Throughout the last ten weeks Game of Thrones has continued to raise the stakes. Last week’s Battle of the Bastards was a loud, tense, bloody fight for control of the North, ending with Sansa feeding her husband Ramsay Bolton to his own dogs and the Starks reclaiming Winterfell as their own.
When it comes to finales, though, the show has a history of opting for more nuanced moments; moving things into place, tying up loose ends, taking a look at what might lie ahead. This year, though, Game of Thrones went out with a bang. Well, several in fact.
Here are the biggest moments from The Winds of Winter.
Cersei’s showdown with the High Sparrow
Robbed of her right to a trial by combat, and her presumed plot to use the zombie-Clegane to pummel her way to justice, Cersei set a new plot in motion this week, taking advantage of the High Sparrow’s highly-publicised trial of Loras Tyrell.
In short: she laced the crypts beneath the Sept with pots of wildfire, and though Margaery grew suspicious from within the holy sanctum, it was too late. With a huge bang, the sept was blown up - and the High Sparrow, Margaery, Loras and Mace Tyrell, and Cersei’s uncle Kevan were all obliterated along with the Faith Militant, hundreds of Sparrows, and a few innocent people, too.
As the brutal mass-murder caused coils of smoke and trails of green flames to linger in the air, Cersei watches, calm as hell, drinking a glass of wine. It’s chilling.
Tommen, meanwhile, responds to the violence by calmly leaping from his window in one of the show’s most haunting deaths.
But Cersei, having come to terms with the inevitability of the prophecy she was told as a child, doesn’t even grieve her son, ordering the body burned and the ashes scattered. Later, she ascends to the Iron Throne, dressed in some silver shoulder-plates and kind of looking like a goth heading out in Camden. She’s finally queen by her own doing, not simply because she is a wife, or a mother.
However, she fails to realise that although she has vanquished the “younger, more beautiful” Margaery, thought to be the one to end her reign, there’s another young Queen-in-waiting just around the corner.
Oh, and she also captures Septa Unella, aka the Shame Nun, and, knowing that her religious roots mean she doesn’t fear death, subjects her to a very slow, painful torture at the hands of the Mountain.
Jon Snow is proclaimed King in the North
Now that they’ve taken Winterfell, Jon and Sansa are settling into life at the castle, but with the fighting over they’ve got to contend with the political fallout. First and foremost: Littlefinger wants something from Sansa for coming to her aide; namely, her hand in marriage.
He says that he plans on taking the Iron Throne himself, and wants her by his side as Queen. Sansa, however, turns his offer down and opts instead to be the Lady of Winterfell, valuing family over the ferocious power-plays that destroyed House Stark in the first place.
Jon, meanwhile, wins over the Vale knights and other Northern houses who were sworn to Ramsay’s rule. 10-year-old Lyanna Mormont delivers a striking speech saying anyone who doesn’t think Jon is the best ruler for the oncoming White Walker invasion is a massive idiot, which seems to do the trick. They call him the White Wolf, and pledge their swords.
It’s all quite uplifting and exciting, even though the arrival of a white raven to all the major houses signals one thing: winter is no longer coming. Winter is here.
Arya serves piping-hot revenge
We briefly see Jaime Lannister celebrating with House Frey at The Twins, where they gloat over wining the castle of Riverrun back. Walder Frey, Red Wedding mastermind, is feeling pretty good about himself, wiping out the families who once defied him and made fun of his family’s innate weasel-y features.
Only he forgot a few small details: namely, that some Starks are still fighting for survival. Later, Walder is given a fresh pie by one of the serving girls, who reveals herself to be none other than Arya Stark. Before she stabs Walder in the stomach, she coldly tells him she murdered members of his family, carved them up, and baked them into the pie he’s scoffing.
Arya’s methods are brutal and no less cruel than those of villains like Ramsay and Cersei, but it’s still immensely satisfying to see her exact her revenge three whole years after her mother and brother were slaughtered by the Freys.
Davos delivers justice
Ahead of last week’s battle, Davos found the carved wooden stag he had made for Princess Shireen. Shireen, you may recall, was burned alive by Melisandre at the behest of her father, Stannis, as a sacrifice for the Lord of Light. It didn’t exactly work – Stannis was slain by Brienne, his wife Selyse hanged herself with grief, and the Baratheon line was all but extinguished.
Now, though, Davos knows Melisandre did the deed, and confronts her in the company of Jon. Mel defends her actions, saying she obeyed the Lord of Light, but Davos calls it murder and completely loses it. It looks like he’s going to kill her, but with a certain amount of restraint, Jon lets her live, though he says she will be executed if she ever comes North again.
So Mel leaves Jon’s side, even though she thinks his resurrection, rebirth or whatever you want to call it, is the will of her God. Where will she go, though? Will she cross paths with vengeful Arya once again, or will she join Dany’s side?
Dany actually gets on a boat and actually sails to Westeros
We’ve been waiting for this moment for almost six years, but watching Dany’s humongous fleet sweep through the narrow sea is one of Game of Thrones’ most arresting moments. Before she goes, she breaks things off with Daario and instructs him to stay in Meereen with his sellswords, the Second Sons. Tyrion wisely advises her that Westeros won’t warm to a woman with a common-born no-strings guy on the side, which is good advice given his own turbulent relationship with Shae.
Varys is revealed to have travelled to Dorne to win over the vengeful Ellaria Sand and her bastard daughters, and, following the shock at the Sept, it’s revealed that the Queen of Thorns, the last surviving Tyrell, has travelled south to lend her support, too.
So Dany’s entourage grows even bigger; Dothraki, Unsullied, freed slavers, a Greyjoy army, and now the Tyrell and Martell soldiers, too. It’s unclear whether she’s sailing to Dorne, which would be a smart base of power for now, or if they’re sailing around the continent to conquer the Lannister stronghold of Casterly Rock. Either way, there’s a lot to be excited about.
Dany also names Tyrion her Hand of the Queen, in a touching exchange where Tyrion talks about how the mother of dragons restoring his faith in fellow people just as he lost faith in Gods and religion. Last week fans were excited about Dany and Yara. But could a Tyrion and Dany romance be on the cards? Danyion? Tyrany?
Either way, Game of Thrones is sailing furiously toward its final act. The wait’s going to be excruciating, but at least we have plenty to speculate about.