“Winter is coming”: the ominous words of the once great House Stark, reduced to nothing more than a ‘dead’ bastard, a blind assassin, a paralysed child and a young girl brutally tortured in her family home by a monster. Safe to say, the seasons have not been kind to the greatest house that the North has ever seen. However, season six proved to be a satisfying redemption for house Stark, as the epic conclusion to television’s greatest ever series draws nearer. After the climactic events of season five, few would be able to predict just how season six would turn out for the Starks, but here is a quick summary of just how they returned to greatness and proved that “The North remembers”:
As season five drew to a close, we saw the cold dead eyes of the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch after his traitorous murder by his brothers in black, and it’s safe to say we all prayed for his return in some way or another. Spending a whole two episodes basically watching Jon (Kit Harrington) lie motionless on a table, it was at the very end of episode two, ‘Home’, that with a little help from the Red Priestess Melisandre that everyone’s favourite bastard sprung back to life. As he initially returns to his post as Lord Commander in episode three, ‘Oathbreaker’, hanging those who murdered him (including that little sh*te Olly), he turns his back on the Watch, leaving the post of Lord Commander to Edd Tollett and rightfully informing everyone at Castle Black that: “my watch has ended.”
In episode four, ‘The Book of The Stranger’, a Stark reunion finally occurs. At the time, this was one of the show’s most satisfying moments, as Jon’s sister Sansa (Sophie Turner) arrives at Castle Black, having finally escaped Ramsay Bolton and Winterfell. At the end of this episode, Jon receives a letter from the current ‘Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North’, Ramsay Bolton, goading Jon about his sister and informing him that they have his younger brother Rickon prisoner. This forces Jon’s hand, declaring war on Ramsay and announcing his desire to take back his family home, supported by Tormund’s wildling army.
As Jon travels around the North recruiting who he believes to be Stark bannermen, Game of Thrones’ newest duo begins to form: Jon and his new right-hand man, Davos. Davos proves to be vital in securing support and talking round young Lyanna Mormont (badass child-lady of Bear Island) into rallying behind Jon and the Stark name. Jon gathers as many men as he possibly can – not enough to match the Bolton army of course, but continuing his march on to Winterfell nonetheless. As episode nine, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’, commences, we see Jon gearing up for the biggest moment of his life so far. He shares a brief mano-a-mano chat with Ramsay, who’s already getting under Jon’s skin before the battle. When the moment comes and the two armies face each other, Ramsay plays his trump card: Rickon Stark. As he send Rickon running towards Jon whilst firing arrows at the poor boy, Jon rushes out alone onto the battlefield to save his brother – just as Ramsay had planned. Just as he reaches Jon, an arrow goes straight through Rickon’s back and kills him. Jon utterly loses his head as a result and charges alone towards the huge Bolton army. When his horse gets shot down, Jon stares into the face of death as the cavalry charges him and as a viewer you prepare to see your favourite bastard go down fighting, but at the very last moment Jon’s cavalry matches the Bolton’s, saving Jon’s life. A huge melee entails and we see Jon at his finest, cutting down troops left, right and centre but all is in vain as his army is defeated by the Bolton’s – until Littlefinger’s Knights of the Vale ride in and eliminate the enemy, that is. Jon chases Ramsay back to Winterfell where in a final confrontation he blocks Ramsay’s arrows with a shield before beating the Bolton bastard to within in an inch of his life, only to leave him for Sansa to get her revenge.
In the series finale, ‘Winds of Winter’, Jon and Sansa share a moving moment on top of Winterfell, declaring they must trust each other and that “winter is here”. As the episode goes on, Bran’s flashback to the Tower of Joy finally reveals Jon’s speculated true parentage: and we were all right, R+L=J (thank the Old Gods for that!). Jon is revealed as the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, and we find out Ned took him as his own to protect a jealous Robert from killing him. As we look into baby Jon’s eyes, the scene spans to Jon in the halls of Winterfell, where after a long debate and a fantastic supporting speech from the badass Lyanna Mormont, Jon is declared the new ‘King in the North’. This is undoubtedly a very satisfying turn of events for any fan of the show. Hopefully in season seven we will see Jon assert himself as a leader and work alongside Sansa to bring the Starks back into play throughout the seven kingdoms.
Boy, it’s not been a fun ride for the oldest remaining Stark child at all. After being sold to Ramsay and subject to his abuse throughout season five, she finally escaped his clutches at the end of last season with Theon. At the start of season six, we see the two of them running from Bolton troops only to be caught by Ramsay’s hounds. In a moment of pure despair we all think: “surely not again?” Luckily, Brienne and Pod come and save the day, slaying the Bolton men with the help of Theon. In a moving moment, Sansa accepts Brienne’s oath of allegiance, something we have been waiting years to see come to fruition.
After finally reuniting with Jon at Castle Black in a warm moment in episode four, Sansa convinces him that they must retake Winterfell and stop Ramsay, to which Jon reluctantly agrees. As preparations are made for the upcoming battle in episode nine, Sansa secretly meets with Littlefinger in Molestown. He offers her the services of the Knights of the Vale to fight Ramsay, as well as advising her to get her great uncle the Blackfish to abandon Riverrun and help her take back the Stark home. Sansa doesn’t trust Petyr and is still angry at his betrayal in selling her to Ramsay, mentioning that Brienne could kill him at any moment. However, Sansa has matured through her ordeal and is more aware than ever of the great game she’s involved in – so for tactical purposes, keeps Littlefinger alive. When she returns to Castle Black, she doesn’t tell Jon about Littlefinger but does suggest he sends someone to try and convince the Blackfish to join their cause, to which he agrees.
Sansa and Jon’s dynamic in season six is interesting, especially considering when they were children both her and Catelyn treated him awfully. This time it is Jon who underestimates Sansa, being unaware of how her treatment over the years has hardened her and made her wise beyond her young years. Though they argue, it is Sansa who proves vital to their cause, laying her anger aside and contacting Littlefinger at the perfect moment. As a result, this allowed for the Knights of the Vale to ride to Jon’s aid in episode nine and help them defeat the Bolton forces. This season has been achieved retribution for the Starks’ suffering and most people look to Jon for that, but Sansa’s contribution cannot be overlooked… She gave the audience the perfect death for the show’s ultimate villain, in arguably the most satisfying scene of the season. Confronting Ramsay for one final time, she sets Ramsay’s own hounds upon him and walks away, grinning. This was the perfect way for Sansa to finally exact her revenge.
While Sansa shares another heart-warming moment with Jon in the season finale, she also shares another strange moment with Littlefinger. In the godswood he professes his love for her and reiterates his desire to sit beside her on the Iron Throne. Unsurprisingly, Sansa recoils at his advances. While Littlefinger pledges allegiance to House Stark, he does try to convince her to become ‘Queen in the North’; being a trueborn Stark and the eldest remaining ‘heir’, her claim to the northern seat is stronger than Jon’s. Later, Sansa shares a glance with Littlefinger while watching the northern lords declare Jon their King. Whether or not we will see more tension between Sansa and Jon next season remains to be seen – but there is no doubt that Littlefinger isn’t finished with her yet. Overall, season six has been a vengeful one for Sansa; having secured her place in the great game, she is ready for the wars to come.
After murdering Meryn Trant in cold blood last season, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) was left blind by Jaqen H’Ghar as punishment. As season six commences, she is seen wandering the streets of Braavos as a beggar, unable to see and failing to match her rival, the Waif, as she is beaten bloody with a stick.
The Waif is supposedly trying to train Arya’s other senses, but this is slow going for one of our favourite Starks. Midway through the second episode, Arya is escorted back to the House of Black and White and learns that she must train to become ‘no-one’ in order to regain her sight.
In the third episode, Arya trains rigorously with the Waif until she is able to beat her in a fight through use of her other senses. She finally accepts that she is ‘no-one’ and her sight is returned to her. Arya’s next task as an apprentice faceless assassin is the murder of an actress known as Lady Crane. She scouts her target and we Arya in pain as she watches a play spoofing the death or her family, giving her horrible flashbacks to the day her father was executed: this show of emotion leads us to wonder whether she really is ‘no-one’. Arya goes on to figure out that the assassination was ordered due to jealousy of a lesser actress who wants her moment in the spotlight. Arya recognises that Lady Crane is a good and kind woman and spares her life – much to the disdain of Jaqen, who regretfully sends the Waif to kill her.
Just as Arya manages to secure passage back to Westeros and her family, she is attacked and stabbed by the Waif. She is on the brink of death when she is found by Lady Crane hiding backstage at the theatre. In episode eight, ‘No-one’, after caring for a wounded Arya, Lady Crane is tracked down and brutally murdered by the Waif. This leads to a chase between the Waif and Arya through the streets of Braavos – strategically, back to the catacombs where Arya has hidden Needle. Blowing out the candle, Arya makes us of her Daredevil-esque training and slays the Waif in the darkness. She returns the face of the Waif to the Hall of Faces and informs a shocked Jaqen H’Ghar: “A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.”
In the season finale, we see Jaime Lannister and Walder Frey in discussion, whilst a serving girl watches them intently. The same girl offers Walder Frey his pie the next day and asks where his sons are. Simply, she replies: “here, my lord”. The serving girl calmly explains that they are right there, showing Walder the fingers of his dead sons gruesomely baked into a pie. As the serving girl rips off her face and Arya Stark is revealed, she takes Walder by the throat and slits it – mirroring how her mother died at the hands of the Freys. With another name crossed off her list, it is unclear as to whether Arya will return home to Winterfell or hunt down the remaining names on her list in the following season. Nevertheless, this was yet another satisfying example of vengeance for the Stark children in season six.
After an absence from season five, we meet up with Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) in episode two as he’s midway through a vision of Winterfell in the past with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). He learns things about his father and family, even seeing a young Hodor, then named Willis. In the third episode we are taken in Bran’s vision to the Tower of Joy, a scene synonymous with all the R+L=J theories and the death of Lyanna Stark. Bran sees his father and Meera’s father Howland Reed fight and kill Ser Arthur Dayne, and Ned hears the screams of his sister and attempts to run to her aid. Interestingly, when Bran shouts, this confuses Ned as he sees nothing. Bran tries to follow Ned into the tower but is stopped by the Three-Eyed Raven, believing him to not be ready to see what follows yet.
In episode five, ‘The Door’, Bran has a vision without the guidance of the Three-Eyed Raven. This leads him to coming face to face with The Night’s King, who then touches his arm. As Bran wakes in shock, he realises the touch from The Night’s King was magical and has rendered the cave’s magic useless, leading to The Night’s King marching his army straight into the cave. Ultimately, this kills the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer and the remaining Children of the Forest – making their species extinct. Bran learns that he must take the place of the Three-Eyed Raven, but in order to protect himself he goes into the vision of Winterfell and wargs into Hodor, where the true reason behind Hodor’s name is revealed. In a devastating scene, a warged Hodor screams “hold the door” in the past while appearing to have a fit, and this phrase ultimately morphs morphs into “hodor”. As Meera drags unconscious Bran away, Hodor is torn to shreds by the white walkers due to Bran’s impulsiveness.
In episode six, ‘Blood of my Blood’, Bran and Meera are running through the forest chased by wights, when they are abruptly saved by a mysterious cloaked figure. As Bran wakes up from his vision of wildfire, the murder of the Mad King, the deaths of his family and the creation of The Night’s King, it’s revealed the mysterious figure is his Uncle Benjen. Benjen Stark has not been seen since season one, and has been presumed dead for many years by the Night’s Watch. Benjen explains that he was created by the Children of the Forest to fight the wights, and agrees to protect them and escort them to the wall.
We only return to Bran in the season finale, where his Uncle Benjen leaves him by the Wall and the same weirwood tree that Jon swore his oath in front of. As he touches the tree, we are taken back to the Tower of Joy scene, where it is finally revealed that Ned’s sister Lyanna is Jon’s mother, and that Ned sired him as his bastard to protect him and hide his Targaryen parentage. Possibly, this was the show’s biggest ever reveal and was a confirmation of many fans’ speculations. It is left to wonder whether Bran will cross back into Westeros, with the worry that his mark from The Night’s King will leave the magic of the Wall redundant but also whether he will find Jon and tell him of his true parentage.
We all know how this ended: he should have zig-zagged. In short, Rickon was captured by Ramsay who used him as a plot to goad Jon Snow into fighting him and almost getting himself killed. Ramsay used Rickon tactically – the game ending when an arrow went straight through Rickon’s back and he was killed… Another Stark bites the dust.
Words by Elliott Jones