A lot of things happened!
Maybe it’s all cocks in the end.
The season ended with its best episode, and maybe that’s enough.
Even an episode as strong as “The Dragon and the Wolf” can’t answer every lingering question or criticism from these past few weeks. I still don’t get much of what happened in “Beyond the Wall;” was Arya and Sansa’s encounter purely performative, and if so, for who? I’ll also maintain that the big plan to go wight-napping was still a ludicrous one, and ultimately served to fulfill the classic oopsy-doopsy of “meeting one’s destiny on the road one takes to avoid it” — Dany and Jon went beyond the Wall and lost a dragon, giving the Night King what he needed to bring down the Wall, so good job, gang.
And yet, these 79 minutes were cram-jammed with so many delicious dialogue exchanges and heart-stopping payoffs (I’ve rarely laughed so hard than at Theon’s realization that he couldn’t get hit in the stones), it was a badly-needed reminder that maybe Benioff & Weiss do know what they’re doing, and allowed this seventh season of Thrones to stick the landing in a way that seemed depressingly unlikely just a short week ago. I’m thrilled, but I’m mostly relieved. They did it. They left us in just about the best possible position to wait out the long 18(?!)-month break before the series’ final run of episodes, when Jon, Dany, Cersei, and the Night King will face off again in some order, in what is certain to be the biggest scripted television event in decades, and perhaps of our lifetimes.
All that is in the future, however; for more predictions, watch for our annual Roundtable to go up later this week. Obviously it hasn’t happened yet as of this writing, but I’m sure it will be a good one.
Before I dive in, shouts to two people: director Jeremy Podeswa, whom no one was excited to see at the top of the credits this week but delivered a consistently excellent episode, and composer Ramin Djawadi, who brings it every finale. From the opening choral accompaniment of the Unsullied forces to the final wintry rearrangement of the main theme, it was excellent stuff even without a show-stopping sequence like last season’s “The Light of the Seven.”
I suppose we should start at the beginning, as nearly every character that matters has arrived in King’s Landing to parlay in the broken-down colosseum known as the Dragon Pit. And talk they do, and walk and talk, and sit and talk, and stand and talk, occasionally punctuated by moments of fear and accusation. That’s the main thing that stands out about “The Dragon and the Wolf,” certainly compared to the rest of the season: it took its time. It breathed. Entire sequences played out in real time. It didn’t require its characters to travel the entire continent in the space of a cut. If the previous six hours were prologue to this moment, if every step on the accelerator was to allow this finale the space it needed…well, I won’t say it was worth it, because I’d still rather it had just been ten episodes at a less breakneck pace, but it at least makes sense, and will make the season play better in retrospect.
Anyway, the Dragon Pit. The gang’s all here: Team Cersei, flanked by Jaime, the Mountain, and Qyburn; Team Dany, with the Queen making her dramatic entrance atop Drogon to join Tyrion, Missy, Jorah, and Varys; and Team North, with Jon, Davos, the Hound, and the thing the Hound is dragging around in a crate. It’s a chance for some of these characters to reunite, like Tyrion and Bronn (with the former still willing to pay double whatever the sellsword is making), or Brienne and Clegane (he’s legitimately happy to hear Arya has made her way back to Winterfell, aww), or Euron and Theon (who is challenged to switch sides, or his sister will die).
It’s also a chance for some of these pairs to take the measure of each other; Cersei has never seen Jon as a King, and she’s never seen Daenerys at all. Like last week, it’s a lot of ice-breaking before the ice starts breaking, in a matter of speaking. The Hound has a moment with his brother that teases #Cleganebowl, but that’s not happening this season. Bronn and Pod leave to get a drink, perhaps to spare them from a terrible fate, or perhaps because Jerome Flynn and Lena Headey contractually can’t share scenes. One of the two.
“This isn’t about living in harmony,” Jon suggests. “It’s about living.” As many expected, Cersei doesn’t bat an eye at the dragons, thinks the tales of the Army of the Dead are just another “bad joke,” and doesn’t take threats of King’s Landing’s destruction seriously — that is, until the Hound lets his pet out of the box, which makes a beeline for the Lannister Queen. For the first time in a long time, Cersei looks legitimately shook. Wait, is their stupid plan going to work? “There’s only one war that matters,” Jon continues, skewering the skittery torso with dragonglass. “The great war. And it’s here.” Jaime blanches at the thought of 100,000 of these things, and Euron just peaces out: “This is the only thing I’ve ever seen that terrifies me,” he says. Cersei, surprisingly, accepts the truce…provided that Jon will agree to it, too. But as Jon is truly his father’s not-son, he believes in honor and honesty first, and spills the beans that he’s already bent the knee to Dany. Cersei seethes. “The dead will come to the North first; enjoy dealing with them. We will deal with whatever is left of you.” Dang it, Jon.
Obviously, everyone is mad at Jon for this (even Davos’s face falls): Tyrion, dryly, asks “Have you ever considered learning how to lie now and then, just a bit?” Dany has the largest grievance, because she lost a dragon so they could convince Cersei to join them, which now she won’t do. Tyrion’s last move is to march himself over to the Red Keep and hope his sister doesn’t murder him herself. Jaime’s no help — he’s already getting an earful from Brienne about how this fight goes “beyond houses and oaths,” but his hand is tied. “I suppose we should say goodbye,” he tells Tyrion sadly, “one idiot to another.” And as The Mountain closes the door ominously behind him, Tyrion’s never been in more danger than he is at this moment.
The Lannister brothers get scenes with Cersei that echo each other in surprising ways. With Tyrion, Cersei is resentful and hurting; she’s already accepted that he’s not directly responsible for the death of her children, but killing Tywin “left us open…the vultures came and tore us apart.” With Jaime, she’s petulant and more than a little sociopathic. When Tyrion challenges Cersei to have him killed then and there, she can’t bring herself to do it. But when Jaime does the exact same thing at the end of the episode, irate that she has no intention of actually helping Dany and determined to go himself, she’s a hair’s breadth from giving the Mountain the order. Both decisions are fascinating — why spare Tyrion? Does she actually still feel a familial connection with him, or was it purely pragmatic, knowing what would happen if she had Dany’s Hand slaughtered? And with Jaime, the fact that she really is pregnant (yep, I was wrong about that, too) now makes him redundant for carrying on the Lannister name, and I was never more terrified watching the episode than I was for Jaime in that moment. Whew.
So by the end of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Cersei has dismissed talk of a temporary alliance, then recommitted, then secretly revealed that it’s all a ruse to buy time for Euron to ferry over the newly-purchased Golden Company. It’s a neat trick, allowing for genuine plot movement, partially justifying Tyrion and Jon’s dumb plan, and still allowing Cersei to stay true to her character. (It’s also a tremendous episode for Lena Headey, who will hopefully soon be the second Thrones actor to snag an Emmy win.) “No one walks away from me,” she tells a devastated Jaime, who calls her bluff. As Jaime leaves to join the others, now more committed to fighting the army of the dead than protecting his sister’s keep, the snow begins to fall on the Crownlands. Winter has finally reached them.
Speaking of, let’s head up to Winterfell, where the Stark girls have finally had enough. Even more than for the quest beyond the wall, the show has taken a lot of hits for this plot, with Arya and Sansa seemingly at loggerheads because both were too dumb to realize Littlefinger was playing them. The early scenes up North tonight didn’t do much to assuage that, with Baelish appearing to play the Lady of Winterfell like a fiddle, planting seeds of Arya’s alleged treachery and watering it with glee. For a moment, I thought that Littlefinger was already dead, and this was Arya in a mask, but what was really coming would turn out even better.
I was also writing down jokes making fun of Bran’s uselessness, but he shut me up, too. Bran finally rolled off the bench and came up huge, dishing dimes to both sisters: obviously, he knows Littlefinger’s a slimeball, because he knows everything. So the Starks know the true origins of the dagger; they know about Jon and Lysa Arryn; worst of all, they know how Littlefinger conspired with Cersei and Joffrey to have their father killed. It’s an incredible moment, and Sansa milks it for all its worth, catching Littlefinger off guard for perhaps the first time in his life until all he can do is fall to his knees and pathetically beg for mercy. He loved their mother, but he betrayed her. He loved Sansa, but he betrayed her too. “Thank you for your many lessons, Lord Baelish,” Sansa says, impassive as stone. “I will never forget them.”
The one thing Littlefinger could never plan for in all of his game theory is the Three-Eyed Raven, and with all of his crimes laid bare, and no one from the Vale willing to lift a finger to help, it’s likely the most delicious justice we’ve seen on a show where that comes at a premium. With Ramsey, we were just happy he was gone. Joffrey’s death left us uncomfortable, reminding us that he was, after all, still a kid. Walder Frey was shock value, the death of a man with one foot in the grave already. Here, though, with Littlefinger’s ritual humiliation and futile desperation unanswered in the faces of the grim-faced, grown Stark children, united at last, dispatching the man who set — quite literally — the entire plot of the series in motion was a true moment of catharsis. Goodbye, Littlefinger, and good riddance. The mockingbird finally falls silent, and the wolf pack survives, stronger than ever.
That isn’t the only card Bran has yet to play, of course. His reunion with Sam, now back in Winterfell, is perhaps the most pivotal scene of all. (I’m also endlessly appreciative of the dry humor surrounding Bran’s condition: “I thought you’d remember me.” “I remember everything.”) It turns out Sam was in fact paying attention when Gilly dropped that bombshell about Rheagar Targaryen’s secret annulment, and it provides a rare piece of intel that Bran didn’t already have. He briefly flashes back to Rheagar’s heretofore unknown wedding to Lyanna Stark, the Crown Prince’s first appearance on the show, and indeed: “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie,” Bran says. Jon — Aegon — AeJon — was never a bastard at all. “He’s the heir to the Iron Throne.”
And boy, is that going to be super awkward when everyone finds out, because Jon and Dany celebrate their supposed success by getting busy on their boat. Weirdly, the only person to ever mention “hey, why don’t Jon and Dany just get married?” has been Littlefinger; it wasn’t even part of Tyrion’s political calculus, which has now been shaken up, and is about to be again. And we’re not entirely sure how Jon feels about it, except that he finds himself irresistibly drawn to the Dragon Queen; while waiting for Tyrion to return from almost being killed by Cersei, they came close to having Seven Minutes in Seven Heavens in one of the Dragon Pit’s many alcoves. Later, he insisted that Dany ride with the Northern army so that everyone can get used to her being an ally, not a conquerer (Jorah — poor, sweet Jorah — looks away, devastated).
There was also a terrific scene between Jon and Theon, where the two bury the hatchet and Jon gives his former foster brother some advice he’ll soon have to follow himself: “You don’t need to choose. You’re a Greyjoy, and you’re a Stark.” People are more than just their names and their sigils. We’re the sum of everything that has happened to us and the choices we’ve made. If Theon wants to rediscover his courage and rescue his sister, it won’t be just because he’s a Greyjoy. Jon has Ned Stark’s bearing and strict moral code, and he won’t cast that aside just because he finds out his father is really his uncle. And now that he’s bent the knee in more ways than one, the signposting of But are you sure you can’t have kids, though? these past few weeks seems to be the next logical destination. A child of fire and ice & fire? Dany would be both a mother and a great aunt. Ugh, maybe we shouldn’t think about it too hard. Or at all.
Finally, we end the season right where our resident Maester Chase Branch predicted we would: the Night King bringing down the Wall. It was only the method that was surprising, as Ice Viserion isn’t simply his mode of transport, but spouts blue flame like a Nightfury to send a massive chunk simply crumbling to the ground. (You know what would have been cool? Saving that reveal for tonight, instead of last week’s closing shot. Alas.) As it keeps falling, and falling, and falling, all Tormund, Beric, and whatever dudes still hanging out at Eastwatch can do is run away. We don’t get to see if they survive, and of course I wonder why they had to stick around in the first place, except that it’s a perfect summation of this chaotic, roller coaster of a season: of course it had to happen, so we could see it happen, and then go on to the next thing. But now, the next thing is a long, long way away.
Thanks again for reading all season; once again, stay tuned in the next couple days for our big Roundtable discussion.