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For five seasons of Game of Thrones, we've been told that "winter is coming"—it's been sort of annoying, actually—but in the last night's season six finale, "The Winds of Winter," we finally heard a different line.
"Winter has come."
The line doesn't just refer to the fresh powder Winterfell's currently getting hit with. It's confirmation that the Stark family, or rather, the remaining Stark children—Sansa, Arya, Bran, and Jon (kind of!)—are finally having their moment. At a time when almost every other family in Westeros is hanging by a thread, or worse, dead altogether. The end of season six brought us to a point we've never been at before: Somehow, the Starks are winning.
Of course, "winning" is a very relative term on Game of Thrones. It's hard to legitimately dub any house a winner with the knowledge that a seemingly unstoppable undead army awaits beyond the Wall, keen on destroying every human being in Westeros. When Cersei lit the Sept of Baelor up with wildfire, taking down the High Sparrow, her uncle Kevan, and most of the Tyrells (and probably thousands of unnamed civilians), all I could think was how petty the whole thing was. She looks great on the Iron Throne, rocking the baddest all-black fits King's Landing has ever seen, but her ruthless drive to become queen again and vanquish the people who have wronged her is so small-minded that it's shameful how many have died in service of it.
When Cersei sits on that throne, she does it alone. Jaime is there to witness the coronation, but it's hard to imagine he's going to take her act of terrorism, and the fact that she pushed their last remaining child to suicide, well. Joffrey, Myrcella, Tommen, Tywin—so many Lannisters have died in the family's push to remain in power, and it's only going to get worse. Daenerys is headed for King's Landing with an army of Dothraki, an Iron armada, and Tyrion Lannister, who Cersei's tried to kill her entire life. Her satisfaction will be short-lived.
For every action, there's an equal and opposite reaction, and for the family in the North, things are looking about as good as they ever have. Very quietly, the Stark stock has ascended, if only due to the remaining children's ability to stay alive. For five seasons, Game of Thrones has long been a show about a family destined for tragedy and who were too good and honorable to survive in a cold, dark world. All has seemed lost many times: when the patriarch Ned was executed, when a chunk of the family was slain at the Red Wedding, when Ramsay Bolton had Jon Snow surrounded. Those moments were brutally soul-crushing, but they were only shadows under which the surviving Starks thrived. Jon Snow learned to lead, and became one of the first people to really understand that the true war is still to come; Sansa grew up, came to grips with the world she's living in, and turned as cold and calculating as one needs to be to survive in Westeros; Bran is on his way to fully seizing his powers as the Three-Eyed Raven, and his role in Game of Thrones' end game is undoubtedly huge; and Arya, well, Arya learned how to kill people really well.
From a sheer numbers standpoint, the Starks are winning right now—more of them remain than any other traditional power, a point that admittedly won't matter too much once Dany and her dragons arrive in the South and the Night King figures out how to tear down the Wall in the North. But it does go deeper than that.
Game of Thrones isn't about the tragic decline of a family that is too honorable in an dishonorable world. It's about karma in a sense, the idea that your misdeeds will be punished—and your goodness will be rewarded. It may take years, and the route to comeuppance may be winding and full of misdirection. But the time will come when you pay for your sins. The Lannisters have begun to pay, and they—Cersei at least—will continue to reap what they've sown. Roose Bolton paid for his betrayal when his son, Ramsay, buried a knife into his stomach; weeks later, Ramsay paid for that and more by becoming dog food. Walder Frey, who committed one of the greatest sins in this story by promising safety to Robb and Catelyn Stark before the Red Wedding, was fed his sons (Hot Pie really taught Arya how to make a crust!) before having his throat cut. As for the Starks, they've spent seasons being debased and murdered for doing what's good and right, and most of them are still alive. The scales have finally been flipped.
Winter has come.