Game of Thrones Season 6 finale recap

Game of Thrones season six is over and it went out with a few bangs (one of them very literal). “The Winds of Winter” is the finest season finale the series has produced so far and a frontrunner for the shortlist of all-time best episodes. Story threads years in the making come to a head, several characters of tremendous importance meet their maker, and revelations that shake up the entire show as we know it are finally unveiled.

There’s a lot to take in here, so let’s just dive in.

Game of Thrones season 6 finale recap - Bran

Winter Has Arrived

Although this is an episode full of moments that redefine the entire show moving forward, let’s start with something a little more low-key before we dive into the big stuff. First of all, the Stark words have finally come to pass: winter is here, truly and officially, as signified by the white raven being sent from the maesters at the Citadel to important figures around Westeros. This is bad news for just about everyone, as winters can last for years and bring fierce colds and powerful storms that can decimate entire populations. The many wars over the Seven Kingdoms were hard before this became a threat. Now, every victory will require more effort, more loss, more hardship, and more blood. With four new factions set to go to war (and we’ll get to them in due time), everyone can expect heavy losses.

Speaking of the Citadel and the maesters who dwell within, Samwell Tarly and Gilly’s long journey to Oldtown wrapped up this week and it was a bright spot of comic business in the middle of an hour that was otherwise harrowing and bleak. Sam is still in possession of his father’s sword and he’s been officially granted access to the grandest library in Westeros. Sure, there’s going to be a bureaucratic hiccup or two and who knows what will become of Gilly and her baby now that Sam is entering another career that demands celibacy, but hey, these two crazy kids have made this work out so far. Seeing the generally miserable Sam fill with wonder and awe at the sight of so many books is a rare victory for one of Game of Thrones‘ chief punching bags. Hopefully, the stirring rise of other female characters all over the show suggest that Gilly is heading toward something big, too.

Game of Thrones season 6 finale recap - Sept of Baelor

Massacre at the Sept of Baelor

Okay, let’s just discuss the lioness in the room: Cersei Lannister changed the game in “The Winds of Winter” not by breaking the rules, but by destroying the board entirely.

The past two seasons have seen the relentless but shortsighted Queen Mother get boxed into a corner by the High Sparrow and his minions, the cunning Tyrell family, and key figures of the king’s court, including Grand Maester Pycelle and Kevan Lannister. The result was her sole surviving son, King Tommen, turning against her and forcing her to go to trial for her crimes against the gods. Checkmate, right? However, a lion only gets more ferocious when you cut off its every escape. With the help of Qyburn and his “little birds,” she waits until all of her enemies are in the Sept of Baelor (to see her go on trial, of course) and puts the stockpile of wildfire originally brewed by the Mad King so many years ago to its intended use – she ignites her explosives, destroys the grand building, and kills everyone inside of it.

Many important supporting characters turned to ash. A half dozen subplots vanished in a flash of green fire. The long, quiet con that Margaery Tyrell had been playing to escape the High Sparrow’s clutches was all for naught (although she proves herself once again to be the smartest person in the room when she and she alone realizes that Cersei has set them up). Margaery Tyrell is dead. Loras Tyrell is dead. Mace Tyrell is dead. Kevan Lannister is dead. The High Sparrow is dead. Lancel Lannister is dead, having tried to extinguish Cersei’s plot with his final breaths. Even Grand Maester Pycelle, who was not present at the sept, is executed, falling under the knives of Qyburn’s little birds.

It’s a genuine massacre, the biggest expulsion of important characters from Game of Thrones since the Red Wedding. In one fell swoop, Cersei reminded us why she has always been one of the most fearsome characters in this game. She will not lose. She does not lose. And if you even put her in a position close to losing, you get strapped to a table and promised ages of torture at the hands of Gregor Clegane. And just like that, Cersei is back at the top of this particular food chain with the blood of countless people on her hands…not that she’ll even feel a shred of guilt.

Of course, Cersei’s horrifying actions instantly ripple outward. King Tommen, having lost his wife, spiritual advisor, court advisors, and Hand of the King in an instant, chooses to commit suicide. Cersei has fulfilled the the prophecy she has spent a lifetime attempting to avoid. All of her children are dead…but she’s the queen. And the less she has to lose, the more dangerous Cersei becomes.

Game of Thrones season 6 finale recap - Dany and Tyrion

Dany, Tyrion, and Westerosi Wisdom

Tyrion was right. Benching Daario was the right move. First, it’s a canny political decision. Second, it allows the show to ditch a little bit of weight as it hurdles toward an apparent endgame. And much like how Daenarys later admits to her top advisor that she felt nothing when she decided to leave her sellsword boyfriend behind after she sets sail across the Narrow Sea, it’s a scene that doesn’t carry too much weight. The sparks between these two have been…well, a little unremarkable. Leaving the least interesting member of Team Fire and Blood behind feels like a wise choice for the story that lies ahead.

And while that break-up scene doesn’t leave much of an impression, the scene that immediately follows it does. It may have been unpleasant business, but Daenerys agrees with Tyrion Lannister that she needs to be unattached and free to wed once she hits the seven kingdoms. In fact, she’s starting to agree with him on many things and she does something that no other leader on this show has ever done: she treats him like the smart, able, and reliable human being that he truly is. After six seasons of being looked down upon, both literally and figuratively, by everyone he has ever worked for, Tyrion has finally found someone who appreciates his services. When she pins that “Hand of the Queen” badge on his chest, it’s a tearjerker. Unlike his own father, who named him Hand of the King out of desperation before unceremoniously kicking him out of the job, the Mother of Dragons gives him this title willingly and out of respect for what he has accomplished.

And like that, Tyrion Lannister has completed his transformation from clever amateur wiseass into the right hand of the most powerful person on Game of Thrones. There is no one else who deserves this more.

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