Cast your mind back to 2014. The Game of Thrones Season 4 finale to be exact. Many had it pegged to be a quieter aftermath story rounding up episode following the Neil Marshall-directed action fest, The Watchers on the Wall, the prior week. We were expecting a more sedate episode yet instead we received Mance Rayder overrun by the surprise forces of Stannis, Tyrion ending things with his father and the brutal epic slog fest that was Brienne vs Hound. It was an episode that packed just as many thrills as its preceding big battle and it taught us all to never underestimate what a Thrones finale is capable of until the credits roll. So this season’s curtain call falls an even more epic action fest of a battle episode courtesy of last week’ Bastard vs Bastard. Should we be expecting a quieter follow up? Of course, not! The battle may be over but Game of Thrones still goes out with one hell of a bang!
The Winds of Winter – The trial of Loras Tyrell and Cersei Lanister takes place in the Sept of Balor and someone’s justice will be done. The Houses of the North unites around the victorious Starks, new alliances are formed, vengeance is served and the mass forces of Daenarys Targaryen finally set sail for Westeros.
Where to start? While there a few stories in the episode that are mere break points for the off season. There is a hell of a lot of big payoff here going right back to the early seasons. In fact, this may well be the most fan-satisfying episode the show has ever delivered because so many things we’ve been waiting for finally happen and they are all as good or even better than we could have imagined. The tears you have shed over the years are repaid with clenched fists, slappedon grins and a post-orgasmic state of delight. Some of them can barely be mentioned, let alone described for fear of spoilers. Yet we must start with the opening 20 minutes in King's Landing, which in terms of art direction, was neigh on flawless. The use of silence broken my a gentle musical score as the episode montages everyone getting ready with almost no dialogue perfectly captures the building nerves and tensions of the looming trial. This is returning director from last week, Miguel Sapochnik, proving he can produce character-driven thrills just as easily as epic battlefield carnage. Then the timing and delivering of audience awareness could not be more perfect. There are enough odd early clues to embed the idea of something being amiss: The Mountain keeping Tommen in his chambers, Pycelle being led away by a little bird, etc., Then when the twist is revealed, we’re left tantalizingly waiting for the moment to come as the camera cuts between different pieces on either side of the trap. It’s some of the best dramatic work all season. It’s Greggor himself pulling your face into the screen by your eye sockets as Lancel Lanister looks like he’s stumbled into a Saw movie! It’s the biggest moment we’ve seen in the capital since Joffrey savored his last pigeon pie and it could not have been delivered better. It reveale the success of antagonist in sheer appreciation of their achievements.
Elsewhere on the map, there’s no shortage of great nostalgia as the events of several seasons come full circle. The scenes of Winterfell have it all: triumph, heartbreak, drama and humor. The only hard sell becomes the position of Littlefinger. It’s an encore of a few episodes back in trying to drive a wedge between Jon and Sansa but it struggles a little because their united front is more believable considering everything they’ve just been through. Littlefinger’s confession about having always been playing the Game of Thrones will surprise only a Faceless Man (no one) but his openness about Sansa’s position within the said ambition does make it more tangible. We know back from Season 1 that Sansa has wanted to be Queen so the notion someone she knows to be both powerful, determined and wants to make that happen is an understandable source of temptation. Yet once again, there is a pint-sized scene-stealer in The North and her name is Lyanna Mormont. Please let us have more of her in season 7 because seeing this young lady verbally demolish every hulking man around her will never get old (speaking of hulking, we finally see Lord “too fat to ride a horse” Manderly). She also triggers one of the episode's most first pump-worthy moments that forms magnificent call back to season one’s finale.
A final note on the Starks as we unsurprisingly go back to Bran for the conclusion of the Tower of Joy flashback and brings with it much of what many have expected. It suffers a little from that audience foresight but it’s still a very touching sequence and any excuse to have Robert Aramaryo back on screen as younger Ned Stark should be taken. However, it’s the departing Cold Hands/Benjen Stark that gives the most alluding nudge to the future. It’s less of a hint and more a flashing red siren the size of Wun Wun for foreshadowing. He mentions that The Wall is also embedded with warding magic that prevents the armies of the dead from passing it. So we can be about as certain as Michael Bay disappointing us again with Transformers 5 that before the show ends, we will see The Night’s King bringing the wall crashing down. Now won’t that be quite the spectacle.
Although it feels like a distinctly smaller part of the episode, the scenes in the newly renamed Slavers Bay have some excellent one-on-one character moments as Dany puts her affairs in order before setting off back to Westeros. Unsurprisingly, it’s her exchange with Tyrion that proves to be the best as the little man finds his trust and service rewarded. It creates a wonderful mirror towards Tyrion’s past and his future. When he was last in this position, it was reluctantly in the hope of finally earning his father’s love and respect. Now this time, he knows he already has both from Dany, which makes it feel like an honor rather than a burden. It really goes to show that Dany’s kindness is just as vital a weapon in her arsenal as any dragon. The climactic visual of the fleet isn’t too shabby either and will ensure all fans will finish the episode trying to work out how far away Season 7 is.
For many weeks, it’s been a question but now it is a fact. This has been the greatest Thrones season to date. It has delivered big event after big event emphatic style. The MVP of the episode is Lena Headey, who produces some of her finest ever moments on the show. Winter may finally be here but Game of Thrones is burning like wildfire. Though the offseason may be dark and full of terrors, may the Mother’s mercy keep you safe until next spring.