'Game of Thrones' Finale: "The Winds of Winter" Brings Season 6 to an Explosive End

The Emmy-winning series closes out its sixth season with fire and blood, as is the 'Thrones' tradition. Here's who lived and who died.

[Warning: This story contains spoilers through season six, episode 10 of HBO's Game of Thrones.]

"Winter is here."

The Maesters of the Citadel unleashed white ravens throughout Westeros to signal the changing of seasons. But even without these beautiful birds' message, Game of Thrones viewers needed only to watch the final episode of season six, "The Winds of Winter," to know that House Stark's words were now more than just a warning.

The finale featured seismic shifts throughout the political landscape of Westeros, with new royal figureheads emerging from the rubble: Jon Snow, King in the North; Daenerys Targaryen, Queen of Meereen, now headed to Westeros to claim what she believes is rightfully hers; and Cersei Lannister, current Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, thanks to her explosive assault on the High Sparrow — with her son Tommen dying in the proverbial blowback. The episode also provided a near definitive answer as to the identity of Jon Snow's mother — Ned's sister, Lyanna Stark.

Here's how it all played out:

In King's Landing

Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) and Cersei Lannister's (Lena Headey) trial days have finally arrived. The Knight of Flowers stands before the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) and confesses to his crimes — "all of them." He seeks nothing more than the opportunity to devote the rest of his life to the Seven: "May I be a living example of their grace, for others to witness."

The High Sparrow accepts Loras' terms, and has fellow members of the Faith Militant carve their symbol into his forehead. This angers Margaery (Natalie Dormer), who struck a deal with the Sparrow to not injure her brother. He promises that Loras is free to go, as soon as Cersei arrives at the trial.

Here's the problem: Cersei does not plan on attending the trial. Instead, she's set into motion a blazing betrayal, where she intends to kill the existing power structure in King's Landing. She has Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and his "little birds" kill Grand Maester Pycelle (Julian Glover), and simultaneously incinerates the Sept of Baelor with wildfire — just before Lancel (Eugene Simon) is able to stop the fire from starting. Despite Margaery's best efforts to clear out the Sept, the High Sparrow arrogantly keeps everyone inside, insisting everything is fine. But everything is decidedly not fine, as the fluorescent fire floods through the Sept, killing everyone inside: Margaery, Loras, Mace Tyrell (Roger Ashton-Griffiths) and the High Sparrow included.

King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) is not at the site of the violence, however. Cersei has ordered the Mountain (Hafthor Bjornsson) to keep him in his room, an awful mirroring of his early season choice to forbid Cersei from attending her own daughter's funeral. It gets worse: As soon as the Mountain leaves the room, Tommen leaps from an open window to his death.

Elsewhere, unaware of her son's death, Cersei tortures someone: Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham), the woman most devoted to unearthing Cersei's "shame." Cersei has Unella tied to a table, and she smirkingly drinks wine as she taunts the woman.

"Confess," says Cersei. "Confess it felt good beating me, starving me, frightening me and humiliating me. You didn't do it because you cared about my atonement. You did it because it felt good. I understand. I do things because they feel good. I drink because it feels good. I f— my brother because it feels good to feel him inside me. I lie about f—ing my brother because it feels good to keep our son safe from hateful hypocrites. I killed your High Sparrow and all his little sparrows, all the Septons and the Septas, all his filthy soldiers, because it felt good to watch them burn. It felt good to imagine their shock and pain. No thought has ever given me greater joy. Even confessing feels good under the right circumstances."

Cersei reminds Unella of a promise: "I said my face would be the last thing you saw before you died." Unella is prepared for death, but her dying day is still far away. Cersei calls in the Mountain to unleash holy hell on Unella, her cries of terror filling out the hall.

Later, Cersei learns about her son's death from Maester Qyburn. She calmly demands to see him, and exhibits zero emotion at the sight of his broken body. Cersei decides Tommen "should be with his grandfather, brother and sister," except for the small problem that they were all buried at the Sept of Baelor — no longer in existence. Not a problem; she has a backup plan.

"Burn him," she says, "and bury his ashes where the Sept once stood."

At the Twins

Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) break bread with House Frey, celebrating their victory over House Tully. Apparently, it's back to business as usual: Edmure (Tobias Menzies) has been thrown back into the cells, and the Freys once again have control over Riverrun. Walder Frey (David Bradley) boasts about his victories while speaking with Jaime, who remains unimpressed.

"You're a great conqueror," he snidely remarks.

"Go on and mock me, boy," says Frey. "Think I mind? The Tullys mocked me for years. The Starks mocked me. Where are they now? You talk about war like you're an expert, but last I remember, you were captured by Robb Stark … and here we are now, two king slayers."

Walder brags about how many people now fear House Frey, but Jaime reminds him that it was actually the Lannisters who took back Riverrun: "If we have to win back the Riverlands every time for you, why do we need you?"

The following morning, Walder sits alone in his great hall, an unfamiliar servant feeding him pie. Turns out, she's not so unfamiliar after all: She's Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) of Winterfell, and before she heads home, she's crossing names off her list. 

"The last thing you're ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die," she promises, and then fulfills her end of the bargain, slitting Walder's throat open ear to ear — with Arya smiling wide.

In Oldtown

Finally, after an entire season of traveling, Samwell Tarly (Jonathan Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) reach the Citadel. Unfortunately, it appears that Castle Black didn't adequately prepare the maesters for Sam's arrival; they believe Aemon Targaryen and Jeor Mormont are still the Night's Watch's maester and Lord Commander, respectively. While they sort things out, Sam is invited into the Citadel's library, even though Gilly is forbidden from entering.

"No women, no children," the stern maester barks; apparently the folks at the Citadel are big fans of Leon: The Professional. In truth, it wouldn't be a huge shock to learn that the Citadel has an extensive DVD collection, considering its massive library, several stories tall and loaded with books and knowledge on every floor. Samwell Tarly, welcome to paradise.

In Winterfell

White ravens released from the Citadel arrive at Winterfell, signaling the changing of the seasons. Inside the castle, there's a change in Jon Snow's council: Melisandre (Carice van Houten), the same woman who brought Lord Snow back to life, is exiled from the North due to her role in killing Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram). Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) calls her out in front of Jon, and she doesn't protest the claims, other than to say it was the Lord of Light's will.

"If he commands you to burn children, your lord is evil," Davos cries out. "I loved that girl like she was my own — she was good, she was kind and you killed her!"

Melisandre tells Jon that the Great War is almost upon them, and her services will be required. He won't hear it: "Ride south today. If you return to the North, I'll have you hanged as a murderer."

Later, Jon and Sansa (Sophie Turner) join together and recount recent events. She apologizes for not telling him about Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and the knights of the Vale, and he begs her to be more open moving forward.

"We need to trust each other," he says. "We can't fight a war amongst ourselves. We have so many enemies now."

Sansa and Littlefinger meet later at the Godswood outside of Winterfell. "I came here every day when I was a girl," she says. "I prayed to be somewhere else. Back then I only thought about what I wanted, not what I had."

Littlefinger insists that she has much now. He tells her that every single action he ever takes comes only after meditating on actualizing a vision in his mind's eyes: "A picture of me on the Iron Throne, and you by my side." 

He leans in to kiss her, but she rejects him, saying that he's sworn loyalty to several houses in the past; what's going to stop him from betraying her now? Littlefinger insists that you can "mourn the past's departure or prepare for the future," and he believes that she is the future of House Stark.

"Who should the North rally behind," he says, "the true born daughter of Ned and Catelyn, or a motherless bastard born in the south?"


Beyond the Wall

Interesting you should mention that "motherless bastard," Littlefinger. Past the Wall, Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) bids farewell to Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Meera (Ellie Kendrick), unable to travel past the Wall with them due to its magical repellant against the dead — a group he's a part of. He vows to keep fighting against the White Walkers as hard as he can, for as long as he can.

Before proceeding toward Castle Black, Bran taps into a Weirdwood tree, using his powers as the new Three-Eyed Raven to return to the Tower of Joy. There, he follows his father up the stairs and witnesses his aunt Lyanna's final moments. She whispers into her brother's ear, the words only barely audible. 

"If Robert finds out, he'll kill him," she says at one point. "You know it. You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned."

Bran watches his father fulfill the promise, as Lyanna's attendants place an infant in his arms. The baby boy opens his eyes wide, and we return to …


Back in Winterfell

… Jon Snow, implicitly revealed as Lyanna Stark's son. (Confused? This will clear it up.) Jon stands in the great hall of Winterfell before the gathered Northerners, who all wish to go home to prepare for winter, now that the war against House Bolton is over.

"The war isn't over," Jon promises. "The true enemy won't wait out the storm. He brings the storm."

His words are backed up by Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), the young lady of Bear Island, who chastises several Northerners for refusing to come to Jon's aid when called.

"But House Mormont remembered," she says. "The North remembers. We know no king but the 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 kind from this day until his last day."

The others in the hall come together, including Lord Wyman Manderly: "Jon Snow avenged the Red Wedding. He is the White Wolf. The King in the North!"

Everyone throws their swords up and chants for their new king, Jon Snow, thrilled with the decision. Only two people seem unsure about the choice: Littlefinger, standing in the back of the hall, the trademark smirk missing from his face; and Sansa, who quietly observes Littlefinger, her true feelings unknown.


Back in King's Landing

Jaime Lannister rides back home just in time to see the smoking ruins of the Sept of Baelor, and just in time to see the anointment of a new ruler of the Seven Realms: Cersei Lannister.

Cersei, clad all in black, accepts the crown and titles from Grand Maester Qyburn: "I now proclaim Cersei of House Lannister, first of her name, Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protectors of the Seven Kingdoms. Long may she reign!"

For her part, Cersei measuredly stares out at her people, including Jaime, the two of them trading a look — but not a single word about the death of their final child.

In Meereen

With two new royal parties in Westeros, the third power player prepares her next move: Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). In her first act, the Mother of Dragons commands Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) to stay behind in Meereen to keep the peace in Slaver's Bay, now renamed the Bay of Dragons. In reality, Dany and Daario both know the real reason for his new appointment: She needs to form alliances in Westeros through marriage pacts, and she can't exactly do that with a lover at her side. 

"I pity the lords of Westeros," Daario says, as he bids her farewell. "They have no idea what's coming to them."

Later, Dany sits with Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), on the eve of their departure. He wonders if she's afraid; her silence speaks volumes.

"Good," he says. "You're in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying. The only people who aren't afraid of failure are mad men like your father."

"Do you know what frightens me?" she replies. "I said farewell to a man who loves me, a man I thought I cared for, and I felt nothing … just impatient to get on with it."

"He won't be the first to love you, and he won't be the last," says Tyrion. "For what it's worth, I've been a cynic for as long as I can remember. People ask me to believe in things — family, gods, kings, myself. It's often tempting, until I saw where belief gets 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 own a sword."

Daenerys doesn't need Tyrion's sword, only his counsel. He promises that it's hers, now and always. With that, Dany gives Tyrion a gift of her own: a pin. 

"Tyrion Lannister," she says, "I name you Hand of the Queen."

With that, Daenerys and her forces gather up for Westeros, her army comprised of the Unsullied, the Dothraki and the Greyjoys — with an alliance with Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) and Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) brewing as well, thanks to Varys (Conleth Hill) working his magic. The final shot of the season is the moment fans have awaited ever since the first episode of the series... 

Dany on a ship, bound for the Seven Kingdoms … and season seven officially cannot come soon enough.

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