Positioning -- or more precisely muscling -- itself into position for what will likely be just two more seasons, the world’s biggest TV obsession, “Game of Thrones,” blasted out a sixth season finale that no one saw coming because no one possibly could. The largely bookless sixth had the element of surprise going into the final episode, and certainly did not squander the advantage.
Surprises were everywhere, from big to small, while a long-standing fan theory was confirmed. There was a wrap to the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) storyline to beat all wraps, and one that may have even shocked George R.R. Martin, the creator of this world. The infamous Red Wedding was avenged. A Lannister was formally tied to a Targaryen. A Stark was more or less proven to be also a Targaryen, too.
This finale, “The Winds of Winter,” was mostly terrific -- also a genuine crowd-pleaser that clearly sought to demolish a long-standing assumption that “GoT” seasons are supposed to end on a quiet, reflective note -- or on an exhale as opposed to the sharp inhale of the preceding next-to-last episode.
Along with those surprises, this “GoT” -- now under the complete and total supervision of showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who did not have a trail of crumbs to follow left behind by one of Martin’s books -- wanted to assert its full independence by proving it could be as intelligent and intuitive as the masterpiece it sprang from.
Mission pretty much accomplished: “Game of Thrones” may now be the best piece of fan fiction in the world.
Now, of those surprises, along with the questions they raise, here are just a few:
* Cersei (Lena Headey) chose violence, all right -- a wildfire attack on the Great Sept that incinerated all her foes, from the High Sparrow to Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and a few hundred bystanders along with them. This extended scene, with its sere taut music track comprised of a pair of cellos and a doublebase, was another one of those quantum advances in special effects matched to direction -- Miguel Sapochnik, who directed last week’s “Battle of the Bastards” also directed “The Winds of Winter” -- that seemed to occur every episode this season. Like the books themselves, the TV series is not constrained by imagination, nor by budgets. This had to be one of the most expensive sequences in “GoT” history, one of the most extravagant.
Cersei’s act, like all in Westeros, of course had consequences, when her son flung himself to his death. She now holds the throne -- without heirs. Of course, that may be of little consequence -- how long will she or any Lannister hold it?
* Melisandre, Red Priestess of the Lord of Light (Carice van Houten), is banished from the north for her role in the sacrificial burning of Shireen, Stannis’ daughter, last season. She leaves but hardly disappears -- a free radical, so to speak, now afloat in this world where she will certainly assume a key role at some later date. After all, she revived Jon Snow (Kit Harington) from the dead. Her work, whatever that is, is not done.
* So, “R+L” does equal “J” after all. Apparently so. The great fan obsession of “GoT” was at long last laid to rest during Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) time-travel visit to the Tower of Joy, where he learned -- also confirmed -- that Jon Snow (J) is indeed the progeny of Rhaegar Targaryen (R) and Lyanna Stark (L). Storywise, this is significant for all sorts of reasons -- notably that Jon is both a Targaryen, also heir to the Iron Throne, and also a Stark. As a Targaryen, the last surviving male of that line, I believe, he has an intimate tie to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and her dragons. This would make them all -- I suppose -- natural allies in the forthcoming battles of the North and at Knight’s Landing. I suppose ...
The other question is what Bran intends to do with this information. The birthright of Jon Snow has been one of the great driving mysteries of this fictional realm, and something that’s expected to have ramifications on everything going forward, perhaps all that has come before. It’s the McGuffin to beat all McGuffins -- but what does it really mean, and why did the Three-Eyed Raven (Max Von Sydow) demand that Bran turn back before witnessing the grand secret (earlier in the season, as you recall). Maybe it was one of those “I want the truth/you can’t handle the truth” oppositions, but if so, why couldn’t he? Bran has established his bona fides as someone who can alter the past -- however unintentionally -- and knowing what he now knows, what will he do with it?
Bran, possibly the most important figure in Westeros and in “Game of Thrones,” just became more important.
* What was Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) doing in Dorne, alongside Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) and her charming Sand Snakes? “Fire and blood,” quoth he -- in response to Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) desire for “vengeance and justice. Varys may simply be working the backroom, while Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is working the front: Securing alliances in the coming fight for the throne. Maybe, except that Ellaria is a dangerous alliance to forge.
* Dany pledges herself to Tyrion, and he to she: Great, tumultuous episodes need long stretches of quiet reflection -- the long exhale within the inhale, I guess -- and that’s what we got in this extended moment of calm, when Tyrion finally says that there is one “belief” (after all) that he is comfortable with, and that belief is her. “I believe in you,” he says -- four words Tyrion most certainly has never said. And she responds in kind, by naming him her hand of the Queen. A Lannister and Targaryen are now bound, in one of the most intimate moments in “GoT’s” run.
*Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) “kill list” had another name crossed off -- Walder Frey (David Bradley), of course, who a few seasons ago hosted everyone’s least favorite wedding -- that Red one. Her set up to his last breath was melodramatic -- she had gone to the extravagant trouble of serving him his sons for supper. (Who knew Arya could actually cook?)
So was the fading shot of her face, a look of radiate peace and happiness. Like her brother Bran and half-brother Jon, her work is far from over. Her work is just beginning.