Spoilers follow for Game of Thrones season six, episode 10, "The Winds of Winter"
Game of Thrones concluded its sixth season with a bang, killing off a slew of long-running characters in locations spanning from King’s Landing to the Riverlands.
While "Battle of the Bastards" had more onscreen deaths overall, due to the large number of military grunts who were killed, "The Winds of Winter" killed off far more named characters.
Indeed, fittingly for the longest episode of Thrones ever, more known characters died in this episode than in any previous one. The bulk of the casualties came in King’s Landing, where Cersei Lannister’s magical wildfire bomb wiped out all of her rivals in the city — though the fallout ended up costing her her son as well.
But Arya Stark was no piker, either — she managed to cross a big name off her list and get revenge for the Red Wedding in a particularly gross and fitting (and Shakespeare-inspired!) way.
In retrospect, it appears that much of this sixth season was about clearing the decks of various supporting characters and storylines, to better set the stage for a final showdown among the true major players — Daenerys, Tyrion, Cersei, Jon, Arya, Sansa, Bran, and the White Walkers — in the (likely two) remaining seasons. Here’s a recap of who won’t be joining them.
1) Margaery Tyrell, her brother Loras, and her father Mace
The Tyrell family has been a fantastic addition to the world of Game of Thrones since they became a political force in season two — kinder and less deeply disturbed than the Lannisters, but savvier and more ambitious than the Starks. "I want to be the queen," Natalie Dormer’s Margaery said back in then, and her family helped her achieve that aim — first flipping their allegiance from the Baratheons to the Lannisters, then murdering King Joffrey when he proved to be ungovernable, and finally winning over and marrying Joffrey’s far more pliable brother King Tommen.
But Margaery was too successful at becoming "the queen" for her own good. Because once she managed to marginalize her main rival for that title — Cersei — the paranoid and embittered queen mother made a fateful decision to fight back by empowering the High Sparrow’s religious fanatics. Soon, Margaery’s brother Loras was imprisoned by the Faith for his homosexuality, and when Margaery perjured herself to cover it up, she was arrested, too.
Even in prison, Margaery proved to be a savvy survivor, eventually making an alliance with the High Sparrow to free herself by convincing the king himself to convert. (Her own conversion appears to have been a temporary expediency rather than something sincerely felt.)
Again, though, Margaery apparently failed to imagine just how far Cersei would go to save her own skin until it was too late. As the Tyrells, the Sparrows, and various notables gathered in the Sept of Baelor for Cersei’s trial, the queen mother detonated a cache of magical wildfire that the Mad King had hidden beneath the city long ago — killing, among many others, Margaery, Loras, and their lovable but oafish father Mace.
Farewell, Tyrells! As happens so often in Game of Thrones, your reasonableness couldn’t, in the end, defeat vicious ruthlessness and cruelty. However, we’re reminded that the most formidable Tyrell of all — Margaery’s grandmother, the Lady Olenna — departed the capital a few episodes back, and is now plotting with the Sand Snakes of Dorne and Varys out there to get revenge...
2) The High Sparrow, Brother Lancel Lannister, and a whole lot of other Sparrows (plus Uncle Kevan Lannister)
The other high-profile victims of Cersei’s wildfire bomb were, of course, Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow and the rest of the Faith Militant, who have dominated the politics of King’s Landing for the past two seasons.
Cersei had hoped to use the Faith to eliminate her rivals, the Tyrells. But the High Sparrow — a nameless peasant — proved far more ambitious and dangerous than she anticipated. He wanted to purge King’s Landing of depravity, and his gaze naturally went straight to the top — to Cersei, whom he imprisoned and infamously forced to make a "walk of atonement" through the streets last season.
This year, the High Sparrow seemed more formidable than ever, as he won over both Queen Margaery and King Tommen to his side and preempted a Lannister /Tyrell attempt to depose him. But unfortunately for him, Cersei’s knowledge of the wildfire hidden beneath the Sept of Baelor proved to be her trump card. The explosion seems to effectively eliminate the Faith as a political force, but it remains unclear how the people of King’s Landing will react to this.
Shortly beforehand, Lancel Lannister — another character who’s been around since season one, first as King Robert’s squire, then as Cersei’s lover and King’s Landing comic relief, and then as a religious fanatic serving the High Sparrow — met a similar fate. Stabbed by a little bird after he discovers the wildfire stash, Lancel tries to avert the oncoming catastrophe by extinguishing the slowly melting candle that would trigger the explosion — but doesn’t make it in time and is burned to death. (Lancel’s father, Uncle Kevan Lannister, whom we never got to know all that well, also dies in the explosion.)
Meanwhile, Septa Unella — who infamously kept ringing the bell and yelling "shame!" during Cersei’s walk — seems to meet a fate worse than death. She’s now Cersei’s prisoner and subject to some sort of torture from the Mountain that we thankfully don’t get to see.
3) Grand Maester Pycelle
Poor Julian Glover. For six years, the actor was desperate for his character, Grand Maester Pycelle, to do more on Game of Thrones — he even came up with the idea that Pycelle would be faking his infirmity, so he’d have more of an acting challenge. He got his way on that change but on nothing else, really — Pycelle was a doddering, ineffective fool to the end.
And that end arrived this episode, when Qyburn’s child spies — the "little birds" who formerly worked for Varys — stabbed him to death shortly before the wildfire explosion. (In the books, it’s Varys himself who kills Pycelle at the end of A Dance With Dragons, but the show has rearranged things here.)
4) King Tommen Baratheon
If it was just everyone so far on this list who had died, Cersei would have been thrilled. But in Thrones things are never so easy, so of course, her play at mass murder leads inevitably to the death of her final remaining child, King Tommen, as well (fulfilling that prophecy a witch gave her during her childhood).
Tommen, who was unable to live with what Cersei had done and jumped out a window, is the third king on the Iron Throne to die during the course of the series, after his "father" Robert Baratheon in season one and his brother Joffrey in season four. After several seasons of Joffrey’s depravity, it was a nice change of pace for the various King’s Landing schemers to now have to deal instead with the kind but weak-willed Tommen.
Indeed, Tommen got a lot of hate this season when he aligned with the Faith and turned against his mother. He meant well, though — the Faith had won enough support that it had to be accommodated, and the only alternative seemed to be mass slaughter. Cersei, of course, chose that alternative.
And though Daenerys seems destined to take that chair soon enough, it's now Cersei who has succeeded Tommen in the short term, taking the Iron Throne for herself.
5) Walder Frey and two of his sons
Many chickens came home to roost this episode — and in one of its most shocking and unexpected twists, Arya Stark not only resurfaced in Westeros but exacted bloody revenge against the Frey family for her mother and brother’s murder at the Red Wedding.
Arya’s killing of Walder Frey is of course satisfying — as with Ramsay, one of the series’ most cruel and evil characters has gotten his comeuppance. But, far more gruesomely, she only takes out Walder after she has not only killed his two sons — "Black Walder" (who killed Catelyn Stark) and Lothar (who killed Robb Stark’s pregnant wife Talisa) — but baked their corpses into pies and served them to him!
This gruesome bit of involuntary cannibalism is an adaptation of something that happens under very different circumstances in A Dance With Dragons — there, the Northern lord Wyman Manderly is heavily implied to have baked three Frey sons into pies and served them to Freys and Boltons feasting at Winterfell.
But with that, George R.R. Martin was himself making a reference to Shakespeare’s infamous and incredibly gory revenge play Titus Andronicus, in which the title character gets revenge for crimes against his family by killing his enemy Queen Tamora’s two sons, baking them into pies, and feeding them to her before killing her too. Here’s the scene in Julie Taymor’s filmed version:
Titus proclaims: "Why, there they are both, baked in that pie / Whereof their mother daintily hath fed / Eating the flesh that she herself hath bred." Those Braavosi players would have a blast with this material.