The Winds of Winter

(14 comments)

It is, of course, crass and ostentatious spectacle less interested in dramatically earning its major beats than it is in making sure they are explosively propulsive. Which is to say that it unapologetically plays to Game of Thrones’s strengths in a way that does not so much minimize its weaknesses as renders them largely irrelevant in the face of the giant fucking wildfire explosion that is the onrushing plot. Everything here is sufficiently thrilling, its implications generally punch-the-air triumphant, that their sheer momentum and the bald confidence with which it’s all carried off makes it work. This is what Game of Thrones’s aesthetic ultimately exists to do. It’s not a subtle pleasure. But, as Cersei would put it, it does feel good.

If there is a problem with it all, it’s that in the ludicrous din of it all moments that should have had real weight get swallowed. The biggest problem, of course, is the way in which the revelation of what actually happened at the Tower of Joy fails utterly to be a significant takeaway from the episode. The decision to save the revelation for this episode, as opposed to putting it in “Oathbreaker” where there would have been room to let Bran gawk at the fact that Jon’s a secret Targaryen, is in several regards baffling. And it highlights the extent to which this episode is overstuffed at the expense of previous ones. What on Earth, for instance, is the purpose of the four minute excursion to Oldtown? Surely Sam, who has spent the season blatantly being a plotline more than Benioff and Weiss actually wanted to deal with, could have been given a scene with actual weight, as opposed to one that exists purely to show the white ravens being sent out. Surely there was room for a third Benjen scene instead of having his second appearance be him leaving again. (Arya’s murder of Walder Frey is an interesting counterexample though. I admit, I didn’t think she’d be in this episode, since “No One” worked just fine as an ending, and the short nature of the scene and her appearance would have made it easy for it to end up as one of the swallowed moments. Instead Maisie Williams single-handedly kicks the scene into one of the best moments of the episode, because she is a fucking boss.)

But what minor quibbles. Let’s be real here. This is stunning, from start to finish. The opening set piece is majestic, due largely to Sapochnik’s direction. The decision to abandon the show’s normal visual storytelling in favor of heavy cross-cutting, further emphasized by a bespoke musical cue (which is subsequently mixed to satisfying effect with “The Rains of Castamere” for Cersei’s coronation) gives it a strange and unsettling quality that allows the realization of what’s going to happen to slowly build over the sequence’s frankly majestic length. The handling of Cersei this season has been one of its real high points - she’s been positioned relatively sympathetically and allowed to mostly be a rational, sensible character. To pay that off with her orchestrating the biggest slaughter of named characters in series’ history (the sequence ties “The Rains of Castamere” for most credited regulars to go down in a single scene) and then seizing the Iron Throne in full “I am now an obvious villain” garb is wonderfully effective. As is the still, lengthy shot on the window for Tommen’s suicide, which ends up being a deliciously effective balance of genuine pathos and morbid spectacle.

On the episode’s other end, meanwhile, is the long-awaited payoff to six seasons of buildup as Daenerys sails west. In and of itself, the final scene is literally pure spectacle, being dialogueless and all, but it can afford to be. Indeed, in some ways it has to be, since the only thing it exists to dramatically emphasize is the idea that it has in some sense been worth waiting six seasons for this. And it’s structured to do that, the camera moving from the Greyjoys to the Unsullied, the Dothraki, Tyrion, Varys (magically teleported over to remind us of the Tyrell/Martell alliance he forged with a single line), and finally just the basic spectacle of dragons and a fuckton of boats. Bolstering this, of course, is the Tyrion/Daenerys scene, which is one of the moments where the show most impressively gets away with it, selling Tyrion’s heartfelt conversion a week after he was telling Daenerys off for excessive similarities to the Mad King on little more than Clarke and Dinklage’s acting and the basic weight of the “I had a Hand of the Queen badge made for you, I hope I got it right” image. Indeed, in many ways this scene highlights just how smart and effective “The Winds of Winter” is in how it makes its moments work. Something like this is easily carried by nothing more than the six years of buildup to it. We don’t need to see an extended plot of Daenerys winning Tyrion over. We just need to see the moment where she does given adequate weight.

The one point where this does become a bit stretched, though, is Jon. His coronation is a suitably emphatic moment, sold further by the inherent charm of Lyanna Mormont. The spectre of Sansa and Littlefinger’s fraught relationship hanging over it is effective tension, as is the basic question of how his Targaryen heritage is actually going to play in beyond the basic messianic implications of it. The problem is really with the fact that the answer to this latter question could well be “it’s not.” And, more broadly, with the fact that, frankly, Kit Harrington remains nowhere near the caliber of Clarke or Dinklage as an actor. And so the complete failure this season to give him a single moment of competence and indeed to spend the entirety of “Battle of the Bastards” stressing the fact that he is absolutely as big an idiot as Ned and Robb if not bigger doesn’t undermine the weight of Jon going from dead to king in nine episodes flat, but it leaves a distinctly Jon-shaped hole at the center of the entire narrative of the North.

That’s not a problem with “The Winds of Winter” at all, though - it’s an altogether more existential problem that the show did a good job of fighting against from about “The Watchers on the Wall” through “Mother’s Mercy,” but has really dropped the ball on this season, which is finding ways to make Jon Snow work in spite of the limitations of his actor and to show him as an effective leader as opposed to telling us he is one. But this is genuinely a minor complaint - the weakest of the three tremendously engaging storylines this episode. The overall picture remains one of a triumphant finish. And while one can fairly complain that there are bits of the season that were sabotaged in favor of stuffing this to the max, that doesn’t, in the end, take away from how ruthlessly entertaining this was. Roll on the conclusion.

State of Play

The choir goes off. The board is laid out thusly:

Lions of Meereen: Tyrion Lannister

Lions of the Twins: Jaime Lannister

Lions of King’s Landing: Cersei Lannister, Tommen Baratheon

Direwolves of Winterfell: Jon Snow, Sansa Stark

Dragons of Meereen: Daenerys Targaryen

Roses of King’s Landing: Margaery Tyrell

Ships of Winterfell: Davos Seaworth

Mockingbirds of Wintefell: Petyr Baelish

Burning Hearts of Winterfell: Melisandre

Snakes of Dorne: Ellaria Sand

Direwolves of the Twins: Arya Stark

Stars of King’s Landing: The High Sparrow

Spiders of Dorne: Varys

Paws of Winterfell: Tormund Giantsbane

The Archer, Samwell Tarly

Kraken of Meereen: Theon Greyjoy

Swords of Meereen: Daario Naharis

The Flower, Gilly

The episode is in thirteen parts. The first runs twenty-one minutes and is set in King’s Landing. The opening image is of a wide shot of the city, the Sept of Baelor centered.

The second runs four minutes and is set at the Twins. The transition is by family and dialogue, with Walder Frey’s “to House Lannister” beginning over the shot of Tommen’s window after he’s leapt from it.”

The third runs one minute and is set in King’s Landing. The transition is by family, from Jaime to Cersei Lannister.

The fourth runs four minutes and is set in Oldtown. The transition is by hard cut, from Cersei standing over Tommen’s body to Sam and Gilly’s carriage.

The fifth runs seven minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by image, the scene beginning with one of the white ravens from Oldtown flying towards the castle.

The sixth runs two minutes and is set in Dorne. The transition is by contrasting images, from a wide shot of Winterfell to a wide shot of the far greener Dorne.

The seventh runs six minutes and is set in Meereen. The transition is by dialogue, from Varys speaking the Targaryen words to Daenerys.

The eighth runs two minutes and is set in the Twins. The transition is by hard cut, from Tyrion kneeling before Daenerys to Walder Frey eating and drinking.

The ninth runs three minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by family, from Arya to Sansa Stark.

The tenth runs five minutes and is set at the Wall. The transition is by family, from Sansa to Bran and Benjen Stark.

The eleventh runs five minutes and is set in Winterfell. The transition is by image, from Jon Snow’s face to Jon Snow’s face.

The twelfth runs four minutes and is set at King’s Landing. The transition is by hard cut, from Sansa’s troubled face to Jaime and Bronn riding up to the capital.

The last runs two minutes and is set in the Bay of Dragons. The transition is by image, from one queen to another. The final image is of Daenerys’s fleet.

Ranking

  1. The Winds of Winter
  2. The Door
  3. The Broken Man
  4. Book of the Stranger
  5. Home
  6. Battle of the Bastards
  7. No One
  8. Oathbreaker
  9. The Red Woman
  10. Blood of My Blood

Comments

C 1 year, 3 months ago

yeah, this was tremendously entertaining stuff (w/ the exception as you said of Sam in the Library, which felt like a bit from an earlier ep that got cut & then shoehorned in so as to establish where Sam will be next season).

Some of the brio comes from the almost gleeful wrapping-up of GRRM's endless plots, some of which have been dangling since the Clinton administration, which makes me forgive the Mission Impossible Arya, who manages to kill 2 Freys & use the Twins' kitchen to make them into a pie without anyone apparently catching on.

& the endgame players are the most ruthless & essentially the most psychotic of the bunch, barring still-clueless Jon (who I wager won't survive at the end). Poor Margery didn't grasp that she needed to involve Cersei in her game, not still keep trying to take her off the board. adios fair Natalie.

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Ozman Jones 1 year, 3 months ago

I would suggest that Arya didn't need to actually bake the brothers into the pie as such. Just kill them, lop off a few incriminating parts and then strategically place them into the pie where they could be 'discovered' at will. The finger was in a very opportune place when the reveal was made, so seemed quite set up, and didn't appear to have been baked.

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Matt Michael 1 year, 3 months ago

Does that Tower of Joy scene make proper sense if you didn't already know what it was going to reveal? It's clear Jon's Ned's nephew but the Targaryen connection I think will need spelling out next year

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Phuzz 1 year, 3 months ago

That was my thought too. As a fan it all went down pretty much as I'd been expecting, but it would have helped if the word "Targaryen" had been mentioned at least once.
Ned didn't seem surprised to see his sister dying in childbirth, despite having started a war to save her from her 'abductor' and 'rapist', Rhaegar. I was expecting at least a few questions along the lines of "what has he done to you?" or "did he hurt you?", which would have been a good point for her to explain about the baby.

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Matt Michael 1 year, 3 months ago

My hypothesis was borne out by my sample of 1 colleague today, who thought the reveal was Ned had a baby with his sister. Given incest is a recurring theme in GoT I bet he's not the only one who made this assumption

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Yóshee 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm kind of baffled that you think Harington's acting is somehow worse than Clarke's. That's not to insult any of the three actors, I think they're all brilliant, but Emilia seems to struggle more than Peter or Kit, coming off wooden at times. I've no doubt this is partly in line with her character, but even so, Kit's acting has improved immensely over the show's course, especially in the last two seasons, and I think it's unfair to cite that as a drawback when, to a degree, it's subjective anyway.

Other than that I pretty much agree with what you wrote (though I did like the Oldtown scene a lot). Stunning season finale and rightfully at the top of your list.

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encyclops 1 year, 3 months ago

I'm baffled too, because I buy pretty much everything Harington and Clarke do and say, but find Dinklage to be the inconsistent one. He's had some tremendous moments, really excellent ones, but also some clunkers. E.g. I didn't believe him at all in the Hand of the Queen scene. To be fair, neither the dialogue nor the direction were helping him along. The scene still worked for me, but that was all on Clarke, and the fact that I wanted it to happen.

I keep assuming, probably naively, that Jon's the guy Dany's saving herself for. But now that we presumably have confirmation he's her nephew it's a bit more awkward, isn't it? I was trying to think who might be left to pick up the marriage of alliance thing. Bran? Will he even be old enough before the end of this timey-wimey saga?

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Jarl 1 year, 3 months ago

I believe in the books they're only like 3 years apart, her and Bran.

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SpaceSquid 1 year, 3 months ago

Why would Jon and Dany be awkward? A cousin is a step removed from standard Targ incest, they've never actually met, and Dany can no longer have children. Which means it's fine from the perspective of both Westeros and Westermarck, and any genetic issues are sidestepped as well.

More generally, I loved it too. As Phil notes, there's some teleport issues here, but I think the problem here is less that it doesn't make sense and more that there's an obvious time gap somewhere around the two-thirds mark that would ruin the momentum if acknowledged and makes thing seem disjointed if ignored. It's not just Varys, it's the fact the Tyrell and Martell fleets (or at least some fraction of them) are with Dany too, or that Jaime gets from the Twins to KL so quickly, or that apparently the whole North has time to gather at Winterfell, or that there's time for a bird to fly from KL to Sunspear, etc. etc. etc.

The biggest problem I had with the episode was how uncomforable Arya's scene made me. Yes, I'm sure that was part of the point, but seeing her graduate to full-on Titus Andronicus levels felt like a step too far. All that kept me from wanting to switch off and go lie down was imagining Hot Pie running out and yelling "Arry; these crusts are for shit!"

(Speaking of the old gang; do the Westerosi succession rules mean Gendry is now the true king? Someone make a bull's-head crown and start scanning the horizon for rowboats.)

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SpaceSquid 1 year, 3 months ago

"Cousin" should be "nephew", natch.

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Dan 1 year, 3 months ago

The season could definitely have done with being HBO standard 13 episodes.

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encyclops 1 year, 3 months ago

Why would Jon and Dany be awkward?

I don't have a problem with it personally. I was thinking it might be a bridge too far for the general audience, but then I remembered some of the other stuff people seem surprisingly okay with (even Jaime/Cersei, whose incest is presumably considered a feature of their general villainy and is apparently frowned upon by most of Westeros, seem to get a pass from fans of the show), so you're probably right.

I sympathize with you re: Arya, even if I don't empathize. It's sad, but I think she's probably beyond the power of hugs at this point, so I'm surrendering to enjoying her savagery. I've done the same with Dany. It's a testament to how revolting they made the High Sparrow and his cronies (without actually making them seem hypocritical or venal -- Septa Unella's sadism seems probable, but never explicit) that Cersei's mass murder actually seemed satisfying too. Maybe I'm just a monster these days.

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Ozman Jones 1 year, 3 months ago

Kit Harington; I've never had a real problem with his acting. The part of Jon Snow calls for brooding, conflicted and stoic and he pulls that off as well as needed to serve the story. Unlike, say, the actress playing Lyanna Mormont, who's performance I personally found the closest to cringe-worthy for many a season. Sure, he's no Dinklage or Pryce, but then neither is most of the rest of the cast. At least we should all be thankful he's not bloody awful.

Although, perhaps his true value to the series lies in another direction as my wife and sister, both long term aficionados of the show, vocally threatened to do things to his person that would make Ros the prostitute blush and the Night's King wonder if there would be anything left of Jon to fight when he got there.

So, moving on. Thanks for another entertaining season's worth of write-ups, Phil. I admit that my attention to Eruditorum wandered after the conclusion of the main Who journey, but the GoT stuff brought me back, and the added material from the rest of the contributors has kept me around. So thanks to you and all of the crew for creating such an entertaining site.

Anyway, I'm off to watch The Winds of Winter again to pick up all the subtleties I missed the first time around.

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Aylwin 1 year, 1 month ago

"Transition is by irony, from the crowd leadenly mouthing "Long may she reign!" to the Targaryen armada", shurely.

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