Well, with the final episode of the season, Game of Thrones returns to inconsistent form. There are several really nicely done scenes, a lot of garbage, and the season ends more or less where A Dance With Dragons does for Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Cersei. For everyone else, everything is terrible and makes almost no sense. I mean, it’s terrible and nonsensical for Daenerys, Jon, and Cersei, too, but at least their story lines have something to do with the books the show is ostensibly based upon.
Like last week, this episode opens with Melisandre, who is much more sanguine following the sacrifice of Shireen and in light of an apparent thaw. Icicles are melting inside Melisandre’s tent, and outside she’s ankle-deep in mud as she heads off to tell Stannis the good news. Stannis is cold towards her, however, which is just as well since Melisandre’s news of a break in the weather is the only good news he’s going to get all day. Half his men have deserted in the night, taking all the horses, and Selyse has killed herself. While Stannis is still processing this, another guy comes to tell him that Melisandre has just ridden out of camp.
I hate that Selyse is killed off this way. During Shireen’s burning last week is the first time we’ve seen any maternal warmth from Selyse at all, after two seasons of her Lady Macbeth-ing it up and mostly just ignoring Shireen altogether. And now this week we’re supposed to believe that she’s abandoned her faith and lost hope so completely that she’s killed herself without even waiting to see if the sacrifice paid off? Bullshit. Like with Talisa’s presence and death at the Red Wedding, it’s a case of the writers wanting to dispose of an inconvenient female character and counting on the audience caring as little as they do about whether the women in the story get treated with dignity.
Also, if all the horses are gone, how did Melisandre ride out of camp on one?
At Castle Black, we get the first scene of the episode that I mostly like. Jon and Sam are catching up after their separation, and it’s actually an almost great scene for Sam. Jon tells Sam about the army of the dead and seems to acknowledge the futility of the Hardhome mission. Also, the futility of pretty much anything the Night’s Watch can do to stand against the dead, which has things looking pretty bleak for the watchers on the Wall.
Sam, on the other hand, wants to ask Jon a favor. He requests that Jon send him, Gilly, and the baby south to Oldtown, where Sam will train to become a maester and then return to the Wall. I’m so happy that this is happening, even if it is belated. I also like that they made it Sam’s idea, giving him a bit more agency in his own story and letting him come up with an idea that actually makes sense for once. I was really disappointed by how much the election of the Lord Commander was abbreviated earlier in the season, and this helps make up for that a little by at least showing some small part of Sam’s character growth. Then it’s ruined with some gross comments about Sam’s sexual relationship with Gilly, but it was nice while it lasted. Our last view of Sam and Gilly this season is them loaded up in a cart and leaving Castle Black.
As Stannis and his remaining men approach Winterfell and get ready to settle in for a siege, it soon becomes apparent that won’t be necessary, as an enormous host of Bolton soldiers rides out to meet them in the field.
Inside Winterfell, Sansa sneaks out of her room to light the candle in the broken tower herself. Elsewhere, Podrick sees Stannis’s army on the move and goes to tell Brienne, who stops watching for Sansa’s light literally seconds before Sansa gets it lit. Because, of course. This sort of “near miss” situation is what passes for drama in the world of Benioff and Weiss, even though it would have been even more interesting to let Brienne see the light in the tower and force her to choose between her perso0nal vengeance against Stannis and her vow to protect Sansa. Trust D&D to always do the easy thing, though.
There’s no budget for an actual battle scene at this point in the season, so we just get to see a bunch of dead bodies in the snow while the Bolton troops are mopping up. Somehow, Stannis manages to survive long enough for Brienne to find him so she can pontificate embarrassingly at him when he obviously just wants to die in peace. In the end, it’s not even clear whether Stannis has really died at all because we don’t actually get to see it. Which doesn’t make sense at all.
After Stannis’s sacrifice of Shireen last week, I’m pretty sure everyone hates him enough that his death would feel like some kind of justice–unless, of course, we’re supposed to direct all our anger over Shireen’s death at Selyse, who’s already dead by her own hand, and Melisandre, who is currently compounding her villainy by abandoning fan favorite Stannis in his time of need. Which is pretty much exactly what I think we are supposed to be doing. Because, somehow, after everything, I don’t feel like we’re supposed to really hold Stannis accountable for his own actions. We’re supposed to see him as tragic and noble in this final scene, and we’re supposed to think that maybe Brienne will turn her blow aside at the last minute after all, even though she has no reason to and we won’t find out for sure until next year.
Back at Winterfell proper, Sansa tries to return to her room without being seen and is caught by Myranda, because goodness knows we haven’t had a scene of Myranda gloating over Ramsay’s abuse of Sansa in a couple of weeks. This is just as pathetically misogynistic as previous, similar scenes, but it does somehow manage to spur Theon into doing something. As Ramsay arrives back at the castle, Theon pushes Myranda off the ramparts to her death, grabs Sansa’s hand and drags her up the wall of the castle, where they leap off into the snow, which doesn’t look nearly deep enough to break their fall.
Myranda might be the thing I hate most about all of the Ramsay stuff because, on the show, Myranda’s support of Ramsay and her participation in his depravity makes her look worse than he is. Because Ramsay is evil, but Myranda is stupidly evil for being with him because it’s super obvious that he’s not safe for her. I hate how Myranda has been created on the show exclusively as a character for the viewer to hate without remorse, even as Ramsay has been given greater depth in the show because D&D wanted to explore his daddy issues. I especially hate it here because we’re supposed to cheer for her death. And we’re not cheering for her death at Sansa’s hands, which could have been read as Sansa’s (another woman’s) victory over internalized misogyny (represented by Myranda). We’re meant to cheer Theon for rescuing Sansa from Ramsay, for whom Myranda acts as a stand-in.
In every way, Sansa has been systematically regressed and robbed of agency and power this season, and her character growth has been completely sacrificed in order to give Theon an opportunity for redemption. I won’t even dignify it by calling it a redemption arc because it’s literally only in the last seconds of this scene that Theon seems to regrow a spine. It actually begins with Theon entreating Sansa to go back to her room while Myranda aims a bow at her, and it’s only when Sansa seems to refuse that Theon finds his own courage. Tellingly, though, it’s not Sansa who grabs Theon’s hand, and it’s not Sansa who leads the way up to the wall they leap from.
For a show based on source material that is so lauded for subverting and questioning standard fantasy tropes, Game of Thrones will always do the boring, hackneyed thing if given half a chance. The interesting thing to do here would have been to have Sansa leap on her own. Or to reverse the damsel in distress trope and have Sansa kill Myranda in her own self defense and then rescue Theon as she makes her own escape. This second option would even have offered interesting character growth for Sansa, as we’ve already gotten to see her feelings for Theon evolve from hatred and disgust to a sort of pity–they could have evolved again here to a sort of forgiveness that would allow her to take him with her. This even would have given Theon the opportunity for an actual redemption arc in the future as he tries to prove his usefulness and loyalty to Sansa after she rescued him.
That’s not what we get, though, because D&D are hack writers who have proven for two straight seasons now that they both do not understand or respect the spirit of the source material at all and are incapable of any actual independent thought. They hew close to the source material when it’s convenient to them, and they seem desperate to include certain events come hell or high water, even if the events no longer make sense in the context of the show. Otherwise, they shit all over fans of the books and insult the intelligence of even the most unsullied viewers by filling the rest of the show with just the sort of tired, dated, boring tropes and storytelling tricks that the books are so famous for critiquing.
Meanwhile, in Braavos, we’re back to Meryn Trant and the brothel, which has managed to provide him with not just one but three children to abuse this week. As Trant walks down the line of girls, beating them with a cane, it’s obvious that one of these girls is not like the others. Oh, shit, it’s Arya. Who could possibly have seen this coming? Oh, everyone? Well, I guess that just makes this a disgusting and gratuitous scene of a grown man sexually abusing children in a brothel for no other reason than as window dressing for a preordained scene of Arya’s bloody revenge. This is the most gruesome death scene since we saw Oberyn Martell’s head squished like a grape last season, but I couldn’t enjoy it because it was coupled with yet another scene of sexual violence. It’s exactly what I predicted last week, but it’s still a little sad that the show’s reliance on sexual violence for shock value and titillation is so predictable. I guess I should just be thankful that these poor girls were all reasonably covered up.
When Arya returns to the House of Black and White, she’s met by Jaqen and the Waif, and she’s punished by being made blind. There’s also a bit of a mindfuck here where there’s a fake Jaqen H’ghar who kills himself and Arya starts pulling a bunch of faces off him, but I’m honestly just terribly bored by this stuff. The House of Black and White is gloomy, the Waif is cruel, Jaqen is mysterious, Arya is vengeful, and everything about this is horribly predictable.
In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn are departing with Myrcella and Trystane, which starts off uneventfully enough. Even Ellaria and the Sand Snakes seem resigned to how things have turned out, and Ellaria gives Myrcella a motherly kiss goodbye while Tyene tries to bite off Bronn’s ear in what is hopefully the last bit of that particular piece of vomit-inducing trash writing.
Once the boat is on its way, Jaime tries to have a heart to heart with Myrcella, who isn’t as stupid as D&D have previously written her to be. She figured out about her mom and uncle father Jaime ages ago and is totally cool with it. This conversation could be sweet if it wasn’t so anti-climactic, and it could offer some hope that Myrcella might turn out to be an interesting and canny player of the game once she gets back to King’s Landing. Unfortunately, that’s probably not in the cards for her, since she keels over in the middle of hugging her dad, showing signs of the same poison that almost killed Bronn in the dungeon. Back on the dock, Ellaria’s nose starts to bleed as well, and she wipes off her poison lipstick and quaffs a tiny bottle of antidote.
The whole Dornish plot this season has barely even qualified as a plot, and these last couple of scenes are no different. I’m sure that the poisoning and likely death of Myrcella are supposed to be shocking, but I really just feel mildly annoyed at how little sense any of this makes. Many readers of the books have complained about the Dornish plot and how it doesn’t seem important to the main story, and though I’m not one of those readers–I actually love the Dornish plot in the books–I do think that if they weren’t going include any of the actually interesting stuff about Dorne in the show they shouldn’t have bothered including it at all. Even without any Bran Stark or Yara Greyjoy scenes this season, basically all the story lines they covered could have used a few more minutes of screen time. Instead of doing the Iron Islands, which with the horn of dragon controlling and the part they play in the Battle of Meereen in the books would make more sense, Dorne was implemented in a way that adds nothing to the main story at all.
With no Aegon plot (fake or otherwise) and no Quentyn in Meereen, Dorne in the show feels pretty much completely cut off from everything else important that’s going on, and Jaime and Bronn’s sojourn there feels like filler created just to give those two something to do. I’m inclined now to think that Bronn should have just been written off with his marriage to Lollys as he was in the books, and Jaime should have been sent to the Riverlands to deal with things there offscreen. Everything that has happened this season in Dorne could have been handled better by raven. Or not at all because it was entirely poorly written crap that doesn’t make any sense to add to the story in the first place. Poor Trystane, though, I guess. That kid is fucked when they get to King’s Landing. I could imagine Jaime giving him a break, but Cersei is going to lose her shit if Myrcella is for real dead.
On the other side of the world in Meereen, it’s time to see how Tyrion, Jorah, Daario, Missandei, and Grey Worm are holding up since Daenerys flew off on Falcor Drogon last week. Without addressing how they managed to fight off the Sons of the Harpy, escape the Pit of Daznak, and retain control of the city, we’re taken straight to Daenerys’s throne room, where Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario are bickering about which one of them deserves to serve Daenerys more. Missandei brings a still injured Grey Worm in so he can join in on the fighting over who gets to go searching for Daenerys. In the end, it’s decided that Jorah and Daario will ride off in search of their queen. Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm will stay in Meereen to rule the city. Which doesn’t make as much sense as Daario and the show writers seem to think it does, but sure.
As Jorah and Daario exit the city, again mysteriously unmolested by the Sons of the Harpy, Tyrion is watching from the walls above when–surprise!–Varys shows up. I kind of uncritically love all conversations between Varys and Tyrion and this is no different. I’m unashamed to say that I don’t care how this happened; I’m just happy that Varys is here because I’ve missed him since Jorah kidnapped Tyrion, and even though every line of dialogue in this short conversation is redundant and verging on silly I just ate it up because these two characters are my favorite on-screen pairing in the show. This is also the first moment in the episode that made me think that maybe I’ll watch next season after all (still 85% not watching, but I was 95% not watching going into this episode).
Somewhere green and beautiful, a good distance away from Meereen, Drogon has brought Daenerys back to his “lair,” which is really just a kind of scorched spot on the ground filled with bones from things he’s eaten. Daenerys tries to get Drogon to take her back to Meereen, but he basically turns into a very large scaly cat and pretty much ignores her in favor of licking his wounds and snuggling down in his bone pile. She even tries just hopping on his back, only to be unceremoniously dumped off. When she realizes that Drogon isn’t in a mood to be helpful, Daenerys wanders off to look for food or something, but instead she finds a whole army of Dothraki. As they surround her, she removes an enormous ring from her finger and drops it on the ground.
I hate the way this happens in the show. I hate that they played the interaction between Daenerys and Drogon for laughs. I hate that they don’t deal with the several weeks of time that pass in the book while it’s just Daenerys and Drogon. And I hate that it looks like they are separating Daenerys and Drogon and having Daenerys captured by the Dothraki instead of the way it happened in ADWD where she’s standing right next to her dragon when she meets the Dothraki. Between that, her look of fear, the way she drops her ring, and the knowledge that Daario and Jorah are already looking for her, it looks like even being an actual dragon queen isn’t enough to keep a woman from becoming a damsel in distress on this show. I could be wrong, but I’m probably not, and it really seems like they’re setting Daenerys up to be in need of rescue next season.
Next up is Cersei’s confession and walk of atonement, which I am surprised and pleased to report manages to mostly do the source material justice, although this is entirely due to Lena Headey’s superb talent as an actor, since the writers seem to have been more concerned with really capturing the feel of what it might be like for a woman to walk through a YouTube comments section brought to life.
The High Sparrow seems to betray his political sensibilities after all when he accepts Cersei’s confession so easily and doesn’t pressure her to confess to more. Perhaps Cersei’s confession, the walk, and the planned trial are enough for him. It seems likely that, even if he’s a zealot, the High Sparrow recognizes the value of maintaining a stable monarchy in a wartorn country, especially if the monarch is a child who can be easily controlled by holding his mother (and wife and brother-in-law, although there’s no mention of the Tyrells in this episode) hostage. In any case, for all the the High Sparrow has ostensibly been above such worldly concerns, his satisfaction with Cersei’s minimal confession and his willingness to let her return to the Red Keep suggests that he’s not entirely above politicking after all.
The walk itself is harrowing, and while watching it isn’t the same as reading it from Cersei’s point of view in ADWD, you can clearly see the progression of Cersei’s emotions. During her confession she’s calculating, and she simmers with fury even as she kneels before the High Sparrow. As the septas wash her and cut off her hair, Cersei’s eyes glitter with rage. Even as she stands in front of the crowd while the High Sparrow recounts her confession, her head is held high, and she gives every impression of being a person just going through whatever motions she needs to in order to get what she wants. It’s not until near the end of her walk that Cersei’s stony demeanor starts to crack, and it’s only as she actually begins crossing the final bridge into the Red Keep that she actually breaks down sobbing.
Lena Headey deserves an Emmy for this performance, but I actually have to give some credit to the rest of the production here as well. It’s not often that Game of Thrones handles nudity with maturity and sensitivity, but they manage to do so here for the most part. There’s a good amount of Cersei’s body on display, since it is a fully nude walk, but I didn’t get the sense that anyone went out of their way to focus on her tits the whole time. That said, the scene did start to drag a little after a while, and it did begin to seem as if someone in the production was reveling a little too much in yet another instance of the show sensationalizing the degradation of one of its major female characters.
I would say that at least Cersei’s walk of shame gets to be wholly about her, but I don’t think that’s actually the case. She has to share the spotlight, in the end, with Qyburn and Qyburn’s monstrous creation, who is the newest member of the Kingsguard. Zombie Gregor Clegane actually looks pretty cool, and the slightly warped armor that doesn’t quite really fit is a very nice touch to show that something isn’t quite right here. My question about this is the same as my question about it in the book, though. How does no one else notice? I’d just think that someone would point out that this new Kingsguard guy is real weird, especially since Cersei has been temporarily out of power. The look on her face as Ser Zombie carries her away definitely underlines that “temporarily” though. She’s had her little breakdown, but she’s already scheming again because Cersei Lannister is nothing if not resilient.
Finally, the episode (and the season) ends with Jon Snow at Castle Black. First, he’s dealing with Davos Seaworth, who is trying to convince Jon to send some men south to help Stannis at Winterfell. Then Melisandre shows up alone and completely changed from the confident woman who rode out with Stannis earlier this year. The good news, I suppose, is that Jon is off the hook for helping Stannis. The bad news is literally everything else, and Davos’s face at the news Melisandre brings is the most heartbreaking possible thing I could have seen in this episode.
Later that night, Jon’s steward, Olly, comes to tell him that there’s been some news of Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, who’s been missing in action since season one. Surprise, though! There is no wildling with information about Benjen; there’s just a grave marker looking thing that says “TRAITOR” on it and a bunch of men of the Night’s Watch with knives. Alliser Thorne looks almost regretful as he drives the first dagger into Jon’s chest, and Olly looks absolutely conflicted as he drives home the last one, but none of the men look back as the walk away to leave Jon bleeding out in the snow. The last shot of the episode is of Jon’s dead face–no white eyes to suggest that he’s warging, although a screenshot leaked prior to the episode airing would indicate that this was at least a possibility. Just going by what we’ve seen on screen, then, it would seem that Jon Snow is actually dead, making this almost certainly the largest body count for major characters in any single episode of the show.
The thing is, it’s not entirely certain which characters are actually dead and which ones may still have a little life left in them. That, of course is the big question we’re left with at the end of this season, if we ignore other important concerns like whether or not the show runners will ever get tired of heaping violence and humiliation upon the show’s women and girls or if the writers will ever stop wasting the immense talents of actors like Alexander Siddig and Indira Varma on horrible tripe like, oh, every scene in Dorne this year. I tend to be at least slightly skeptical of the permanent death of any character whose cold, dead corpse I don’t definitely see on screen, so here’s my best guesses:
- Selyse Baratheon – Definitely dead, because she’s outlived her narrative usefulness and D&D are generally quick to dispose of female characters who don’t have a particular reason to exist any longer. Much like Talisa Stark, Selyse has to die in the show so no one has to think of something for her to do without her husband (or daughter, in Selyse’s case) to give her life purpose. Much like Ros, Selyse’s now-inconvenient existence is ended off screen, although at least Selyse was given the dignity of keeping her clothes on when we see her dead body.
- Meryn Trant – Definitely dead, and gruesomely so. This is probably the only death in this episode that everyone can agree on the finality of, although Trant wasn’t exactly a major character, either.
- Stannis Baratheon – I would say definitely dead. With no army, no wife, no daughter, and with Melisandre having abandoned him, there’s not really anything for Stannis to do if somehow Brienne missed her strike. And I can’t imagine that she did or that she’d suddenly have a fit of mercy and change her mind. While her revenge against Stannis didn’t really feel earned, and sentencing and executing him while he’s already bleeding out after a spectacularly disastrous military loss doesn’t seem sporting, I don’t think Brienne is actually all that honorable when it comes down to it. Not on this issue. Mostly, though, if Stannis isn’t going to win the Battle in the Snow, I don’t see that there’s any reason to keep the character around any longer. With screen time already at a premium and going into the sixth of seven planned seasons, it’s about time to start paring things down, and it’s not surprising that Stannis is the first to go as he was never a serious contender for winning the Iron Throne in the long run.
- Theon and Sansa – Definitely alive, although battered probably, from jumping off of Winterfell. That snow was nowhere near deep enough to completely cushion their fall. The big question regarding this pair is where do they think they’re going? With Stannis’s army slaughtered and the Wall a month’s ride away when they’re on foot, their only chance is probably Brienne and Pod who don’t know to be looking for them–and going to the nearest town would probably be a terrible idea since that would probably be the first place that Ramsay would look for them.
- Myrcella Baratheon – Almost definitely dead, which is too bad. Myrcella’s knowledge and acceptance of her true parentage suggests a character who could have been an interesting player in the game of thrones, especially if she’d returned to King’s Landing bringing Dornish values with her–namely the Dornish custom of eldest children inheriting regardless of gender. She and Trystane could have been a formidable couple, and I would have loved to see them go up against the formidable-on-her-own Margaery and puppet Tommen. Alas, I think this is not to be. While Bronn could likely identify the poison Ellaria used, I doubt they have any antidote handy, and I don’t expect the writers intend to introduce another new power dynamic to King’s Landing this late in the series. Also, admittedly, a dead Myrcella will likely introduce just as much chaos as a live girl could have. There’s no way Cersei is going to take this well.
And, finally, Jon Snow:
I have to only give Jon even odds at this point. His on screen death looked pretty final to me, and Kit Harington has outright said that he won’t be returning in season six. If that’s not true, it would be the first time in the show’s history that they’ve pulled this kind of bait an switch, so I’m half convinced. I’d like to think that Kit and the show runners wouldn’t fuck with their fans like that.
However, I don’t believe Jon Snow is dead in the books, and I do believe that, even if he’s not endgame going to sit the Iron Throne, he still has an important part to play in the future. Additionally, it just doesn’t make sense to kill him off right now.
- With Sam departing Castle Black with Gilly, losing Jon would leave us with no main point of view character at the Wall. Also, with Jon dead, there would no longer be any reason for Sam to return to the Wall after becoming a Maester.
- Davos and Melisandre are both there, but without Jon there’s no reason for them to remain there and no particularly direction for them to leave.
- With Stannis dead, the Wall and Jon Snow is the only logical destination for Sansa and Theon, which could ultimately force a confrontation between the Boltons and the Night’s Watch that would only work if Jon Snow was at Castle Black.
- If Jon Snow is dead, who is going to take over the defense of the Wall? Alliser Thorne seems the likely answer, but to what end? While Thorne disagreed with Jon’s decisions about the Free Folk, I can’t see Thorne leading the charge to murder women and children, either, especially with the army of the dead on the way. In this respect, the way the show has handled things, it actually seems a little silly to even have the attempt on Jon’s life in the first place except for dramatic reasons–basically to be a thing that happens to grow Jon as a character who learns or changes from the experience.
Essentially, if Jon Snow is really dead, then all bets are off for how the rest of the show plays out. I have no predictions for that scenario, because I think Jon Snow is that important to the story.
The worst thing? I don’t even particularly like Jon Snow. I’ve often jokingly thought and said that it would be great to not have to read through any more of his mopey POV chapters in the books. But the truth is, I don’t see how the story goes on without him.
Jon Snow’s apparent (or actual) death could be compared to the offing of Ned Stark in the first book/season of the show, but it’s not like that at all. Ned Stark was doomed from the start, and his death was honestly not nearly as shocking as its sometimes made out to be. Indeed, Ned Stark’s death was heavily telegraphed (as was Robb Stark’s, later on). Also, even if someone missed the hints that Ned Stark was fucked, A Game of Thrones is the shortest book in the series so there wasn’t that much time to get attached to Ned (who wasn’t that likable anyway) AND it’s Ned Stark’s death that sets off most of the events in the rest of the series. As far as Robb Stark’s death, well, Robb wasn’t even a POV character.
This isn’t the case with Jon Snow, who has been a POV character for the entire series, with the second most chapters in the books after only Tyrion Lannister, and who is central to numerous fan theories. Even if all of the fan theories and speculation are wrong, there’s an incredible amount of hinting and foreshadowing in both the books and the show that Jon is going to play a significant part in the future–which he can’t play in the show if he’s dead.
Even though all the evidence on the show and the statements to date from people involved in the production seem to say that Jon is dead and Kit Harington isn’t coming back, I have to say I don’t know how they can be serious. Certainly I hope they aren’t. Going into this episode I was about 95% not planning on watching the show in season six, but by the time Varys popped up in Meereen I was about 60% going to watch it. When I was finished, I was about 80% in for next season, but Jon Snow’s actual death could be a dealbreaker for me. Not because I like the character that much, but because I just don’t see how the story continues without him unless every single fan theory and speculation over twenty years of ASOIAF fandom and, for me, over seven years of personal participation and investment in the GoT/ASOIAF phenomenon is totally wrong.
I’m slowly coming to terms with the increasingly obvious fact that this show/book fandom is something I’m in for better or worse. If the last two seasons haven’t completely killed my love for it, I’m not sure what could–except the sort of complete betrayal that would be the permanent death of Jon Snow at this point.