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Game of Thrones season finale – The Winds of Winter review

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There are many types of Game of Thrones’ fans from action junkies looking for a fix of swords and blood through to those who get a rush from well-scripted, verbal stoushes between two contrasting characters.

This distinction gets blurry at times but the show’s massive appeal lies in its ability to marry these two opposing ideals. What has made the story so compelling so far is that it constantly flips conventional hero and villain storylines on their heads.

The narrative guide of George R. R. Martin’s books is a post-modernist take on these arcs; the classic heroes fall short of their goals, the supposed villains are revealed to be complex, multi-faceted people — and along the way a whole lot of people get killed.

I don’t know if it’s because the show has gone beyond its original source material, but these intriguing shades of grey have become bland and monochromatic.

It’s getting easier to recognise who the writers want us to root for without giving us cause to think of the consequences. Last week, Sansa fed a man to a pack of dogs and Daenerys burnt an entire ship of enslaved soldiers to a crisp.

These were presented as fist-pumping moments of triumph where the ‘good guys’ finally won and the ‘bad guys’ got their comeuppance. They tied up some loose narrative ends, but I’m not sure the show fully conveyed what impact these choices has on those involved.

There’s an inescapable sense that the show is preoccupied with hurtling towards big plot points and visually spectacular events at the expense of nuance and a comprehensible logic.

That said, The Winds of Winter is a triumphant ending for a solid season. Named after the long-awaited still unpublished sixth book in the series, it does a good job of completing many of the story arcs while stoking anticipation.

Cersei’s orchestration of the big bang at King’s Landing may have been a little predictable if you were paying very close attention, but its results were not.

Conveniently the entirety of the Faith from the head honchos to the very last foot soldier were inside. It tied up any need to explain what they were really trying to do and why they supposedly had a lot of popular support.

Revenge is a dish best served in pastry, but it’s not one which should leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.

Sure the High Sparrow was a power-obsessed hypocrite, but beyond a ‘power to the people’ mantra there was little that defined his ideology beyond a distrust of monarchical power structures and a predilection for public shaming. Vanquishing them in one fiery blow helps hide the fact that there didn’t appear to have any long-term goals they were working towards.

Apparently Margaery’s game of deception was all for naught. Her main contribution to this season’s plot appears to have been convincing Tommen to believe that the crown and faith were indivisible entities that couldn’t survive without each other.

Perhaps Cersei was so consumed by the prophecy of her children’s deaths that Tommen’s passing in her mind was inevitable; perhaps she simply saw the opportunities presented; or maybe she can’t emotionally handle more child mortality– but her lack of recognition of his death was odd.

We’ve been given two overarching motives for Cersei’s actions: her love for her children and fear of a prophecy detailing their death. Not acknowledging the irony that sees her creating the circumstances for her offspring’s suicide seemed like a lost opportunity.

Arya’s return to Westeros with face-changing assassin credos and culinary chops to impress Sweeny Todd and Mrs Lovett (proving her greatest mentor was Hot Pie) was another fitting finale for one of the show’s most successful villains, Walder Frey.

Let’s be clear: Arya just murdered several people in cold blood, chopped them up, baked them into a pie and then fed it to their father. Revenge is a dish best served in pastry, but it’s not one which should leave a pleasant taste in the mouth.

Bran appeared to take us back to flashback land – but what he saw confirms one of the longest running and most beloved fan theories. The truth of Jon’s parentage as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen (Daenerys’ oldest brother) and Lyanna Stark (Ned’s younger sister) has been so dissected among fans that it has long been considered quasi-canon.

Showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have said that George R. R. Martin only agreed to let them adapt the books after they correctly answered the riddle to Jon’s real parents. There’s enough hints in the books that Martin may incorporate this reveal into the larger ‘ice and fire’ themes of the series, but it appears Benioff and Weiss are happy to do the reveal and let Martin explain why it may actually be important to the story.

The season-long wait for Davos to confront Melisandre over Shireen’s death finally was over and it was anticlimactic to say the least.

The confirmation of R+L=J (as the theory is commonly referred to) is played as a small beat in Jon’s ascension as the new King in the North. It’s fitting that it was Lyanna Mormont who first raised her voice in support of his claim.

The season-long wait for Davos to confront Melisandre over Shireen’s death finally was over and it was . . . anticlimactic to say the least. The outcome made some kind of sense, but why we had to wait ten episodes for Melisandre simply to wander off on her own ruined any investment in this conflict. This scene could have easily have occurred in episode three and there would have been no impact on the plot and the resonance of Shireen’s death would have felt much more recent.

Dorne was a thing that happened. Ellaria killed Prince Doran in the season premiere because he refused to do anything. She brought a new, strong style of leadership and then apparently spent the entire season sitting around doing nothing. If anyone could make it interesting then it was the Queen of Thorns – and Olenna Tyrell delivered.

Sam made it to Oldtown for an impressive CGI shot of the city, the library and some tedious bureaucracy. There’s much to look forward to in 2017. Apparently Sam could take an ancestral sword of immense value with no one bothering to come after him.

Brienne and Pod are still rowing off-screen (presumably with Gendry) and the Hound was brought back for no other apparent reason than to supply a few wisecracks and hang out with other characters we haven’t seen for several years.

Daenerys finally sets sail for Westeros sans Daario, but with the added power of most of the Greyjoys, Dorne and the remaining Tyrells behind her. Add a few dragons, a Dothraki horde and a whole lot of unsullied and it’s hard to imagine what living Westerosi army can stand against her.

But they leave the most interesting question hanging – what does Daenerys really want? Does she really just want to avenge her family? To reclaim her birthright and the throne she holds claim to? Or is it really to make the world a better place?

To conquer the Seven Kingdoms she will have to lay waste to many of the forces who oppose her and this will result in a lot of short-term suffering for many innocent people.

But maybe we shouldn’t talk about it too closely given that no one seemed to acknowledge that thousands of people died last week because Sansa neglected to tell Jon about an entire army on its way to join them or any of the King’s Landing civilians who were collateral damage in Cersei’s explosion.

And now my watch has ended, The Winds of Winter brings season six of Game of Thrones to a close. Thanks for reading and we’ll be back next year.

6 responses to “Game of Thrones season finale – The Winds of Winter review

  1. “but her lack of recognition of his death was odd”. To me she looked totally gutted. When the realisation sunk in the attitude was “f*ck them all. I’ll take the throne and be done with it”. Jaime will turn and end up killing her to save the kingdom (I think).

    “Sansa neglected to tell Jon about an entire army ” apparently because of a lack of trust in what Jon would do at the news. I found it infuriating but maybe it will lead to a tighter bond between the two and a diminishing of Baelish’s manipulations.

  2. Dany made a pointed statement about marriage being a path to tactical advantage in the struggles ahead, yet R+L=J makes Jon Snow her nephew and seems to rule out a union. I’m wondering if Jaimie Lannister might feature here. He seemed repulsed by his ruthless sister at her coronation and in earlier seasons we’ve glimpsed a worthy heart seeking redemption. Roll on 2017!

    1. Not for the Targeryans. They are right into incest. It’s not going to happen anyway. I’d be more inclined to believe Dany and Jaime.

    2. Yes but Jon Snow doesn’t know he’s her nephew! I don’t think he even knows who Danyrus Targaryen is does he? Let alone who his own own mother and father are! When you don’t know what you don’t know, everything’s on the table.

  3. Such an infuriating show. I watch each episode then have to read something like this to find out what happened.

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