Who needs spectacle when silence will serve just as well?
Granted, that’s an unusual question to ask in the context of Game of Thrones, the most spectacular show on television by a comfortable margin. Certainly the series’ sixth season finale — “The Winds of Winter” — contained more than its fair share of stunning visuals and shocking revelations: the wildfire explosion that destroyed both most of King’s Landing and a third of the core cast; the crowning of Jon Snow as King in the North and Cersei Lannister as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms; the massive alliance that saw Daenerys set sail for her ancestral home at last. Need more? OK, fine, how about the long-awaited revelation that Lord Snow is not Ned Stark‘s son at all — he’s the offspring of Eddard’s sister Lyanna and Prince Rhaegar Targaryen himself (so he really is the King in the North, just by a different bloodline)? And the vengeance of Arya Stark for the Red Wedding as she served Walder Frey a taste of his own, uh, medicine.
But it’s the silence of the opening minutes that stays with you. Composer Ramin Djawaid’s score pulls a delicate, melancholy piano suite from out of nowhere as the major players in Cersei’s trial — the Queen Mother, Tommen, Margaery, the High Sparrow, Loras Tyrell — wordlessly prepare for what’s to come. Then, when it’s over — Loras mutilated and humiliated, the King blocked by his mom’s mountainous bodyguard, Lancel Lannister failing to stop the enormous stockpile of wildfire beneath the Sept from detonating — there’s the silence of the young ruler’s room. He watches the city burn, realizes who and what he’s lost, steps away to take off his crown while the camera still lingers on the empty sky through his window. Then he returns and quietly leaps from the ledge. It’s the most devastating sequence in the episode, as sad as Samwell Tarly‘s trip to the massive library in the maesters’ Citadel is uplifting. Both moments would have been just effective if you’d had your TV on mute.
Tommen’s suicide doubles as an object lesson on the wages of vengeance. If you suspected that Sansa‘s smile as her tormenter Ramsay was eaten alive by his own dogs was, well, nothing to smile about, the events of this episode confirm your suspicions. After all, what are the most direct parallels we have to Lady Stark’s grin? Cersei Lannister, smirking as she blows hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people to smithereens in order to finally eradicate her enemies. Arya Stark, beaming and bright-eyed as she cradles Walder Frey’s head in her arms while he gasps for breath, his belly still full with the flesh of his own murdered and cooked children. And the Queen again, all but giggling as she turns a former captor over to the reanimated man-thing Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane for god only knows what hideous treatment.