Mr. Night King, tear down this wall.
More on that later. First, Game of Thrones has a way of making you bloodthirsty. Even though you dread the possibility of losing favorite characters you rejoice in the liberating joy of watching a show where anyone can die at any moment. You’re almost disappointed when it doesn’t happen.
Thus it is that one of my primary reactions to “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the season 7 finale, is “That’s it?” Littlefinger’s the only casualty? That is unless Tormund and Eye-Patch Guy also bit it on The Wall. But our only confirmed death is Littlefinger, executed by Arya under Sansa’s orders as the internet turned out to be right: the Stark sisters really were playing him this entire time. The whole storyline felt off because it was all a ruse. The Stark daughters have now proved more capable at playing the Game than their father, besting the man who was instrumental in bringing about Ned’s demise.
Everyone else, though, lived to fight in the final season. I was expecting more, but I’m also one of those viewers who fell for Sansa and Arya’s pretend rivalry. So, what do I know? Heck, I even fell for Cersei’s lies in this episode. Clearly, if I lived in Westeros my head would have long since joined Ned’s on the chopping block.
However, that’s the fun of this show. You try, as the now late Littlefinger would say, to see every possible move before it happens and then react. You read Cersei’s face for any hint at what she might be up to. You facepalm every time Jon opens up his big, dumb Winterfell mouth and sprays his honor over everything to fuck things up. Every little facial expression for the would-be Kings and Queens and their advisors can launch a thousand-word essays attempting to suss out a larger meaning. It’s all just politics, really, with boobs, dragons and zombies. The best person or candidate rarely wins. It ultimately comes down to who is the best at playin…
Hold on. Did you not see the part about dragons and zombies? The political theater of it all shouldn’t matter anymore. Now, it’s a fight for survival.
Yet the finale gathered all the major players together and while some of them are now more interested in the existential question of universal survival Cersei proved to be every bit her father’s daughter. She played Tyrion like a fiddle (he fell for her little act while also unknowingly giving away useful intel about Dany), and saw in the wight not a threat but instead a godsend, a force formidable enough to distract and diminish her enemies while she rebuilds her armies with her pilfered gold. It felt off when she accepted the truce and pledged her troops to Dany and Jon’s cause for the same reason that Sansa and Arya’s manufactured rivalry did: it’s simply not in their nature to believably take such action. Now, Cersei has doubled down and has a plan that might just work, that is if the North defeats the Army of the Dead. If not, she’s just sentenced herself and everyone in King’s Landing to a grisly fate. Either way, we can now see what we’d already assumed: In the end, Cersei Lannister will have to be killed. There will be no peaceful transition or concession.
So, the Night King just destroyed the wall. Nope. Not ready for that yet. Instead, this:
The Cersei and Stark sister developments in this episode illustrate the right and wrong way to pull off a twist. The former’s scheming and manipulation was perfectly in character and forced a confrontation with Jamie which ended with him finally walking away from her and pursuing the more honorable fight in the North. It’s a twist that brought about inevitable change and never betrayed the characters or audience in the process.
The latter, though, was far too dependent on bending the characters too hard and for too long. It subjected the audience to multiple episodes of a clearly contrived conflict in the hopes that the payoff would retroactively make it all worth it and paper over any plot holes, such as why the sisters kept up the charade even when no one else was around (I guess they assumed there was always some servant somewhere spying for Littlefinger) or why the Vale was so easily swayed to turn on Littlefinger without any proof beyond spooky Brann’s dispassionate word (the man who spoke for the Vale already didn’t trust Littlefinger, but Robin’s not going to like this; I suppose the Vale instinctively trusts Sansa, though).
Did the payoff make all of that go away? Was Littlefinger’s death cathartic enough to make us appreciate this plot line which turned the tables on the show’s best schemer, albeit at the cost of temporarily fooling the audience (well, some of the audience; others had this figured out weeks ago) as well?
I don’t know. He was kind of dead before we knew it, it all happened so quick. That being said, the Stark revenge tour just added another hit to its list, and we did get to enjoy the sight of a terrified and groveling Littlefinger, the first and, as it turns out, only time we’ve ever seen that side of him. The list of traditional villains on this show has now been whittled down to just Cersei, and the least enjoyable storyline of season 7 at least reached a somewhat satisfying end.
OMG, the damn Wall is down! Why aren’t you talking about that yet?
Anyway, season 7 is behind us, and I keep wondering why it only had to be 7 episodes long. HBO said the episode totals for the final two season were decided by Benioff and Weiss, who felt that they ultimately only needed 13 more episodes to finish the story (7 now, 6 next year). If that’s true and this wasn’t some budgetary constraint placed on them by HBO then I have to question their decision. We’ve now seen what they did with these first 7 episodes, and it felt overly compressed to the point that various plot holes were created for the sake of expediency.
I realize we’re almost to the finish line, and as such the show can’t and shouldn’t be as slow as it used to be. But the breakneck pace at which they moved this season turned this into a more traditionally satisfying and familiar TV show, which is not necessarily a good thing. Game of Thrones used to be unlike anything else on TV. Now it’s playing the kind of narrative tricks that lowly CW shows like Arrow and Vampire Diaries trotted out years ago, from Oliver’s active deceit of his friends (and the audience) when he fake-joined the League of Assassins (see: Arya and Sansa’s deception) to Stefan and Caroline discovering the truth about Damien’s power over Elena right as the latter two were consummating their relationship (see: Brann and Sam’s discussion juxtaposed with Jon and Dany’s first time).
Of course, you only notice these things if you are a TV obsessive, and even if you are the vague familiarity of it all need not detract from your enjoyment, not when so much else about the show remains unique. Still, Game of Thrones used to be its own thing, and now it’s starting to do things which remind me of other TV shows. That seems like a small, but significant moment.
Whatever. Have any CW shows ever ended a season with an ice dragon tearing down a giant wall?
Nope. It’d be weird if they did.
So, please. Night King. Wall. Gone. Talk about it.
Well, it’s one hell of a cliffhanger, but I’m ambivalent about it.
Of course you are.
The Wall that has stood for thousands of years was just brought down in a matter of minutes by the Night King and his dragon. That’s some Battlefield Earth shit, i.e., specifically Travolta’s line about how quickly the aliens defeated the Earth’s best defenses. The stunning swiftness of it is part of its power, but is it too much? The adult dragons have always been a bit of a problem for the writers in that they have to pull back on them from time to time for fear that their massive destructive power could render everything moot in a matter of seconds. So, Drogon and his brothers have usually served as the cavalry swooping in to save the day (with several exceptions, of course).
To now see one of them destroy Westeros’ most monumental barrier with such minimal effort is exhilarating, but it also contributes to my on-going sense that we are now watching Game of Thrones fan fiction (as I argued here). I guess I’m still just too stunned to process it all, much like Jamie after he first saw the dragons in action.
Maybe this is why the show is suddenly so obsessed with talking about Dany’s inability to have children. Because after what we just saw she’d better have an actual child with Jon since there’s no way both of her remaining dragons survive a fight with their zombified brother.
So, let me get this straight. You ultimately came down on this episode because it was too traditionally entertaining. Wow. Some people just don’t want to be happy.
Fair enough. I should point out that I enjoyed the hell out of this episode and all of the others that came before it this season. I’ve loved the communal experience of watching, reading and writing about Game of Thrones: Season 7. I can’t possibly communicate the dread I feel over knowing there are now only 6 episodes left, particularly since I feel like the show is somewhat needlessly rushing to the finish line. And at this point I’m almost starting to root for the Night King (just because Cersei is so evil and Jon so dumb; Dany’s still awesome, though).
This finale might have been low on (confirmed) high profile deaths, but with the destruction of the Wall and arrival of Winter as far south as King’s Landing the final 6 episodes could turn into a real bloodbath. I look forward to talking to you about all of that next year (or whenever season 8 arrives).
THE NOTES I WROTE WHILE WATCHING THE EPISODE
- So, I guess the Unsullied being stuck at Casterly Rock with their supply chain cut-off had no real lasting effect.
- I don’t know how or when, but Cersei’s going to find a way to take advantage of Dany having the Unsullied and Dothraki all in the same place at the same time.
- Cersei’s Kill List in Order: Dany, Tyrion, “That bastard they call ‘King’” Ha. She doesn’t even care enough about Jon to remember his name.
- So. Many. Reunions!
- Why was The Hound even there? As the Brotherhood Without Banners’ representative?
- It’s like Batman Forever in here. Quick, Jim Carrey, say this: “Cersei’s entrance was good. Dany’s was better.”
- Ugh. Euron’s talking again.
- Looks like Gendry’s been busy crafting those Dragonglass weapons.
- Wait. Dragonglass kills wights? Did we know that?
- Holy shit. Euron did something sane.
- Double holy shit. So did Cersei, re: being afraid of the wight.
- [Facepalm] Is all of this seriously coming down to Jon, the least capable diplomat left in the Game? Of course he would blow it right away.
- Whoa there, Tyrion. What’s your plan here? Because if you die then we all stop watching this show.
- Cersei reflects on her family history and legacy at the same time that Dany does the same thing. Not so different…
- Poor Jorah. His Khaleesi has found another.
- You can’t break Theon, Iron Islands guy. Ramsey already did that.
- Well, shut my mouth. The internet was right this entire time. Sansa and Arya were totally playing Littlefinger.
- The one thing Littlefinger couldn’t predict: that a long lost Stark boy would come back with magical abilities allowing him to see the entirety of Westeros history, including everything he ever did. But, really, how does one plan for such a thing. It’s almost not fair.
- “I became the Three-Eyed Raven.” – Well, that’s neat.
- Great. Confirm the whole aunt-nephew thing just in time for Dany and Jon’s first time together to be exactly as uncomfortable as we knew it would be even though we’ve been trying our best to ignore the incest of it all.
- Jon’s naked body looks so oddly small compared to Dany’s naked body.
- Tyrion’s worried, ya guys. He doesn’t know what Sam and Brann know, but he knows enough to be worried about Dany and Jon’s union, which surely won’t go over well in the North.
- In retrospect, if Cersei had such a non-reaction to seeing dragons for the first time why should we really have believed her fear at seeing the wight. She was playing all of them, including Jamie.
- You were right, Tom Petty. Even walls down, but, da-aaam!
- Wait. Tormund’s totally fine, though, right? Because why let him escape last week only to bury him under the Wall off-screen this week. Right?
- Ahh. No preview for next week’s episode because…finale.
- Just 6 more episodes left.
- And we have to wait a year.
- Need for anti-depression medication, rising.
Cersei: “I always knew you were the stupidest Lannister”