Subtitle: watch the queen conquer
This was a stellar finale that capped a great season. In giving everyone in the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond) a voice, the series (book and show) had gotten too wide to sustain momentum. This season has been about cutting off the excess and getting back to the core. We end with three rulers left to vy for the throne and all three are favorites of mine so whoever ends up taking it I win!
We start in King’s Landing, with a beautiful wordless sequence to set the stage for the state sanctioned religious trials of Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lannister. We see the main players dressing as a lilting yet ominous melody plays. I’ve already choreographed a ballet to “The Rains of Castamere” and now I see a sequel. Because the music, the scene, the sequence, everything revolves around Cersei. She is the maestro and the prima ballerina and this is her show.
Loras confesses immediately. To “depravity, dishonesty, profligacy, and arrogance” which includes treason and homosexuality and I’m not sure which is worse to the High Hyena. But because he confesses, and agrees to give up everything, he’s not killed, just conscripted into the Hyena Army with a forehead brand.
In stark contrast, Cersei doesn’t show up to her trial. Margaery, bless her, realizes Tommen is also missing (the Mountain barred him from going) and tells the Hyena they have to Get Out Now. The Hyena, damn him, not only brushes off her warning, he bars the exit so no one can get out of the building before Cersei’s wildfyre blows it up. Qyburn found old Mad King Aegon’s stores under the city and set them up to explode. Poor Lancel proves he did learn to suspect his former cousin/former lover, follows a child into the tunnels, and discovers the plot but not in time to stop it despite his best efforts.
While the trials and explosions are going on, Qyburn lures Grand Maester Pycelle down into his workshop where a group of angry children attack and murder him. Pycelle has been shown to be the worst of the worst, and it’s implied he abused these children, but it’s still disturbing. It’s equally disturbing but also somehow fitting that Cersei’s underground army is made up of beggar children.
Most disturbing, Cersei next confesses to Septa Unella, who she has tied up in the dungeon. Cersei confesses to all her sins — drinking, incest, lies, torture, scheming, murder, treason and ultimately how she absolutely enjoys all of it. “It makes me feel good,” she tells the Septa. Cersei, throughout the episode but certainly in this scene, is drunk on power and has no shame whatsoever. Unella says she’s ready to meet her gods but Cersei’s not done torturing her. She introduces Ser Gregor and walks away repeating “Shame. Shame.” in time with Unella’s screams. The audience is left to imagine what goes on in the room and I’m haunted just thinking about it. HORRIBLE.
With Cersei and her Mountain busy with the Septa, Tommen is left alone to watch the church that held his wife, all his advisors, and a good chunk of the populace, burn, knowing it was his mother who did it, and his decrees that forced her hand. In a daze he chooses to jump out the window to his death. It might be the only decision he ever made for himself. Interestingly, he removes his Baratheon crown before jumping but keeps his Lannister necklace on. I think this is Tommen’s way of being a Lannister — in dying he pays his debts to Margaery and to the city, and he both hurts Cersei and sets her finally free of any tether. Without her children, Cersei has nothing but power and rage.
Cersei takes one moment to look on the body of her last child but it’s clear she’s past mourning. She’s known Tommen wouldn’t survive since she learned of Myrcella’s death. She spent moments this season trying to reach Tommen, trying to protect him, but in the end it’s as she told Lancel in the corridor of the Red Keep: she chooses violence. After the explosion, she chooses to torture the Septa rather than attempt to console her son and so he dies. Cersei orders Tommen’s body burnt and the ashes scattered at the site of the destroyed church and tombs, so he may be with his family.
In the Riverlands, Walder Frey is celebrating retaking Riverrun but Jaime is Over It. He reminds Old Walder that the Lannisters are the only reason the Freys defeated the Tullys this time or any time. Any power House Frey has is based in the power of House Lannister. This is another season long theme — the main three Houses reasserting power over their minions.
Down South, Sam, Gilly and the baby have finally reached the Citadel. They are met by a bored and snooty citadelian maester who reminds me of the Ents in the second Lord of the Rings film (I hate the Ents in the second Lord of the Rings film). He knows little of what’s going on outside his Ivory Tower and won’t let Gilly into the library because Ew Girls. Sam glances at Gilly in apology but once he crosses into the room the rest of the world fades away. I hope someone is making a gifset paralleling Sam in the library with Belle in the library because she is all I could think of when it happened.
In Winterfell, Davos confronts Melisandre with Jon as his witness. She confesses to burning Princess Shireen at the stake but claims it was her Lord’s choice, and the girl’s parents went along with it. Davos asks Jon’s permission to kill her but Melisandre argues she’s still needed, to help in the fight against the Night King. Jon chooses to banish her, which seems an odd choice. I suppose he doesn’t want to hang the person who brought him back to life but also doesn’t want to have a child-killer on his side, even if she would be useful. He tells her to ride South, if she returns to the North he’ll have her hanged, and Davos adds he’ll kill her himself. The most interesting part of this scene is Melisandre’s response to Davos’s claim that she lied about Stannis being the One and it got an innocent girl killed: she answers, “I didn’t lie, I was wrong.” Prophecy has cast a shadow over the action all along: the Red God’s champion, Cersei’s doomed children, Bran’s visions, Daenerys’s entire arc. I love that with one simple statement Melisandre fixes any continuity complaints and opens the whole story up to new configurations. Well played, show writers.
Jon next catches up with Sansa to tell her he’s having her installed in the Lord’s chambers since she’s a trueborn Stark, and by securing the Vale Army she’s responsible for their winning back the castle. Sansa apologizes for not telling him about Littlefinger, who she also outs as completely untrustworthy despite the recent rescue, good job Sansa. Jon says they have to trust each other with everything, and kisses her forehead, and it’s so beautiful. Then Sansa glows as she relates they’ve received a white raven from the citadel: Winter is here!
In Dorne, Ellaria Sand and her Snakes are meeting with Olenna Tyrell, who is in mourning and out for revenge. Enter Varys with a very clever line that promises exactly what she wants: fire and blood. And like that, the Tyrell army — the largest in Westeros — is allied with Team Dragon. And apparently so is Dorne. . . even though Dorne’s entire deal was being the one territory House Targaryen never conquered…? Whatever, it’s fine, they also don’t murder little girls in Dorne except when they totally do. (To be clear, I’m completely on board with Team Dragon’s expansion, I just find everything Dorne to be generally inexplicable)
In Mereen, Dany breaks up with Daario because she finally figured out that he has as much personality as a dish towel. Also because she doesn’t need any distractions and does need to appear available for a diplomatic marriage. Daario literally gets down on his knees to beg her to take him with her but she holds firm — and later tells Tyrion she felt nothing but impatience for it to be over. Sorry Daario, you were never more than a toy. Plus, I like to imagine now she’s met Yara, nobody else measures up.
She finds Tyrion waiting in the pyramid throne room (I want to say I’ll miss this set, but in truth I am excited to finally leave it behind) and tells him it’s done, Daenario is no more. Tyrion promises she will find love again and I’m bracing myself for the Jon and Dany hook up on the horizon. Much more importantly, Tyrion tells Daenerys he doesn’t believe in anything but he believes in her and she makes him Hand of the Queen. I cried real tears. The scene is beautifully acted and the staging is amazing — it takes places in this big empty room but it is so intimate. Emmys all around.
Back in the Riverlands, Walder Frey is still in his feasting hall, but now alone. A girl appears with his meat pie dinner and all my spider-senses start to shout. The girl is Arya Stark, the pies are Walder’s sons, and as horror fills his eyes she slits his throat to mirror her mother’s death.
Okay, that’s badass and all but I have questions. One, how does Arya even know how her mother’s throat was slit? Two, where did she get that face from? Did she steal it from the face vault? How was she transporting it? Or did she murder some poor servant girl in the kitchen in order to steal her face? Because that would be wrong and terrible. Did some random girl ask her to kill her and if so why and also is she allowed to do this stuff if she’s not a real Faceless Man or does this mean she IS a real Faceless Man and that whole No One thing we’ve been stuck with for two years was just some kind of test? What is actually going on here seriously.
And finally, how the hell did she get to the Riverlands so quickly?! The timeline of this episode makes exactly zero sense. It’s taken Sam and Gilly the entire season to get to where they left to go last season, and Brienne and Pod are still rowing their way from Riverrun to Winterfell (will they meet up with Gendry?), but somehow Arya got from Braavos to the Twins in one episode. The Citadel also hadn’t heard that Lord Mormont died and Jon Snow is now Lord Commander and by now Jon Snow isn’t even Lord Commander anymore and in between then and now he also died and returned. So the Citadel is super out of the loop. Also Olenna is in Dorne, and so is Varys, and they know all about Cersei’s coup in King’s Landing. . . but Jaime was in Riverrun and/or the Twins and didn’t hear about any of it? Seriously, nothing about the timing of anything that happens in this episode makes sense. But it is all very dramatic.
Back in Winterfell Petyr Baelish finds Sansa by her family’s weirwood tree in a clear parallel to when Catelyn finds Ned in the same spot in the first episode — and seeing that I recall the earlier scene between Jon and Sansa also paralleled Ned and Cat in the first episode. Interesting.
Also interesting: Petyr tells Sansa every action he takes is made with one goal in mind, to sit on the Iron Throne with her at his side. This confession seems so wildly out of character I lean toward believing it is actually true. Caught up in the moment, Petyr leans in for a kiss but Sansa stops him. She says it’s a ‘pretty picture’ but only that, a fantasy, and as she’d just said moments earlier, she’s given up on fairy tales.
Sansa starts to walk away but Petyr’s words stop her. He reminds her he, as leader in the Vale, has now declared overtly for House Stark and he did it for her, not Jon. He tells her the North should rally around her, the true born daughter of Ned Stark, not his bastard who was not even born in the North. And he calls her ‘my love’. Sansa is not convinced, but she is paused.
In the true North, beyond the wall because the wall keeps the dead out, apparently not only by size but by magics, Benjen leaves Bran and Meera at another weirwood. I want to know how they are supposed to get from wherever they are to Castle Black and/or Winterfell since Benjen leaves with his horse (is the horse also undead?) but I guess I’m not supposed to wonder that just yet because we are finally going to get confirmation of Jon Snow’s parentage.
Bran touches the weeping weirdwood and is drawn back to young Ned ascending the Targaryen tower to the sound of his sister’s screams. They turn out to be due to childbirth, a fatal one. Ned finds Lyanna bleeding out in bed. She introduces him to her son, his nephew, and tells him he must protect the boy because Robert and the Lannisters will kill him. Jon Snow is not Ned’s bastard, but Rhaegar Targaryen’s (she whispers this, but I say it’s clear from the ‘Robert will kill him’ bit and also I’m over conspiracy theories, it makes narrative sense).
At that moment Jon Snow-Stark-Targaryen is overseeing yet another shouting match in Winterfell. Now that the battle is over their band of misfits is bickering amongst themselves instead of focusing on the threat from over the wall. Lady Mormont proves to be Jon’s best supporter and secret weapon with an impassioned speech declaring him their best bet to survive and advance. Sansa smiles as she speaks and I love women supporting women!!
Having been shamed by an eleven year old, the lords of the North all stand and declare their support for Jon Snow, the White Wolf, the King in the North. It’s a direct call back to when the same lords declared for Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, the King in the North. Jon is speechless, and Sansa is glowing — until she catches Petyr’s eye and things get immediately complicated. Who Sansa chooses to trust will depend on what Sansa decides to want.
Jaime returns to King’s Landing to find the destruction on the horizon. He rushes to throne room arriving just in time to witness his sister’s ceremony: Cersei is Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and Jaime is terrified. Cersei has zero chance of holding the throne but it doesn’t really matter. She’s won. I expect Jaime to become her Hand and I expect him to then become Kingslayer again.
We end on Dany sailing to Westeros with Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Yara & Theon, hundreds of ships full of her armies, and three dragons. While plenty of loose threads remain, there are three clear teams on course to a battle for the prize and I am So Excited.
We check in with most of the players but the following are also still out there somewhere:
- Brienne and Podrick
- Sandor Clegane and The Brotherhood
- Euron Greyjoy
- Jorah Mormont
Winning: Cersei Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow
Dead: Maester Pycelle, Lancel Lannister, the High Sparrow, Kevan Lannister, Mace Tyrell, Margaery Tyrell, Loras Tyrell, Tommen Baratheon, Black Walder Frey, Lothar Frey, Walder Frey