Well, it just goes to show: a Lannister DOES always pay his debts. Or ‘her’, in this case.
Anyone who felt it was oddly out of character for Cersei to go meekly into the night hadn’t been paying attention. We knew she had something planned; we just didn’t know it involved wildfire.
Even taking into account the sheer spectacle of the first act’s fiery climax, the opening to ‘The Winds Of Winter’ stands as one of the best examples of slow-building tension on TV in recent memory. From the subtle, understated soundtrack and Pycelle’s demise (fans will notice that Qyburn’s dialogue has been transplanted from a different scene in the books to great effect) to the High Sparrow and Margaery’s fatally late realisations that they have been played, it’s perfect television.
Friends, foe, whatever – all who have crossed Cersei at some point pay the price. None more so, however, than the silent, brooding Septa Unella. Having clearly taken great pleasure in her treatment of her prisoners, our last moments with her see her strapped to a table and screaming, alone with the zombified Ser Gregor Clegane. It takes a lot for us to sympathise with Cersei, but there was a tiny part of us muttering “Shame, shame, shame” along with her is she strolled out of the Red Keep, serenaded by Unella’s terrified cries.
Even the cost of her actions – Tommen ends his life on his own terms at least – don’t seem to bother her too much. After all, she has what she’s always wanted: the crown. She may have effectively doomed the kingdom and her family in the process, but whatever her protestations, she was always out for number one.
Although maybe she should watch her back – or at least look to the late Walder Frey, who dies with his throat slashed by Arya Stark. Back in Westeros, her goal has become clear: she has names on a list to tick off, and Cersei is one of them. She should be very afraid.
It’s an episode full of memorable scenes – not a moment is wasted, and nothing spared. Some instances that have been signposted in the books lose their impact slightly (seriously, how did they find a baby who looked so much like Kit Harington?), but others hit the mark.
Jon Snow’s impromptu coronation may be a surprise, but it feels like the kind of logical progression the books didn’t always share – and despite our criticism in the previous paragraph, those who are unfamiliar with George RR Martin’s tomes would likely have been gobsmacked when the truth about him was revealed. Sure, even already kind of predicted it, but somehow the impact isn’t lessened all that much. It remains to be seen what impact this has on the narrative, but that will be one interesting conversation with Bran.
Even so, for spectacle alone, nothing can beat the closing shot of Daenerys’ war fleet sailing on to Westeros: the Unsullied, the Dothraki and the Iron Fleet among their number, and the support of Dorne and the Tyrells waiting for them.
It’s a perfect storm, setting the steam for the ultimate battle royale: you have the Lannister forces, Jon Snow’s Vale-backed (or is it? We can never tell with Littlefinger, especially when he gives Sansa creepy glances like that) Northern alliance, and Daenerys’ forces, with Euron Greyjoy’s army somewhere in the background. And that’s not even forgetting the Winter King: as Jon warns, “He’s bringing the storm.”
So, Season 6 then. In short, it’s everything that Season 5 wasn’t. We’ve had some of the most shocking moments in the series to date, character development that stays true to the source material while not forgetting its target audience, and scenes that will linger for a long time in the memory.
It says a lot that even with the departure of actors of the calibre of Jonathan Pryce, Iwan Rheon, Natalie Dormer and David Bradley, there are still so many reasons to keep on watching. It may be approaching the end game, but it’s going to have an absolute riot doing so.
In other words, Game Of Thrones is back to its brilliant best. And just as well: Winter is here.