Winter is Here.
Warning: This article contains spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter.”
Before the start of Game of Thrones’s sixth season, it promised that it was finally time for the women of Westeros to take charge after five seasons of being treated rather terribly by the men around them. And in a supersized, tension-filled, and explosive finale, they did just that with a fan theory confirmation or two along the way—with one huge exception.
They’re playing the great game, looking for some sweet sweet revenge, breaking hearts and taking names, and taking over an entire kingdom with some wildfire and child assassins. Will it blow up in their faces? Probably! But we’ll have to wait months to see how it plays out (unless George R.R. Martin releases The Winds of Winter, the unpublished book from which the season finale takes its name).
And so our Watch begins.
Cersei Lannister set wildfire, to the Sept, watched it burn as she seized the throne
Cersei, whether you love her or hate her, has certainly bided her time this season. She was undermined by everyone from the High Sparrow to the Small Council, watched her son be converted by a religious zealot, and watched from the sidelines as the Faith took away her trump card. But she had a secret weapon, bringing a fiery plot multiple seasons in the making to fruition, one with even deadlier consequences than she ever intended—and we’re talking about what might be the single biggest death toll in the series to date.
Qyburn’s little birds take care of Grand Maester Pycelle and Lancel Lannister, who is too injured to put out the candles that set off the wildfire. The blast takes out everyone in the Sept of Baelor who awaited Cersei’s entrance at her trial including the High Sparrow, the Faith Militant, every Tyrell family member still in King’s Landing (Mace, Margaery, and Loras), Lancel Lannister, and Kevan Lannister, the Hand of the King. And this isn’t even including Cersei’s twisted torture of Septa Unella.
King Tommen Baratheon, who was blocked by the Mountain from attending the trial, was spared this fate. But after witnessing the destruction from afar, he jumped out of his bedroom window.
After all this time, Maggy the Frog’s prophecy proved itself right once again. All of her children are dead.
“Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” Maggy told Cersei as a young girl. The show version of her prophecy doesn’t mention the valonqar, or little brother, but one younger brother may be put in a position where he might has to save her from herself. (More on that later.)
“His name is—”
One of the more curious aspects of Jon Snow, whose true parentage was finally confirmed in “The Winds of Winter,” is his name itself. He’s often compared to Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister, both the third and final children of their parents whose birth caused their mothers’ deaths. And back in 2002, someone asked Martin who named them.
“Mothers can name a child before birth, or during, or after, even while they are dying,” Martin said. “Dany was most like named by her mother, Tyrion by his father, Jon by Ned.”
We now know that Lyanna gave birth to Jon, but what Ned and Lyanna’s reunion at the Tower of Joy revealed that Jon was almost certainly not his original name. Before she dies, she makes Ned promise to protect Jon because she know Robert will kill him if he learns Jon’s true parentage. Robert, who was betrothed to Lyanna before her death, claimed he “will kill every Targaryen I can get my hands on, until they are as dead as their dragons, and then I will piss on their graves,” and while that’s about Dany and Viserys, she’s proven right more than a decade later.
“If Robert finds out, he’ll kill [him]—you know he will,” Lyanna told Ned. “You have to protect him.”
But right before that, Lyanna is seen whispering something to Ned. We can’t hear it, only a snip of “His name is—” before she cuts out, and none of it is captioned by HBO. Bran appears to know as well as shown by his face, but right now the audience is being kept in the dark.
Some Reddit sleuths believe that part of what Lyanna said was “ae,” which is prevalent in many traditional Targaryen names. If that’s the case, Ned naming him Jon after Jon Arryn, his foster father, doubles down on his life’s mission to hide Jon’s identity from his best friend.
Some possibilities based on that very Targaryen sound? Aegon, which is the name of Rhaegar’s second son, but he died before Jon was born (whether Lyanna knew that is another question entirely, and this doesn’t include the book version of Aegon, who is alive in the books—allegedly); Aemon, the same name as Aegon V Targaryen’s brother who became the maester of the Night’s Watch and a mentor to Jon and Samwell Tarly; Aerys, after the Mad King; or even Rhaegar himself, which would only further solidify that Lyanna ran away with the Targaryen Prince instead of being abducted.
We’ll take “what is Jon’s true name” over the “is Jon truly dead” cliffhanger any day.
So about that whole line of succession…
This is the second Game of Thrones season where it ends on a wide shot of a ship—in this case hundreds of ships—but it could’ve easily ended on Cersei’s great victory: Cersei Lannister, first of her name, crowned as the Queen of the Andals and the First Men, Protector of the Seven Kingdoms.
She’s placed on the Iron Throne after her coup d’etat against the Faith and Tommen’s suicide, but does she have any rightful claim? Um…kind of?
Fans have analyzed Westerosi family trees for months to determine just who Tommen’s heir was after his sister Myrcella’s death last season; even the High Sparrow stresses the importance of Margaery giving Tommen and the Seven Kingdoms an heir during the world’s worst sex talk. But he died childless, effectively killing the Baratheon line in name only since he’s a Lannister through and through; it died out fully with Stannis Baratheon last season. Gendry, Robert’s only living bastard son, is the only one with any Baratheon blood in him left.
To find Tommen’s immediate heir, whether you go through him or through the trueborn Baratheons, you have to go back a few generations in the Baratheon family tree. In the books, Robert’s grandfather, Ormund Baratheon, married Rhaelle Targaryen, one of Aegon V’s daughters. It’s unclear if Rhaelle is in the show since Game of Thrones cuts out a generation, but it’s that Targaryen lineage that he leaned on when arguing his legitimacy to the throne. So you’d have to go through to Rhaelle’s line and end up back to Daenerys.
If you take Dany out, the lineage may end up back to the Lannisters and would place Jaime Lannister, Tommen’s father, as his heir. (Yes, feels weird to us, too.) Cersei’s claim would be even further back, although she was born first.
Long may she reign? Probably not. Another part of Maggy’s prophecy spells even more doom.
“Queen you shall be… until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear,” Maggy warned her. It just happens that a young and beautiful queen is finally on her way to Westeros.
And Jaime, newly arrived in King’s Landing once again, is processing the death of his son as well as Cersei’s assent to the Iron Throne.
“It’s just shock, and he’s like, he does not understand what the hell is the game plane is here because no one will accept her as Queen willingly,” Nikolaj Coster-Waldau said in a Game of Thrones featurette.
“I’m not sure he understands or knows who that person is now. And that’s scary,” he added.
He’s killed one mad monarch before. Will he have to do it again?
Frey pies made an appearance in an unexpected way
In A Dance With Dragons, a northern lord named Wyman Manderly serves three pies to the Boltons and Freys at the wedding of Ramsay Bolton and “Arya Stark,” which some believe contain the three Freys who traveled with him to Winterfell. It’s known as Frey Pies, and it’s rather dark in a book with multiple instances of cannibalism.
It’s further cemented in some fans’ minds when Manderly calls for a bard to sing about the Rat Cook, which is even less of an appropriate wedding tune than “The Rains of Castamere.” The titular cook kills a prince, puts him into a pie, and serves him to a king. Because he broke the sacred laws of guest right, the gods turned him into a rat.
While we don’t get Manderly’s exuberance (he supported Ramsay in the Battle of the Bastards), we do get Frey Pies in a true slice of justice.
Arya Stark, disguised as a servant who was a little too interested in what Jaime and Walder Frey discussed, served Walder a pie after his feast. He inquired about his “damn oaf sons,” Black Walder and Lothar, who haven’t arrived. But they did, just in another form. It’s then that Arya, who knows how to use faces reveals herself. It’s dark and poetic justice for the Red Wedding, but it’s also a little worrying for Arya.
So basically, Arya killed the random woman whose face she uses, murders two Frey sons, chops them up and bakes them into a pie, and serves it to Walder Frey before she slits his throat. That’s dark.
There’s a new King in the North
Jon may call Sansa the Lady of Winterfell, but it’s Jon that the other Northern lords—led by Lyanna Mormont, who is still truly a delight—want to lead them as King of the North. Sansa, the last publicly known trueborn child of Ned and Catelyn Stark, isn’t even a factor in those talks. Lyanna, for one, doesn’t even care that Jon’s a bastard. The scene is clearly meant to invoke the earlier declaration of Robb Stark as the King in the North, which turned out perfectly fine and didn’t result in devastating ramifications. (Just kidding, of course it did.)
During this scene, Sansa and Littlefinger exchange a Look, and Sophie Turner notes that Sansa is a little agitated in that moment. Of course, she could still have Winterfell as Jon leads the fight for the North in the great wars to come, but in that moment it might’ve stung a little, even if Sansa does consider Jon a true Stark.
Jon and Sansa’s bond will be crucial in season 7, but will it fray now that they both have power?
At least she apologized for withholding information about the knights of the Vale, right?
The great families of Westeros are dropping like flies
Game of Thrones is nearing its end, so it’s starting to tie up some of the show’s loose ends. And that includes a lot more death, some that will effectively end some of the lineage of Westeros’s famous families.
We saw the end of the legitimate Baratheon line last season, but a lot more families completely died out this season. While it’s unlikely Arya’s Frey massacre effectively wiped out the Frey line (Walder had a lot of kids), we’ve likely seen the last of the Freys on the show.
But here’s a refresher at where we stand at the end of season 6 for the major families throughout the series.
Houses with no members still alive
Houses with no living heirs / unclear
Daenerys finally heads toward Westeros with a hell of a fleet behind her
For the show’s sake, we might have to ignore trying to figure out just how Varys ended up in Dorne and back on Dany’s ship within the same episode, but otherwise this is a moment of triumph.
Dany has her fleet, which she took from the Masters, and she has the Greyjoy fleet with her. But if you look in the background you can see the sigils of two other great houses sailing alongside her: Tyrell and Martell. Ellaria Sand, now effectively the ruler of Dorne, called for Olenna Tyrell to meet with her. Given the nature of her family’s deaths, she wants vengeance. And Varys knows how to give it to her.
Cersei may have the Iron Throne, but she’s certainly not prepared for the war coming to her door. The Seven Kingdoms are once again at stake, but how long before that war is overshadowed by the real threat of Westeros?
After all, as the Citadel’s raven sent forth, Winter is Here, just as Ned promised.
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