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Monday, 27 June 2016

Game of Thrones S6E10: The Winds of Winter

Game of Thrones
Series 6, Episode 10
The Winds of Winter.

Wow, they are really streamlining the cast this series, aren't they? Whether for budgetary reasons or just to make writing easier - or either, or both - we've seen a metric ton of characters die or get written out. Hodor, Doran, Osha, Rickon, the Blackfish, Alliser Thorne, Ollie, and the Waif were all killed off prior to this episode, with Jaqen being non-violently written out. In this episode alone, meanwhile, Margaery, Tommen, Lancel, Loras, Unella, the High Sparrow, and Maester Pycelle were all killed off in the first twenty minutes, with Walder Frey and his sons following shortly thereafter, and Benjen and Daario being non-violently written out (along with, it would seem, the entirety of Essos).

So the cast has been trimmed down a lot. That's not a bad thing, but I admit, it did make me laugh when the show just casually murdered nearly the entirety of the King's Landing characters before the episode was even halfway done.

Anyway, our viewpoints for this episode are: Cersei in King's Landing, Jaime and Walder Frey at the Twins, Daenerys in Meereen, Bran beyond the Wall, Jon and Sansa at Winterfell, and very briefly Olenna in Dorne, and Sam in the Citadel. A pretty good spread there.

In this week's episode, the finale of series six, Loras and Cersei's trial arrives - but Cersei doesn't arrive, as Qyburn and the Mountain set in motion her plan, resulting in the Great Sept exploding in a burst of wildfire as they ignite the caches beneath the city - but her plan has a consequence she didn't foresee. In Meereen, Daenerys tells Daario to stay in Meereen while she goes to Westeros, much to his chagrin, and sets out on her new fleet. Beyond the Wall, Meera and Bran part company with Benjen, and Bran has a vision of the past, revealing the truth about how Lyanna Stark died. At Dorne, Olenna forms an alliance with Elia and the Sand Snakes - and with Varys, there to represent Daenerys. At the Twins, Walder hosts a party for Jaime, but encounters someone he didn't expect. At Winterfell, Sansa has a confrontation with Littlefinger, Davos confronts Melisandre, and Jon is crowned the King in the North.

Hey, Davos.

So, we'll start with Cersei's section, because it takes up something like the first twenty minutes of the episode, and it's kind of glorious, a beautiful example of a slow build of tension, up to a pretty much perfect pay-off (and one that sees Cersei beat Daenerys' record for 'most destruction caused in a single moment'). I thought the whole sequence from the start of the episode to the explosion of wildfire was nearly flawless - and I say 'nearly' because ideally, I would have liked to see Cersei have some kind of confrontation with the High Sparrow. I recognise that would've been logistically difficult, though, so never mind.

The aftermath of the explosion is handled a little less well. Tommen's suicide is clearly meant to be kind of chillingly understated, but it's so understated that it crosses the line into just being funny, as he stands on a window ledge and just tips over. Septa Unella's death, meanwhile, feels - I don't know, a bit off. This has been a storyline all about misogyny and violence against women, so having it end with Cersei enacting what might be the worst act of violence against a woman in series six, and possibly the entire show so far, feels like a strange way to end it.

Maybe that was intentional, because this episode was clearly meant to show us Cersei transitioning from an anti-villain, or at least a tragic villain, into an out-and-out villain - and the final shot of her sections in this episode, as she takes the Iron Throne as a queen in her own right, in a dark throne room with a gaggle of terrified people watching, and Jaime horrified some ways away, was clearly meant to hammer that in.

More of these two next series, please.

I don't - think it was intentional, though? I think it's just that Benioff and Weiss had a writer's meeting where they thought it'd be super-shocking if Zombie Mountain raped someone, and didn't quite think through how that would gel with the rest of the story.

Moving on to the smaller storylines, at Dorne and the Twins, and beyond the Wall: I enjoyed seeing Olenna, our last surviving Tyrell, at Dorne, and while I was kind of expecting Varys to arrive, him striding in and saying nothing but 'fire and blood', with the scene fading on the implication that now both Dorne and Highgarden will be throwing their support behind Daenerys, was a pretty cool moment. The Twins storyline meanwhile - eh, it was fine. I did really enjoy seeing Arya tricking Walder into eating his own sons, and then killing him. Also, Arya now appears to have the shapeshifting powers of a Faceless Man, so I - guess she got them after she killed the Waif? I mean, we don't know exactly how they even work, so there's that.

(I'd forgotten Sam even had a storyline in this episode until someone reminded me. He found a library. It was - fine, I guess, excuse me, I have to edit an earlier paragraph to account for his two minutes of screentime.)

Bran's vision, meanwhile, was pretty predictable. Come on, we all knew it was going to be revealed that Jon was Lyanna and Rhaegar's son, let's not even pretend that a single soul among us was shocked by this revelation. To that end, the fact that they spent a good five minutes building it up just felt unnecessary, because we all already knew, so they might as well just have had Bran shut his eyes, open them twenty seconds later, and go 'heck, Jon's actually Lyanna and Rhaegar's kid.'

Man, the Sparrows are all terrible.

Daenerys in Meereen, meanwhile, finally sees her heading off towards Westeros. I couldn't quite keep myself from cracking up during her scene with Daario, because it was so obviously just a combination 'wrapping up the Meereen plotline' and 'writing out an extraneous character' moment, and the show practically acknowledges that, having Daenerys remark to Tyrion that she feels absolutely no strong emotions about it, basically telling the audience 'okay, we had to have that scene, but you don't need to care about it anymore.'

The conversation between Tyrion and Daenerys was nice, though. I do kind of adore all of their interactions, so I would obviously enjoy that scene. Not to mention, Daenerys is finally going to Westeros! After six series! Yay!

Which leaves us with Jon and Sansa's storyline. To be honest, I'm a bit miffed that Jon's taking centre stage here and becoming King in the North, because I'd much rather prefer Sansa did, but other than that it was a very rousing scene, and I am always here for Lyanna Mormont making angry speeches.

More interesting to me was Sansa's ongoing - I don't know, political power-playing, I guess, with Littlefinger. Basically, every single time Sansa snarks at Littlefinger, or makes it clear she's not going to fall for his shenanigans, I gain a year of my life back, it's brilliant. That moment at the end was interesting, though: Sansa smirking at Littlefinger, him smiling back, and her smile slowly fading, indicating that even though he said he didn't want Jon to become King in the North, the fact that he is still plays into his plans.

I actually really enjoyed this episode - it's definitely one of my favourite episodes of the show so far, and the best series finale we've had in several years. Now we have the long wait for the next series, which I'm gathering might be the last, and is at the very least the penultimate series? It's also going to be only seven episodes long.

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