Monday, June 27, 2016

The Winds of Winter

Last night's season finale of Game of Thrones was in many ways just as inevitable as last week's Battle of the Bastards, depending on how much you've been reading between the lines of previous subtext, checking out online fan theories, and/or reading (and re-reading) George R.R. Martin's books. Still, inevitably was far more satisfying this week (for me, at least) than last week, in large part because of the big emotions that accompanied all the big action. One thing's for sure, this season upended the show's tradition of the "more contemplative episode 10 to follow the bonkers episode 9."

Let's start in King's Landing, where Qyburn's strange talk of "rumors," Tyrion's pointed story about wildfire to Dany, and Bran's prior vision of wildfire casks all came to a head. Cersei went to a place even madder than the Mad King, setting off the wildfire to destroy the Sept of Baelor and all of her enemies. Well, she would say all... but Cersei being Cersei, she was thinking only of her immediate problems and not anticipating the fallout from her actions. The alliance of the Martells and Tyrells against her (and joined by Daenerys, thanks to Varys -- Cersei couldn't have anticipated that) will surely be more than even a great tactician could handle. And that's not Cersei in any case.

But this story line was about more than its flashy ending. First, we had a long opening montage setting things up, scored by conspicuously sparse music that really set the tone for something fateful and irrevocable to take place. We also had Loras' trial first, a sad ending for that character. I do like the moment when Margaery's mask of false piety fell and she cursed the gods in her efforts to spur everyone to leave the sept. It did confirm for us in those final moments that her recent actions have been part of a ruse -- though it's a shame we'll never know to what end. She allowed her brother to be mutilated and indoctrinated, though, so I'm not sure it was such a great plan.

We also saw that Qyburn's version of the "little birds" are not just information gatherers. They're a bunch of stabbing little psychopaths that carved up Pycelle into pieces and left Lancel to bleed out helplessly in the underground. Yikes.

In the morally complex world of Game of Thrones, where the tables constantly turn, it was hard not to enjoy the moment where Cersei got her revenge of Septa Unella. Objectively horrible as it was to tie someone to a table and hand her over to the Zombified Mountain (who we briefly got to see without his helmet), it was hard not to cheer Cersei on in that moment.

But her joy would soon turn to ashes with the moment Cersei could never have predicted. Tommen committed suicide, having lost his wife, the High Septon who had converted him, and countless lives he actually cared for (more than Cersei, for sure). Cersei wound up Queen on the Iron Throne, but having lost all of her children to the endeavor. And even if a combined group of foreign enemies weren't now solely bent on her downfall, it seems as though her methods would surely have left most of the people of King's Landing against her too. Look what she might do to you!

King's Landing didn't bring us the last of the episode's deaths. Over at the Twins, Walder Frey got the ending everyone has been so furiously wishing upon him since the Red Wedding. First, though, he got put in his place by Jaime, who told him off for the worthless ally he really is, a pretender to power. That scene itself was enough to put a smile on your face.

But later, of course, Arya got a hold of Walder Frey. And her idea of justice was even more twisted than the most of the audience would have concocted for him. Killing off all his children, baking them into a pie, and forcing him to eat it? Yikes. Then, and only then, did Arya unmask herself and give Walder a sendoff that made the warm feeling from the previous Cersei/Unella scene seem infinitely small by comparison. Good riddance to one of the shows biggest remaining villains, and hello to vengeful Arya and her list of names.

In a moment of joy that didn't require the audience to be glad about vicious murders, Sam finally reached Oldtown. Whether the maester thing works out for him or not, you had to simply enjoy the moment where he came face to face with all those books. (Though perhaps earlier developments in the show had tainted that a bit. I couldn't help but think as I looked at that vast cache of books: that's a serious fire hazard. Do they really want to keep those all in one building?)

In the north, we saw the fallout of last week's confrontation at Winterfell. (Whose symbol during the opening credits had been restored to the dire wolf.) Davos came at Melisandre with a full head of steam, but settled for seeing the Red Woman exiled instead of killed. But the way he promised to kill her if he saw her again carried the sort of import that usually Means Something in this story. Certainly, it doesn't seem likely she'll just ride off into the sunset never to be seen again. It seems unlikely that, having resurrected Jon Snow herself, that she'd ever change in her conviction that she's the Prince Who Was Promised. And yet it is notable that if she's now heading south (generally toward Dorne?) she might be on a path to encounter the other person who Red Priestesses have anointed as the chosen one: Daenerys.

Sansa and Jon's conversation was perhaps the one unsatisfying scene in the episode for me. Not because I wanted sparks to fly between them, because as Jon said, they can't be against each other now. But because Sansa apologized for hiding her secret army without providing any reason for doing so. So I hold to my assertion last week -- she let thousands die for the sake of her dramatic entrance. Sigh.

After six years, Littlefinger finally revealed his ultimate plans to someone else. And while his ambitions had been clear to anyone watching, hearing him say the words out loud, that he meant to seat himself on the Iron Throne, certainly carried weight. His twisted love/lust of Sansa may hold him in check for a short while, but watching him sit in the corner as the North crowned Jon Snow their king, you have to wonder how long that love/lust will keep him from enacting another betrayal. Sansa at least articulated it earlier: only a fool would trust Littlefinger. So we'll see what happens when he turns coat again.

And as for that scene in which Jon Snow was crowned King in the North, it was interesting that it came in the wake of the reveal of his true parentage (oh, we'll get to that), and yet that fact didn't play at all in his "coronation." Bastard and all, the North demanded him. That's patriarchy for you. Maybe I'm just sad that I'll never get to see the person I most want on the throne now, young little badass Lyanna Mormont.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daario said the words that fans have been thinking (or shouting) for years now: "Fuck Meereen." I'm curious where the need to have Dany leave Daario behind comes from -- is that how things will play out when George R.R. Martin writes the story? Was this some sort of deal worked out between Game of Thrones and Orphan Black over recurring guest star Michiel Huisman? ("Let us have him all this season, and you can have him all next season?") Are we meant to think that Dany is further growing up as a ruler by leaving him behind? I'm not sure what that all amounted to.

Well, other than the following scene, in which Tyrion once against became Hand, trusted advisor and executor to royalty. Tyrion's speech about belief was a powerful one, and made clear that he's behind Daenerys not out of mere opportunism.

And though I'm now jumping to the end of the episode, Dany's story finally took us to the moment we've all been waiting for, the heroic shot of her thousands of ships sailing the ocean, with three dragons flying high above. Here she comes to kick some ass.

I skip to the ending in order to get to one scene last: Bran's vision of the Tower of Joy. The theory of Jon's parentage has been so widely discussed among fans (book and show) that it even had a name, "R+L=J." I don't seek out spoilers myself, and yet I can't remember I time when I didn't know this theory (and I'm fairly sure that I didn't suss it out myself the first time I read the books). The theory seemed so inevitable, so right, that it only left people quibbling over details: was this a Return of the Jedi thing where Jon had a twin sister too? Was the promise Lyanna extracted from Ned something more specific that just to take care of her child?

I'm glad that the truth was simple, not trying to surprise people by adding some other twist. (And I'm sure there were some people out there for whom even this much was a surprise, a twist.) We can all finally move on together, though: Jon "Snow" is really the child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark -- the legitimate heir to the iron throne, with blood of fire and ice in his veins. Of course, with his eyes on the real enemy, the White Walkers, it seems unlikely he'll come into any serious conflict with Daenerys over his claim to the throne. And that's even assuming Bran ever hooks back up with him and reveals this information. And if anyone believes Bran when he does. Or if they even care -- as I said earlier, the North seems to have no qualms seating a bastard on their throne.

So there you have it. Season six had a few ups and downs, but I think it punched out strong with their best episode of the year, a cathartic, wild ride. I give the episode an A. And now our watch begins... the long wait until next season.

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