Essays · TV

Game of Thrones Explained: The Winds of Winter Bring The Future

By  · Published on June 27th, 2016

9 big ideas from the season 6 finale.

As it concluded its fifth season last year around this time, Game of Thrones did so with a massive cliffhanger. Lying on the ground bleeding out was, to date, its most heroic figure. Jon Snow had just been stabbed numerous times by members of his Night’s Watch ranks who believed they were doing the right thing. From that moment until the moment Jon was returned to the world of the living in season six’s second episode, it was a rough 322 days for producers, cast, publicity teams, and fans alike. For almost a year, the whirlwind of talk around Thrones was more about trying to hide something than it was about getting people excited for what is to come. This delicate dance wore down relations between television’s biggest show of all-time and the fandom that has made it so.

It’s likely that showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss were stalling, holding out so that George R.R. Martin might be able to finish his book, The Winds of Winter, and deliver the good news about Jon himself. That didn’t work out either, as Martin continued to miss deadlines and is yet to deliver his next entry. It’s also possible that the cliffhanger was too juicy to pass up. They would be naive, but perhaps they didn’t expect photographers to be crawling through the mud to get pictures of Kit Harington on set during the filming of “The Battle of the Bastards,” which finally aired last week. All-in-all, it was a mess for everyone involved.

“The Winds of Winter” the episode, the finishing move of season six, was far removed what Thrones did with “Mother’s Mercy.” The latter had plenty of big moments, but it was fraught with huge questions and a cagey production. This season’s finale wanted none of the Parade of Lies. It finished with several bangs and while it closed many storylines, it also opened up new ones. Providing as much intrigue for the future as it did closure for the present.

With this idea of closure and rebirth in mind, here are 9 big ideas I have after watching the Game of Thrones season 6 finale.

1. That Opening Sequence

The first 20-minutes of this episode was by far the best contained sequence Thrones has delivered since The Red Wedding. Director Miguel Sapochnik slowly built tension by starting with intimate shots of the players in King’s Landing getting ready for the big trial day. He was aided wonderfully by a fresh and revelatory bit of score (“Light of the Seven” on the season 6 soundtrack) by Ramin Djawadi. In fact, it was Djawadi’s departure in numerous scenes from his usual rhythm that made “The Winds of Winter” feel almost otherworldly. By the time we reached the moment when The Great Sept of Baelor exploded in a ball of green fire, the audience was covered in a cloak of dread. What a way to kick off a season finale and follow the show’s most audacious battle.

2. Patriarchy and Religion Stocks Are Down

Prior to the season, many theorized that this would be a season of sticking it to the patriarchy. The revenge of the Stark girls, Cersei fights back, the opening episode takeover in Dorne, and Daenerys finally getting her shit together meant that the men at the top of Westeros were in trouble. What we didn’t quite expect is the free-fall of religious zealotry. Not only did Cersei blow up the entire Faith Militant gang, but The Red Woman was sent packing by the man she resurrected. Not exactly the comeuppance the audience was expecting when Davos stormed into the room, but an interesting rejection of a higher power by a man with every reason to believe.

The episode featured a lot of talk about belief. Not in the gods, but in people. Tyrion believes in Daenerys. The North believes in Jon Snow. Cersei believes that everyone else can go fuck themselves. And Arya still believes that there’s only one god and his name is Death. But no one is putting much stock in The Seven, The Lord of Light, or even that rascally Drowned God. All around us Septons are dying and magic is rising. The death of the patriarchy and the hardcore religious institutions that helped keep it in power is a modern idea, one that Thrones is clearly unafraid to stab furiously like it’s a Grand Maester in a basement.

3. Arya’s Vengeance Tour Begins

There’s incredible darkness in the image of a teenage girl holding an old man’s head back after slitting his throat to ensure that he bleeds out profusely, then smiling about it. But that’s where we’re at with the sweet murder child Arya Stark. Following her abrupt discharge from her internship at the Unitarian Murder Church of Braavos, Arya’s future was in a bit of limbo. Would she return to her lauded revenge list? Would a kinder, more homesick Arya return to Winterfell to find that her favorite half-brother and least-favorite sister had retaken the castle? Would she lead a wolf pack in guerrilla warfare against the evil forces in the Riverlands? Would she don a hood and become Lil’ Stoneheart?

Nope. She skipped to the end, traveling back to The Twins to cross out a bunch of book storylines off the show’s list. In the books, it’s Lord Manderly (seen later in “King in the North Part 2: Lyanna’s Boogaloo) who bakes some Frey kids into a pie and serves them at Ramsay Bolton’s wedding. The show held back on this story and cooked Freydle Dee and Freydle Dumb (Black Walder and Lothar) into pies instead. This allows Arya to show up, show off the one good trick she learned at boarding school, then do what Jon is latter accused of doing by actually avenging The Red Wedding. Forget logic – like who helped her bake those pies and how did no one notice her cutting up bodies in the kitchen at The Twins? – that was awesome.

The big question for Arya: where does this end? Is Cersei next? Will she take down The Mountain? Is The Red Woman’s southbound trip going to bring her into the vicinity of Arya, whom she promised she’d meet again? This storyline is fun, but it feels like it’s ready to get even darker before Arya makes it back to her siblings.

4. Cersei, Queen of The Rubble

The looks that Cersei and Jaime exchange following her coronation as Queen of Whatever is Left of King’s Landing is distressing. In the books, the prophecy Cersei receives about her children includes another part: that a Valonqar (High Valyrian for “Little Brother”) shall finish her off. The last line of the prophecy, which didn’t make the cut on the show, goes something like this: “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”

Cersei has two younger brothers. Technically she’s Tywin’s eldest child, with Jaime coming out second during their birth. Just because this part of the prophecy didn’t make it into the show doesn’t mean the show won’t have Cersei fall at the hands of one of her brothers. Jaime might finally turn on her, considering the fact that every time he leaves one of his kids dies. Plus, she’s now ruling King’s Landing from a position of pure fear. Note the army forming ranks around her as she walks through the Red Keep. She’s as close to The Mad King as anyone’s been since, well, The O.G. Mad King. And we all remember how Jaime Lannister dealt with that guy.

If her closest brother doesn’t get her, Cersei has plenty of other enemies headed her way. The dragon queen from the south and the aforementioned Stark murder baby from The Riverlands. She’s won, but will it last?

5. Lyanna Mormont, You Da Real MVP

In all of about ten minutes of screen time in a ten hour season, Bella Ramsey absolutely stole the show as Lyanna Mormont. When we began the season, we talked a lot about another Lyanna who swooped in at the end for a big reveal, but it was the 10-year-old Little Lady of Bear Island who stole our hearts. In the finale, she put the lords of The North on blast. Because guess what, she was there all along answering the call, mean-mugging Ramsay Bolton, and leading her best 62 men into battle.

If you travel to Bear Island, they will give you many things. Famous Northern hospitality, the most glorious fur cloaks, perhaps even some delicious mutton. But they will not be giving any fucks. Their fucks are down to zero and their Kings are up to one. Never change, Lady Mormont.

6. Sam’s Club Rewards

Even as it barreled through a bunch of killer finishing moves, Thrones took some time to introduce an entirely new location (Oldtown) and the home of the great Maesters of Westeros. This fraternity of bespectacled learned men are the keepers of the knowledge of the Seven Kingdoms. And while Sam hasn’t been giving a sweet robe or the beginners chain yet, he gets to wait in the most badass library ever:

What will Sam learn in these hallowed halls? Will he, Gilly and Baby Sam find a nice apartment within walking distance of Maester University? It’s not entirely a conclusion to Sam’s arc in season six, but it’s enough of his journey to keep us interested. It’s also a bold move for a show like Thrones to say, “Hey, here’s an entirely new city in a previously unexplored region of Westeros” in the final episode of a season.

7. Daenerys Trek

After six seasons of wandering aimlessly through Essos, both literally and figuratively, Daenerys Targaryen is boldly going where we’ve wanted her to go since – I dunno – episode ten of season one? To make it all worth it, the digital effects team on Thrones used its computers to make her royal fleet infinite. We knew that between the Greyjoy kids, the reclaimed property of the Wise Masters, and the Dornish contingent, she’d have a lot of ships. But it also felt like someone in the editing room kept saying, “NO, more ships!” until the VFX guys got up and walked out of the room in protest.

In addition to her rapidly multiplying fighting force and her rapidly growing portfolio of alliances, she’s also got an ace in the hole: Varys can teleport anywhere in a matter of minutes. One minute he’s being summoned by the bell of misandry in Dorne and in the next, he’s riding shotgun with the Mother of Dragons. The show has been playing with the compression and decompression of time in the past few episodes with this one as the ultimate head-scratcher.

Let’s not sully this with logic, friends. Daenerys had her best two episode run of the series to close season six. The scene between Dany and Tyrion in this episode was top notch work from both Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage. Even with an entire season of meandering, the mojo came right back as they set sail for the culmination of our hopes and dreams. And if this new United Nations initiative includes more of Lady Olenna giving the Sand Snakes a piece of the audience’s collective mind, I’m for it. All of it. Forever. Mad Queen Restoration Forever.

8. The Wall is Magic, Bye!

Uncle Benjen “Coldhands” Stark was kind enough to drop Bran and Meera off at The Wall, but just far enough away that none of their friends saw that their uncle is a member of the undead. He also decided to drop what could be a huge exposition bomb right before riding off to keep fighting the good fight: The Wall has a magical enchantment that keeps The Night King and his army from passing. And unless this enchantment is broken, everything is going to be super chill.

I’m trying to work out how The Night King might go about breaking this enchantment. Perhaps by touching someone (like Three-Eyed Raven 2.0 Bran Stark) and marking them with his own magic. Then once Bran passes through The Wall, the spell is broken. Let’s say Bran needs to get south of The Wall because he just figured out some game changing information about another character – like Jon Snow’s true parentage. In that instance, we can start calling him Bran the Destroyer. Or Bran The Door Breaker. Or Godsdamn Bran.

9. The Littlefingerprints All Over The North

“The Winds of Winter” accomplished a lot with glances shared across busy rooms. Even as Jon was being crowned King in the North, Littlefinger is using those dreamy eyes to turn Sansa’s smile upside down. What’s happening in Sansa’s mind throughout that scene is the most interesting thread going forward. In an earlier scene, she apologizes to Jon for not being forthright about her dealings with Littlefinger. Then end by talking about trust and bonding over Ned Stark’s insistence that Winter would eventually come. Then she rebukes Lord Baelish’s creepy advance, returning to her state of mistrust with the men in her life. By the end, we are left to wonder whether she’s truly happy and supportive of Jon as The North rallies around him, or if she’s realizing that Baelish was right to suggest that she’ll eventually need an army loyal to her.

Considering all she’s been through, Sansa has every right to have some serious trust issues. We know that Jon is a do-gooder, but he’s never had this kind of sway. She may be getting mom and dad’s room, but Jon got the keys to The North’s armies. And Littlefinger may still be trying to push her buttons and keep her isolated so that he can bring her back to his side when he makes his next big move.

In “Battle of the Bastards,” Sansa readily gave up on poor Rickon. She also seemed pretty at peace with losing Jon, as well. What she wasn’t going to do was allow herself to lose that battle and be taken back by Ramsay. She said so herself. The question now is whether or not she feels safe with Jon.

“The King in The North Part 2” was an uplifting moment. We’ve come so far since the last time a Stark child had The North so passionately united. But with everything that Thrones has done, there’s always going to be a sense that such a happy moment is merely a precursor to something horrible. What if that something horrible is orchestrated from the inside, by someone close to Jon who has influential friends and a healthy mistrust of everyone around her? That’s an interesting thread to follow as we march headstrong into the year-long wait for season seven.

As the week continues, there will no doubt be more to say about the Game of Thrones finale and the season as a whole, so stay tuned. Catch me next on A Storm of Spoilers, which drops Wednesday. Please feel free to give us your review in the Responses section below and if you like this article, hit the heart icon below to recommend it and help others on Medium discover it.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)