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.
. . . .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.