Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale crowd-pleases to a fault

Joe DeClara

SPOILERS for Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale below

Everything seems to have perfectly fallen into place; Cersei has the throne, Jon has the North, Arya had her vengeance, and Dany has dragons, ships, and an army. We also finally received confirmation for one of the oldest and most popular rumors for the series of A Song of Ice and Fire. And I have to say, despite the fact that I've been hoping for all of these victories, I found some of them underwhelming.

Game of Thrones faced a significantly novel conundrum this season; The Winds of Winter was to be the pivot point of many story arches and conflicts, finally rewarding our heroes with victories after perennial misfortune and defeat. This turning point was to be the culmination of George R.R. Martin’s epic; the victorious rise of hope and justice from the ashes of despondency and futility. Instead, what we saw was the result of television writers taking the bullet points of Martin’s unreleased penultimate novel and throwing it together in two final episodes and one badass battle scene.

I happen to love a lot of what happened in these past two episodes; the destruction of the Sept showcased some of the best directing in the series, and the battle scene at Winterfell was nothing short of a masterpiece of action television. But many of the in-between scenes revealed a lack of inspiration, humanity and, in some cases, consistency. As we progress further and further into the unknown (or unwritten) of Martin’s story, the abundance of detail we’ve come to expect from every scene (courtesy of the books) seems to dissipate.

The decimation of the Sept was easily the most exciting segment of this season’s finale, and the music played an integral role in building that excitement. The consistently recurring ostinato piano theme cued an expectant curiosity, wondering what ploy was unfolding. Finally, as Maester Pycelle realizes his betrayers and Lancel falls, the previously stagnant cello becomes agitated. Queen Margaery smells something afoot and urges the trial attendees to flee, but all too late. The Sept burns, and all Cersei’s opposers with it.

It was a profoundly effective scene. The dawning realization of Cersei’s plan seemed to dawn on me only moments ahead of Margaery, who knew the Queen Mother better than anyone else at the Sept. And while the buildup to this realization was well executed, the climax was just as impressive. Watching so many people become engulfed in wildfire was shocking, and seeing Cersei’s content smirk was equally disturbing.

The confession scene that followed was a bit annoying at first, but proved imperative to the episode immediately after. Though an amazing performance from Lena Headey, I was growing tired of the show’s recent obsession with excessive vindication (a recurring theme in this episode alone). But showing Cersei’s most sadistic nature here underlines her failure as a mother. Sick and self-indulgent, she calls Gregor Clegane away from her son to exact her revenge on the Shame Septa, leaving Tommen alone and without consolation. The king’s suicide was one of the only parts of the episode that succeeded in surprising me, but considering how alone he must have felt looking out on the ashes of his people, his new-found faith, and his wife, it’s no wonder he took his own life.

And Cersei seemed to take it pretty well. Like us Game of Thrones fans, someone had already told her their shockingly accurate predictions and kinda ruined the surprise for her. Looking down on the remains of her weak-minded son, she resignedly orders that he be discarded with the rest of the religious fanatics. At this point, Cersei has become completely desensitized to losing her loved ones. The deaths of Joffrey and Tywin had cut her so deep that she upended the city to bring Tyrion to justice. Myrcella’s poisoning had wounded Cersei but also left her more resigned to her children’s fate. Losing Tommen, her last living child, seemed to faze her only momentarily before brushing it off. Now, with no one to stand in her way, extricated of any remaining humanity, the throne is her’s. Cersei of the house Lannister, first of her name.

But Cersei’s was not the only coronation this week. After suffering three whole seasons of Bolton tyranny and slaughter, we have a new King in the North; and turns out, his name isn’t Stark, and it probably shouldn’t be Snow either. After thousands of reddit threads and theory pieces and years of speculation, we finally have confirmation that Jon was the son of not Eddard Stark, but rather Ned’s sister, Lyanna Stark. And though it wasn’t stated outright, we have more than enough reason to believe we know who the father was (link). Provided the latter half of this popular prediction is true, Jon might have just as much claim (if not more) to the Iron Throne as Dany.

It was one of the biggest reveals in the show’s history, and it fell completely flat. To be fair, I can’t say the fault lies with the show. George R.R. Martin put many hints in place pointing to this secret, hints that only the most astute readers would catch. But once enough people caught on and started talking about it, the R+L=J theory quickly became common knowledge. Though there was some anticipation for finding out whether the theory was true or not, the intended effect might have been lost to many viewers.

Nevertheless, we have a new clash of kings (and queens). Jon has claimed the North, Cersei has claimed Westeros, and Dany sails towards both of them. But we seem to also have another contender; Baelish spoke most bluntly to Sansa, voicing his highest ambitions: to sit on the Iron Throne with Sansa at his side. Therefore, it may seem natural to see Baelish looking sullen in the background while all the Stark’s bannermen hailed Jon as their new king. But we don’t know if this doesn’t work in both Jon and Littlefinger’s favor. One wants the throne, the other wants the North. Alliances have formed under similar circumstances before, so it seemed odd for Sansa to look so conflicted in that last shot with her at Jon’s side.

What seemed more likely was for Jon and Sansa to have issues concerning the last battle. Jon had ignored Sansa’s advice, and Sansa had contacted Baelish behind Jon’s back. Clearly, the Stark children were having some mistrust issues after years of being apart. But this seemed to be easily resolved with a stroll on the castle walls and a kiss on the head. If there’s to be some conflict between Jon, Sansa and Baelish next season, it would make sense for that conflict to be more apparent and less forgettable.

Much of this episode suffers from this inexplicable need to wrap things up in a pretty bow. Daenerys and Arya’s season plots specifically were given unnecessary and nonsensical endings. Arya’s moment of revenge against the Freys was certainly something many had been hoping and rooting for since the Red Wedding, but to spring it up literally out of nowhere like this seemed like a lazy attempt at crowd pleasing. How did Arya get to The Twins? How did she manage to get one of those masks? I had assumed those were only permitted to the Faceless Men, which she definitively abandoned two weeks ago. Does Jaqen H’ghar know she snatched one of those on her way out of the House of Black and White? Also, no doubt Arya’s an expert assassin at this point, but are we to believe that she was able to kill all the Frey’s, carve them up, bake them in a pie and serve it to old man Walder all without being detected? If so, I would have loved to see all of that happen. But no doubt the show writers thought that might take too long, and what a shame it would be to have to leave all that until next season!

Daenarys, on the other hand, had more than enough build-up. Her goal has been pretty straightforward since the start of the show; get ships, get an army, get dragons. And it all finally happened! After watching her fight to gain enough power to take on Westeros for six seasons, I’d say the burning of Slaver’s Bay was a pretty sweet payoff. And now it’s off to the Seven Kingdoms.

But what of Meereen? Oh, no worries - Dany’s leaving that murderous hell of a city in the hands of Daario Naharis and the Second Sons. What’s so unfathomably stupid about this plan is so obvious, I have a hard time believing the writers didn’t take notice. Before Dany had command over her dragons and an entire Dothraki army, she had 8,000 unsullied forces and the Second Sons - 2,000 sellswords. Though impressive, this did not prove to be a strong enough force to prevent several attacks from the golden-masked masters. In fact, Dany would have died last season if it hadn’t been for Drogon’s magnificent entrance in the fighting pits. Now, Dany expects 2,000 sellswords will be more than enough to handle Meereen, a city which potentially could still be at war with the rest of Eastos for its anti-slavery nonsense.

So off she went, 2,000 men and one lover less. But not to worry; she still has her 8,000 unsullied, tens of thousands of Dothraki warriors, one thousand ships, three dragons, and the company of Grey Worm, Tyrion, and Veras - which was even more asinine than anything else this episode. Mere minutes before the closing shot of the Targaryan fleet, we saw Veras in Dorne negotiating an alliance with the Tyrells and the Martells. After Arya’s one-week track to the Frey’s doorstep, I suppose it would be picky of me to criticize the show for skipping over Veras taking a boat back to Meereen. But why would he do so? Seems to me he could’ve saved himself a trip by just waiting for team-Stormborn to show up on the shores of Westeros and rendezvous there. But of course, it makes for a better closing shot to have them all on the boat together, so why not?

These little inconsistencies and plot holes seem to be in stark contrast to the rest of the series, which benefitted from George R.R. Martin’s illustrative scenes and cohesive narrative. A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones both thrive on taking time to explore every minor detail of each character’s journeys. This new focus on hitting all the bullet points and wrapping everything up nicely comes at the cost of robustness and coherence. In regards to the Season 6 finale, I thought the conclusion in King’s Landing was an example of excellent directing which did justice to Cersei’s character arch while setting up for an exciting Season 7. The rest of the episode, however, mostly suffered from spoiled reveals or messy wrap-ups. More importantly, this uncharacteristic looseness could be an unfortunate sign for what’s to come for the Martin-less Game of Thrones.