‘Game of Thrones’ Finale Answers The Show’s Biggest Question and Sets the Stage for War

Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale
Courtesy of HBO

This post contains spoilers for “Game of Thrones” Season 6, Episode 10, titled, “The Winds of Winter.” To refresh your memory on where we left off, check out last week’s “Game of Thrones” recap.

Since “Game of Thrones” began — first in the guise of George R. R. Martin’s novel of the same name, published 20 years ago — the question of Jon Snow’s parentage has been a lingering mystery, and the Season 6 finale finally gave us the answer. As fans have long speculated, it appears that R+L really does = J — Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark are the true parents of Jon Snow, and Ned kept his sister’s secret to protect Jon from the wrath of Lyanna’s betrothed, Robert Baratheon, claiming his nephew as his own bastard son. Bran discovered this powerful revelation by revisiting his earlier vision of his father and aunt at the Tower of Joy, just as the Lords of the North were declaring their allegiance to Jon at Winterfell, proclaiming him the King in the North.

Unfortunately for Jon, not everyone in the room was entirely enthusiastic about following him to glory — Littlefinger outright admitted his desire to claim the crown for himself, and Sansa right along with it. Since Sansa’s already had more than her share of creepy suitors over the past six seasons, that offer didn’t go down so well, but it’s inarguable that without spouses or heirs, Sansa and Jon are both in a fairly tenuous position politically right now. That has already led some to speculate that the Starks may follow the example of the Targaryens and Lannisters and opt for an incestuous marriage of convenience, but I have a hard time imagining Jon going that route rather than finding Sansa a suitable, non-Littlefinger substitute at this stage of the game. Then again, misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows — and stranger things have happened in Martin’s world. (Sophie Turner weighs in on that possibility and the lingering question of Sansa’s loyalties in our finale postmortem interview.)

All things considered, the finale’s body count was probably comparable to last week’s “Battle of the Bastards,” as we witnessed Arya Stark taking her long overdue revenge on Walder Frey for the murder of her mother and brother, disguising herself as a serving maid to slit his throat — and that was after serving Walder’s gormless sons to him in a pie. (Her time undercover with the theater troupe has definitely cemented her flair for the dramatic.)

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Vengeance was in steady supply in the extended episode, as Cersei avoided her trial by using the Mad King’s stockpile of wildfire beneath King’s Landing to destroy the Great Sept, along with the High Sparrow and his followers, Margaery and Loras Tyrell and their father, the rest of the small council and countless unwitting nobles. Stricken with grief after losing his wife, Tommen killed himself, leaving Cersei to assume the Iron Throne (much to Jaime’s horror). And in the episode’s final moments, Daenerys set sail for Westeros with a magnificent fleet of ships, along with her army of Dothraki, Unsullied and Greyjoy forces — not to mention those handy dragons. It’s safe to say that women came out on top this season — they may have had to endure rape, torture and public humiliation to get there, but between Daenerys, Sansa, Arya, Cersei, Yara and the Sands, the balance of power has finally shifted, resetting the board in a way Westeros has never seen before — but that’s not to say that Cersei or Daenerys are any less dangerous than The Mad King or Joffrey.

The episode furthered the season’s overarching theme of dismantling the hierarchies created by overzealous men. The High Sparrow may have cloaked his arrogance in piety, but true faith should be used as a shield to defend the helpless, not a sword to oppress them. Extremism in any form is dangerous, and that’s true whether you serve the Seven or the Lord of Light, as Davos realized when he discovered what Melisandre, Stannis and Selyse had done to Shireen in the name of the Red God. If you have to torture people into confessing their sins, or burn innocent children in the hope of securing victory, you’re probably putting your trust in the wrong place — and it remains to be seen whether Tyrion has done the same in choosing to believe in Dany.

She has the noblest intentions for her people — wanting to abolish slavery, see women on equal footing with men, and allow the people of Meereen to choose their own leaders — but she’s still sailing into Westeros with the far less noble intention of slaughtering anyone who stands in her way. She may have told Yara that the Iron Born will no longer be able to raid and rape once she is queen, but as we’ve seen time and again, whether sanctioned by the Lannisters, the Freys or the many sellsword factions still running amok across Westeros, there will always be bad men to take advantage of those who are perceived as weaker. Even with Daario in charge of Meereen, who’s to say that slavery will never return to Slaver’s Bay, or that the Dothraki will be willing to ignore centuries of raping and pillaging any place they conquer just because their current khaleesi (who they were all pretty ambivalent about following in the first place, until she offered them the incentive of killing people on a different continent) tells them not to? Dany even admitted that her quest for power has already changed her, telling Tyrion that she felt nothing when she said goodbye to Daario, “just impatient to get on with it.”

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A little reluctance goes a long way when it comes to leaders — Jon has never had designs on the Iron Throne; his positions of power have all been thrust on him against his will, and the fact that he’s already been sent to meet his maker and discovered that there’s no one waiting on the other side has probably left him with a healthy sense of his own insignificance. But he’s also a man who has always craved acceptance and been met with derision, so it’s possible that a small taste of that long-withheld adoration might go to his head. Martin’s novels and their TV adaptation have always made it clear that institutions are deeply flawed at best and downright dangerous at worst, and while Cersei once mockingly told the High Sparrow that “the faith and the crown are the two pillars that hold up this world,” it seems as though the people of Westeros will never be free until those pillars are knocked down for good.

While it was satisfying to have confirmation of what many book fans have long suspected in terms of Jon’s lineage, the reveal inevitably felt a little anticlimactic after years of fervent speculation — especially after we were teased with the Tower of Joy earlier in the season. That’s not entirely the fault of Martin or showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who managed to pull off one of the most grandiose seasons ever committed to television, but it’s worth remembering that Martin began writing his sprawling saga before the 24/7 news cycle and rise of spoiler culture, when every plot twist and unanswered question is now endlessly dissected over message boards and social media. “Game of Thrones” certainly still has the power to shock us — “The Door” was potent proof of that — but it sometimes seems as if we’re all too busy trying to outsmart the writers (or each other) to enjoy the ride — and critics are as guilty of that as anyone.

The breakneck pace of Season 6 has been a welcome salve after the wheel-spinning of previous seasons (sorry, Sand Snakes) but the closer the show gets to its endgame, the more the momentum can occasionally feel like corner-cutting — one minute Varys was in Dorne to trade snark with Lady Olenna, the next he was on a ship with Dany, heading for Westeros. We certainly don’t need everything spelled out for us — obviously the Martells and Tyrells are every bit as eager to depose Cersei as Dany is — but with so many characters and storylines to service, the season occasionally suffered under the weight of its competing factions. As impressive as the show’s sprawling battle scenes have been, my favorite moments have always been those in which a conversation between two characters illuminates their complicated motivations and conflicted moral compasses; unlikely discussions between Arya and Tywin or Jaime and Brienne that gave us a glimpse of the humanity behind the villain, or banter between Tyrion and Bran that ruminates on the usefulness of cripples, bastards and broken things. In the rush to check all the boxes and line up all the toy soldiers in the rush to the finish line, those kinds of scenes have felt fewer and further between this year.

Theoretically, now that everyone is focused on Westeros, that issue should be alleviated next year, teeing Season 7 up to be the most satisfying to date, especially now that all of the surviving Starks are on the same continent. Still, with the potential of only 13 more episodes left in the series, there’s a growing sense of separation anxiety with each new episode — all things considered, think how little time we spent with Brienne or Sam or Theon this season. The more the show narrows its focus, the sharper it becomes, but it’s also an unwelcome reminder that our time in Westeros will soon be at an end. Whether we like it or not, winter is here.

What did you think of the “Game of Thrones” Season 6 finale and the reveal of Jon’s true parentage? Did you appreciate the fact that Arya got to kill Walder Frey, or were you hoping for another figure from the books to leave him cold as a stoneheart? Weigh in below.

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  2. 3chevrons says:

    Everyone seems so sure R+L is a fact. If anything, watching that scene in the tower with all its secret whispers made me wonder if Ned+L=J. Martin’s just twisted enough to throw that in our faces.

  3. goatsandmonkeys says:

    Hot diggity.. More pointless, empty discussions in dark rooms.
    Hopefully, they’ll show more flying bats.

  4. Sahir says:

    Preachy Prudom at it again. Girl power! How lazy and predictable you have become and shall remain.

  5. Akash Singh says:

    Holy cow. That was hands down the best episode of the entire series in my humble opinion. That absolute dread I felt during “Baelor” was replicated here a hundredfold. There were certain narrative choices this season that drove me up the wall in hindsight, but for now at least I didn’t find significant enough flaws in this one to temper my enjoyment in any way, shape, and form. The writing, the direction, the music, everything fit together seamlessly and even with a couple of leaps in logic (timing), I found this to be a tremendously gripping installment and if it possible, they should clone Miguel Sapochnik and have him direct every episode. Rewatches are in absolute order.

  6. jaycomposer says:

    Tyrion’s banter wtih BRONN, not Bran.

    • Athelstan Perch says:

      Nope, the Bran banter was in the episode where Tyrion stopped off at Winterfell and gave Bran the present of the saddle design so he could ride again despite his injury.

  7. Huston Piner says:

    There is a canonical problem with the R+L=J theory. In GOT, when Jon saves Mormont from the white walker, he burns it, and in the book it specifically references the burns to his arm and hands, how they required treatment and how they hurt/ache. If Jon were a Son of the Dragon he would not burn, a la Dany.

    • Mauri says:

      Targs most certainly DO BURN… That’s how Dany’s brother dies by the hands of Drogo remember? Not all are immune. It would seem only a selected few… like a genetic thing that skips a generation or whatever… remember this is fantasy not science. LOL. Also… kind of funny that Jon has BLACK hair not a hint of Blonde. Jon will sit on the Iron throne at the end. That’s my guess. And no one will care if Jon is Ned’s son or not. In this world, it seems actions speak louder than words.

    • gumption says:

      This is completely wrong. It was never said (in canon or the show) that Targs don’t burn. Dany is the only one.

    • Mina Girgis says:

      if you read the books you would know targaryons do burn. Thats just a show ting.

  8. I loved it! The music amazing Natalie was fantastic as always.

  9. Francis says:

    The sons being served up in a pie was straight out of Titus Andonicus. Not sure Gommen leapt because he was grief-stricken, rather because he was too afraid to face maternal vengeance, since Cersei didn’t seem in a very good mood.

  10. loco73 says:

    Jon Stark Targaryen, nephew of Daenerys Targaryen, future husband of Sansa Stark and the Song Of Ice And Fire! Come on Tyrion…show us your true colours and face, after all…Fire And Blood!

  11. Marco says:

    The only surprise was, that Dorne is still a factor. Everything else was expected, but well executed. Arya, after gaining Wolverine-level healing powers 2 episodes ago, now cooks people and serves them – totally out of character. I can´t take her story serious anymore.
    Now that the story-seeds George R.R. Martin has sown are all finished, Benioff and Weiss can tell their version of the end.
    To quote Daenerys, i bet they are “just impatient to get on with it.”
    This is well too, as i fully expect George RR Martin to finish book 6, but not book 7 in the future.

  12. Chrisk1978 says:

    I nailed Cersei becoming full blown Queen. Secpnd part of prediction is that Jamie kills the Mad Queen. Then probably himself, or both at same time. Jamie is definitely killing both of them at the end.

    • Athelstan Perch says:

      Absolutely agree about the Arya storyline. The scene when she left the Faceless Men and trotted about Braavos without a care in the world despite knowing there was a contract on her was simply unbelievable. It was ripe for a juicy storyline of Jaaqen actually being Arya’s “face” and tricking the Waif into disobeying his order to “make it quick” and catching her out. Also, when the Waif killed Lady Crane wasn’t the Waif also guilty of taking a life that “wasn’t hers to take” much like Arya did with Ser Meryn Trant ? But nope, the easy and unbelievable option was taken instead. Shame as that storyline had so much potential. Then, how was she alone with Walder Frey when Walder clearly didn’t know who she was? With his past history of making enemies he must have been as a minimum cautious of Stark revenge from still loyal followers and been watchful of who he came into contact with when alone or unprotected.

  13. hkaufman says:

    Arya doing Walder Bravo, Tommen well Cersi and Jaime will have to make new ill legit heir since Joffrey DEAD, Marcella DEAD, Tommen Dead, Davos calling out the Red Witch expected, The Nun with the wooden spoon got Sir John to her end. Very’s little interlude with Sand Sisters surprise surprise, never cross a eunuch. Bring back Natlie Dormer they running low.. The wooden spoon nun deserved the wine in the face treatment, ConFESS ConFess, need a bell and book.. Still need to bring HODOR back and A few MORE like WUN WUN along the Dragons.. Still the one most hated Character demise, Envelope please, exciting.,,, oh the coveted award goes to Sausage face Ramsey, CHOMP..

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