Why Winds of Winter was the Best Game of Thrones Finale Ever

Written by Bill Bodkin & Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs

Spoilers, Obviously

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale ‘Winds of Winter’ Review

Bill Bodkin: Kimberlee, I don’t know about you, but my heart is still pounding from that episode. That may have been one of the best finales, if not one of the best episodes, of Game of Thrones I’ve ever seen. I thought last week’s episode was the best, but this blew it out of the water. Am I just spouting hyperbole, or do you agree?

Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs: I agree completely. This was easily the best season finale to date and an undoubted series classic. Going into this week, I was wondering how even with the extra running time (this episode clocked in at 69 minutes, making it the longest in GoT history), Benioff and Weiss were going to tie up the season’s many dangling loose ends. Thankfully, they produced an absolute powerhouse of a finale that was somehow even more satisfying than last week’s bloody farewell to Ramsay Snow (Bolton). Moving along at a breathless clip, we touch base with practically everyone tonight and though there was no shortage of major moments, even the smaller scenes (like Sam’s arrival in Oldtown) felt essential.

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I imagine the scene everyone will be talking about first though is Cersei’s awe-inspiring leveling of the Sept and the loss of the many, many lives inside it.

BB: The Sept sequence played out like the famous baptism scene in The Godfather. Every moment of Cersei’s vengeance played out perfectly, yet we were kept in the dark until the wildfire literally showed us what her plan was. The score to this sequence was the best in series history in my opinion — it was chilling, tense, and set the tone perfectly. I absolutely loved Jonathan Pryce’s performance in this sequence, it was The High Sparrow at his absolute most arrogant, and with great pride comes the great fall. I almost thought for a second that Margery would make it out alive, but once the Sparrows stopped her I knew she doomed. It’s just stunning that Cersei, like Michael Corleone, went for everyone, and I mean everyone — the Maester, her uncle, the Tyrells, all the Sparrows, Loras — everyone.

Then follow that up with the comeuppance for the nun, and then Tommen’s (somewhat expected) suicide. It was the best moment of the episode, well until later, when we get invited Walder Frey’s dinner for one.

KRF: I’m so glad you mentioned the score because from the moment the episode began, the sparse tolling of church bells that accompanied Tommen, Margaery, and Cersei’s preparations for the day set a tone of absolute dread that was only ratcheted up as the sequence progressed. The possibility that Cersei was going to go full Mad King and burn all her enemies had been a widely circulated fan theory all season so while it wasn’t a surprise, I wasn’t expecting the sheer magnitude of her attack. Margaery’s death shocked me, as well. In the novels, Margaery is somewhat of a cypher and her motives and inner life are a mystery, but the writers has fleshed her out into such an intriguing and charismatic schemer (played so wonderfully by Natalie Dormer) that she quickly became a favorite of mine. I really assumed Margaery had more plotting to do and more shade to throw in the seasons to come and so I’m sad to see her story wrap up tonight. On the other hand, we keep being reminded how the shady politics and scheming of the court are no longer relevant in the new world taking shape or in the war to come, so perhaps she had simply outlived her narrative usefulness.

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BB: My theory about Cersei not making it out of this season was 100% wrong, and I’m extremely happy about this. The scene where she walks into the court, and sits upon the Iron Throne in her steam-punk Maleficent outfit was amazing. Lena Headey has such an amazing onscreen presence, that losing her would have hurt the series. The thought of a Dany vs. Cersei scene in coming seasons is so amazing that my mind may just explode.

KRF: I also loved the horrified look of revulsion on Jaime’s face when he sees Cersei sitting on the Iron Throne. By reducing the city to ashes, the love of his life has just done the very thing he broke a sacred vow and ruined his reputation in order to prevent Aerys from doing so many years ago. That was an incredibly powerful moment, as was Cersei’s stone cold reaction to Tommen’s suicide. She was right when she said back in the season premiere that the last part of her that was good died with Myrcella. She’s gone all the way to the dark side now and Jaime finally sees it too.

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BB: However, Cersei’s deeds can never go unpunished, as we saw one of your favorites, Lady Olenna, going to Dorne (ugh, Dorne) to seek the aid of The Sand Snakes to help her gain vengeance. Of course this lead to another jaw-dropping moment…Varys is in league with Dorne. I honestly did not see this one coming. I figured we wouldn’t see our favorite eunuch until next season (much like The Hound, and Brienne). But there he was…in league with The Snakes, and Lady Olenna

KRF: Mourning certainly hasn’t dulled Olenna’s sharp tongue – loved how she instantly cut down all of the Sand Snakes – and Diana Rigg once again elevates every scene she’s in, here even making Dorne appear briefly interesting. The Varys reveal wasn’t a shock to me – it makes perfect sense that the Ellaria and the Sand Snakes would rally behind Daenerys (another strong, female leader) in their unending quest for vengeance on the Lannisters, but by adding the powerful Tyrells into the fold, Daenerys’ army now seemingly represents half the world. The Lannisters are increasingly on their own and their whole “us against the world” thing is quickly becoming a reality.

BB: Speaking of Dany. Like The Mother of Dragons, I was not overly upset when she “broke up” with Daario, and I too wanted her to just get it over with. However, her scene with Tyrion was fantastic. Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage have phenomenal chemistry, and I honestly look forward to more between them next season, particularly when it comes to the war, and potentially ruling of Westeros. The moment where Tyrion admits his belief (and let’s face it, love) for Dany was just another reason why I love Peter Dinklage as an actor. He poured so much into every word he spoke. He always grabs you by the heartstrings, and is one of the few male characters that can really do this.

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KRF: I’m glad I’m not alone in reading a little bit of lovestruck in Dinklage’s performance in that scene. Yet ultimately I think his feelings for her are even deeper than romantic love – there’s also respect, admiration, and most powerfully, her ability to inspire belief and hope in him. I love the scenes between Daenerys and Tyrion because they serve to offer the audience hope and belief that, despite all the horror, war, and evil we’ve seen on the show, there is good in the world and people who are actively and cooperatively trying to make it a better place. Scenes like this are a necessary palate cleanser after the nastiness of Kings Landing and Clarke and Dinklage have such a naturally warm and lovely chemistry together that I’m secretly hoping Tyrion’s the future marriage alliance she alludes to.

BB: Next to Brienne and Tormund Gianstbane, that would be my favorite couple of all-time.

Yet, let’s move from the Bay of Dragons and the open sea to the North, where winter has truly begun. The scene with Jon and Sansa wasn’t anything that really blew me away, however Sansa’s scene with and rejection of Littlefinger was the icing on the cake for Sansa’s 180 from the last time she was in Winterfell. It’s interesting to see the dynamic, of course, how everyone’s claim that Jon is “King of the North” will go over with Sansa, and how Littlefinger will spin this to his advantage.

Also, let’s just call it now — young Lady Mormont is one of the best additions to this series, hands down. Honestly, she should be running the show in The North.

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KRF: All hail, Lady Mormont, thrower of side eye, taker of zero bullshit. I loved how it was her cutting, brutally honest speech that rallied all the lords of the North in support of Jon and how none of them were ashamed that it took an eleven year old girl to get them to see the right of it. The power dynamics are rapidly shifting and more and more, women are being granted a seat at the table.

And bastards, too as proven by Jon’s coronation. Yet while Sansa and the lords of the North (except for Littlefinger, obviously jealous and likely scheming up some plot developments for next season) declare Jon King of the North despite his lowborn status, the long-speculated R+L=J theory is FINALLY confirmed via Bran’s most important vision yet and we learn once and for all that Jon is not Ned’s bastard, but the son of Lyanna Stark and Rheagar Targaryen. This theory has long been considered cannon so its confirmation was not a shock, but holy hell, am I glad it finally came to pass and cannot wait to see how it comes into play next season, with Daenerys and her army rapidly approaching to seize a throne her claim has suddenly become a lot more tenuous to.

BB: I know the R+L=J was something a lot of people were chomping at the bit for, but the “reveal” didn’t do much for me. We never audibly hear Lyanna say who the father is except to say, “You know what Robert would do…” So we have to assume that it’s Rheagar. I thought, if anything, that was the weakest part of the episode — it robbed people from hearing the 100% confirmation. But honestly, that’s really splitting hairs for an episode that was wall-to-wall amazing.

KRF: I have to disagree because I don’t think that scene was ambiguous at all. Lyanna was only promised to Robert at the time of her “kidnapping” – they weren’t married and hadn’t consummated their relationship. The baby had to have been Rheagar’s and, though there’s still a lot more of that background story to reveal, I’m fairly certain our takeaway tonight is supposed to be that Jon Snow is half wolf, half dragon. Then again, I’ve been wrong in my theories before, but if this winds up being some elaborate fake out, I’m going to be extremely disappointed!

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BB: Ugh, if this was a bait and switch, that would be utterly cruel.

Now let’s dive into my personal favorite part of the episode, and sadly that’s not Sam’s jaunt to the maesterhood. No, it’s Arya Stark’s banishment of Walder Frey to the depths of hell. All season long I have railed against this storyline. In fact, two weeks ago when we had the Waif vs. Arya blow-off, I said it was one of the series’ weakest episodes. The Arya in Braavos arc was an exercise in futility, and it bored me to tears. However, tonight they finally atoned for this season, and we see Arya become the assassin she’s wanted to become.

Honestly, I had a feeling that the woman who she was disguised as would assassinate Walder Frey — but I never figured it to be Arya. The “Frey Pie” was such a great moment. It was as shocking, vile, and cruel as, well The Red Wedding itself. Making Walder eat his own sons was this great break from reality for both viewers and Walder — of course this allows for the amazing reveal of Arya Stark.

Now you really have to wonder how Arya’s path of rage will impact the newly crowned Cersei. Will she get to the Iron Throne before Dany, and kill Cersei? What kind of insane plan will she have to devise to get close to her?

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KRF: It’s so fitting and tongue-in-cheek that GoT would give us a reference to Titus Andronicus, Shakespeare’s first and bloodiest play, in Arya’s delicious revenge on Walder Frey.  Taking a page directly from Titus’ cookbook, Arya finally served up some justification for her two season long detour in Braavos along with that Frey brothers pie. (In fact, the revenge pie is pretty much always a narrative homerun – see also Eric Cartman re: Scott Tenorman’s parents. Ok, that’s technically chili, not pie but it’s still a delectable taste of come-uppance.) After her predictable face off with the Waif, it seemed that Arya’s entire storyline for the past two seasons was just a way to have her tread narrative water until her return to Westeros. Here, we see why her training was important and how though she failed in becoming No One, she ultimately became a stronger version of herself, which was her true goal all along. Now equipped with face-swapping ninja training, Arya Stark of Winterfell is certifiably no one to fuck with.

BB: You know who else shouldn’t be fucked with? Miguel Sapochnik, the director of both this and last week’s episode, as well as last season’s “Hardhome” and the infamous death of Jon Snow. I think it’d behoove Benioff and Weiss to tap him as the director for the remainder of the series. He has an amazing eye, his musical choices are beautiful, and his flair for the dramatic is unparalleled.

With that being said Kimberlee — overall thoughts on the season? For me, this season got off to an amazing start, had an unfortunate cooling off/extended table-setting run, but absolutely killed it with two of the best (or damn near close to) episodes in series history. At the end of the end of the day, the great absolves The Waif, the wasted Ian McShane cameo, Ramsay Bolton torturing, and the appearance of that weird King of the Vale.

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I am beyond stoked for next year’s “shortened” season for sure.

KRF: Overall, season six was very strong and represented a marked improvement from the occasionally sluggish and too often gratuitous season five. It was refreshing to see the women of Westeros come to the forefront more as players in the game and not as merely victims and, most importantly, that change felt organic to the narrative and not simply in response to the criticisms the show faced last season. Though there was certainly a mid-season lull (culminating with the subpar eighth episode) last week’s “The Battle of the Bastards” and this week’s “The Winds of Winter” rendered any weak moments completely forgotten. The past two weeks have provided some of the most satisfying moments in series’ history – from the epic battle at Winterfell, to Ramsay’s poetic comeuppance, to Cersei’s descent to pure evil, and the long-awaited reveal of Jon’s true parentage. These are all absolutely major moments and to deliver them in a one-two punch of breathless, expertly paced, and riveting episodes was a phenomenal capper to an already good season. It will be a long ten months until we return and I’ll be anxiously reading every bit of season seven gossip I can find in the meantime, for sure.

Overall, I’d give tonight’s “Winds of Winter” a rare and much-deserved 10 and an overall grade of 8.5 for the season.

BB: I could not agree with those numbers any harder. So, till next year Kimberlee — remember Winter is Coming. Be prepared.

KRF: A girl is anxiously waiting.

ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF HBO