There was no way I was going to start writing our Game of Thrones finale recap without the sentence “where to begin.” There were too many pieces on the chessboard to not have this be an incredibly busy finale, and yet, I found it to be exactly what we needed to see as we wait yet another year for more episodes. But make no mistake — whether the camera is on her or not, this episode is about Cersei and the consequences of her choices.
On the "busy" end of the spectrum, we’ve got Loras Tyrell, who, after more episodes than I can count of resisting this moment, decides to kneel in the Great Sept of Baelor and confess all of his "crimes." But the reality is that Loras' story never really mattered. What matters is that when Loras prepares to join the Faith Militant, Margaery is looking around for Cersei, and she's nowhere to be found. In that moment, the soon-to-be-ex-Queen realizes two things. Number One: That the High Sparrow is a little sh*t who plays mind games and always finds a way to never give you quite what you asked for even when it costs him or his "faith" nothing.
Number Two: When you can't find Cersei, that is when you immediately panic.
The last moment of the High Sparrow's life, nervous and unspeaking, will have to do as some satisfaction, realizing he's been undone and that his righteousness was never going to work in the game of thrones. He tried to create a second throne for himself, unimpeachable by birthright or human politicking. What he got instead, was, well:
So, fun fact: the wildfire under King's Landing was real. And while Cersei used candles as clever fantasy-genre bomb timers, the Grand Maester and Lancel Lannister were, respectively, stabbed a lot and stabbed once, the latter bleeding out as the candles burned to the quick and lit the fantasy substance. While I predicted that Cersei was going to find wildfire, I thought that her rage was meant to bring the entire city burning to the ground as she left to Casterly Rock. Instead, the Great Sept went up, killing Margaery, the High Sparrow and the majority of the Faith Militant, and Cersei is sitting on the Iron Throne.
And yes, I skipped over a step — Tommen. This entire power struggle has been between the High Sparrow and Cersei. Tommen has, again and again, proven to be an ineffective king, a pawn led by, basically, whichever person who talked to him last. But as Cersei made her play, using the Mountain to keep the king from going anywhere, Tommen finds himself watching his subjects burn alive from a distance. And Cersei forgets one thing: that Tommen is still a child who sometimes needs their mother. But she wasn't there when it all went to hell, and so there was no one to stop him from stepping out of a window and falling to his death.
Tommen only served one purpose — the last shred of humanity Cersei had, and the fulfilling of the prophecy we saw in the opening moments of the season. The moment he's gone and thus her humanity, Cersei's the Queen on the Iron Throne, with Jaime looking on horrified and Cersei herself realizing that she's falling into the void with no way to pull herself out.
And let's talk a moment about Jaime, who had pretty much nothing to do but to suggest that, should Riverrun fall again, the Lannisters may just not bother helping the Freys anymore. Which they won't have to: In the one real shocker of the night, and one of the many questionable uses of time this episode, Arya is there, becoming an assassin for herself. After killing Walder Frey's sons and baking them into a pie that Frey ate, she promptly slit his throat and watched him die.
It's one of those "finally" moments that keeps us in the game, knowing how close we are to the completion of the series as a whole. And like Arya, Daenerys finally gets off the rock she's been on, and makes way for Westeros. But before that happens, we see just the wide array of allies that she has amassed, starting with Tyrion, who now becomes Hand of the Queen, a position that he, for once, is quite suited for. It's that crossing of the political Rubicon that seems to surprise even Tyrion himself. But Dany is Dany. People love her, even Daario, who she has to break up with at the advice of Tyrion.
The more surprising part of all of this is the return of House Martell. As Lady Olenna seeks vengeance against Cersei, which Ellaria Sand is all too willing to oblige, it's Varys, the Master of Whispers, who appears from the shadows and adds Houses Martell and Tyrell into Dany's Katamari of allies and soldiers. Varys has been playing the long game since the very first season, and the end game is upon us. He's helped to build the most impressive invasion force that Westeros has seen in quite some time, and even then, he prefers to remain in the shadows.
It's through the all of the above responses that we see, maybe once and for all, that Cersei is the ultimate villain of this series. Cersei is an imperfect being and one who is now stripped of anything that makes her human. But when she makes a mistake, she doesn't try to pivot or pull out. She dives deeper than ever before. Bran was pushed out of a window by Jaime trying to protect their tryst. Then Bran lived. Then Cersei tried to arrange for Bran's murder, but implicated Tyrion, who was then kidnapped, which resulted in war between the Lannisters and the Starks, which… are you sensing a theme?
Cersei's actions have resulted in reasonable reactions from those who wished to resist her machinations, which results in Cersei doing something even worse to cover over that. And now look — she's on the Iron Throne, the Great Sept a smoking crater, and the reaction isn't supplication. It's outright rebellion. The Lannisters have the crown, but that crown means nothing if none of the Seven Kingdoms agree to its legitimacy.
Perhaps the most important difference between Cersei and the perspective of the show is that Cersei is so focused on sitting on the Iron Throne and believing that will give her what she wants, when the show has been telling us again and again that the Iron Throne, if not backed by powerful people, is just a weird chair. Cersei is Queen, but Queen of what, exactly? The North are in open revolt, Dorne and the Tyrells are in revolt, anyone in charge of Riverrun is dead… so aside from her own House, who is Cersei in charge of? Much like Walter White's descent into villainy in Breaking Bad, we're seeing Cersei handle destructive decisions with even more destructive decisions, and she's not that far from being called the Mad Queen.
Let's go to Winterfell. Now declared King of the North, Jon Snow's given legitimacy as a Stark (though not the name) despite his bastard heritage (more on that in a second), while Sansa looks on and Littlefinger's gears start to turn. It becomes clear that Littlefinger is all about replacing his love for Cat with his infatuation with Sansa. Littlefinger's ultimate desires have been hidden to us until now, and he's finally verbalized that, yes, he wants the Iron Throne. And for the first time, we don't see Lord Baelish as a schemer, or a snake, or some crafty genius. We see him as a pathetic, deluded man. Sure, he can play the game, but he's always going to be in the middle of the pack. That he's now sticking his neck out and giving his desires a name makes things very dangerous for him.
Meanwhile, Jon resists what people say about him. Of course, right before we see him as an adult, we get a brief check-in with Bran, who looks into the past, to the Tower of Joy, just in time to watch his father, young Ned Stark, walk upstairs and discover that Lyanna Stark is soaking in her own bloodstained sheets, having given birth to a child, whispering that if Robert Baratheon were ever to find out…
Yeah, that's right. They don't say it completely, and exactly why the show is being this stupidly coy is beyond me, but Jon Snow is clearly Jon Targaryen. Half-Stark, half-Targaryen. He is the Ice to Dany's Fire.
Winter is here, with one Queen having killed hundreds of her own people to take charge, the other Queen having amassed great power and killed thousands of enemies to move across the sea, and a King in the North who knows that the world is about to crash down upon them all by those who bring the storm with them. While many season finales have been to make the story bigger, and the scale more grand, we've peaked on that.
This finale, Game of Thrones knew they had to make the world a lot smaller, and we've all but abandoned Essos as everyone that matters is at Westeros or well on their way. With what looks to be two final, but shorter, seasons, we are bound to see just how small this world can get as we hurtle to the final episode credits.
So, here are our finale predictions — how'd we do?