Nearly all of our remaining main characters made their way to King’s Landing for the season finale, and it was spectacular! Every one of them looked magnificent, every one of them having levelled up and looking the part.
Slowing the pace down in the beginning of the episode was a welcome change that allowed us to reacquaint ourselves with the classic character/politics structure that drew us into Game of Thrones in the first place. Tyrion, Bronn, and Podrick reuniting genuinely warmed my heart.
Sure, Bronn had to leave pretty immediately – a move that at first seemed suspicious, until I remembered that the actor Jerome Flynn and Cersei’s Lena Heady refuse to be in any scene together because of their real-life past. Well, off to get drunk and catch up with Podrick, who it’s best to have out of harm’s way anyway.
Brienne and the Hound touching base about not dying and the status of Arya Stark was another nice moment. The Hound’s follow-up with his brother the Mountain teased a Cleaganebowl, but did not deliver. Hopefully next season.
One of the best executed moments of the episode is what I’ll call “Schrödinger’s Wight”. When the Hound sets the crate down and opens the lid, we do not know if the Wight is animated or not. Is it even still in there? Is it just a pile of bones? Was the rag-tag, hackneyed plan to travel beyond the wall and capture an undead exhibit all for nothing?
Luckily, a skeleton on steroids rushes out of the box and lunges at Queen Cersei. The Mountain doesn’t stop it in time (is he afraid?), but luckily the Hound decides to slowly dismember the creature before he has the chance to chomp it to bits.
Jon follows up with a straightforward yet dramatic zombie-killing tutorial. The demonstration couldn’t have been more ideal. So much so that Cersei seems shaken (as much as she could be), and she offers a truce in return for Jon’s neutrality in the wars to come.
However, in true Stark fashion, Jon stays true to his nature and frankly asserts that he will remain loyal to his new Queen, Daenerys. Cersei’s not pleased, and storms off. Daenerys and company are not pleased, and berate Jon. Honesty gets Starks killed; honesty doesn’t win wars.
But Jon Snow doesn’t care about what other people think. He pretty much never has, and especially since he got brought back from the dead. And as much of a Targaryen as he is in his blood, he proved to be the very definition of a Stark. As he told Theon later in the episode, sometimes you don’t have to choose which family you belong to. Jon is both. His sincerity would have made Ned proud.
Tyrion scrambles to come up with a solution and walks into the lioness’ den.
The Lannister family has always boasted some of the strongest actors in the series, and it is no small delight to watch Lena Heady and Peter Dinklage act across one another. Heady has had a lot to work with in the past few seasons, but Dinklage has had to act across Emilia Clark’s wooden readings for quite some time. So it was refreshing to see the strength of these two performances evenly matched and fueling each other.
As for the characters – yes it was stupid for Tyrion to meet with Cersei one-on-one. He’s been full of stupid ideas all season, and I’m not sure why. The first few seasons expertly set up his brilliance. Now he’s basically a chronic-fumbler. My instinct is that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are themselves not up to the intellectual challenge of paying the Imp his dues, that without George R. R. Martin’s help they are unable to write for a character is that is, in fact, smarter than they are.
Whatever. Here’s what we know: Cersei has grown significantly, and would have made her father proud (had he not been so sexist, and dead). Her cunning and ruthlessness have skyrocketed. She’s really in top form. But Tyrion doesn’t necessarily know it. Despite having heard rumors of the goings-ons of King’s Landing, he can’t possibly understand how much Cersei has gone through while he was trekking to Meereen and back.
We also know that Cersei’s aesthetic for vengeance has evolved. Viewers who bemoaned the improbability of her letting Tyrion live not only do not have their sights set on her end game, but have forgotten the information she has laid out for us. Her treatment (as well as her epically villainous monologues) of the septa at the end of last season as well as Ellaria Sand and her daughter Tyene show us that she is not content with swift hack-and-slash deaths.
Not for those she truly despises. Instead, she prefers long and drawn out torture. It would not have been satisfying for Cersei to order the Mountain to cut Tyrion down. Surely she has fantasized and planned out just how she would like him to die, and surely it would be very slow and very painful. But that’s not for now.
Vengeance against one little brother is small when compared to ruling over the Seven Kingdoms, protecting what she thinks of as family, and destroying the mass of people who oppose her.
We don’t know how exactly Tyrion and Cersei’s conversation got on after he surmised she was pregnant. We do know that he convinced her to return the Dragon Pit. We know she feigned compromise. And we know that Cersei got exactly what she wanted out of this arrangement and set herself up for success as much as possible.
It’s not for nothing that Brienne of Tarth showed up in King’s Landing. Although her importance in the Dragon Pit negotiations was minimal at best, her brief interaction with Jaime was possibly enough to sway him to do what he needed.
Jaime has been blindly devoted to Cersei for a long time. It was for his love for her that started this whole mess to begin with when he pushed Brann out of the tower in the very first episode of the series. His stint in the custody of Brienne softened his heart, and in conjunction with losing his hand, he became a man who wanted to do better. Cersei has only become viler with time, fermenting like wine, but his love for her has never faltered.
Their relationship has been unhealthy for a long time, if it was ever healthy to begin with. So a big and tearful round of applause for a man who was finally able escape an abusive relationship. You go, Jaime.
I think we were all terrified that Cersei would honestly have the Mountain put an end to him. But it’s beautiful that she didn’t. She must have wanted to. “No one walks away from me.” She must have believed that she was so dead inside that she could have. But it’s a more interesting thing to reveal about her character that she still has a shred of humanity left. Her love for Jaime is what lets him go.
So Jaime rides off toward the impending doom in the North. He has to know that it’s likely he’ll never see Cersei or King’s Landing again. In the most beautiful sequence of the episode, Winter eases into King’s Landing like a lover’s whisper. Jaime rides alone into the darkness. Cue full-body goosebumps.
Meanwhile, the Winterfell storyline wrapped up (thank the gods!). This whole storyline was a mess all season. Real and feigned sibling rivalry. Backdoor meetings that made no sense. Long drawn out scenes that ultimately lead nowhere.
So Arya and Sansa were in cahoots all along. But why? Once they had the supposed heart-to-heart that we as audiences never got to see in which they decided to be catty to each other (even in private where it would be irrelevant to whatever plan they hatched) and send Lady Brienne away (for reasons that still evade me, real or feigned), why did they draw out Little Finger’s existence for so long?
It wasn’t to make him suffer. It wasn’t to gain new information. They honestly could have executed him right away. And then we wouldn’t have had to endure what truly felt like filler – which is an insult when the creators are serving up such rushed and stunted material otherwise.
The best we can do is wash our hands of this whole debacle. I really mean it, this was Dorne-level impotence from the writers, which made no sense, wasted our time, and did damage all the characters involved.
The good thing that came from all this: a masterful acting performance from Aiden Gillen. Littlefinger’s final scene showed him vulnerable, pathetic, and scared. As vile of a character as he is, I felt pity for him. Not enough to mind when his own Valyrian steel dagger slashed his throat open, but enough to really take time to appreciate the character, but more than anything the actor.
Now let’s never speak of this Winterfell plot again.
Last but certainly not least, Jon and Daenerys finally gave into their desires. Whether you support the lovers or are weirded out by the incest, you can’t deny how beautiful they looked together, and how fantastic their chemistry is.
Knowledge-keepers Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly have a chit-chat about Jon. It’s strangely timed, as talking about incest certainly takes some of the fun out of the concurrent lovemaking, but it’s an interesting choice made by the writers, and to be honest at this point I’ll take any creative choice they come up with.
So now that the deed has been done, how will Jon and Daenerys react when they finally learn that they are nephew and aunt? Will Targaryen propensity for incest allow them to be okay with it? Will they have Targaryen babies, as seems to have been foreshadowed this season? Will they be at each other’s throats, vying for the right to sit on the Iron Throne? Well, we have a long time before the next season to theorize.
Finally, Winter truly has come, and we’re all doomed. I suppose that whatever magic is in the Wall to prevent White Walkers from crossing over is a moot point when the Wall is attacked by a zombie dragon. I’m unsure of the mechanics here – whether zombie-Viserion breathes fire or ice.
If it’s fire, and is one of the things that kills walkers, shouldn’t that very fire destroy Viserion? If it is fire, why is it hotter in death? I’m more forgiving to the logic of it being ice (if we can bring logic into a discussion about dragons), but I’m not sure how that would destroy the Wall.
None the less (and nevermind how he flies with holes in his wings), Wight Viserion is magnificent, and the Night King riding him at the head of the legion of the undead was the perfect way to end the season. We have literally been waiting since the opening scene of season 1 for the White Walkers to breach the Wall. Now they have, and it is game on. First stop: Winterfell.
A few more thoughts:
- With the death of Littlefinger, the Knights of the Vale are no longer required to fight for the Starks. Not unless Robyn Arryn has grown out of that adorable phase where he just wants to push people out of the Moon Door. A marriage between Sansa and Robyn, while deplorable, would make strategic sense for this reason. My guess is that between time constraints and lazy writing, this issue will be swept under the rug and the Knights of the Vale will tag along in the battle against the dead. It should be noted that the Eyrie would be a fantastic place to fortify against White Walkers.
- Guys. ARYA HAS LITTLE FINGER’S FACE.
- With Jaime and Tyrion out of King’s Landing, Bronn should book it. If he stays around with only Cersei to keep him company, he’s just begging for an unhappy death.
- Finally getting to see Rhaegar Targaryen was exciting in theory. Rhaegar is supposed to be a magnificent and beautiful warrior. He didn’t seem very beautiful, and his resemblance to Viscerys was unpleasant. Still, it was nice to see he and Lyanna at a happy wedding ceremony long ago in the pleasant warmth of Dorne, before all of this mess began.
- Seriously, still no Ghost? We haven’t seen Ghost for an entire season. It’s unforgivable.
- Speaking of missing: WHERE IS GENDRY AGAIN? Seriously, the writers took all the trouble to bring him back. Once he’s on his mission, he’s immediately sent to the Wall like a kid being sent to his room. And now where is he? He wasn’t with Jon and company in King’s Landing. He wasn’t with Tormund and Beric Dondarrion at the Wall. Why even bring him back at all? We could at least still be enjoying rowboat memes.
- Speaking of Tormund and Beric, I do not think they are dead. Sure, we don’t know, but they were shown making it to a “safe” part of the Wall, and they were not seen dying. I think that if they had died, we would have seen it.
- This season was very precious with its characters and only killed off a few. This breaks with the danger and vitality that so defines Game of Thrones. Here’s hoping that the final season returns to its roots in this regard. Because the White Walkers are no joke, and we still have to put someone on the Iron Throne, so All Men – or at least most – Must Die.
- I don’t have much to say about Theon Greyjoy. Too little, too late. I don’t care that he’s remorseful. He’s been remorseful since before Ramsay even tortured him. He’s still pathetic, and he’s done too much for me to ever forgive or care. His fist-fight with the Iron Islander was improbable. He was beat down, and I’m sorry, but even if you don’t have a penis anymore, a full-bodied knee to the groin will still hurt. There’s no way Theon would have won, and if he had I simply don’t buy that he would have instantly gained the respect of the other men there. As much as I like Yara, I don’t want to waste any more time on Theon and family, and I wish that he had died off long ago.
- Euron was a delight, though his presence was sparse this season. His contribution to the Dragon Pit negotiation was amusing. We know that there is more to come from this character. However, all the talk about his villainy surpassing Ramsay’s was clearly exaggerated.
- Seeing that zombie must have been like Christmas for Qyburn. I can’t wait to see what he can do with some careful study of undead anatomy.
- What was with that weird look Tyrion shot at Daenerys and Jon on the boat? Either he’s jealous because he loves Daenerys (we’ve seen no indication of that), he just got word – perhaps via raven – that the two are related, or he struck some sort of deal with Cersei. We’ll have to wait to see how this plays out.
My final thought: This season has been incredibly divisive. Some fans lamented the loss of the subtlety and nuance that defined Game of Thrones for so long. Some were thrilled with the breath-taking visual effects and action.
Neither opinion is wrong. Game of Thrones is in a category all its own – there is no other television show or work of art that can quite compare to the cultural phenomenon this has become and the sheer magnitude of its production. But it is still art, and art is subjective.
Art is also not immune to criticism, but that criticism should hopefully lead to a fruitful discussion rather than hateful dissension. One thing is for sure, I’ve made it this far, and I am definitely going to see the series through to the end. When the next season will be ready, we don’t know. So now our watch begins.