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Game of Thrones - The Winds of Winter - Review - "Recap Before Tonight's New Season Begins!"

Game of Thrones returns tonight, so I thought this was a perfect time to quickly (haha!) re-cap “The Winds of Winter” to jog our memory after that brutally long hiatus. As always, the episode was written by the creative team of David Benioff and DB Weiss and it was directed by Miguel Sapochnik. This episode felt very much like clearing house to streamline the show for the run to the finish. One of the criticisms I’ve heard of the novels is that there are just too many characters and the storylines get bogged down. Clearly, this is something the show is trying to avoid (not to mention the cost of paying a cast of thousands!).

As the episode begins Cersei (Lena Headey) listens to the bells calling her to her trial. We see her, Margaery (Natalie Dormer), Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), and the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) preparing as the bells toll. Loras (Finn Jones) is prepared for his trial – fittingly – by Lancel (Eugene Simon). I loved how the music slowly crescendos as everyone files in for the trial, and Margaery joins her father, Mace (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) in the crowd.

        The High Sparrow seeks her out as he enters and smiles at her. The setting of the High Sept is striking as always – and another loss! Margaery looks around, already suspicious that Cersei isn’t there. Tommon’s servant (Aron Hegarty) comes to tell him the trial we be getting started soon, and it would seem that Tommen is in no hurry to get there.

Grand Maester Pycell (Julian Glover) is happily getting ready as well, and if we’d forgotten what a troll he is, we’re reminded by him sending his prostitute away without paying her. He’s stopped on his way to the Citadel by one of the Little Birds, who whispers something in his ear. He thinks he’s been summoned by the King and finds Qyburn (Anton Lesser) instead. The Little Birds stab Pycell to death. Qyburn expresses regret, but “sometimes before you can usher in the new, the old must be put to death.”

Loras freely admits to all of his crimes, and humbles himself before the seven and accepts whatever punishment the gods deem appropriate. The High Sparrow seems to promise mercy from the Mother. Loras renounces his title and promises never to marry or have children. He promises to serve the seven gods. Mace has to be held back by Margaery as they carve the pentagram (I know it's not really a pentagram) into Loras forehead.

Tommen is finally ready to leave, but he’s stopped by Gregor (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson). Meanwhile, Cersei drinks wine and waits.

Margaery confronts the High Sparrow about mutilating Loras – he’d promised he’d be spared! The High Sparrow insists that he’s kept his word and that Loras is free to leave right after the Queen Mother’s trial. Margaery asks where Cersei is, and Lancel tells them she hasn’t left the Red Keep. The High Sparrow sends Lancel to get her, but Margaery knows something is wrong.

Lancel sees a little bird run away and sends for the others – he knows something is wrong too, and follows the little bird into the tunnels under the keep. The little bird jumps out of the dark and stabs Lancel. Lancel sees that he is surrounded by barrels leaking green goo – wildfire. It’s a terrific sequence as Lancel crawls to try to save everyone as the candles burn down to the wildfire, but he’s too late.

Margaery’s suspicions grow, and she looks around the crowd. We see that Kevan (Ian Gelder) is also there. Once again, Margaery tries to alert the High Sparrow. She knows that she hasn’t really submitted to him, so clearly, neither has Cersei. The High Sparrow is blinded by his own arrogance, thinking he’s achieved totally domination. Margaery tells him that Cersei knows the consequences of not attending her own trial, so she has no intention of suffering them. She tells everyone that they need to leave, but they bar the doors.

Cersei watches and smiles as all of her enemies are emulated in the wildfire and the High Sept is utterly destroyed. Tommen also watches with horror. While I was glad to see the end of many of these characters – because they deserved to die! – I will very much miss Natalie Dormer who was nothing short of wonderful as Margaery.

Cersei has managed to capture Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) and delights in torturing her for revenge. If you’ve been missing Waddingham, you can see her on 12 Monkeys where she’s also delivering a terrific performance. Cersei has Unella tied to a table and pours wine over her, ordering her to confess. She wants her to confess to enjoying torturing Cersei. She tells Unella that she understands because doing things because they feel good because that’s why she does things – like drinking, killing her husband, and fucking her brother!

And then Cersei tells her that she killed the High Sparrow – and everyone else. Unella is ready to die, but Cersei says “Today? You’re not going to die today…” and suddenly, that’s so much worse! Cersei comments that Unella has always been quiet – she’s found the perfect match for her – Sir Gregor! Who is also quiet. She leaves the two alone, saying “shame, shame” as she closes the dungeon door on Unella’s screams of horror. Heady is terrific in this scene, and it’s one of the wonderful aspects of a show that is so well written and acted that you can feels satisfaction for Cersei getting some closure even while you hate her for all the evil that she’s done herself.

Tommen’s servant delivers the news of what’s happened as Tommen watches the fire burning out. This is a beautiful scene. We see Tommen in profile just in the beginning, getting a close up of that “weak chin” – and a reminder of how young he is. And then Tommen does the first thing he’s not hesitated about. He turns and takes off his crown, walks purposely out of frame as the camera never strays from the devastation, and we can only view it as what is happening in Tommen’s own head. We hear his footsteps, he walks into frame and simply lets himself fall out the window. It’s fitting that he’s not proactive enough to jump.

Cersei is almost emotionless as she views Tommen’s body. She’s already accepted the Witch’s prophecy and was expecting his death – maybe not then, of course. Qyburn wants to know about a funeral now that the High Sept isn’t an option. She tells him to burn the body! And she tells him that Tommen should be with the rest of the family, so bury the ashes where the Sept used to stand.

The action jumps to House Frey where they are having a celebratory banquet. Walder Frey (David Bradley) is toasting the recapture of Riverrun with the Lannisters. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is not impressed by Frey. Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is in fine form, however, and gives Jaime a hard time when one of the serving wenches (Sabrina Bartlett) is clearly interested in Jaime – “you don’t even have to do anything!” “You just sit there like a rich slab of meat and all the birds come packing.” Of course, the two are missing the point – that’s not actually a serving wench…

Frey does nothing to change Jaime’s opinion. His first mistake is bringing up Jaime’s father. Jaime is not thrilled to have killed the Blackfish – a great warrior – but Frey is even though he had nothing to do with it – and that is his modus operandi. Frey has never done the honorable thing of fighting in an actual battle, and Jaime calls him on it. Frey next steps in it by calling them both Kingslayers. They killed their kings for very different reasons. Jaime feels great guilt for killing his king even though he was mad and the greater good dictated that he should. Frey killed Rob Stark for personal gain and petty revenge for imagined insults. Jaime has the last say when he reprimands Frey for always having to call upon the Lannisters to come and fix his problems – why do they need him?

Sam (John Bradley), Gilly (Hannah Murray) finally arrive at Oldtown, and we have yet another magnificent city with fabulous sets. I can definitely forgive the loss of the High Sept in exchange for this library! As they approach the Citadel, they see thousands of white ravens released to announce the arrival of winter.

Sam doesn’t get a very warm welcome from the Citadel Maester (Frank Hvam). Apparently, they haven’t been informed that there is a new Commander of Castle Black – or that Maester Amon has died. The Maester points out that it’s all very irregular, and Sam wisely counters with “life is irregular.” The Maester is not equipped to discuss these matters with Sam and tells him he’ll have to discuss it with the Archmaester. In the meantime, Sam is allowed to use the library.

        When Gilly tries to follow with the baby, the Maester tells her no women or children! For once, the lure is too great for Sam and he just smiles apologetically as he bolts for the library! Sam reverently touches the books of the first line of shelves as he steps out to the central area and sees the real vastness of the library. Hanging from the central tower is a system of mirrors to bring light down to all the levels. I loved Bradley in this scene!

We follow one of the white ravens to Winterfell, where they need no announcement of winter’s coming. Jon (Kit Harrington) is at the head banqueting table and tells Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) that when they used to have feasts, he didn’t sit at the head table, he sat “down there.” He was the bastard, after all. She points out that he at least had feasts – and a family. And Joh acquiesces – with a smile! – that he did have it better than most.

Davos (Liam Cunningham) joins them and confronts Melisandre with Shireen’s burnt deer. He insists that she explain the deer to Jon – and what she did to Shireen. Melisandre defends herself by telling them that she only did what her god demanded, and Davos points out that if your god demands you burn children at the stake, your god is evil. He’s got a point… She insists that they are only standing there because of her god. Davos pours out how much he loved Shireen like his own child, and Melisandre again tries to deflect her own guilt by saying that Shireen’s father and mother also killed her. Davos asks permission to execute Melisandre. Jon asks if Melisandre has anything to say in her defense.

Melisandre says she’s been ready to die for many years, but her god isn’t done with her yet. She reminds him that the great war is yet to come – the one with the Night King – and she can help him win that war. Jon tells her to ride south – today – if she ever returns north, he’ll have her hanged as a murderer. Davos promises to execute her himself if she ever comes back that way. Jon watches her ride off in the snow.

Jon is joined on the battlements by Sansa (Sophie Turner) and tells her that he’s having the Lord’s chamber prepared for her. She tells him that he should take. He points out that he’s not a Stark, and she points out that he is to her. He insists that she’s the Lady of Winterfell now and that they only won the battle because of her. True! The Knights of the Vale only came because of her. Jon asks if she trusts Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) after he sold her to the Boltons, and Sansa proves once again just how far she’s come by telling Jon that only a fool would trust Littlefinger.

Sansa apologizes for not telling Jon about Baelish and the Knights. He tells her that they have trust each other because they have so many enemies now. He kisses her head. She tells him about the white raven – winter is here. Jon smiles and laughs as he says, “well, father always promised, didn’t he?”

The action shifts to Dorne. Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) meets with Ellaria (Indira Varma) and it’s glorious. How has Diana Rigg not won every acting award? Olenna is a bit reluctant to trust Ellaria, but Ellaria wants to form an alliance. And I love how this episode sees women take charge in almost ever kingdom! I loved Olenna’s barbs as always, but particularly enjoyed her getting Obara’s (Keisha Castle-Hughes) name wrong – Barbara? – and telling her she looked like an angry little boy. She shuts all the sandsnakes down, telling them to let the grown women speak! Love her…

Olenna tells Ellaria that she’s not looking for survival – Cersei has stolen the future from her. Ellaria says she misspoke, she’s offering Olenna’s heart’s desire – vengeance. And the two are joined by Varys (Conleth Hill)! He offers fire and blood.

The action shifts to Meereen where the ships are almost ready. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) tells Daario (Michiel Huisman) that he’s not coming to Westeros. She needs him to keep the peace in Meereen until the people can choose their own leaders, but she also can’t have him hanging about if – and when – she needs to make a strategic marriage. Daario insists that he doesn’t want a crown, but he loves her and wants to be with her to fight for her. He insists that he’s not angry, but he is full of self-pity.

She joins Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) who is drinking in the throne room. She denies to Daario that Tyrion told her to break it off, but it’s fairly clear from their conversation that he did have a hand in it. He does seem sorry that she had to give up a man she truly loved because he’d be a liability in the Seven Kingdoms, however. He tells her it’s the kind of self-sacrifice that makes for a good ruler – if that’s any consolation. She says it isn’t, and he admits that he’s a terrible consoler. This is another beautifully shot scene, framing them in the small, backlit doorway in the giant throne room. We don’t forget that we are dealing with a Queen, but it also brings it down to the personal – she is a person too.

Tyrion reminds her that she has everything she ever wanted at her fingertips and asks if she’s afraid – that personal element as the camera comes in tightly. She admits with a single small nod that she’s afraid, and Tyrion tells her, “Good. You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying. The only people who aren’t afraid of failure are madmen – like your father.” She tells him that what terrifies her is that she felt nothing when she said farewell to a man who loved her. Tyrion assure her that he wasn’t the first and won’t be the last to love her.

She tells him that he’s failed utterly to console her. Tyrion tells her that he’s been a cynic for as long as he can remember. “Everyone’s always asking me to believe in things. Family. Gods. Kings. Myself. It was often tempting. Until I saw where belief got people. So, I said no thank you to belief. And yet. Here I am. I believe in you. It’s embarrassing really. I’d swear you my sword, but I don’t actually have my sword.” Again, this is beautifully shot as Tyrion, standing on one of the steps is almost at the same height as Daenerys.

Daenerys tells him that it’s not his sword that she needs but his council. He tells her that it’s hers now and always. And then she presents him with the Hand of the Queen. She had it made for him and pins it on him. Tyrion goes down on one knee as he accepts. And the camera pulls back to remind us that she is a Queen.

We head back to the Twins for Walder Frey’s perfect ending. The serving girl presents him with a meat pie as he wants to know where his sons are – Black Walder (Tim Plester) and Lothar (Daniel Tuite) are both baked in the pie – a la Coriolanus (Shakespeare!). The best part of this little twist is that I had the good fortune to see both Indira Varma and Ian Gelder in a production of Coriolanus at The Globe in London a few years ago!

The serving girl removes her face to reveal Arya (Maise Williams), who tells him that the last thing he’s going to see as he dies is a Stark smiling down on him! He tries to run and she easily cuts his throat. And fulfills her promise!

Back at Winterfell, Littlefinger comes upon Sansa in the godswoods and she tells him she’s done with praying. Sansa asks what he wants. Baelish tells her that she knows what he wants. She says she thought she did but was wrong. He tells her she wasn’t. He wants to be on the Iron throne with her at his side. He leans in to kiss her, and she stops him. She declares it a pretty picture and walks away. How can he possibly expect her to forgive him for what Ramsey did to her?

Baelish declares that Sansa is the future. She is the true heir to the North. Sansa looks thoughtful but walks away.

Meanwhile, Benjen (Joseph Mawle) has to leave Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) because he can’t pass the magic that is reanimating his dead corpse. Meera asks what he’ll do, and he says he will continue to fight for the living in the war that is coming for as long as he can.

Bran touches the tree where Benjen leaves them. Meera is worried he’s not ready, but he insists that he’s now the three-eyed raven – he has to be ready. And so do we.

      We finally make it into the tower and see Ned (Robert Aramayo) comfort Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi) as she is dying from childbirth. She whispers in his ear and tells him that “you have to protect him” and she insists that he promise her as the baby is put in his arms. As Ned looks into the baby’s eyes, any doubt we might have should be alleviated by the direct shift to Jon Snow’s face. He IS the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. This essentially makes Daenerys his Aunt, so no easy marriage solution there…

Back in Winterfell, Jon is presiding over the meeting of the Northern lords, the Vale, and the Free Folk. The Northern lords are sure the war is over now that the Boltons have been defeated. Winter has come, it’s time to go home. Jon warns them of the war looming with the Night King. And of course it falls to Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) to whip the old geezers into line!

        I loved her shaming them all for refusing the call! She tells them all that House Mormont remembers: “We know no King but a King in the North whose name is Stark. I don’t care if he’s a bastard. Ned Stark’s blood runs through his veins. He’s my King from this day until his last day.” Who doesn’t love her! She gets all the others to fall in line.

They declare him the White Wolf – the King of the North. One by one they declare for Jon. And Davos joins in to declare him the Kind of the North. Sansa smile at his side, but exchanges a look with Baelish and neither of them seem happy. Is Sansa so far from the foolish girl who wanted to marry Joffrey and become Queen?

Jaime returns to King’s Landing and is greeting by the smoking ruins of the High Sept. He arrives just in time to witness Cersei enter the Throne room and Qyburn crown her Queen of the Iron throne. She and Jaime exchange a look that seems devoid of emotion.

The final scene is of Daenerys’ fleet sailing for Westeros, accompanied by the dragons, of course!

What are you hoping to see this season? Will Sansa and Baelish move against Jon? Will Jaime support Cersei? Varys is back with Daenerys at the end, so presumably Oleanna and Ilaria will also be joining forces with them against Cersei. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! And of course, Game of Thrones was snubbed utterly by the Emmys again this year – so who would you nominate?

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