GAMES OF THRONES - Season 6 poster | ©2016 HBO

GAMES OF THRONES – Season 6 poster | ©2016 HBO

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Kit Harington, Emilia Clarke, Natalie Dormer, Liam Cunningham, Sophie Turner, Aiden Gillen, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, John Bradley, Carice Van Houten, Jonathan Pryce, Diana Rigg, Finn Jones, Nathalie Emmanuel, Dean-Charles Chapman, Kristofer Hivju, Alfie Allen, Michiel Huisman, Jacob Anderson, Gemma Whelan, Jerome Flynn, Hannah Murray, Indira Varma, David Bradley, Ellie Kendrick, Bella Ramsey, Anton Lesser, Tim McInnerny, Julian Glover, Joseph Mawle, Ian Gelder, Eugene Simon, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Hafpor Julius Bjornsson, Hannah Waddingham, Robert Aramayo, Aisling Franciosi
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: June 26, 2016

GAME OF THRONES (let alone any other series) would find it hard to top last week’s episode “Battle of the Bastards.” Wisely, it doesn’t try with its Season 6 finale, “The Winds of Winter.” There is one literal – as well as game-altering – explosion, but most of “Winds” is occupied with securing the major pieces in their new places on the chess board.

In the North, Petyr Baelish (Aiden Gillen) tells Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) that he wants what he’s always wanted – to rule from the Iron Throne, with Sansa at his side.

Baelish is therefore less than thrilled when Jon Snow (Kit Harington), much to his own surprise, is proclaimed “King of the North.” Jon gets support not only from kinswoman Sansa, fierce young Lady Mormont (Bella Ramsey) and staunch ally Ser Davos (Liam Cunningham), but also from the lords who previously refused to fight the Boltons. These lords, now shamed by their previous cowardice, at last believe the White Walkers are coming and that they all need to band together under a common banner to survive.

Well, yes. The last time someone was proclaimed King of the North, it turned out badly, but Jon has a real knack for survival, and leadership, so perhaps this time it will go better. The scene in the hall at Winterfell, with heartfelt speeches and cheering, is certainly rousing.

Jon is tentatively bonding with Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), but their meeting is interrupted by Davos. Davos confronts Melisandre with the burnt toy stag he had made for Princess Shireen. Melisandre admits her part in Shireen’s murder (the little girl was burned to death as a sacrifice to the Red God, intended to secure victory for her father, Stannis Baratheon), but factually points out that Stannis and his wife, Shireen’s mother, both agreed to it. Davos wants to execute Melisandre for murder. Jon exiles Melisandre instead, warning her that she’s dead if she ever returns to the North. Since Melisandre did bring Jon back from the dead, which in turn enabled him to save Sansa and the Wildlings and Winterfell, but since on the other hand, Davos has an excellent point, this seems a reasonable compromise.

Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) tells Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) that he can travel no further with them. There’s a spell on Castle Black that makes it impossible for the dead to enter, and Benjen is afflicted by the White Walkers, though he has retained is own personality. He will stay North of the Wall and fight as long as he can.

Okay, say what? What exactly are the implications of this? Does anybody else know about this? If it’s just Castle Black, why can’t Benjen go around the Wall and meet Bran there? If it’s the whole Wall, then why is anybody still worrying about the Walkers? If this is a new bit of lore, it needs a lot more explanation; if it’s been mentioned before, it needs reiteration and explanation. If this is just Benjen citing something so that he has an excuse to gracefully exit the action, it’s a whopper of a red herring.

Bran has another vision of his father Ned as a young man (Robert Aramayo). Ned has found his sister Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi) at the castle where Rhaegar Targaryen has hidden her. Lyanna is attended by women, but is dying from the after-effects of childbirth. She pleads with Ned to protect her son, but not to let their father know, as he would kill the baby boy. And this, folks, proves that Ned Stark never fathered a bastard. Jon Snow is (as many have long speculated) actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. This makes Jon Daenerys’ nephew. If the show is setting up Jon to be able to claim the Iron Throne by birthright, well, okay, but he seems pretty overwhelmed with just the North for now.

At Riverrun, Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) sits down with a smug Walder Frey (David Bradley), who is gloating over their victory over the Tullys. Jaime brings Frey down a few pegs by reminding him that while the Lannisters gave Frey the Riverlands, if the Lannisters have to keep coming up there to win back castles Frey lost, there’s not much point in keeping him on.

However, Frey gets a much worse surprise when he’s eating a meat pie given to him by an unfamiliar serving girl. The girl removes her face and turns out to be Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who has killed and butchered Frey’s sons (shades of TITUS ANDRONICUS) and put them in the pie. Arya tells Frey this is revenge for the Red Wedding and that she wants the last thing he sees to be a Stark smiling down at him. As Walder Frey is a character who has absolutely deserved something horrible since the Red Wedding, and since Arya has had to make do with lesser targets until now, this seems entirely earned. Although it does seem to be having it both ways that Arya can renounce the service of the Faceless God and still get to use faces from the temple. Mostly, we’re smiling at the episode.

In Oldtown, Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), with Baby Sam, arrive at the Citadel. Due to all the havoc at Castle Black, nobody has notified the Citadel of Sam’s arrival for Maester training. Sam is allowed to wait in the Great Library while this is all sorted out (Gilly and the baby have to wait in the entry area). The Great Library is, well, great. We see Sam essentially having a bookgasm. Hey, he’s earned it. Presumably, Sam becoming a Maester is going to be important for what happens in later seasons, but it’s nice to see him completely happy in any case.

In King’s Landing, the trial of Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) proceeds in the Sept of Baelor. Loras confesses to his “crimes” (he’s had sex with men) and submits to having the sign of the Church Militant carved on his forehead. His sister, Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer), is furious. The High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) had promised her Loras would not be harmed. The High Sparrow replies calmly that Loras will be free to leave as soon as Cersei (Lena Headey) shows up for her own trial.

This would evidently be when the Seven Hells freeze over. Cersei has no intention of being tried. When Cersei’s son, King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), tries to leave the castle to attend the trial, he is physically blocked from leaving his room by Cersei’s bodyguard Gregor Clegane (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson). At the Sept, Margaery realizes something is very wrong and tries to leave with Loras, but she is prevented from doing so.

Remember all that talk throughout all the seasons of GAME OF THRONES about all the wildfire the Mad King had stored beneath the city? Cersei’s cousin Lancel (Eugene Simon), once her lover, now part of the Church Militant, follows a boy into the sewers beneath the Sept. Children, acting under the guidance of Cersei’s advisor and ally Qyburn (Anton Lesser), ignite some of the wildfire, which blows up the Sept and everybody in it – the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras, Cersei’s uncle Kevan (Ian Gelder), and most of the Church Militant. Lancel is also killed in the blast.

Cersei couldn’t be happier, at least at first. She has spared Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham), her warder when Cersei was a prisoner of the Church, so that Gregor Clegane can rape and torture Unella in perpetuity.

King Tommen, realizing what’s happened, removes his crown and commits suicide by jumping out a window. Cersei is stricken by the loss of the last of her children.

Returning to King’s Landing, Jaime (Cersei’s brother, Tommen’s father) looks on, stunned, as Cersei is crowned as ruler of Westeros.

These are several amazing turns of events. Cersei always has some sort of a plan, but this one is not just visually spectacular, but leads to consequences unforeseen by both her and us. Tommen of course had no way of knowing his mother would do this, but he unknowingly set things in motion when he had (at the High Sparrow’s urging) banned trial by combat. Tommen has lost his wife, his spiritual father, all faith in Cersei and any last hopes he had of feeling like an effective ruler. Once it happens, it’s easy to understand why he kills himself, but it’s also clear why such an outcome didn’t occur to Cersei. Her new Majesty has never been good at predicting or even considering the motives of her relatives. She was (almost) always wrong about Tyrion, she let Joffrey become a monster, and of late she seems to be misjudging Jaime. She never grasped that Tommen actually loved Margaery, or that Tommen was being torn to pieces by the situations Cersei created. He couldn’t survive this last one.

In Dorne, Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) meets with the country’s new ruler, Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma). As Cersei has just wiped out Olenna’s son and beloved grandchildren (Margaery and Loras), and Ellaria holds Cersei responsible for the death in combat of Ellaria’s lover Oberyn Martell, both are happy to join forces against the Lannisters. Varys (Conleth Hill) also joins the meeting on behalf of

In Meereen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) tells her lover Daario (Michiel Huisman) that he can’t come with her. She has to remain available for political marriage. Daario, heartbroken, points out that a male ruler wouldn’t hesitate to bring his mistress. Daenerys holds firm and tells Daario that he is to run Meereen in her absence.

Later, Daenerys confesses to Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) that she didn’t feel anything except impatience to get onto the ships and head to Westeros. Tyrion hesitantly confesses to Daenerys that, although he’s a cynic who believes in nothing, he has come to believe in her. Daenerys, moved, gives Tyrion a gift – a cloak pin signifying that he is now the Hand of the Queen. Daenerys says that she’s terrified, and Tyrion says this is justified – she’s entered the Great Game, and it is terrifying.

Daenerys, accompanied on the flag ship by Tyrion and Varys, plus Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), sets sail with her fleet for Westeros, her three dragons flying overhead.

That’s quite a hunk of story to have gotten through so deftly. The big quibbles are the spell on the Wall business and how some characters get from here to there so quickly. When Tyrion and Varys went from Westeros to Essos, it seemed to take forever, yet Arya managed it with what seems fair haste, and Varys gets there and back within an episode. Otherwise, there are turns and tragedies and triumphs aplenty here, all resetting the board for the wars to come.

Speaking of the wars to come, we’re guessing Cersei must have some tricks up her sleeve. Even though Cersei and the Mountain are formidable and Jaime is still on her side, it’s hard to imagine how anybody can withstand the combined might of Daenerys, her dragons, the Unsullied, the Dothraki and the armies of Dorne and Highgarden – and that’s if the Northerners don’t jump into the fray as well.

One thing is beyond question – the GAME continues to be played brilliantly and beautifully, television at its best.

Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 6 – “Battle of the Bastards”

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ArticleTV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 6 – “The Winds of Winter” – Season Finale

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