own. ‘The Winds of Winter’ continued that consolidation, tying up loose threads, and it did so in quite some style.
Firstly, we pick up where last week left off, at Winterfell. By the end of the episode, there was a certain amount of déjà vu in hearing chants of ‘King in the North’, but there were some solid scenes to get us there. With Davos discovering Shireen’s stag in ‘Battle of the Bastards’, it was inevitable that Melisandre was in trouble. What struck me most was just how uncertain and lost she seemed while defending what she’d done. When confronted with her actions, her reasons rang hollow. As for the manner of her departure, it seemed slightly fortuitous for her to be sent south, rather than executed, but it seems like there’s only one group she could turn to now – the Brotherhood.
Meanwhile, with all the disgraced houses pledging allegiance to Jon and House Stark, I’m not certain that Littlefinger has quite the same level of devotion. His love for Sansa seems genuine, but then so too is his love of power. His ideal scenario, as he said quite clearly, was for the two to collide, but with Sansa rebuffing him, might he turn elsewhere to reach the Throne?With Bran accepting his role as the Three-Eyed Raven, and with Benjen departing, we finally returned to the Tower of Joy. And while I didn’t hear the words ‘his name is Jon’, the cut from the baby’s face to Jon’s confirmed what we all expected – that Jon is Lyanna Stark’s child by Rhaegar Targaryen. It’s a big confirmation, but it raises new questions. With the structure of the scene seemingly meant to ensure that Bran doesn’t hear Lyanna’s declaration, how will Jon discover the truth? And even if we assume that Bran will be the one to tell him, will anyone treat ‘visions seen by touching trees’ as a credible source of information? Perhaps the most important question of them all though – does it matter anymore? As another Lyanna (Mormont) pointed out (during another moment of incredible acting by Bella Ramsey), none of them care if Jon’s a bastard. He’s the King in the North, whose name is Stark.
Moving across the Narrow Sea, we go to Dany, who’s finally doing just that. Finally, she sails for Westeros. With the newly named ‘Bay of Dragons’ no longer a threat, the plot could finally move on, but not without a casualty. The departure of Daario seemed rather abrupt, but did make sense. One assumes Dany could simply do away with alliances and just kill anyone in Westeros of nobility, as she has threatened to do all this time, but if she wants peace, her plan of a potential marriage alliance is probably a better idea. The question is, to whom will this marriage be? The obvious option, given the show is running out of eligible bachelors, is Jon. It simplifies the show further, avoiding a battle between the two factions and setting the stage to battle the White Walkers. But, as Dany has mentioned in the past, she isn’t exactly a fan of Starks, and even if he has an equal amount of Targaryen blood running through his veins, that won’t change his allegiance, unless his dies and is resurrected again.
Thus, I turn to the more interesting possibility, bringing us back to a certain person’s desire for power. Littlefinger. He’s male, unmarried, powerful, and wants to sit on the throne with his queen as his ruler. That queen was meant to be Sansa, but if that’s not going to happen, I see him looking elsewhere. It would be a complication to the streamlined plot we’re heading towards, but honestly, as a fan of when the show gets complicated, it would be a great development. However, now’s not the time for speculating about what happens when Dany reaches Westeros, but rather celebrating the fact that she is finally on her way.The tried and tested ‘Game of Thrones teleport’ was in full force again this week, in what was one of the more pressing issues I had with the episode. Jaime’s return to King’s Landing was acceptable, as he wasn’t travelling far to get there, and it was clear some time had passed in-between anyway. Arya’s brief appearance was worse, not so much due to travel time – given how detached she was from the Westeros timeline over in Braavos – but due to being able to get back, find some Freys, carve them up, and get to be there in time to kill Walder. A scene of her actually making the pies would have given the game away, but we could’ve done with a quick shot of her arriving in Westeros so it wasn’t quite so sudden an appearance.
In teleportation terms though, Arya was overshadowed by Varys, who arrived in Dorne and returned to Meereen, before leaving again for Westeros, all in this episode. I’m not asking for someone to get a tape measure and plot out exact journey times between locations, but just for a bit of effort to go into having things make sense. Would it not be better for Varys to stay in Dorne and coordinate efforts from over there? Then, at the very least, he and Olenna Tyrell could have taken over all of the dialogue, as her presence improved things tenfold. No more ‘bad poosay’ or ‘greedy bitch’ lines, just Olenna talking sense and telling them to shut up.
At the other end of the timescale, Sam and Gilly finally arrived at the Citadel in Oldtown. His happiness at the library was endearing, though one can’t help but wonder if he doesn’t need to hurry up a bit if he’s going to be of any use back up North. Especially given that he’s now as out of the loop in his knowledge of goings-on at the Wall as the Citadel itself was. And going into next year, we can surely expect a reappearance by Randyll wanting his sword back too.But of course, we’ve saved the most important location of the episode until the end – King’s Landing. Accompanied by a great piano score that was rather unusual for the show, everyone died. Well, not quite everyone – Cersei now sits upon the Iron Throne, with Qyburn behind her. But otherwise: Tommen, Margaery, Loras, High Sparrow, Pycelle, Mace Tyrell, Lancel, Kevan Lannister, and most of the nobles in the city. Basically, anyone who stood between Cersei and absolute power is dead. With the exception of Tommen and Pycelle, the term dead seems inadequate – vaporised is perhaps a better word – but in any case, it’s a very different King’s Landing that Jaime returns to.
It also completely changes the game for Dany’s invading force. They’re no longer going to be met by a boy king trapped by theocracy, but by something quite different in a hollowed-out Cersei. She played her game to perfection, with one disastrous flaw – underestimating the emotional toll it would have on Tommen, who was already unstable to begin with. The shot of him stepping out the window was surreal, and somewhat saddening, but worked brilliantly in terms of conveying the character at the end.I also probably didn’t give enough attention to the fantastic visuals last episode in amongst the plotting issues I had, but I’ll say it now: the wildfire explosion this week looked incredible. Based on the similar shot in season 2, on a far smaller budget, and the foreshadowing for it, there were certain expectations of what might occur, but it certainly delivered in spectacle. In particular, the moment when it engulfed the High Sparrow stood out, coming as it did just as he seemed genuinely mortal, with Margaery trying to evacuate the Sept to no avail. Given how important she was to the show, it might have been nice to show her departure too, but then it was all over rather quickly anyway.
‘The Winds of Winter’ was a solid episode to end the season, with stunning visuals, dramatic developments, and a far stronger script than in previous weeks. Looking ahead at next year, a season six review and a preview will follow, but for now it’s time for that moment where we all realise it’s ten months until the next season. At least the book readers amongst us have that to potentially look forward to before then, but until that, we’re all playing the same waiting game.