Major spoilers for the Season 6 finale of Game of Thrones to follow. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here who have yet to watch "The Winds of Winter."
Last week's Game of Thrones, "Battle of the Bastards," was one of the most thrilling hours in the series' history, full of large-scale action and bloody fun payoff. How would showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff wrap up Season 6 with even half as much fire? By blowing up the story from the inside -- courtesy of the worst kept secret in King's Landing.
"The Winds of Winter," the longest Thrones episode to date, pulled the trigger on the telescoped explosion of King Aerys II Targaryen's secret stash of wildfire -- and that was just the first 10 minutes. Nearly every scene in this satisfying hour-plus provided some twist or turn that shook the very foundations of George R.R. Martin's world. Here are the moments that'll keep our imaginations racing over the long, cruel months until Season 7 arrives.
10. Wildfire literally disintegrating the High Sparrow
All signs pointed to the Mad King's weapons of mass destruction lighting up the High Sparrow and his Faith of the Seven cronies, though I couldn't have predicted Cersei's terrorist act would happen right off the bat, or that the devastation would be so controlled. Now that I think about it, yeah, that is what happened to the chaps aboard Stannis' fleet during the Battle of Blackwater, so the High Sparrow's skin dissolving off his bones shouldn't have been that surprising. Props to the High Sparrow for playing it cool until the very end.
9. Varys appearing in Dorne
A few episodes back, Varys went on a secret mission. Some speculated that he was off to court a new army. Others thought he was a traitor, zipping back to King's Landing to alert the Lannisters. Whatever he was off to do, he admitted that if he failed, Tyrion wouldn't see him again. But Varys is back -- and now he's forged an alliance with the Dornish warrior women AND Olenna, the Queen of Thorns. No one will ever be able to adequately explain how Varys then made it all the way from Dorne to Meereen in time to join Daenerys and Tyrion as they set sail for Westeros, but I'm happy the Spider did, because Varys rules.
8. Cersei taking her place on the Iron Throne
It's what she always wanted, and we never thought we'd see the day. So many children died to make Cersei's partnerless matriarch a possibility, and even still, the prize will come with a price. The image of her coronation, transformed into an evil Disney queen by a newly minted crown, tingled the spine. The scene wrenched the gut when Jaime walked in. Remember, the knight murdered a sitting king in order to prevent the same fiery destruction that his sister/lover now carried through. I can only imagine how that will play out in Season 7.
7. Jon Snow becoming the King of the North
Last season, Jon Snow bled to death on the snowy grounds of Castle Black, betrayed by his own soldiers. Flash ahead 10 episodes, and a resurrected bastard is now leading the newly reformed House Stark. The shock here was two-fold: one, who expected Jon to rise through the ranks so quickly, and be so OK with the idea? The second goes back to Sansa, who clearly expects her due in the immediate future. As Benioff mentioned in the post-show chatter, Sansa doesn't trust Jon, and the feelings should be mutual in Season 7. A scene opening with Lyanna Mormont's Small Wonder-style badassery and ending with Jon cracking a smile at his hard-earned accomplishment is tinged by a murky future.
6. Sansa denying Littlefinger like a boss
Littlefinger's relationship with Catelyn Stark, and now her daughter Sansa, is so gnarled, I wasn't sure if he was going to force himself on her in "The Winds of Winter" or murder her in cold blood. The finale gave us a third, more interesting option -- even though the latter is undoubtedly a lingering possibility next season. Sansa is officially in "no bullshit" mode; she'll take advantage of Littlefinger without caving in to his aggressive, lustful behavior and weird scheme-dreams. The player is now the pawn, and vice versa. How many diabolical smiles can two actors have in one episode? Sophie Turner and Aidan Gillen set a new record this week.
5. Qyburn's "little birds" murdering Maester Pycelle
They sing! They dance! They reap information from the tiniest corners of Westeros! And it turns out, the Little Birds ain't bad with knives, either. If you waited patiently this season to see these child servants freed in a Game of Thrones version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, "The Winds of the Winter" failed you. If you didn't realize you wanted to see these little suckers stab Maester Pycelle to death for farting at the Small Council table, then clapped in sadistic glee as it happened, then you're like me.
4. Bran discovering that Jon is Lyanna Stark's son
"R + L = J" has been a backbone Game of Thrones theory for so long that it's not even really a theory. If the show's going anywhere, it's with Jon Snow tying into the Targaryen bloodline by way of Ned Stark's sister. He himself is the song of ice and fire -- but oh, boy, was Bran's vision in the Tower of Joy a sight for sore eyes. And yet even as it revealed the biggest twist in the series to date, it still sustained a little mystery -- all that whispering! Such was the beauty of this episode of Thrones: no one utters the revelation outright, with director Miguel Sapochnik instead linking the facts via editing. If Bran makes it to the Winterfell side of the Wall in Season 7, Jon will learn his lineage -- if it isn't too late, that is.
3. Margaery dying in the blast
Back to the wildfire. The High Sparrow had to go, of course, and Loras, Kevan Lannister, and Mace Tyrell were minor collateral damage to the plot going forward. But who really expected Thrones to kill off fan-favorite Margaery, a radiant personality brought to life each week by actress Natalie Dormer? That's the ruthlessness of the show: Cersei had to be the last queen standing in this finale. And that meant killing the darlings.
2. Arya assassinating Walder Frey
Game of Thrones doesn't throw a bone to viewers too often, but when it does, the fan service makes you stand up and cheer. If the Arya-in-Braavos plot spun its wheels this season with repetitive fight scenes vs. the Waif and the comic shenanigans of a troupe of farting yuksters, we can't argue against how it all paid off: Arya is now a freaking assassin. If she wants to infiltrate House Frey, chop up the noble sons into mincemeat pies, feed the baked goods to their wicked father, and then slit his throat, Arya can do that. The whole thing's disturbing -- even D.B. Weiss felt compelled to remind the audience that Arya is 100% a murderer now and we should all be worried about her future. But damn if the Red Wedding revenge wasn't a vicious, fulfilling surprise.
1. Tommen jumping to his death
Tommen the King was not a vital character. He was a puppet dragged around by multiple puppeteers, a kid forced into an elder position of power, a role that kept him in the crosshairs of Thrones' merciless creators. It was pretty clear that he was going to die this season. But the suspected method seemed likely to be death by wildfire. When that didn't happen, all bets were off, and after an encounter with the Mountain didn't end in bloodshed, it looked like young Tommen might stick around. The weight of his impossible life ultimately took its toll on Tommen, and that open balcony was just too tempting. Yes, the death was abrupt and borderline silly. But Weiss and Benioff stand their ground. This is the price of playing Tyrion's so-called "great game," and it's brutal.
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