After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 6, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, technology and culture writer Jacob Brogan is joined by Slate Group general manager Ava Lubell.
Jacob Brogan: Hi, Ava! Thanks for joining me to talk about “The Winds of Winter,” a season that is, we’re told, finally here, just as this uneven season of television ends. This was a supersized episode, and for once the show mostly used that time well. Of everything our characters did, though, I think all the wine-sipping will stick with me most, especially that perfect shot of Cersei tipping back a glass as she looked out on the ruins of King’s landing. I’m not sure about you, but I had a tumbler of vinho verde in hand while I was watching. It may not be the perfect Game of Thrones beverage (that would be these three cocktails), but it got the job done.
One character who could probably use a whole bottle of booze? Sansa Stark, who explained to her cousin-brother Jon why she hadn’t previously told him that she had the Knights of the Vale on speed dial during the Battle of the Bastards last week. Was it too little too late? Was her omission a sign of budding villainy?
Ava Lubell: Sansa certainly had little more to offer by way of explanation than a vague apology and an allusion to (quite understandable) trust issues. More importantly, though, I felt a bit disappointed that Sansa was ceding her claim to her brother. Yes, it’s noble (I suppose), but I want to see what else she can do with that steely will.
In any case, if we’re going to talk villainy, Sansa’s sinister smile from last week was wholly supplanted by Cersei’s more psychopathic grin. I’d like to believe that Sansa is smart and playing the long game, but Cersei seems to have actually gotten everything she’s ever wanted.
Brogan: All other things being equal, the image of Queen Cersei on the throne is a striking one. It pairs powerfully with that brief glimpse we get of the women of Dorne inviting the bereaved Lady Olenna to join their cause. It’s likewise linked to that shot of Daenerys, guiding her fleet to Westeros. Jon’s rise to kingship over the North shows us that we may not yet be done with the patriarchy, but we’re getting a little closer the glorious misandrist utopia that this season suggested in its first episode.
Of course, I’m still not sure that any of these people should be ruling Westeros—or anything else for that matter. Look at Daenerys’ triumphant moment of statecraft this episode, the act that inspires Tyrion to tell her that she’s “playing the great game”: She breaks up with her superhot boyfriend. Was it the right thing to do? Maybe. Does it prove that she should be queen? Probably not. But are we nevertheless deeply disappointed with her for kicking him out of her entourage?
Lubell: We are very disappointed. Breaking up with Daario may be the worst decision Dany has ever made and casts her judgment into serious doubt. He’s a stud. But also, if she were truly prepared to rule, wouldn’t she realize the value of being surrounded by advisers she knows she can rely on? It’s easy to accumulate hangers on now that the dragons are grown and she has an awesome armada. Daario has been with her from the early stages.
Jon’s made a lot of similar missteps in building his circle of advisors. Last week, he was adamant that he needed Melisandre by his side. How can he not be wracked with guilt when he owes his life to a woman who burned a child at the stake?
Brogan: Was he right to send Melisandre off so quickly, though? You’ve provided Slate with legal counsel: Did she get a fair trial? And, perhaps more importantly, will Jon be able to survive without her aid?
Lubell: Fair trials are hard to come by in Westeros these days: Try to plan one and you might get blown up.
Jon really distinguished himself from (his uncle, it’s official!!!) Ned. Banishment is not the Stark way. He hanged Olly, of all people, and he survived by the grace of someone who would murder an innocent in the name of naked ambition, yet he can’t pull the trigger?
If he’s on the hunt for punishment techniques, may I point him in direction of waterboarding with wine, Cersei’s preferred method of torture?
Brogan: That may have been the ultimate Cersei moment: As she’s leading in to the real torture, she tells the Shame Nun that she does things because they “feel good,” no matter how unpleasant or grotesque others find them. And that’s what she does for us too, giving us a taste of her own perverse pleasures: She murders recent worst person in Westeros the High Sparrow, and that’s great, but we still hate her, because she also slaughters the lovely Margaery—and a lot of other people as well!—at the same time. In that regard, she’s very much an avatar of the show’s general contempt for its audience, the way it makes us complicit in the ickiness of its world by inviting us to delight in it.
That said, I’d still love to see Cersei do something unspeakable to Littlefinger. How gross was he to Sansa in that Godswood scene?
Lubell: Ugh. Shut it down. As the houses of the North stood up in support of Jon, I was filled with dread about his next move. He was honest and naked in his ambition, and Sansa turned him away. I hope she has a plan here.
Of all the Starks, Arya seems best suited to dispatching him. Arya’s violence feels righteous and empowering. She doesn’t grandstand. You killed my family, and I am killing you. Her message is undisguised: She wants vengeance.
Brogan: Arya may not grandstand, but she still has a taste for the theatrical. Walder Frey certainly got what he deserved, but his death was also almost comically overcomplicated. Did she learn how to cook just so that she could get that brief moment of grotesque stagecraft? How long was she wandering around the castle, chopping up Freys and baking them into pie?
Still, it’s good to have Arya back in the thick of it. My new fantasy is that she’ll somehow team up with Lady Lyanna Mormont, who steals every scene she shows up in—and who long since absconded with all of our hearts.
Lubell: I’m not sure that even Dany’s dragons could not take down Lady Mormont. She has won the internet, why not the game of thrones?
Brogan: At the rate this show’s killing off royalty, she might have a shot. But if the proverbial game’s the thing where we’re headed, I suppose we have to come back around to Cersei, the woman who’s actually sitting on the iron throne as the season ends. We know that this wasn’t quite her plan all along, of course: She’s said that she’d do anything to protect her son, and the sight of Tommen’s shattered body clearly destroys her. But she’s made the most of a monstrous situation.
Lubell: To say nothing of the shoulder details on that gown … fit for the Queen and the King of Pop.
I’m not sure that anything can break Cersei, not even Jaime’s terrified face lingering in the background. The prophecy of the death of her three children, the thing she has feared most, has been fulfilled and there’s nothing to restrain or ground her. Has she descended into madness? Here we have a blonde, born of incest (Tywin and Joanna Lannister were first cousins), deploying wildfire in the city. Sound familiar?
Brogan: When you put it like that, she does bear some disquieting similarities to Aerys Targaryen, the mad king. Tyrion even sets aside a few moments to talk up Aerys’ monstrous qualities when he’s giving Dany a pep talk. If Cersei is spiraling into insanity, though, it’s still a tragic sort of delirium. Lady Olenna claims that the new queen has “stolen the future from me” by killing off Margaery and Loras. In this episode, however, Cersei destroys her own connection to her familial past and future alike. Her ancestors were buried beneath the sept, and they’re gone now—along with the last of her children. Jaime is all she has left, and he may not remain by her side much longer.
Is it possible that Cersei is too sad to be worthy of our hate?
Lubell: No. She blew up thousands of people and then drank some pinot. She’s the worst.
Brogan: It was a nice dress though.
Lubell: I’ll give her that.