It's the bloodiest -- and most game-changing -- GoT finale ever

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June 28, 2016 at 08:28 PM EDT

Boom. On every level, boomGame of Thrones concluded what many have considered its best season with one of its finest — and the deadliest — episodes, “The Winds of Winter,” which excelled in dramatic storytelling just as last week’s “Battle of the Bastards” raised the bar for action sequences. Though the finale shifted from the battlefield, the events were, if anything, far more seismic, with game-changing revelations and huge moves from every corner of the realm that established some very clear new conflicts going into season 7. 

Judging by reactions online, super-sized 69-minute finale bloodbath left viewers stunned at both its operatic execution and its mercilessness. Thrones wiped out 11 series-regular or recurring cast members from its ranks. And just look at all that happened: Dany set sail for Westeros, Dorne joined forces with both Dany and the Tyrells, Arya returned to Westeros and crossed a major name off her list, Jon became King in the North, and Cersei blew up her enemies and then claimed the Iron Throne for herself. There was death and destruction galore, but it was also rather gleeful death and destruction, as fan-favorite characters mostly got precisely what they wanted.

Some quick-jump links before we get started breaking down this episode: Here’s our interview with Natalie Dormer on her character’s fate, here’s our chat with Lena Headey on those twists, our conversation with Emilia Clarke where she makes some season 7 predictions, actor Finn Jones on Ser Loras’ sad fate, director Miguel Sapochnik breaking down that opening sequence, and our detailed breakdown of the Tower of Joy scene

So give this recap your best evil smile and let’s start with… 

King’s Landing: The producers and director Miguel Sapochnik smartly took advantage of the extra length of the finale by opening with a 25-minute sequence all set in one location instead of jumping around the map. Thrones normally only does a sustained focus on one setting for a battle. In a way, a battle is exactly what this was, just a very uniuqe kind. And the entire tone, pacing and score of this sequence is unlike anything we’ve seen on Thrones before. 

We start by hearing church bells, which is appropriate, because there’s a whole lot of funerals coming soon — including the death of the church itself. We see Cersei put on a black leather dress with a chain across the front that’s unlike anything we’ve seen her wear before. Have you ever wondered what Cersei would look like in armor? That’s sort of what this is; she’s preparing for war and this is her battle-dress. Only instead of being on the front lines like Jon Snow, she’s a general who has set her plans into motion and is going to sit at her window, drink wine, and watch and wait — finally looking like the Disney-esque Evil Queen we’ve always suspected was in her. 

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In the king’s chambers, Tommen is ready to go to the trial and seal his mom’s fate. The Mountain blocks him from leaving. The Mountain doesn’t say anything, but also doesn’t need to. There has been so much speculation over The Mountain’s ultimate purpose this season. Many assumed he would fight for Cersei in trial by combat because that’s what the characters told us would happen. Maybe he would fight The Hound? But while fun to watch, that would have also been repetitive — he already fought for the crown vs. The Viper in season 4. Nobody — and this is how truly unpredictable Thrones is — nobody has guessed that The Mountain would spend the season 6 finale creepily babysitting Tommen.  

Pycelle gets a message that the king wants to see him, and he goes to Qyburn’s lair. The Grand Maester has survived in the Red Keep’s court for a very long time. He’s one of the few whose services goes all the way back to the Mad King. He’s craftily acted the part as a weakling sycophant — nonthreatening and supportive — always ready to switch allegiances when the crown is placed on a new head. This time, however, Pycelle chose poorly, picking Tommen over Cersei. He pays for it now.

Throughout this build-up, Ramin Djawadi’s score, with delicate piano, has been ebbing in and out of these scenes. The music now ramps up as the bloodshed begins. The chorus of children singing makes what happens next all the more creepy: Pycelle gets shanked to death by a gang of children. 

NEXT: A Boom with a View 

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