Queens Will Play the Game of Thrones: 3 Takes On the Season 6 Finale, “Winds of Winter”

Season six of Game of Thrones wrapped up with an extra long, extra deadly episode on Sunday.

The church is wiped out and most of the Tyrells and the court of Kings Landing with it. Tommen jumped to his death because shit got a little too real for that gentle soul. Cersei has crowned herself Queen of Westeros and Jon has crowned himself King of the North. Arya’s first move on returning home was to kill the junior Freys and feed them to Walder Frey in a pie — which, you know, is fair. Meanwhile, Dany, Yara, Tyrion and pals are on their way to crush all of these poor souls, and winter finally FINALLY  F I N A L L Y  arrived.

A lot happened, is what I’m saying. So I gathered together two other big Game of Thrones fans, Wendy and Ardo, to discuss the finale with me.

Dany and Yara come to an accord, signalling a dramatic change in the power structure of the Known World.
Dany and Yara come to an accord, signalling a dramatic change in the power structure of the Known World.

This was the season where women definitively took charge. We’ve got Dany ascendant and comfortable in her power, Yara as her Lord of Ships (or whatever they call it in Westeros,) Cersei on the Iron Throne and the Sand Snakes in charge of Dorne.

Yet Jon is King of the North. Lady Mormont is the designated kickass Northern noble woman. Where does that leave Sansa and when are they getting this fool man a general? And how will our other queens and ladies of power deal with each other and this not-yet-dead King in the North?

Ardo Omer: It’s interesting that the North ended with electing Jon as it’s leader as opposed to Sansa and ignoring his bastard status to do so. In any other episode, I would have been happy for him but what makes the finale interesting is how it flips the genders of those in positions of power. Women are in charge and yet the North still has a man leading it. It’s definitely something to look out for in the new season especially when you have that moment of Littlefinger and Sansa sharing that dark omen-esque look between the two of them. In terms of how the queens will interact with one another? I think their goals are aligned right now which is revenge against Cersei and getting the Iron Throne. Personally, I think Jon is a sweetie and Sansa will rule through him and the ladies will treat him like their kid brother who should be seen and not heard but that’s a positive outcome for him. Jon is a puppy that I don’t like seeing get hurt.

Wendy Browne: I would have side-eyed hard if all the women came into power and dread the arguments that justify them being brutally cut down over the past few seasons in order to show how they overcome their trauma. But I really don’t read Jon as the king beyond title. I didn’t expect the Northmen to choose a woman to lead them. Sansa has not proven herself politically and battle-minded the way the Ladies Mormont have, but she has learned to quietly play the game–with some excellent advice from Cersei, no less–and understands how much power she can hold without actually sitting a throne herself. The look she shares with Littlefinger could be read in many ways. Jon has to be careful of Littlefinger, but Sansa can also use this to her advantage. I don’t think she will manipulate Jon, but she can certainly do so with Littlefinger. Afterall, the Lord of the Vale still lives and he is quite fond of Sansa too.

Megan Purdy: I’m so glad you mention the notion that characters needed to be brought low before they can rise, Wendy. This show has spent so much time demeaning, degrading and abusing its female characters and none of it was necessary to “bring them low” so that they could have the kind of triumphal rise we saw in this season. The baseline sexism throughout the Known World is so all-encompassingly cruel that none of these characters needed the special attention. It’s true that Dany, Cersei and Sansa have been — and still sometimes are — arrogant, but no more so than their male counterparts, and just living as a woman in Westeros and the rest of the Known World is hard enough without the humiliations and abuses all three women have endured. Of course a character arc requires some bad times to cast the good times in greater relief, but for some strange reason — hmm, hmm, I wonder what that reason could be — their bad times involved gendered, sexualized and ritualized abuses and, of course, rape.   

While Jon’s rise to power is less revolutionarily satisfying as that of Dany, Yara, Sansa et al, it’s still another blow to the already rocky patriarchal power structure of Westeros. Jon is Ned’s acknowledged but illegitimate son and he’s now risen to power not through his father or some other male relative raising him up, but because two women, his sister and young Lady Mormont, did. However Sansa comes to feel about being pushed aside come next season, she did, in these last few episodes, help Jon secure his position and boost his confidence by assuring him that she sees him as a true Stark. Although Jon is now the King in the North, it’s Sansa and Lady Mormont who gave him that throne.

Jaime killed the Mad King because he attempted to do what Cersei just did. Does he love her enough to forgive this? Will their relationship survive Tommen dying and Cersei taking the throne? How will they react to Tyrion’s return as Hand of the Queen?

Wendy: One of the things I have always liked about Game of Thrones is its mothers. Caitlyn, Lyssa, and Cersei are horrible, horrible mothers who have made some questionable decisions, some of which directly resulted in harm and even death to their children–but they all love their children with all their hearts and believed they were doing the right thing for them. For Cersei, the show used motherhood to give her a touch more humanity than she has in the books, but with all her kids gone now and Tommen’s death being her own fault, what humanity does Lady MacCersei have left? Moreover, Jaime realized what his sister was in the books and how she used him and did not truly love him beyond her ambitions for the Iron Throne. He had a great story arc about this where he turned his back on her and did some self searching. I missed this plot line in the show, but I suspect that after what Cersei has done, Jaime will once again be forced to choose between family and his royal oaths. I don’t think the result will go well for Cersei.

As for their little brother, I think Cersei’s existing hate will just manifest in more fire, while Jaime will be pleasantly surprised and proud. It will add to his inner conflict of choosing Cersei versus another Targaryen. This will probably seem like a pretty big rock and a hard place for Jaime, and he’ll need a good heart to heart with Tyrion to work things out.

Ardo: Jaime was able to deal with being a Kingslayer because he knew he did it to save Westeros. There is a level of honour in Jaime that he’ll sacrifice to an extent for those he cares about…I think we’ve seen his limit. I think Cersei is in a place right now where she wants Jaime to be completely on board or get the fuck out of her way. She’s lost her kids and she’s the most powerful person in Westeros. SHE. DOES. NOT. CARE. In regards to Tyrion being the Hand of the Queen, I don’t think Cersei could hate him more than she already does but it’d be interesting to see Jaime’s face when you compare it to what just happened with Cersei. SO MANY UNKNOWNS.

Megan: I think it’s telling that Jaime only just had that nasty speech about Cersei being the only one (aside from his kids) that he cares about, and how willing he was to do anything to get back to her. Now he’s arrived in King’s Landing to find that his beloved sister has committed the act that he tanked his career and life to stop. Jaime wore the dishonour of being the Kingslayer without really minding it, because he knew that he’d done the right thing and he’s not an entirely honorable sort to begin with. Like Tyrion, he has a healthy skepticism of a warrior’s honor. But when he told Brienne about that day she understood and saw the good that’s still in him. Cersei, on the other hand, has never respected that side of Jaime, has worked rather to bring him closer to her way of approaching the world, a way where absolutely anything is on the table, so long as it brings her power. That’s just not Jaime, so far as we’ve come to know him, so it’s entirely possible the show has set up a situation where he will fulfill the prophecy and kill her… and then maybe die himself.

So far, Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is coming true, piece by piece. To the point where Tommen commited suicide wearing a golden tunic — which Maggy calls his “golden shroud.”

Wendy: I hate hate hated the introduction of Maggy the Frog. Thousands of pages, and suddenly GRRM felt the need to toss in a prophecy to help bring Cersei down, as if Cersei couldn’t do that on her own with her ambition and lack of planning beyond her limited scope. But I do appreciate how the show handled the prophecy, along with many other unnecessary elements of the book. I have always praised the showrunners for sifting through GRRM’s detritus to tell the story that needed to be told, while GRRM seemed to wander further and further from the mark, adding more and more characters with less and less purpose.

Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne after being crowned queen. Note the lack of Baratheon trappings.
Cersei Lannister on the Iron Throne after being crowned queen. Note the lack of Baratheon trappings.

The Tyrells are pretty much finished, save for their revenge. How is Westeros going to survive Winter without their grain and a depleted fighting force all over the continent? Who’s thinking about life after the “great game” and life after White Walkers?

Wendy: No one is thinking about the White Walkers. No one but the Wildlings and Jon believe they exist and Jon isn’t doing a very good job of promoting the reality of this beyond saying “Winter is coming,” which everyone’s been hearing for years. Pics or it didn’t happen, Jon!

Ardo: Haha what Wendy said. I think that’s what Jon can actually offer as the lone male leader in this world. He’s fought the White Walkers and lived to tell the tale. They’ll need him and Dany’s dragons.

Megan: Well, regardless of whether or not they believe in snow zombies, they surely believe in snow and cold and dead crops, and that’s what will kill them even more effectively than any mystical magical creature.

Wendy: The Blackfish said that he could hold out for two years in a siege, so House Tully will be okay. Ian McShane had a nice crop going on, so I imagine other villages have been doing the same. I’m less concerned about this logistical plot point, than the one that has allowed everyone to timehop to their destinations this season. Super convenient for getting the story finally moving, but it got more and more jarring over the last two episodes where an entire mounted army can show up unnoticed by their enemies, and Varys can bounce from Mereen to Dorne and back again with a snap of his fingers.

Ok, Bran is the new 3-Eyed Raven. Fine. What’s he going to do with his tree psychic time travelling powers? Does it even matter who Jon’s parents are?

Wendy: Lady Mormont gave Jon a crown and made his Targaryen lineage moot for the sake of the people of the North. Unless Bran can provide a marriage certificate, Jon is still a bastard on both sides. There’s no reason for the rest of Westeros to claim him just because he’s a Targaryen when they will have Dany. But it does put him in a position to be friends with Dany, who has proven that she’s willing to grant some level of autonomy within the kingdoms, as long as they proclaim her ruler over all. Jon is not particularly fond of the leadership that keeps being thrust on him, so I can see him accepting the position of Warden of the North as Ned had. The important things is that everyone wants the Lannisters out. I’m honestly not seeing much of a battle here. No one else but Dany truly wants the Iron Throne. Well, except LOL Petyr.

As for Bran, his purpose right now seems to just be confirming internet theories. If he shows up to tell everyone the truth, (A) they have no reason to believe him, and (B) it messes up the reStarkening of Winterfell. If Bran isn’t going to be useful against the Night King, then he needs to go be a tree and leave the real world to the useful people.

Ardo: Ditto to the above. It’ll be interesting to see who’s left to provide political conflict aside from the Lannisters, the Ironborn who still have Theon’s gross uncle in charge, and Little Finger. Of course, there’s the White Walkers who better have a season’s worth of fighting since we’ve been waiting for this damn winter for years.

Megan: I don’t care for Bran or his boring story, to be quite honest. I hate the psychic, time travelling shenanigans and all the attendant theories that go with it (for example that Bran has been time travel masterminding the unravelling of Westeros from the start). I was hoping that this season would wrap up the last slow-train-to-nowhere storyline (Arya’s being the other storyline that took too long to accomplish too little), but at this point I have little hope. Sure he seems to be setting up shop in that tree, but what is Bran going to DO besides have useless visions of the past? Like you both have said, the revelation about Jon’s parentage is interesting (maybe, I guess, not really) but ultimately irrelevant to the politics.

Dany, Hand of the Queen Tyrion and Advisor/Handmaiden Missandei sailing to Westeros with their Dragon Fleet
Dany, Hand of the Queen Tyrion and Advisor/Handmaiden Missandei sailing to Westeros with their Dragon Fleet

Ok, now for the REALLY important question. Dany is winging her way across the Narrow Sea to Westeros. Who should she marry, who should she fuck and who should she kill?

Wendy: I’m mad at Dany for ditching Daario. She can deal with political marriages while having hot sex on the side. Whoever she marries will just have to understand! But seriously, I figure her only viable choice is Jon. This will solidify her hold over the North, which is the part of her future kingdom that holds the most power after she dismantles the Lannister army. No other political alliance serves any purpose for her, and the Northerners are not going to easily give up their King in the North after the mess they have dealt with. This would appease them, leaving Jon with the title they so adore, and giving a solid front against the Night King. Meanwhile, Sansa could side step Petyr and marry Robin, then send both Robin and Petyr through the Moon Door. Houses Tyrell, Tully and Frey will fade, but with Elaria ruling Dorne, Tyrion holding Casterly Rock, Yara handling the Ironborn, and Sansa strong in the Vale, the kingdom will have a strong foundation upon which to rebuild. The only thing left to worry about is the Iron Bank finally calling in the long owed King’s Landing debt. Dany is going to have to impose some serious taxes.

Ardo: Dany should marry Jon (they’re cousins so this is a thing that could happen), make sweet love to Daario because in my head, he swam across the sea for her and killed Cersei. Killed her dead!

Favourite moment from the finale?

Wendy: Cersei versus the Septa. She was so wonderfully cruel in her well deserved vengeance, topping it off with leaving the Septa at the mercy of The Mountain, whispering “Shame. Shame. Shame.” We know what the Mountain does when the Lannister’s let him off his leash, so that was very chilling scene. It’s the kind of psychological power the writers could have held over us all along without gratuitously showing every detail of brutality. But then Cersei’s seemingly ultimate moment of victory is countered with a silent crescendo from Tommen as he leaps to his death, all set to a score that offered the kind of tension that hearing the “Rains of Castemere” brings now.

Ardo: Favourite finale moment is when Arya fed Fray his sons in Hannibal-esque revenge. She did the lord’s work.

Megan: A Titus Andronicus classic. I’m always here for people in pie.

The post-pie execution of Walder Fray.
The post-pie execution of Walder Fray.

Final thoughts on the season?

Wendy Browne: I walked into this season feeling dirty. I was watching only out of obligation, a need for completion. Many of my companions had tapped out long before, tired of the long, drawn out plot lines, the red herrings that left us rolling our eyes, characters wandering far off their path, and listening to the excuses about the “historically accuracy” of rape from people who think rape serves as good character development for every female character. But from the first episode of the season, I was relieved to discover a whole new show that felt much like a snake shedding its skin. Most notably, shit started to actually happen in relation to that throne everyone is fighting for. Questions that have dragged on for far too long have been answered concisely, though the reveals have not been particularly surprising to me. There is actual nuance to the storytelling and the violence has either been relegated to off screen or, when it is on screen, serves greater purpose than mere shock value, with sexual violence against women no longer being the go-to plot device it has been. There have been some tense and some heartbreaking moments, as is to be expected in a show that realistically demands that you not get attached to your darlings. There might not be hope for all the characters, but I once again have hope for this show. Simply put, this season has been so satisfying for me.

Ardo Omer: This season mostly made me sad. So many not nice things were happening to people I liked and I was feeling it take a toll on my enjoyment of GoT. Highlights for me included the Starks reunited (Sansa and Jon at least), Ramsey’s demise, that Dany/Tyrion moment in the finale that made me teary eyed and the Lyanna/Jon/Ned reveal. The finale reenergized me and I can’t wait for the next season because winter is here!

Megan: I started this season with a sense of hopelessness. The last few seasons have been mired in GRRM’s excessive plotting and plodding, with the show’s best schemers stuck in positions of weakness, some of its best fighters wandering without purpose or in pointless quests. Mainly, I wanted to see some people die. My own personal dead pool was all that Game of Thrones really held for me anymore. But this season quickly turned it all around, moving players back into the game and leaping ahead — finally, finally! — toward the story’s third act. Winter is here, Dany is on her way and the entire power structure of Westeros and the rest of the Known World has been remade. This was a giving season. At least, it was a giving season as far as I’m concerned, since it killed off my most hated villain, put women into positions of power, had battles that relied on actual tactics, and most importantly, moved things forward.

Megan Purdy

Megan Purdy

Publisher of all this. Megan was born in Toronto. She's still there. Philosopher, space vampire, heart of a killer.