‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Finale Roundtable Review: ‘The Winds of Winter’

Each week, twins Adam and David Shimer analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss “The Winds of Winter,” but first they would like to assign some weekly awards:

Tywin Lannister Memorial Award for Best Political Maneuvering: Cersei pulling off Westeros’ equivalent of a Hail Mary.

Honorable Mention: Arya revealing that she actually does know how to change faces… and then feeding dead Freys to Lord Walder before slitting his throat Red Wedding style.

Eddard Stark Memorial Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Pycelle for believing that Tommen had asked a random kid to bring him to a ~one-on-one meeting~ in a creepy dungeon.

Honorable Mention: Daario for getting elbowed out of the queen’s inner circle.

Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: The final destination of Sam’s never-ending travels: a snarky receptionist and a big library.  

Honorable Mention: Benjen’s tearful farewell.

Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Lyanna Mormont’s triumphant war of words with the other northern lords.  

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DS: We have watched kings die, houses fall, and wars unfold, all with one overarching question in mind: who will sit on the Iron Throne as the credits roll to black for the last time. There are only thirteen episodes of Game of Thrones remaining, and “The Winds of Winter” — a spectacular hour of television — has unveiled the final pieces. Like Tyrion, many of our surviving contenders understand how terrifying the great game is — and that the stakes have never been higher. Dany has desperately wanted to invade Westeros since season one. But for the first time, she has the ships, the army, and the political support. She is ready, and she is rightfully terrified. In the North, Jon was crowned king in a scene eerily reminiscent of season two. The Young Wolf’s coronation led him to an early grave, a risk Jon’s fearful eyes drove home. Jaime also knows what happens to those who sit on the Iron Throne; he is the one who stabbed Aerys and watched Robert and his sons die. Cersei is the only living person for whom Jaime still cares, which is why he finds the prospect of her sitting on the Iron Throne terrifying. In fact, the only calm person is Cersei. Tyrion pointed out that anyone unfrightened by the great game is insane, just after Cersei accomplished a feat not even the Mad King could pull off. Here’s to the Mad Queen.

AS: Tyrion was proclaimed Hand of the Queen, Jon was named King in the North and Cersei was pronounced Queen of the Andals. Let’s start with the Iron Throne. House Baratheon is extinguished, and a Lannister officially controls the Seven Kingdoms for the first time. Cersei watched her husband and two sons rule ineffectively and die prematurely. So she has taken the throne for herself by sipping from a glass of wine as she watched the Sept of Baelor explode in the distance, incinerating all the problems that she created. She sent the Zombie-Mountain to ensure that Tommen would not share the same fate as the rest of city’s elite, but she could not protect her son from himself. Cersei’s despair at the demise of each of her children has mellowed with each dead Lannister. She recently told Jaime that they were the only two people in the world that mattered, noticeably excluding the son that used to mean everything to her. It was almost as if she no longer viewed him as a living, breathing human being. That is because Tommen’s death was a foregone conclusion for Cersei, and has been for quite some time. Tyrion once told her that “every time we deal with one enemy, we create two more.” Cersei may have killed the High Sparrow, Margaery, Kevan and the rest of her adversaries — real or imagined — but now she faces the Dornish, the Tyrells and the Targaryen horde. The Seven Kingdoms are converging on Cersei, and so while it appears her reign may be a short one, it is a victory nonetheless. No one, including Cersei, ever expected her to sit on the Iron Throne, but when you play the Game of Thrones you win or you die — there is no middle ground, and Cersei has lived true to her own words.

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DS: For so many seasons, the high politics of King’s Landing felt like the foundation of the show. Tonight, Cersei blew that foundation to hell. I long enjoyed watching the High Sparrow, the Tyrells, and the Lannisters maneuver against one another, but their politicking had begun to feel boring, even pointless, because their plotlines had ventured into the irrelevant. With Dany coming from the East and the Night’s King coming from the North, Margaery, the faith, and the Small Council no longer mattered (by the way, what was Margaery’s big play?). The showrunners had to wrap up the King’s Landing plotline, in many ways a mini series of its own. And Cersei emerged as the victor, with a ‘winning move’ that has made the Iron Throne more wide open than ever. The Baratheon line is wiped out, and most of Westeros will do anything it can to dethrone Cersei — whose reign will undoubtedly be dramatic, violent, and brief.

AS: Cersei’s time at the top may turn out to be fleeting, but let’s hope the White Wolf’s reign is longer than the Young one’s. The northern lords who abandoned Jon and Sansa in their hour of need were quick to follow the young Mormont’s lead and pronounce him King in the North. His face was as solemn as Robb’s back in season one — so whether it was Jon following in his half brother’s footsteps (or I guess technically his first cousin’s…), or Arya slitting the throat of Walder Frey in a manner reminiscent of the Red Wedding, the living Starks continue to follow in the footsteps of the departed. Jon’s sudden rise to power shows that Littlefinger overestimated the power of legitimacy. Even while Ellaria and Olenna plotted in Dorne, Dany and Yara sailed from the East, and Cersei took the Iron Throne, the northern lords chose a bastard as their King over Ned Stark’s legitimate daughter. Sansa had her rightful title stolen from her because she is a woman, robbing Littlefinger of his key to the north. He rallied the Knights of the Vale and vanquished the Bolton army to give Winterfell to Sansa and himself, not to Jon. So while it appears Sansa is fine with being bypassed — there is no indication that she wanted or expected to be Queen in the North — you can rest assured that Littlefinger is already plotting his next move.

Random Thoughts —

-Ned Stark’s blood does indeed run through Jon’s veins, though a bit more indirectly than Lady Mormont thinks.

-Joffrey, Tywin, Ramsay/Roose, the High Sparrow and Walder Frey are all dead — there aren’t many antagonists left for the showrunners (and Arya) to kill.

-As if there weren’t enough deaths this episode, we also had to travel back in time to witness yet another Stark die.

-Benjen’s long awaited return ended abruptly when he dumped his nephew by a tree and galloped away.

-Varys has apparently acquired the gift of teleportation.

-Pycelle didn’t go down without a fight — he laid a solid smackdown on one of the little birds before being devoured.

-That woman staring at Jaime during his conversation with Bronn was Arya in disguise.

-Davos and Melisandre’s heated rivalry may be the longest running on the show, and somehow he always manages to find a boring way to lose.

-It’s unclear how Cersei was able to get the “Shame” nun into her possession, but I’m not asking any questions.

-Long live Tommen, King of the Andals and the First Men.

-Olenna did us all a favor when she told the Sand Snakes to shut up.

-I don’t think anyone has seemed more genuinely shocked, outraged or angered on the show than when the library-man aggressively looked Gilly up and down with a firm: “no women or children.”

-Margaery always played the game well but from one step behind. She was the only one who understood the significance of Cersei and Tommen’s absence, and yet she still went down with the rest of them.

-Some say the Stark children are the center of the show, but all three Lannister children are still alive and well.

-Cersei’s brother stabbed the Mad King in the back to stop the very plan that she carried out.

Kill count: Pycelle, Margaery, Loras, Mace, Kevan, Lancel, the High Sparrow, Tommen, Littlefinger’s aspirations, and Walder Frey.

M.I.A. this episode: Brienne, Jorah, the Hound and the Night’s King.

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