Review: Game of Thrones ‘The Winds of Winter’ – Who’s Left to Play?

Game of Thrones began its unlikely journey to TV’s paramount series with an encyclopedia of names, families, histories, battles, cities, etc. to explain to a mostly unknowing audience. To say it was inaccessible would have been a compliment to what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were attempting to accomplish. They knew, like George R.R. Martin before them, that character was always key when grounding an audience in your fantastical world of dragons, faceless assassins and incest. We’re at the point in Game of Thrones where the field has become simplified. Yes, there are still hundreds of houses carrying thousands of years of political and social intrigue likely yet to be discovered but the world is still shrinking to manageable proportions. It needs to in order to feel intimate and physical and painful in the small bit of story yet to come. ‘The Winds of Winter’ tells us that we are finally at our destination. Winter is here and it’s time to act.

In ‘The Winds of Winter’, ceremony again takes the forefront as each character uses symbols to dress the parts of power in which they’ve been bestowed. After some time away, we are back in King’s Landing to see the trials of both Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lannister. Cersei dresses herself in a stunning black dress that’s very ill-fitting for a trial as King Tommen readies himself with his crown. After Loras repents for his sins and accepts a life in service of the Seven, The Faith Militant carve their sigil into his forehead. You’re nothing in the Seven Kingdoms unless you wear it on your body.

In the biggest thinning of the crowd since The Red Wedding, Cersei’s long-telegraphed plot to burn down the High Sept in Wildfire came to brutal fruition. In operatic fashion, we’re led through Cersei’s endgame with a gorgeous piano score floating in and out of our characters’ heads as they come closer to their demise and victory. Taking down nearly the entire Tyrell family and The Faith Militant in one fell swoop* was both satisfying and excruciating. Margaery’s feigned alliance with The High Sparrow got her in this mess and The Sparrow will keep her in it until the bitter, fiery end.

*I will really miss Margaery on this show but she was always destined to lose to Cersei.

If only Cersei hadn’t overlooked the needs and thoughts of her own son, she’d still have one child left. King Tommen, a believer in the Faith because of his love for Margaery, sees the Sept burning in the distance and falls out of his window, ending his own life and reign. At the end of the episode, Cersei Lannister sits on the Iron Throne, wearing a brand new crown made for a brand new Queen. This has always been her goal. Her children, whom she loved more than anyone, were the only ones in her way and while she would have never directly harmed them, her selfish wants and needs ultimately led to the demise of them all. She got what she wanted in the end, but at what price?

Even Jaime Lannister, Cersei’s most trusted companion and lover seems frightened by this. Queen Cersei doesn’t have to backroom wheel and deal to see to her deeds like she once did. She’s the Queen. She does as she pleases. Game of Thrones has softened on Cersei as of late (Jaime as well) but this new power will be sure to remind us of the utter wretch of a human Cersei Lannister is. And now she has no children? Game effing on, here’s our villain for the rest of the series.

In the aftermath of The Battle of Winterfell, Jon Snow doesn’t want the part of Lord of Winterfell. After all, he is a bastard** and there is still one Stark out there to lay claim to the city and the North in Sansa. Sansa, though, is more than happy to give over claim to the realm to Jon and so is House Mormont*** and the rest of the North. In a purposefully reminiscent scene of Robb Stark’s “coronation” the houses of the North rally and exclaim Jon Snow as The King in the North. A blessing and a curse to be sure.

**Nope!

***Gosh darn it, give this girl an Emmy already.

Though is Jon really meant for this role? We finally learn what all book and conspiracy enthusiasts have thought for years in that R+L really does = J. This means that Rhaegar Targaryen fathered Jon Snow with Lyanna Stark. Jon is both a Stark and a Targaryen. What’s more, Jon has a sort of claim as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne in that Raeghar was the eldest son of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen. Viserys, who we saw properly killed back in season one would have been the next eldest which leaves Daenerys as the sole claim remaining of Aerys’ children. If Jon is believed to be the only remaining child of Rhaegar****, he could threaten claim to the Iron Throne and fight against Dany, not with her.

****Are we going to get Aegon? If so, his story has already changed. It feels to me like they’re cutting him entirely.

In cutting the field of players, Game of Thrones immediately makes everything more personal. These people we’ve come to love and understand will have to come to blows with one another. I almost wish there wasn’t an army of Whitewalkers descending upon Westeros because the show is more interesting when there is gray area. The Wights present an evil (much like Sauron) that everyone can and should rally against. As much as I love an undead battle royale, the stakes are immediately removed as we will likely be denied some of the pain of forcing characters to fight one another because of their flawed and skewed beliefs. Hopefully, we’ll still get a good portion of that before all is said and done.

Three years later, we’re finally rewarded a bit of comeuppance for the earth-shattering Red Wedding. Proving that she has learned from her time at The House of Black and White and is now a force to be reckoned with, Arya Stark makes a great surprise appearance at Walder Frey’s dinner table. Serving him Sweeney Todd-esque meat pies filled with pieces of his sons, Arya gives us the pleasure of slitting Walder’s throat from ear to ear. The knowing looks Arya (in disguise) gave Jaime also has me wondering what she may have been plotting for him?

Across the Narrow Sea, we’re brought to the point we’ve all been waiting for: Daenerys Targaryen traverses the water with her army and her dragons in tow, hellbent on taking back the Seven Kingdoms in her name. She leaves her lover and truly beloved, Daario Naharis in an honestly painful scene where we can see our Queen choosing her goals over her heart. Daario was a great match for Dany, but he isn’t her destiny and, frankly, I’m good with where Daario ends up. We understand Dany’s pain, or lack thereof, and Daario’s but the show must go on and there’s just no room for lover boy.

Tyrion also wears a sigil of his new, yet familiar role as Hand to the Queen. The look on Peter Dinklage’s face says it all as this time the honor is taken with proper weight in mind.

Using the remaining ships of the Masters and the ones brought to her by the Greyjoys, Dany, Tyrion and Varys all head back to Westeros to lay claim to what they believe is theirs. Game of Thrones spent six seasons getting us to the point where we can see these people return and the moment was as perfect as it could have been. Dothraki out of their element on water, Unsullied manning ships, Dragons flying overhead. The only thing missing was Cersei’s “Oh shit”, moment when she sees the vanguard on the horizon.

In my review for last week’s episode, I was happy with the fact that good won out over the bad for once in this show’s history. I correlated the show’s fortitude and decision to grant hope with the awful state of our current world and events. I don’t believe that we should be spoon-fed happy moments or endings because we deserve it. That doesn’t always make compelling storytelling. Here, it was deserved, earned and happened to come at a time when we needed it most in regard to our real world situation. Whatever happens from here on out, we can take heart knowing that a woman who frees slaves and rides a dragon is sailing to save the world. We can rest assured that a good man with a good heart has the backing of the North of Westeros. We can be comforted learning that a cynical imp has learned to believe and will do anything for what he knows is good and decent.

I can’t ask for anything more.

“This is your God now.” – Cersei Lannister

Show Notes:

  • How gorgeous was Old Town and The Citadel? This show has really put all its money on the screen and I loved every second of Sam and Gilly at this “new” place.
  • The look on the face of The Citadel’s “receptionist”. Gold.
  • Jon and Sansa are by no means safe and Sansa has learned the endgame of Littlefinger. Since it’s Jon and not Sansa controlling the armies of the North, his health can’t be guaranteed as long as that stands in front of Sansa being his Queen when he hopes to eventually take the Iron Throne for his own.
  • Maester Pycelle finally gets his comeuppance. Thank the Seven.
  • Are the Tyrells and the Sand Snakes now on Team Dany? Varys (and his seeming teleportation ability) seems to get both sides to favor Daenerys for the coming war.
  • Just how great was Davos’ scene finally ripping into Melisandre for Shireen’s murder? All this pent up aggression finally let loose and we feel for all parties! I do think it’s a bit silly for Jon to let Melisandre go but Jon has shown to not be the best tactician in Westeros.
  • Shout out for the costume design in this show. My god, I want to wear everything.

Check out my reviews of previous episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’:

Battle of the Bastards

No One

The Broken Man

Blood of My Blood

The Door

Book of the Stranger

Oathbreaker

Home

The Red Woman

Curtis Waugh
Curtis Waugh
Curtis is a Los Angeles transplant from a long lost land called Ohio. He aspires to transmute his experiences growing up a Monster Kid into something that will horrify normal people around the world. When he isn't bemoaning the loss of the latest Guillermo del Toro project, Curtis can be found every Thursday night at the Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, awaiting the next Dwayne Johnson movie.

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