Last night’s Emmy nominated episode paved the way for what may be Game of Thrones’ last battle: the battle against the Night King and the white walkers. Once again the rulers of Westeros’ houses have changed and new alliances have formed.
This recap looks at the history behind a few key scenes and their historical basis.
An explosive end for Cersei’s rivalsThis year’s season finale did not disappoint in terms of its death toll. What was surprising is how Cersei escaped the axe. Last week, Tommen ruled that Cersei could not use trial by combat to avoid being tried by the Seven. It seemed certain to me that Cersei’s head would end up on the chopping block. Given Cersei’s marriage to the Henry VIII-esque Robert Baratheon, it seemed likely that Cersei would follow in Anne Boelyn’s footsteps. (Also, like Anne, Cersei shared a rumored affair with her brother. In Anne’s case this was almost certainly false whereas in Cersei’s case… well, we all know the answer there.)
That was not the case in the season finale.
With Qyburn’s help, Cersei eliminated her enemies in with one kingdom-altering blast of wildfire.
While Cersei toasted her success, she left Tommen alone. To Tommen, it must have been patently clear why the Mountain stopped him from going to the Great Sept. Only one person could both control the Mountain and be motivated to orchestrate such a large loss of life: his mother. After Tommen realized how his mother burned the people he loved alive, slaughtered innocent bystanders, and snuffed out the faith he had newly adopted, he jumped out his chamber window and plunged to his death.
Given the massacre at the Great Sept and Tommen’s death, Cersei has truly become the evil queen. Qyburn crowns her in a somber coronation ceremony. Without her children, the only element that made her at all human is gone.
The Wars of the Roses
After Rickon’s death and then Daenerys’ embarkment on her voyage to Westeros, the “Wars of the Roses” motif is winding down.
- Robb (the young Edward IV), Robert Baratheon (the older Edward IV), and Tywin (Warwick) are all dead.
- The Princes in the Tower have both died (Joffrey, Tommen), if that is what happened, and lost (Bran, Rickon). Now that Bran is the three-eyed raven, he is effectively “lost” to us as a human son of the Stark/York family. Unlike the real Elizabeth of York, Sansa ultimately did get to find out what happened to her brother.
- At least one incarnation of Richard III is dead (Stannis).
- Richard of York (Ned) — the father of Edward IV and Richard III — has been summarily executed.
- The invader from across the sea — Daenerys Stormborn/Henry VII — has, as of the season 6 finale, finally set sail for her conquest of Westeros.
Jaime Dines with Walder FreyNow that Jaime has saved Riverrun and returned it to Walder Frey’s hands, he joins Walder Frey for a celebratory feast. Jaime is not happy with the Frey’s weak protection of Riverrun. It’s clear that Jaime doesn’t respect this sniveling worm who wins through treachery and not real chivalric battle. I was worried that Jaime might kill Walder Frey, but that was not the case.
Arya Stark: the Tudor Troublemaker
Arya arrived in Westeros, near Riverrun, and finally got her revenge on Walder Frey, by serving the rat a pie made of his own sons. As Phil Hallam-Baker mentioned to me ages ago, a very special “Fray Bentos” pie was all too likely to be the poetic justice served to the lord who betrayed guests under his own roof.After losing her family and legacy (family’s reputation) as a result of brutal, duplicitous treachery, Arya has always wanted revenge. For most of the past season, Arya has been sitting across the Narrow Sea, plotting ways to harm those who have wronged her almost completely annihilated family. And, in this way, she is like none other than Edward IV and Richard III’s York sibling: Margaret of Burgundy (nee York).
Edward IV’s married off his sister Margaret in 1468 to Charles the Bold, the fabulously wealthy ruler of Burgundy — a lowland duchy on the edge of France. Margaret was clever, independent, and spirited enough to take an active role in the decision about who she would marry. Born in 1446, Margaret was roughly four years younger than Edward IV and his only remaining unmarried sister once he became king.Margaret was likely close to her family. She was roughly three years older than her brother George (Duke of Clarence) and six years older than Richard. She was raised with them during early childhood. When Edward IV wanted to execute her brother Clarence (who parallels Theon in his betrayal of Edward IV), she begged for his life. Clarence was her favorite brother.
By 1485-6, Margaret’s family and legacy had been destroyed. In a few short years, her family had gone from ruling England to almost extinct. Although her niece Elizabeth of York sat on the throne with Henry VII, the Tudor king’s victory at Bosworth Field extinguished the York name and killed her brother Richard to boot.Contemporaries believe that Margaret channeled all of her rage towards Henry VII, causing him problems: she was a Tudor troublemaker. And, it is in this regard — Arya’s desire to make trouble for her family’s enemies, especially the Lannister regime — that Arya is like Margaret of York.
Margaret of York “openly longed” for the York family to reclaim the throne.1 . Having a female niece on the throne was not good enough — Elizabeth now bore the name Tudor. Margaret wanted a male York claimant to seize the throne from Henry VII, as Margaret herself explained to Isabella of Spain in 1493 (( Ann Wroe’s The Perfect Prince p. 85 )) .
It seemed as though Margaret would do anything to cause trouble for Henry VII. Margaret backed imposter claimants to the English throne, like Lambert Simnel and Perkin Warbeck, who became thorns in Henry VII’s side. She publicly claimed Perkin Warbeck as her nephew, Richard of York. (Admittedly, in Warbeck’s case, however, it isn’t entirely clear he was an imposter.)
Tudor courtiers believed that Margaret spent her time thinking up “new and unheard of outrages” to hurt Henry VII, as the Tudor king’s poet laureate Bernard Andre wrote. With his prose dripping in sexism that was standard for the age, he implied that her “spite never dies” and “a woman’s anger is eternal.”2 Henry VII himself blamed Margaret for “contriving” and “maliciously setting” “another feigned lad” upon him ((Wroe p. 86.)) .Virgil assumed that Margaret trained Perkin Warbeck herself to make him a hard imposter to discredit. Virgil claimed Margaret gave him an “intense grounding in family history mythology, and duty,” as Perkin Warbeck biographer Ann Wroe puts it.
Margaret drew up secret treaties with James IV of Scotland to allow safe passage for any of Warbeck’s supporters. She funded Warbeck’s invasion in England in 1495.
Like Arya learned in Braavos, Margaret knew how to plot secretly and keep her actions quiet. When she delivered rye to her tenants on her estates, she made those gifts anonymously. 3 The secrecy may have been because the lack of public acknowledgement would make her actions more deserving of “credit in heaven” as Wroe puts it.
Sending these imposters over to England weren’t insignificant blows against Henry. Extinguishing the Warbeck threat cost Henry VII over £13,000, which strained Henry’s wobbly state finances. (As an aside, its interesting that Martin chose to recreate the part of Margaret who plays with identities (the imposters) as Arya’s ability to play with her own identity and slip masks on and off.)
Henry could do little to stop Margaret. Declaring war against her was impossible since her powerful stepson-in-law, Maximilian would protect her and he became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1493.
Given Margaret’s secrets gifts to her peasants, it doesn’t seem likely that overweening pride fueled her actions. It’s hard to believe that Margaret’s strenuous efforts against Henry VII were driven solely by a desire to recoup her family’s name, royalty, and status. A desire for revenge against the man who struck the death blow against the last of her male kin seems possible.
Margaret only sailed across the “Narrow Sea” (English Channel) once after her marriage to Charles the Bold in 1480 — and this visit only lasted a few months. Will Arya’s return to Westeros last longer? Will she finally get the happiness she deserves, or will she forever be caught up in a cycle of revenge and hate?
Jon Snow’s Parentage
After Benjen Stark leaves Bran and Meera, Bran channels into a weirwood tree and has another vision of the Tower of Joy. Finally part of the mystery of Jon’s parentage is revealed!
Inside the Tower, Lyanna Stark gives Ned a baby and begs him to keep the baby safe. He must not reveal the baby’s identity to Robert or else Robert will kill him. The camera focuses on the babies face and then cuts to Jon Snow.Let’s assume the implication from the camera cut is true, the baby is Jon Snow. In that case, this scene only appears to confirm one thing: Jon Snow is not Ned’s biological son.
Presumably the child is Lyanna’s baby, but that isn’t certain despite all the blood. (Is this actually a childbirth scene? Lyanna looks like she has a massive stomach wound, which could be stab marks or a c-section.) If Lyanna bore the baby, who is the father? Nothing has been confirmed yet.
All we know is that Ned probably isn’t Jon Snow’s father.
But, what may be more important, is why Bran thinks this Jon’s parentage (or this scene?) is important enough to visit with his greensight. What is Jon’s real significance in the war to come?