*Spoilers. Loads of them.*
This time last year, I’d become somewhat disillusioned with Game of Thrones. The “brutal, controversial” season five had spent forever on torture, sexual violence, and faffing around at the stupid Day Spa for the Dead, and then it went and added insult to injury by killing Jon Snow.
What a difference a year makes.
At the end of last season, I wanted Jon to come back to life. Check. I wanted Ramsay Bolton to die. Check. I wanted Sansa to escape him and come in to her own. Check. I wanted Cersei to get revenge. Check. And I wanted Arya to take the rest of the series off.
Oh well, we can’t have everything. But we’ve come very, very close, haven’t we?
Jon, bless his curly head, came back to us a while ago, of course, but, resurrection not being quite enough for his CV, this week has him not only elected King of the North – thanks to the tiniest, fiercest, ten year old in the Seven Kingdoms, all hail Lady Lyanna Mormont! – but confirmed, in Bran’s head anyway, as the scion of two noble houses, and a prince in his own right. Yes, R + L now officially, finally equals J, even if it’s not entirely clear how anyone’s going to prove it. (FYI Bran: I don’t think “I had a vision!” is really going to cut it.)
Although most people have been convinced of Jon’s parentage for a long time now, having it confirmed at last is hugely significant, but then “The Winds of Winter” is bursting with things that are hugely significant. What an absolutely tremendous finale it was.
Ramsay’s nothing but a memory now, of course, but, after last week’s power-play, Sansa, the Lady of the North, is almost as dangerous as he was. However, her apology to Jon seems sincere, his forgiveness of her genuine, and her “thanks but no thanks” to the prospect of another Littlefinger liplock terrific, both for her character development and for her prospects of not being married to any power-crazed psychopaths this time next year. Please don’t let her betray Jon next season, writers. The poor boy won’t be able to take it, and neither will I.
Talk of poor boys reminds me, meanwhile, of the dim, doomed Tommen. Cersei’s revenge this week is merciless and absolute, with only Margaery, her worthiest opponent, realising in time that “Cersei is not here, Tommen is not here…. We need to leave NOW.” Oh, Margaery. Having found a (somewhat painful – I had to mute the sound when they were “marking” him) way to save Loras, freedom with a big stupid star thing on your head being better than no freedom at all, she comes so close to getting away! But not close enough, thanks to the idiot High Sparrow, who, after a season’s worth of outplaying everyone, suddenly forgets one of the most important rules of the game: the Lannisters always pay their debts, High Sparrow. Cheerio!
The entire Kings Landing sequence is breathtaking. The opening, ominous scenes of fine clothes and fine jewellery. Loras’s confession. The Little Birds setting their traps. The horrible moment when Margaery works it out…. And then the explosion itself. Followed by the Septa’s awful fate, the eerie calmness before Tommen’s silent end…. And the look on Jaime’s face as he arrives in time to see just who and what his beloved Cersei has become.
Everything about it is exquisitely, beautifully, devastatingly done – a day and a half later and I’m still reeling from it. But I wish we hadn’t had to sacrifice Margaery in the process. She was fantastic; one of the few players smart enough to win without losing herself and her humanity in the process, and her death was abrupt, surprising and a waste of a formidable character, even if it did, indirectly, give the Sand Snakes their only decent scene ever. Not because they have anything useful or interesting to say, but because Lady Olenna Tyrell speaks for the entire audience when she can’t remember any of their names and tells them to shut up and let the grown-ups talk. *punches air*
But Cersei’s revenge isn’t the only one of the ep, of course, with the increasingly crazy-eyed Arya serving hers up to Walder Frey, having already carved up his wretched sons. Ugh. It’s not my idea of entertainment, but Walder Frey was long overdue a reckoning, and he certainly gets a gruesome, effective one, with its echoes of both Greek mythology and Shakespearean drama keeping it just the right side of horror porn. Just. Shudder.
So a mostly terrific season – give or take an ep or two – ends then, with a whole lot of plotlines coming to a head, and a whole lot of women taking charge all over the place. Jon may be the King in the North, but only because three women – his sister, a tiny little girl, and a Red Witch – chose to put him there. (Will letting Melisandre go free turn out to be a mistake? I wonder.) Cersei’s on the Iron Throne at last. Arya’s presumably coming for her. And Daenerys, after talking about it for what seems like several hundred seasons, is finally on her boyfriend-less (Daario, hon, you can do better) way back across the sea to break chains, free slaves, destroy her enemies, etc etc. Which is all to the good. I may like some of them much more than others, but, after years of writing about GOT’s misogyny and rapes and deeply worrying sexual politics, this season’s focus on all these women’s victories instead of their exploitation or their bodies might be the most significant thing of all.