Whatever qualms I may have had about the early parts of the season, ‘Game of Thrones’ turned itself around in a big way last week and followed that up by closing the season with one hell of a momentous ending.
The finale starts slowly and methodically. Cersei stands at a window looking out at the city, eyeing the Great Sept in the distance. Meanwhile, everyone else of importance in the capital ready themselves for her trial, either dressing in formal attire or (in the case of the High Sparrow and his septons) their humblest robes. Grand Maester Pycelle finishes up with a whore and stiffs her on the payment. King Tommen sits in his chambers looking very sad. He opts not to attend the first part of the trial.
Loras is dragged out of the dungeon and brought before the septons. He says that there’s no need for a trial. He confesses to all his sins, kneels before the High Sparrow, and pledges to renounce his family and his title in order to join the holy order of the Sparrows and defend the faith. The High Sparrow is pleased and announces that the gods will be merciful to him today. Margaery looks on approvingly, as if everything were going exactly to her plan, until Lancel and a group of Sparrows move in, hold Loras down, and carve their symbol into his forehead. That wasn’t supposed to be part of the deal, but at least he’s alive.
The High Sparrow looks for Cersei next and is told that she hasn’t left the Red Keep. He sends Lancel and some Sparrows to fetch her. As they leave the Sept, they spot a group of Little Birds (the children spies who used to work for Varys but now work for Qyburn) in the street who scurry at the sight of them. Realizing that they will report to Cersei, Lancel and the Sparrows chase after them. Lancel follows one into the catacombs beneath the city.
With Loras’ portion completed, Tommen readies himself to go to the Sept to witness his mother’s trial. Before he can exit the room, he’s blocked by The Mountain, who won’t let him pass.
En route to the Sept, Grand Maester Pycelle is confronted by Qyburn, who calls out several more Little Birds. The kids are all carrying knives and, at Qyburn’s command, pounce on Pycelle and stab the hell out of him.
Lancel loses the Little Bird he was following. Suddenly, the boy leaps out from the shadows and stabs him in the legs. Lancel crumples to the ground.
In the Sept, Margaery gets very nervous about Cersei’s absence. The High Sparrow assures her that, even if Cersei doesn’t come, she can still be tried and convicted in absentia. That doesn’t calm her. Margaery senses that Cersei is planning something – something very bad.
Lancel sees a light down the tunnel ahead of him and crawls toward it. As he gets closer, he comes to a room filled with barrels and a pool of glowing green liquid on the floor. Wait a second, could that be…? Ohhhhhh… shiiiiiiit…
The High Sparrow refusing to listen to her pleas that he has underestimated Cersei, Margaery yells to everyone to evacuate the building, which causes a big panic in the crowd. However, the Sparrows block the exits and prevent anyone from leaving.
Lancel sees two candles sitting in the Wildfire, both almost burned to the bottom. He struggles to crawl closer and frantically tries to blow one out.
A look of recognition finally crosses the High Sparrow’s face, but it’s too late. In a tremendous explosion, the Wildfire detonates, killing him, Margaery and everyone else inside as the High Sept building is blown to smithereens.
From her perch in the Red Keep, Cersei looks out at the devastation and smiles.
Her victory achieved, Cersei pays a visit to a special friend to gloat. Septa Unella, the stern nun who tortured her, is strapped to a table in the dungeon. Cersei dumps wine in her face and taunts her to, “Confess… confess…” In what amounts to an actual confession of her own, Cersei tells her what’s happened and revels in all the sins she’s committed. Unella assumes that Cersei will kill her and says that she’s ready to be judged by the gods. That’s not what Cersei has in mind, though. She brings The Mountain into the room and closes the door behind them when she leaves, snickering “Shame… shame… shame…” The scene leaves it ambiguous whether The Mountain is there to torture her or rape her, or both.
In his chambers, devastated by the loss of his wife, Tommen removes his crown, calmly steps out onto the window ledge, and leaps to his death.
The vile Walder Frey has a banquet to celebrate the capture of Riverrun and his alliance with the Lannisters. (After the Red Wedding, I’m amazed anyone would be stupid enough to attend a party he throws.) We learn that Edmure Tully is back in the dungeon, to be used as political capital again somewhere down the line.
As Frey gloats about his victory, an impatient Jaime reminds him that it was the Lannisters who took the castle, and that no one actually fears him. He’ll be powerless if the Lannisters desert him.
King’s Landing (2)
Cersei insists on seeing her son’s body. True to the prophecy foretold in her youth, she has witnessed all of her children die. Qyburn asks what she’d like done with the corpse, given that the Great Sept and all the royal tombs below it were destroyed. Cersei says that Tommen should join his brother and his sister. She coldly orders that the body be burned and the ashes buried in the Sept’s rubble.
What do you know, Sam and Gilly are still on the show. I’d pretty much forgotten about them since their last appearance in the middle of the season. They arrive at the Citadel, the headquarters for the maesters. Sam excitedly introduces himself and presents his letter from Lord Commander Jon Snow. The rude maester at the entry desk flips through a gigantic book and scans through the pages, admonishing that their records state that Jeor Mormont is Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Sam attempts to explain that a lot has happened since then.
The maester grumbles about how “This is irregular,” but allows Sam access to the library while he waits to meet with an archmaester to clear up the matter. Unfortunately, no women or children are allowed. Sam tries to apologize to Gilly but is too giddy and abandons her in the lobby. As he steps through into the library, he’s overcome by the massive size of the building, filled with level upon level upon level of thousands if not millions of books. Becoming a maester may take a while.
Winter has finally fallen on the appropriately named kingdom of Winterfell. Jon Snow takes a moment to let it sink in that he’s home again. As he speaks with Melisandre, Davos enters the room and throws the wooden stag toy at her. He demands that she confess what really happened to young Shireen. When she does, Davos asks Jon Snow for permission to execute her. Melisandre makes the case that she only did what the gods commanded her, and that she can still be of great help in the upcoming war against the White Walkers. Eventually, Jon Snow decides to banish her rather than kill her. He orders her to ride south and never return. If he sees her again, she’ll be hanged.
Later, Jon talks with Sansa. She apologizes for keeping her interactions with Littlefinger a secret. When Jon asks how she can trust a man who sold her to the Boltons, she says that she doesn’t trust him, but she needed him.
Lady Olenna left King’s Landing as her granddaughter told her, but did not return home to Highgarden. Instead, she traveled to Dorne to meet with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. True to form, she condescendingly dismisses the other girls’ attempts to speak to her and will only speak with Ellaria. News has already reached them about what happened in King’s Landing. When Ellaria proposes an alliance between their two houses to ensure their suvival, Olenna says that she doesn’t just want to survive; she wants revenge for the deaths of her grandson and granddaughter. Ellaria says that she has a new ally who may be able to help with that. Varys then steps into the courtyard, revealing himself. This must have been the secret mission he told Tyrion about.
Daario informs Daenerys that her new navy is almost ready to transport them to Westeros. Daenerys tells him that he won’t be going. She needs him to stay and keep order in Meereen. She also admits that when she gets to Westeros, she will need to form alliances, and there are no stronger alliances than marriage. (She should ask Edmure Tully how well that worked out for him.) Therefore, she can’t bring her lover with her. Daario protests that he doesn’t mind being her mistress. She can marry whomever she needs to marry. He just wants to be with her. Unfortunately, she insists that he has to stay and this will be their goodbye.
Afterwards, Daenerys talks to Tyrion. He tells her that she’s about to get everything she ever wanted. It’s all hers for the taking. “You’re in the great game now,” he says. They chat a bit about fear, and about belief. Tyrion says that he never believed in anything or anyone before, but he believes in her. Daenerys presents him with a Hand brooch and officially names him Hand of the Queen.
The Twins (2)
Walder Frey sits alone, eating. A handmaid brings him a meat pie, which he digs into. Not recognizing the girl, he gropes her (such a charmer) and asks where his idiot sons are. The girl tells him that they’re here. He orders her to go fetch them and bring them into the room so he can yell at him. The girl explains that, no sir, they’re already right here in front of you… in the meat pies. Their flesh was rather difficult to carve.
Horrified, Walder Frey looks up at the girl, who removes a mask from her face and reveals herself. It’s Arya! She gleefully tells him her name and slits his throat, thus crossing another name off her list.
Littlefinger approaches Sansa. He tells her that, as Ned Stark’s eldest remaining legitimate child, she should be the head of House Stark, not Jon Snow. He says that everything he’s done has been to accomplish one goal: to sit on the Iron Throne, with her at his side. He professes his love to her and moves in for a kiss, but Sansa rebuffs him and walks away.
North of the Wall
Benjen Stark brings Bran and Meera as close to the Wall as he can get. He informs them that ancient magic built into the Wall’s stones will prevent the dead from passing, but it also prevents him from passing. As such, he dumps them off under a tree, says his goodbyes, and rides away, leaving poor Meera without so much as a sled to pull the crippled Bran on.
Bran drags himself over to one of those weird trees with a face on it and wargs. He immediately returns to the vision of his father as a young man at the Tower of Joy. Ned has just defeated the knights that guarded the castle and runs inside to find his sister, Lyanna, lying in a bed covered with blood-soaked sheets. As we suspected, she’s just given birth to a child. It does not appear to have gone well. With her dying breaths, Lyanna whispers the identity of the baby’s father to Ned and makes him swear to protect the boy.
As hinted previously, this confirms that Jon Snow is not Ned Stark’s son, but his sister’s. Ned claimed that the boy was his bastard in order to protect him. Although we’re not allowed to hear the name of the father, it was presumably Rhaegar Targaryen, which would explain why the boy was in danger and would mean that Jon Snow has Targaryen royal blood. (If Rhaegar secretly married Lyanna, that would even mean that Jon is a legitimate heir to the throne.) However, if that’s really the case, why obscure the father’s identity now rather than just come out with it?
The war with the Boltons over, the Knights of the Vale are uneasy about continuing to ally with the Wildlings. The lords from other houses of the North (the same ones who refused to fight) express a similar sentiment until young Lyanna Mormont gives a speech shaming them for failing to honor their commitments to House Stark. She pledges her house to Jon Snow. Humbled that a child could put them in their place, the other lords come around and cheer on Jon Snow as the new “King in the North.”
Sansa stands proudly by her brother. Littlefinger shoots her a look as if to say that she’s wasting her potential by playing second fiddle to her bastard half-brother.
King’s Landing (3)
Jaime returns to the capital to see the remains of the Great Sept smoking in the center of the city. He arrives in time to watch his sister sit on the Iron Throne and be crowned Queen Cersei, First of Her Name. Although the crowd dutifully chants “Long may she reign,” the prevailing mood at the ceremony is dour.
Qyburn stands at Cersei’s side, wearing what appears to be a Hand brooch.
The Narrow Sea
The episode ends with Daenery’s navy setting sail for Westeros, armies of the Unsullied and the Dothraki aboard. Theon and Yara captain a ship with a dragon carved into the masthead. Daenerys, Theon, Missandei and Varys (who apparently returned in time to join them) stand on the deck of the flagship as the three dragons fly overhead.
The finale ran a little longer than usual at about 69 minutes. It feels like a lot is crammed into that time to tie up the season’s various storylines, yet all of them end on a satisfying note. Cersei’s scheming finally paid off for her, though at great personal cost. She has the throne, but how long can she hold it?
The episode has an interesting tone and takes its time to work through everything. I really loved the build-up to Cersei’s trial, and the musical score in that part of the episode stands out as atypical for the series. It sounds inspired by Philip Glass. We’ve never heard anything like it in the show before, but it works.
I’m sad that this is the end for Margaery. She was a great character who seemed on the verge of making a big power play of her own when the rug was pulled out from under her. That’s how things go in the Game of Thrones, I suppose.
Jonathan Pryce made a fine villain, and this was a very good end for him. Walder Frey also met a fitting fate (though the cannibalism gag was also used earlier this year in a storyline on ‘Gotham’).
On the other hand, I feel like The Mountain was mostly wasted after a season anticipating him to fight for Cersei in a trial by combat. I’m uneasy with the implication that he’s going to rape Unella. I’m really tired of the way the show uses rape for shock value. At the same time, this episode strengthens and empowers some of its other female characters. Is that enough to compensate?
When all is said and done, this was not the best season of ‘Game of Thrones’, but I think it’s generally an improvement over Season 5 and it goes out with a couple of the show’s strongest episodes. I can’t wait to see what Season 7 brings us!