Due for her trial by faith, Cersei destroys the Sept of King’s Landing with wildfire, killing hundreds including The High Sparrow, Queen Margaery, Loras Tyrell, and the entire faith militant. Horrified at what has occurred, Tommen kills himself by throwing himself out the palace window. Shortly afterwards, Jaime returns from the Riverlands, shocked to see King’s Landing in ruin, and Cersei being crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
In Meereen, Daenerys Targaryen makes Tyrion Lannister the official Hand of the Queen. After commanding Daario to take charge of Meereen and Slaver’s Bay, she finally sets sail towards Westeros, accompanied by ships from Dorne, House Tyrell, as well as Theon and Yara Greyjoy.
After feeding him his own children baked in a pie, Arya Stark avenges her family by slitting Walder Frey’s throat.
Finally, beyond the wall, Bran again re-enters the memory of his dead father at The Tower of Joy. As his sister Lyanna lays dying in childbirth, she pleads with Ned Stark to take care of her son, and to keep her secret safe lest Robert Baratheon should kill him. The camera focuses on the eyes of the newborn, which then cut to those of Jon Snow.
Game of Thrones‘ sixth and penultimate season had some fantastic and memorable moments. Daenerys Targaryen’s naked emergence from the burning Khal temple, Jon Snow’s resurrection; Hodor’s death, the spectacular battle between the Bolton and Stark armies, just for a few examples, were each epochal instances for the show. The problem is, as great these contained moments were, the season as a whole failed to sustain the same level of excitement.
The biggest problem was that for most of the ten episodes, certain storylines remained locked in holding patterns without much actually happening.
The conflict between Cersei Lannister and the High Sparrow, for instance, was mostly static, without much actually transpiring until episode ten. To be fair, when episode ten came around, it was a great payoff. You could argue that it justifies what came before it, but you could also argue that there was a lot of time spent needlessly reiterating what was already established, and Cersei could have burnt down the sept a few episodes earlier, advancing rather than meandering the storyline.
The same issue arises with Arya Stark and her travails in the temple of the many faced God. It was a worthy payoff when she finally killed The Waif –but did it require two seasons of static back and forth to reach that point?
Or for instance, Daenerys spent half the season MIA in a Dothraki internment, only to burn her captors alive and escape without having undergone anything that particularly changed or advanced her character.
The siege on the Blackfish was also fairly interchangeable, more an excuse to relocate characters than a necessary digression.
Other characters like The Daughters of Dorne and The Hound appeared only for their storylines to be dropped just as abruptly. Samwell Tarly didn’t have much to do either: buggered off with a sword and visited a library. That was it.
All this means that at times the show lacks a sense of coherence among its many characters, and often, a general purpose. It is a flaw which, given the spectacular production values of the show and the superlative acting, is often easy to overlook. But if you care to scrutinise, the flaw is there, and is a tangible problem, which seems more apparent this season than others. Perhaps the difference this season was that without a concurrent George R.R. Martin novel as source material, the show struggled to find the same focus when reliant on completely original material.
Fortunately, the finale was one of the best episodes of the current series, because for once, it had a strong sense of purpose, and lacked the aimlessness with which the season was often plagued.
The developments here –from Cersei’s brutal destruction of hundreds, to Arya’s surprise revenge on Walder Frey, to Tommen’s tragic demise- were genuinely exciting, because they all advanced the story rather than merely embellishing it. In the week after Ramsay Bolton’s death, it was particularly appropriate to have Cersei reclaim the role of supreme villainess, having almost fooled us with her benignity in the time after her demeaning walk of atonement. Her casual sociopathy and coronation seemed, in context, downright apocalyptic.
As with the play within a play earlier in the season that nodded towards Hamlet, it should also be noted that Arya’s feeding Frey his own children is straight out of Titus Andronicus. It was a delicious twist, if you’ll excuse the pun.
With the lineage of Jon Snow suggesting the pivotal role he has to play and Daenerys Targaryen finally sailing for Westeros, the finale makes a wonderful setup for next year’s season, which, frustratingly as ever, we must wait for until next April.
A great conclusion to a season which, if not perfect, at least managed to disguise most of its deficiencies well by dint of its entertainment value, and in the end, left us wanting more.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10