By James Hancock June 26th, 2016
I’m just going to come right out and say that I think “The Winds of Winter” was the best episode to date in all six seasons of Game of Thrones. From a story standpoint, the episode was incredible with a variety of plot twists that I’ll be chewing on for days, but even more impressive was the level of filmmaking involved. From a technical perspective I felt like I was watching a giant blockbuster movie production, an experience I have never felt while watching any television show. For several years now, readers of the books and fans of the show have complained periodically that as much as they love the story, what they want more than anything is to see Daenerys finally invade Westeros. Well that wait is now over. Episode 10 of season 6 ends with a full scale invasion across the Narrow Sea while in the North we see the Starks finally back in full control over their homeland. It is probably the closest thing to a happy ending we are ever likely to see either on the show or in the books. Be that as it may, Winter is no longer coming, Winter has arrived in Westeros and with it comes an army of the dead. I would never assume that the show will end in some epic face-off between all the living characters versus all the dead. This story has always been unpredictable and I don’t believe for a second it will end in some grand contest of good versus evil like in The Lord of the Rings. So until we have more information to work with, we can only speculate about the next season and talk about the amazing ending to season 6, one which should go down in history as one of the most talked about episodes in HBO’s entire library of original content.
“The Winds of Winter” opens with an incredible sequence in King’s Landing with no dialogue at all as all the major characters in the city prepare to go to the trial of Cersei and Ser Loras Tyrell at the Sept of Baelor. The music alone was giving me chills and I knew from the look and the pacing of the episode that I was about to see something special. Loras makes a full confession before giving up his lordship and title and pledging himself to serve the Sparrows. His sister Margaery becomes enraged as the Sparrows carve their symbol into his forehead. I knew something was up when the show cut to Tommen being detained in his room by the zombie Gregor Clegane. As it turns out Cersei never had any intention of letting the Sparrows sit in judgement of her. With a few quick assassinations of Lancel and Maester Pycelle, we see Cersei and Qyburn set in motion their final plan of using barrels of wildfire to blow up the entire Sept of Baelor and everyone in it. Margaery tries to warn everyone and escape with her brother but she is too late. In the aftermath, Cersei imprisons Septa Unella (the sanctimonious wench who worked for the High Sparrow) and lets her know exactly what she thinks of her. Cersei knows Unella was never trying to do good but that she was only using the cause of the Sparrows to make herself feel good by attacking others for their alleged transgressions. Cersei frankly states that she also likes to feel good, especially when she is fucking her brother. It is an incredible moment that has turned Cersei into one of my favorite characters on the show. Cersei then leaves Unella in the care of Gregor Clegane. Poor Tommen can’t handle the shock of what’s happened in King’s Landing and throws himself out a window.
After all the insanity we saw in King’s Landing, the episode gave us a chance for a bit of a breather. We see Walder Frey bragging to an unimpressed Jaime about reclaiming Riverrun. We see Sam and Gilly arriving in Old Town in order for Sam to study to become a Maester. Up north Ser Davos confronts Melisandre about burning Stannis Baratheon’s daughter. Rather than execute her, Jon simply banishes her to the South. Jon and Sansa discuss who should take Ned and Catelyn’s room and emphasize their need to trust one another. Right then, a white raven arrives from the Citadel in Old Town announcing that Winter has finally arrived, something Ned always warned his kids would eventually happen. Down South in Dorne, we see the Tyrells and Martells negotiating an alliance against the Lannisters, a relationship that has been brokered by Varys. Across the Narrow Sea in Meereen, Daenerys breaks the news to her lover Daario that he and the Second Sons will be remaining behind in case she needs to wed for political advantage in Westeros. Tyrion and Daenerys have an amazing scene where he cautions her about the dangers of playing the great game for the Iron Throne whereupon she names him Hand of the Queen. I’ve been waiting for years for Tyrion to have this opportunity and I’m kind of shocked and amazed that something this great actually ended up coming true.
The great moments just kept coming as the episode cut back to Riverrun where Walder Frey was eating a meal and waiting for his sons to arrive. His serving girl informs him that he is actually eating his sons. As he tries to process what is happening, the girl peels off her face and reveals herself to be Arya Stark. I about starting cheering out loud. She tells Frey who she is before cutting his throat and getting her revenge for the Red Wedding. I hope her career as a super assassin is only getting started. Back in the North, Sansa tells Littlefinger she is not likely ever to be his bride and even less likely ever to sit beside him in the throne room of King’s Landing. North of the Wall, Bran says farewell to his Uncle Benjen who is unable to go South of the Wall due to spells that were embedded in it many years ago. Accepting his role as the Three-Eyed Raven, Bran looks deep into the past to the time when Ned Stark tried to rescue his sister Lyanna from Rhaegar Targaryen’s Kingsguard. We see what many hardcore fans have suspected for years. Lyanna gave birth to a son and whispered his name to Ned before begging him to protect her boy from Rhaegar’s enemies. Ned immediately adopted him as his son and named him Jon Snow.
At this point I was starting to notice that the episode was longer than normal and I began hoping that it would a two hour episode. That was not meant to be but we did get treated to a few more amazing scenes. We see a great meeting of all the major families in the North very reminiscent of the first season when Rob Stark was named the King in the North. With the young Lady Mormont leading the charge, all the major families swear loyalty to Jon Snow and declare him the new King in the North. At that point, I had goosebumps so bad on my forearms that all the hairs were standing straight up. Back in King’s Landing, Jaime arrives just in time to see Cersei reassert her power over Westeros as Qyburn crowns her as the new Queen. Somehow I always knew that one day she would sit on the Iron Throne and seeing her dressed in black at the height of her power was strangely satisfying even though I once completely despised her. Now I kind of love her. This show is insane. At any rate, the episode draws to a close with the Greyjoys sailing Daenerys and her army across the Narrow Sea with Dany’s three dragons swooping about dramatically between the ships. It might be the most epic moment yet in the history of the show and it is but one of the many reasons why this episode is my all-time favorite in all six seasons so far. I might have wavered in my faith in the show in season 5, but I am 100% back on board. The Spring of 2017 can’t arrive quickly enough.