Get the best of Monitor journalism in your inbox.

Why the twist-filled 'Game of Thrones' season finale broke all the rules

The season finale for 'Thrones,' whose stars include Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke, and Lena Headey, contained a flood of plot developments and action. 

Helen Sloan/HBO
'Game of Thrones' stars Emilia Clarke (l.) and Peter Dinklage (r.).

“Game of Thrones” fans who thought the major episode of the season was over after the battle-centric June 18 episode experienced plenty more plot developments during the newest season finale for the HBO fantasy program.

“Thrones” concluded its sixth season with multiple major character deaths amid an action-packed moving forward of various plotlines.

(Spoilers for the newest “Thrones” episode follow…) 

The beginning of the newest episode contained some of the biggest developments, as Cersei (Lena Headey), the mother of the current king, Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), avoided her religious trial by killing characters including the religious leader the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), the queen (Natalie Dormer), the queen’s brother (Finn Jones), and many other people using the dangerous substance wildfire. Following this, Tommen committed suicide and Cersei was crowned queen of the kingdom. 

The other plotlines on the show also contained major developments. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), an illegitimate member of the powerful Northern family the Starks (or is he? But we’ll get to that in a moment), was hailed as the King of the North by his subjects after he and his sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), retook the ancestral Stark home, Winterfell.

And Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), a member of a family that once ruled Westeros, set sail for that country as her advisor, Varys (Conleth Hill), seemingly gained her more allies: the rulers of the area known as Dorne and Lady Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg), who wants revenge on Cersei after Cersei killed Lady Olenna’s family in the explosion.

In addition, fans have long wondered whether Jon’s father was really Sansa’s father, Ned Stark, as Jon has long been told. In the newest episode, Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright), who has the ability to see into the past, witnessed his father going to rescue his father’s sister, Lyanna Stark, after Lyanna was reportedly kidnapped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, to instead find Lyanna had just given birth. Jon’s father wasn’t mentioned (though many fans believe it’s Rhaegar), but Bran witnessed Lyanna giving an infant to Ned Stark and asking Ned to help the baby. Afterwards, the program cut immediately to Jon, leading many viewers to believe that the baby was him. 

This newest episode was unusual for the HBO program. Longtime fans of the show know that the ninth episode of the show’s 10-episode season has traditionally been when major twists or plot developments take place – past ninth episodes have included, for example, such incidents as Ned Stark being killed, the Battle of Blackwater at the capitol King’s Landing, the Red Wedding, a major battle involving Jon’s military group the Night’s Watch, and Daenerys and her forces being attacked and Daenerys escaping on one of her dragons. 

While past finales certainly moved the plot forward, they were often less action-packed and included the aftermath of these incidents as well as setting up stories for the season to come. (There have been exceptions to this, of course, including the previous season finale, in which Cersei was punished by the High Sparrow’s followers and Jon Snow was killed.) 

In broadcast TV in particular, season finales are known for often including twists or major developments, most likely in an effort to get viewers to tune in – some of the frequently seen storylines in season finales are weddings and the return of previously departed characters.

By having their finale episodes be more action-packed, those behind “Thrones” are in some ways returning to an older TV model, one that is not always adhered to in the current age of television in which many traditions in the industry are being changed or discarded.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.