Sunday, July 17, 2016

“THRONES” Season 6 Finale starts with a bang, ends with a wave

I suppose it was to be expected by “Game of Thrones” fans by now: a season finale comprising an epic killing spree guaranteed to wipe out another chunk of the show’s loads and loads of characters, even as sudden turnabouts of fortune turns losers into winners and winners into dead people, and loose ends are either tied up neatly or left to dangle until next time. We’ve been over that, what, five times before? The HBO series after was after all taking after its original source, George RR Martin’s “Song of Ice and Fire” books that were veritable masters of having the unexpected happen like a sucker punch to the gut. But that’s exactly it: we now fully expect the unexpected every time, and that takes some wind out of the plot twists when they take place.

The finale of season 6 entitled “The Winds of Winter” – after the still-unreleased sixth installment of Martin’s book series – is a textbook example of what I’m talking about. It was the longest episode of the series to date, clocking in at just short of 70 minutes. While the large-scale battle set pieces were taken care of in last week’s Bastard-bowl – well, “Battle of the Bastards”, the relatively more quiet and low-key, yet just as deadly sequences can play out. After being a punching bag for the prudish Faith Militant for a near season and a half, the bitch queen Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady) takes advantage of a proven rumor buried (literally) under the Great Sept of King’s Landing, where her trial for incest and birthing “abominations” is in full throttle. With the aid of a mad scientist Maester sympathetic to her, Cersei orders the shanking of some individuals who she has a beef against, then detonates the cache of wildfyre stored under the Great Sept, roasting the great majority of her personal foes and spurring the poignant suicide of her last remaining kid, the king. But by that point she no longer cares even after the prophecy of her outliving her children has come to pass.

With the death of all her opponents in court and the monarch, she, the last remaining royal, is now Queen of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. Yet even after achieving one of her lifelong dreams, one gets the feeling that Cersei at this point merely sees it as a bonus. While overseeing the torture of the Septa that convinced her into her lengthy period of humiliation, the bitch queen insinuates an epiphany that is a more twisted variation of Walter “Heisenberg” White’s from the ending of “Breaking Bad”: that all the bloody stuff she had done or ordered done were not to protect her children from the prophecy of death and become queen but because she personally feels sheer pleasure from doing evil things to everyone around her for the evulz, and that is all that really matters. This is cemented by the coronation scene where she, with empty eyes and an obviously insane look on her face, sits upon the Iron Throne as ruler in her own right. With Ramsay Bolton dead since last week, she has taken his place as the new evil monster of the setting.

Elsewhere in Westeros, we go to the far north where what’s left of the party of Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) is back within spitting distance of the Wall. He decides to use his powers to once again view the memory of his father at the Tower of Joy. He sees how the young Ned Stark comforts his sister Lyanna as she lies dying from childbirth, entrusting him with her newborn son, whose parentage ought to be kept secret to save his life, in a promise she extracts from Ned. This scene somewhat confirms (at least for the show version) the long-persisting rumor among the fandom expressed through the wacky mathematical equation: R + L = J, where R = Rhaegar Targaryen, L = Lyanna Stark and J = Jon Snow (Kit Harrington).

South of the Wall in Winterfell, the grown Jon decides to exile the Red Priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) after the long-awaited confrontation between her and Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) over her pyromaniac actions which doomed the family of his lord. With that out of the way, the lords of the North gather and, after a shaming speech by little Lady Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) against the lords who did not aid the Starks in reclaiming their home and seat of lordship, the lords decide to give it a second go and declare Jon (bastardry aside) their new King in the North, reviving the old memetic catchphrase after so long. Not all is fine and dandy on their end though, as Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) makes his play on Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), proposing to make her his queen once he sits on the Iron Throne that she may not have to be superseded by her bastard brother. She refuses him, but who knows what the consequences of this may be.

A bit further south, Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley), the treacherous host of the Red Wedding, finally gets his comeuppance when he eats a meat pie brought by a serving girl only to be told that it was made out of his sons. Said serving girl reveals herself to be Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), with the skills and abilities of the Faceless assassins of Braavos, and slits Frey’s throat the way her mother’s was, completing the vengeance of the Starks for the Red Wedding. And here by the way, we see another flaw in the narrative of the series that has been plaguing this season: the “character teleportation”. Arya was still in Braavos as of episode 8; although she had made plans to return, how did she travel across the Narrow Sea, across the eastern half of Westeros to get to the Frey caste of the Twins so fast? This is a significant consequence of showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss having completely gone through the canon timeline of the books, starting to write by the seat of their pants and little book 6 info bytes shared by Martin.

To further illustrate, we reach Dorne in the furthest south, where the Tyrell matriarch Olenna (Diana Rigg) decides to throw in with her house’s old enemy the Martells in order to exact revenge on the Bitch-Queen Cersei, for killing off most of her family. This alliance is apparently being coordinated by the eunuch Varys (Conleth Hill), another user of “teleportation” as he was still in Mereen over on Slaver’s Bay back in episode 8 – a further distance than Arya had to go. Still, he finalizes the gathering of allies for Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and…is back on Mereen just in time to join the grand armada of the Mother of Dragons as it sets sail from Mereen to (finally!) conquer the Seven Kingdoms and seize the Iron Throne. Thus, ninja Varys gets to stand with Dany and her Hand, Tyrion Lanniste (Peter Dinklage), as they journey to Westeros on a motley fleet. After the explosion of the Great Sept back in KL, the scene of the armada under sail with Dany’s dragons flying overhead would be the most epic way ever to end an episode, and a season.

The Winds of Winter” as it stands is a serviceable ending to the first mostly-original season of Game of Thrones”. But already the cracks in the overall storyline are becoming too obvious to ignore. The fact that the production team is now flying blind story-wise could only make things worse for the remaining two seasons projected. In a way GRR Martin himself may have contributed to the impending pitfall the series seems to be going; because the story in the book does not have a definitive ending yet, the story in the show is on the verge of losing direction in one possible misstep. At the end of season 6 a new status quo is established, a new enemy has ascended, a new conflict is in the offing. But unless the book “Winds of Winter” gets released any time soon, there can only be narrative problems looming when season 7 starts production.

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