“The Winds of Winter” was fucking wild, you guys. Not good, mind you, and (like the vast majority of season six) mostly nonsensical if you think about it even a little bit, but still a wild ride from start to finish. I rather liked last week’s episode because—taken in isolation, at least—it was actually a good hour of television. This episode, however is a complete mess of weird pacing, unintentional hilarity, bizarre self-importance, and complete disrespect for the source material—we’re talking just absolutely ridiculous adaptational decisions here, folks. Add in some blatant fan service, loads of Benioff and Weiss’s peculiarly misogynistic brand of “feminism,” and an absurd amount of teleportation, and things only get worse. Unhyperbolically, it’s seriously some of the worst garbage I’ve ever seen masquerading as prestige television, and it’s absolutely clear that the show’s writers do not give a fuck anymore about the source material, audience expectations, or anything else but wrapping up this monstrosity they’ve wrought for the last six years as soon as possible.
In short, it’s Game of Thrones at its best and worst, and I loved watching it. Still, most of my reaction is just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Spoilers under the cut, as always.
The episode opens with the preparations for the trials of Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lannister, and this is presented as a montage that swaps between looks at all of the major players in this drama as they get ready for the day. Like many parts of this episode, this is actually nicely done (if a bit on the nose) when taken out of context. There’s a definitely sense that all of these characters are girding themselves for battle, and some of the costumes even have distinctively martial-seeming elements that add to the overall effect. Still, Cersei’s black dress with the jeweled epaulets and not-even-remotely-setting-appropriate fabric is a bit much. It’s fine, I guess, and I do love those jeweled accents (that ring!), but it looks more like something from Jupiter Ascending than from a medieval fantasy. And unfortunately, when looked at more broadly, all of the King’s Landing stuff this week was basically a disaster.
Poor Loras has clearly been abused during the time he’s spent in the High Sparrow’s custody, but Margaery has finally arranged things so that—theoretically—all Loras has to do is confess and he’ll be allowed to live out his days, albeit without name or lands or titles. On the one hand, this seems like it kind of defeats the purpose of living for someone like Loras, upon whom the entire future of his house rests (since the show neglected to include either of his older brothers). I guess he’s supposed to become part of the Faith Militant, since they mutilate his face by engraving it with the seven-pointed star symbol. But, hey, being alive is better than being dead, and I suppose Margaery was out of options and didn’t have a lot to negotiate with since the High Sparrow has had pretty much everyone over a barrel for a while, so okay?
Margaery is furious about her brother’s mutilation, but that is quickly overridden by fear when she realizes that Cersei isn’t showing up for her trial. I’m not sure why Margaery suddenly has such a bad feeling about everything, but she’s absolutely right to be concerned. Elsewhere, Cersei has gotten dressed in her straight-up evil queen dress and had Tommen imprisoned in his room. It’s pretty clear that Cersei is up to no good. Again, I end up liking parts of this sequence, as Margaery’s rising panic and her attempts to convince people that they need to leave the Sept add to the tension building. Natalie Dormer is a truly fine actor, and it’s too bad that she’s been so poorly utilized in this role. She deserves so much better.
Again elsewhere, we learn that Pycelle is still patronizing prostitutes (with a truly gratuitous bit of female nudity because this show is so feminist now) but also stiffing them. I figure this is supposed to get us geared up to cheer for Pycelle’s imminent death, but it mostly just comes off as an excuse to show a nude woman on screen in a season that has had very little nudity (for Game of Thrones) so far. As Pycelle bustles off towards the Sept to attend the trial, he’s stopped by one of Qyburn’s creepy children. When Pycelle gets to Qyburn’s laboratory, Qyburn sics the rest of the children on him, so Pycelle actually ends up dying more or less the way he did in the books, only totally differently because in the books it was Varys, returned to strategically kill a few people in order to destabilize the country ahead of Daenerys/Aegon’s return. Here, it’s just Qyburn murdering Pycelle in an intentionally and intensely personal way when Pycelle would have died anyway if he’d just been allowed to head to the Sept with the rest of all the important people in King’s Landing. It’s a perfect example of the ways in which this show consistently shows some attention to the source material’s details without showing any concern or understanding for the actual meaning of the source material.
When it becomes clear that Cersei isn’t going to show up after all, Lancel and some of the Faith Militant are dispatched to bring her by force. However, Lancel is distracted when he sees a solitary child sneaking around the otherwise totally empty streets of the city and he decides to go see what the kid is up to. The child lures Lancel down to where—surprise, surprise—all the wildfire that Tyrion didn’t use during the Battle of the Blackwater is still being stored, which is apparently all under the Great Sept. Once he’s down there, Lancel gets shanked by the kid, and while he’s lying on the floor with a severed spine Lancel notices that there’s a big puddle of wildfire on the floor with several low-burning candles floating in it. He tries to go blow out the candles, but obviously doesn’t make it and the Sept and everything else in a several-block radius is destroyed while Cersei watches proudly, glass of wine in hand.
Poor Tommen also sees, and it’s terrible to see the moment when he realizes what has happened and who is responsible. There’s not much time dedicated to Tommen, however. I’m not sure it would have made a difference, but Cersei doesn’t even bother to try and comfort Tommen, leaving him alone to quietly take off his crown and throw himself out a window. Cersei, you see, has more important things to do, like torturing Septa Unella, mostly by letting zombie Clegane rape the other woman. This is all profoundly misogynistic, from top to bottom, really, and it’s honestly sickening to see it framed as some kind of victory for feminism—Cersei is taking charge, and she’s avenging herself on the woman who upheld the patriarchy, natch. This scene, uncomfortable and unpleasant as it is, is presented as if it’s simply a kind of poetic, if brutal, justice.
It’s not that I don’t think we’re supposed to be critical of Cersei at all, but it does seem like we’re, ultimately, intended to cheer for her rise to power. Even in the end, when Jaime returns to a still-smoldering King’s Landing just in time to see her being crowned Queen (because what even are laws of succession?), it’s clearly Cersei’s moment. Sure, she may have become an evil queen, but we seem intended to understand her as complex and nuanced rather than wholly wicked in spite of the atrocities, big and small, she has literally just committed.
I just have so many questions about this all. Who made Cersei’s dress? Why is she so poorly supervised that she can just refuse to show up for her trial? How did she get all the wildfire under the Sept? Speaking of poorly supervised, why is literally no one watching Tommen ever? Why did Margaery get so frantic about getting everyone out? Why depict a despicably violent act of homophobia onscreen when everyone is just about to die anyway? How does Cersei have any claim to the throne whatsoever? Why does Qyburn have the authority to crown her?
In the Riverlands, Walder Frey is holding a feast to celebrate the victory at Riverrun and the solidification of his alliance with the Lannisters. I guess this stuff is supposed to be character work for Jaime, but we don’t really learn anything new about him. He plays wingman to Bronn to highlight how devoted Jaime is to Cersei, but this could also just be intended to be comic relief because these writers think it’s hilarious to have Bronn say and do gross things. Then Jaime chats with Walder Frey, who points out that they’re both kingslayers now, which offends Jaime enough that he lashes out with a zinger to put Frey back in his place. This seems more calculated to show how awful Walder Frey is and, in hindsight, to prepare us for his death. This tactic—of highlighting the villainy of characters just before offing them—has really started to become a major tell, and I’m surprised I didn’t catch it this time.
The biggest reason I didn’t catch it, though, is because Walder Frey isn’t killed by Jaime or Bronn or even some Tully loyalist. Instead, Arya has apparently just teleported in from Braavos to do the deed. I’ve seen much being made of the brutality of this death—Arya has baked Walder’s sons into meat pies, which she (in disguise) serves to him before cutting his throat—and more being made of Arya’s smile as Frey’s blood gurgles out of his neck, but I just don’t get the logistics of this. How did Arya get here so quickly? Why does she have access to faces after flunking out of assassin school? Why and how did she think up the cooking his sons into pies thing? Those are huge pies! How did she get them baked so quickly? How did no one see her butchering two sons of the Lord of the Twins? Why didn’t Arya go to Winterfell like she said she was doing?
Sam, Gilly, and Oldtown
This is sort of a highlight of the episode for me, because I love scenery porn, snide fantasy bureaucrats, and libraries, but it’s still pretty terrible.
How did Sam and Gilly just ride in a slow cart down a major road with a priceless family heirloom that Sam stole from his literally murderous father and no one is in pursuit? Didn’t white ravens get sent out back in like season two? Is Gilly’s baby ever going to age? Why have these guys in the center of all the world’s learning still not heard about major news events? Did Sam seriously just leave Gilly and baby in the foyer?
Jon Snow starts this episode with complaining to Melisandre about his spoiled little rich boy problems, but Davos interrupts to rat out Melisandre for burning Shireen. Davos is sad and angry and perhaps rightfully so, pointing out when Melisandre insists that sacrificing Shireen was “the only way” that “they all died anyway.” He accuses her of lying about the whole thing, and she responds that she didn’t lie, she was just wrong, and for a brief second there’s the glimmer of an interesting and complex idea to be explored through this storyline. Unfortunately, that moment passes quickly and the scene moves right along to Melisandre being banished from Winterfell on pain of death, which is framed as just and fair in a way that sucks any nuance and complexity out of the situation.
While Melisandre is riding away, Jon and Sansa have a talk up on the battlements of Winterfell. Basically both of them are like “no, you should take mom and dad’s room and the title,” and then they agree that they ought to trust each other more. I actually really like this scene, which is quiet and sweet, and both Kit Harrington and Sophie Turner brought their A-games. Jon and Sansa’s ambivalent feelings about who is actually going to lead at Winterfell, the weirdness of one of them taking their parents’ room, Sansa’s rueful apology for not telling Jon about the Vale forces and Littlefinger, the news that “winter is here”—I kind of love all of it because it’s very human and relatable. It’s also the last time this episode makes any kind of sense whatsoever.
The scene that was in the trailer for the episode, with Littlefinger and Sansa, wasn’t quite as gross as I expected it to be. It’s actually one of the few bits of all the North stuff that halfway makes sense this week, with Littlefinger rightly reminding Sansa of her legitimate claim to Winterfell. However, he goes and ruins it by saying that he wants to take the Iron Throne for himself and rule the Seven Kingdoms with her at his side, which is a nonsensical aspiration for him to have. Previous rulers have ruled with dragons or because of lawful traditions (the Targaryens), and even the warrior king Robert Baratheon had a specious claim to the throne through his Targaryen grandmother or whatever. Stannis had a legal claim as Robert’s heir in the absence of legitimate children, and Daenerys has a legal claim. But Petyr Baelish is lowborn, only elevated to his title through being useful to the Lannisters he’s now betrayed, has no martial accomplishments of his own, has never been responsible for any property greater than a hovel, and is one of the least-trusted men in Westeros. Something tells me his prospects of becoming King are not great. Then again, laws and politics have proven themselves to be no barrier to Benioff and Weiss’s plot contrivance theatre this week, so I guess more unlikely things have happened on this show.
The last scene at Winterfell this season is Jon trying to wrangle the Northern and Vale lords into some kind of alliance to fight zombies, I guess, while Sansa just sits silently by. Instead of either of those two actually accomplishing anything, it takes 10-year-old Lyanna Mormont to rally the lords and get them to make Jon the King in the North. Lord Manderley (!) inexplicably credits Jon with avenging the Red Wedding, even though all Jon did was almost get everyone killed before having to be rescued by his sister. He also calls Jon the White Wolf, even though Ghost still isn’t anywhere to be seen. While all the lords start chanting “The King in the North!” Sansa and Littlefinger share some kind of inscrutable look.
What does any of this mean? How does Jon’s claim, admittedly somewhat strong, beat out Sansa’s much stronger one? Is Lady Mormont just secretly angling to become the next Queen in the North? Is the show actually setting us up for Jon/Sansa endgame? How does everyone just completely overlook Jon’s ineptitude as a military commander? And the fact that he abandoned his Night’s Watch vows? And that he’s been raised from the dead? No one cares about any of this?
What!? I never expected to see Dorne again, but here it is. Olenna apparently did manage to make it out of King’s Landing, and now she’s in Dorne to treat with Ellaria Sand, who is in charge there now. Nevermind how or why. In any case, Olenna is furious about Cersei murdering her whole family, and now Olenna is apparently in charge of what’s left of House Tyrell, which doesn’t make any sense but okay. Olenna is mean to the Sand Snakes, which I have to admit gave me a chuckle, and Ellaria says they should be allies, offering Olenna vengeance, which seems to please the older woman. Then Ellaria rings a bell and Varys comes out—I guess this is his secret mission, though I do wonder how he could have guessed Olenna would be there—and sweetens the deal with an offer of “fire and blood” before the show cuts to Daenerys.
Obviously, this return to Dorne is a thing that no one ever asked for, but here it is, turning up like a bad penny to make no sense at all for a couple of minutes. Although I did laugh a little at Olenna, I also have to admit that her antics are getting stale. This bit where she just insults younger women and treats them like they’re all stupid is really not actually funny, and it’s long ago passed to point of just being her shtick. The Sand Snakes are still awful, and perfect angel Indira Varma is still wasted in the role of Ellaria. Finally, in an episode that takes a giant dump all over anything resembling sense-making laws of succession—you know, the basis of all political intrigue and drama in a feudal society—this is the most completely absurd example of the problem. Why are any of these women in any position of political power at all?
Finally, we all get to find out who Jon Snow’s mother is. Hurray. There’s no surprise here, and the show declines to answer any of the broader questions about the circumstances of Jon’s conception and birth. Also, and this is purely a book reader complaint, there were no blue roses, which is total bullshit. Why weren’t we given more information after a season of hemming and hawing? Why don’t we get blue roses? Why don’t we get the really pertinent information, like whether or not Jon Snow is a legitimate Targaryen? What is the deal with that ridiculous transition from the 4-month-old baby to which Lyanna just gave birth to Jon’s face? Who thought that up? Where did Howland Reed disappear to? Why is Lyanna all blood from like the neck down? Does anyone in charge of this show know how childbirth works? Are these awful, vaguely Scottish accents being used to try and make Tyrion’s terrible joke from a couple of episodes work?
Back in Meereen, Daenerys is taking a page from Cersei’s book and alcoholically fortifying herself to break up with Daario, who accuses her of just doing whatever Tyrion tells her to do now. Daenerys, of course, denies this to be the case, and I originally bought it, in spite of her recent trend of overvaluing Tyrion’s advice. However, after dumping Daario, with whom she hasn’t even shared even a single loving moment this season anyway, Dany walks right out and has a conversation with Tyrion that more or less confirms that Daario was right and that she was doing this because Tyrion said she ought to. Between this and Dany’s lack of emotion, I pretty much hated everything about this scene.
Sure, it makes sense for Daenerys to leave her lover behind at this point. This is actually her wisest course of action, for several reasons, but the way it’s handled on the show is garbage. Why is Daenerys leaving Daario in charge? What are his qualifications? The Bay of Dragons, now? Okay, but there’s about to not be any dragons there. Why doesn’t Daenerys feel anything? Is she okay?
By far the biggest problems I have with this bit are that apparently Daenerys is instituting a democratic form of government to the former Slaver’s Bay, which makes no sense, and Tyrion advising Dany to leave Daario in Essos apparently happened offscreen, which robs us of what could have been a nice parallel between Tyrion and his deceased father and could have allowed an interesting exploration of Tyrion’s character growth, especially how he has been affected by his experiences. Maybe there could even have been some recognition of the effect Shae’s death at his own hands had on him. But, nope, that’s not a thing we’re going to see on screen. Instead, we get to see Daenerys naming Tyrion her Hand after he gives her a truly patronizing speech about self-sacrifice and stuff.
Finally, the last scene of season six is Daenerys finally getting on her way to Westeros. This is actually pretty cool and suitably epic, though I do wonder how the Dothraki suddenly all look like expert sailors. Also, I didn’t notice it the first time I watched because I was wondering how Varys teleported back so quickly, but some of the ships have the Dornish sun on their sails, so it’s not just Varys who got back inexplicably quickly; it’s a whole fleet of ships that teleported in. The dragons still look cool, and I guess we’re in for a bunch of epic battles going forward with a pared down cast and basically nothing left for the show to do but have all-out war.
The real question, though, is how are they going to squeeze in more brothel scenes now?
- That fabric on Margaery’s dress is incredible.
- I love how Pycelle actually tries to fight those kids off, so we got to see an old dude punch a couple of little kids in the face.
- Tommen’s death might be the most unintentionally hilarious thing this show has ever done, but it’s actually a nicely conceived scene. I think that if Cersei had cared more about his death, or had been given some time to actually grieve for her last child, it would have made the whole thing more impactful.
- “She wants your golden fingers up her twat” becomes an even more disgusting comment when we learn the true identity of the girl Bronn is talking about.
- The librarian at Oldtown is my favorite character on this show ever. What a glorious asshole.
- That whole thing with Arya and Walder Frey and the pies gets sillier every time I watch it.
- Theon is looking well.
- I really do love the designs of the house sigils and banners.
- Seriously, though, where is Ghost?