Aidan Gillen, Alfie Allen, Arya Stark, Braavos, Bran Stark, Carice van Houten, Cersei Lannister, Daario Naharis, Daenerys Targaryen, Dean-Charles Chapman, Dorne, Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones, Gemma Whelan, George RR Martin, GoT, Gwendoline Christie, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Iwan Rheon, Jaime Lannister, Jaqen H'ghar, Jon Snow, Jonathan Pryce, King's Landing, Kit Harington, Lena Headey, Littlefinger, Loras Tyrell, Maisie Williams, Margaery Tyrell, Meereen, Melisandre, Michiel Huisman, Natalie Dormer, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Olenna Tyrell, Peter Dinklage, Ramsay Bolton, Sansa Stark, Sophie Turner, Television, The High Sparrow, The Night's Watch, The Wall, The Winds of Winter, Theon Greyjoy, Tommen Baratheon, TV, Tyrion Lannister, Westeros, White Walkers, Winterfell, Yara Greyjoy
“The Winds of Winter” was a satisfying way to end a decent season of “Game of Thrones”. The opening sequence was excellent, as a foreboding orchestral score played behind one of the most spectacular scenes of the show so far, and storylines were left in exciting places. Cersei (Lena Headey) is now Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Arya (Maisie Williams) is back to killing the people on her list, Jon (Kit Harington) is King of the North, and Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) visions are confirming decade-old fan theories. All in all the show is in a pretty good place, but that doesn’t mean that the season finale or indeed the season as a whole was perfect.
Over the course of season six a couple of notable story threads were disregarded, probably for the sake of streamlining the plot given that next season and the season after are going to be shorter than this one. One such plot point was the identity of The Harpy, which was brought up in episode one but subsequently ignored in future episodes. I doubt that this being kept a secret would’ve bothered many fans of the series, but it was a frustrating aspect of the Meereen storyline from my perspective because the Sons of the Harpy had been such a menacing presence in season five. During a conversation between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) it was suggested that the identity of The Harpy would be revealed, and from my perspective this was exciting because it could’ve been somebody that we already knew acting as a kind of double agent. It’s a shame then that the Sons of the Harpy were largely cut out of season six, and that the identity of their leader was disregarded as Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her forces set sail for Westeros in “The Winds of Winter”.
Another aspect of the Meereen storyline which was pushed aside this year was the involvement of Kinvara (Ania Bukstein) and the Red Priests, who largely acted as a propaganda machine. When it was announced that there was going to be a new Red Woman on the show, and that this Red Woman would be entangled in Daenerys’ storyline, I was intrigued – I thought that this new player could influence Daenerys and take her to the peak of villainy, bringing a level of depth to the character that has (in my opinion) never truly been achieved. Moreover, when Kinvara was introduced into the story in episode five I felt that the actress brought something to the table and that the dynamic she established with Varys had potential. Sadly this was ignored, and instead what we saw in Meereen was predominantly comedic filler involving Tyrion, Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel).
Now, the fact that these two plot threads were swept under the carpet this year isn’t a damning indictment of the season as a whole, after all, we could still see these ideas explored in season seven (although given the limited time we have left on the show it’s extremely unlikely). The issue is that it feels as though there was an intention at one point to explore these characters further, and it seems as though the reason that this didn’t happen was that events were streamlined. I know this is something that I’ve brought up many times, but I think it’s an important issue given that the pacing of season six has been its most noticeable problem.
One of the biggest criticisms I’ve seen levelled at this season was the way that The Siege of Riverrun was handled, and it seems to me that this was a direct result of the showrunners trying to cram far too much into a short space of time. They wanted to have characters go from A to B, do C, and then return to A in the space of a couple of episodes, when they should’ve spent a whole season just travelling from A to B! I understand that from a logistical standpoint this might’ve been necessary because Daniel Weiss and David Benioff want to wrap up the show after season eight, but it seems slightly strange to me that the show went from spending two seasons on The War of the Five Kings to spending one episode on The Kingsmoot, two on The Siege of Riverrun, two on The Siege of Meereen, three on Jon’s death and subsequent resurrection, and one on the Battle of the Bastards.
Still, these issues don’t ruin season six for me; I enjoyed it for the most part. Certain episodes fell flat, but I thought that the season finale was good and the episode which preceded it was excellent. I was much happier with the way that this year’s finale paid off storylines than I was with how last year’s handled similar problems, and I was glad that the showrunners didn’t try to end season six with another cliffhanger.
Nevertheless, I wouldn’t say that “The Winds of Winter” as an episode was perfect, in fact, it was far from it. It’s refreshing for me to watch the show with my dad because he hasn’t been particularly enamoured by the season as a whole, so when I get carried away with the good parts of an episode he’ll say something about a part that didn’t really work and I then have to actually assess what I’ve seen objectively. It’s easy to get carried away in the moment when you’re watching a show like “Game of Thrones” because it’s been on for so long and we’re all invested in the characters and their stories, but when you take a step back to think about how certain storylines have progressed you realise that parts didn’t really make sense.
One such moment in the season finale was when Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover) was led into Qyburn’s (Anton Lesser) lair by one of Varys’ little birds. This moment was satisfying because Pycelle has been a traitorous piece of work since the series began and he definitely deserved his comeuppance. However, it didn’t make complete sense that he was led into a trap to be stabbed to death when he was probably heading for the Sept of Balor anyway. Pycelle liked to feel important and this season he has turned against Cersei, so it seems obvious to me that he would have attended her trial and if necessary given testimony against her. He wouldn’t have missed it, so chances are that he would’ve got caught up in the explosion that killed Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). So, with that in mind why did Cersei have him lured into one trap in place of another?
The easy answer to this question is that Cersei wanted him to suffer; she knew that he disliked Qyburn because of his experimentation so she wanted him to be the last person that Pycelle spoke to before his death. This is a reasonable explanation given what we know about Cersei and what she did to Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) in this episode, but we all know that Qyburn likes to experiment on the living, so it would make more sense to have Pycelle tortured as a guinea pig if the point was to make him suffer.
Another way to get around this issue would be to say that Qyburn had taken a disliking to Pycelle because of how the latter had ridiculed him for his gruesome practices, and in an act of revenge he had Pycelle brought to him so that he could watch him die. This could be believable because Cersei wouldn’t have to know how Pycelle died – she’d just think that he died in the explosion with the rest of her victims. However, if this was the case then you’d think that Qyburn would’ve liked to experiment on Pycelle, given what I’ve already said, and as a theory it doesn’t really fit with the fact that Qyburn said that he felt ‘no ill will’ towards Pycelle prior to his death. If he’d truly wanted revenge then you’d think that he would’ve taken the time to gloat.
This is all theoretical of course, but my point is that 1) the way that aspects of this episode were handled left something to be desired, and 2) that the material should’ve been handled with more care. Maybe the missing pieces will be filled in by George R. R. Martin when he releases “The Winds of Winter” in the future, presuming that the story will progress in the same way that it has on the show, but for now I’m left feeling slightly underwhelmed by aspects of this episode which weren’t fully believable.
Other issues I had with the episode include: 1) Margaery’s death; 2) Varys’ ability to teleport (which is again the result of streamlining as I’ve previously mentioned); and 3) having to watch Sam’s (John Bradley) escapades at The Citadel. None of these issues are particularly important in the grand scheme of things, because we all knew that Margaery would die eventually given that she was desperate to be Queen, and Sam obviously has a part to play in the wider story so he needed some screen time. However, I thought it was quite disappointing that Margaery died in such a nasty and frankly uninteresting way. She’s been such a great character and I’ve always felt that she had something to offer, but now when I watch the series back she’ll just feel like a pawn in someone else’s game.
As I’ve said, Sam had to appear in this episode given that he’ll probably make a crucial discovery in the future relating to either Jon Snow’s birth or the White Walkers, but that doesn’t make the scenes he was in any more enjoyable to watch. I have to say that personally I don’t think John Bradley is a very good actor, and tonally his scenes are so separate from what’s going on elsewhere. His scenes here felt like something out of “Monty Python”, and they didn’t feel like they belonged in the season finale, especially as they followed scenes which were on the whole quite bleak.
Still, having complained quite a lot in this review I should say that the issues I’ve brought up were on the whole understandable, and there were a number of great moments to offset the problems. Tommen’s (Dean-Charles Chapman) death scene was brilliant, both in the way it was shot and in the way it was performed, and it gave a forgettable character a truly memorable end. The reveal of Jon Snow’s parentage at The Tower of Joy was handled reasonably well, and I liked how the baby’s face gave way to Kit Harington’s so that the characters didn’t have to verbally explain what was going on. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Daenerys finally feels relevant again as she has set sail to King’s Landing. Her interaction with Tyrion in this episode was heart-warming, and it was great to see her ditch Daario (Michiel Huisman) who frankly should never have been introduced into the story in the first place. With Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) on her side following the finale, as well as Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon (Alfie Allen), Dany is in a very powerful and exciting position.
Overall, I felt that “The Winds of Winter” was a good episode, verging on great, but it lacked in certain areas. I know that some of my criticisms could be classed as knit-picking, but to me the little issues are the most frustrating because they’re easily avoidable. Moreover, I like to focus on the negative aspects of whatever I’m reviewing, not because I want to criticise, but because anyone can say ‘that was good’. It’s easy to express your enthusiasm for something because you can just throw adjectives at it and use positive language, but to actually assess something and try to articulate issues takes real thought. The mere fact that I watch “Game of Thrones” on a weekly basis and write roughly 2,000-3,000 words on each episode should be enough for anyone reading this to realise that I like it, so I don’t feel the need to waste time saying that in a review. With that in mind, I felt that season six as a whole was much better than season five, and despite my bugbears I did enjoy it; however, for me it pales in comparison to seasons one, two, three, and four.
“The Winds of Winter” – 8/10
Season Six – 7.5/10