'Game of Thrones' and The Changing Landscape of Westeros
We have finally come to the end. It’s been a big season with a few very flat notes, but there’s been huge movement in a lot of plots. The world of Westeros and Essos have changed dramatically in the last ten episodes, and are set to change even more soon. Some of those changes have been good, some have been bad, some we can’t tell yet. But the landscape that we see at the end of Season 6 is entirely different from the landscape at the start of Season 6. Let’s go over all of it, one more time.
The wordless opening sequence leading to Loras and Cersei’s trials is incredible, even more so because the must choice is so shockingly different from the music in the rest of the series. I think this is the first time we’ve heard a piano on the soundtrack, they tend to stick with Medieval instruments and the piano is an 18th century invention. It’s startling, and the music itself seems to weave in bits of themes we’ve heard before while still being a very new piece of music. The piece is called “Light of the Seven” and there do seem to be close to seven separate themes woven through the larger piece of music. The shots of our main players preparing themselves for the trial echoes the scenes we’ve seen of knights armoring up for battle, and this is a battle. But each of the players has a very different understanding of what kind of battle it is, and it’s only Cersei who has truly outmaneuvered everyone. We may have seen it coming, but the people in the sept had no warning. No hint. It is abject madness to burn one’s own subjects, it’s what got Aerys killed. But madness is the last refuge of the damned.
Cersei is damned, make no mistake about that. She has bought herself a short time in power at the expense of her soul and everything that she held dear. Perhaps she gave up on Tommen when it was clear that he would not side with her against the Sparrow. Perhaps she gave up on everyone when she stumbled, naked and bleeding, into the arms of Ser Gregor. Perhaps she always would have ended up this way, it was inevitable from the time she heard Maggy’s prophecy. But she has saved and damned herself at the same time.
We find Jaime at the Twins celebrating with the Freys, and just as Cersei is leaning into the worst aspects of her personality Jaime is trying to claw his way out of his. There is no part of him that feels comfortable with a man like Walder Frey implying that they’re of the same temperament and morality.
Sam and Gilly have finally reached Oldtown, a journey that has taken them the entirety of season six. To get from one end of Westeros to the other. Just noting this for later. Sam has to break the bad news to the Citadel that their records are out of date, but is granted permission to use the library. Gilly and her son are not permitted entry which shouldn’t be a surprise? But it looks like Sam has finally found his version of heaven: a massive building full of books and a suspiciously familiar set of lenses hanging in the middle of it all.
Back at Winterfell it’s time for some hard truths to come out. The first is the truth of Shireen’s fate, and Melisandre’s failures. We know this has been coming, and while banishing Mel to the South may seem unsatisfactory, Jon literally owed her his life. And we know she still has to meet Arya again before her own end. Then it’s Jon admitting that Sansa saved his ass and all of Winterfell, and Sansa admitting that while she doesn’t trust Littlefinger she should have told Jon her plans. Open and honest communication! The foundation of a healthy relationship, familial, political, or otherwise! As the Stark theme plays, Sansa tells Jon that Winter has officially Come and they share a nice moment watching the snow.
Lady Olenna is in Dorne to do some burning of her own. But the important thing to note here is that news of what happened in King’s Landing has reached Dorne, and so has Varys. And while it’s rich to see Ellaria talk of “justice” it’s nice to see that Varys is rallying the ladies to support his Queen. And the more Olenna can shut up the Sandsnakes, the better.
Over in Meereen, preparations are underway to leave for Westeros but first Dany has to dump her high school boyfriend so she can go off to college. The gender dynamics and emotions in this scene are fascinating, but Dany stays firm in clearly stating that she IS leaving Daario no matter what he says or offers. Tyrion congratulates her on a job well done, but can’t really console her. That’s OK, Tyrion, that’s what Yara is there for. But while Tyrion might not be the best emotional support right now, Daenerys is not her father and can recognize the value of Tyrion’s advice and abilities. When he pledges her his counsel, she names him the Hand of the Queen. It’s a beautiful scene of both of these people managing to overcome their family histories to build something new and good together. Meereen has been one of the more uneven aspects of the show, but this moment here where Dany acknowledges the need for wise and supportive counsel and Tyrion is raised to a position of power on his own merits is lovely and worth waiting for.
Back at the Twins, we finally get Frey Pie. But instead of Lord Manderly serving it in Winterfell, it’s Arya serving it to Walder Frey personally. And then she kills him, the way he had her mother killed. It’s a powerful moment for Arya, but a dark one too. There is no future in vengeance, only a past.
Littlefinger has shown up in the God’s Wood to fuck up Sansa’s day and show us all how crazy he is. Apparently, he married Sansa to a violent sadist who very easily could have killed her so that he could one day end up on the Iron Throne with her by his side. I’m beginning to think he’s not as great at planning as we/he thinks he is, guys. But he plants a bug in Sansa’s ear about how she deserves to rule Winterfell. Given what he just told Sansa about his personal goals, I’d say she should consider the source but the man has a point. Merely by existing in King’s Landing for at least a couple years, Sansa has a better grasp of courtly politics than anyone else in the North not named Littlefinger.
North of the Wall we have time for one last magic tree reveal. The one we’ve all been waiting for; what really happened at the Tower of Joy. We finally see Ned find Lyanna lying in a bed soaked with blood from childbirth. We see Lyanna’s dying wish that Ned protect her son specifically from Robert. This is all I need to know to understand that Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. But we’ve been so focused on finding out the answer to this question that the consequences have yet to be fully explored; Jon has understood himself for his entire life as the single moral failing of an unfailingly moral man. What does it do to his understanding of himself and his past to learn that not only is he not proof of Ned’s weakness, but he is proof of Ned’s impenetrable strength and honor? What does it do to Jon to learn that his mother DID love him, loved him tremendously, for as long as she knew him? How will he learn to understand his father, a man who has been a villain in his family’s stories all these years but who is considered by others to have been a good and gentle man? What will he do when he learns that the love that gave birth to him also started a civil war? And when will he start to grapple with these questions? Not today.
We see Jon, innocent to all the bloodshed and pain he has caused, sitting in the great hall of Winterfell in front of his uncle’s vassals. But he’s not the one who gains control over the room, it’s Lyanna Mormont who manages to shame all the grown men who turned their back on House Stark into pledging their allegiance to Jon. And despite Jon’s insistence that Winterfell was rightfully Sansa’s, that she had won the battle, he can’t find the words to speak up in her support now. For a guy who keeps saying how much he doesn’t want power, he seems awfully reluctant to stop it from being thrust upon him. However, griping aside, there’s a new scene of a King in the North being proclaimed. It is stirring, it is inspiring, it is perhaps slightly overwrought to Sansa’s tastes but what are you going to do?
Jaime has brought the Lannister army back to King’s Landing just in time for Cersei’s coronation. This does not appear to be the romantic reunion he was hoping for. I wonder if he told her about Aerys’s plan to burn the city. Tyrion knew about it firsthand, and he told Brienne, but for all his talk of how he loved her I wonder if something in him told him not to tell her. That her reaction would have damaged his affection for her. Does she know that he killed Aerys to stop him from doing what she just did? Did she do it anyway?
Across the Narrow Sea in newly dubbed Dragon’s Bay, we see a fleet of ships carrying the Greyjoys, the Unsullied, the Dothraki, the Tyrells, and the non-Martell leaders of Dorne across to King’s Landing. Varys is sailing alongside Dany, because apparently he actually IS a merman and that’s how he’s been crossing the sea back and forth so quickly.
I really enjoyed this wrap up. We made big moves and rearranged the board for the wars to come. Jon and Sansa are in the North, Cersei is ruling in King’s Landing, Daenerys has her fleet and is on her way to win the throne, and Arya has taken up the mantle of Lady Stoneheart. Sam is in the largest repository of knowledge in the Seven Kingdoms and it’s going to be a damn shame when it burns to the ground (come on, you know it’s gonna happen). While the destruction of the Sept took some great characters with it, it also is a big step towards the future of Westeros which looks nothing like the past. It appears that the Seven are not a part of that future. What I don’t like is how fast and loose they’ve been playing with the timelines. This episode, while great, was also the worst about this. In the span of the episode, Cersei burned down the sept and was coronated. In the same episode, we saw Olenna in Dorne with news of the burned sept, saw Varys with her, and then saw Varys back with Daenerys with the entire Martell and Tyrell fleets. Eventually, these stories are going to collide with each other and where they each are when that happens is anyone’s guess. But that’s a problem for next spring. In the meantime, winter is finally here.