This article assumes you've watched every episode of the current season of Game of Thrones. I'm placing filler text up here so no spoilers show up on the main page without you expressly clicking on this story, but I have no solution for those who claim the images HBO provides us which, show characters looking at each other without giving detail about specific plot points, are spoilers.
Thus falls Stannis Baratheon.
And thus falls everyone, really. This is a long episode of watching powerful individuals brought low. If Stannis wasn't damned by the end of last week's episode, he surely is at the beginning of this week's. His daughter has been sacrificed, his wife has hanged herself and his most powerful ally has seemingly abandoned him.
The amazing shot of the Bolton army wrapping around the few remaining men under the Baratheon banner is the period at the end of the sentence we've already read. The way the show barely reveals any of the actual, on the ground fighting of this battle not only saved budget, but was effective at proving to the viewer that everyone was merely going through the motions. This was Stannis' final play; he just had to show up and lose bravely.
It seems obvious in retrospect that few men, sellswords or no, would willingly follow a man who was willing to put his daughter to the flame in order to appease a god they likely didn't worship. Stannis may have felt he had no choice, but the men under his command certainly had a choice; they could leave.
Brienne delivering the (seemingly?) killing blow in the name of Renly was the only thing satisfying to the viewer. It was the sad end of a sad man, even though the season spent much time trying to make us see another side of him.
And yet ...
We don't see a lot of bodies during this hour of television. The camera cuts away and the killing blows are not seen. There are precious few hearts that cease beating on-camera, and it just so happens that someone with a bit of knowledge of magic is in Winterfell when Jon "dies."
That being said, it's possible he's gone for good, and the actors seem to want to sell that idea to the press.
"Quite honestly, I have never been told the future of things in this show, but this is the one time I have," Kit Harington said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. "They sat me down and said, 'This is how it is.' If anything in the future is not like that, then I don’t know about it — it’s only in David and Dan and George’s heads. But I’ve been told I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m not coming back next season. So that’s all I can tell you, really."
Interesting note: After that interview Harington cut his hair, which may be a bit more evidence that he's not coming back for next season.
These final moments for so many characters, next to the number of raised questions, makes this an unsettling episode of the show. Arya finally crosses a name of her list, but the consequences aren't what she expects, and she's now forced to confront the fact that she may have made a number of wrong assumptions about what's going on around her.
Jaime's mission is a success, until it isn't. Cersei is finally laid low, but again the show goes out of its way to deliver that "justice" in such a brutal way that the viewer almost feels bad hoping for it. And then she ends the season in the arms of a very powerful new weapon.
This was an hour of bad things happening to damned near everyone, and then slamming a big question mark on the future. It's not so much that storylines were finished or closed, it was more like everyone was made to suffer, in one way or another.
It's suffering that leads to setup after setup for the next season, and even Sansa and Theon jump to their destiny without the viewer having a solid idea of where they're going. I had assumed that both characters were dead, and that jump was a mutual decision to end the suffering together. Going online after the show aired, it was interesting to read from people who thought they were escaping.
It's hard to judge this season because, even as things progressed and major plot points were laid to rest, very little was resolved. There was no moment of rest after the major events, this all felt like a very long windup for next season as character after character is is destroyed, either literally or figuratively.
This season showed how hard it is for even the most powerful people of this world to change the status quo, and many characters died learning this lesson. The great wheel spins on, with ever more individuals ground up beneath it.
Odds and ends
- "Very carefully."
- Did anyone else's heart sink after Brienne barely misses the candle?
- Jaime, seriously, everyone knows. Let's stop pretending otherwise.
- A bit nostril, indeed.
- Those dragon special effects remain amazing, although I'm surprising the remaining characters in Mereen weren't a bit more angry that their queen flew off without them.
- Did anyone else know what was going to happen the moment after that kiss? The camera lingered on the scene a bit too long.
- We never have to go back to Dorne, right?