This was the episode where everything came full circle. After the breathless violence of last week, the finale of Game of Thrones season 6 delivered a different sort of tension. The first five minutes were unbearable - it felt like the suit-up sequence in a Marvel movie, similar in scale and ambition, but with entire dynasties on the line. It was incredible TV.We were spared a tedious trial.
Instead, we went straight to carved foreheads, wildfire, and whispered plots coming to fruition. The realisation came for me when The Mountain appeared at Tommen’s door, preventing him from leaving, but it was still an episode alive with surprises. Many guessed it would end this way, but it was still smart enough to still be shocking.
It was relentless. Tommen’s death was more horrific because it was so casual - they were scooping him off the cobbles of King’s Landing before I even realised what had happened. Cersei has won, then, but at the cost of almost everything she loves. Her coronation was suitably gloomy - she took the Iron Throne dressed in black, in a room full of unfamiliar faces. It’s not a huge surprise, since she melted most of King’s Landing’s aristocracy in the Baelor’s Sept. I’m impressed she managed to find any nobles left to attend.
After a season of her feeling more sympathetic, she’s suddenly gone full evil, and this episode cemented her place as the show’s premiere villain. Compared to Queen Cersei, the Night King looks like Frosty the fucking Snowman. This was clearest in the scene with Septa Unella, which quickly went from satisfying to chilling. Yes, she’s been unrepentantly cruel, but that bit with The Mountain was unbearable. Just when you think Game of Thrones can’t shock you into feeling sympathy, it discovers a depraved new low. Horrible.
There was better news in the north. Jon and Sansa seem more solid than ever. Littlefinger is still scheming - admitting that he wants the Iron Throne, and Sansa - but she seems to have the upper hand. We also got something we’ve been waiting for since the the Freys stitched Grey Wind’s head onto Robb’s shoulders - a proper King in the North, not a glass-eyed Bolton bastard. Lyanna Mormont, who’s become the breakout character of season 6, shamed other Houses into supporting Jon, and it now feels like there’s a sense of unity in the north. Too much unity, if you ask Littlefinger. It was also nice to see Wyman Manderley, even if his Frey-cooking culinary revenge was borrowed by Arya Stark. Again, it’s amazing to see Arya back in Westeros, scratching the most deserving names off her list. She could head north for a family reunion, but knowing Arya, it seems like she has knifework to do down south. I’d watch your (massive, armoured) back, Ser Gregor.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Daenerys has finally left Meereen. After six seasons in a political hamster wheel, waiting for her dragons to grow, the Breaker of Chains is heading to Westeros for a showdown. She’s changed, though - her cool treatment of Daario is proof of that. Let’s hope the advice of her new Hand, Tyrion, is enough to stave off the tyrannical tendencies that run in her family. It all seems straightforward, but there was one interesting twist. As her fleet sets sail we get a glimpse of Varys, who’s curiously gained Littlefinger’s powers of teleportation. Earlier in the episode we see him making deals with the Martells and Olenna Tyrell, both Houses eager for revenge against the increasingly-isolated Lannisters. Both remained loyal to House Targaryen during Robert’s Rebellion - could this mean old alliances are being reforged? It’s entirely possible.
This episode closed so many loops, brought so many stories full circle. Tommen falls from a window, just like Bran; Walder Frey’s throat is slit like Caitlyn’s; the Freys are murdered at a feast by a Stark; Cersei torments an imprisoned Unella. Bran’s flashback is a huge deal, too. We know the truth. Jon isn’t who we thought he was, but even more. Lyanna’s repetition of the word ‘promise’ even validates the idea of Jon being the prince that was promised, but let’s hold back from calling him Azor Ahai just yet. On a lesser scale, it also gives this season a pleasing symmetry. Just as Lyanna Stark made Ned promise to protect Jon, Lyanna Mormont protects Jon at Winterfell (even if she was wrong about the Stark blood running through his veins - expect more on that in season 7). The Winds of Winter was a satisfying conclusion to the best Game of Thrones season yet. Where previous seasons got worse the more they deviated from the books - we’re looking at you Pointless Death of Ser Barristan - season 6 has just got better. Get hype, people. Winter is finally here.