A finale that saw a good chunk of the cast blown away in one fell, fiery swoop would be enough to suggest Game of Thrones is reaching its endgame, but the showrunners themselves have made it clear: We're looking at 15 episodes remaining, tops.
Season six, for better or worse, appeared entirely cognizant of this. Characters took arduous journeys off-screen at record pace for the sake of the plot; Varys made it from Dorne to Meereen in less than 20 minutes! By the end of the finale, all the big pieces were in place: Jon Snow defeated Ramsay Bolton and was proclaimed the King in the North; Cersei Lannister now sits on the Iron Throne; Daenerys Targaryen is finally sailing to Westeros with a large fleet and a trio of fully grown dragons; and the Night's King has run out of people to kill Beyond the Wall.
This isn't surprising. Despite the bevy of complex storylines in the series, we'd eventually have to reach a conclusion. What has been unexpected, however, is the amount of female characters in powerful positions at the center of the climatic narrative.
Though women have always populated Westeros, there's been a noticeable change in their roles. Previously, there were few exceptions of women taking control of their own destinies — mainly just Daenerys, Arya Stark and Margaery and Olenna Tyrell. The majority, however, have been utilized to further the plot of a male character, often finding themselves sexualized by other characters and subject to sexual violence. There's even a scene in season four where several women being raped acts as a backdrop.
The controversy with the show's treatment of female characters reached a fever pitch after a contentious fifth season. Specifically, when Ramsay Bolton raped Sansa Stark on their wedding night midway through the season in an unnecessary on-screen sequence — made all the more problematic when it homed in on the suffering of Theon Greyjoy, who was forced to watch the rape, rather than Sansa, who was actually being raped. It was poorly handled on several fronts, so much so that some fans, such as Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, have boycotted it entirely.
Fast forward a year later and Sansa's is one of the most compelling survivor stories on television. Since teaming up with Jon Snow — someone she hasn't seen since the series pilot, back when her character was a medieval princess stereotype — she's been the one making key decisions. She's the one who convinced Jon to take back the North from Ramsay. She's the one who read Ramsay's disturbing letter aloud, which rallied the Wildlings to their cause. She's the one who called upon the Knights of the Vale, saving the Stark army in the "Battle of the Bastards."
The show doesn't shy away from this fact: Without Sansa's help, Jon and the Stark army would've been decimated, and House Stark would cease to exist in the North. Rather poetically, she was also the one to kill her abuser, Ramsay, by having his own starved hounds eat him alive.
Daenerys had a similarly empowering arc this season, having begun season six as a captive of the Dothraki. When their leaders threatened to rape her to death for refusing to adhere to the customary role set aside for the widows of khals, Dany burned them all alive. The rebellious act earned her command over an entire Dothraki army, who are willing to sail to Westeros and cross the Narrow Sea for the first time ever.
Yara Greyjoy is the reason Daenerys has the ships to sail over to Westeros, and the show reveals her as an unapologetically queer woman — one who isn't afraid to openly flirt with the Mother of Dragons, either. More importantly, both characters agree that, as rulers in Westeros, they need to avoid the mistakes of their fathers.
The most impressive character introduction this season came in the form of a young, female ruler of a Northern house: 10-year-old Lyanna Mormont. She had just three scenes, but quickly became a fan favorite for her tenacity and bravery in any predicament. Her house, and the 62 men she could muster, was one of the only ones to support Jon, as many were afraid to confront the sadistic Ramsay.
Following Ramsay's defeat, Mormont calls out a room full of Northern lords (all significantly older men) for their cowardice and sparks the rest of the Northern houses to rally for Jon as the newly proclaimed King in the North.
King's Landing might have, technically, been ruled by Tommen Baratheon and religiously governed by the High Sparrow, but the political game played behind-the-scenes was dominated by Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell. Margaery had convinced the High Sparrow that she was committed to the Faith of the Seven, but later plainly hinted to her grandmother that it was all an elaborate ploy, likely to gain favor with the person in the capita who currently held the most political power.
The High Sparrow's power, of course, was unceremoniously blown away in the wildfire explosion Cersei set off beneath the Sept of Baelor in season six's explosive finale, taking out Margaery (and inadvertently Tommen) in the process. Cersei is later crowned as the new queen of Westeros, making her the first female ruler of such a rank in the show's six seasons.
This progress, however, is not without its setbacks. Yara, for one, travels to Meereen because she wasn't elected as the first female ruler of the Iron Islands, despite her being a prolific warrior (which is basically all the Ironborn care about). Instead, Euron Greyjoy — a man who openly admitted to killing her father, former ruler Balon Greyjoy — is elected after making a couple of dick jokes, and posits that he'll sail to Meereen with a fleet of ships and seduce and marry Daenerys.
Similarly, Lyanna's support for a male ruler in Jon was powerful, but dumbfounded when it's evident that Sansa was the key to the Stark victory (he quite literally ran into a trap).
Ultimately, though, the show has made undeniable progress with its portrayal of female characters, and with so many in advantageous positions, that seems unlikely to change. That the season ends with Cersei on the Iron Throne, coupled with Daenerys sailing with Yara's fleet toward King's Landing, embodies the notion that women are now ruling Westeros.