I don’t know if it’s possible to properly explain just how perfect and rewarding “The Winds of Winter” was. In today’s binge-able society, instant gratification is the new norm. We consume media like the Hound consumes chicken, and when we’re denied this right, we sincerely debate picking up an axe and bashing in some skulls. We are a world averse to cliffhangers, and even more so, we loathe being told to wait. All this is to say, that even with our current need for immediate fulfillment, George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series has thrived despite the fact that he writes slower than a Lancel Lannister crawl. It’s a testament to Martin’s brilliant storytelling that we still care so much, and he has set up this tale for a chaotic and exhilarating conclusion. But until last night, that was all it was – a setup. A Dance of Dragons published in 2011, and A Feast for Crows in 2005. Those two books covered the same amount of time, essentially splitting the characters in half. So for many fans of the series, they’ve been waiting more than a decade to see what happens when you put Cersei in a corner. Even more so, A Game of Thrones hit shelves in 1996, meaning the most die-hard fans have waited for 20 years to find out what actually happened in the Tower of Joy.
Now I haven’t been a fan for 20 years – I discovered the show after Season 2 and read all of the books before Season 3 – but I am most definitely a new-age die-hard. I have spent hours upon hours reading, theorizing, and submerging myself in the wonderful world of Westeros (and hours upon hours complaining about the mundane world of Meereen). And while it’s been an absolute blast to try and predict the inner workings of Martin’s labyrinthine mind, it pales in comparison to the 69-minute-long adrenaline rush that was “The Winds of Winter.” From the haunting musical score that stippled the episode and the lingering despair left in the wake of Davos’s anguish, to the goosebump-inducing KING IN DA NORF and the jaw-dropping scope of Daenerys’s army, this episode was as undoubtedly perfect.
But there’s a catch. You may have heard that The Great War is still to come, and with the exception of Jon Snow and company, no one seems to either know or care. So I urge you to savor this moment right now, because winter has arrived, and it’s going to be brutal.
Riser of the Week: Cersei Lannister
There were more than a few worthy candidates this week, but no one rose higher or more dramatically than Cersei. Of Martin’s five novels, A Feast for Crows is far and away my favorite, and one of the primary reasons for this is that we finally get to venture inside Cersei’s head. Slowly, from each chapter to the next, she falls deeper and deeper into madness. She is consumed by paranoia. Throw in her upcoming trial, and you get a very dangerous woman. I’ve long been a fan of the theory that Cersei was going to do what the Mad King could not and blow the lid off King’s Landing. In one fell swoop, Cersei managed to erase every single one of her problems. She went from receiving a guilty verdict and likely punishment to sitting on the Iron Throne. That’s quite the rise. (To be fair, the throne was not her goal, but rather her house’s preservation. Tommen was not supposed to die.)
With Tommen dead, and his suicide a direct result of her actions, Cersei is left in an incendiary position. Her children were everything to her, and she tried to protect them regardless of what it took, but now they’re all dead. And an unhinged and unopposed Cersei is a frightening notion. Something tells me there will be more explosions to come.
Honorable Mention: Jon Snow, First of his Name, the Bastard of Winterfell, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Leader of the Free Folk, the White Wolf, the Undead, the Prince who was Promised, and the King in the North.
Faller of the Week: Margaery Tyrell
Margaery Tyrell joins the somber ranks of Hodor and Shireen Baratheon for the unenviable title of Most Unfair Death. Margaery was everything that a queen should be: smart, cunning, and philanthropic. She knew how to cater to the masses while also playing the game of thrones. She was a rare breed, and every bit superior to Cersei. But this is Game of Thrones after all, and what’s fair hardly ever happens.
I’m glad that the writers at least made it so that in a room full of the realm’s leaders, Margaery was the only one who identified the danger they were all in. The High Sparrow, for all the chess playing he’d done so far, was completely in over his head when it actually came time for action. Rest in peace, Queen Margaery. You deserved better.
Honorable Mention: Tommen, for giving new meaning to the name King’s Landing.
Backstory of the Week: R + L = J
You may have seen the equation R + L = J before – it’s certainly been a longstanding theory. R + L = J is shorthand for Rhaegar Targaryen + Lyanna Stark = Jon Snow, and it was proven to be true last night when young Ned Stark found a dying Lyanna in the aftermath of a fatal birth. As she repeated “Promise me, Ned” with her dying breaths, it became clear just how potentially dangerous the truth about her baby’s lineage could be. What you have to understand is that by the time Ned found Lyanna, Robert’s Rebellion was all but over. Rhaegar had been killed by Robert on the Trident, and the Targaryen forces were gravely outnumbered. Victory for the usurpers was inevitable, and peace was on the horizon. As we know, both of Rhaegar's children, Rhaenas and Aegon, were brutally murdered alongside their mother, Elia Martell, when King’s Landing fell to the Lannister army. In order to remain fully secure on his throne, Robert couldn’t allow for any Targaryens to live. If the world knew that Jon Snow was actually a Targaryen, he would have been killed immediately. So Ned made that promise to Lyanna and raised Jon as his own bastard. The implications of this are game changing, and it’s inevitable that word will inevitably spread. One question remains: will this mean an blood-alliance for Daenerys and Jon, or will there only be room for one Targaryen on the throne?
Item of Power: Frey Pies
Out of all the crazy theories that have stemmed from Martin’s series, this is one of the few that I assumed we’d never see in the television series. In the books, the pies are baked by Wyman Manderly (who briefly debuted last night as one of the lords to declare for Jon’s kingship) after his son was murdered at the Red Wedding. Wyman tells Davos (who’s out looking for the missing Rickon Stark…RIP) that he’s captured and plans to murder three Freys as retribution. Later, when Wyman is at Winterfell for Ramsay Bolton’s wedding (to an Arya imposter…#goreadthebooks), he brings with him three huge pies, and the theory was that each one had a Frey baked into it. And while the origin of the pie was different in last night’s episode, it was every bit as wickedly glorious.
- There’s a beautiful symmetry bookending Jon Snow. He was birthed and saved by a Lyanna (Stark), and defended and crowned by another Lyanna (Mormont).
- Speaking of, Lyanna Mormont needs to become a mainstay in this show. I love everything about her.
- Not sure if you picked up on it, but the Citadel’s mirrored contraption had the same markings and build as the one seen in the opening credits. Very cool.
- Cersei waterboarding Septon Unella with wine is the most Cersei thing ever.
- I wanted to reach out and kiss Olenna Tyrell after she did what I’ve been dreaming of for two years now and told the Sand Snakes to shut the fuck up. Also, while the Fire and Blood speech wasn’t as cool as Doran’s version in the books, it was still great to see it.
- Qyburn’s stab-happy orphans are terrifying.
- It’s going to be really interesting to see how Jaime reacts to what Cersei did. Is his love for her really impenetrable? She just did the exact thing he prevented when he killed the Mad King. For his sake, I hope he snaps out of it.
- Also, I loved Jaime’s reaction to Walder Frey – the shame and disgust of being mentioned in the same sentence as that man. I think Jaime’s about to embark on a big soul-searching event.
- Tommen’s suicide is incredibly sad for a few reasons, especially when you think about how despite the odds and the people surrounding him, he seemed to be a pretty good person. But he was always being used and abused. Joffrey tormented him. Tywin, Margaery, Cersei, and the High Sparrow manipulated him. And despite all of that, he seemed to genuinely love his wife and his religion. And then, his mother took all of that away from him. Put it all together and it’s easy to see why he jumped.
- Remember in Season 3 when Melisandre bumped into Arya when she was with the Brotherhood without Banners and told her that they would meet again? Looks like she might have been right.
- Was I the only one getting strong Dwight Schrute vibes from that one maester in the Citadel? Books. Beats. Battle of the Blackwater.
- Sticking with the Citadel, I hope everyone in this world can find someone who looks at them the way Sam Tarly looks at books. I’m excited to see what he’ll uncover in there. Hopefully the recipe for Valyrian Steel, because we’re going to need a lot of that.
- The scene between Daenerys and Tyrion was superb, and for the first time EVER, I find myself toying with the idea of rooting for the dragon queen. Like Tyrion said, getting rid of Daario was not an easy move, but it was the move of a leader. As was making Tyrion her Hand of the Queen. I’m still convinced dragons are in no way a good thing for the realm and that they’ll cause more harm than they’ll prevent, but watching her (finally) sail west not only with a khalasar , the Unsullied, and her dragons, but with support from the Martells, Tyrells, and Greyjoys, it’s clear that she’s now the frontrunner in this game.
- Lancel Lannister died just like he lived: failing to live up to Jaime.
- Ned Stark is proof that if you hold out hope long enough, you’ll eventually be right. Winter has come, and a storm is following.
Until next season.