Miguel Sapochnik followed “The Battle of the Bastards” by directing another profound episode, the Game of Thrones (2011 - ) Season Six finale, “The Winds of Winter.” While the season’s penultimate episode still stands as the series’ grandest episode in terms of scale, the finale crammed a tremendous amount of intensity into a tight space, setting up a wickedly stimulating seventh season. Theories were confirmed, characters died aplenty and the conflicts every major player has spent six seasons preparing to fight are about to explode.
The finale finally addressed a lot of theories and predictions that we (and fans) have been awaiting for some time. Let’s take a look at what “The Winds of Winter” revealed, confirmed and explained.
Spoilers are ahead, obviously.

(Want more Game of Thrones insights by email? Here's the sign-up.)

Jon Snow’s Parentage


Kit Harington as Jon Snow at the moment of the reveal

R+L=J is one of the longest-running fan theories in the Thrones universe, dating back to before the show existed. The theory speaks to the true parentage of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) as something far more complex and substantial than his presumed bastard origins: Jon Snow is not the bastard son of Ned Stark (Sean Bean), but Ned's nephew. Jon is the son of Ned's sister, Lyanna Stark, and the Mad King's deceased heir, Rhaegar Targaryen. That means Jon is not only a Stark but also a cousin to his Stark "siblings," and, most significantly, a Targaryen. He is, quite literally, fire and ice.

Considering that A Song of Fire and Ice is the title of the series of novels upon which the show is based, we've clearly just experienced something major. It’s said that before Game of Thrones started, George R. R. Martin quizzed showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss about whether or not they knew who Jon’s parents are. One can assume they got it right, and finally the series has confirmed what everyone has felt to be true for years.

Jon's parentage implies huge impact on the story going forward. In the finale, Jon is pronounced King in the North by his vassal houses thanks to a powerful speech about honor from little Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey). Everyone still assumes Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) to be dead, but once Bran inevitably reunites with his family and spreads the knowledge that Jon is a true Stark and a Targaryen, Jon’s claim to everything, including the Iron Throne, becomes much stronger.

Here is an excellent video of all the series' conversations about Lyanna Stark, Jon's parentage, and Ned's relationship with his "bastard" son:

Side note: Lyanna Stark gave Jon life, but little Lyanna Mormont gives him a crown.


The Starks' fiercest ally, Lyanna Mormont

We assumed when Lyanna first showed up that her presence would lead to greater things, and her powerhouse speech rousing the north to stand behind Jon in the finale proves her crucial role.

Cersei and the Wildfire


Cersei's wildfire explosion

We speculated that Cersei (Lena Heady) was plotting with Qyburn (Anton Lesser) to use the late Mad King’s old caches of wildfire to destroy the Sept of Baelor and eliminate the influence of the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to free herself from a trial. True to form, this woman who is constantly threatening to burn cities to the ground used this last-resort tactic to great success. The High Sparrow, the Faith Militant and their entire regime are now gone, engulfed in a blaze of green fury.

What Cersei didn’t expect was that the collateral death of Queen Margaery (Natalie Dormer) would cause her son, Tommen (Dean Charles Chapman), to kill himself. Tommen's death differs from those of Cersei's first two children in a key way: she is primarily responsible. The psychological torment Cersei callously inflicts on her son directly causes his suicide. Through an act designed to protect Tommen, she drives him to suicide and fails to be present to stop him, as she is more concerned with torturing Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) than being with her son at a time of loss. One of the truly good-hearted, though naive, characters on the show, Tommen watches from afar as he loses his wife and realizes how unabashedly evil his mother is. He can’t stomach the thought of either.

As a child, Cersei receives a prophecy that she will bury all three of her children. This episode confirmed that truth — but the prophecy doesn't end there. It also says she will die at the hand of her younger brother and be replaced by a younger, more beautiful Queen. Cersei has always assumed the younger brother in question is Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), but as she was the first twin to exit the womb, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is also technically her younger brother. And as a newly childless woman whose only semblance of humanity ever stemmed from motherhood, Cersei is a terrifying figure sitting on the Iron Throne as the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Even Jaime seems cautious as he watches his sister don the crown.

The younger, more beautiful queen to come at first appeared to be Margaery. With her out of the way, might Cersei's replacement be that stunning Targaryen currently sailing to the doors of King’s Landing?

Either way, Cersei has passed a point of no return. The number of innocents she has killed to protect herself pushes her into full Hitler mode, and the fact that the most hated woman in Westeros is sitting on the Iron Throne bodes well for nobody. Destroying the future of House Tyrell also deprived Lady Olenna (Diana Rigg) of any other motive than brutal revenge, and that is one grandmother nobody ought to mess with.

Since it's clear that the show is enacting the prophecy of her downfall, it's hard to see Cersei's defeat as anything but inevitable, but first she'll put up a murderous, terrible fight.

Daenerys Is Looking for Strategic Love

In "The Winds of Winter," Daenerys (on the advice of Tyrion) is freeing herself up from romantic attachments in case a strategic marriage becomes crucial to her claim to the Iron Throne. Are there any marriageable candidates the show has in mind?

Let's consult the history books. The story of Henry Tudor serves as a model for the character of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). During the War of the Roses, Henry Tudor was a direct descendent of the Lancaster throne who was raised in exile after his father's death. Like Daenerys, Henry returned from exile to claim his family's throne.


Daenerys is the new Henry Tudor

Henry then married Elizabeth of York, the elder sister of the princes who were disappeared by Richard III. Marrying Elizabeth, Henry secured his claim as Henry VII and linked the Lancaster and York families for the first time. So who could be Daenery's Elizabeth? Someone with many cruelly murdered siblings and the allegiance of a competing house?

Jon Snow.

Of course, we now know that Daenerys is Jon's aunt. Still, as Targaryens support marriage between family members, it's not impossible she and Jon could marry once she crosses the Narrow Sea and enters Westeros. Just saying. Pretty babies.

Sansa’s Secrets from Jon


Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington)

Before and during the Battle of the Bastards, many wondered why Sansa had neglected to tell Jon Snow she sent for combat assistance. Without Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) and the Knights of the Vale, Jon’s army would have been destroyed, but Sansa never told Jon about the tremendous reinforcements she requested. There was speculation that Sansa wanted the glory for herself or that she was plotting against her brother in secret. In the finale, Sansa gave us a simpler answer: she simply doesn't trust Littlefinger and couldn’t be sure he would show. She gives an emotional apology, recognizing that her decision to keep the call to arms secret endangered Jon’s life.

But later, as the men of the north rise to cheer Jon as King of the North, Sansa shares a long, tortured look with Littlefinger, betraying her mixed feelings and allegiances. As much as Sansa wants to support Jon, when Littlefinger makes romantic advances and paints a vision of ruling the Iron Throne together, Sansa is tempted. Despite her new commitment to being a good and loyal sister, Sansa's core nature has always been hungry for power and status, and she can't help seeing herself as a truer Stark than her brother, who does not carry the name. We're likely to see more rifts and secrets in the Sansa-Jon relationship going forward.

As a bonus, while Sansa and Jon reconcile, she gets to utter the long-awaited phrase, "Winter is here."

"Father always promised, didn't he?" Jon answers.

Nothing appears to be different, and the snow continues to fall as usual.

Arya’s Dark Path


The melancholy murder of Walder Frey

Arya Stark’s (Maisie Williams) storyline has been one of the darkest of Game of Thrones. As a child in the first season, since her famous “stick them with the pointy end” conversation with her father, it has been clear that Arya has a preference for fighting and violence over royal activities or female hobbies. In the interim five seasons, on the run and fighting for her life, she has been confronted with situations that fuel her rage and sense of vengeance. She is still Arya Stark, as the Faceless Men plot proved, but she is now Arya Stark, a cold-blooded murderer capable of smiling as she slits a man’s throat and watches him bleed out. That’s exactly how she handles Walder Frey (David Bradley) in the finale, exacting revenge for the murder of her brother and mother and eliminating one of the nastiest foes of House Stark.

She may have renounced her path as a Faceless Man but she didn’t lose the skills she gained during her training and is finally acting on that hit list she's been building in her mind since her father's execution. The smile she lets out as Walder Frey dies is not terribly different from the dark grin of success Cersei emits after blowing up the Sept — or, for that matter, the one from Sansa after she fed Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) to the dogs after the Battle of the Bastards.

Arya's descent is part of Game of Thrones’ brilliant ongoing character study about violence and death. Nobody is fully innocent or fully guilty. Those characters we are primed to see as "good" are starting to have as much blood on their hands as the villains. So what makes Arya good and Cersei bad? Will Daenerys eventually fall into these same traps of moral ambiguity?

Tyrion’s Bond with Daenerys: Brother/Sister?


Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) chats with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage)

In a stunningly unsuccessful tenure as a negotiator, Tyrion reaches out to the slavers and nearly loses the city of Meereen in Dany’s absence. Still, upon her return, she respects the fact he stayed to work in her best interests while she was gone and rewards his mistake with even more trust. Historically, the Lannisters have been responsible for most of the destruction of the entire Targaryen dynasty. Having one by her side is curious yet useful for Dany, and the bond between her and Tyrion is one of respect and faith that goes deeper than necessity. This episode saw the two confirming their allegiance on a higher level, as Dany declares him Hand of the Queen. Tyrion admits that, before her, he never believed in anything.

Many fans believe that, like Jon Snow, Tyrion also harbors Targaryen blood. The backstory goes that Aerys Targaryen was infatuated with Joanna Lannister, Tywin's wife, and is rumored to have slept with her (whether by force or by seduction). This was common knowledge, as was Aerys' distaste for Tywin. Tywin also always resented Tyrion for “killing” Joanna during birth, taking away the only woman Tywin ever loved. This resentment would be compounded if Tywin knew that Tyrion’s real father was Aerys. But, as a proud Lannister would never admit his wife was unfaithful, he’d rather claim the imp as his own son than reveal his true parentage. If he loved Joanna as much as he said, perhaps he could never stomach the idea of killing his love's child, no matter the circumstances. Just before Tyrion kills Tywin, his father says, “You’re no son of mine.” Whether or not he is speaking literally, Tyrion’s suspiciously effective conversation with Daenerys’ dragons earlier in Season 6 offers more fuel for this theory. Other than Tyrion, Daenerys is the only one capable of getting so close to them without ending up crisp.

All of this could contribute to the inexplicable bond between Daenerys and Tyrion, and why she has such a strong intuition to rely on his counsel.

What's Next?

The finale covered far more territory than a typical episode, catching up with almost every major remaining character. At the same time, it narrowed the perspective of the show, tightening up the landscape of the key players and sending them on a collision course that can only result in the biggest conflict yet. We focus in on Cersei, Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, Bran and Arya, and imagine how they will clash and combine once all brought into one central fight.

Given that Cersei is the only remaining original antagonist (with the support of Jaime), it's hard not to imagine that Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon and Arya will not all come together for victory, helped by Varys' recently formed allegiances in Dorne with the Sand Snakes and Olenna Tyrell. Sansa's ambitions and tortured alliance with Littlefinger could offer a wild card into the mix. Undoubtedly, the show will have to create more obstacles before Daenerys brings everyone together under her rule — unless they surprise us, restore her swiftly to power and create ample time for us to witness what happens when she tries to, as she has promised, "break" the Iron Throne.

Instead of ending on a taunting cliffhanger, the finale ramped up the momentum, carefully setting the remaining pieces on the chessboard as a prelude to the much-anticipated battle of the Greats to come — next season.

 

Read more on Game of Thrones:

Is Cersei soon to die, or will she rise again to be a major player through the end?

What real-life wars inspired the battle techniques in "The Battle of the Bastards"?

Who is Lyanna Mormont, and why does she matter?

How much will George RR Martin's The Winds of Winter diverge from Season 6?

Daenerys Targaryen: Why do so many fans like her?

Who will be other two dragon riders with Daenerys?

What is the true history behind Cersei's Walk of Shame?