This season of Game of Thrones has proven to be one of the best yet. Adapted from the epic saga A Song of Ice and Fire, the show has up until recently taken its cues from the books. But as George R.R. Martin has not yet released the sixth installment of his series (nor does it seem likely that he will anytime soon), there was no book from which showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss could plan this season. The show has “gone rogue”, so to speak, and is now moving in a different direction from the books.
While many initially believed that the divergence from the books would ruin the show, fans can’t stop raving about season 6. From start to finish, this season has been full of twists and turns that have kept audiences on the edges of their seats. One of the biggest surprises was the season finale. While the ninth episode of each season is usually considered the most epic (and The Battle of the Bastards was definitely epic) the tenth and final episode, The Winds of Winter, was one epic scene after another, leaving fans feeling as if they’d just ridden an emotional roller coaster. Now that we’ve had some time to recover, let’s look back at some of the most thrilling–and terrifying–moments from season 6, ranked from “whoa” to “WTF”.
It should go without saying, especially since those of you who have read the books still don’t have any additional “inside information” but fair warning that there are major spoilers ahead.
15. When The Sand Snakes Killed Doran And Trystane
While the Dorne plot line has been disappointing at best, no one could have predicted the Sand Snakes effectively ending the House of Martell. This decision is questionable at best; with Oberyn, Doran, and Trystane dead, Dorne is now headed up by a bastard matriarchy, and while this may work in Daenerys’s favor, the constant bickering and backstabbing may eventually cause the girls to turn on one another.
Fans of the books were especially shocked as this is far from the Dorne introduced in the books. In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Sand Snakes are headed by Arianne Martell, Doran’s only daughter and a character left out of the show. In the books, Ellaria urges the girls not to seek revenge, as it is an endless cycle that will never bring them comfort; this is far from the Ellaria portrayed in the show, who seems to be a shoddy replacement of Arianne. Similarly, Trystane seems to be a conflation of Doran’s two sons in the books, Quentyn and Trystane. Quentyn is sent to woo Daenerys and form a Martell-Targaryen alliance, but his attempts at romancing Daenerys end in fire and blood when he is burned to a crisp by her dragons. This would leave Trystane as heir, a title Arianne feels should be hers, so perhaps we will see an end to the Martell men after all.
14. The Stormjoy Alliance
“Stormjoy,” as eager shippers are starting to call it, is the fiercest combination of badass babes ready to take what is theirs. While we knew that Yara had something up her sleeve, we had no idea that she was going to beat Euron to Daenerys–and possibly beat him to the marriage bed, if fans get their wish.
While Euron is a very new character to the show, book fans are more than familiar with his plan to woo Daenerys. However, he sends his younger brother, Victarion, to do it for him while Asha (Yara’s book counterpart) is Stannis’s prisoner. So while the two women are unlikely to team up anytime soon in the books, their show alliance offers some much-needed leverage. Dany and Yara are both queens who have been forced into exile by the men who killed their fathers; by teaming up, they can claim the thrones they have always believed are theirs.
13. When Ramsay Killed His Entire Family
While we all had a feeling that the Boltons were going to get their comeuppance, few people thought that it was going to come from inside the family. Ramsay, who up until that point had been eager for his father’s approval, ended his father’s life much the same way as Roose had ended Robb Stark’s. While fans were shocked at this betrayal, it came as little surprise when Ramsay decided to immediately kill Walda and his new brother–the legitimate heir of House Bolton and a threat if anyone disapproved of Ramsay’s bastard birth. Walda and Baby Bolton’s death-by-dogs was unsurprising, if graphic, and would prove to be a sign of things to come.
Fans were stunned and disheartened when House Umber declared for Ramsay–and proved their allegiance by delivering Rickon and Osha. We last saw the pair at the end of season 3, when Bran sent them to The Last Hearth to keep them safe. What Rickon and Osha have been doing for two seasons is never really explained; maybe they met up with Gendry on his boat.
Even though Rickon was brought back to Winterfell in the third episode this season, audiences didn’t see him again until episode nine, by which point most fans had resigned themselves to the fact that Rickon was probably not going to survive. While unnecessarily brutal, Rickon’s death was nothing less than we would expect from Ramsay.
11. When Daenerys Became The Ultimate Khaleesi
Daenerys’s track the last few seasons has been fairly mild; she lives mainly in palaces, wears beautiful gowns, and lounges on cushions while telling Daario Naharis to take off his clothes. Episode four, The Book of the Stranger, was the first time in a long time that audiences remembered why exactly they fell in love with Daenerys in the first place. Not only were fans delighted to see their favorite khaleesi back amongst the Dothraki, but they were equally delighted when she proved once again that fire cannot kill a dragon. Watching a naked Daenerys emerge from the burning temple was easily one of the biggest “hell yeah” moments of the season, and a sure sign that her story-line was going to actually move somewhere.
10. When Bran Saw The Creation Of The White Walkers
The White Walkers are no strangers to Game of Thrones fans. We’ve been seeing them for a while, we know what they’re capable of, and we know that they’re going to be a really big problem. It is known.
But it wasn’t until Bran teamed up with Bloodraven that we saw why the White Walkers became a problem in the first place. Bran’s vision takes him to a time long ago, when the Children of the Forest strapped a man to a tree and pressed an obsidian blade into his heart.
“It was you,” Bran says when he comes out of the vision to find Leaf, the same Child of the Forest who created the Night King thousands of years ago. “You made the White Walkers.”
“We were at war. We were being slaughtered, our sacred trees cut down. We needed to defend ourselves.”
“From you,” Leaf says with a mournful expression. “From man.”
Benjen Stark has been missing since season 1 and seemed unlikely to ever return. His reappearance this season came just in time to save his nephew from the White Walkers and their army of wights. Benjen later explains to Bran and Meera that he was created much the same way as the White Walkers; after one of them stabbed him with an ice sword, the Children of the Forest pressed a piece of dragonglass into his heart. He is now neither living nor dead, but something in between. Because of this, he cannot return to the Wall, which is protected by old magic.
A similar character appears in A Song of Ice and Fire, but he never reveals his identity. Bran calls him “Coldhands”, and fans have speculated that Coldhands is actually Benjen Stark; but it may be a while before George R.R. Martin confirms or denies this.
8. When The Waif Stabbed Arya
We’re not sure which is more surprising: that the Waif stabbed Arya, or that Arya survived. Things were starting to look up for poor Arya, but just when we thought she was ready to go home and reunite with Jon and Sansa, the Waif came along and threw a wrench in the plans.
The story-line had been building up to an Arya-Waif standoff, but we didn’t expect the Waif to play quite so dirty. Disguising herself as an old woman, she caught Arya (and the audience) completely off guard and stabbed her several times in the belly. The episode ended on a cliffhanger, with Arya emerging from the river and covered in blood. Medically, it doesn’t seem possible that Arya could have survived that ordeal, but in a world with dragons and ice zombies, anything is possible.
7. When The Hound Turned Up Alive
Not unlike his scrappy pal Arya, it doesn’t seem possible that Sandor Clegane could have survived the severe thrashing he received at the hands of Brienne of Tarth. Lying in a broken heap, he pitifully begged Arya to end his misery, but instead the girl left him to suffer. Audiences assumed that he had died, so it was a shock to see him turn up not only alive and well, but also working in a peaceful, religious community.
What this means for the future, fans can only speculate. The Hound seems to be on some kind of redemption arc, and his affiliation with the Brotherhood Without Banners is sure to be only the beginning. Arya is also in the Riverlands right now, as are Brienne and Podrick; we may well see an awkward reunion.
6. Hold The Door
As one of the most beloved characters on Game of Thrones, Hodor’s death rocked the world; even people who didn’t watch the show were distraught at the news.
When it was revealed earlier in season 6 that Hodor’s real name is Willas and that he could talk as a boy, fans were stunned–book fans more than others. In the book series, Hodor’s grandmother, Old Nan, claims that his real name is Walder and that they started calling him Hodor because it was the only thing he ever said.
But what stunned audiences even more than this flashback was the reveal that Hodor lost his faculties because his childhood self was experiencing his death in adulthood, and that “Hodor” is short for “Hold the door.” His sacrifice broke the hearts of fans everywhere. We will never see his like again.
5. When Cersei Destroyed The Sept And Everyone In It
Though fans had a feeling Cersei had something up her sleeve, no one could have predicted that she would use wildfire to blow up the sept and everyone attending her trial. In one of the biggest massacres since the Red Wedding, Cersei killed two birds (or should I say sparrows?) with one stone; in doing so, however, she has created an enemy out of House Tyrell, and by default, the Reach. Cersei may be safe from Margaery and the High Sparrow, but the Tyrells will be a bigger threat to her than ever before.
4. When Tommen Made A King’s Landing
Okay, that was a terrible joke, but moving on.
Tommen’s death wasn’t nearly as surprising as the way it happened. With two of Cersei’s children dead and fulfilling the “gold their crowns and gold their shrouds” prophecy made by Maggy the Frog, it was only a matter of time before Tommen joined the ever-expanding Lannister grave. There are a number of ways it could’ve happened, but no one seemed to consider suicide.
Tommen is only about thirteen or fourteen in the show and still, in many ways, resembles his eight-year-old book counterpart. He names his cat Ser Pounce, for crying out loud. That he could be driven to suicide stunned audiences all over the world.
3. When Arya Served Frey Pie
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home” is a really, really good way to exit the season. So fans were pleasantly surprised when Arya made one more appearance. Disguised as a serving girl who Bronn thought was checking out Jaime (really she was probably plotting how to murder him), Arya feeds Walder Frey his own sons and then slits his throat.
Frey pies are implied to happen in the books, too, but unfortunately Arya doesn’t bake them. The mastermind behind the pies is Lord Manderly, who hints that he has baked multiple members of the Frey clan into pies and eaten them.
Shakespeare fans will recognize the nod to Titus Andronicus, a play about a Roman who has lost everything to Tamora, Queen of the Goths. In the play, Tamora’s sons rape and mutilate Titus’s daughter, Lavinia, as well as kill his sons. Titus bakes Tamora’s sons into a pie and feeds them to the queen before killing her and her husband.
Fans have been speculating for years who Jon’s mother really is. Though Ned tells Robert her name is Wylla, he seems troubled by the admission, leading audiences to wonder who Wylla was or whether or not it was really a woman named Wylla. Jon is known throughout Westeros as Ned Stark’s bastard–but what if he wasn’t Ned Stark’s bastard at all?
The equation R+L=J surfaced some years ago, signifying the theory that when Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped and raped Lyanna Stark, she gave birth to a son–a son named Jon. The season finale confirmed as much; a bloodied and weakened Lyanna begs Ned not to tell Robert about the baby, as she is afraid Robert will kill her son by Rhaegar. A woman (possibly the mysterious Wylla) hands the baby to Ned, and the scene cuts away to Jon’s troubled face. Not only will this change Jon’s dynamic as King in the North, but it may also affect Daenerys’s campaign in Westeros.
1. When Daenerys ACTUALLY Got On A Ship To Westeros
The moment we’ve been waiting for since season 1 FINALLY arrived on Sunday night. Accompanied by Unsullied, Dothraki bloodriders, an iron born fleet, Martells, Tyrells, and of course her dragons, Daenerys is at last heading for Westeros and the iron throne. Fans have been waiting so long for this moment that it seemed as if it would never happen, and they are thrilled to be proven wrong.