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Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Finale Unleashes Epic, Hardcore Vengeance

In season finale "The Winds of Winter," much blood is spilled — because the "Great Game" is truly on.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones

HBO

Every week this season, Indiewire will be bringing you a unique collection of viewpoints on “Game of Thrones,” as it is a show that elicits a unique sort of reactions. Our writers are well-versed in the world of the show and the culture surrounding it, and we look forward to seeing how their opinions fare in the cutthroat world of Westeros… Sorry, that is, the cutthroat world of television criticism.

LAST WEEK’S REVIEW: The ‘Game of Thrones’ ‘BastardBowl’ Brings About A Whole New World Order

What Happened This Week?

After an extended montage paying tribute to the show’s always on-point costume design, it’s time for another installment of “Law and Order: Special Sinners Unit.” Loras Tyrell’s trial is relatively short thanks to him confessing everything… and also relatively meaningless, because instead of attending her own court date, Cersei blows up the whole damn court. (Dick Wolf wouldn’t have the balls for a move like that.)

Cersei waited a whole season for her revenge, and she clearly savors it. But the body count doesn’t end with the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras and everyone else in the Great Sept of Baelor — Tommen, devastated, leaps to his death.

Finn Jones and Natalie Dormer in "Game of Thrones."

Finn Jones and Natalie Dormer in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

Meanwhile, Jaime attends a super-fun dinner with Walder Frey that tests their alliance, Sam arrives at the Citadel for his maester training (by the way, congrats to Sam and Gilly, the only non-fucked-up romance still thriving on this show) and Melisandre reminds Jon Snow to check his privilege. Oh, and Davos finally finds out about that thing where Melisandre set a little girl on fire last season, which leads to Jon banishing her south.

Think the badass women of Dorne are tough? Well, Lady Olenna shows them what’s what, as she exacts a promise for their help with “fire and blood” against Cersei, with an assist by Varys. Also tough is Daenerys, who breaks up with her boo Daario while also making Tyrion the Hand of the Queen after he tells her that he believes in her. “It’s embarrassing, really,” he confesses.

Lest you think we wasted our time checking in with Walder Frey earlier, never fear, because Arya totally uses her hardcore assassin skills to kill him (after pulling a “Titus Andronicus ” on his sons). Littlefinger makes yet another hard play for Sansa’s love… and more importantly, the fact that she could help him sit on the Iron Throne.

Uncle Benjen (who, it’s made clear, is more dead than living right now) drops Bran and Meera off at a tree that lets Bran travel back to see the birth of Jon Snow… who it turns out is in fact the son of Lyanna Stark (confirming multiple fan theories). Who, speaking of, has just been declared the King of the North by Stark allies, a move led by Lady Mormont (our pick for Season 6 MVP) — something Littlefinger doesn’t exactly love.

Sitting on the Iron Throne now, though? Mothereffing Cersei Lannister. Enjoy it while it lasts, honey, because Daenerys and her dragons are coming.

A Little Shallow, But a Freaking Delight

Lena Headey in "Game of Thrones."

Lena Headey in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

Over the years, “Game of Thrones” has given me many pleasures. Most of those pleasures have been wrapped up in ideas. The way I’ve come at the show has been mostly to regard it as a dynamic and entrancing and strange cultural object: all of America’s strange struggle of belonging shifted into a grand fantastical narrative spectacle. What do we, now, think about gender and violence? About unification? About family and allegiance? About redemption? “Game of Thrones” has been one gorgeous way we’ve made to watch those questions, and some of their answers, come to life.

This episode was a little different. “The Winds of Winter” idea-lessly punted over a couple of key points: We got no explanation of Sansa’s nick-of-time rescue; I’m not sure how Arya still gets to do her face magic; does anyone know how we’re supposed to feel about Cersei’s queenship or the cartoonish Lady Ninjas of Dorne? Lots could go wrong, in the war to come. But I’m not going to complain. If “Winds of Winter” was a little intellectually shallow, it was also a freaking delight of storymaking accomplishment, one narrative loose end and after another gratifyingly sewed back in to Westeros’s rich tapestry.

I’ve admired a lot of this season. But at the end, here’s the big compliment I would give it: it’s given me, with this episode, the great heart thumping excitement I get when I’m nearing the end of a long thick paperback novel, with all the characters in place, the final showdown in sight. “Game of Thrones” has been a great adaptation. I’m not sorry that, at the end, it reminds me most of reading a book.

Grade: A-

— Sarah Mesle, Senior Humanities Editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books (@sunsetandecho)

READ MORE: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season 6 Channeled George R.R. Martin Without Him, For Better and Worse

A Hard Day to Be #TeamLannister

Emilia Clark in "Game of Thrones."

Emilia Clark in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

We’ve talked a lot this season about “table setting” and “moving the chess pieces around the board.” But the season finale has wiped the board almost clean, and reconfigured the remaining players into a pretty clear alignment for the rest of the story. After a packed, busy episode filled with meticulously executed big set pieces, I keep coming back to Cersei. On the day when she settles all family business, a day which should end with her triumph, she instead loses her last child. Darth Cersei may have finally taken the throne for herself, but she’s lost and not even Jaime can save her now. She’s dead inside, as much a reanimated corpse as Ser Gregor. Which means she’s never been more dangerous.

Praise whichever gods you want, we’ve FINALLY left Meereen!  Although I can’t imagine leaving Daario and a bunch of sellswords in charge is a great long term plan, frankly I don’t really care since we can finally get Dany on her way to Westeros. And it’s finally confirmed what we’ve all known for a long time — that Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen.  Although we cut away before Lyanna can finish saying the baby’s name — which is clearly not “Jon.”

There were also tons of smaller moments that landed as well: Arya’s disturbing glee as Walder Frey bled out; Littlefinger, finally admitting what he really wants and the glances he shoots to Sansa as Jon is being named the new King in the North; Jaime channeling Barney Stinson with his “Haaaaave you met Ser Bronn?”; renaming Slavers Bay as “the Bay of Dragons”; Olenna putting the Sand Snakes in their place.

So no more table setting; dinner is about to be served and it’s going to be bloodier that a fresh slice of Frey Pie. We’ve got something like 15 episodes left over two seasons to bring this to a close. I expect the pace to be furious for the rest of the way — and the wait for Season 7 to be interminable.

Grade: A

— Jay Bushman, Award-Winning Multiplatform Writer/Producer (@jaybushman)

“A Cinematic Feast”

Emilia Clark and Peter Dinklage in "Game of Thrones."

Emilia Clark and Peter Dinklage in “Game of Thrones.”

HBO

Call me Jon Snow’s direwolf because I am now a Ghost. The “Game of Thrones” finale slayed me (and a good number of its characters) and I am now in the afterlife, whereupon the Red God has empowered me to share my thoughts.

First things first: How gorgeous and epic and badass was that score? I kneel to composer Ramin Djawadi and director Miguel Sapochnik, who’s helmed some of my favorite visual episodes (last week’s “Battle of the Bastards,” “Hardhome”). That cinematic feast was the first stroke that killed me. Everything King’s Landing, from Cersei’s massacre-day primping through the splashy lime Gatorade wildfire conflagration to her coronation, was so well-framed, lit, scored and paced. Even though we all knew Cersei’s revenge was coming, Sapochnik deftly kept the tension ratcheted.

Beyond all of that heightened Shakespearean drama, it was Tommen’s quiet suicide that delivered the second stroke to kill me. If ever there was a sign that “Game of Thrones” is ending, it’s that the innocents who are too tender (e.g. Rickon) to play the game have to die, so that they won’t be caught in the final carnage to come. The rest of the deaths were not remotely as affecting. I have never acquired the taste for revenge, and therefore I didn’t really find these satisfying. Arya’s dispatching of Walder Frey was kind of fun in an anticlimactic way (mainly because I had been waiting for him to eat his relatives in pie form for three seasons now, thanks to having read the books).

The other worst-kept Jon Snow secret after his resurrection is his parentage, which the show finally partially confirmed him not as Ned’s son, but his sister Lyanna’s. Speaking of, I would like to pledge my allegiance to her namesake, Lyanna Mormont, who pretty much made a bastard into the effing King in the North by shaming the other lords. Although we’ve heard chants of “King in the North” before, this time I actually felt it. The third beautiful stab to my heart.

Like Grand Maester Pycelle’s murder, the episode kept dealing me death blows. Tyrion being named Hand of the Queen (four), Sansa stopping Littlefinger (five), Cersei finally getting her heart’s desire (six), and Jaime’s deja vu service of an unhinged ruler who likes to “burn them all” (seven). Seven blows, seven kingdoms, seven-faced god, SEVEN HELLS.

“The Winds of Winter” came, and those winds brought change.

Grade: A+

— Hanh Nguyen, Contributor: The Hollywood Reporter, LA Weekly, GameSpot, Tech Republic (@hanhonymous

“A Showcase for All the Powerful Women”

Maisie Williams and David Bradley in "Game of Thrones."

Maisie Williams and David Bradley in “Game of Thrones.”

Helen Sloan/HBO

What a difference a season can make. Especially when it’s the kind of action-packed, tables-turning collection of episodes we got this year on “Game of Thrones.”

This time last year, the think pieces were piling up with pointed criticisms of how female charcters were treated on the show. But this season turned out to be a showcase for all the powerful women in the story — epitomized by where all the characters are left by the closing moments on Sunday’s episode.

Cersei has had her revenge on the High Sparrow and her son’s wife Margaery Tyrell, atomizing them and all the religious fanatics who had humiliated her by blowing up the sept of Baelor with wildfire. Daenerys, the mother of dragons, has kicked her warrior lover to the curb, ready to move on the throne of Westeros as an available queen. Arya has had her revenge on Lord Walder Frey, using techniques she’s learned from The Faceless Men. And even Sansa continues her evolution from callow girl to savvy queen, leaving little doubt she will be the power behind Emo Jon Snow’s pouty reign as King of the North.

Indeed, the final episode seemed neatly divided between savoring the details of Cersei’s victory and setting the table for the final run of episodes. We see Margaery’s grandmother, the indomitable Olenna Tyrell – played with scenery-chewing glee by TV veteran Diana Rigg – aligned with the women now running Dorne. Through enuch spy Varys, that alliance is joined with Daenerys and Asha and Theon Greyjoy. This high-powered sisterhood is sailing toward Westeros to take on newly-crowned Queen Cersei, quite a reversal from what some may have expected of the series last year.

We also got a great reveal regarding Jon Snow – that his mother was actually Ned Stark’s sister, meaning he’s not the bastard everyone thinks. And Cersei’s son’s decision to throw himself out a window after Margaery’s death continues the pattern of the Queen Mother’s cruelty managing to corrupt everything she touches – even in victory, somehow, she loses.

This season, the first to depart significantly from George R.R. Martin’s books, brought other interesting changes. We saw explicitly bloody violence, but much less sexual violence. We saw villains get their comeuppance in ways “GOT” once avoided. And we end the season with a sense that all these disparate storylines stretched across the breadth of the seven kingdoms are finally coming together for a massive conclusion that will justify all the attention we’ve paid this series so far.

Purists may squawk about “GOT’s” turn toward more conventional resolutions – cathartic as it was to see jerks like Roose Bolton, Ramsay Bolton, the High Sparrow and Walder Frey all eliminated in the same season, it was also a bit convenient to see many of the show’s most ruthless characters swept away in short order.

Still, fans got a season which rewarded those paying close attention and casual viewers, cleaning up the show’s use of gratuitous sexual violence and preparing us for a showdown that may put female characters front and center in a way we’ve never seen in a big budget sword and sorcery TV show or film.

Can’t wait to see how producers turn our expectations upside down over the final two seasons.

Grade: A

— Eric Deggans, TV Critic, NPR (@deggans)

Summation

This episode was a lot. But to say it skimped on plot would be an understatement. Stuffed full of developments, how we actually feel about the end result may depend on what happens in Season 7. But this extra-long adventure was the definition of epic.

Final Grade: A

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