This is a book reader review for Game of Thrones, which means that below the dragon there will be discussion of plots from the TV show up to the most current episode that has aired on HBO, as well as spoilers from all five books that have been released. Chapters from books that have not yet been released are still off-limits. Thank you for cooperating!
The season finale of Game of Thrones landed with a thud for me. A lot of times when I critique the show in these reviews, people ask what I’m expecting out of it, as though it’s unreasonable to hold a show to its own best efforts. I know this show is violent. I know this show is bleak. I also know that this show has had some extremely well executed character and plot moments that make it all worthwhile, but there were very few to be found in this season finale.
While many of us anticipated that Stannis burning Shireen would lead to a downfall, I don’t think any of us saw it happening so quickly. I feel like if you’re going to set up that kind of huge moral failing, then the character should probably have to live with the consequences for more than a single episode. But, of course, this is one of several possible deaths that aren’t explicitly shown on screen so it’s entirely possible that Stannis still lives to grumble another day. I’m not sure which way I’d prefer this go, I would like to see more exploration of what the loss of his daughter, wife, magic fire witch, and army will do to Stannis as a person. On the other, I don’t want to spend more time thinking about how he burned his sweet daughter to death for nothing.
Sansa manages to light her rescue candle at exactly the moment that Brienne takes off to track down Stannis because this show only cares about timeline continuity when it can fuck people over. When she realizes that help will not be arriving before Ramsay returns, she attempts to get back to her room, only to be menaced by Myranda which is FINALLY the straw that breaks Theon’s back. I don’t find it particularly impressive that he found what was left of his courage when the only foe in his way was a small woman with an arrow pointed the wrong way, but I guess better under the most cowardly of circumstances than never. Theon and Sansa leap from the walls of Winterfell into the snow, and again we don’t see how they turn out. In the book, Jeyne and Theon survive this jump and are scooped up by Tycho Nestorius and delivered to Stannis’s camp. Nestorius is safe in Braavos and Stannis is defeated, so it’s anyone’s guess where we’ll find these two next season.
However, this also brings up the matter of Littlefinger’s absence from the back half of the season. It seemed like he was setting himself up to arrive at Winterfell with the Knights of the Vale. Whether he would arrive in time to help Stannis or simply to rescue Sansa seemed uncertain, but the fact that he NEVER arrived seems disappointing and makes me wonder why they included that scene where he gets Cersei’s permission to march the Knights to Winterfell.
As for the other Stark sister, Arya gets her revenge on Meryn Trant who is now not only a pedophile but an openly sadistic pedophile as well. I understand the argument that we had to see him demand an adolescent girl last week to understand how Arya would find a way to kill him. I am not sure why we had to watch him beat little girls this week. Arya already wanted to kill the man, making him a complete and utter villain serves no purpose. She loses her eyes for this crime, but it appears that for the time being she will stay at the House of Black and White even though it’s clear that she has not left Arya Stark behind to become No One.
The wrap up of the Dornish plot was completely infuriating on several levels. First of all, I was anticipating a “Vengeance, justice, fire and blood” speech from Doran and instead got the WORST line this show has ever produced out of Tyene. “Bad pussy?” has anyone ever used the term “pussy” on this show before? Then we get another touching father/daughter scene which seems to have been included only to make the daughter’s death more wrenching. Again. My biggest question here is why Ellaria thought this was a good way to get her war. Jaime knows that Doran doesn’t want war, and that Ellaria does. The ship isn’t even out of the harbor when Myrcella collapses, so at the very least it seems likely that they’d turn around to seek medical attention for her or to prepare the body. At worst (and if I were Jaime) I’d hogtie Trystane, dangle him off the prow of the ship, and demand that Doran have Areo Hotah execute Ellaria and the rest of the Sand Snakes on the pier in view of the boat before I continued onto King’s Landing and MAYBE the full wrath of the Iron Throne wouldn’t come down on them. But I guess Jaime Lannister is a less brutal person than I am.
Meereen has been left in the hands of Tyrion, Varys, Missandei and Grey Worm while Daario and Jorah go off to find Daenerys. While Daario lays out a great plan for holding the city and recovering Daenerys, he also talks about how much everyone respects Greyworm which just seems completely delusional given the beating the Unsullied have taken this season. Maybe they found their short swords, though. Also, Daario’s company of sellswords is still mysteriously absent from Meereen. But what does that matter, Tyrion and Varys are together again!
Meanwhile, Daenerys is trying to persuade Drogon to go back to Meereen while he’s all “GOD, MOM, JUST LET ME SLEEP IN THIS ONE TIME!!!!” She walks off to try to find food and ends up encountering a Khalasar of unclear intent. She leaves a ring behind in case Jorah and Daario come through Northern Ireland looking for her, but it looks like our former Khaleesi is going back to go forward.
This week also featured Cersei’s walk which I have been anticipating with varying degrees of unease all season long. I will say that the show nailed her walk overall; it was incredibly harrowing and Lena Headey’s face was a masterpiece. But without her other crimes, without her sending women to Qyburn for his experiments, conniving against Margaery specifically, and the actions of the Kettleblacks it makes the punishment seem less earned. Cersei was always being punished for the least of her crimes, but without seeing the full extent of her violence and cruelty it makes her walk feel more exploitative. I also think the use of the Walk with the former High Septon earlier this season took some of the sting out of it. But Headey acted the hell out of the scene, and her collapse into the arms of Ser Robert Strong/Zombie Mountain afterwards and managed to communicate a full breakdown and subsequent glimmer of hope without any dialogue.
A special mention here for Lena Headey’s body double. While Headey is obviously responsible for communicating Cersei’s emotions in the scene, there is another woman out there who actually walked through that crowd naked as they yelled horrid insults at her and pelted her with trash and other projectiles. I know it’s not real, and that they would have cut frequently, but I still can’t think that it would have been easy for anyone.
Jon Snow’s murder has been a topic of debate among the readers since A Dance with Dragons came out four years ago. Not only did they manage to bring the shock and horror of that into the show, but they did it with a false return of Benjen which is something a lot of people are waiting for. While I think this scene has been telegraphed for a good portion of the season, there’s still some questions I had about it. The biggest one being WHERE THE HELL IS GHOST?!? Gilly gets menaced and some guys kick Sam around and Ghost shows up lickety split, but when his actual owner/warg is being stabbed to death he’s off… chasing bunnies? At least a throwaway line from Jon to Sam earlier about how Ghost had been acting pretty nuts since Jon got back (due to all the impending murder thoughts) and Jon had taken to keeping him kenneled would have been helpful.
Jon’s ending looks less ambiguous on the show than in the book. “When the third dagger took him between the shoulder blades, he gave a grunt and fell face-first into the snow. He never felt the fourth blade, only the cold…” Contrast that to Jon’s prolonged frozen stare at the end of this episode, and while I’m still pretty certain we haven’t see the last of Jon Snow, I am less certain of how they will manage to bring him back.
As a wrap-up, this felt like the whole season has felt: uneven, with a heavy reliance on contrivances to make certain plots work, a loss of moral ambiguity, and a dearth of levity. We got a couple nice moments where no one died (Sam’s conversation with Jon, and Tyrion in Meereen). Problems with time and distance plagued this whole season, culminating this episode in Stannis marching to Winterfell on foot in apparently less than a day when a mounted army had been trapped that close by for weeks, and Melisandre making it back to the Wall in what seemed like almost the same amount of time. I’m still interested in certain characters and storylines, and there have been great scenes this season, but I feel like there’s been a vast simplification of themes and characters who were more complex in previous seasons. Overall, it seems that now that Benioff and Weiss know where they’re going and are determined to get there by season seven they’re taking some short cuts that aren’t quite working out as well as they may have hoped. And while they have a duty to leave viewers wanting more, I felt that there were too many scenes where the lack of true resolution hurt the story instead of making me anxious for next season. I’m still planning on watching, but I find myself looking forward more to The Winds of Winter than season six. I know which I’m more likely to get first, though.