Warning: This recap for “The Winds of Winter” episode of Game of Thrones contains spoilers.
Having “good” taste in entertainment too often means thinking we’re superior to all of it. Hating is almost a coping mechanism at this point: Life is sad and hard and more often than not we feel useless and helpless when it comes to our places in the world, yet there’s always entertainment. Entertainment provides an actual beacon of hope and inspiration and the brilliant minds behind it (even mediocre entertainment) very likely ARE better, more productive, more inspiring than we are. So let’s just write off 80 percent of it as terrible and the other 20 percent as good-only-because-I-say-so. Ah, the control feels so good. I feel more powerful already!
But listen, there is nothing brave about disliking something. Even if your arguments are carefully laid and out justified, you’re still embracing nihilism. Though the internet hasn’t exactly changed human instinct — we’ve always been social and petty and absurd — it has encouraged everyone to treat their own opinions as valuable currency. As Game of Thrones’ Season 6 finale unfurled on our screens, many turned to a second glowing screen to opine in real-time. Which, fine. I hope that was fun. But the race to lay out the least thoughtful criticisms perhaps detracted from the fact that “The Winds of Winter” was not just one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones, it was also one of the best episodes of television ever produced.
Facts are facts: So far, Game of Thrones the TV series is one of the greatest works of entertainment of all time, and by extension, one of humanity’s greatest achievements. “The Winds of Winter” was incredible. It was superior to most of television, to me, to you, to most things. Phew, it felt good to confess this. Let’s talk about it!
We began with an event we’d been anticipating for more than a season: A fashion montage! Yes, “The Winds of Winter” treated us to almost a full minute of Cersei and Tommen and Margaery all getting gussied up in their best looks and chic-est accessories. Even the High Sparrow put on his least-soiled tunic for the occasion:
It was time for the Trial of Cersei Lannister (with the undercard trial of Ser Loras). Let’s put it this way: Neither trial went well. Part of this was due to the ultimate fraud that is religious law. The other part was because Cersei BLEW UP THE DAMN TEMPLE and EVERYONE INSIDE.
Let’s back up. After a truly upsetting scene in which Loras was made to renounce his family name for the crime of being gay and devote his life to being a Sparrow (complete with forehead carving), Margaery noticed that neither Cersei nor Tommen had bothered to show up. Meanwhile, we cut to Grandmaester Pycelle, fresh from sexin’ up a hooker, who was set upon and murdered by a gang of children with knives! And when Lancel was sent to summon Cersei, he too was shivved by a tyke, only he had been lured to a basement first where he discovered the huge cache of wildfire just underneath the Grand Sept. Yes, the theories were true: The “rumors” Qyburn had mentioned to Cersei a few weeks ago had to to with the late Mad King’s heretofore forgotten trove of explosive green goo.
And then it exploded.
THIS was satisfying to behold. Until the sinking, sickening feeling set in that the flames also consumed Margaery, Ser Loras, Mace Tyrell, and every other innocent spectator.
That we were both cheering for Cersei’s victory yet also devastated by its sheer callousness was why this moment was so genius. As far as crowd-pleasing moments go, this one could not have been grayer. Or greener.
Guess who was pretty stoked though:
This lady. Take note of her incredible, Maleficent-esque evil Queen dress. Perfection. It’s cool enough to almost make the Carol Brady wig seem sinister.
So, after Cersei blew up most of her enemies (or hired children to stab them), she turned her attention to the last person on her hit list: the mean nun! And yes, while it again afforded us some sick satisfaction to see the mean nun get wine splashed in her face for minutes on end, I loved Cersei’s speech in which she made the nun admit that she’d only tortured Cersei because it felt good.
And then Cersei listed all the things that make HER feel good, including murdering her husband, her brother’s D, and green infernos. I think we can all relate to at least one if not all of these things, right?
But just when the nun claimed she was ready to die, Cersei turned to her friend Zombie Mountain to prolong the experience for “quite a while.” He even took his mask off in order to help! The kicker was that Cersei chanted “shame” while walking away from the nun’s echo-ing screams. That’s what’s known as a callback joke, guys, and Cersei nailed it.
Unfortunately her schemes had some unintended consequences. For example, Tommen committed suicide.
But this was Newly Evil Cersei we were talking about, so she barely registered any emotion at the thought that now 100 percent of her children were dead. Cersei didn’t give a sh*t. Tommen was sweet, but he sucked real bad as a king. Maybe don’t allow your mother to be ritualistically tortured and humiliated for months? Just a tip to all the sons out there.
Anyway, that was the first half of the episode, and I was already exhausted and worn out and exhilarated and depressed all at once. So it was probably a good thing that we got a series of “lighter” scenes after this.
Like, hey, Samwell got a new gig at the library in Hogwarts. But I also enjoyed the insanely bitchy head Maester who really didn’t want Sam to join their program (or whatever was happening here). That scene was some straight-up Mr. Bean-style comedy and I enjoyed it. I also enjoyed the fact that Gilly still had her nice blow-out, good for her.
Then a white bird flew over the lands screaming about how winter had come. I guess that’s the thing in Westeros… White ravens make it officially winter. Okay, guys. How many albino ravens ARE there in this world?
If you were wondering whether Melisandre would EVER face repercussions for encouraging a man to burn his young daughter at the stake, that happened finally. Now that the Battle of the Bastards was over, Ser Davos was newly energized with hatred for Melisandre, and he threw her under the bus big time in front of Jon Snow. She was basically like, “Yeah, we got up to some wild sh*t, can’t deny it” but Jon Snow was not impressed. He banished her from the realm! Personally I would think that having a sorceress in the house is a good thing when an army of undead wights is currently descending on the property, but Jon Snow has his principles. Anyway, good luck, Melisandre. May you go find Gendry or someone equally cute.
Another unintended consequence of Cersei’s insane power grab was the new alliance between her various enemies, specifically the ladies of Dorne and the ladiest of ladies, Olenna Tyrell.
I love that even though they were all forging a new bond in order to take Cersei down, Olenna still READ these girls and shut them down so hard. But the true surprise was that Ellaria had a secret houseguest who ALSO wanted in on Team Destroy Cersei… Varys! This had been the destination of his secret trip, and he was now promising Daenerys’ full cooperation in taking down the Lannisters once and for all. So for those keeping score, Daenerys now had the Tyrells, the Martells, the Greyjoys, the Dothraki, one Lannister, and three dragons at her disposal. This was getting good.
One thing Daenerys no longer needed, however, was a reliable source of D. In this case she made Daario stay behind in Meereen and run the world’s worst city in her absence. One reason for this was because she was probably going to have to marry someone in order to forge a political alliance, and even though Daario begged and pleaded to remain her secret side-piece, she still bailed on him. Harsh!
I loved when Tyrion pep-talked her about how sometimes in order to be a good ruler you have to kick your side-piece to the curb. And then she gave him a homemade “Hand of the Queen” pin. Not only is Hand of the Queen a huge honor, it’s also my favorite dance move.
So then a mysterious caterer (one whom Jaime Lannister and Bronn had been ogling) served a pie full of fingers to Walder Frey.
But it wasn’t just any mysterious caterer, it was Arya Stark wearing some lady’s face! She had ground up Walder Frey’s terrible sons and made them into a pie, and now it was Walder’s turn to meet his maker. She slit his throat and grinned while he awkwardly fingered his gurgling throat holes. Damn, not only had Arya become a super skilled assassin, she was also kind of a nightmare villain? Either way, excited to see her finally work her way through that kill list! Bye, you old jerk.
Back in Winterfell, Littlefinger took Sansa aside and basically told her that he really wants to be king someday and she should be his queen, and then he tried to kiss her but she ducked away with the reflexes of a mongoose.
Obviously he had been pretty helpful in the Battle of the Bastards, but something tells me that Sansa should probably not get Littlefinger angry. He tends to, like, get people beheaded whenever he’s thirsty for power. But yeah: denied. FOR NOW.
At this point Coldhands set Bran down into a frozen mud puddle and took off (undead warriors have busy schedules) and Bran set about fingering a tree face. Now that he was the Three-Eyed Raven, it was time to really put those powers to use, so the next thing we knew, he was getting the full story of Ned Stark and his screaming sister in the Tower of Joy.
As it turned out, her screams were not due to torture, but rather childbirth! Which is still torture, sure, but at least there was now a cute baby involved. And not just any baby: A Jon Snow baby! In this scene we finally learned what many had suspected all along: Ned was not Jon’s father; he was his uncle. And though we didn’t catch the identity of Lyanna’s babydaddy, she made Ned swear to protect Jon Snow from whomever it was. So, probably someone important.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow was STILL trying to convince his allies to remain in an army half-populated with disgusting cannibal hobos. Because Jon Snow is not the most riveting or inspiring public speaker, it was fortunate that there was at least ONE person in the room with the ability to get things done.
Ugh. This girl forever. PLEASE let her be in Season 7 a ton. Please. Anyway, yeah, she shamed every grown man in the room into pledging allegiance to Jon Snow. It worked! King of the North was IN CHARGE.
As if it weren’t already clear, Cersei had effectively murdered the entire chain of succession, so she was back to being Queen again. Queen and ruler of the realm! Much like her bad-ass gown, her new title looked good on her.
Jaime Lannister, however, did not seem super stoked about what had gone on when he was away. He might be the last living person that Cersei has feelings for, but the icy glare they exchanged made it seem like maybe they’re not on the same page anymore. That tends to happen when you suddenly realize your sibling is a SUPER VILLAIN.
The final shot was so chill-inducing I felt like I was having a medical emergency. Basically it was just Daenerys’ combined fleet (comprised of all the different navies she’d acquired lately) plus her dragons all heading for the mainland. She was now ready to start taking down other contenders one at a time. Game on.
This season finale (and the season as a whole) did a lot to distill the many different elements and factions into more manageable ones. At my count, we now have three major teams: The Starks, Daenerys, and Cersei, and of course they’ll all have to deal with the White Walkers eventually. And while certain characters and threads were left without closure — Brienne, The Hound — never before has this show seemed so simple and driven. It’s anyone’s guess how many more episodes of this show there will be (only 13?) but it’s clear that the time for wheel-spinning and filler is over. Things are happening, and they’re happening more spectacularly than we could’ve ever expected.
What did YOU think of “The Winds of Winter”?
Game of Thrones will return for Season 7 in 2017 on HBO.