But perhaps it’s inevitable, because “The Winds of Winter” also canonically sealed the long-running theory about Jon’s parentage by finally revealing just what happened at the Tower of Joy. Young Ned, indeed, found his sister Lyanna near death, bleeding out after what seemed like a medieval Caesarean section, and was made to promise not to tell Robert that the child was fathered by Rhaegar Targaryen, the oldest son of the Mad King. “The Winds of Winter” was already wrapping things up, so it made sense for David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to make it official by acknowledging the truth of “R+L=J.” I appreciated the artfulness of the info-dump—Lyanna’s repeated “Promise me, Ned,” and the cut from that baby’s black eyes to Jon’s haunted stare—but more than anything, the scene felt like a gleeful thumbs-up to the audience.
That’s fine. The sixth season of Game of Thrones has sometimes struggled to justify the existence of its weird side-plots as it barreled toward a conclusion, and there were some threads that will feel incomplete forever (again, RIP Margaery). Others may get picked up again next season (the Hound is still floating around). But the trade-off is the sheer glee that comes from watching the big puzzle pieces finally fall into place. Lenika and Spencer, were you similarly satisfied customers?
Lenika Cruz: For years, fans have asked Game of Thrones for a scene of Daenerys Targaryen sailing to Westeros. And, in turn, Game of Thrones refused the call—but no longer. As you noted, David, “The Winds of Winter” delivered several major payoffs in the span of 70 minutes (rendered in gorgeous scene after gorgeous scene, thanks to the director Miguel Sapochnik). This was a finale that reminded us at every turn that a distinctly new era has arrived: Qyburn’s flock of little birds stabbing the wizened old Grand Maester Pycelle to death. Littlefinger telling Sansa, “The past is gone for good.” Jon Snow being crowned the “White Wolf” years after the death of his brother, the “Young Wolf.” Olenna railing against Cersei, who “stole the future” from her.
But even the new couldn’t help but feel, well, old—or at least cyclical—at times. The Red Wedding-er was dispatched in a Red Wedding-y fashion. A bunch of Northern lords (and a lady) had a “King in the North!” cheer session. Littlefinger asked Sansa to be his partner in crime and life, again. Dany rode triumphantly in some direction with a giant army. Dany also said “Boy, bye,” to yet another decent man who professed his love for her. Jon sent away Melisandre as an act of mercy, like Dany did with Jorah, or Ned with Cersei. Cersei endured the loss of yet another family member. The show got yet another terrible occupant on the Iron Throne who believes in the cleansing power of wildfire.
Though “The Winds of Winter” repeatedly hit on these familiar beats, it never quite felt repetitive. Just as the same seasons come every year and bring something slightly different each time, each subtle re-tread in the finale felt meaningful, even necessary. Patterns and similarities between different characters took on greater poignancy: Both Arya and Cersei promised their victims that their faces would be their final vision before death. Cersei looked like the next Ramsay Bolton, with her wine-boarding and zombie-torturer ways. Tyrion and Qyburn updated their LinkedIn profiles after being named Hands of the Queen. Everyone, including fans, may be eager to push ahead with whatever’s next, but the immense, almost predictive weight of history animates every moment of that future.