Games of Thrones: “The Winds of Winter” Review

Game of Thrones - "The Winds of Winter" - Image

‘The Winds of Winter’ Climaxes with a Season of Triumphs


Season 6 of Game of Thrones didn’t open in a good place for many characters a few months ago. Between Jon Snow’s untimely murder, Cersei’s shaming through the streets of King’s Landing and Dany’s capture by the Dothraki horde, it seemed like no one in the show was able to catch a break. The season finale, The Winds of Winter, however, alters the very fabric of the show, setting up the bigger picture at hand – The War for the Dawn.

In the aftermath of the Battle of the Bastards, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) have claimed Winterfell once again in their family’s name, but now have to discuss who’s going to be uniting the North. Sansa’s the legitimate one of the two and not knowing the whereabouts of their siblings Arya or Bran, she’s technically the Lady of Winterfell. Though, Jon’s the one with the military experience and the connection to the Lord of Light that the North can rally behind. They agree that they should trust one another. Even being family, it’s not as cut-and-dry as a simple alliance and it will most likely unravel in Season 7.

Jon also meets with the red woman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) and Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham). After last week’s episode, Davos knows of Shireen’s fiery sacrifice and it’s finally caught up with Melisandre and made public (to Jon and Davos) in The Winds of Winter. Melisandre explains that this is the Lord of Light’s doing, which Davos angrily responds by claiming that any god that demands a child be burned is evil. Davos wants her head, but Melisandre counteracts by saying she’s going to be useful in the War for the Dawn. With the White Walkers still marching towards the Wall, it’s perfectly reasonable to keep her as the Stark’s ace in the hole. Unwillingly to kill her, Jon exiles her as a compromise, albeit promising that if she evers returns North he’d have her head on a spike. The scene is certainly reminiscent of Sansa banishing Littlefinger earlier in the season after the whole Ramsay incident and Dany and Jorah’s confrontation near the end of Season 4.

Later on, Sansa is sitting near the godswood tree, only to be confronted by Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen), who’s still madly in love with her. What’s up with all these older men hitting on these younger girls in Westeros and Essos alike. We’ve known for a long time that Littlefinger’s ultimate goal is the Iron Throne. Remember back to when he was smuggling Sansa out of King’s Landing and he confides in her that he wants everything. That hasn’t changed. Sansa doesn’t give into his romantic pursuits. He’s still her uncle by marriage.

At a council meeting in Winterfell, Jon, Sansa, the Wildlings and the rest of the houses gather to discuss the eventual invasion by White Walkers. Just like earlier in the show, the North needs to be united if they’re going to accomplish anything in the War for the Dawn. Winter is here at last and the ball needs to get rolling. Since Robb Stark’s death during the Red Wedding, the North has fallen apart and been under the control of the vicious Boltons, but no longer. “Queen of Sass,” Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) sticks up for Jon and backs him as the King of the North, despite being a bastard. The other houses follow suit, leaving Sansa and Littlefinger looking at each other in disappointment. It’s a bit of a convience at this point, since Jon still has no clue of his real parentage and he remains a bastard and not legitimized. The Winds of Winter throws all that out the window, but you can see on his sister and Littlefinger’s expressions that a power struggle is on the horizon.

Elsewhere in the North, Benjen Stark aka Coldhands (Joseph Mawle) leaves the company of Meera (Ellie Kendrick) and Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), stating that the magic of the Wall keeps him on the north side. Despite being minimally used this season, Coldhands is expected to play a much larger role in future seasons. For the moment, he’s served this purpose moving the two of them closer to the Wall.

As soon as Coldhands leaves, Bran goes back into Three-eyed Raven mode, communing with a weirwood tree and we’re finally return to the Tower of Joy flashback after being skipped for several episodes. It makes perfect sense to hold until The Winds of Winter, because it directly ties into where Jon Snow is going as a character by the end of this episode. In the Tower of Joy flashback, a young Ned Stark (Robert Aramayo) races up the tower to find his sister, Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi) hemorrhaging for childbirth. Following George R.R. Martin’s novels, her dying words are “Promise me, Ned.” It comes as no surprise that we finally have one more part of the R+L=J equation. Without the final two books in print, there was much speculation going into Season 6. Still, R+L=J was without a doubt was going to be one of the most criticial and expected pre-season rumors answered. The episode doesn’t spell out that Rhaegar Targaryen is Jon Snow’s father, but we all know better. Maybe next season.

Leaving the North, let’s venture down south for a bit. Despite being sprinkled very thinly throughout Season 6, The Winds of Winter brings back Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly’s arrival at the Citadel in Oldtown. To be perfectly honest, until this point this subplot has been filler material and won’t bring any new substance until next season. While characters can teleport left and right in Game of Thrones and boy do they do it in this episode, here the Citadel has no clue what’s going on at the Wall. The Maester there becomes suspicious when Jon Snow signed the letter as Lord Commander and not the deceased Jeor Mormont. The scene ends with Sam getting a peek at the Citadel’s libary and it’s one CGI beauty.

In the Twins, Walder Frey (David Bradley) is celebrating his victory of the Tullys at Riverrun. Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) joins in the festivities, but isn’t that pleased how full of himself Walder Frey really is. He tells him that while the Lannisters recaptured Riverrun for the Freys, they better not lose it again. After the feast, Walder Frey eats a meat pie, wondering where his two sons are. A servant girl keep telling him that they’re here. He doesn’t realize that they are the meat pie. The servant girl as predicted is Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who’s back from Braavos via Littlefinger’s infamous teleportation device. Like I said, characters jump around from location to location way to fast without actually earning the journey. And in full revenge mode, the ex-acolyte of the House of Black and White slits Frey’s throat as payback for the Red Wedding. Things are finally coming around for the Starks, even if it’s been three seasons later.

The major set piece in The Winds of Winter finale happens in King’s Landing. Almost two full seasons in the making, Cersei (Lena Headey) pulls off her most daring plot yet. It’s the day of her and Loras’ (Finn Jones) trial at the Great Sept of Baelor and she’s nowhere to be seen. The Tyrell heir is brought forward to confess his sins of homosexuality and perjury and ultimately devotes himself to the Faith of the Seven. Cersei watches from a distance in the Red Keep with no intentions of going on trial.

Meanwhile, her cousin and once-lover Lancel (Eugene Simon) is out to fetch her and discovers a cache of wildfire planted beneath the Great Sept. This is where Game of Thrones starts cleaning house as they did with last year’s finale. Not only does the Great Sept explode, killing the Tyrell family, but the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), his followers and a few Lannisters. Rumors of the explosive finale have been circulating for about a month now. Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) is also murdered in the process by a handful of children working for the Lannisters. While it’s a different interpretation that source material, it’s still a satisfying end to one annoying character. Grief-stricken King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) kills himself after his wife Margaery (Natalie Dormer) was also claimed in the wildfire explosion. Maggie the Frog’s prophecy from the beginning of Season 5 has come true. All three of Cersei’s children are dead and without the presence keeping her grounded, she’s more ruthless than ever. As a result, Cersei finally reaches the top of the mountain, usurping the Iron Throne as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Her brother, Jaime, back via another teleportation device doesn’t look too pleased. But as the winds of winter keep blowing, how long can Cersei hold onto what she wants the most?

For the first time since The Red Woman, we return to Dorne. Uh oh. While on the backburner for most of the season, the Martells and Varys (Conleth Hill) offer Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) an opportunity for avenge her family’s deaths at the Great Sept. Simply put, “Fire and Blood.” And we all knows who’s motto that is. As a result, House Martell, House Tyrell, House Greyjoy and House Targaryen have formed the unstoppable alliance. Like I said, Cersei needs to watch out.

The season wraps up in Meereen as Dany (Emilia Clarke) finally puts her plan into motion to sail off to Westeros. With three other houses, the Dothraki horde, the Second Sons and the Unsullied all behind her, Westeros is in for a full shakedown. Daario, like Ser Jorah professes his love, but is denied to join Dany in her conquest of Westeros, leaving him behind as an ally. Afterwards, she officially names Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) as “Hand of the Queen” and her forces finally set sail after six seasons.

The Winds of Winter, while loaded to the brim with triumphs and payoffs for countless characters was easily one of the most predictable episodes throughout the course of Game of Thrones. Show co-creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss played a by-the-numbers game in the hour-plus runtime of The Winds of Winter. It’s not the worse-case scenario and we don’t know the endgame in George R.R. Martin’s unpublished two novels. Season 6 certainly was an improvement over last season, but the show peaked back in Season 4. With two short seasons of Game of Thrones left, there’s plenty of ground to cover in so little time.

Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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