The following post contains spoilers for season 6, episode 10, of Game of Thrones, “The Winds of Winter.”
“The Winds of Winter” was an incredibly exciting finale for Season 6. It was filled with so many amazing moments that I had a hard time deciding what to discuss in this post.
Should I talk about the terrifying moments culminating in tragedy, accompanied by a beautifully haunting soundtrack, as Cersei’s plot to blow up the Sept of Baelor unfolded? What about the moments of inspiration and optimism, as the North rallied behind Jon Snow and Daenerys sets out for Westeros? What should I say about Arya’s revenge against Walder Frey, or the revelation of Jon Snow’s parentage? And so on.
Even though there were so many satisfying plot resolutions packed with significance that I could talk about, I’m going to be talking about one part of the episode that disappointed me, which was the conclusion of Margaery’s story. When writing an analysis of a TV show, movie, or literary text, one technique that works well for me is to start with a question. In this case, instead of dismissing the parts that I didn’t like, I’m going to try to answer the question, “Why did Game of Thrones‘ story unfold in this way and what thematic significance emerges from presenting the narrative like this?”
A Rose Cut Short
In this episode, Margaery was killed in a way that I don’t think gave her story a proper resolution. In previous episodes, as she spoke of her faith in the gods and of her desire to repent for her sins, it was difficult to tell whether she was being genuine or was putting on a facade to manipulate the High Sparrow. But then, she secretly handed her grandmother a drawing of a rose, the Tyrell family sigil, as if to indicate that she still had her family’s best interests at heart, that her renewed “faith” was merely a convincing act, that she had a plan in mind to deal with the High Sparrow or improve her family’s standing..
As a fan of the show, I really wanted to see what Margaery planned to do. I wanted to see her pull off an impressive political maneuver and put the High Sparrow in his place. But, instead of such a satisfying end to her story–no victory over the High Sparrow, no successful political scheme–she simply died along with everyone else inside the Sept.
To make this moment even more frustrating for me, Margaery was the only who had an inkling of what Cersei was planning to do, but that knowledge did not save her. Having played the game of political maneuvering against Cersei for so long, Margaery realized that Cersei’s absence meant she would have an alternative plan in mind to handle her enemies. Margaery’s warnings could have saved everyone, but that did not happen.
To me, this moment did not fit with one of the core themes of Game of Thrones: that if you are cunning and clever, if you possess keen political acumen, if you display an awareness of what is happening around you, you will not only survive but thrive in this brutal world. Contrast this to Ned and Robb Stark’s moral codes of honor, which ended up killing them. Consider how Jon Snow fell into Ramsay’s trap in “Battle of the Bastards,” even though Sansa warned him about what could happen.
Again and again, we’ve seen that you need to be smart to succeed, and yet, when Margaery displayed the exact type of awareness and intelligence needed to do well in Game of Thrones, she still wound up being killed. So what gives? Why did one of the most fascinating characters in Game of Thrones with a promising plot line meet such an end?
Margaery should have survived the explosion because she did what she was supposed to–try to escape the Sept. However, she was prevented from leaving by the High Sparrow’s minions. So Margaery’s death–as well as the death of everyone else in the Sept–does not reflect any problem with her, but rather, reflects a problem in the High Sparrow’s behavior: being so overconfident in the security of his position and the righteousness of his actions, he was unable to accept that Cersei would dare plot against him or oppose him. He did not understand the extent of Cersei’s cunning.
So, it looks like Margaery’s death does fit in with the show’s major themes, in that the High Sparrow’s lack of awareness leads to his own death and the deaths of everyone else in the Sept with him. But that’s not fair, is it? Margaery does what she is supposed to–be smart, be aware, and think carefully–but has her end dictated by the High Sparrow’s behavior. The idea, though, is that even when you do everything right and follow all the rules that should ensure survival, you can still wind up dead in the game of thrones. Those who are built up to do great things are often torn down in dramatic fashion, as we’ve seen with Ned and Robb.
There’s another explanation. As smart and cunning as Margaery is, she does not possess the streak of violence, cruelty, and vengeance that we see so clearly in Cersei. Margaery definitely plays the game well. She displays a keen understanding of politics and how to leverage perceptions and relationships. That can be an effective model of power, but in the end, it is only Cersei, with her capacity for ruthlessness, who would contemplate the wholesale destruction of her enemies. In Game of Thrones, being clever is perhaps not enough–an extra degree of ruthlessness is required to be victorious. It all comes down to one thing: who has the power and resources necessary to crush his or her enemies?
Finally, Margaery’s death becomes a motivating factor for Lady Olenna, who now seeks revenge against Cersei for wiping out her family. If there is any “consolation” for the unfortunate end of Margaery’s story, it is that Lady Olenna–an incredibly fascinating character in her own right–will be plotting her vengeance, and in the coming seasons, we will be treated to more amazing acting by Diana Rigg.
If I was slightly frustrated by the loss of this promising character, I can only imagine how Olenna–who has lost any hope of a future for her family line–must be feeling. As Game of Thrones has shown, revenge and anger can be a powerful–and dangerous–motivator.
A side note: I hoped to see Olenna take charge of the situation and become a powerful force to oppose Cersei, so I was somewhat disappointed that her story was so quickly tied into Daenerys’ plot. I guess that was a narrative maneuver necessary to clarify alliances as we move into the final two seasons.
Although I’m still disappointed that Margaery did not survive this episode and that we did not get to see her plans come to fruition, it helps to know that her death does fit into the show’s larger themes, and in that sense, she did not die “for no reason.” Personally, I would have preferred that she lived–it would have been great to see her crawling from the rubble after the explosion–but at least I can understand why it happened from a thematic perspective.
Okay, that’s it for now! I hope you enjoyed this post, and stay tuned for another Game of Thrones analysis in a couple of days, probably regarding Sansa and why she did not end up claiming the seat of Winterfell.