It’s full speed ahead now on Game of Thrones, and the tempo for “Stormborn” is immediately set by a tempest raging against the walls of Dragonstone. The whole episode, even in its more subdued or talky moments, seems rushed, and that is of course out of necessity. No more slow-burn character development, subtle dialogue, or blossoming discoveries. There are only 11 episodes remaining in the series, and there is so much left to accomplish!
On that front, Daenerys is ready to begin. She’s been waiting impatiently (and we the audience even more so) for her to FINALLY reach King’s Landing. The Season 6 finale “The Winds of Winter” was a true masterpiece for many reasons, not the least of which was the breathtaking finale view of Daenerys’ fleet sailing at last towards Kings Landing with her dragons soaring epically above.The idea of Cersei being able to defend against Dany’s monopoly on badass armies seemed almost laughable. How could Cersei and her new Queendom possibly survive?
The answer is Targaryen ineptitude. Apparently, rather than spend time on the voyage across the Narrow Sea discussing strategy, the Mother of Dragons decided to wait until after her homecoming to consult with her newfound allies. Once at Dragonstone, she opts for a restrained approach, as suggested by her Hand, Tyrion.
Tyrion’s thought process isn’t wrong – to send the Unsullied, Dothraki, Ironborn, Dornish, Tyrells, and three dragons into King’s Landing would mean certain death for tens of thousands of people, and that’s not why Tyrion got into this mess, nor, as he sees it, what Daenerys truly desires. Dany sees the logic in not killing the subjects she hopes to win over, especially so soon after the whole Wildfire in the Sept incident.
“Divide and conquer” may be a great strategy in war, but to divide your own forces may not be the best idea, and division happens almost immediately as Daenerys consults with her allies. Hot-headed Ellaria Sand can’t even pretend to hide her displeasure, her main objective being to kill off all of theLannisters once and for all. Yara Greyjoy, who comes from a people known for reaving and raping, senses her talents may not be put to their best use. And Lady Olenna is as sassy and displeased as ever. While it is exciting in theory to watch a War Room filled mostly with strong and powerful women making these kinds of decisions, in reality the scene was more of a sobering exhibit that this alliance may not be built on the strongest of foundations, and that Daenerys, despite ruling briefly (and arguably not very well) in Mereen and Slaver’s Bay, has very little experience in strategy.
Daenerys reveals her and Tyrion’s plan to send the Unsullied to overtake Casterly Rock. The dragons – those weapons of mass destruction –seem to have been left out of the battle plans.
Okay, fine. Everyone’s sort of okay with it, and go their separate ways. But not before Lady Olenna schools Daenerys. “I’ve known a great many clever men,” she says. “I’ve outlived them all. You know why? I ignored them. The lords of Westeros are sheep. Are you a sheep? No. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon.” This pep talk could definitely be summarized and sold on a t-shirt (and probably will be).
Jon Snow struggles similarly in the North, with a parallel scene in which he tells his followers that he has decided to ride south to meet Daenerys Targaryen. Really no one is on board with this plan, but Jon says – in almost the exact same manner that Dany did – hey, you wanted me to rule for a reason, so I’m going to do the thing and you’re going to have to deal with it.
The meeting of Jon and Dany was suggested by Melisandre who, after being banished from the North (after that little child-burning incident came to light), rode back to familiar territory. Dragonstone, which was her home for quite a time when she served as Stannis’ pyromaniac advisor, seems as good a place as any to return. But now that the Mother of Dragons has shown up, all the more reason. After all, the Red Priests sung Dany’s praises over in Volantis, and their endorsement throughout Slaver’s Bay helped to rally the people to her side. So, Daenerys is thankful when Melisandre appears, and agrees easily to her suggestion to meet the King in the North. Because plot progression, but also because Melisandre throws out a few words about Azor Ahai, the Prince who was Promised. But wait -Missandei is sure to spell out just so everyone is clear: the Chosen One could really be a man or a woman. Dany’s into that, and maybe so are we.
Jon wasn’t sure about going to meet a Targaryen, after (*Stark Trigger Warning*) his grandfather, father, and brother riding South didn’t end up so well. Sansa, while admitting that Tyrion’s a cool guy (Oh yeah, they were married!), is dead set against it.
However, Sam’s raven from the Citadel has finally reached Winterfell. And that mountain of dragonglass Jon went out of his way to say they needed last episode? You know, to fight White Walkers? Well we found it, and it’s right under the feet of the Dragon Queen.
Meanwhile, Arya has left the company of Ed Shereen and stops by to say hello to her old pal Hot Pie (which was cute, I guess). There she scarfs down food and ale – in a manner remarkably reminiscent of the Hound – and Hot Pie reveals that the Boltons are dead and that Winterfell belongs to the Starks once again. I have to admit that I raised my fist in the air and shouted in triumph as Arya decided to forgo riding to the South and instead return home to Winterfell.
In typical Stark fashion, she will just miss Jon who has set off for Dragonstone, but a Sansa-Arya reunion is better than nothing (although best not to count our Stark eggs before they hatch).
On her way though, her camp fire is beset by a pack of wolves, and a long-awaited reunion finally occurs. (No, not Gendry, who maybe we’ll see this season, or maybe he died immediately after rowing into the sea without knowing how to swim in season 3.) Enter Nymeria, Arya’s old Direwolf which she set loose to save her from Lannister retribution after she bit Joffrey’s arm in the first season.
When we last saw the Direwolf, she was just a pup. Now she is truly magnificent, towering powerfully over her pack and snarling fiercely. This brief scene could be written off as a simple fan-service call back, but the Direwolves are much more important than that. They serve as a symbol of the Starks. Traditionally, each direwolf is either a reflection of or in some way connected to its master. Jon’s wolf Ghost was the runt of the litter, and its white fur a perfect fit for a bastard named Snow. Both Rob and Rickon’s wolves, whose personalities also fit with their respective masters, were killed just before each of their humans were. Bran’s wolf died as he became the Three-Eyed Raven. And Lady was unjustly treated and killed as Sansa made the decision to lie for Joffrey and, in essence, turn her back on the Starks in favor of better things in the South (joke’s on her).
Nymeria and Arya have both become extraordinary beasts in their own right. They have both gone through an incredible journey and have transformed into untamable killing machines. Coming face to face with her direwolf was the perfect welcome back to who she really is. “A Girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I’m going home!” she proclaimed to Jaqen H’ghar at the end of season 6. Arya has been away for so long, it’s finally time to return to her roots. But both Nymeria and Arya are forever changed, and can never be domesticated. Arya pleads for her direwolf to come with her. But she can’t. “It’s not you”, she says and realizes that’s okay. They’re both lone wolves, after all. Maisie Williams does lovey close-up work in this brief but emotionally affective scene.
Another lovely scene is shared between Grey Worm and Missandei. As Grey Worm prepares to leave for the siege of Casterly Rock, Missandei comes to say goodbye. Their relationship had never fully culminated due to both characters being introverted and well trained in their respective roles, as well as the obvious bodily insecurities that come with being or being attracted to a eunuch. But it’s maybe now or never, and it’s lovely to see these two delicate characters express themselves to each other. They bare both soul and body, and share an intimacy which is frankly refreshing. Shot beautifully, the emphasis on Missandei’s pleasure is a far cry from the many instances of female objectification in the show, and even if it’s only out of necessity, we’ll take it. Jacob Anderson’s performance as Grey Worm is often under-appreciated, but this scene really lets him, and Nathalie Emmanuel, shine.
Game of Thrones episode titles are usually chosen for a thematic reason. “Stormborn” opens (on the nose) with a storm and deals largely with the Dragon Queen (Stormborn being one of her many titles). Even Sam Tarly’s scenes are anchored in some way by Jorah’s devotion to his Khaleesi. The episode ends with the attack of Euron Greyjoy, who it may be recalled has been known to proclaim, “I am the storm!”
Euron really could have waited at least a few more minutes to attack though, since Yara and Ellaria were only just getting to know each other. Their interlude cut short, Yara rushes to the deck of the ship, only to realize that Euron and his Greyjoy fleet have shown up, and that she is hopelessly outgunned.
It’s Greyjoy against Greyjoy, and we have to appreciate getting to finally see the Iron Islanders in their full-blown glory as we’ve never seen them before, the brutal sea warriors.
Yara is a badass, and she fights valiantly. The Sand Snakes try their best, but I guess they forgot to apply their signature poisons to their weapons this time, and two of them quickly wind up dead in what was surely a collective sigh of relief from fans who have been disappointed in them from the beginning.
Even as strong and experienced as Yara is, she is no match for her uncle Euron, as we finally see how maniacal and fierce he really is. Although hard-fought, he manages to defeat her, and holds an axe to her throat.
Here is a classically great Game of Thrones moment: We know that in a world where no life is sacred (except maybe Jon Snow’s), beloved characters could die at any time. Yara seems like she’s dead meat as Theon looks on. Indeed, this is Theon’s moment to shine. Being referred to as Yara’s “protector” only slightly earlier in the episode, this is his chance to lay it on the line and fight for his big sister, who has done the same for him in the past. But in a far more realistic turn, Theon’s PTSD is triggered, and he is unable to do anything except jump into the sea. Yara is left alone and helpless, but it is Theon’s betrayal and abandonment that are more poignant than Euron’s weapon. Gemma Whelan does fine work as the defeated Yara. Theon lives, and reminds us once again how truly pathetic he is. He was always and will always just be… Reek.
Well, it’s clear now what Euron’s gift to Cersei will be. Ellaria Sand, Tyene Sand, and Yara Greyjoy. Plus his sound defeat of the Greyjoy fleet. For a man who seemed like maybe he was all talk, Euron has really delivered and in a short amount of time. His victory may have turned the tide of war in Cersei’s favor.
While that comprises the bulk of the episode, I have a few other thoughts.
Sansa, while finally showing some sort of a spine by channeling Queen-bitch-Cersei realness, is really still just a petulant young woman who is more interested in herself than anything else. She seems to disagree with everything Jon says based on a sort of teenage principal alone. Jon leaving Winterfell in her hands while he rides South clearly surprises her. And while it’s good to have a Stark – and a woman – in charge of the North, it’s unclear how great Sansa will be in this new role. Especially if, oh, I don’t know, the Night King happens to make his way past the Wall. And ESPECIALLY with Littlefinger hanging around.
How great was it, though, when Jon Snow totally channeled the late Ned Stark (and right in front of his tomb) and strangled Little Finger in the crypt? Poor Baelish, it seems it’s his fate to have Stark men’s hands around his throat.
Meanwhile, Sam is really going out of his way to break as many rules as possible in the Citadel. But, as somehow he receives no repercussions for his actions throughout the entire show, he might as well continue doing as he pleases. The one most redeeming quality about Sam is his loyalty, and once he hears that Jorah is a Mormont, his love for the late Lord Commander Jeor Mormont sways him and decides he will do whatever it takes to try to cure Jorah. Perhaps this indicates that his love for the old Maester Aemon might inspire a similar loyalty toward Daenerys.
I will make no secret that I despise Jorah, because he is a CREEPER who doesn’t take no for an answer and quietly cries about an idolized version of a woman who will never feel the same way about him. Still, watching Sam scalpel off greyscale after greyscale brought me no pleasure. Leave it to Game of Thrones to find new ways to make us squirm.
Varys is put under fire by Daenerys. Even though this is a discussion that probably should have taken place a long time ago, he makes clear what he has always said (whether you’ve believed him or not, but I always have): that his priority is the good of the realm, and that the decisions he makes are always with the people in mind. Dany is known for holding grudges, but seems cool with what Varys has to say, and it’s good to have them on the same page. It’s also nice to see that both Varys and Little Finger are still actively in the game. Maybe they’ll both make to the end to complete their lovely arc that’s been going on since the beginning of the show. Then again, maybe not.
And we can’t forget about the hard work Cersei is putting in as she uses a nationalist approach to rally Tyrell bannermen to her side. It’s unfortunate when fantasy shows recall real life, but then again she makes a good point: Dothraki are terrifying, and Daenerys is a little bit trigger-happy when it comes to crucifixion. Jaime follows up with Sam Tarly’s dad Randyll, who may be a horrible dad and kind of an ass, but could possibly serve as a major player in the Lannister battle plans.
Qyburn never takes a day off, and has been hard at work making a weapon that can kill a dragon. The thought of any of the final three dragons in existence dying is as heartbreaking as when direwolves are killed. But if Qyburn can figure out how to take out the dragons, that might be just the thing to ensure Cersei’s victory over Daenerys. Too bad that dragon fire could be REALLY helpful against the Night King and his icy army.
And finally, as Game of Thrones gives more and more positions of power to women, it’s great to see that Nymeria has in her own right become the Queen of the North.
Game of Thrones season 7 finale review: “The Dragon and the Wolf”
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.
Game Of Thrones season 7 episode 6 review: “Beyond the Wall”
Let’s start with the positives. Game of Thrones continues to raise the bar in excellence when it comes to visuals and effects. Cinematography, costume design, CGI, explosions and battles, when combined with Ramin Djawadi’s top-notch music and the cast’s (mostly) exceptional acting creates a sensory feast, and enough of an anchor to keep us engaged through any rough patches in the show.
The bad news is that the writing has officially fallen off. Unreasonably fast pace, convenience, and plot holes have been a problem for a while now (notably since the show has caught up to the source material), but the sheer amount of dei ex machina in this episode alone are pretty much the nail in the coffin.
First off, traveling beyond the Wall to capture a Wight was NEVER a good idea. The sheer stupidity of the plan, as well as the execution, was worthy of a monumental face-palm.
Once the plan was set into motion, the writers seemed confused how to carry it off. What’s worse – they were unable to take the time or dole out the consequences that such a blunder deserved.
Once the group of warriors holed up on the little snow island, Daenerys and dragons had to come to the rescue, that much was clear. Because what other option could there have been? The seven main and near-main characters dying and joining the legions of the dead? (Well, that actually would have been a much more interesting choice.) No, the only thing we know of that could have saved our heroes was the same dragon fire we were intentionally shown recently in the loot train battle during “The Spoils of War”.
The characters narrowly escaped once again, except of course for Thoros of Myr (who was one of the lowest tier characters of the group, and who was the dramatically correct choice out of anyone to die since taking out the group’s healer means no resurrections) and some Westerosi Red-Shirts.
But the consequence is part of what made Game of Thrones so great to begin with. Everything has a consequence, and mistakes are punished. Daenerys and Tyrion even talk about this earlier in the episode.
Don’t think I’m ignoring the elephant – or dragon – in the room. Viserion paid for the human’s blunders here when the Night King expertly hurled an ice javelin at him mid-flight. If you get upset when a Direwolf dies, watching the death of a dragon is even more devastating. A truly mythical and glorious beast – and now there are only two left in the entire world.
What’s worse: now the Night King has an ice dragon to add to his legion of the undead, giants, and polar bears. THIS IS NOT OKAY.
Side note: some people criticize that the Night King missed Drogon while being able to hit Viserion, who was farther away. This is one of the few things in the episode that did not bother me because we saw Drogon hit by a very similar projectile a few episodes back. There was a reason for that: dragons are intelligent and he learned. So when Drogon saw a bolt fly at him he was able to dodge it because he had that experience to draw on. Did plot armor help? Of course! But there’s at least a plausible explanation underneath as well.
Benjen Stark / Coldhands rushes in to save Jon Snow in an offensively opportune moment, and after seeing him for about 30 seconds in this episode and season – and only briefly throughout the show – he sacrifices himself.
Meanwhile, we cut back and forth to Winterfell, where some confusing family drama is slowly playing out.
I understand that Arya and Sansa have been through so many experiences that are as varied as they are traumatic. They have come out the other side of many challenges and become hardened in the process. I get it, but why does it have to be a weird competition? Why do they refuse to see eye to eye? Why are they so defensive that they have been through the worst things? Why don’t they just sit down with each other and talk about what they’ve been through? Even if Arya’s too pissed off, and even if Sansa is too freaked out by her psycho siblings – why in the world would she send Brienne of Tarth away? And why in the seven hells would she confide in Littlefinger!?
The writing in this season makes it impossible to empathize or understand the motivations of these characters. As a result, their sibling rivalry just comes off as annoying. Littlefinger is playing the game in Winterfell, because for some reason no one has ever learned that you can’t trust him – even Sansa despite her own warnings. But that’s all that we know.
I can’t wait for this story line to wrap up. I just hope that Arya doesn’t come out the wrong end of it.
Back Jon and co: the brief and fool-hardy expedition did yield some pleasant and necessary interaction between the warriors. Tormund gushing about Brienne to the Hound was certainly a highlight. Jon offering Longclaw to Jorah and Jorah refusing the sword showed how noble both men were. And the group did snag a wight. Let’s just hope that it was worth it.
The most poignant scene in the entire episode was Jon and Dany on the boat. I have been known to criticize Emilia Clarke’s acting ability, but I also have noted how she and Kit Harrington really make each other shine. It’s true here. I honestly believe – even despite the scattershot writing of the season – that the two characters have fallen in love. I believe that (with a nudge from Tormund reminding him of the mistakes Mance Rayder made in the past) Jon finally submitted to Daenerys’ rule. And I applaud the show for holding onto their romantic and sexual tension rather than diving straight in for a kiss. We got to see these two characters truly vulnerable with each other, and regarding each other as equals.
I never thought I would be rooting for two family members to get together so badly, but boy do I want Daenerys and Jon to be together.
My final thought: Considering this was the penultimate episode of the season, it was particularly disappointing. Such episodes in the past have included epic battles (Blackwater, Bastards, the Wall). While we did watch a small group of men fight off some ice zombies for a while, the Loot Train Battle dwarfed this one. Past penultimate episodes have also had shocking deaths – Ned Stark’s beheading and the Red Wedding to name a few. Certainly, the dragon’s death was serious, but this season has not had any main character die.
Only one episode of the season remains, and everything is coming to a head. We will see whether some heads will roll, or if the writers have some more easy outs in store for our characters.
Draconic prediction: The book prophesy regarding the three-headed dragon did make some people believe that Daenerys, Jon, and perhaps Tyrion would all ultimately ride one each. That option is obviously off the table now. I believe that one more dragon – Rhaegal more likely than not – will have to die. Then Daenerys and Jon will ride Drogon together: the three heads of the dragon.
Game Of Thrones season 7 episode 5 review: “Eastwatch”
First thing’s first. If you’re not caught up with the current season of Game of Thrones and its most recent episode “Eastwatch” you should stop reading right now because we are getting into heavy spoiler territory. Consider yourself fairly warned.
Okay, so yeah, Jaime is NOT dead. Bronn pulls him up from the depths of the strangely deep waters and Daenerys does not think to give chase and capture the King Slayer. She could have easily made him a valuable political prisoner, or exacted vengeance (since he did stab her father the Mad King).
This is a missed opportunity. Why did “The Spoils of War” even end in a cliff-hanger if it was going to be immediately resolved so anti-climactically? Even forgiving the breach in logistics regarding Bronn pulling a heavy-army wearing Jaime a mile upstream from the brink of death, this creative decision robbed us of any strategic or emotional use for Jamie’s near-death experience.
But Dany’s got bigger fish to fry right now. Making the remaining Lannister and Tarly army soldiers bend the knee is priority number one. She is SUPER into making people bend the knee right now, even though she did not force, say, Yara Greyjoy or the Martel women to do the same last season.
However, Randyll Tarly does not comply with Daenerys’ demand. His refusal to bow down to yet another fire-happy, power-hungry queen is his last chance to basically flip the bird to the powers that be, and also to serve as an example so that his soldiers don’t have to suffer the same draconic fate.
Funny enough, Tyrion kindly suggests the same ultimatum that horrible-father Randyll Tarly presented to his own son Samwell years ago when he demanded he either go to the Wall and Take the Black, or die. Randyll refuses this offer, and we can all remember that he was never a nice guy to begin with.
But poor Dickon – who really stepped up to the plate last episode when he saved Jaime from a Dothraki fighter and won over our malleable hearts – decided to do the honorable thing and stood by his father’s side. Poor, stupid Dickon. For what it’s worth, Randyll and son die hand-in-hand, which is as heartwarming as it gets (literally).
Once again we are presented with the moral quandaries surrounding Daenerys’ leadership style. Tyrion and Varys examine these together in the Dragonstone throne room. Taking his first swig of wine in the entire show, Varys laments having served the Mad King too well, and cautions Tyrion take necessary steps to put Daenerys’ Targaryen tendencies in check.
True, it would be brutal to watch anyone being burned alive. But Daenerys did give the beaten soldiers a choice, and an explicitly clear choice at that. And when she asks Jon Snow why it bothers him so much when he himself caused thousands of men to die in the Battle of the Bastards, it reminds us of the late Tywin Lannister’s pragmatic logic. When Tyrion was upset about the Red Wedding, Tywin asked why it was preferable to kill more people in a drawn-out war than putting an end to the conflict in one horrible blow. The sad thing is that these rulers are not wrong, nor is Daenerys wrong when she says, “We both want to help people. We can only help them from a position of strength. Sometimes strength is terrible.”
Jamie returns to King’s Landing with the news of the catastrophic defeat. Cersei’s pissed, Jaime’s in shock, and it’s nice to see the Lannister smugness rocked, if even for a moment, as they take in the reality of fighting against an army powered in part by Dothraki and dragons. Additionally, the truth is revealed that Lady Olenna killed Joffrey – not Tyrion after all. We should have expected that Cersei would not immediately believe it, as dead-set as she’s been to exact vengeance upon her younger brother. Her slow understanding of the situation unnerves her, and us.
Okay, but we need to talk about the big Targaryen moment between Drogon and Jon.
We all know, via Bran’s vision of the Tower of Joy last season, that Jon is not the bastard of some lowborn who shacked up with Ned Stark. He is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, though this truth is still unknown to him. Dragons, however, are magical beings, and Drogon senses something different about the King in the North. Daenerys is visibly shocked, and moved, as her favorite child and newest crush connect on the windswept cliffs of Dragonstone. (Can Jon and Dany just get together already? Even Drogon seems to like the idea. Daenerys has come down with a serious case of Jon Snow fever, and I know what the cure is.)
That isn’t the only revelation concerning Jon we had this episode. Irritated Sam – who has not heard the news of his recently deceased father and brother – interrupts one of the most important discoveries in the entire show as Gilly proudly recites a little-known fact she read about Rhaegar Targaryen. Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia Martel annulled and married someone else – Lyanna Stark! This means that Jon Snow is not a bastard afterall, but in fact the rightful heir to the throne. Or one of them anyway.
Because we are rejoined with yet another character who has a right to the Iron Throne this episode: that’s right, Gendry! It’s about damn time that Robert Baratheon’s bastard made it back onto the screen. He’s older now, but he is ready to wail on enemies with the use of an epic Warhammer.
The realities surrounding royal legitimacy are now incredibly complicated, as Cersei, Daenerys, Jon, and Gendry all have a right to sit on the Iron Throne. Luckily the two “bastards” are new BFFs, and don’t care much about power, while Cersei and Daenerys are going to declare an armistice.
The reason for the truce is the matter of highest importance: the impending ice-zombie apocalypse. Bran has levelled up his warging abilities and is now able to transfer into the minds of an entire flock of ravens. Sure enough, he sees the army of the dead, and it has grown immensely.
That’s why Jon has to leave Dragonstone, and he has to do it now. There’s no more time to waste. Jorah, who pitifully returns to Daenerys, does not get much opportunity to make love-sick eyes at her before he leaves her again, to help Jon (and Daenerys) north of the Wall.
This entire season – and this episode in general – is crammed full of reunions. The last few scenes are so bursting with meetings that it’s comical. It might be carelessly rushed writing that brings seven diverse characters so quickly into each other’s company at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, but the final shot redeems the convenience.
One of my favorite things about the last few seasons is the feminist elevation of women into positions of power, including autonomy within their own lives. The final scene of “Eastwatch”, however, is a classicmoment in which a rag-tag team of misfit warriors join together to fight impossible odds. We’ve seen this trope in action films, Westerns, fantasies, and legends, ranging from “The Magnificent Seven” to “300”, from “The Seven Samurai” to “The Fellowship of the Ring”. As Jon Snow, Tormund Giantsbane, Thoros of Myr, Beric Dondarrion, Jorah Mormont, Gendry, and the Hound venture beyond the gates of the wall, we have to celebrate a moment of masculine badassery. And celebration is welcome considering the odds, as it is unlikely that everyone will return from this mission alive.
Still in the North, just not as far, Arya and Sansa are chafing at each other. Arya is understandably irritated at the spoiled brat in Lady’s clothing that is her older sister. At the same time, Arya underestimates what Sansa has learned about politics in her years with the Lannisters and Littlefinger. Still, she is right about Sansa’s motives for power, even if Sansa has not fully embraced those desires yet.
Arya can see through Sansa well enough, as well as Littlefinger. But where Arya fails is in her arrogance. She’s used to being the craftiest person in the room. Littlefinger uses this weakness against her, and allows Arya to discover a scroll that Sansa wrote all the way back in season one, when she implored their brother Robb to bend the knee to Joffrey.
The Starks’ greatest strength is in their roots, and through all of the trauma Sansa and Arya have forgotten where they come from. If they can look past their predispositions against each other, and put some faith in their familial bond, they may be able to prevail. Still, Littlefinger is still in the game for a reason, and the shot of him peeking at Arya from the shadows is the best of the episode. Something serious is about to go down in Winterfell – especially considering there are only two episodes left of the season, and only eight left of the entire series.
It’s still a weird secret that Jon Snow died and came back to life. I’m not quite sure why. His resurrection is hardly less believable than an army of the undead. Especially when you’re talking to a woman who walked into a funeral pyre and walked out with baby dragons. Is this “secret” going to come back to haunt him? I’m not sure how.
Jorah returns once again, but I’m so over his story line. He’d better make himself highly useful up North. Although, to be honest, I’d prefer Jorah never make it back alive.
Equally boring is Sam Tarly. I’ve reached my limit for easy poop jokes at the Citadel, and I’m ready to move on. I guess Sam is too, but frankly I don’t care what he or Gilly do next. His importance to the story was one of knowledge, and now he’s leaving the place where he could do the most good because he is impatient and frustrated. He’s so impatient he couldn’t even hear the important information Gilly had to impart. And, more importantly on a relationship level, he couldn’t even be proud of her for coming so far in her ability to read and learn. She’s grown so much as a person, but now he seems to take her for granted. He will probably head far North, and we’ll also have to spend time learning about his reaction to the news of his father and brother’s deaths. But with so much to do in the show, and such little time left, we can’t afford many more Samwell detours.
Congratulations to the happy couple, Cersei and Jaime. Some viewers may believe that she is lying about being pregnant, but I don’t buy that. The argument is that she wants to control Jaime, and she would claim to be pregnant in order to manipulate him. But anyone can see that Jamie is already wrapped around her finger. Additionally, even regarding a lie that would be found out within a matter of months, Cersei has always loved her family first, and I don’t think that even in her jaded state she would make light of bringing a new child into the world.
After so many houses have been wiped off the map (Boltons, Tyrells, Freys, etc.), it never sat with me that the Baratheons were extinct. Gendry is a welcome return. The costume designers of the scene summoned the house sigil in our subconscious even before we saw him. And I couldn’t be happier that he wields a Warhammer just as his father did. And with an engraved Stag to boot!
In an episode all about reunions, we were robbed of one of the more enticing ones: Tyrion and Bronn. The last we saw them was when Bronn refused to be Tyrion’s champion against the Mountain in season 4. They used to be thick as thieves. But their initial meeting was glossed over entirely.
Almost as disappointing was Tyrion and Jaime. Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau are both fine actors, but Tyrion and Jaime’s reunion was sterile and subpar.
Similarly, Jon receives the news that Arya and Bran are both alive. This would have some effect on most other characters, but in his typically grim manner he remains unphased. I understand that fighting White Walkers takes priority, but it doesn’t make sense that he doesn’t seem to feel any joy at all that two siblings he had thought were dead are actually still breathing.
As full of reunions and missed opportunities as this episode was, it was almost as full of fan-service. Ser Davos telling Gendry, “I thought you might still be rowing”, referencing the memes of impatient fans since season 3. Tormund asking after “the big woman” Brienne up at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Even the convenience of putting the Brotherhood Without Banners in the same place as Jon and crew.
My final thought:
The season has gone at break-neck speed. At the expense of subtlety. At the expense of secrecy. At the expense of… reasonable time it takes to travel anywhere. Seriously, the writers do not care AT ALL about traveling across the continent any longer. In season one it took a month in show time to travel from King’s Landing to Winterfell, and several episodes to travel back again. Now everyone seems to apparate wherever they please in a moment’s time.
Game of Thrones was built around its clever complexity, its human interactions, its strategic unfoldings. The show has now given away to climactic action and easy culminations. Part of that is truly breath-taking, as we witnessed in last week’s Loot Train Attack. But in slower episodes like these, many moments between characters, even if they seem exciting in the moment, appear lazy in retrospect. The show seems to be inadvertently begging for more breathing room, which would allow true artistry occur. If David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had let the pace breathe, we probably could have gotten an entire extra season of content, and all around higher quality.
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