Game of Thrones “The Dragon and the Wolf” recap: The pack survives

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There’s a nerve-inducing moment very early on in Game of Thrones’ “The Dragon and the Wolf,” a finale to the seventh season that cuts right to the chase, after every leader of significance from non-Lannister forces has gathered in the middle of the ruinous dragon pits at Kings Landing to negotiate an armistice, after Bronn and Podrick have gone for a drink to let the adults talk, when each character starts to survey the space around him and we viewers have to wonder.

“The Winds of Winter,” the season six finale, built up to an unbelievable and since unmatched shock in its first — wait for it — 10-15 minutes, more than a year ago. Save for one epic music score, the opening of “The Dragon and the Wolf” felt almost as eerie. All of us were a panicky Margaery Tyrell. Where is Cersei? She should be here by now. Why isn’t she here? Something isn’t right. Cersei should be here! Everybody leave! Why aren’t the guards letting us out? Boom.

It’s entirely possible this is one of many motivations behind having Daenerys fly in separately and later than everybody else for this meeting in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” and having the full Unsullied and Dothraki armies waiting outside the castle. It’s the whole don’t let everyone in your company ride in the same elevator together cautionary thing.

But Cersei and Jaime soon arrive, Daenerys is last to the meeting, and, alas, we’re assured there won’t be a repeat of “Winds,” because, as the episode made us briefly forget, this season has been a different, hesitant and safer version of Game of Thrones.

A friend/co-worker of mine said before this penultimate season began that he couldn’t imagine Thrones taking both of this season’s major conflicts — one between humans and zombies, the other between Daenerys and Cersei — into its final season unresolved. I agreed. It was hard for me to see how that could work, too. Yet, that’s where we are. As this season progressed, I grew increasingly impatient with the slow-played war between Dany and Cersei. It was evident at the end of “Eastwatch” that the show was putting that war on pause permanently to focus on the threat posed by the zombie army. Fine, I thought, let’s go see those White Walkers extinguished. Nope.

Then, the heartbreaking death and resulting zombie reincarnation of Viserion happened, and, this week, said ice dragon helped the Night King tear down the wall at Eastwatch to lead the Walkers waltzing right on in to Westeros. The screen goes black. Season over.

So, off we go to wait, reportedly into 2019, for the final season with neither conflict resolved, neither one entirely paused either.

The showrunners refused to let either storyline and any main character go this season. Maybe they’re thinking that ensures their full horde of fans returning for the grand resolution. Why? Well, I suppose if you don’t end a war or kill anyone off, you’re not killing off any fan base. Whether that’s a reason for hesitancy or not, it feels like a misread of their audience. Thrones killed off main characters with reckless disregard for those fans like no show ever had before. That is its thing. This season was a noticeable departure from that, momentarily simulating the drowning deaths of Jaime Lannister and Jon Snow only to bring each of them back to the surface alive.

Either way, the whole audience is coming back to see more next year. But with only six episodes left (down from 7, down from 10), the final season has a time problem. Is there enough of it left for two wars? And if the timeline must move even quicker than it did this year, an effort that sometimes got in the way of story, whose army does that favor? Rather, how does that not favor the zombie army that now has a dragon roaming the skies in warp speed, blowing fire of blue Gatorade out of its mouth?

If that’s the end game, weird. Game of Thrones is about the complete destruction of an entire world? What’s the unwritten future of that? A whole bunch of zombies just roaming around aimlessly, doing nothing? Zombie brothels? It has seemed that the White Walkers are around merely as a device that poses a great threat to this human race, but what is their alternative motivation if they win? We don’t know, which is why we root for others. Other characters have aspirations, histories. The main characters have purpose. That’s why we root for them, why I root for Dany.

The negotiation in Kings Landing produced heavy tension (and evidence of White Walkers), but the finale’s biggest payoff comes by way of the two main characters who don’t attend the council meeting — the Stark girls.

Sansa, who can be so frustrating so much of the time, sure has had two rewarding moments in this and last season’s finales. Last year, she set the Boltons’ hounds on Ramsay and lingered — oh, how she lingered! — to see him eaten alive. Then, in this finale, she deceived Lord Baelish to his death.

The supposed rift that developed ever so quickly between sisters Sansa and Arya, coming to a head last week, was equal parts confusing and upsetting. (It’s one exhibit of a sped-up timeline interfering with believability.) It made Arya look easily tricked if not beatable, which didn’t make sense coming from where she came from. It also begged the question: Does Sansa really think Arya would kill her? And would Arya really do that? The reasoning Sansa had for seemingly believing so, or at least that created fearful thoughts, were so odd, and this episode re-emphasized that some of those ideas were stressed and planted in Sansa’s head by Lord Baelish.

What we can only guess at is how long Sansa had Lord Baelish on the line for this ultimate, unexpected deception, which ends with Arya executing him for his crimes against the Stark family.

Looking back, Baelish was more than susceptible to it. He met his match in this pack of wolves in Winterfell. The first wolf he was so in love with that he completely forfeited the ability to read her or to consider that she was reading him. The second wolf, an executioner who’s a stone cold expert in the art of deception. The third wolf, a boy who sees and knows everything and could’ve presented Sansa and/or Arya with the evidence against Lord Baelish.

The scene in the Great Hall, when we’re supposed to assume Sansa is calling Arya in to face either banishment from Winterfell or, God help us, death, had a funny smell to it from the beginning. Bran is there, sitting next to Sansa, but if Sansa was going to send Arya away or try to kill her, why would she involve Bran? Moreover, as the dialogue picked up, Arya was far too calm, cool and collected about what we assumed was coming down the pipe. She was just taking all of it. Go ahead. Do what you have to do. And never before would Arya have gotten the impression that Sansa had reached this level of fear. Arya would’ve pleaded her case.

None of that, though, takes away from the incredible satisfaction you get out of the scene. When Sansa pauses and turns to address Lord Baelish? Pandemonium. I was jumping in and out of my seat, excited, as it all played out. Especially given how little happened in Winterfell this season, this was a great victory that made the Stark family reunion matter for something.

Not yet a part of that family reunion is Jon Snow, who all season has been part of a storyline that has felt forced and poorly executed, hopefully not developed merely to appease a very public fan desire for it to happen.

It never seemed natural, nor believable, to me that Jon and Dany were falling in love. In fact, the plot always felt like it was up against natural resistance, maybe not by a lack of chemistry between characters but certainly from a timeline that moved too quickly. It’s too severe a change in such a short period of time, especially given its broader significance in the world’s history. Dany is, in fact, Jon’s aunt, and it’s revealed Jon is one of Rhaegar’s sons, which gives him a stronger claim to the Iron Throne than Dany because that’s how monarchies work.

This plot, however, has gotten to a point beyond mattering. Who does it best serve to know this information? Dany and Jon can’t possibly be interested. Jon associates himself with the loyalty and fairness of a Stark, specifically the Stark he’s always thought was his father. What good does it do him to know any different? What’s he really going to do with that information? Suddenly get all greedy and plot against Dany to take the Iron Throne? He’s also always had bigger things on his mind. The war with the White Walkers — that’s his baby. And what would this information do to Dany? People now know Dany and Jon have formed an alliance, but no one knows how far it’s gotten.

So, what’s it matter? At the episode’s end, as Dany and Jon are consummating their newfound love, Bran and newly re-entered Sam Tarly are piecing together Jon’s origin story and, oh by the way, the Night King is tearing down the wall separating the world of the living from the world of the dead.

Now what? We have a whole heck of a lot of time to debate the answer to that question.

Thank you for watching Game of Thrones‘ seventh season with me.

Final notes

. . . .Tyrion’s reaction from the hallway outside Dany’s room, inside of which he’d just seen Jon enter, is interesting. Clearly, he’s upset, but bothered mostly by what? Is he, in fact, in love with her, so he’s disappointed? Or rather could he be mostly worried by what it could mean? He knows better than anyone how a love interest can be used to expose weakness in a person. But whatever he’s thinking, he kind of only has himself to blame. He practically pushed these two together time after time, pleading with Dany to keep an open mind to Jon, and he, in fact, setup their meeting in the first place.

. . . .The end of the episode gives two characters that frustrate me, Bran and Sam, something significant to do. To overlay the sound of them piecing their versions of history together to understand Jon’s origin with Dany and Jon’s sex scene makes the moment that’s probably so exhilarating for so many feel a little bit more icky.

. . . .It’s a huge moment to carry into the final season when Jaime calls Cersei’s bluff and walks out of Kings Landing, likely headed for his brother or Winterfell. He’s committed to guarding the world but when Cersei reveals she’s not — and that she was side-plotting with Euron Greyjoy — he takes rightful offense and leaves.

. . . .The warm and fuzzy reunions between Bronn, Podrick, Tyrion, Brienne and Jaime all make you want to believe that they’ll all be fighting for the same side sometime in the future. They all like each other, and it certainly has been strange to see them on opposing sides of the war. And it makes you think: Is there soon coming a time when Cersei will be the only one left fighting for her side?

. . . .Speaking of Cersei, she had to go back on her promise to Tyrion and Dany that she’d send her forces north to fight with them against the White Walkers. We get it, she’s a liar generally, but this also had to happen from a writers’ perspective. Game of Thrones still needed a place for her next season. She’s not a fighter like Dany, so if she had committed to an armistice, there would be nothing for her character to do except sit and wait. So instead, she’ll continue fighting her war with Dany.

. . . .Theon even has a heroic moment in this episode. Good for him. But I’m primarily celebrating that Yara is still alive somewhere. Hang in there, Yara.

 

 

 

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Game of Thrones “Beyond the Wall” recap: Viserion

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Devastating, just devastating. That’s the one word I could come up with to summarize my emotions after episode six, “Beyond the Wall,” of Game of Thrones’ next-to-last season aired Sunday night. Devastated because the so-called Frozen Lake Battle cost Daenerys one of her three dragons, known more intimately to her as the only three children she’ll ever have. Now one of them, Viserion, is gone, plucked out of the sky by the Night King with a frozen spear and later turned zombie dragon.

The anger and disappointment I experienced came in waves.

First, I was angry at Jon Snow, an all too familiar feeling for me during this sixth season, for either not being tall enough or not trying hard enough to reach Daenerys’ outstretched arm and climb aboard Drogon and get the hell out of there. Instead, he turned to fight some more, keeping Daenerys grounded and her other dragons overhead still in the area so as the Night King could step up, as slowly as is his usual style, to throw his spear through the air and strike Viserion. And then the nerve of Jon to feel embolden to fight even more, soon putting Daenerys herself and now Drogon in immediate danger as well for waiting on him.

All of this just to get to the part when Jon and the two zombies he’s wrestling fall through the ice? For suspense, ultimately just to confirm that no one — Jaime Lannister, Jon or otherwise — can die drowning this season?

So second, that made me angry with the people who wrote this whole ordeal in. If I try hard enough, I can come up with some semblance of reasoning.

It’s gigantic shock value. For a long time, these dragons were thought to be basically invincible. Even as Qyburn introduced Cersei to his dragon-killing crossbow, we collectively still snickered. For a long time, we’ve been formulating this idea that Daenerys herself, when she started toward Westeros, would be virtually unstoppable. This season has peeled back that assumption. This death, quite frankly, is the most impactful of any chipping away at her and their invincibility.

It may certainly be an event that pulls us into backing a very odd collective effort against the White Walkers, a path the previews for the upcoming season finale seem to suggest is coming — Cersei, Sansa, Jon, Dany, everyone banding together to save everyone. You can be rooting for anyone but Dany to take the Iron Throne in the end and still think this was a cheap death, be angered by it, and maybe that’s the point. Maybe in this penultimate season of Thrones nothing is really going to happen. (Not nothing, but, like, kind of nothing, you know?) Jaime and Jon have almost died or just went for a swim or something, some battles have been won and lost and certainly some allies have been wiped out (for all we know, but we don’t really know when it comes to, say, Yara Greyjoy) but in the end everyone’s got to come together to fight the war bearing down on all of Westeros from the north? It would be very odd to see how these clashing sides come together, and maybe it’s happening now, in the finale, so the show’s creators can have a year to think about all those moving parts. (For example, what’s the boundary between when that war ends and the Westeros one starts again?)

With the death then reincarnation of Viserion into a zombie dragon, it’s obvious why a continent-wide alliance matters. Dany’s side kind of needs Qyburn’s Scorpion, don’t they? Or can dragons kills other dragons?

One solution, it would seem, is killing the Night King. This episode showed us what happens when someone (Jon, in this instance) kills one of the Night King’s generals — all the zombies shatter like glass instantly. So, kill the Night King, and you kill anyone he turned into a zombie along with him. (And in a surprising twist, I can actually appreciate the fact that this episode foreshadowed the Night King’s ability to turn Viserion when it brought a zombie polar bear in to attack Jon & Co. in a snow storm.)

And make no mistake: I’d be mad at the Night King for doing what he did, too, but I’m not sure you can be mad at someone you never liked in the first place. It’s frustrating that the writers gave this super-human zombie king beyond-Olympic-level javelin skills, where he can strike Viserion dead with one throw.

This, for me, may be the show’s most heartbreaking moment to date. Daenerys was genuinely heroic in flying from Dragonstone to save one of her last remaining new allies. She could’ve sat at home safely while Jon got what he had coming to him for hatching such an absurd plan — and Tyrion begged her to — but she refused.

She put herself and her children (yes, we’re going to use her word) in harms way. She is unfortunately just one woman, one queen, one khaleesi, one Mother of Dragons, and those dragons are large. She can only ride one at a time. So to see the look on her face as Viserion screamed and fell from the sky, to see her realize she could not protect him was immensely heartbreaking.

This has been a season in which Daenerys has been bullied episode after episode, whether by the repulsive double standard a couple of her advisers have held her to morally, the way she has lost allies as quickly as she gained them, or the number of times she and her advisers have been out-smarted and outmaneuvered, save for one epic victory in the Loot Train Attack. In the case that she ultimately experiences a great eternal victory in the end, this may all be worth it. But where it sits right now, it’s all just plain devastating.

That other thing that happened

. . . . On Arya and Sansa’s growing feud: There’s probably a whole separate post to write about the eerie tension between the Stark girls, if only I actually knew what the hell was happening. It’s a perplexing rift, started when Arya discovers the piece of parchment Littlfinger was hiding — an old letter from Sansa to brother Rob, imploring him to give up his fight, come to King’s Landing and pledge his loyalty to then-King Joffrey. It pisses Arya off, so much so that she now has a fuzzier picture of Sansa’s allegiances.

Or does she? Or is Arya just playing some creepy game in her head? For real, it seems like Sansa thinks Arya is going to kill her. And still I wonder and I think it matters: Did Littlefinger plant the letter for Arya to find? If he wasn’t, why would he not just burn the letter as soon as he received it?

I have more questions than answers.

 

Game of Thrones “Eastwatch” recap: Northbound

ep65-ss04-1920Five does come after four, in order, and, in fact, “Eastwatch,” the fifth episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season, will more than likely only ever be remembered as the episode that followed “The Spoils of War,” which concluded with one of the most enthralling and exciting battles in series history. It’s an unenviable task to follow such an episode, especially when two separate storylines aren’t working parallel to each other the way the excellent season six finale, “The Winds of Winter,” had quite a bit of fire left (literally) following the climactic episode before it, “Battle of the Bastards.”

So, what did “Eastwatch” do to follow arguably my favorite GOT episode ever?

Almost immediately, it answers the biggest question from the episode before it. (See clue in this post’s featured photo). Jaime Lannister is alive, despite “The Spoils of War” leaving off with him sinking to the bottom of a lake having dodged Drogon’s blaze. And Jaime, having apparently boarded the next available Greyhound bus to King’s Landing, returns to Cersei wholeheartedly convinced there’s no way of defeating Daenerys, any of her three dragons or her Dothraki army. He’s got one hand on the white flag.

But what does this episode do? It digresses — strange for an exploration with so few hours remaining. It turns the story’s attention north to begin the build-up to the other war, the zombie war, some of us thought would be happening simultaneously this season. This is an audible I’m sure to grow impatient with, but one it seems we may have to accept with only two episodes left this year.

In sticking to the war for Westeros, there’s a meeting between Jaime and younger brother Tyrion that seems to matter no more than stirring up a few warm and fuzzy feelings, and there’s a baby on the way for Cersei and Jaime that seems like a total bluff to keep Jaime hooked. There’s talk of an armistice between Dany and Cersei. (Really, guys? Really?) It’s all a bit frustrating — when has it ever been a good idea to give Cersei breathing room? — but if it is a wrap on that war for the season, it’s again an interesting place to rest it, everybody (you, me, both sides of characters) measuring it like it’s a foregone conclusion Dany will take the Iron Throne. It’s just that I’d prefer to see it happen rather than keep guessing.

The shift “Eastwatch” takes, which we expected because of the locale lending the episode its title, is a good thing for the Starks and their supporters.

Besides Arya being just awesome at every turn, time has move very slowly in Winterfell. Little has happened to and mattered for Sansa, Littlefinger, Bran or any of the secondary characters around that plot line.

The end of the episode sees Jon Snow & Co. (company including Jorah Mormont and The Hound, among others) heading north of The Wall to engage the White Walkers.

The heart of the episode sees a slight rift between Arya and Sansa, one doomed to fester. Arya, skeptical of Littlefinger advising her older sister, follows Littlefinger around. She sees him talking to who I presume to be one of his little birds. She sees him speaking on behalf of Sansa without her knowing. And, most importantly, she sees him hide a mysterious note, signed by Sansa, and he sees her take that note out of his room. Bait laid by Littlefinger? Or real evidence of something fishy for Arya to bring Sansa? If it’s the second one, a face-to-face conflict between Arya and Littlefinger could be coming. Either way, the existence of tension between sister suggests on a deeper level, again, that this Stark reunion can’t possibly be permanent, especially for Arya. Bran barely hangs out there anyway, but Arya has business elsewhere; at least, I hope the promise of Arya’s journey to King’s Landing wasn’t all for nothing.