WARNING: This story is dark and full of spoilers
Deep breaths, everyone. You are the blood of the dragon.
Every now and then, Game of Thrones bucks its own trend of having the ninth episode each season be the big episode. Season 6 was one such season, as “The Winds of Winter” pulled out any of the stops its predecessor left behind to create a magnificent 69 minutes of television. This was easily one of the show's best episodes, period.
Foes were exterminated. A city was set on fire. New alliances were forged. A king and a queen were crowned. A massive invasion was finally launched. Oh, and the biggest secret in Thrones lore was revealed.
I’m still jittery with shock and joy, so we might as well get to it.
“The Winds of Winter” begins with one of the best opening sequences in the show’s history, as the various power players in King’s Landing prepare themselves for the trials of Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lannister.
It should be noted that the score for these opening 25 minutes is on point — bells, violins, even a piano and a church organ flawlessly contribute to music that sets the tone needed for every scene.
In the Sept of Baelor, many of the city’s well-to-do file in to watch the proceedings as seven septons of the Faith, including the High Sparrow, take their places. A very conservatively dressed Margaery, as well as her father and Kevan Lannister, watch as her brother Loras is brought in for judgment.
Rather than face the punishments of a trial, Loras confesses everything, including his homosexuality, to the High Sparrow. He asks for the Mother’s mercy and pledges to live a chaste, humble life for the Faith. The old man accepts this and has his men carve a seven-pointed star on Loras’ forehead for good measure. The High Sparrow seems pleased: One down, one to go.
But Margaery notices something is amiss: Neither Cersei nor Tommen is in the sept. The High Sparrow shrugs this off and sends Lancel ex-Lannister to go get her. On his way down the front stairs, though, a young boy seemingly up to no good gets his attention and runs into the basement level of the sept. Lancel decides to pursue.
Back in the Red Keep, Baby King Tommen finally decides to leave for the trial only to find his path blocked by the FrankenMountain. Rather than kill him (as I feared for a moment), the giant man keeps the king from leaving. You see, Cersei — who’s rocking a seriously dark look with a black leather dress, embroidered silver lions and a steel chain — has a plan, one to deal with all her foes.
The first to discover this plan is the disgusting Grand Maester Pycelle. On his way to the trial (after some morning sex with a poor prostitute), he’s distracted and led by a child to non-maester Qyburn’s laboratory. There, Creepy Qyburn apologizes for what’s about to happen as Pycelle turns to see a dozen or so children armed with knives. It’s time for a new order to take control, and its first victim goes down screaming as little children stab Pycelle to death.
At this point, the score adds the voices of a children’s choir, so you just KNOW some stuff’s about to go down.
In the underground levels below the sept, Lancel is stabbed by the boy he pursued. As his attacker flees, Lancel realizes the hallway is lined by large barrels, some of which have neon green liquid oozing out. He crawls to the hall’s end and finds three candles sitting in green puddles, and those candles have almost burned to the bottom.
Back in the sept, Margaery puts the pieces together and realizes something’s terribly wrong. Her cover be damned, she grabs the High Sparrow and tells him to forget the gods: “Cersei understands the consequences of her absence, and she is absent anyway, which means she does not intend to suffer those consequences. The trial can wait; we all need to leave.”
The High Sparrow scoffs at her warning, but she doesn’t care. She grabs her brother and attempts to leave, but armed sparrows block everyone’s path out.
Underneath them all, Lancel crawls frantically to put out the candles but is too late. The puddles ignite in bright green flames, and Cousin Lancel is vaporized as all the barrels of wildfire lining the corridors explode in a rapid chain reaction.
Hearing the rumble approach, Margaery and the High Sparrow lock eyes, with the latter having realized Cersei’s cunning far too late. In an instant, they and everyone with them is vaporized as the entire Sept of Baelor is destroyed in a nuclear-esque blast, taking a large portion of the city with it.
How does Cersei react as she watches from her room? With a smirk, she drinks some wine and basks in her fiery victory.
Someone who isn’t taking this checkmate very well: Tommen. The boy king stares out his window at the destruction, knowing that his wife, mentor and hundreds more have been killed by Cersei. With his world totally shaken, and without his mother there to comfort him in any way, he lays his crown on a table, steps up to the window ledge and lets himself fall to the ground hundreds of feet below. The prophecy Cersei heard as a child comes true — all of her children are now dead — only the blame for this final death falls squarely on her.
It’s remarkable that Thrones started “Winds of Winter” with an event of this magnitude, and by gods, did they pull it off. Brilliantly shot and riveting to watch, it sends us viewers reeling into the rest of the episode.
After having stolen his father’s Valyrian steel sword a few episodes back, Sam at last arrives with Gilly and baby Sam at Oldtown. The large city is home to the Citadel, where all maesters train, and once inside, Sam is allowed into the school’s enormous library.
And, well, that’s about it for Sam this year. Fun stuff.
The Lannister forces feast with the Freys at the Twins to celebrate their victory at Riverrun. Old, nasty Walder Frey cheerfully toasts their alliance (“The Freys and the Lannisters send their regards”), something he’s quite happy to have. He's just a sickening old creep.
Jaime also isn’t that happy to be there. Even though a cute serving girl keeps giving him glances, he’s ready to go back to King’s Landing — and Cersei. Walder joins him at his table and goes on (and on. and on.) about how great it is the people who used to snigger at him are dead.
With Jaime’s discomfort apparent, Walder compares themselves as two peas in the same kingslaying pod. This really rubs Jaime the wrong way. He notes that it was the Lannisters who had to help take Riverrun. Were this to happen every time the Freys had trouble in the Riverlands, Jamie says before walking off, the Freys might not be very useful.
Later in the episode, Walder's Lannister guests have long left and he sits alone in his dining hall. The serving girl who eyed Jaime earlier presents the old Frey with his dinner, a meat pie, and he asks aloud why his two sons are late. The girl tells him they’ve actually arrived, so Walder tells her to go get them. No, the girl clarifies, they’re already here, and she points to the pie.
Shakily, Walder lifts up part of the pie: it’s not a chunk of pork inside, but a fingertip. Looking as if he’s going to hurl, he turns to the girl (or should I say A Girl?), who removes her face and states her name: Arya Stark of Winterfell.
The assassin whips out a knife and slashes the stunned man’s throat. As he bleeds out, a happy smile breaks out on Arya’s face.
We’re not sad in the slightest to see Walder Frey die, but it’s concerning to see a young girl enjoy it so much. What might the future hold for Arya Stark?
An aside — If you’re wondering how on Earth Arya thought to chop up Walder’s two sons and put them in his pie, the move isn’t unprecedented in Westeros. Old stories there tell of a man who welcomed someone into his home only to later betray and kill them. The legend has it that, as justice, this man’s son was killed, baked into a pie and fed to the man. Westerosis don’t take this sort of thing lightly. — End aside.
Ah, Dorne, the southernmost of the Seven Kingdoms. We spent a couple minutes here at the very beginning of the season; why not spend a few more now?
Ellaria and her Sand Snakes have settled into ruling Dorne (I suppose the people really were OK with that little coup?). They are now meeting with a special guest: Lady Olenna Tyrell. The matriarch of the Tyrells did not go up in flames with the rest of her immediate family (thank goodness) but is now at the water gardens to discuss an alliance.
Ellaria says that Cersei has declared war on both their houses and that they must ally in order to survive. Olenna doesn’t care about survival anymore, though. Cersei destroyed her house’s future; the Queen of Thorns wants vengeance.
Vengeance, as it so happens, is on the menu. With the casual ringing of a tiny bell, Ellaria summons her other special guest: Varys. The ambassador for Daenerys Targaryen promises Olenna two things if they join forces: “Fire and blood.” Oh boy, who's excited for the Queen of Thorns to join forces with the Mother of Dragons?
With peace restored to the city, Dany has to have The Talk with Daario. As much as he wants to join his lover’s invasion of Westeros, Daenerys tells him that he’s to stay in Meereen and ensure that the former slave cities don’t fall into chaos again.
Daario, to say the least, takes the news hard. He admits his love for her and gives reason after reason for her to take him west. Dany’s made up her mind, however, and says she just can’t bring him with her. He eventually gives up, and their final parting is bittersweet. Another season, another love interest out the door. Where’s Yara?
Dany finds Tyrion in the throne room afterwards. He tries and fails miserably to comfort her, but the gesture is still sweet. He asks if she’s afraid for the journey on which they’re about to embark. She might be, but what scares her now is how emotionless she felt ending things with Daario. She was just anxious to get it over with.
Failing once again to soothe her spirits, Tyrion reveals why he became such a cynic. So many people told him to believe in so many things, he says, that ended up going horribly. He’d decided not to believe in anything — until he met Dany.
I believe in you, he tells her, his old cynicism buried away. She might not feel better, but we sure as heck do.
Dany, touched by the moment, reveals she had a little gift made for him. She pulls out a familiar-looking pin and places it on Tyrion’s chest. He’s become a loyal advisor and trustworthy friend to her, so she now names him Hand of the Queen. He’s clearly moved by the gesture, and so are we. These two are wonderful together.
After the spectacular “Battle of the Bastards,” we return to the newly retaken home of the Starks. Jon chats with Melisandre in the main feasting hall, but before they can call up some beers Davos has a word or two to say. Well, mainly two: “Tell him!”
He’s referring, of course, to a certain incident last season. With Davos giving her the crazy eyes, Melisandre admits to him and Jon that she had Princess Shireen burned at the stake. She tries to spin her reasoning for the sacrifice — that Stannis’ army was trapped, that the Lord demanded it, that the girl’s parents were on board, that it was the only way.
None of her arguments sway Davos. “I loved that girl like she was my own,” he says. “She was good. She was kind. And you killed her!” He’s all but snarling with those last words, so he kindly asks Jon for permission to kill her. Over her pleas, Jon instead opts to banish her to the South. Melisandre is upset with his decision but leaves nonetheless.
On the walls of Winterfell, Sansa approaches Jon as he watches Melisandre ride away. She apologizes for not telling him about Littlefinger and the knights of the Vale (as she should!). Rather than make a big fuss over it, Jon forgives her and says they need to trust each other. They should talk a little more about this, but they opt to move on instead. Sansa informs him that a white raven has arrived from the Citadel, meaning that winter — yes, THE winter — has come at last. As if the snows/massive White Walker army up north didn’t give that much away already.
Anyway, Sansa next meets with Littlefinger in the godswood. She’s thankful for his help but quickly gets down to business and asks what he wants. He thought she already knew, but he paints the picture for us regardless: He wants the Iron Throne for his own, and he wants Sansa by his side when he takes it. Feeling confident, he leans in for a kiss only to be stopped by Sansa, who literally deadpans, “That’s a pretty picture.” It is great.
She walks away, but not before Littlefinger plants a very important seed in her mind. He asks her who she really thinks is best to rule Winterfell: the trueborn daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark, or a motherless bastard from the South? It’s clear the question sticks with her.
Bran and beyond
Farther north than his siblings, Bran & Co. are now just a few miles from the Wall. Uncle Benjen says that it’s time for him to go, as the magic in the Wall won’t allow someone like him (ahem, undead) to pass under it. With that, he places Bran by a weirwood tree and says his goodbyes. Awe, darn it Benjen, we just got you back!
Once his uncle goes, Bran wastes no time syncing himself into the Tree Network. We’re taken back to the Tower of Joy (where we left off back in the third episode this season) as young-man Ned hears a woman’s cry and is about to run up the tower. Inside, Ned finds his sister Lyanna laying in a bed covered with blood. They’re happy to see each other, but Lyanna is very weak and on the verge of death.
She pulls Ned close and whispers to him, and we're only able to discern, “His name is ... If Robert finds out he’ll ... you have to protect him. Promise me, Ned.” As he tries to compute what she’s told him, a baby cries out and is handed to him. Lyanna fades away, begging Ned to promise her, while he focuses on the face of this infant.
We stare on this baby’s face as his eyes open up, and suddenly the camera cuts away to another face: Jon Snow. Just like that, the biggest secret of 'Game of Thrones' is revealed.
Fans have been speculating about this since George R. R. Martin published A Game of Thrones 20 years ago, and now we get the truth. Jon is not the bastard son of Ned Stark; he’s the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This is THE game changer, as not only does Jon have the blood of the dragon in his veins, but he also could make a legitimate claim for the Iron Throne. How might his aunt Daenerys (!!) take this news if she ever finds out?
We want to sit and digest this enormous reveal, but the show doesn’t slow down the pace. Now back in current-day Winterfell, we (not Bran) see the remaining northern lords with the lords of the Vale and wildling leaders. The leaders of the Vale aren’t crazy about having wildlings south of the Wall, while some of the northern lords want to go home and wait out the winter, not prep for another war.
Jon and Sansa, sitting at the head table, are in a pretty pickle, so who steps up to the plate? Lady Lyanna Mormont, of friggin course. This girl of 10 years shames (shames!) the few lords who are there that didn’t answer the call to help the Starks earlier and touts how her house did the right thing. “House Mormont remembers. The North remembers. We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark.” Sansa grins at this, but the little lady isn’t done yet.
It’s appropriate that the girl named after Jon’s secret mother is the first to pledge loyalty to him. The men that didn’t rally to help him, the lords of houses Glover and Manderly, acknowledge that they were wrong and echo the girl's call. They’ve found their new King in the North: Jon Snow, the White Wolf. Soon all the lords of the North and the Vale, as well as the wildlings and even Davos, pull out their swords and proclaim “the King in the North!”
Jon’s fortunes have changed dramatically — more than he even knows it — but how will Sansa take this? With the seeds of Littlefinger’s words earlier sprouting in her mind, I fear more internal strife is to come for House Stark.
The last scenes we get of season 6 revolve around two queens. Both are entering dramatic new stages but under very different circumstances.
In King’s Landing, Jaime returns to find a portion of the city an utter ruin. He eventually makes his way to the throne room, which is filled with people viewing a coronation.
The great doors open as Cersei walks in, flanked by the FrankenMountain and the kingsguard. The massive room is dark, lit only by the fires of braziers, as Cersei makes her way across the floor. She’s wearing the same powerful black dress as before except with steel shoulder pads, giving her an aura of evil we've never seen on her.
With a sense of dread hanging over the audience, and with the musical score once again on point, something once unthinkable now happens. Qyburn proclaims Cersei of House Lannister, First of her Name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm. He crowns her, and she sits on the Iron Throne. To chants of “long may she reign,” the camera pans backwards on the floor, looking up at the powerful queen, now undeniably a true villain, and leaving us to absorb the dark state of King's Landing.
On the other side of the world, another queen is taking action. We see Theon on a ship, looking up at the Greyjoy banner and seeming full of purpose, as Yara stands beside him. The camera pulls back to reveal that they are not alone. In fact, they’re joined by hundreds of ships, if not thousands.
We scan from high above this armada to see sails bearing the sigils of houses Greyjoy and Targaryen. They’re joined anew by ships belonging to houses Martell and Tyrell, as Varys’ diplomacy has succeeded. We zoom in toward some ships carrying not just Grey Worm and the Unsullied, but the Dothraki and their horses as well. The three dragons fly above the fleet to the lead ship carrying Dany and her council.
After six grueling seasons, and with an alliance behind her unlike anything we’ve seen, Daenerys Targaryen is finally sailing to Westeros. The Mad Queen and the Mother of Dragons are on a collision course.
Fire and Blood, indeed.
There’s not much to really say about season 6 besides that, even when it did let down some, it never really disappointed. From the very first episode, it was clear that this would be a go-getter sort of year. Every episode packed punches. Sure, not all of them landed, but this was a satisfying and fun season, nonetheless.
What clouded this season for many viewers was knowledge that the show had used up most of the material from Martin’s books, leaving the showrunners to chart a path almost on their own. Debates will be made, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss took the hand they were dealt and made the absolute best of it.
So, I can overlook how annoying Ramsay got to be. I can avoid dwelling on how Arya miraculously healed from her stab wounds. I can keep from scratching my head over how quickly characters got from Point A to Point B over and over. In the end, I honestly don’t care about all that. We want Game of Thrones to give us its all, to wow us and amaze, to bring us to tears and make us yell at our televisions. Season 6 succeeded at those points, perhaps more than all the others.
Now, we wait another 10 months for season 7. What on Earth will I watch now?
BONUS LINES OF THE WEEK
Cersei, to the Shaming Septa: I didn’t recap this in the main body, but Cersei also enjoyed herself by tormenting her old tormenter, the Shaming Septa. After “wineboarding” her strapped-down adversary, Cersei leaves the septa in the, um, good care of the FrankenMountain. Cersei's final words as she leaves? “Shame. Shame. Shame.”
Desk Maester, after Sam presents an issue in Oldtown: “This is irregular.” Sam: “Yes, well, I suppose life is irregular.” You don’t say, Sam? You don’t say.
The Queen of Thorns, Lady Olenna, to stupid little Obara Sand: “What is your name again? Barbaro?” SO MUCH SASS.
Tormund, to the knights of the Vale accusing the wildlings of invading: "We did not invade. We were invited." See, Tormund has manners now!
Tyrion, to Dany: “I’d swear you my sword, but I don’t actually own a sword.” Who cares? You’re great.
Questions? Comments? Recommendations for new shows? Find me/help me on Twitter @HJuncensored.