If there's one feeling fans of the show have before every season finale, it's that they have to look forward to 42 weeks of not having Game of Thrones. But before that feeling would truly set in, we had the longest episode ever to look forward to, one that promised the Stark slogan ("Winter is coming") in the title itself - The Winds of Winter.
Editor's note: spoilers below for the tenth and final episode of Game of Thrones' sixth season.
The episode began at King's Landing, with everyone from Cersei Lannister, King Tommen, Queen Margaery to the High Sparrow getting ready for the trial at the Great Sept of Baelor. It was shot and edited in a manner and pacing that isn't normal for the show, with the bells of the sept ringing through the city, and you could tell that we were in for quite a ride. Grand Maester Pycelle is getting ready too, when one of Qyburn's little birds - a child - visits and whispers in his ear.
Cut then to the doors of the Great Sept being opened, as all the nobles and septons usher in to take their place. Before the High Sparrow sits down at the top of the pointed star, he glances left to lock eyes with Margaery. Meanwhile, the Faith members drag Loras Tyrell from his cell to be presented at his hearing.
He immediately confesses to all his crimes, pledges allegiance to the Faith and renounces his claim to Highgarden including giving up his family name. The High Sparrow nods, and his fellow brothers brand him with a seven-pointed star. Aghast at what's happening, his father Mace Tyrell tries to intervene but is held back by his daughter and queen Margaery.
Lancel then informs the High Sparrow that King Tommen and Cersei haven't left the Red Keep, and the latter then asks Lancel to go fetch them. At the Red Keep, Cersei is bidding her time - drinking more wine unperturbed by her upcoming trial. And after a second visit by what he thinks is his squire, a jittery Tommen turns around to see Ser Gregor Clegane. The King tries to walk out of his chambers, but Clegane then puts his arm on Tommen's shoulders - and that's that. He's not going anywhere.
As Lancel leaves the Sept of Baelor, he sees a child - another of Qyburn's little birds - running away. He follows him, and is led underground into pitch darkness. At the same time, another child brings Pycelle into Qyburn's underground laboratory where he is put to rest - quite violently by the children present - after an ominous remark by the tinkering maester.
Lancel continues to search for the boy who was carrying a lit torch, which he then comes across lying on the ground. As he picks it up, he gets stabbed in the back and falls to the ground himself. Over in the Sept, everyone is getting chatty wondering what's going on. The bells inside Margaery's head are going off, and she confronts the High Sparrow about it, but he scoffs and waves her off.
Beneath the Sept, the green of the liquid catches Lancel's eye. As he starts to crawl forward, he notices a few candles running through the wax up ahead, about to come into contact with more green liquid pouring out of the barrels. It's Wildfire, and now we all know what's coming. Above them, a growingly frustrated Margaery tells the High Sparrow that Cersei well and truly knows the consequences of her absence, and if she isn't here, then she must not care.
She announces she's leaving the Sept, taking Loras with her. Upon seeing this, the other nobles gathered start to move towards the doors too, but are barred by the Faith Militant. At the same time, Lancel manages to drag himself to the lit candles and musters up some breath to blow out the candles. He's too late, and the fire takes hold, instantly converting the flammable liquid into gas and triggering a massive explosion. Above, Margaery locks eyes with the High Sparrow just as it hits him how he's been outplayed, with sounds of bricks crumbling beneath them. The floor gives way around him and everyone else, bringing the entire Sept of Baelor crashing down.
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Standing on the balcony of her chamber, Cersei looks on at the huge plume of smoke that has now replaced the sight of the Sept. She smirks at her accomplishments, having wiped off all of her enemies - High Sparrow, Faith Militant and Margaery in one swoop of Wildfire. She's also put an end to the Lannisters' alliance with House Tyrell, but we doubt that's on her mind.
In the King's chambers, an aghast Tommen can't quite believe what he's seeing. Having done what he was asked, Clegane departs in the background. Cersei isn't quite done yet, and seems to have reserved special justice - if you can call it that - for Septa Unella whom she has tied down to a table. She proceeds to wine-board her ex-captor, and asks if she enjoyed giving it to her back in the day.
Unella being Unella doesn't say much, except saying that she has been ready to die for a long time. She's not going to die today, Cersei tells her, and not easily too. Handing her off to Clegane, the Lannister-in-command walks away chanting "shame, shame", just as Unella had chanted when Cersei was marched naked through the streets of King's Landing.
Over in the King's chambers, Tommen continues to survey the great deeds of his mother. Not long ago he had proclaimed the Crown and the Faith to be twin pillars on which everything rests, but one of them has disappeared in a sudden. He then takes his off his crown, studies it for a bit, and then turns around to walk off screen. As the audience continues to look at the smoke cloud, Tommen walks back in and steps onto the perch of his window. And before we can fully grasp what he's about to do, the boy king leaps to his death!
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The episode has no time for mourning just yet, and instead we head to the Twins, where Walder Frey is toasting to their alliance with House Lannister. Jaime isn't pleased with any of it though, and berates the old man when he sits down with him. Will we have to ride north every time you lose control of the Riverlands, Jaime demands and walks off. The show can't stop reminding Jaime of his past though, as even old Walder gets in a jibe, "Here we are, two Kingslayers."
Back in King's Landing, Qyburn and Cersei stand beside the king's body. He doesn't want her to see the state Tommen's face must be in, but she forces him to show it. As he lifts the cloth over his body, Cersei continues to stare at her dead son's body without even flinching. When he asks her about the funeral ceremony, Cersei - while staring down - tells him to burn Tommen's body and bury his ashes where the Sept of Baelor once stood.
There are better moments elsewhere though, as Samwell Tarly, girlfriend Gilly and little Sam reach Oldtown. As they survey the Citadel from afar, you can see hundreds of white ravens leaving the city if you pay close attention. That's got to be the announcement for the upcoming winter.
Inside the Citadel lies the episode's only bit of comedy. Sam introduces himself as the new maester with a message from Lord Snow (Oh Sam, if you only knew what had transpired since you left), but the book keeper says their records show Jeor Mormont. Are you really kidding me, Citadel? Half the houses in the North know Jon Snow has left the Night's Watch, and you need a raven to tell you who's the new Lord Commander? So much for being men of knowledge.
Anyway, while Sam can't begin his training just yet, he does get access to the library until the Archmaester can discuss these "irregularities" with him. Upon seeing the sheer volume of books available, Sam is visibly overjoyed. The White Walkers are on their way buddy, so don't take too long.
Meanwhile, Sam's best friend - Jon Snow - is discussing his dining room issues with Melisandre. Davos then enters to confront her and throws the stag memento right at her. He barks at her to tell Jon what she did, to which she eventually confesses - the Lord told her to burn Shireen at the stake.
If your Lord commands you to burn children, Davos shouts back, he is evil. We can't argue with that, he has a point. He then goes on to ask Jon Snow to have her killed for being a murderer, and Melisandre then argues her case for the help she can provide in the upcoming war between the living and the dead. While Jon isn't as emotionally charged as Davos, he's pissed off enough to demand her to ride south immediately and never return.
Davos rubs in the message further, saying he will personally end her if she were to ever step foot in Winterfell. As Jon looks at Melisandre riding away, Sansa joins him. The main bedroom is ready for her, Jon says, and as the Lady of Winterfell she should have it. We are standing here because of you, Jon tells her. And when he asks about the support they got from the Vale, Sansa says only a fool would trust Littlefinger.
I should've told you about the Knights of the Vale, Sansa goes on to say. She's right, she really, really should have. You know, before everyone got killed, (almost) including Jon? But Jon seems to be okay with all this, and kisses her on the forehead. Oh there's one more thing, Sansa interjects; a white raven has come for the Citadel. Winter is here, she says, changing the Stark motto that we have now heard countless times. Jon smiles, as if he doesn't realise what this means.
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Over to Dorne then, after ignoring the seat of Sunspear right since the second episode. If there was an award for the worst storyline on Game of Thrones, Dorne would be top of the charts. The Queen of Thorns has already received about the death of her son, grandson and granddaughter. She's here for revenge, though she still has time to rebuke all three Sand Snakes ("Anything from you? No, let the grown women speak").
Ellaria Sand tells her she will have her vengeance, and beckons her wild card. Varys enters in an as dramatic fashion as possible, and says just three words: "Fire and blood." So that's three houses then that Daenerys Targaryen has already formed alliances with - first Greyjoy, and now Martell and Tyrell.
Which means it's time to find out what Daenerys has been up to, still in Meereen. She's reserved time to bid goodbye to Daario Naharis, who shall be staying in Essos to maintain peace in the city. She can't bring a lover to Westeros she says, especially if she will be putting herself up for marriage to make alliances. Also, Slaver's Bay is now called Bay of Dragons. Right, like anyone will care about the Meereen storyline once you leave.
Then it's back to the throne room, where Tyrion asks how it went. With the simple job of consoling her, he fails nonetheless - and goes on to say that he has always been a cynic. He can't swear his sword because he has none, Daenerys says that's okay because it's his counsel he needs. She had something made for him, as she takes out a lapel we've seen before and attaches it on his suit. Tyrion is the Hand for the second time, but this time he's Hand of the Queen. It's wonderful to see how much this means to Tyrion, who is so moved that he bows.
And we are back at the Twins, god knows why. Does anyone else hate Walder or is it just us? Anyway, Lord Frey hasn't seen the serving girl that's attending to him before and he proceeds to slap her behind, as is his habit. He then asks where his useless sons are, to which the girl replies, they are here. When he doesn't understand what she means, she points at the pie and repeats they are here. Oh my goodness, old man Walder is being fed his sons baked in a pie. He's utterly bemused and looks up to see the girl taking off her face - it's Arya!
Everyone has developed a habit of travelling long distances in short spans of time, and Arya is the latest to achieve this. Anyway, back to Arya being awesome. "My name is Arya Stark, and I want you to know that. The last thing you're ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die," she calmly states, before drawing a blade and stabbing the Frey lord in the neck.
Meanwhile, her elder sister Sansa is sitting under the giant weirwood tree near Winterfell. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger comes to see her, and then paints a picture of the future where he imagines sitting on the Iron Thorne with Sansa by his side. Just as he goes in to kiss her, Sansa holds him back and walks away. Littlefinger says he's declared for House Stark for all to hear, but the Stark lady is having none of it. "You've declared for other houses before," she notes, "but it has never stopped you from serving yourself."
Littlefinger thinks she's the future for Stark and the North, too. Who should the North rally behind, he asks, trueborn daughter of Ned and Catelyn Stark born here at Winterfell (meaning Sansa) or a motherless bastard who was born in the South (that's Jon, everyone).
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Onto beyond the Wall, where Benjen has gotten Meera and Bran safely back as far as he can. He can't go any further, the Wall has ancient spells carved into it. He's going back to do as much as he can, and then leaves the two. Bran spots a weirwood tree, and tries to go toward it. Meera asks him if he's ready - I'm the three-eyed raven now, Bran says, I have to be ready for this.
As he puts his left palm on the carved tree, his eyes turn white and we jump back into the past. There's the young Ned Stark again, and he runs towards the tower after hearing cries from the top. He then breaks to a halt, just like he did when Bran shouted last time around, but the new three-eyed raven doesn't utter a word now. Does that mean he can't actually interact with the past? Anyway, Bran chooses to follow quietly this time up the steps.
Ned breaks through the door, and finds his sister Lyanna on the bed with two hand-maidens standing around. She thinks she's hallucinating, but he assures her it's not a dream. I want to be brave, Lyanna says, but I'm not. The hand-maiden shuffles nervously, and Ned notices the blood coming out of her. You're not going to die, he tells her despite knowing full well she will. Ned asks the maidens to get help, but Lyanna instead pulls him toward her. Listen to me, she cries.
Whispering in Ned's ear, she says something inaudible to the audience and then adds: "If Robert finds out, he will kill him. You know he will. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned."
The Stark brother turns his head around to find one of the hand-maidens handing him a baby, who we presume is just born which also explains why Lyanna is bleeding so severely. Bran stands at the entrance watching, while his father looks at the baby. As his eyes slowly open, we zoom in for a closer look at the infant's face until it fills the screen.
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With the music reaching a crescendo, we cut directly to Jon's face thus bringing the R+L=J theory to a reality. Book fans have talked about this for over a decade, and the show fans have been part of the conversation for half a decade as well, and with George RR Martin taking his own sweet time writing the next book, it's the show that has given us the answer we have craved for so long.
So Jon Snow isn't his bastard after all - he's the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark - which could make him one of the strongest claimants to the Iron Thorne. Ned did keep the promise to his sister, and raised Jon as his own bastard to protect him from Robert's wrath. But it's a very different place Jon Snow finds himself in now.
The wildlings and men of the North are bickering, but Jon puts that to a rest by saying they won together. With winter on the way, they wish to ride home and wait out the storm. The war isn't over, Jon reminds them, and the true enemy - the White Walkers - won't wait out the storm. "He brings the storm," Jon adds.
While Jon has seen the undead, most of the living haven't and they start to chat among themselves of this threat they believe doesn't exist. But Lyanna Mormont believes in Jon, and she stands up to take everyone's case, one by one. (Grow up, men in the North, a child is better than all of you put together.) She reprimands them for their past actions, or how they cowered despite suffering at the hands of others, be it at the Red Wedding or Ramsay's.
"We know no king but the King in the North whose name is Stark," she adds, glancing at the table where Jon and Sansa sit. Ned Stark's blood runs through his veins, and that's enough for Lady Mormont. Well, it's Lyanna Stark's blood to be exact, but we suppose that's one and the same.
Having learnt their lesson, the houses declare for Jon Snow, proclaiming him the King in the North and eventually chanting in a chorus that's all too reminiscent of when Robb Stark was given the same honour.
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Back to King's Landing it seems, as the returning Jaime and Bronn chance upon the astonishing sight of the demolished sept. There's no time for Jaime to confront his sister though, and instead he stands by in the Great Hall as Cersei walks to the Iron Throne and stands in front of the gathered crowd. Qyburn then proceeds with the crowning ceremony, first by proclamation and then by putting a newly-minted black crown on her head. She sits down, and then glances left at his brother. Cersei Lannister, even in her bittersweet victory, has gotten a free upgrade: she's the Queen.
Temporarily anyway, as we cut to Theon and Yara Greyjoy on one of their hundred ships, sailing alongside hundreds of others, including the Unsullied with Grey Worm, and the Dothraki along with their horses. The three dragons fly above and around them, with Drogon skirting the water and doing a fly-by with the leading ship where Daenerys, Tyrion and Varys are present.
The camera then zooms away from them, showcasing the vastness of the fleet that is headed towards Westeros. And as the dragons screech their way off screen, we cut to black.
It's all happening at once - winter has come, Jon's past is well and truly known, Cersei is the new queen after a fiery coup and fire-immune Daenerys is on her way to Westeros. Welcome to the song of ice and fire.