The season ends with an episode that contains tension, drama, great one-on-one character scenes, and a number of plot threads tied up or at least significantly advanced, yet feels somehow hollow. It had no major surprises and only one (long overdue) character death.
The summit of the various remaining forces occurs, in the dragonpits in King’s Landing. (If I were working for Danaerys I would have picked a more neutral spot.) A long trek to this location allows for a few great character interactions: Tyrion with Podrick and Bronn; The Hound with Brienne. Dany is not with them, but arrives via dragon-based transit. The Hound gets a scene with his zombie brother where he basically guarantees Cleganebowl will happen next season sometime(!). Team Dany releases their prize wight, and Cersei seems convinced and open to the proposed truce – until she insists that “the King in the North” stay in the north and not fight against her alongside Dany. To his allies’ dismay, Jon is unable to lie and says uh sorry, I already bent the knee, no can do. Cersei storms off, no truce.
Tyrion decides that only he can change her mind. Whatever the logic of that decision, it makes for a good scene. (The preceding sentence could be the tagline of this season.) Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage always have good scenes together, and it’s been a while, and a lot has happened. And a lot does happen in this scene. Among other things, Tyrion learns Cersei is in fact pregnant – and I didn’t believe it myself! There is a curious lacuna, after which Tyrion and his sister emerge in the dragonpit; she announces she will not only agree to the truce, she will march her forces north to help fight what is now being called “The Great War”. Hope it has 80% fewer trenches and despair than its real life namesake.
If Cersei doing what’s right seems like a stretch, good, because a couple scenes later, she’s calling Jaime an idiot for actually believing she’d go through with it. In fact, Euron, who pretended to run off to the Iron Islands earlier, is actually going to Essos to pick up The Golden Company and ferry them back with his fleet. Jaime doesn’t like the idea of Cersei and Euron scheming without him; things go south, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought Jaime was going to get cut down by the Mountain. But he finally leaves her side and heads north alone.
In Winterfell, we get some buildup between Sansa and Littlefinger in which it seems she is finally succumbing to his manipulations and preparing to kill her sister. Then, we get a fakeout: Sansa summons Arya to the hall and starts talking about murder and treason – BUT she accuses Littlefinger instead. Clearly Bran is good for something, as he’s used his near omniscience to fill his sisters in on the full extent of Petyr’s shenanigans. Now let me just point out that Littlefinger doesn’t get a fair trial here… in fact he gets his throat slit with his own fancy dagger, courtesy Arya. The sisters get a wonderful scene later in which they recall their father, and his lesson to them, which is something like: “when winter comes, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives”. Ned Stark glows Obi-Wan like in the background of many of the scenes in this episode, as his children and other characters deal with the challenges of doing what’s right in a world that too often rewards what’s wrong.
Speaking of which, back on Dragonstone, Theon more or less apologizes to Jon, who more or less forgives him. Theon sees that Jon finds it easy to do what’s right, whereas Theon never knew if he was a Stark or a Greyjoy. Jon responds with a line whose full significance will only be understood later: “you have to be both”. Fired up with righteous resolve, Theon murders his second in command so as to win back the allegiance of his men for a mission to save his sister Yara… or something? It was very rushed.
Jon and Dany sail for the North, and their story reaches its…. climax [puts on shades]. At the same time, Sam gets to Winterfell and has an info dump with Bran. By which I mean, while Jon and Dany are getting it on, Bran is narrating how Jon’s real name is Aegon Targaryen and he’s the true heir to the throne and yeah that means Dany is his aunt. Yuck! But not really a surprise: all these “revelations” have been in the works since last season.
The episode ends with a scene that is grand yet inevitable and predictable: the Army of the Dead shows up at Eastwatch and the Night King uses his un-dragon to blow a hole in the wall. They had to bust through at some point, or what a lame Great War this is, and once they picked up the dragon last ep it became clear how they’d do it. So that happened.
Despite the occasional glimpses of epic scale, this episode again relied on one-on-one scenes that were gripping, well-wrought and satisfying, and further explored themes that feel central to the show. If Game of Thrones often deals with models of leadership, it just came heavily down on the side of Ned Stark. We all know he was good and all – in fact he was the stereotypical fantasy hero knight – but his surprise death in the first season expressed the point that this is a world in which heroes die. We have had seven seasons of the biggest payouts going to the liars, cheats, backstabbers and schemers. And yet in one hour, one of the most successful at such dark arts, Petyr “Chaos is a Ladder” Baelish, gets killed. Another, Cersei “Fuck You, I’m Cersei Lannister” Lannister is abandoned by her only remaining family and also only remaining sane ally, Jaime. Meanwhile the good guys follow Ned’s wisdom, band together, and…. [shudders] I mean, what is next season, just one long battle scene? Surely there are some backs left to be stabbed, right? I mean, this is Game of Thrones.
The season’s rushed pace continued to strain credulity. Really? Tyrion had to walk in undefended to talk to the sister who wanted him dead? And did all those heroes of presumably average or better intelligence really think Cersei’s word could be trusted in any shape or fashion? At the same time, maybe I’m bloodthirsty, but I expected at least one major surprise death. Jaime was a likely candidate, but Beric and Tormund surviving the wall’s collapse doesn’t make sense to me. I’m going to try to do a post about the season as a whole if I get the time and explore some of this stuff in more detail. I still felt on balance this was a good episode, but not without substantial flaws that perhaps belong more to the season as a whole.
A collection of unrelated points, you say? That calls for Unordered Liiiist Maaaaannn! The least dangerous, least sexy superhero.
- The Sansa/Arya conflict was a season-long fakeout to keep a couple beloved characters busy. I called it last time, and it’s one of the few things I’ve correctly predicted, but I get no joy in it, as I thought… I thought it would get more interesting. But it’s better than the sisters killing each other, I suppose.
I also predicted Jon would knock Dany up: still looking good! Sex would be necessary for that to happen, and Jon even questioned her barrenness himself. I think that was Jon’s way of flirting?
Speaking of: why was Tyrion skulking around Dany’s bedroom when she and Jon were sexifying?
How did Tyrion get Cersei to agree to the truce? We don’t see the whole action. Did he assent to her lie about sending her forces north? Did he promise her unborn child the crown, thinking Dany barren? Explaining the skulking? Or did he propose some sort of rotating rule, or a democracy? Or did they just play tiddlywinks with the wizard guy and the brainless zombie?
Speaking of the wizard guy (ok I know his name, he’s Qyburn, Necromancer to the Stars): loved his rapt fascination with the wight. Time for some more evil science? Upgrades for Mountain-bot?
“You have to be both.” Jon has to be both Stark and Targaryen, then. Aka both wolf and dragon of the episode’s title.
There are so many heroes heading up north for A Good Cause I’m hoping Bob Geldof shows up and they record a chart-topping charity single. “Sending My Love Past the Wall.” “(Starting to Feel a Lot Like) Winterfell.” “All the Wight Weasons.”
As they say: thanks for reading, see you next year, or the year after, it horribly seems.