I seem to be way out of touch with ‘Game of Thrones’ fandom this season. I didn’t much care for the White Walker battle a couple episodes ago, which everyone else went completely gaga for. Then I actually did like the dragon climax last week, but nobody else did. Let’s see how much you disagree with me about the finale.
I liked it. Didn’t love it, but I liked it. I imagine that, as happens with every major character death, waves of viewers will declare that the show has jumped its shark and swear never to watch again. That’s the way things have gone since Ned Stark bit it in Season 1.
Stannis Baratheon’s Camp
Stannis’ sacrifice of his daughter apparently worked. The harsh winter has broken and the weather has warmed up. Conditions are quite seasonable for an attack on Winterfell. Melisandre is quick to credit the God of Light. Unfortunately, having witnessed their leader murder his own daughter, fully half his army has deserted and taken what’s left of the horses with them. Stannis’ wife, who never seemed to care much for her daughter previously, has hung herself from a tree out of grief. Even Melisandre bails when she sees the writing on the wall. Stubborn as ever, Stannis insists on pressing forward anyway.
As they approach the castle, Stannis’ army is a sad lot. He orders the troops to prepare for a siege the next morning, but needn’t bother. The Bolton army, much vaster in number, has seen them coming and charges out on horseback, quickly surrounding and swarming the invaders.
It’s a short battle. Unlike the interminably repetitive zombie fight two weeks ago, this episode doesn’t dwell on the hacking and slashing to make its point. We see the beginning of the battle and quickly cut to the aftermath. Stannis is thoroughly routed. He’s done for. Ramsay takes glee in personally mopping up the few survivors.
Brienne watches from a nearby hill, throws on her armor and runs in. She finds Stannis still alive, but barely. He’s a tough bird. Even wounded, he takes down two Bolton soldiers. Brienne announces herself as a former Kingsguard for his brother Renly Baratheon. Will Brienne save Stannis? Oh wait, that’s right, Stannis had Renly assassinated and Brienne is still pissed about that. She sentences Stannis to death. Utterly defeated, he resigns himself to his fate and tells her to get it over with. Brienne takes her vengeance. So long, Stannis.
Inside the castle, Sansa uses the distraction of the battle as a chance to escape. She picks the lock on her door with that corkscrew she stole a while back and makes her way to the broken tower to light a candle. Too bad Brienne is preoccupied with other matters and doesn’t see it.
As Sansa tries to find an exit, she’s blocked by Theon and Ramsay’s girlfriend Myranda, the latter with a bow in her hand. Sansa tells them to go ahead and kill her. She’d rather die now than suffer any further with Ramsay. Quite the evil bitch, Myranda plans to hurt but not kill her. She needs to save the baby-making parts so Ramsay can produce an heir.
At this point, finally, Theon snaps. He can’t take anymore. He forces Myranda to miss her shot with the arrow, then picks her up and tosses her off the battlement to her (presumed) death below. He grabs Sansa and they run to the edge of the wall, step up on the parapet and, hand-in-hand like Thelma & Louise, leap off.
I have no doubt that both these characters will survive, but this sure looks like a suicide jump to me. The wall is very high and there’s nothing below to break their fall, except maybe some snow. I guess Sansa has nothing to lose and would rather go out on her own terms anyway, but the real chances of survival seem pretty far-fetched to me.
At the brothel, the pedophile knight Ser Meryn beats three young girls with a stick. Only one doesn’t cry. Relishing the chance to break her, Meryn sends the other two girls away. The third, of course, peels back a mask from her face and reveals herself as Arya Stark.
With a shiv in her hand, Arya leaps on Meryn and stabs out his eyes, then shoves a rag in his mouth to prevent him screaming and gouges him repeatedly (though not fatally) in the chest. Arya announces her name and her intent to kill him as vengeance for Syrio Forel, and slits his throat.
Arya returns to the temple and replaces the mask, but is confronted by Jaqen and the other girl who’s been training her. Jaqen expresses his disappointment. He tells her that the man’s life was not hers to take, and she now owes a debt to the Many-Faced God that can only be paid with another life. He pulls out the vial of poison but, rather than force it on her, drinks it himself. Jaqen falls to the floor dead.
Arya wails in grief that her friend has died. She obviously hasn’t gotten how this “Become Nobody” thing works yet. Behind her, the other girl morphs into Jaqen. Arya pulls a mask from the corpse’s face – then another, and another, mask after mask until seeing her own face on the body. Suddenly, Arya’s vision fades to blackness and she goes blind.
These Starks just can’t win, can they? (More on this shortly.)
Prince Doran bids adieu to Jaime and his niece. Ellaria is surprisingly friendly and gives Myrcella a big kiss goodbye. Yeah, that’s not suspicious at all.
On the boat, Jaime has a touching heart-to-heart with Myrcella in which he attempts to come clean about his relationship with Cersei. She stops him. She already knows all about it and is glad that he’s her father. They share a nice hug when suddenly Myrcella’s nose starts bleeding and she collapses to the floor.
On shore, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes watch the boat sail away. Ellaria’s nose also starts to bleed. She wipes off the poisoned lipstick and drinks from a vial of antidote.
Tyrion, Daario and Jorah regroup in the throne room after the rebellion in the fighting pits. (I’ve seen at least one site refer to this scene as “Two and a Half Men.”) They’re joined by Grey Worm and Missandei. Tyrion reveals that he can speak Valyrian.
The group devises a plan for what to do next. Daario and Jorah will leave the city to search for Daenerys. Tyrion, the only one of them who has any experience governing, will stay behind to rule in Dany’s place. Grey Worm (still recovering from his injuries) and Missandei will stay with him in order to provide legitimacy that he speaks on the queen’s behalf.
In the best scene of the episode, Tyrion stands on a balcony overlooking the city when he’s greeted by Varys, who has of course tracked him down through his network of spies. They trade some wonderful dialogue in which Tyrion asks his friend for help in the most roundabout way possible.
Daenerys, meanwhile, finds herself deposited far from the city by Drogon. She tells him that it’s time to return home and tries to climb on his back, but the wounded dragon has no interest in helping her. He shoves her off and settles down for a nap. With no idea where she might be, Dany wanders the hills until she’s surrounded by a huge army of what look to be Dothraki warriors on horseback. Although Dany didn’t exact leave things on good terms the last time she saw the Dothraki, this isn’t the worst situation she’s ever been in, honestly.
Finally unable to take anymore suffering, Cersei offers a confession to the High Sparrow. She owns up to fornicating with Lancel, but adamantly denies the accusations of incest with Jaime. She begs forgiveness and asks to see her son. The High Sparrow informs her that she will still be put on trial, but agrees to let her return to the Red Keep… after her atonement.
Atonement? What atonement?
The grumpy nuns scrub Cersei down and chop off her hair, leaving her with a fetching pixie cut. The Queen Mother is then trotted out, bare-assed naked, in front of the teeming crowds and forced to walk all the way to the other end of the city while the Sparrows shove people out of the way and chant “Shame! Shame! Shame!” over and over. Cercei tries to keep her head up as her feet bleed and the city’s riff-raff decry her a whore, toss food at her and literally spit in her face.
By the time she finally enters the palace and is draped in a blanket, Cersei is a broken wreck. Maester Qyburn introduces the newest member of her Kingsguard, a man who would say hello himself except that he’s conveniently sworn a vow of silence. The Mountain, fully armored and his face masked by a helmet (inhumanly gray skin barely visible beneath it), sweeps Cersei in his arms and carries her off.
After his defeat by the White Walkers, Jon Snow feels pretty sorry for himself. He tells Sam that their supply of dragonglass is gone and cannot be recovered. Piling on the bad news, Sam asks that he be allowed to leave for Old Town with Gilly and the baby, so that he can train to become a maester. Snow reluctantly agrees.
Later, as Davos begs Jon Snow to send men and supplies to support Stannis (before news of the defeat at Winterfell as reached them), Melisandre arrives. Davos immediately knows what this means. He demands to know if Shireen still lives. Melisandre walks away without speaking. That’s answer enough, though she leaves out the part about how she convinced Stannis to roast the girl on a stake.
That night, the boy Ollie runs into Jon Snow’s quarters and tells him that a Wildling claims to have seen his uncle Benjen still alive. (This is a plot thread from way back in Season 1.) Snow rushes out to question the man, but it’s all a ruse. Alliser stabs him in the gut, muttering “For the Watch.” One after another, more Night’s Watch brothers do the same. Ollie, who has never forgiven Snow for making peace with the Wildlings, is the last to step up and finish him off. The episode ends with Jon Snow collapsed to the ground, bleeding out.
I have to say, I’m quite shocked by this last plot twist. For as much as ‘Game of Thrones’ loves to kill off major, even beloved characters, Jon Snow had been set up to play a major role in the upcoming war with the White Walkers. Like the deaths of his father Ned and his brother Robb before him, this event will truly change the entire course of the story. I’m impressed by the ballsiness of that.
On the other hand, Jon Snow’s death makes me feel like all the time spent on his storylines this year, especially that big battle with the White Walkers, was wasted. What was the point of all the hints about his true parentage? Just misdirection? I find that irritating. Stannis Baratheon’s death I felt was deserved and a logical outcome for his story. I’m not sure how I feel about this one yet.
I also have mixed feelings about the shaming of Cersei. Although this is clearly meant to be an utter humiliation for the character, I fear that the scene actually objectifies her and that the show’s audience (at least, the male members) were too distracted by drooling over the idea of seeing Lena Headey fully 360-degrees naked. (Seriously, save spreading her legs, the scene leaves nothing to the imagination.) Is it sexist of me to suggest that she simply looks too good nude – and that the new haircut flatters her too much (I get that it’s meant to be reminiscent of Renee Falconetti in ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc’, but she looks more like a stylish Mia Farrow in ‘Rosemary’s Baby’) – for the scene to work as intended? The revelation that Headey used a body double especially undercuts the scene’s effectiveness.
Now that it’s over, this was certainly the weakest season of ‘Game of Thrones’ so far. That’s obviously disappointing. However, I don’t feel that the show jumped any sharks this year. As the middle portion of a much larger story, it may have dragged a little, but there’s still plenty of time to recover as we build toward an ultimate series finale.
The season’s problems were perhaps exaggerated by watching week-to-week. I suspect that it will play better in binge-watch form later.