The horrific sacrificial pyre that Princess Shireen melted snow enough to resume the charge to Winterfell but much like the audience, Stannis’s troops have already seen enough and high-tailed it home in the middle of the night along with all of their horses and siege weapons. It’s a wonder how burning your own daughter to death in front of your soldiers doesn’t inspire loyalty or courage. In a way only Stannis can, he takes the snowballing bad news with one sour grimace after another once he also learns his wife hanged herself as well. Oh, and that crazy fanatic that had you burning people in the first place? Yeah, she dipped out too. Facing overwhelming odds, Stannis gives a sullen shrug and leads the charge anyway, knowing that after having properly crapped the bed, there is nothing left to do but lie in it.
There are a lot of moving parts in this scene. While the Boltons ride out to slaughter Stannis’s men, Sansa is given a window of opportunity to give signal to her patient guardian angel, Briene, who has literally waited at her post the entire season for that damn candle to be lit. Owing Stannis a blood debt for his murder of Renly (her chosen king), Briene abandons her post to catch up with Stannis and deliver the justice she has dreamed of. While having her kill Stannis is poetic and brings a large portion of the show’s narrative full circle, the path there was foregone and anti-climactic. Having put her character into position within the first few episodes, the writers put Briene in a box and left her there only when it suited the finale’s storyline, which left her motivations feeling less than fleshed out.
It would have been nice to see Sansa have any agency whatsoever this season, as the writers claimed she would have, but she was again relegated to the damsel in distress. Theon Greyjoy rose up from within the beaten body of Reek and murdered Ramsey’s jealous concubine, throwing her to her death, to save Sansa. Knowing there is nothing good waiting for them, Sansa and a Theon take a literal leap of faith holding hands over the castle’s battlements. He may have saved her life, but Sansa awakened the man within and gave a second life to Theon Greyjoy.
Arya Stark enjoyed the most solid story arc of the season as she continued her training as a faceless assassin. She forsook her vows this episode and fell back on personal vengeance in taking Meryn Trant’s life. Her visceral murder with an oyster knife was breathtaking. When she forced the eyeless Trant to his knees and genuflected to the Many Faced God in some twisted form of prayer before taking his life it was cinematic elegance. Being able to cross a long-held name off of her list was as rewarding to her as it was the audience, but she still has much to learn and even more to leave behind. Caught returning her mask by her tutor, Jaqen Ha’gar, he scolds her, saying, “Only death can pay for death.” An eye for an eye guy, he kills himself for the life she took without permission only to appear in the form of another person, leaving the audience and Arya to realize there may have never been a ‘Jaqen’ but merely another face worn by many men. Pulling face after face off of the Jaqen corpse, Arya loses touch with reality when the final face on the dead body is revealed to be her own. Having not properly reached the level of face changing, Arya goes blind (because… magic?)
I’m grateful that Dany had her climactic scene last episode, flying away on the back of her dragon, so we are able to spend time with the fallout left from her exodus in Mereen. While I don’t understand how the full-blown Harpy insurrection was quelled, I’m just glad to see Tyrion keep his job, arguably getting a promotion as the shadow leader while propped up by Missande and Gray Worm. Add the prodigal Varys to the mix, who materializes next to Tyrion like Tyler Durden, and we’ve got the potential for a hip vacation spot once Westeros gets overrun with White Walkers. I am left wondering how long the show plans on dragging out Jorah’s grayscale infection, which is all but a death sentence.
With her dragon taking a nap, Dany unwisely decides to venture into the unknown unprotected and is surrounded by a vast khalasar who encircle and presumably abduct her. Where this great herd came from, how they knew where in the middle of nowhere to find her, and why Drogon did not swoop in for some barbeque is beyond me, but sometimes writers substitute logic for pacing.
Speaking of a storyline with neither pacing nor logic, we visit the weakest storyline of the year in Dorne to see Marcella off to King’s Landing with her beau, Tristan Martell. Jamie wastes little time once they leave the docks to confess his parentage to his daughter, who pieced it together with the rest of Westeros long ago. Surprisingly, she is fine with this and even relieved. But we all know there are no happy endings in Game of Thrones, and as soon as there is a glimmer of character resolution, she begins to bleed out from the nose, dying from the poison Ellaria Sand delivered in her farewell kiss. Ellaria wanted Dorne to go to war with the Lannisters and now she may have her wish.
Aside from her cheekbones, Cersei is a character with no redeeming qualities according to Tyrion. So it is surprising how much we can sympathize with her humiliation. Yes, she is guilty of her crimes and more than she admits, but her confession was coerced through torture and there is no justice that her persecutors are seeking. The Sparrows are religious fanatics. They are homophobic, hypocritical, violent, petty and malicious, and just as dangerous to the realm as any crowned despot. Cersei’s atonement after confessing is a walk of shame through King’s Landing after she is stripped naked and shaved. She is robbed of all pretenses and laid bare before the commoners she once spat upon. The walk portrayed her humanity and vulnerability for the first time in the series. As bad as it was for her, it is going to be a whole lot worse for the Sparrows now that she has her personal Frankenstein monster in the form of the reanimated Mountain, Frankenmountain?
Having read the books, Jon Snow’s fate was a sour inevitability that the entire season had been steering towards. That said, it was no less tragic. This season rushed Jon’s ascent to power as well as the tensions separating him from the rest of the Watch. Truncated for television, the motivations for his murder were less justified than in the books where his alliance with the Wildlings had them holed up at the Wall for months eating them out of rations. Here, it is a group of petty school children who are too cowardly to face him man to man. Those keeping score at home, that’s two Lord Commanders in a row that were assassinated.
The unmitigated gall to say ‘For the Watch’ while stabbing the only man truly working towards protecting all the realms of man from the real dangers is stupefying. For the Watch? What Watch? Jon was the Watch. Y’all are just a bunch of color-coordinated murderers, poachers, and rapists now.
Closing on the dying Jon Snow may be the biggest cliffhanger in the series run. Save for Arya, whose storyline doesn’t really focus on the larger picture, can they still tell a compelling story when there is literally no one to root for anymore? Although actor Kit Harrington professed that he is in fact not returning next year, many book readers take it as unspoken fact that Jon Snow will be reborn in some manner. Coupled with the fact that the show would lose not only a fan favorite but the driving force of its most significant storyline, I have hopes we’ll see the Lord Commander rise again, if not next season, then in the climactic final season seven.
That’s it for this season’s recaps, thanks for following week to week. Be sure to stop by next week for the season’s ‘Best of… Awards’ where we celebrate the season’s best and worst aspects.
Drop a suggestion in the comments below for a category you’d like to see.