(Editor’s Note: A big thank you to Nick Romano for stepping in to recap the last two episodes of the season while our regular recapper has been Across the Narrow sea!)
Standing next to her step-brother on the walls of Winterfell, Sansa looks to Jon and says, “A raven came from the citadel — a white raven. Winter is here.” It’s a phrase fans of Game of Thrones have heard since the very first episode, and it’s very much a Northern phrase, which seems appropriate for a season that’s been very Stark-heavy. Bran ascends to his new status as the Three-Eyed Raven, Jon came back from the dead to reclaim Winterfell with Sansa, and a Braavosi-trained Arya has reclaimed herself.
Yes, winter is here, and it brings with it the biggest revelation of the entire series: R + L = J. It’s something readers of George R.R. Martin’s books have pondered, and something the series has hinted at for quite some time. The Season 6 finale finally revealed the answer to Jon Snow’s parentage (click here for our thoughts on what it might mean).
During the episode, Team Bran finally made it deep into the North to the tree from his visions, thanks to his zombified uncle, Benjen. Upon touching the tree, the Stark son returned to a vision that was abruptly cut off in a previous episode: after a young Ned Stark bested Ser Arthur Dayne with a little help from his friends, he stares up at a tower from which his sister Lyanna’s screams can be heard.
After ascending the steps, he finds her lying in a bed covered in blood. Lyanna has just given birth and is dying from complications. Though she admits she’s scared to die, she’s more scared for her newborn son. “Listen to me, Ned,” she exclaims before her brother leans in to hear what she has to say. Though the audience isn’t privy to every word, Lyanna whispers, “his name is…” before trailing off. “If they know that,” she continues before trailing off again, “…you have to protect him. Promise me, Ned. Promise me.”
Ned looks down at Lyanna’s baby, whose black eyes stare up at Ned. The camera cuts to a close-up shot of Jon’s face, revealing that Ned Stark’s supposed bastard is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targeryen. What does this mean? It means, Daenerys is not the last dragon. It means Jon Snow has a legitimate claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros. It means Jon Snow is the Song of Ice and Fire.
Now, to the rest of the episode (and be sure to check out our Westeros Power Rankings afterwards):
Much like the penultimate episode, the season finale started off with a bang — though, this one had a slower burn.
The camera cuts back and forth between Cersei, Queen Margaery, King Tommen, and the High Sparrow as “the crown” and “the faith” prepare for the trial of the century. Cersei traded in her typical royal attire for something black and with silver metal shoulder pads connected with a chain draped across her high neck. She’s preparing for war.
People begin to flood the church for her trial, but there are two people notably absent: Cersei herself and King Tommen, whom is being detained in his quarters by The Mountain. The trial proceeds as planned, first with judgment of Loras. The former Knight of Flowers confesses to his crimes and accepts the punishment of title renouncement. He further pledges to never wed, never bear children, and to become a warrior for the faith. The Sparrow’s faith militant hold him down and carve their symbol into head, something Margaery doesn’t take too well.
When the High Sparrow realizes Cersei isn’t present, he sends Lancel to fetch her. He doesn’t make it far as his eyes catch a young boy running down the steps — one of Cersei’s “little birds” — and he pursues. As he’s doing that, Qyburn has another bird lure Grand Maester Pycelle to his work chambers, where his other child servants stab him to death. Lancel is meeting a similar fate as the child he tracked to a darkened hallway beneath the church stabs him before running off.
Lancel crawls forward and soon realizes he’s in the cellar where the barrels of Wildfire are stored — another snippet from Bran’s vision has come to pass. Back in the church, Margaery knows something is wrong because she knows Cersei. As she tries to explain to the High Sparrow, the former Queen Regent is very much aware of her actions and there’s a reason why she and Tommen are present. The High Sparrow scoffs and even has his faith militant bar the now panicking Margaery from leading those present safely out of the church.
It’s an action that meant his demise. Lancel sees three small candles sitting on respective pools of Wildfire. Their wicks are almost out, and when they finally reach the bottom, the flames spark a chain reaction that incinerates Lancel, the church, and everyone inside — including Margaery, her father and brother, the High Sparrow, and the faith militant.
Tommen watches in numbed horror as green flames swallow the building, leaving a black smoke billowing into the sky. Not Cersei. She smiles and takes a sip of her wine as she walks off to exact even more revenge. “Confess,” she repeats as we see her pouring her wine over Septa Unella, who awakens to find herself strapped to a table. Cersei proceeds to verbally torment her prey, the same woman who smugly walked her through the streets shouting “Shame.”
“It felt good beating me, starving me,” she says, adding how, “You did it because it felt good. I understand. I do things because they feel good.” Calling Unella “a quiet one,” Cersei informs her prisoner that she won’t die today but slowly overtime. It’s at that moment The Mountain walks into the room and removes his helmet to reveal a festering, charred face. “This is Sir Gregor Clegane,” she says. “He’s quiet, too.”
Previous episodes have seen recreations of scenes from Game of Thrones’ past — Dany has another “Dracarys” moment, and Sansa counsels Jon before “The Battle of the Bastards” like her mother did for Robb. Here, Cersei shouts “Shame” as she walks out of the cell, leaving Unella screaming as The Mountain stands over her.
Tommen is not like his mother. He is not relishing in what just transpired. The camera points to his back as he gazes at the smoked scene. The frame lingers on the vacant window, which the King then walks straight through to his death.
As Tommen’s body falls, the voice of Walder Frey shouts, “For House Lannister” in the banquet hall of Riverrun. It’s reminiscent of the scene of the infamous “Red Wedding” where he and his men slaughtered Robb and Catelyn Stark, so there’s already an air of unease as his men now celebrate the reclaiming of the ancient House.
There’s even a mention of “The Lannisters send their regards,” though we’re distracted by Bronn’s jealously of Jaime for earning the attention of all the women in the room by just sitting there. “They have their eyes on you, cunt,” he says. One girl in particular keeps staring at Jaime, though the pair soon break off — Bronn goes off to have his fun with two servant girls, while Jaime has a chat with Walder.
Jaime, clearly having an inner battle with himself and the road he’s taken, listens to him condemn his victims. “The Tullys mocked me for years. The Starks mocked me. Where are they now?” he asks. The fellow kingslayer puts him in his place, remarking how the Lannisters have no use for someone who can’t even hold their fortress without the help of their army.
We return to King’s Landing for a beat as Cersei stares down at Tommen’s corpse. The prophecy she heard as a child from a witch in the woods has come to pass: “Six-and-ten for [the King], and three for you. Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds.” All of her children, Tommen being the last, have all been killed, either by her enemies executing them or claiming their own lives. Cersei informs Qyburn that the King should be with “his grandfather, his brother, his sister. Burn him. Burry the ashes at the Sept.”
With all this action and the action that came in “The Battle of the Bastards,” Sam and Gilly have fallen in the background. But they return for a beat in the finale to reveal their trip to Oldtown, a city that houses the Citadel, where hopeful Maesters go to learn their craft.
Armed with a letter from Lord Commander Snow of the Night’s Watch — reminding us that he still doesn’t know about Jon’s death and resurrection — Sam’s come to follow the same path. After some words with the front desk, so to speak, he walks through the halls and looks up in awe at a grand library.
A little background on the city: Oldtown the second largest city in the Seven Kingdoms. It holds House Hightower, which is aligned with House Tyrell based in Highgarden, as well as the former center of the Faith of the Seven. There’s a reason why Sam’s here, which will likely become clear next season.
Sansa saying “Winter has come,” arrives at this point when she and Jon look at the Red Woman riding away from Winterfell. Jon banished her after Ser Davos confronted Melisandre in the banquet hall about burning Shireen for the Lord of Light. “If he commands you to burn children, your lord is evil,” he says before begging Jon to let him execute her.
“I’ve been ready to die for many years,” replies the woman wearing the age-defining necklace. Though she tried to convince Jon to allow her to serve him by mentioning the war with the Night King that’s still to come, he banishes her from The North, warning that he’ll execute her if she ever returns.
With her gone, Jon says he’s preparing the lord’s chambers for Sansa, acknowledging to his step-sister that she was the key to winning back Winterfell. “I’m not a Stark,” he says, to which she replies, “You are to me.” Sansa further apologizes for keeping her ties with Littlefinger a secret. “We need to trust each other,” Jon replies. “We can’t fight a war amongst ourselves. We have so many enemies now.”
The disjointed, poorly fashioned Dorne arc with the Sand Snakes reared its ugly head one last time before the credits rolled on Season 6. It’s something I never thought I’d be glad to witness, though Lady Olenna’s presence alone will do that for me.
Word apparently travels fast, and she now sits dressed in black to mourn the family lost in Cersei’s Wildfire excursion. However, she hasn’t lost her spirit. “What is your name again? Barbaro?” she asks one of the younger Sand Snakes. “You look like an angry little boy. Don’t presume to tell me what I need.” She tells another, “Anything from you? No.”
Olenna was invited to Dorne by the Sand Snakes because, as they said, they need her help and she needs theirs. “Survival is not what I’m after,” she says, to which Ellaria responds with a counter offer: “whatever your heart desires.” She rings a bell, calling Varys to emerge from the shadows. “Fire and blood,” he says.
While the Master of Secrets is off laying the groundwork for a presumed alliance in Dorne, Dany is preparing to (finally!) sail for Westeros, something Tyrion appreciates in a later chat. “How about the fact that this is actually happening?” he says, but it’s not happening with Daario Naharis. Dany’s paramour pleads with her to let him come, even confessing his true love to her, but she claims she needs him in Meereen to maintain the peace while the people elect their own leader.
It’s a good move for her — she won’t have to worry about her enemies trying to get to her through him — but also for the series. Actor Ed Skrein gave the character his sultry swagger, something that was lost when Michiel Huisman replaced him, and his fan popularity hasn’t recovered.
Dany enters the throne room, whereTyrion is waiting for her. She says she’s renaming Slaver’s Bay as The Bay of Dragons, but she’s a little torn up about leaving Daario behind. It’s not because she loves him, but because she “said farewell to a man that I love — a man I thought I cared for — and I felt nothing, just impatient to get on with it.
In the same breath, she nearly brings tears to Tyrion’s eyes. The man who once believed in neither deities nor family now believes in Dany, and she rewarded him by naming him Hand of the Queen, even bestowing him with a pin she had created from her memory of Westeros.
Meanwhile, Walder is about to have a horrific repeat of the Red Wedding. The same girl who kept smiling at Jaime, brings the lord a pie. Walder remarks that he’s never seen her before, though that doesn’t stop him from grabbing her ass.
“Where are my damn moron sons?” he asks. “They’re here, my lord,” she says, revealing that she slaughtered them beforehand and baked them into the pie that Walder mostly devoured. “They weren’t easy to carve,” she says before revealing the girl is in fact Arya Stark of Winterfell wearing one of the faces from Hall of Faces.
“My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that,” she says before slitting his throat. “The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.” (Editor’s Comment: The plot holes are strong with this one).
The God’s Wood
Another small scene begins with Littlefinger approaching Sansa in the God’s Wood by the tree where he parents once sat and prayed. She remarked during her conversation with Jon that “only a fool would trust Littlefinger,” but she’s still able to be manipulated by him.
She holds him off when he makes his intentions clear: he dreams of sitting on the Iron Throne with Sansa by his side, and attempts to kiss her. “It’s a pretty picture,” she says. As Sansa walks away, Lord Baelish attempts one more psychological play. He plants a seed that will no doubt fester later on about how Sansa should rule Westeros as the only true-born Stark child instead of “a motherless bastard born in the South.”
Though it may matter later, it doesn’t now. After revealing R + L = J, the camera returns to Jon addressing the soldiers that fought for him in the previous episode. With Sansa by his side, he tries to make clear to a hall full of ambivalent men that “winter has come,” meaning the Whitewalkers will soon be upon them all.
The only voice of reason to rally them together is our favorite fearsome, pint-sized Lady Mormont. She serves up a plate of harsh reality as she goes around the room and calls out specific men who failed to come through on their vows. “House Mormon remembers. The North remembers,” she says. “We know no king but the King in the North.”
Soon the room is filled with shouts of “the King in the North” as the Lords and knights pledge their allegiance to Jon. Amid the joyous moment, Sansa lose her smile after locking eyes with Littlefinger. He’s in her head.
Jaime arrives back at King’s Landing to the sight of the still burning church. He proceeds to the throne room, where Cersei (channeling Charlize Theron’s killer outfits in Snow White and the Huntsman) is being crowned Queen by her new Hand of the Queen, Qyburn. Jaime catches her gaze, and he must know this crowning means Tommen is dead, though it’s unclear how much he realizes her involvement. We’ll have to see next season if his words about caring only for his sister still hold true with their last child gone.
Dany has been worrying all season about not repeating the mistakes of her crazed ancestors, but Cersei has been driven mad by loss and revenge. She now sits on the Iron Throne having massacred her enemies in the same fashion that illustrated the insanity of The Mad King.
The Narrow Sea
Earlier in the episode Daario told Dany that the lords of Westeros don’t know what’s coming for them, and neither does Cersei. She’s heard stories about the Dragon Queen that she dismissed in the past, but as the last scene of the season finale showed, Dany is heading for Westeros.
Theon and Yara gaze up at their own house flag waving in the wind on the open sea. At the front of the massive fleet is Dany, Tyrion, Missandei, and Greyworm standing in one of the ships the Greyjoy children made for them: painted black with a golden dragon head at the prow with the Targaryen sigil waving overhead.
From above, Dany’s three dragons screech and fly, their wings skimming the water and setting the stage for the beginning of a massive invasion in Season 7.
Winter Is Here
For a season that moved at a snail’s pace at times, it ended with a flurry of explosive action and revelations. Director Miguel Sapochnik — the man who handled the last two episodes of Season 5 (the battle at “Hardhome” and Jon Snow’s finale death), plus last week’s “Battle of the Bastards” — was enlisted to handle this crucial episode, and skills with balancing form with drama were on display.
Even still, Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s not juggling so many plot points and story arcs, and most of my qualms with the finale are consequences of what transpired before. The writers wrote themselves into a corner. The meeting of Lady Olenna with the Sand Snakes wasn’t super crucial to the episode, but it couldn’t happen until after the death of her children. The satisfying death of Walder Frey couldn’t happen until Arya realized her the power of her own name, and Riverrun was taken back from the Blackfish. Sam’s scene seemed the most inconsequential to the episode and could have, perhaps, been saved for next year’s premiere.
This season has been about the resurgence of House Stark, and with only a couple more seasons to go before the show comes to end, it’s down to the wire. Based on where we are now in the world of Westeros, the stage is set for a war for the ages. The half-Stark, half-Targaryen Jon rules The North, the new Mad Queen sits on the Iron Throne, and the Mother of Dragons is leading her fearsome army of Greyjoys, Dothraki, and dragons across the Narrow Sea to reclaim a kingdom taken from her.
With a few more characters disposed of, I’m hoping the producers will now funnel that money into grander special effects, edit down convoluted storytelling, and focus more on pacing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint to the Iron Throne.
Episode Rating: ★★★★ Very good
Season Rating: ★★★★ Very good