Game of Thrones – 67 (Season Finale)

Winter is here – for fans of Game of Thrones, anyway.  We enter into the TV series’ final offseason with no firm idea of when it’s going to end – there’s been talk of a Fall 2018 or a Spring 2019 premiere, but in truth, no one is certain.  What we do know (unless it changes) is that the final season will be six episodes long, with each episode – like this one – being nearly movie-length.

They’re going to need every minute.

At this point I think I (and lots and of lots of other people) have pretty much called out all the major highs and lows of this almost entirely original season, and in truth “The Dragon and the Wolf” was nothing if not a doubling-down on what came before it.  If you like what Game of Thrones has become, there was plenty to like here.  If you feel it’s strayed too far from A Song of Ice and Fire, you’ll have a seemingly never-ending feast of gristle to chew on.  And if it’s some of both – as it is for me – you’ll probably have been left feeling exhausted and generally less than satisfied.

I did like a lot of what we saw here, but it was mostly the lower-key moments that clicked for me.  For example, the reunions between Tyrion and Podrick, and Bronn.  The detente between the Hound and Brienne, who in the end were fighting on the same side all along.  There were even some excellent moments in the reunion of Tyrion and Cersei, and Ceresi’s final (for now) conversation with Jaime.  But as the season comes to an end I’m forced to wonder what it all meant.  Who wouldn’t have predicted that Cersei was totally untrustworthy, and the presence of a wight in King’s Landing would do nothing to change that?  Who wouldn’t have predicted that sending a group of bearded curmudgeons north of the Wall to capture a wight was a dumb idea?  Who wouldn’t guess that Jon Snow would be a fool for his honor – or that he and Daenerys would end up making the episode title come to life?

That this fanfic of a season was full of plot holes is hardly worth repeating at this stage – it feels almost cruel.  But if the whole Euron bit was a ploy, how exactly did Cersei know there was going to be a wight in the dragonpit – and if she didn’t, what was supposedly going to be Euron’s excuse to betray her?  Stuff like that still bothers me, petty as it is.  But here’s a bigger issue – pretty much this whole disastrous finale was Jon Aegon Snow’s Sand’s Targaryen’s fault.  It’s his fault so much time was wasted on a nonsense mission dependent on Cersei’s being reasonable.  It’s his fault Dany lost one of her children.  And it’s his fault Viserion is now the greatest weapon in the Night King’s arsenal, and destroyed the Wall at Eastwatch (and let’s not get into whether that should even be possible in Martin’s mythology).  And maybe killed Tormund and Beric too (though by God, I sure hope not).

There’s a larger problem here, though, and near as I can tell it’s one Martin’s books are no less free from than Benioff and Weiss’ adaptation.  Ultimately, the Night King and his army of the dead are a less interesting opponent than someone like Cersei Lannister – or Stannis Baratheon, or Petyr Baelish.  The human conflicts have always been what made this series so powerful – and indeed, the best moments’s of this episode (like the throne room conversation between Jon and Theon, or Cersei and Jaime’s parting) reflect the strengths of the story.  I’m not sure an enemy which Jon rightfully points out is one who cannot be negotiated with, who represents the enemy of life itself, can ever carry the narrative the way subtle, shaded conflicts between people do.

That’s a problem for next year (or the year after) I suppose, and who knows when for Martin himself.  In the meanwhile much has indeed changed, I’ll give Benioff and Weiss that much.  The silly Winterfell drama ended as expected, with the fanservice death of Littlefinger.  How much of the tension between sisters was a ruse?  It doesn’t really matter, I suppose – TV Bran’s Gary Stu powers made it all a fait accompli.  Jaime has finally seen the end of his loyalty to Cersei, the final straw being the fact that she plotted with Euron Greyjoy behind his back expects him to break a pledge to do what he knows is right.  Jaime’s story remains one of the more compelling in the TV version of the story (despite its significant missteps along the way), and I was genuinely worried for a moment that Cersei might kill him rather than let him walk away from her.  Just what he intends to do now (as the snow begins falling with heavy symbolism on King’s Landing) is unclear, but I would imagine he’ll end up fighting the dead beside Bronn and his brother – and I can think of far worse things to look forward to.

The destruction of the Wall is certainly the headline, but the biggest development in the human part of the story is perhaps that the truth about Jon Snow (which I imagine will be one of the few major plot threads shared by the books) is finally out in the open – to Sam and Bran anyway.  It’s nice that the all-seeing Bran didn’t see that detail about Rhaegar and Lyanna actually being married – though I suppose he’d have had no reason to look for it.  The Targaryen’s unusual marriage practices aside, this can only prove to be a significant source of tension between he and Daenerys in Season 8 – if you accept the Targaryen claim to the Iron Throne on principle, than it’s Jon who’s the legal holder of it.  And given his nature it’s hard to imagine him forgoing that claim for expediency – or love.

If one were to speculate on possible endings for this series, it’s interesting to consider whether Benioff and Weiss will return to Martin’s script – for they certainly know how he intends to end the series (both have confirmed this).  Martin could change his mind of course – or never finish the book series at all – but if I were in his shoes, I’d rather have Game of Thrones continue its divergence and do its own thing than spoil my ending.  One way or the other it seems likely to me that the story will conclude with no one sitting on the Iron Throne, because it’s hard to see a justification for any single character being the right one to do so.  We’ll find out soon enough, I suppose – in the case of the TV series, anyway.

For all its flaws, this season of Game of Thrones was still superb entertainment a lot of the time – and “The Dragon and the Wolf” was no exception.  It was indeed liberated in a sense, free at last to hoe its own ground, and perhaps was the better for it.  For me the show was undeniably at its best when it was adapting Martin’s material more or less straight, but the weird purgatory of Season 6, forced to hybridize canon and original content, was a low point.  Season 7 may have seen the series fully transition to fanfiction, but at least it was unshackled from the chain’s of Martin’s half-finished plot threads and character arcs.  It’s going to be a long wait for the final season, but fans of this story are more than used to long waits.

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22 comments

  1. Y

    I enjoyed this far more than I expected. GoT has never made me cry, not even during/after the Red Wedding, or at Tyrion’s trial. But this scene between Tyrion and Cersei did, and that genuinely surprised me. Also, it didn’t feel as rushed as the last two episodes seemed to be, and I liked a lot of the dialogue.

    Personally, I found Baelish’s death scene to be very satisfying, as it exposed him exactly for what he is — a selfish, greedy coward with a big brain but a bigger appetite, desperate for all the power and “love” (if you could call his manipulative obsession with Cat and Sansa that) he never had, and hardly all-mighty or omniscient, even with all his previous experience in plotting. In the end, there were things he didn’t know — he didn’t know the full extent of Bran’s powers or Arya’s motivations (how she never wanted to be a lady of anything, ever, at all), or that all the pain the Stark children endured made them stronger than most. I’m happy the fighting between Sansa and Arya turned out to be a ruse to make Baelish and his spies think what Sansa wanted them to think, and use that to undermine him, although I believe it could have been handled a lot better, both narratively and thematically.

    Also, there was the issue of Sansa lying directly to the lords of the Vale about Lyssa’s death, which was an overlooked “detail” that was much harder for me to swallow — how could she have explained her way out of that? Say she was afraid of what would have happened to her if Baelish had been offed for his crime, since he was her only ally at the time? That hardly sounds like an adequate excuse to me. It rubbed me the wrong way that it wasn’t addressed, though I didn’t expect it to be. And what the fuck will Robin think and do now that his “uncle” is gone? I understand Royce is in charge, but still??

    P. S. I live to see fear in Cersei’s eyes. I was so hoping that wight would at least grab her and make her cry out in terror. I don’t think I have ever despised anyone on the show more than her, except maybe Ramsay.

  2. But how could Littlefinger have not known the extent of Bran’s powers after he dropped the “Chaos is a ladder” line? And why did Arya and Sansa feud in private, when LF couldn’t possibly have seen it? Maybe that was before Bran clued them in on the truth, but still.

    I don’t know, the whole Winterfell plot fell flat for me this season. It relies on Bran’s ridiculous powers and withholding info from the audience and outright plot holes. To me it was sloppy writing and generally disappointing.

  3. r

    I can’t help myself……i read the books and this season has nothing really to do with them, plotholes all over the place. Nevertheless i terribly enjoyed this. I don’t care, it’s beautifully filmed, very exciting and personally i’m still hooked. I hope one day we will get to see what Martin makes of this part of the story and fix our hunger for the true intrigues of a well told story. Not sure he’s ever gonna do it though…..ah, i just can’t wait for the final season!

  4. Well no, but that’s no one’s fault really – I mean, Benioff and Weiss gave Martin six years and he couldn’t release another volume. They had no choice but to go original here. And yes, as television it’s still very good indeed. It just feels less and less as if it has anything to do with the books.

  5. G

    When Dani flew in and landed on her dragon and climbed off that scene was so well shot. The effects were as good as anything I have ever seen. It looked so real and not like a green screen fake thing.

  6. D

    I’m voiced my displeasure with this season already, but for what it is, I enjoyed this episode quite a lot. The low-key stuff was indeed more interesting and a personal highlight would be Theon and Jon’s conversation. It showcased both characters wonderfully and (finally) let Theon grow after so many years of meaningless stagnation.

    Littlefinger’s death, on the other hand, just seemed… I’m not sure what to call it. It’s not really fanservice, is it? He was pretty much the devil, sure, but he was also a beloved character. That random dose of justice didn’t just look weird because it came out of nowhere, but also because it seemed like his character had a bigger role to play in the end.

    A few random thoughts:

    I think this version of Cersei would’ve actually killed Jaime if we were still following the old formula. She’s just too far gone in my opinion to care about her love and, honestly, it doesn’t seem like a whole lot of that is left anyway.

    Also, maybe I’m late in akisng this, but how exactly was the army of the dead a threat to begin with if they couldn’t get over the wall? They were hardly gonna chew through it and without the – groan- convenietly provided undead dragon, they would be stuck. Am I missing something here?

  7. Yes – “what was the Night King planning to do before Jon delivered a dragon to him?” is a question being widely asked today. Maybe, as I said, his touching Bran did something to mess with the Wall’s mojo.

    As for Littlefinger’s death, I think “anti-climactic” might be what you were going for there. It’s been speculated that Littefinger going from such a vital character to basically a vestigial one is a function of the show transitioning from one driven by intrigue and betrayal to one driven by plot contrivance and magic. You can make up your own minds on that.

  8. Y

    I actually saw a person say that Baelish’s death at this point in the storyline was meant to be symbolic of how all the political scheming the lords and ladies of Westeros devote their lives to means almost nothing when compared to the bigger picture, the supernatural superpower in the Far North that is coming for those south of the Wall, who have been caught up in their petty, self-destructive plots for far too long. And how they must now rid themselves of the mindgames and powerplays in order to fight the War for the Dawn and survive, because politics and courtly intrigue pale in comparison (and importance) to what the Army of the Dead has in store for the living.

  9. D

    Euron’s excuse was nicely set up: at the very start of the conference he interrupted and began picking a silly fight with both Tyrion and Theon even before everyone had sat down.

    So the plan was pretty obvious: he would make himself an ass, Cersei would reluctantly tell him him to stand down and shut up, and he would take offense and storm off with his men.

    He ended up having to drop the initial act when the undead was shown off, but quickly improvised a new plan when he saw the dead

    I can’t remember: has it actually been stated that the Dead (as opposed to the Night King and other wight walkers who lead them) cannot cross the wall?

    If the Wall’s magic keeps the Night King back but does not actually unbind or repel the dead (and we have seen Dead taken into the wall’s castles before and still being undead monsters) then the Night King’s “backup plan” was really simple:

    Do the same as the Wildlings. Recruit a REALLY HUGE army that was big enough that swarming the wall by sheer main force (undead giants to batter the doors, chains of undead with picks clawing their way up the wall) would succeed in taking the wall itself. Then perhaps have 50,000 or so survivors inflict enough physical damage on a single chunk of wall (say, around the gate) to dispel whatever enchantments might prevent the Night King walking his way through.

    Or alternatively, once the dead are through, have the command group get on a boat and sail around it.

  10. D

    It’s not the Wall’s magical properties I’m worried about, but the sheer logistics of the task. The Wildlings were crafty, sure, but more importantly they were human. The dead on the other hand are a lumbering swarm, and we’ve seen little evidence that could suggest they are capable of anything beyond basic motor function.

  11. D

    Yeah, that about sums it up. But even beyond the death itself, it’s hard for me to believe that someone like him could be ousted by a couple of teenagers, as clever and wise as they’ve become. If I recall, there’s a conversation in one of the earlier seasons (with Varys, perhaps?) where he mentions that a man like that doesn’t survive for that long in a place like King’s Landing wtihout being very good at what he does.

  12. Marty Bran was going against him, though. How do you beat that?

  13. r

    Yeah Baelishe’s death just seemed a bit rushed somehow, out of place for such a sly one, and the way he begged seemed out of character……..i did feel some satisfaction seeing his throat get slashed….

    I was thinking about Cersei’s pregnacy……..why do i feel something really weird is going to happen around this?

  14. H

    I haven’t read the books yet but a friend of mine told me that there is an item called the Horn of Winter that supposedly has the power to bring down the Wall and raise giants from the earth. Mance claimed to have it and threatened to use it before he was executed, though it turns out that he did not have the real one and it’s location remains unknown. Perhaps in the show the White Walkers were searching for that and changed their plans when they got their hands on a dragon. They definitely needed something with magical properties to get past the wall since it was partially built of magic itself in order to stop the Others from crossing over.

  15. D

    Euron’s excuse was nicely set up: at the very start of the conference he interrupted and began picking a silly fight with both Tyrion and Theon even before everyone had sat down.

    So the plan was pretty obvious: he would make himself an ass, Cersei would reluctantly tell him him to stand down and shut up, and he would take offense and storm off with his men.

    He ended up having to drop the initial act when the undead was shown off, but quickly improvised a new plan when he saw the dead

    .

  16. Sorry, still Jon Snow to me. I’m never going to call him Aegon Targaryen.

  17. Can we call him Aejon? Let’s call him Aejon.
    Btw, wasn’t Aegon murdered by Gregor Clegane… the entire point of Oberyn’s subplot?

  18. C

    The v1.0 Aegon, yes. Jon is like, Aegon 2.0 because Raeghar was a prick obsessed with fairy tales, put the whole kingdom under fire so he could bring forth the Lightbringer. In Bran’s vision he says “They loved each other”. Im not convinced.

  19. Was there ever a precedent for a Targaryen king/heir naming his offspring the same name twice? I very much doubt so. We don’t know if it’s Rhaegar or Lyanna that chose the name, but Lyanna surely seems into it at the Tower of Joy. I’m not convinced.

  20. C

    I’ve never knew you had a website! Really enjoy your reviews and i’m glad you’re “branching out” to other types of shows/media. Maybe we can see you flex your writer muscles in the near future with Westworld? Bojack Horseman or Rick & Morty? *wink wink*

    Anyway, i agree this season had a pacing problem like no other yet. I’m almost certain they wrote it backwards. They wanted, NEEDED the wall to crash in the season finale. They didn’t adapted the Horn of Winter so the only thing they could do to bring the wall down was give the NK a Dragon. The ONLY way he could get his hands on a Dragon was by Dany going North…AND…see where i’m going with this?

    The string of stupidity was so the Night army could invade Westeros. If that will give us a stronger, more focused S8 is up in the air but if they can manage it, i say it was worth it. Now, don’t get me wrong: that doesn’t justify all the problems. The lack of agency with Littefinger and Varys was almost criminal, but i blame the lack of source material. But “Eurovison” Euron? Jack Sparow on meth was baaad. His conflict with Theon/Asha was a subplot at best, and D&D decide to waste precious time with him.

    They should’ve given Jon and Daenerys more time/scenes together since one of the major conflicts in S8 will rest entirelly on their shoulders, how much we are invested in them as characters and as a couple (no matter how brieffly) could make or break the whole deal. Some people hate the idea of them together but, c’mon, if you didn’t see this coming from a mile away i don’t know what to say. They are “Ice and Fire” and i could bet GRR. Martin will do the same in the books.

    Theon had a great moment with Jon, the first step in his transformation from Reek to Theon Greyjoy but they couldn’t restrain themselves and had to do that “Monty Pinton-esque” scene with him getting kicked in the pseudo-balls and smiling like it was the funniest shit. It was no “bad pussy” but it came close for me.

    Dinklage is a superb actor but goddamit give the man something to work with! He screwed up everything in S7. Although his moment with Cercei almost made up for all of it. People have different takes on his last scene. Some think he concoted something with Cercei, or god forbids, he’s in love with Daenerys. I think he’s troubled by how much influence he lost when Jon came in the picture, and their mutual love is a very dangerous and unpredictable element.

    Sorry for the wall of text, but looking back i really liked the season. It was clear the show had to pay off everything it has been bulding since S1 and at that moment the show WOULD change. I liked regardless and hope they can stick the landing in S8.

  21. Y

    Out of all the dumb stuff… errr I mean suspension of disbelief… we have to sit through every episode nowadays, I think braking a wall made of stone with fire has got to take the cake.

  22. The wall is actually made of magical Ice.

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