Winter is here, friends. And what has just passed was the most magnificent season in Game of Thrones history. Perhaps this was inevitable -- freed from the limitations, byzantine plot twists, and exposed-boob-related demands of George R.R. Martin's books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were free to mix and match narratives and characters to their own liking. In less-capable hands, that could have had the show running off the rails and jumping the sharks that inhabit the newly rebranded Bay of Dragons.  

Instead, what we got was the Nintendo Power version of a season, revealing secret codes, cleaning up fuzzy plotlines, and generally pushing things forward so that this absolute Wun Wun of a show could finally come to the satisfying conclusion we definitely think will happen

Here are all of the things that made this season so damn handsome: 

HBO

Cersei finally being Cersei 

Though Cersei Lannister was fine with just using strategic dickery, passive-aggressive murdering, and weird double entendres to get her way through past seasons, her true nature came out this season. With Zombie Mountain acting as her id -- the physical manifestation of her pent-up anger -- and Qyburn, aka Gargamel from The Smurfs, acting as her eyes in the field and keeper of the wildfire, she finally stopped hiding behind proper royal channels and turned into the truly spiteful, incestuous, pretty person she's always wanted to be. 

I honestly don't know what was more refreshing: her crushing glasses of wine in her Michael Jackson-in-"Thriller" Queen outfit, gleeful that she was about to blow up lots of people she hated and finally get revenge on the mean nun from Sister Act; or the look on her face as she says, "I choose violence" right before Zombie Mountain turns a member of the Faith Militant into a human "No Trespassing" sign.  

Arya with the good name 

So much of Arya's time has been in the service of one person or group. Tywin Lannister, the Night's Watch recruits, the Brotherhood, the Hound (which was admittedly great), and finally, the assassin commune/funeral parlor known as the Faceless Men. At first, Arya's involvement with the Faceless Men seemed exciting -- she's learning to be an assassin! She can put on other people's faces! She's studying the ins and outs of cleaning a dead body and mopping! -- but the goodwill I usually dole out for Mr. Miyagi-style assassin-training montage scenes quickly dried up once things dragged on and we had to deal with the humorless Waif, easily the worst character on a major television series since The O.C.'s Oliver Trask.

Perhaps sensing that collective anguish, the show finally put the Faceless Men plotline to bed, killing off the Waif in the process (pro tip: don’t attack a formerly blind assassin-in-training in the dark), providing Arya with a face-gift to Jaqen H'ghar and letting her get on with the business of going around the world killing people as Arya Stark, but now with the face-shifting skill set of the Faceless Men. The fact that she kicks this off with the time-tested Titus Andronicus callback move of human-pie-eating to extinguish Walder Frey is just the icing on a pie made from Freys. 

HBO

Thank the Drowned Gods for Euron Greyjoy 

We didn't get a ton of Euron this season, and by the looks of how things are going, we might only get a few scenes next season, when the thousands of ships he's building are actually put in the water and he attempts to show Daenerys his penis. But man, what a great addition to the show. Euron's unpredictable craziness mixed with his intelligence, ability to demean Theon, and the fact that he's seen more things and possibly learned more devious magic than any Ironborn before him make him a great addition, however briefly we may get to see his blue lips. 

Who let the dogs out: Ramsay's demise 

We don’t need to dwell on this other than to say that when it comes down to it, apparently, dogs aren't man's best friend

Benjen and the Three-Eyed Braven 

Scenes beyond the Wall can get a little weird and trippy for the average non-hardcore GoT viewer. You've got the Children of the Forest, the wights, the White Walkers, the Night's King, people who can see things, giants, people who eat other people and get prison tattoos on their faces, and the entire thread of order that makes its way through Westeros muddles and turns very Lord of the Rings. 

Yet this season took all of those elements and at least made them approachable. You understood (enough of) what was happening with Bran in the cave with the Three-Eyed Raven, and the show did just enough exposition theater to keep people from having to totally Reddit-thread themselves into oblivion in the middle of the action to understand what Benjen coming back as Coldhands meant for the show. AND YET -- it also leaves us with a bit of a total-geek cliffhanger: when we last see Bran, he's by a weirwood tree, which is essentially one of a network of trees that keep the history of what has happened within them for Bran to download into his own brain. So we leave him doing that, but we also don't know if and when he'll go back past the Wall, which -- as we predict -- will allow the dead to also move past it and trigger the final battle between fire and ice. Such meaty, geeky questions to be answered. 

HBO

Little Lady Lyanna stole the whole damn show

This season's breakout star was a 12-year-old unknown actress (Bella Ramsey) who schooled every old dude in the North. Thanks to Lyanna's sharp tongue, the finale saw every commander rallying around Jon Snow as their rightful king. Even better was her takedown of Jon, Sansa, and Davos when they asked for her troops' support earlier this season -- her "talk to the hand" might have been the fiercest put-down in a show full of them.

HBO

You ain't nothing but the Hound, dog 

Sandor Clegane is one of the best characters on GoT. A no-bullshit, cynical warrior who is also secretly a big softie with a heart made of dragonglass-encased gold, the Hound had last been left for dead but made a miraculous comeback once reformed Al Swearengen and his people came across him, but -- because this is GOT, after all -- those people got cut down swiftly and moved the Hound back into his killing game. The Hound is at his best when he is killing people and making comments about how annoyed he is while killing people. 

Goodbye, Tommen

There are characters on the show you love to hate (Joffrey, Ramsay, Cersei), there are characters on the show you love to love (Wun Wun, Bronn, Missandei when boozed up)... and then there is Tommen. Sure, I recognize his value as the gentler second boy in the faux-Baratheon clan, the easily malleable one, manipulated by both the gods and the Aesthetically Pleasing Tyrell Daughter, and surprisingly less affected by his spiteful mom. But actually watching Tommen do anything was painfully dull, the show equivalent of renewing your E-ZPass. Even the way he left seemed to speak to that: he just dropped out of the window silently, thoughtful enough to leave the crown in the room, lest that break, too. 

HBO

Watch the throne: the solidification of Queen D 

In previous seasons, Daenerys alternated between being somewhat dull -- more of an idealistic political neophyte frustrated with bureaucracy who just happens to have dragons she may or may not be able to control -- and a badass, unburnable, white-haired dragon whisperer. But this season, she left no doubt where the balance tips, burning up all the Dothraki khals after shit-talking them, giving impassioned Braveheart speeches, riding her dragons wherever she damn well pleases, popping into problem situations just in time to solve them, and making friends with another lady badass who just happens to have a shit-ton of boats. 

After all of the talk and speculation about when and if she'd finally cross the sea and take the throne, the boats are literally in the water, and she's rolling with a crew that'll eventually include the Tyrells, the Martells (er, Sand Snakes?), the Unsullied, the Dothraki, and the Greyjoy boat-builders who did a commendable job attaching dragons to the front of them. Now she just has to go and marry her nephew Jon or something and have tiny fireproof babies with dragon godparents.    

Whatchu talkin' 'bout, Wylis? 

Every time I'm in an elevator now and someone says, "Hold the door," I don't, just to honor Hodor. That's how much I care. 

 

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Kevin Alexander is Thrillist’s national writer-at-large, and he randomly engages strangers in conversations about Bran the Builder. Become one of his little birds in exchange for sweets: @KAlexander03

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