Game of Thrones finale review: ‘You’re in the great game now’

A longer, final episode in season six puts the pieces in place for the last days of the Seven Kingdoms. Here’s what we learned

The final episode in the sixth season of Game of Thrones is titled The Winds of Winter and has a 69-minute running time – the longest episode in the show’s run.

 

In previous series of Game of Thrones, the penultimate episode has typically been the best, with the final show tidying up loose ends and suggesting a few plot lines, in order to feed the fans’ rumour mill for the fallow off-season.

This series, though, ups that particular ante. There was the mid-season heartstopping The Door episode, which lifted a show that was becoming drab. There was the sturm und drang of last week’s Battle of the Bastards, with it’s astonishing war scenes that gleefully borrowed from The Revenant, and happily piled on the muck and gore.

If the final episode in season six had been a little subdued, few would have minded - we expected a necessary bottle episodeafter the budget blowout of Jon Snow’s barely there victory over Ramsay Bolton. What we get instead is a plot-thickened 70 minutes of epic storytelling in The Winds of Winter. The packs have been shuffled; the decks are loaded; winter is here. Welcome to the end-Game of Thrones.

Hell hath no fury like a Cersei scorned

When Cersei was humiliated by the High Sparrow we had no doubt her revenge would be awesome in its execution. The production here handles it dextrously. There is the bombastic propaganda showpiece of blowing up all her enemies, leaving a smouldering hole at the heart of King’s Landing.

But this is counterbalanced by the subterfuge of the demise of individuals, played out to the panicky thrum of strings (music is seldom used in GoT). Qyburn’s vicious army of children are terrifying; the murder of the grand maester, one of the biggest hypocrites there is, is still utterly awful.

Cersei sips her wine, and watches from afar, with a smile on her lips like a Caesar who has skipped the ides of March. But no one gets away that easily, and her own prophecy is about to catch up with her.

You could carve the tension with a knife in the opening scenes. And when Cersei is anointed queen on the iron throne, dressed in military black, you can almost smell the fear in the room. This is only the start of her reign and no one is safe - not even Jaime, freshly returned from retaking Riverrun. In the wings of the coronation, he looks like a man who voted Leave and is now realising the import of his decision. Cersei has lost her children and with them, probably any semblance of humanity; she has gained all the power, and with it potentially the means to set the world on fire.

A tragedy of Greek proportions

The deft, dreadful suicide of Tommen is one of the quietest moments in the episode - and the most shocking. It again shows how GoT occasionally does such a fine line in Greek tragedy. Mere moments before it happens, the audience realises what’s about to unfold; and, like Hodor’s demise or the Red Wedding, there is nothing to be done to stop it. And there is that other great dramatic trick - watching it almost makes you feel complicit in the act.

Listen to the women

The High Sparrow, blinded by his own humble majesty, does not listen to Margaery when it’s clear that vengeance is coming, and no one lives to tell of it. Last week, Jon Snow ignored the advice of Sansa and they nearly all paid with their lives. GoT has a nasty habit of treating its women appallingly, but they are also often the smartest voices in the room. Just look and listen to Lady Mormont.

Now you see her …

Arya Stark’s arc in this season is one of the show’s weaker plots, bogged down by pseudo-theology and a plodding development. Now, though, she’s back in the Seven Kingdoms, and with the kind of of assassin’s skills that most soldiers would, well, kill for. She first feeds Walder Frey his sons in a pie and then cuts his throat; if Sansa seemed to turn to the dark side a little during last week’s episode, Arya has gone much deeper and more comfortably into the shadows.

A family affair

Taken together, the Stark clan now seem quite formidable. There is Jon Snow/Stark, the king-elect in the north, able to rally the various clans to him to form a cohesive force. There is Sansa: more astute than Jon, more alive to the subtlety and dangers around them. When Ramsay Bolton said “I’m a part of you” before he became Pedigree Chum, he wasn’t wrong. His sadistic treatment has hardened her, made her more callous but also made her better able to rule. Jon still carries the same sort of hot-headed idealism that has gotten his brothers and Ned Stark killed; Sansa is an altogether cold-headed character.

And then there is the keen knife-edge that is Arya, who potentially has more lethal magic than anything the red witch can summon.

This is not a family many would want to feud with.

Who’s your daddy?

A popular fan theory looks set to be confirmed, as it emerges that Jon Snow is not, in fact, Ned’s son, but his nephew. And his father? The smart money is on Rhaegar Targarayen. Which makes him the perfect man to fight alongside ….

And she’s off

Auntie Daenerys finally gets her act together: her dragons are on the fly, her ships are in the water and her claim to the iron throne is in the game. She’s got Tyrion, or the anti-Cersei, as her hand, two sets of warriors in the form of the Unsullied and the Dothraki at her beck and call, not to mention a few Ironborn, and the nuclear firepower of her three scaly children. She’s also left Daario in Meereen with a broken heart, in case he got in the way. “You’re in the great game now,” Tyrion tells her. “And the great game is terrifying.”

Slay, queen, slay.

How to get dumped gracefully

Daario is a decent character in GoT, and when he puts his heart on the line and has it squandered, he handles it firmly and with dignity. He’s a class act. It didn’t work though, so maybe he should have bawled loads and tried to sob Daenerys into submission like a sap.

What news from the wall

Uncle Benjen tells Bran that: “The wall is not just ice and stone. Ancient spells were carved into its foundations. … while it stands the dead cannot pass. I cannot pass.” That will come as a relief to those south of it. Although he doesn’t say what will happen if the dead decide to dig underneath it - or if somebody else knocks it down.

Littlefinger shows his hand

“What do you want?” Sansa asks Littlefinger, and it’s one of the few mysteries still at the heart of Game of Thrones. He puts it plainly: he wants himself on the iron throne, with Sansa at his side. “It’s a pretty picture,” she says, not quite airily enough. Littlefinger couldn’t have Catelyn Stark so now he’s moved on to her daughter; he’s a creepy little fish, but as ever you can’t help but wonder if he’s playing another angle we’ve yet to see.

Has GoT become predictable?

As argued previously by Patrick Freyne, there is a growing sense that GoT is essentially a load of stuff happening until the inevitable zombies v dragons end battle. This series had plenty of shocks, but it seems the writers are not as ruthless as George RR Martin. Now moving beyond the books, they seem to like their characters too much and have killed few of the decent ones.

Similarly, while there has been plenty of action in recent episodes, you couldn’t call much of it unpredictable. The Nights of the Vale had to make an appearance at some point; few would have bet against Cersei getting her revenge; and Daenerys’ movements have been telegraphed for months.

There will probably be two more seasons of GoT, of perhaps six to eight episodes each (at least if this Variety interview with the series’ creators is anything to go by). That’s not a huge amount of time to play with. And while this last episode was undoubtedly sumptuous to watch, it went along predictable enough lines. The writers will have to work hard to keep introducing twists and turns amid the pomp and procession of the final few seasons.

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