And so on Sunday, Snow missed that the ill will he’d engendered in extending a weirwood branch to the Wildlings, known killers of black knights and eaters of parents, had reached mutinous proportions. And the lad Snow took under his crow wing plunged the last blade into his too-trusting, unknowing breast. There will be no more awkward dinner parties for him.
Jon’s demise — assuming Qyburn doesn’t get hold of him, stat — closed out a busy, bloody episode that might have been the deadliest “Game of Thrones” season finale yet, at least in terms of characters with names.
Stannis and Selyse, just a week removed from claiming the hotly contested Worst Parents in Westeros title, accepted as their prizes mercy killings from Brienne and a sturdy tree, respectively.
For Myrcella it was a fatal kiss from the slithery Ellaria Sand, revealing that the antidote scene from a few weeks ago was about more than showing us Tyene’s breasts. (Retroactive sexposition!)
And of course, less fatal but mortally humiliating was Cersei’s grimy forced streak through the charming hordes of King’s Landing.
But first back to Jon Snow, mostly because, oh I don’t know, his is the biggest death on the show since his dad lost his head in Season 1. (Or “dad,” whichever the case may ultimately be.)
From the beginning, Jon had the stink of destiny. Even when things were good at Winterfell he was the odd man out — a born outsider with a noble soul, wearing his bastardhood like a sullen sweater and choosing a life of service at the Wall. If nothing else, he was an underdog with good hair, and that usually turns out O.K.
Even the endless reminders about his know-nothingness pointed toward great things. Once he figured it all out, it seemed, Jon Snow would be a world-beater — or a world-saver, perhaps. The sort of guy, at any rate, that no one would be surprised to see on top at the end of this thing.
But as it turns out, we knew nothing. The show used our expectations about chosen outsiders and underdogs against us.
More to the point, we made the same mistakes he did. We fixated on the big stories — Who will ride the dragons? Who will win the Iron Throne? When will winter get here? — while overlooking the messy details, the people seething underneath.
After several seasons focused mostly on 1-percenters abusing one another over who gets to rule, “Game of Thrones” tilted the power balance this season in favor of the ruled.
“You are the few. We are the many,” the High Sparrow told Lady Olenna, a.k.a. the richest woman in this story, a few weeks ago. “And when the many stop fearing the few.…”
Things get rough for the few, to finish his sentence for him. Jon Snow was so fixated on thwarting White Walkers — with good reason, it should be noted — he missed the unrest among his own underlings. Daenerys Targaryen’s inflexibility alienated her subjects, and people died. Stannis was so obsessed with his claim on the throne that he overlooked the fact that killing your daughter is appalling, and would drive away his men, the source of his power. Cersei was so terrified of losing her perch she mistook the High Sparrow and his followers for something she could control.
The phenomenon of the rabble getting fed up with the elite is more or less what makes history go, of course, and George R. R. Martin is known for basing pieces of his story on actual events. But more broadly speaking, “Game of Thrones” is a life-or-death story about the fate of a world. And truth is, “the many” by definition make up a far bigger chunk of it than do the ones who trade assassinations and wine-fueled barbs in royal courts.
As this season showed over and over again, whoever ultimately leads this kingdom in the final clash against the White Walkers or whatever else will have to do so with the backing and support of those he or she aims to save. Or it could get ugly.
Just ask Cersei, whose interminable, excruciating walk of shame, also based on historical practice, was the culmination of the theme. Has anyone had a worse season than her? Well, aside from Jon Snow. And Stannis. And Shireen. And Ser Barristan. And about 4,000 Wildlings…
But it’s been pretty awful. She began the year freshly stripped of her father and ended it stripped of everything else — her clothes, her hair, her dignity and power. Her child, which she doesn’t even know yet.
Credit Helen Sloan/HBO
The nude march had been widely reported, with photos from the shoot floating around the Internet for awhile (and if anyone can explain the appeal of ruining a surprise for millions of strangers, I’m all ears).
But seeing it was something else. David Nutter, the episode director, cut fluidly between long shots of Cersei, chaotic close-ups and claustrophobic point-of-view shots, forcing us to share in both the voyeurism of the surly crowd and in Cersei’s horror and humiliation. The sound design was unnerving — I’m afraid the wicked septa’s “SHAME!” might become a prominent feature of my mental soundtrack. (The only slightly jarring moments came when Cersei’s face and body-double didn’t quite match up, but perhaps that was just me.)
Lena Headey was given a classic arc this season — the fall from grace — and she was terrific throughout. On Sunday, Cersei’s brittle surrender was laced with the old canny self-preservation during the conversation with the septon. Later, as she made her way through that vile gantlet, her emotional collapse was long and slow, and it made this diabolical woman truly an object of pity.
This is what mother’s mercy looks like? I’ll take the cell. Ser Mountainstein better sharpen his sword, because I suspect he’ll be busy.
Meanwhile, up in the North: I have to say I was surprised and also pleased we didn’t get a big battle of Winterfell. (HBO’s accountant even more so, I imagine.) We’ve seen that before, yes? Yells, grunts, swords in faces, visceral spurts on the lens. Some foley artist in a sound booth banging trash-can lids together and splattering ketchup packets, or whatever. Much better to spend that time on Cersei’s walk of shame.
Stannis, of course, learned almost immediately that filicide is not a good battlefield strategy, as it turned out. As his men deserted, even Melisandre saw that things were headed south, going immediately from icicle-reading and cocky proclamations to high-tailing it for Castle Black in the time it took for her to find the last remaining horse. So glad she’s still with us, of all people.
Also still around — sigh — Ramsay Bolton. Let’s just close our eyes and imagine with delight his pain and rage upon returning home, victorious, to find his lover dead and wife gone. Yeah… that’s the stuff…
That’s assuming, of course, that Sansa and Reek aren’t just as splattered as Myranda after that Butch and Sundance routine. I don’t think the show would do this, for the record, but what are we to believe? That even the snow in the North remembers, and will softly catch them when they fall?
Another end I didn’t mind seeing: Meryn Trant. Yes I realize this show is manipulating my inner bloodlust when it shows me the gruesome death of a loathsome character, but I don’t even care. It strikes down so many innocents in so many awful ways — when it throws me a bone I’m going to chomp down happily.
The show set up Arya’s means of access to him last week, via Ser Meryn’s creepy proclivities, and she showed how good she’d gotten at the game of faces, or at least the whipping part of it. Oyster knives are apparently unmatched at prolonging grisly ends.
Arya’s own final notes of the season were no weekend in the Water Garden. The sequence in the House of Black and White was chilling, with the Russian facedoll and Arya’s apparent mask poisoning. But I didn’t totally understand it. Apparently a girl goes blind if she wears a face for personal gain?
I’m not sure the normal rules of science apply in the House of Black and White — you saw when she ripped like 11 faces off that one corpse, right? — so your guess is as good as mine.
And finally, poor Myrcella. We knew at least one of Cersei’s kids would get it this season after the whole thing began with that macabre prophesy flashback. (“Gold will be their crowns. Gold their shrouds…”) But the dear girl received less screen time, over all, than has been devoted to the average catatonic stare from Tommen.
Cersei saw this coming even before she got that ominous cobragram in Episode 2, telling Oberyn Martell last season what she thought about his promises about Myrcella’s safety in Dorne. “Everywhere in the world, they hurt little girls,” she said, laying out what has become a sort of unpleasantly on-point mantra for “Game of Thrones.” Listen guys (or whatever I’m supposed to say now), we get it. That’s two down in two weeks. I’m sorry the show’s ending but looking forward to the dead girl reprieve in my media diet.
By the way, have fun on that small council, Trystane. I’m sure Cersei will be totally cool about the fact that your dead uncle’s crazy ex-girlfriend killed her daughter. Maybe go ahead and kick Ser Pounce when you see him, just for fun — how much worse can it get? Oh, that giant gold, silent knight with gray flesh and the strength of 12 oxen? Don’t mind him, he’s no one…
A few thoughts while we take one step forward, two steps back
• Congratulations Brienne, you finally crossed something off of your vow list. Too bad you missed a Stark girl in the process, per usual.
• Dept. of Missing Persons: Littlefinger, Margaery, Loras. Better luck next year, but before you start feeling sorry for yourself, you might want to have a chat with Bran and Hodor. (Or with Bran, at least.)
• Drogon: Hell in a fighting pit but absolutely useless, apparently, against barbarian rodeos.
• Jaime finally experienced a tender paternal moment and of course it ended in massive hemorrhaging. Sorry, Kingslayer. I’ll be even sorrier for you when you make it back to King’s Landing and have to tell Cersei what happened. In fact, maybe just turn the boat around and give the Dorne thing another shot. I don’t think Bronn would fight you on it.
• Meereen is a “grand old city choking on violence, corruption and deceit,” the long M.I.A. Varys tells Tyrion. “Who could possibly have any experience managing such a massive, ungainly beast?” I’ve missed you, Tyrion said. I, meanwhile, realized how much I missed all the exchanges like this that we lost when the writers split these guys up so quickly. Maybe next year.
• Well, unlike Jon Snow and like 5,000 other characters, major and otherwise, we have survived another season.
Source: New York Times ArtsBeat: ‘Game of Thrones’ Finale Recap: A Bloody End to a Bloody Season