HOUSE SCM MOTTO: What is spoiled may never be a spoiler.
Before we begin, I want to ask, regardless of how good this episode was, does this season deserve a good finale? As fine as a handful of the episodes have been in the middle of the season, has it really hung together? I’m really not sure. No one would be surprised or disappointed if it became apparent, that in its sixth season, Thrones was starting to show signs of age. Nothing can keep going full pelt forever; it only took till the second season of Heroes for it to almost completely run out of steam.
I don’t know how I felt about the season as a whole. For every good moment, it had a couple that simply dragged. (Or, as I call them, Mereen. And Dorne. And Braavos till Arya found theatre.) I think a lot of my love for the show sometimes comes from a desire to still think it can be the show it once was or occasionally still is, but for the most part it feels like a show in need of an ending that’s not as close as it needs to be. Many storylines, even if they work scene-by-scene, don’t represent a satisfying whole, and some seem utterly forced – to what end did we need to see so much of the Stark war campaign trail?
There were times when I wondered if I actually liked it as much as I wanted to. I want this show to be as good as it should be, especially with the cast it’s able to gather – it’s probably killed off a better cast than most shows have – but with reports that there are only two seasons (and 13 episodes between the two of them) to go, there haven’t been many signs of movement towards an end in the lead-up to this finale. Regardless, let’s chat about what actually happened:
Cersei, Tommen and High Sparrow are re-enacting that one scene from Mad Men but without The Decemberists playing; Loras (looking neither invincible, Iron, or fisty) shivers in a dungeon pre-trial; Pycell gets whispered to by a small person; Loras confesses to his crimes and it gets intense; a bunch of children stab Pycell to death; Lancel is also stabbed by one of Qyburn stabbing orphans but he doesn’t die; he crawls through the catacombs only to find a big ol’ pile of wildfire; presumably RIP High Sparrow, Margy, Loras, Mace, Lancel and anyone else who was in the Sept of Baelor; everyone burns while Cersei sips wine; Cersei tortures the evil Sparrow Nun; RIP Tommen, you got out while the getting was good; the Freys and Jamie celebrate their victory but Jamie’s angry because he did all the work; RIP Tommen for some reason; Sam and Gilly have made it to Oldtown but Gilly and Sam Jr. aren’t allowed in the library because they might get woman or baby parts on the books; Davos wants to kill Melisandre for killing Stannis’ daughter; Jon has her exiled; Jon and Sansa see a white raven; they said it was coming but Winter’s here; Varys enlists Olenna and the Martells in Dany’s campign, making this the best thing; Dany has to leave Daario’s pretty beard behind to rule Mereen till they choose their own leader, and then she names Tyrion her Hand; more Frey action as Walder gets Titus Andronicus-ed by Arya Stark; Sansa gets creeped upon by Littlefinger; Benjen leaves Bran to do Three-Eyed Raven things and then he sees a vision of Young Boy Ned holding baby Jon; Lady Mormont rallies the Northern lords behind Jon Snow, AND FINALLY Cersei is crowned Queen, but the TarGreYtellRellRys alliance are heading to Westeros, and Season 7 is set for shit to get real.
So I still don’t know if it’s because of how lacklustre parts of the build-up have been, but, especially in comparison to what came before, this was one hell of a finale. The opening 20 minutes or so were pure perfection. The build from Cersei getting her battle armour ready through to Tommen, shellshocked, stepping off the balcony, taking in an incredibly tense trial scene; Qyburn’s gang of Little Bird fourvels, and some nicely understated work from the first near-full sighting of the Mountain’s reconstructed face, there was so much to unpack.
Especially shocking was the near-callous way with which they dispatched so many of the major players of King’s Landing. As much as I knew she never could, I wanted Margy at least to escape purely because it seems so utterly cynical of the writers to suggest that Margy had something at play and was moving the chess pieces, only to blow her up. Or maybe all she wanted to do was get out of there before it all, well, before what happened did. But that’s Thrones all over – people die, and not always when they’re meant to. As much as there will be losses felt from the events of the finale, at least Natalie Dormer, Jonathan Pryce et al got some wonderful moments.
Cersei’s coronation had the right amount of grandeur, with a Dr. Horrible–esque flair to her look of ‘and I don’t feel a thing’ as she finally had the throne. Tommen’s death, meanwhile, was something of an oddity. Beautifully shot and with a calm perfection by the young actor, but it was certainly a shock as it doesn’t answer any questions about him. Tommen was never the deepest character in terms of explanations but, boy, if you blinked at the wrong time it sure was confusing for him to suddenly be on a slab.
Still, that’s now three for three on dead Lannister kids with two poisonings and one own goal. Also, it lends a certain dramatic irony that, in episode one, Jamie and Cersei pushed Bran out of a tower; they lose their last son by him doing the same to himself. If I can give one small criticism of this sequence, I don’t know what the time span of this episode was, but Jamie got back to King’s Landing for that coronation bloody quickly.
Talking of confusing time spans, how long has Varys been waiting in Dorne just to surprise Olenna? And how did they catch up with Dany so quickly? There are certain arguments to be made that this scene was contrived, but it was made in order to create an ending spectacle as we see the ships of four different females sailing off to take the seven kingdoms. I mean what a spectacle though. The scenes leading up to this union serve as something of a microcosm of the series, with the scenes leading up to it feeling well done within them.
Dany and Daario’s ‘break-up’ scene was particularly affecting, even if it does free up Dany for Yara (but they don’t really amount to much more than build-up). If the ending is still spectacular, does it justify the means? If we’ve spent six years waiting to watch Dany cross the seas, does it actually matter when it happens? Now it has, it was as good as it should have been, but was it earned? I don’t entirely know. Did it leave me feeling good? Oh yes.
Meanwhile, in Riverrun, Arya crossed a name off her list. I don’t think Jamie’s involvement in this storyline needs much comment as all it amounts to is a small dick-waggling contest in which the resolution is both of them are dicks. Luckily, Arya seems to have learnt at least one thing from her two years in Braavos and is playing the game of faces like a champ. (Also, Hot Pie taught her well; I don’t eat meat, let alone human, but that crust looked delicious.)
I don’t know whether I’m in a minority but this was a shock in an episode full of them for me. I thought at first that Jamie had paid the serving girl to kill Frey but, once again time-frame allowing, Arya getting another kill was a truly glorious moment, a real feelgood, heartwarming, aww shucks centre to the episode. Side-note: first a play within a play based on the play, then a pie made of sons as revenge, Arya is working through the greatest hits of Shakespearean tragedy. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of Season 8, she’s gone crazy in a storm.
Once again, arguably contrived with Davos finding the deer, but his confrontation with Melisandre over the burning of Stannis’ daughter was undeniably effective. Since his introduction, The Onion Knight has been high on my list of favourites, partially down to writing but a lot of it down to the unshowy performance of Liam Cunningham. Every time someone else has tried to steal a scene, he has quietly sat back and supported them in a generous and affecting way, but when Westeros’ only Geordie stepped up to the plate, he delivered the goods.
It seemed a particularly earned scene as well, since last week didn’t give him anything to do. You deserve better, Davos. There aren’t many of the ‘old white guys with beards’ left in Westeros now but I’m glad he’s one of them. Otherwise, I don’t know whether they were hinting at Sansa bearing the late Ramsay’s heir but something was going on there.
Full marks as well to Young Lady Mormont who, for such a young actress, is ably to deliver steely determination better than the veterans around her. If she had more than her 62 men, she could have taken the seven kingdoms already. Further side-note: you know my bet that Iain Glen’s ‘and…’ position in the opening credits might have meant he was important? I was wrong.
So the last major story of this episode is Bran AKA Three-Eyed Raven Dos and his finishing of the vision of the Tower of Joy. Long story short: Jon Snow is not the child of Ned Stark but Rhaegar Targaryen , the older brother of Danaerys and Dickhead Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. The use of Bran’s past-sight has been mildly maddening from a writing perspective as it seems like an attempt to explain something from the past while not admitting you’re just doing a blatant flashback. Young Ned Stark is still a casting coup from the position of eerily looking like a younger Sean Bean.
I will admit, for the first time in the series, the Tower of Joy makes bringing back Jon make sense because not only is there some contention for his position as King of the North (note the use of the phrase ‘Ned’s blood flows through him’), but it also potentially creates an interesting dynamic should he ever actually meet Dany. Otherwise notable; a lovely transitionary shot from the wintery north to the wintery further north with Benjen in the trees.
This was a bloody belter of a finale to a variable season. It wrapped up as many of the season-long stories as I wanted it to whilst leaving as much set-up for the next as it needed to. It’s nice that it has removed two of the ‘big bads’ in High Sparrow and Ramsay last week as now we’re set up for one last battle for The Seven Kingdoms before The Night King marches south. I also have to give major credit to Ramin Djawadi who did some of his best soundtrack work in this episode, creating a unique and foreboding but utterly beautiful background to the vicious foreground of the imagery.
Even at its worst, Thrones is still good. It’s brilliantly shot and directed, frequently electrifying in its performances and, rape scenes excepted, eminently watchable. This finale reminded me of its potential to be great after a technically astonishing but emotionally misguided misfire last week. The message, however, is simple: the time of Men is done, the winter of Women is here. Cersei has her throne but Dany, Yara, Illyria, Arya, Olenna, Sansa and (the strangely absent, along with The Brotherhood without Banners) Brienne might be on their way for her. I think winter is going to be a lot of fun.
That’s a season wrap on these Game of Thrones reviews – thanks for reading and, as there isn’t an episode next week, here’s a video of CHVRCHES covering the theme song.
Silicon Valley & Veep Update:
Full Reviews coming soon…