Month Of Thrones
We’re counting down to Game Of Thrones’ final season by distilling the fantasy epic to 30 essential moments. This is Month Of Thrones.
Cersei destroys the Great Sept Of Baelor
“The Winds Of Winter” (season six, episode 10)
There’s nothing so mechanically sophisticated as a time bomb in the Seven Kingdoms, but the beginning of “The Winds Of Winter” ticks and tocks like one nonetheless. It’s a cadence that’s been bouncing off the walls of King’s Landing for a full season, ever since Cersei was marched through the streets to the beat of “Shame, shame, shame.” The queen mother was destined to get her revenge against her former captors and torturers one way or another; the answer to “how?” and “when?” became clearer as Qyburn became her closest ally in the capital. (Closest living ally, at least.) The explosive culmination of that plot is a suspense sequence that comprises most of the sixth-season finale’s opening act, a devastating act of terrorism that wipes most of Cersei’s adversaries off the board—but not without unforeseen consequences.
It’s over in a great green flash, but “The Winds Of Winter” takes its time getting to the destruction of the Great Sept Of Baelor, zooming in on the Lannisters, the Tyrells, and the Sparrows as they prepare for Cersei’s and Loras’ trials. There’s a judgement-day pall hanging over the whole affair, from the tolling bells to Cersei’s all-black getup to the camera angles that make Jonathan Pryce look as towering and imposing as the sept’s statues of the Seven. But he’s not the only one standing tall. One of the advantages of the sequence’s patience is that it allows for a shifting of the scales so gradual, we, like the crowd gathered in the sept, don’t realize what’s happened until it’s too late. Years ago, the Mad King laid a trap, and Cersei, with the help of her Master of Whispers and his little birds, have sprung it. We the audience are like poor, dying Lancel, stunned anew by Cersei’s capacity for cruelty while holding our faces right up to it.
There’s a rhythm to this countdown, but it’s not the quintessentially Game Of Thrones pounding that heeds the coming of Daenerys armada at the end of “The Winds Of Winter.” Ramin Djawadi’s “Light Of The Seven” is a mournful cascade of piano more akin to Max Richter’s work for contemporaneous HBO drama The Leftovers. As strings saw and swirl in the background, Margaery tells the High Sparrow, “Cersei understands the consequences of her absence, and she is absent anyway—which means she does not intend to suffer those consequences.” She won’t feel them until Tommen forsakes the crown and leaps to his death, but Djawadi’s score—which builds up as the clockwork of plot winds down—makes sure they’re never far from our thoughts.
The newbies recap praised the Red Septing for its masterful misdirection, and the experts recap concurred: “Here, book readers got an appropriately shocking set of scenes that must have felt for us what Ned’s beheading and the Red Wedding felt like for non-readers: An ‘I can’t believe that just happened’ moment when Cersei demolishes the Great Sept Of Baelor, and all those within it, with the wildfire foreshadowed in the previous episode.”
The biggest fireworks in “The Winds Of Winter” go off at the sept, but that doesn’t mean the remaining 40 minutes are lacking for pyrotechnics. In chronological order: Sam arrives at The Citadel, Melisandre is banished, the release of white ravens signals the onset of winter, Olenna Tyrell disses the Sand Snakes and throws in her lot with Daenerys, Dany names Tyrion hand of the queen, Arya puts her Faceless Man training to use by feeding Walder Frey his sons before killing the miserable bastard himself, Sansa rejects Littlefingers advances, Bran goes back to the Tower Of Joy, a smash cut throws more weight behind “R + L = J,” Lyanna’s pint-sized namesake rallies the North to Jon’s cause, Cersei takes her place on the Iron Throne, and Daenerys takes sail with a few hundred of her closest friends. Phew: Is this a season finale, or the lyrics to “A Song Of Ice And We Didn’t Start The Fire”?
Previously: Ramsay Bolton is fed to the hounds