Wednesday, June 29, 2016

“The Winds of Winter” Reset the Board on “Game of Thrones”

Last Sunday’s season finale of Game of Thrones may have been the show’s best episode so far. And for readers of the books, it probably contained the most surprises. Here are my thoughts on “The Winds of Winter.” Note, *SPOILERS* to follow.

In a number of ways, last Sunday’s episode reset the game board to where it stood at the end of George R.R. Martin’s first book, A Game of Thrones. You have a Lannister tenuously holding onto the Iron Throne, a king in the Iron Isles, and a King of the North. What you don’t have is House Baratheon, which looks pretty decimated right now. In their place, however, you have the Targaryens, with Daenerys’ massive army sailing to Westeros. But there are a few things that are different this time around. 

The King in the North

I must say, I wasn’t expecting this development at the end of Season 6, with Jon becoming the new King in the North. I did expect his Bran-found parentage (which has always been the subject of massive speculation, R + L = J, anyone?). Jon is a Stark, through Lyanna, and a Targaryen, though Rhaegar—which makes him a child of both ice and fire. Since Martin’s series is titled A Song of Ice and Fire, I wonder if Jon’s parentage confirms that he is the true hero of this tale. 

I loved the way the show’s writers mirrored the scene where Robb Stark was named King in the North. And I really loved little Lyanna Mormont—in fact, I hope she becomes a regular on the show! The last time there was a King in the North, it didn’t end so well. But unlike Robb, Jon isn’t focused on the Lannisters; he’s focused on the Night King beyond the Wall. That said, this is Game of Thrones, which means that something will go wrong, and I suspect Littlefinger, and maybe Sansa, will be the reason it does.

Queen Cersei, the First of Her Name

The first part of the finale, with its haunting score and long build up, may have been one of the best scenes ever filmed on Game of Thrones. While I thought the High Sparrow would meet his end, I never expected poor Tommen would kill himself, which would put Cersei on the Iron Throne. This is the ultimate reversal of fortune for a character who was brought low at the end of Season 5 and A Feast For Crows. I have to believe this is what Martin had in mind. Even though the show’s writers have run out of published source material, I still believe Martin gave them the key plot points through the end of the tale, and setting up Cersei as the final villain on the Iron Throne makes perfect sense from a storytelling point-of-view.

That said, I think Cersei is totally screwed. She’s out of allies, is probably hated by everyone in King’s Landing who lost a loved one when she blew up the Great Sept of Baelor, and has a nearly unstoppable army heading her way with three fire-breathing dragons. Even more, with Tommen’s death, it looks like all of Maggy the Frog’s prophecy to Cersei is coming true. The last part of that prophecy doesn’t end well:
“Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” she said. “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale throat and choke the life out of you.”
Apparently, “valonqar” means “little brother” in High Valyrian. I suppose this could mean that Tyrion will be Cersei’s end, since he is heading back to Westeros and hates his older sister. But maybe the valonqar could point to Jaime, who was born holding Cersei’s foot and did kill the Mad King for attempting to blow up King’s Landing with wildfire, much like Cersei just did. Also, her actions resulted in Tommen’s death, so maybe Jaime is none too happy with his sister right now. In any event, I predict that Cersei is toast. But every time I think she’s toast, she finds a way to survive. So who knows?

The Targaryen Horde

The scene with Daenerys’ ships and dragons finally heading to Westeros was the perfect end to the show’s best season. Her army looks absolutely unstoppable, especially when you consider it will join that of Dorne and Highgarden. But since this is Game of Thrones, nothing is ever as easy as it looks, so expect a setback for Dany in the near future. If I had to guess, that setback will come in the form of Euron Greyjoy, who needs revenge on Yara and Theon. Also, in A Feast For Crows, Euron has a horn that can magically control dragons. We haven’t seen that horn on the show, but there’s plenty of time for its revelation next season. 

RIP Lady Stoneheart

It’s okay to use her name now because I don’t think we will ever see her on the show. If she was going to appear, it would have been last episode. All the pieces were set with the Brotherhood Without Banners and Brienne and Pod all in the Riverlands. But, as I suspected, the appearance of Beric Dondarrion signaled that she would have no place on Game of Thrones. Instead, it appears the writers have given her role as the avenger of the Red Wedding to the face-changing Arya Stark. That’s fine, so long as Walder Frey got what he deserved!

What’s Left?

Earlier this week, the show’s writers confirmed that there will be only 13 to 15 more episodes left on Game of Thrones, which means the next two seasons are going to be shortened. As much as I hate the show ending, at least this suggests the writers have a plan to wrap it up without adding a bunch of filler of the kind that helped kill LOST

The person I feel most sorry for is George R.R. Martin. Last week’s episode undoubtedly spoiled some major surprises from Martin’s upcoming novel, which is unfortunate. That said, so much is different in the novels, I still think we’ll have plenty of new material to devour when the book comes out. You can read some good articles about this here, here, and here.

Now for the hard part. Winter has indeed come at the beginning of summer 2016, and now we’ll need to wait until next spring to learn what happens. Yet maybe HBO’s upcoming Westworld will help us get through the freeze. It’s produced by JJ Abrams, and the story on which it’s based was written by Michael Crichton. Last time I checked, they were both pretty good.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes


Bill said...

Good analysis, Joe. I was a very entertaining episode, although the quibbler in me notes that certain characters seems to travel vast distances very quickly, given the medieval tech.

13-15 episodes seems an odd number. Perhaps a single longer season, or 10 90 minute episodes?

Regarding Martin's books, I would observe that I, like many readers, saw Season 1 before ever reading Book 1, then read the other books independently of the TV seasons. I'm used to spoilers, plus I frequently don't recall exact details after several years.

Joseph Finley said...

Thanks for the comment Bill. I too was taken aback by Varys on Dany's ship, wondering if he teleported there! But a lot of folks have written about this. Apparently, among the armada are ships from Dorne and Highgarden, so the theory is that Varys and the Dornish/Highgarden fleet met up with Dany's somewhere along the way.

Bill said...

Arya must have moved pretty fast too, although the passage of time is often unclear.