Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 10 recap: The great game begins again
The following is a recap of the finale of the sixth season of Game of Thrones, and it contains spoilers. Many spoilers.
'Sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.'
After last week's bloody Battle of the Bastards, we expected an episode that would reset the chessboard that is Westeros.
And in a finale that is the stuff of TV legend, HBO did just that and made up for nearly every blunder this season suffered from, giving us payoff after payoff.
Cersei now sits on the Iron Throne, Jon is the new king of the North and Deanerys is finally on her way to Westeros along with her army of Dothraki, Unsullied and Greyjoy forces - not to mention those handy dragons.
There's more: the Red Wedding was finally avenged, R+L=J stands confirmed, Tyrion became Hand of the Queen and the High Sparrow, his acolytes and Margaery were blasted to smithereens over the intense episode clocking in at nearly 70 minutes.
There isn't a wasted moment.
Most symbolically, the episode reveals that winter has actually arrived - fulfilling a promise Game of Thrones made in its very first episode.
The Mad Queen - she who set the world on fire
We'll cut right to the chase: Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor, headquarters of the Faith of the Seven, while the leaders of the faith and nearly every significant person in the city were in attendance.
Goodbye, Margaery, the High Sparrow, Loras, Kevan Lannister, Lancel and Mace Tyrell.
And Maester Pycelle, stabbed by a flock of underground birds.
It's the biggest cleaning-out-the-house political purge ever witnessed on Game of Thrones. I had idea about what might happen, but I wasn't ready for all of it.
Maragaery's death in particular was unsatisfying because we'll never really know what game she was playing with the High Sparrow. One of the most cunning players of the game - she's the only one who realised that Cersei may have sinister plans till the very end - Margaery is going to be missed.
Cersei did save one enemy from the fire - Septa Unella, whom she hands over to the Mountain for some horrifying up close and personal time. Shame.
But let's not forget that every time Cersei wins, she loses something too.
Which is why what followed shouldn't have surprised us, but did. Like his mother, Tommen watches from a window as the Sept continues to smolder in the distance. He removes his crown and walks out of the camera frame, and we hear him set his crown down. He reappears, steps up on the windowsill and steps off.
The simple, unhurried action is chilling.
Tommen understood what his ineptitude cost him, he knew that his wife was dead, he knew that there was nothing left for him to believe in. But more than that, he knew what his mother's done and he knew that this was the way to punish her.
And Cersei, who loved her children very much, failed him by not being by his side. If she had gone to him, he probably wouldn't have taken that last dive out of the window.
After she sees his body, she decides to burn him, because that's what she does now. Burn them all.
A childless mother
The idea of Cersei without her children is quite terrifying. Her love for them humanised her and now with no one left to protect, she's free to unleash the power-hungry monster inside.
Which, as the new queen of Westeros, she's quite likely to do until someone stops her reign of fear.
Jaime, her last anchor, makes it back to see King's Landing after the victory feast at the Twins to see it still smoking away from a distance. You know he's troubled - he killed the Mad King over his intentions to burn down the city. And now his sister has done just that.
The looks that Cersei and Jaime exchange following her coronation points to just how deep this fracture will go next season. Both have lost all three of their children as was previously prophesised, but it's sad to see Jaime realise his last son died for Cersei to become queen.
In the books, the prophecy Cersei receives about her children includes another part: that a 'Valonqar' (High Valyrian for 'Little Brother') shall finish her off. The last line of the prophecy goes something like this: "And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you."
Technically she's Tywin's eldest child, with Jaime coming out second during their birth.
None of this bodes well for Cersei. And considering Walder Frey and the Boltons are now dead, the next person whose blood audiences will hunger for is likely to be the new Mad Queen.
A queen without a king
The Dragon Queen is finally getting out of Mereen. "This is actually happening," observed Tyrion.
But before it can, loose ends need to be tied. Daenerys, much to the future joy of one Jorah Mormont, tells Daario that their little dalliance is over due to the practical necessity that she may have to make marital alliances down the road.
Afterward, talking it over with Tyrion, she admits that her quest for power has already changed her, telling Tyrion that she felt nothing when she said goodbye to Daario, "just impatient to get on with it."
But Tyrion delivers a touching declaration that he believes in her despite a lifetime of not believing in anything or anyone. He swears to counsel her, "now and always," and she presents him with a gift: a Hand of the King pin she had made special. "Tyrion Lannister, I name you Hand of the Queen."
It's a lovely moment for Tyrion as a character. Sure, he's had the job before, but the last time he was the Hand, he was only standing in for his father. But Danyerys needs him more than ever. He's the only one from Westeros on her team and he knows Cersei better than anyone else alive barring Jaimie.
He's also the smartest character on the show and it's about time someone recognises what an asset he is.
But most importantly, Daenerys is finally off and making good on a promise from Season 1. Now she has a gargantuan army following her and if this new United Nations initiative includes more of Lady Olenna giving the Sand Snakes a piece of the audience's collective mind, I'm all for it.
Of course the biggest question mark is how the Starks/North will react to her claim. Which will of course be further complicated once Jon finds out he's a Targaryen. Or maybe less complicated.
The King in the North
"I've been ready to die for many years," she says, and you get the feeling maybe she's actually wanted to die but couldn't. Jon is faced with a tough decision: Keep Melisandre, and lose Ser Davos and have a child-killer in your inner circle.
Or kill Melisandre, and execute the woman who brought him back to life and a potential helper against the Night King. Tricky. So he makes a compromise and exiles her. But Davos warns her after an emotional speech that had me blinking back tears: if he sees her again, he'll kill her.
Rightfully so. You don't go around burning little girls at the stake.
Home once again after years, Jon acknowledges what Sansa has done and her rightful place as Lady of Winterfell, while Sansa apologises for keeping Jon in the dark about Littlefinger and embraces him as not just a Stark but the Lord of Winterfell.
It was a moment of mutual recognition and appreciation, in which they seemed to finally seem to trust each other. That trust is reinforced again when Littlefinger divulges to Sansa that he's got the Iron Throne on his vision board, with Sansa as his queen.
That she calls this a "pretty picture" is more than a bit disconcerting for him. Let's hope she never forgets that Littlefinger only serves himself.
Later, we're in the Feast Hall and all those bannerman who were wimps about joining the fight against the Boltons have come crawling back. Lady Lyanna Mormont, who has repeatedly shown that she has balls of steel despite being only 10, shames them silly before declaring her allegiance to Jon Snow as the King of the North.
I'd forgotten how fun it was to have a bunch of Northerners shouting "King in the North" over and over again.
The girl is back
Back at the Twins, Walder Frey is settling in to eat a heaping serving of pie, which isn't surprising. He's always been eating or drinking something, if you've noticed.
Old Walder is looking for his boys Black Walder and Lothar, but the serving girl informs him - they're already here. As in, right there, in the pie he's dining on.
That's right, it's time for FREY PIE.
And vengeance. Arya identifies herself clearly after removing a mask (proving she did learn something after all), before slicing his throat and watching him bleeding out with barely contained sociopathic joy in her face.
But if it anyone had to coming, it was Walder Frey.
The big question for Arya: where does this end? Is Cersei next? Will she take down The Mountain?
Don't cross that Wall
Further north, Benjen brings Meera and Bran to a heart's tree close to the Wall, and explains he can't go any further with them due to the magic built into the Wall, keeping the dead from passing. He'll keep on fighting for the living, but he departs as quickly as he appeared.
Bran touches the tree, and dives back into a vision - the one we've all been waiting for, the Tower of Joy.
This time, Bran is able to follow his young father up into the tower, where Ned finds his younger sister Lyanna lying in a pool of blood on a bed. She pulls her brother close, and whispers: "If Robert finds out, he'll kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned. Promise me."
Ned holds the baby, and with a swell of music, the show non-too-subtly cuts from the child to a close-up of Jon Snow's face.
Bran's next logical step would be to get back to Winterfell for that big Stark reunion that's going to happen next season and tell them everything he's learnt. But if he does, the magic keeping the Walkers away from the Wall will collapse.
I've complained a few times this season about whether or not certain characters have been teleporting. About how they bafflingly cover miles upon miles so quickly. This episode had its fair share of such head scratchers.
But just because we, the viewers, are seeing the events happen in a single episode doesn't mean everything is supposed to be happening at the same time, or in a matter of days.
HBO seems to use character locations to convey passage of time. Olenna in Dorne says that enough time has passed between scenes for word of the burning of the Sept to get out and for Olenna to answer a summons from Dorne.
Varys is there, to help strike that deal. And he's there again in the final shot as Daenerys's armada sails forth to Westeros - proving that time has gone by despite us not being spoonfed a 'three months later' subtext.
That doesn't mean that there aren't the occasional plot pitfalls though.
The wait for Season 7 begins
Will Daenerys usurp Cersei, or will the newly-instated queen meet her end another way? Where is Arya headed now that she's crossed perhaps the biggest name off her list? How will Sansa get the best of her last remaining manipulator, and will Jon punch him in the face before he's gone for good? Will Bran be able to get word to Jon about what he knows, and what will this mean for Jon's role in the Seven Kingdoms?
Next season can't come soon enough. The battle lines are drawn - the Mad Queen vs the Dragon Queen vs the White Wolf - and Game of Thrones is truly entering its endgame.