Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik.
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Sophie Turner, Johnathan Pryce, Isaac Hempstead Wright & many more.

It is like the show has truly just begun, as if everything we have watched over six seasons has been a beautiful, intricate and crystalline pre-amble. It would be impossible to convey the true depth of emotion the incredible talents that create this show wring from their audience with this episode – any attempt will be a mere shadow-play, but it could be one of the finest episodes of television ever made.

This is no empty hyperbole, for there are few serialized narratives that pay off so many arcs in one fell swoop. There is plenty to wow any audience, with the vast tragedy and beauty unfurling swiftly and with great visual grace. But it goes without saying, that if you came to the show late and didn’t fully drink in the first few seasons, it won’t hit you nearly so hard. It is clear that the writers have indulged in some fan service here, but for once it feels genuine, as reward for those who have been fans from the start.

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We begin with a sprawling, sombre barrage of destruction and death in King’s Landing, with the High Sparrow conducting Loras Tyrell and Cersei’s trials at the Sept of Baelor, right in the city centre. Denied combat with The Mountain as her champion, The Queen Mother does the only she feels that can be done, using her loyal fallen Maester and his little ‘birds’ to clear out all opposition. If you recall from ‘Battle of the Bastards’, Tyrion was warning Daenerys about the madness of her father, and the Wildfire he himself had used in ‘Battle of the Blackwater*’ (a fact he was wise to omit, though it could prove problematic if it is revealed to Daenerys in the next season). Now, as it unfolds, the rising madness of Cersei Lannister becomes a true horror, as she murders countless longtime characters in a feast of pure retribution. You can’t argue that the arrogance of the High Sparrow wasn’t leading in this direction, and the payoff is satisfying. Even her son, King Tommen, cannot bear the terrible loss. His guilt, the feeling of being an utterly powerless ruler, and now his complete breakdown as his mother becomes a bringer of death proves a push too far.
When Jamie returns to city, he finds naught but wreckage and insanity. Can he stand by and watch, many will surely wonder, as he was a King-Slayer once before? Lena Headey completely grabs you by the haunches and drags you down with her – such is the Shakespearean whirlpool of lust and despair, buried beneath the ice in her soul. She should rightly win a lot of plaudits for such an unwavering performance.

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In Winterfell, we find Jon and Sansa steeling themselves for rule of the great keep (After admitting the victory was down to Sansa’s strategy, using the Knights of the Vale), and the promised challenge of the Great Winter. Sansa acquits herself in the most self-assured and incredible way she has to date – with all she has been through only tempering her, as she handles Littlefinger powerfully. His mistake was being careless in letting his true colours show, with disrespectful words about her brother. Sansa has grown so much these past two seasons and deserves to be here at the endgame, what a great character she has become.
Davos thankfully gets the chance to confront Melisandre over the burning of Stannis Baratheon’s daughter Shireen in ‘The Dance of Dragons’** , with Jon Snow there as the unwilling adjudicator. Her arguments fall on deaf ears – even pointing out how The Lord of Light brought Jon Snow back does not sway the two men, and Melisandre must accept a severe punishment.

Later, the Lords of the North and their warriors gather in the hall at Winterfell, to honour Jon Snow and his victory over Ramsay. It has to be said that the small but strong Lady Lyanna Mormont has stolen the show more than once in recent memory, and this is her greatest moment to date. Bella Ramsey plays the character with disarming assurance and fury for such a young actress, and the feeling of astonishment is palpable.

Bran Stark is dropped off near The Wall by the zombified Benjen Stark (who as a ranger of The Knights Watch ironically first becomes aware of what waits beyond The Wall in ‘Winter is Coming***’), and upon touching a Heart Tree once again enters a flashback to Ned Stark entering the Tower of Joy and discovering a shocking truth – making all the more sense of why men are perhaps destined to fall under the leadership of Jon Snow against the advancing Hordes of the Dead.

Whatever happens, just seeing the crest of House Stark on the Winterfell model in the title sequence would have warmed the blood enough, but we are practically left boiling over with the promise of greater battles and heroism to come.

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Time being a little wavy in the telling this time out (more on that later), we join Jamie and Walder Frey celebrating Lannister victory over the returning of Riverrun to Frey control. Walder is disgustingly arrogant as per usual, but now Jamie isn’t having any of it, rightly pointing out that the Freys do not hold the superior position they think they do.
A quick cut takes us to the evening, where Frey is dining rapidly makes good on that assertion of weakness, with a certain girl finally crossing another name off her vengeful list. Here again, another young actress is given a scene to really chew on and really convinces us that she is a force to be reckoned with (even if that force is quietly hideous enough to stand alongside some of the show’s more detestable villains). Much is made of ‘heroine’, but I think the term has too many associations with sexualized token characters to really convey the enormity of a young GoT female character rising to prominence – they should get an award for this aspect alone.

An aside breaks up the action with a wonderful little treat showing Sam and Gilly reaching the Citadel, where Sam hands in his letter to learn the ways of Maesters – and he is shown into the wonderous Citadel tower library. If you like books or libraries in any way, and perhaps dream of the kind of vast repositories that Alexandria used to represent, then this scene is sure to draw out some powerful emotions, as i’m sure was the point here. Only a short scene, but ultimately very sweet.

We close in Meereen, where the Dragon Queen ties things up in the city before embarking on the next grand leg of her journey. While we get a greater sense of what the pursuit of power is starting to do to her, she shows a great deal of warmth as well, and it is a good way to make us believe in Daenerys as her friends do – that she is a great and good ruler in many respects. Peter Dinklage in particular has the chance to shift tones with Tyrion here, in a superb show of his massive talent. You are so readily swept up in his positivity, such as been the absence of moments like this for the character. It shines right through and creates genuinely misty eyes, as the subject of such cruelty gets to have a positive relationship with someone for a change.

We end on a tremendous note, with Khaleesi setting her sights on Westeros with a blowout on the effects budget, and a great sweeping horizon leaving us on the precipice of even more amazing sights surely to come.

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There are a couple of little things that bothered many immediately after it was broadcast, and I can understand those clamouring voices – mainly around how several characters can get around the medieval world of Westeros as if they have a jetpack. Now on the surface it can look silly, and maybe the writers could have added a throwaway line about how much time had passed for them, but it would have seemed very stiff and mechanical to do so – any pause would have sucked out the sense of immediacy and pace. Here they were right to sacrifice reality for the sugar rush of the drama.

Also, very much of note is the incredible orchestration, from the fragile and haunting piano piece playing over the much of the Kings Landing segment, to the rousing swells during the Winterfell and Meereen sections. You could almost cut out the dialogue and still be taken through the story by some truly incredible suites that shame a lot of contemporary film work. Howard Shore would be proud.

Ultimately, the long hardships our favourite characters have faced have laid the way for Game of Thrones to start becoming a classic tale of fantasy heroism. I believe whole-heartedly that although what we’re heading towards may look more conventional, the stakes demand it. If HBO are to be taken seriously on their statement about wrapping GoT up in 73-75 hours, we only have 10-15 episodes left for Daenerys, Jamie, Jon and others to rid the world of Cersei and the Night King’s army of the dead. If anything, the pace is only sure to keep on at this swift pace as the monumental endgame comes upon us.

As stated, this feels like truly immense television, the likes of which our world has not yet seen.

I give ‘The Winds of Winter’ FIVE mad queens out of Five. Now, only a year to wait for the fun to begin again. Only a year…

*Season 2, Episode 9.
**Season 5, Episode 9.
*** Season 1, Episode 1.

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