Happy 4th of July weekend, everyone! It’s been a few weeks since we last discussed the happenings in Westeros and Essos and a lot has happened. In what were possibly the best 2 episodes the show has aired so far, the show runners stayed true to form in providing a behemoth 9th episode but then outdid themselves with a massive finale. Even though the finale was 80 minutes long, it never felt bloated and was both extremely well paced and immensely satisfying. Let’s break down some of the biggest events of the end of the 6th season. Spoilers.
The 9th episode, “The Battle of the Bastards,” opened in Essos with Daenerys Targaryen negotiating the New World Order—that is to say, dictating the terms upon which the Masters would surrender. Foolishly, they had come woefully unprepared for what essentially becomes the first Air Force bombardment of this NWO. During the chaos of the battle Viserion and Rhaegal are freed from there captivity and take to the air. Riding Drogon, Dany commands her dragons to torch some of the Masters ships, demonstrating her power and commandeers the remaining fleet. She then has Grey Worm execute the two most cowardly Masters; the only one still living is the only one who learned to kneel that day.
The actual battle of the bastards for Winterfell was an absolutely insane medieval pitched battle. It was easily the largest and most complex battle sequence that the show has filmed. It took them nearly a month but with shot after glorious shot like these…
Every penny and hour spent filming was worth it. It seemed that Jon was being divinely protected during the battle, barely escaping certain death at least a dozen times. The directors did an incredible job of making the combat both seem extremely personal and altogether random. The numbers of dead begin to stack up on the battlefield forming mountains of corpses restricting movement and hindering Jon’s forces when they are entirely encircled and look to be thoroughly beaten. Sansa, however, has secretly ensured that their forces would be supplemented by Petyr Baelish and the Knights of the Vale. I feel like too much of Littlefinger’s sleazeball politics have rubbed off on Sansa. There is no reason that she couldn’t have told Jon about her efforts to secure more forces; it could have saved thousands of men and even possibly her brother Rickon. Yes, Rickon is dead: Shot through the heart by Ramsay’s arrow. Barely worth mention: See, shaggydog narrative. When the Knight’s of the Vale ride in to change the battle, Jon escapes the field in pursuit of Ramsay Bolton who has fled realizing he has lost the battle. Ramsay tries to lock himself inside Winterfell believing that he can outlast a siege. The siege lasted about 30 seconds, until Wun-Wun the giant smashed down the front gates. Jon Snow almost beats Ramsay to death, but instead allows Sansa to feed him to his own starving dogs: A fitting end for a vicious character.
The season finale, “Winds of Winter,” opened with the trials of Loris Tyrell and Cersei Lannister. Loris is brought before the 7 judges of the faith and confesses to all of the crimes that he is accused of. As punishment for this, the Faith makes him renounce his titles and claims to Highgarden. He also submits to service in the name of the faith, having a 7 pointed star carved into his forehead like the other faith militant. Cersei is absent from the Sept of Baelor and the High Sparrow commands Brother Lancel to retrieve her from the Red Keep, when he is distracted by a small child, clearly out of place and follows him into the crypts beneath the Sept. Cersei’s absense strikes Margaery Tyrell as very worrisome; she looks around the room and sees so many of Cersei’s opponents and realizes that Cersei is planning something. It’s around this time that the audience sees Grand Maester Pycelle stabbed to death by Qyburn’s little birds. Lancel deep underground realizes what he has stumbled upon, a massive cache of wildfire. Just as he understands what is happening he catches a knife in the ribs, completely helpless from stopping the plot from moving forward. Just as we see panic and realization strike the rest of those who have gathered for the trials, the entire Sept and surrounding area goes up in a massive flourescent green fireball.
The scene is an immaculate 25 minute opening; the tension and pacing made the payoff worth every second. Cersei’s wry smile at eliminating all of her foes in one fell swoop was tempered by Tommen’s suicidal leap from the Red Keep. The prophecy of Maggy the Frog has come true. There is something darkly satisfying about Cersei taking her place on the Iron Throne, when considering the “Game,” as it were. She wont, but—LONG MAY SHE REIGN!
Meanwhile, in the North, Jon is forced to expel Melisandre. Davos confronts her about Shireen in front of Jon and asks him for permission to execute Melisandre as a murderer. This is all rather complicated…Davos wants to kill Mel for burning Shireen, except it might actually be because of Shireen’s death that she was able to resurrect Jon. We don’t know. So, being the great leader that he is, Jon essentially ignores Melisandre’s pleas to remain in the North because he does recognize that she might have a significant role to play, but he doesn’t succumb to the dark temptation of the power of religion like so many others have on this show. In another fine showing of Northern heartiness, Lyanna Mormont shames the rest of the houses in the North for not heeding the call to arms when House Stark was in greatest need. “Bear Island, knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark.” Even though Jon is a bastard, she proclaims Jon her king from this day until his last day. The other houses concede, Lady Mormont though harsh, speaks true and they proclaim Jon the KING IN THE NORTH!
Varys has also made his way to Dorne during this time to have a tripartite meeting with Olenna Tyrell and Ellaria Sand, the new ruler of Dorne. I made a prediction early in the season that we wouldn’t be back to Dorne until the end of the season and also that Dorne would be a foothold for Dany in Westeros. It turned out that those predictions were pretty accurate. With Cersei having eliminated her entire bloodline, Olenna Tyrell is focused on revenge. Ellaria is interested in forming a coalition and stacking up allies. Varys provides them both a massive opportunity to support Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne. Importantly, when Yara asks for the Iron Islands back, Dany grants her request. Dorne is notoriously free minded; Dany likes breaking chains. This could be an important point for both parties going forward.
We also had an emotional payoff with Bran following his father up the steps of the Tower of Joy to the room where he finds his bloody sister laying in her death bed and as many fans have predicted all along, there is a baby in the room. Jon Snow is not really Jon Snow, that is to say he is probably Jon Blackfyre. Or, as an amazing redditor has pointed out, his name could very well be Jaehaerys Blackfyre. Either way, this was a very emotional scene in which Eddard Stark, a man of tremendous honor, willingly takes a stain upon that honor for the love that he had for his sister. A Targaryen bastard—more to the point, Rhaegar’s child by Lyanna—would have been murdered in the blink of an eye by Robert and Ned promises to keep him safe from his best friend. That day he marked his own honor and made the oath to live a lie, to the world and his king—but his integrity grew 10x.
The final shot of the epsiode is of Daenerys—her fleet of Tyrell, Martell and Greyjoy ships; her bloodthirsty Dothraki hoard; her mercenary army of second sons; her elite Queen’s guard and division of Unsullied warriors; her spider and diplomat, Varys; her hand, Tyrion; and her three dragons Viserion, Rhaegal and Drogon heading across the Narrow Sea to conquer Westeros—finally. FIRE AND BLOOD!