The White Raven Has Come
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The sixth season of Game of Thrones comes to an end. The Winds of Winter, entitled after the sixth A Song of Ice and Fire novel that will arrive on bookshelves at some point in the future, is a particularly bloodthirsty episode in a season that has been lighter on brutality (at least until last week) and imbued with a spirit of giving audiences more of what they want than usual. The deaths have been matched in their ferocity with reappearances (Benjen, the Hound, et cetera), the tragedies superseded for once with a display of righteous comeuppances (Alliser Thorne, Olly, the Khals, et cetera). A part of that is perhaps the desire to make up for an exceedingly dark fifth season that was seemingly determined to double down on the distinct sense of tragedy and absolute despair. A part of is the inevitability of the third act of a narrative, where a significant number of storylines have to be dwindled and tied down before the main thoroughfares of the narrative take shape and drive the story towards its noted bittersweet conclusion. That dwindling down of narratives has certainly been more expedient, efficient, and well-written compared to some of the narrative jumps before (the sudden appearance of the Faith Militant, for example) but in being more efficient the story has at certain points lost the cunning plotting Martin is so known for. It has at those times become so lean that Rickon’s running across the Winterfell battlefield in a straight line felt like an unfortunate metaphor for some of the writing decisions as a whole. There isn’t at the onset anything truly wrong with linear storytelling, but when a narrative is constructed with its backbone being composed of subverting expectations, at certain junctures those expectations have to be subverted. I’m thinking of the season’s greatest successes (Daenerys setting the temple of the Dosh Khaleen on fire, Hodor’s sacrifice, and Margaery’s note to Olenna come to mind) and they came with surprises that felt germane but thrillingly unexpected and intricate at the same time.
The Winds of Winter is thankfully an episode where there isn’t a great deal of extremely linear plotting, the hour plus episode filled to the brim instead with catastrophe after surprising catastrophe. Some of the catastrophe is expected, of course, but that isn’t as expected because of linear plotting within the episode itself. If it’s spoiled in that sense, it’s because of some unfortunately thick foreshadowing that took away some of what was executed here. That isn’t this particular episode’s fault, however, whose brutal sense of decompression is buoyed significantly from its status as a season finale. A significant number of storylines from this season and especially the past are brought forth to their denouements and what bloody denouements they are. This season there was a significant sense of schadenfreude this season that felt geared specifically towards not just the audience’s expectations but also wants. There has been, as evidenced by those descriptions of seeming benevolence, a sense of fan service and fan service is really the last thing that Thrones seeks to provide. There’s little comfort to be found in this world and indeed, when it does arrive, there’s a significant sense of dread as to how that joy will be counteracted. The Winds of Winter is the best season finale this show has provided without a doubt, exceeding every single one that has preceded it because it strikes that balance between the expected and the germanely shocking, a balance this season has at times struggled to maintain. The germaneness of the shocks is absolutely key here. At times, Thrones has been absolutely guilty of not being realistic in its shock value and indulges for the sake of said shock value more often than it really should. But here there isn’t a single instance of that (there are a couple of time jumps here that defy a bit of time logic, but since there isn’t a linear time flow here, it doesn’t bother me as much) here. Every shock feels weighted, significant, and shocking and manages to end this season on an incredibly powerful note. I am reeling in a way I haven’t since the death of Shireen, the death of the Viper, and the infamous Red Wedding.
Margaery, Loras, and Mace Tyrell all met their ends in a fiery feat of revenge from Cersei Lannister, essentially wiping out the Great House from the Reach. The Tyrells before this fiery feat of revenge had been arguably the most powerful house in all the Seven Kingdoms (both in the books and the show, although the circumstances of heirs is considerably different between the two versions). They had the greatest fields, one of the most intact armies, and they were in positions of relatively stable power (the word “relatively” took on considerably tenuous meanings here as time went on) while all of the other houses were crumbling apart. House Martell was gone. House Stark was barely alive, it at all by considerable measures. House Lannister had lost Tywin and then was crumbling apart faster than all of their debts they were always so keen to repay. House Arryn was in the control of an upstart man who had owned brothels. House Tyrell got there, however, not by sheer force, brutality, or the nonsense of aristocratic control. They garnered their power through intelligence and cunning but as Cersei noted to a cornered Littlefinger way back in season two, sometimes power overcomes knowledge and that is exactly what happened here. Loras admits to his “crimes” as expected and the High Sparrow sentences him to a lifetime of serving the gods. Margaery restrains an incredulous Mace but that isn’t enough to save their futures. Cersei doesn’t arrive for her trial and the High Sparrow, blinded by his arrogance, assumes that she will just submit to his punishment. Margaery, being the most intelligent person on the series until her very end, tells an idiotic High Sparrow that the gods don’t matter. Cersei has no intention of ever arriving to her trial and Margaery is the only individual who realizes the absolute terror of what that means. The High Sparrow underestimated Cersei and Margaery lost her life because of another man embroiled in the patriarchy, refusing to believe that a woman may have outsmarted him. It’s extremely tragic, witnessing that final exchange Margaery has, knowing that she was going to die. I’m extremely distraught at losing my favorite character in the entire series, but hats off to Natalie Dormer for a tremendous performance, to the show for its biggest improvement over the books, and for the writers for keeping Margaery Tyrell true to her character till the very end.
Cersei Lannister has gained the throne. Arguably The Winds of Winter could have easily been titled Hear Me Roar, the exquisite piece of music from the astounding Ramin Djawadi that plays when she sits the Iron Throne. At last, the dream she had always had, the power she has always coveted is hers at last. But to get there she lost everything she held dear. When the High Sparrow dies and Septa Unella is handed over to the Mountain, there’s a satisfaction (the former is tempered for me by Margaery’s fate) but there’s an acknowledgement that Cersei is wholeheartedly responsible by the parameters of that situation arising in the first place. When she takes the throne, it’s perfect for the character and Lena Headey once more is superb but I felt nothing for her except disdain. The sequence leading up to the Sept’s destruction, however, was absolute perfection. Djawadi’s brilliant score swells in the background as Pycelle lumbers through the Red Keep and meets his end at the hands of Kevan’s little birds; Lancel trips, gets stabbed, and watches with a terrifying eye as the pools of wildfire light up before his very eyes. In a way it’s fitting that Lancel’s last sight be the fires he himself helped create and there’s a darkness that slowly permeates the frame before the Sept shatters, its green smokes rising into the Kings Landing sky. It’s ironic, that the very act Jaime Lannister killed the Mad King for, the act which everyone assumed Daenerys might go the route of because of her father, was committed by the woman Jaime loved more than anyone. Based on the expression etched into his visage, it’s that legendary break between the two lions that are left and Cersei has gained the Iron Throne but she has lost all those who were at all dear to her. Cersei was always much more humanized in the show than in the books, but a unifying thoroughfare was the love she had for her children. Tommen watches the Sept burn and when the news arrives that Queen Margaery is deceased, a somber expression crosses his visage. He takes off his crown, walks onto the window ledge, and commits suicide by falling out of the Red Keep. It’s a tragic end for a poor child who was never meant to be a ruler and who never was raised by his mother to be one. The witch’s prophecy is fulfilled and the last humanizing trait Cersei had evaporated in one single stroke.
Thrones has slowly been taking material from A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons this season in conjuncture with the upcoming The Winds of Winter. The Siege of Riverrun is a prime example of that, allowing for a relatively organic way for the Freys to come back into the story. The Red Wedding hangs over the pall of Thrones in the way few fictional events ever have but it makes sense considering how much of a seismic shock it truly was to the psyche. There had to karmic justice for this great betrayal of guest right. Bran recalled the story of the rat cook, whose punishment from the gods caused him to turn from a man into a rat who consumed his own young. Walder Frey in more ways than one is like a rat, this stereotypically gnarly little creature that is more than content to nibble away at the scraps dropped by others. Jaime notes as much, disgusted by his continued chanting of his victory over the Starks and then the Tullys. Jaime leaves the Twins with a little bit of a warning, noting that if he indeed kept on losing the castles bequeathed to him, then there really was no point in the Lannisters keeping him around. It’s a threat similar to the one he made to Edmure, but his reputation is enough for people to note what he said and take it at significant face value. Jaime departs for an unfortunate surprise at King’s Landing and Walder is left as he often is, dining alone in the hall of the Twins, looking about at that great empty hall of his with an expression of someone who has lacked significant capacity to rise to any semblance of true self-respect his entire life. He has so many children that he couldn’t possibly keep track of them all but he does remember a handful of them. A serving girl comes by, serving him up a slice of pie. Walder notes that she isn’t one of his serving girls, slapping her on the ass as the charming man is so wont to do. The serving girl admits as much before she opens the crust of the pie. There were his children, one of whom’s eyeball was sitting right amidst the cooked meat. The serving girl takes off her mask and there is Arya Stark, standing in the hall where she had lost so much before. She wanted him to know whom she was and she wanted him to know that before his death, the last thing that son of a Frey would see was a smiling Stark. Karma strikes the Twins and Walder Frey bleeds out of his neck just like Catelyn Stark had done years ago.
The North is coming together after the Starks have announced their victory at the Battle of the Bastards. Houses Manderly, Cerwyn, and Glover are all underneath the ceilings of Winterfell, looking upon the victorious dire wolves they didn’t support. The issue of the wildlings takes over once more but Lyanna Mormont, being the consummate badass she is, shuts it down immediately. She shames all of the grown men who had refused to take up the Stark banner, reminding them in no uncertain terms that House Mormont hadn’t forgotten their duties and loyalties, even if everyone else had. She raises the call for the King in the North, but before her triumphant call is raised, however, two issues must be addressed. Sansa apologizes to Jon for not telling him about the army of the Vale but he acknowledges that if she hadn’t called for them in the first place, they would have certainly lost. She should be the Lady of Winterfell, he argues, but Sansa comes upon a little complication named Littlefinger. What Petyr Baelish has wanted was always a bit of a mystery but here he lays it out in no uncertain terms. He imagined being on the Iron Throne with Sansa by his side, but Sansa undercuts him brilliantly by having Jon installed as the King in the North instead. It’s a sharp maneuver to undercut Petyr, but the implications of Jon’s ascension are far more complex. After introducing the Tower of Joy sequence in episode three, the Thrones team returns to one of the most famed locales in the story’s lore to reveal the truth of what lay in the tower. Young Ned bursts through the room to find Lyanna Stark bleeding to death from childbirth. Lyanna doesn’t want to die, but she knows that time is upon her and before she goes, she wants to ensure a future for her child. “Promise me, Ned,” she breaths and Ned holds up the child close to his bosom. The sequence fades away and Jon’s visage came forward. The show has yet to establish the truth of the relationship between Lyanna and Rhaegar, but it has confirmed that longstanding theory that Jon is indeed not the son of Ned Stark and a tavern wench named Wylla but instead he was the bastard child of Lyanna Stark herself. Tormund had noted to Davos how Jon wasn’t a king but here he not only becomes one, he may also be the son of one as well.
As kings rise in the North, queens rise from the East and make their way towards the West. Daenerys Targaryen has finally set sail for Westeros, leaving behind the torturous Meereeneese knot for an uncertain, terrifying future on her horizon. Daenerys admits, for the first time in a while perhaps, that she is afraid. She doesn’t need another grandstanding speech, she needs someone who acknowledges that her fear is legitimate, that leaving behind even a chaotic reality may be creating a future that was far too uncertain for her. Tyrion may not be much of a consoler, but he is a man who isn’t afraid to speak the truth, even when it may very well be politically inexpedient enough to actually get him killed. And every ruler, especially one who has skirted at the edge of tyranny, needs an advisor that can be that truthful, that blunt, that effective. Daenerys has moved significantly towards larger leadership, leaving Daario behind because she knows that the best way to gain political legitimacy in Westeros would be through marriage alliances. Daario, even though he was a man who truly loved her, was ultimately a liability. It’s one of the first sacrifices Daenerys will have to make during her future conquest and rule but by taking that first step, she had agreed to a future full of those difficult, uncompromising decisions and Tyrion aptly notes that she was thusly ready to head towards her homeland at last. Daenerys then names the most honest man she knows to serve as her Hand of the Queen by taking the Hand’s pin and inserting it onto Tyrion’s chest. It’s truly touching to see Tyrion truly be treated for his true worth by someone for the first time in his life, someone whom ironically his family had almost wiped from existence. His eyes brim with gratitude and hope, emotions evoked in Daenerys’s eyes as a thousand (or so) ships with the Targaryen symbols ride off into the sunrise and towards the Westerosi shores. Daenerys’s departure is a hopeful ending of note, but as Sansa so aptly noted, the white ravens had come to announce that winter is here. The splendid sixth season of Game of Thrones thusly arrives at a close, three dragons leading a thousand ships into an uncertain future, their wings carrying the winds of a winter that promises to be the coldest one in a thousand years.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Miguel Sapochnik and Ramin Djawadi deserve Emmys. What astounding, beautiful work
+“Faith is the way, Father.”
+The Mountain stopping Tommen. I actually felt sorry for him at his moment of death
+“We all need to leave.”
+“I drink because it feels good.”
+“It felt good.”
+“You’re not going to die today. You’re not going to die for quite a while.” That’s cold.
+“Your gods have forsaken you.”
+Gorgeous cinematography of the Twins
+“The Freys and the Lannisters send their regards.”
+The White Ravens
+“Hello.” Oh Sam, you are everything.
+“Well, I suppose that life is irregular.”
+The chains hanging off of the bookshelves
+The library with the hanging astrolabes. Astounding.
+“You had a family… and feasts”
+Melisandre banished to the South
+“Only a fool would trust Littlefinger.”
+“Winter is here.”
+Olenna, Varys, and Ellaria out to exterminate the Lannisters? Count me in.
+Dany leaving Daario and the Second Sons behind to guard the Bay of Dragons
+“Farewell, Daario Nahaaris.”
+“You’re in the great game now and the great game is terrifying.”
+“They’re already here, my Lord.”
+“My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.”
+Cersei on the Iron Throne. Whomever designed that costume, take a bow. And everyone else, be terrified.
+That GORGEOUS final shot of the ships and the three dragons flying off into the air
*More thematic analyses and storyline deconstructions will continue to arrive throughout the summer. Follow for details! Thanks for reading this season, everyone! Valar Morghulis and see you on the flip side!
Episode Title: The Winds of Winter
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Image Courtesy: HBO