Welp, we’re finally here. The season finale, clocking in at 81 minutes (not counting the behind-the-episode stuff), has to tie up two main storylines: the whole “show Cersei a wight and negotiate a truce” thing, and the Arya-Sansa-Littlefinger tango in Winterfell. I’m going to give each its own section.
“Why Are We Here?” – Cersei
That’s a good question. The only reason given that Queen Daenerys and her Dothraki-Dragon-Unsullied three-way tag team didn’t just knock over King’s Landing in the second episode was a very unspecific handwave about how it would cause “too much death,” so for me this entire storyline was built on a foundation of frustrating vagueness from the get go.
In the middle part of the season, Cersei scored several victories over Team Dany via a combination of Euron’s teleporting fleet and Tyrion’s misguided belief that Casterly Rock was tactically important. So now that the Lannisters are back in the game, Team Dany can’t go north to fight the Night King and company, because Cersei will retake… something.
What exactly will Cersei retake? Near as I can tell, the only things Team Dany controls are Dragonstone and Casterly Rock. And considering that what looks like all of the Unsullied show up at King’s Landing, I’m not even sure she controls Casterly Rock anymore, or if anyone even cares about Casterly Rock anymore anyway.
As for the Vale, the Stormlands, and Dorne, there’s no indication at all what’s happening in any of them. So, absent a truce, what exactly is Cersei going to reconquer with her armies? Oh yeah, by the way: that’s “armies” – plural. The only Lannister army that I’m certain exists is the one Jaime led back from Highgarden, and they were devastated by dragonfire and Dothraki. But now Cersei makes multiple references to her “armies” that everyone on Team Dany takes at face value.
But nevermind all that. Apparently securing Cersei’s agreement to a ceasefire is crucial, so in the final part of the season Tyrion hatches an idiotic plan to send the King of the North and a handpicked commando squad of six named characters and exactly two expendable redshirts north of the wall on foot to capture a wight and deliver it back to King’s Landing. Upon seeing it, Cersei will hopefully agree to call time-out on the war. Of course, this plan also hinges on Cersei being trustworthy, a laughably naive assumption coming from Tyrion of all people.
If this plotline was a seven-layer cake, six of the seven layers would be undiluted nonsense.
Said plotline culminates in the Dragonpit scene, which was way longer than it needed to be. Dany isn’t there at first, because obviously she’s going to ride in on a dragon, but we all have to go through the motions of pretending like this is some kind of surprise, and there’s the whole production with the flapping and the roaring and the swelling music and so forth. Then Euron (remember him?) decides to mock Theon for no reason I can figure out, then there’s some more speechifying by Tyrion, Cersei and Jon. Scattered throughout the scene are several long, awkward pauses, where the characters are quite obviously unsure of who should speak next.
When people do speak, it’s usually to repeat things we already know. Tyrion will say something like “none of us like each other,” and Jon will say something like “the real war is between the living and the dead,” and Cersei will point out that she thinks this whole thing is a ruse.
It’s really hard to exaggerate how much directionless wheelspinning there is in this scene. Remember, it began with Team Dany arriving at King’s Landing. We didn’t take a detour to any other location in the meantime. And yet it’s not until more than twenty-three minutes into the episode that the Hound finally kicks over the wight box, and shows Cersei the thing that was the whole point of getting everyone together here in the first place.
During that time, did we learn a single new thing about any character? Did anyone make any kind of decision, or come to realize something they didn’t realize before? Did anything of significance happen? There’s a part where Bronn tells Pod they should go get a drink, then Pod looks at Brienne, then Brienne nods, then Bronn and Pod walk offstage, and we get another shot of Brienne watching them go. Why is this here? I could name other examples, but I doubt you want to read a laundry list. We could have had three full Dornish coups in the amount of screentime we spent watching these people sit around in chairs and nonversate at each other.
Anyway, now Cersei believes in zombies. Well, she probably already did, considering she’s had a zombie bodyguard for most of two seasons. But now she believes in a new kind of zombie, which I guess is progress. She declares that she’ll agree to a ceasefire… if the King in the North commits to some kind of permanent non-aggression pact? I think? Jon refuses this vaguely-worded demand, on the grounds that he’s already sworn allegiance to Dany. Everyone acts surprised at this news, which meant that Jon once again made a major political decision in private and didn’t bother to tell anyone until now. Say what you want about his complete lack of common sense – at least it’s consistent.
This infuriates Cersei for some reason. I guess she had some kind of plan that hinged on fighting Team Dany later but not Team Jon, even though the two of them were enemies anyway. So Cersei leaves, and the ceasefire that’s either utterly crucial or completely unnecessary (depending on whether you trust Tyrion’s strategic savvy or your own lying eyes) has been scuttled.
Everyone seems to think this is Jon’s fault for having an Eddard Stark-like moment of stubborn honesty. He justifies his decision with the following line: “I’m not going to swear an oath I can’t uphold. Talk about my father if you want, tell me that’s the attitude that got him killed. But when enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything. Then there are no more answers, only better and better lies, and lies won’t help us in this fight.”
You know what? I liked that line. It’s a good depiction of what the difference between northerners and everyone else is supposed to be. Jon can be quite persuasive when he’s not being an utter blockhead.
Okay, back to griping. Tyrion decides that the only way to change Cersei’s mind is for him to talk to her alone. In this the show follows a by-now familiar pattern: all important decisions must be made either by Tyrion or as a direct result of Tyrion’s advice. I could probably write a whole separate essay on how Daenerys Targaryen is practically a supporting character at this pointDid you notice how the two Queens barely interacted with each other at all?, but let’s keep the focus on what’s happening.
I think we in the audience were supposed to be worried that Tyrion might not survive this meeting. Maybe back in season four I might have been worried, but those days are long gone. Had there been any danger, he could have just dived into his wine glass and resurfaced two miles downstream.
This whole scene was a masterclass in two talented actors making the best of bad dialogue. It ends with Tyrion realizing that Cersei is pregnant. This provokes an offscreen decision to send the Lannister armies north to fight the Night King. But – and this is a twist that will absolutely blow your socks off – it turns out that Cersei Lannister is being dishonest. Her brilliant deception goes like this: instead of sending the Lannister armies north to support Teams Jon and Dany, she’s going to… not do that. They’re just going to stay in King’s Landing.
Well, there is one final wrinkle: she’s going to hire the Golden Company, a band of Essosi mercenaries. Only I’m not sure that’s really a surprise, because didn’t she say she was going to do that earlier in the season? In two different scenes, no less? What’s more, it looks like Euron is going to be the one ferrying them across the narrow sea. Just when I thought we were finally done with him, we learn that we’ve got another season of Eurony goodness in store. Hooray. Let’s bust out the confetti.
At this, Jaime finally gets the character development he should have had three seasons ago, and abandons Cersei, probably for good. As he’s riding out of King’s Landing, the first snowflakes of winter fall on him.
Oh yeah, and at the end, boatsex happened. Boatsex was one of the few season seven leaked spoilers I was unable to avoid. The leak stated that Jon and Dany would have epic sex on a boat. Instead, it was just normal sex on a boat. Maybe exposition-bot Bran’s narration is what killed the mood for me, or maybe I just haven’t seen enough boatsex to truly appreciate how epic this was.
During the boatsex, we learn that Jon is actually the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. The portion of the audience that didn’t already know this could be completely forgiven for not remembering who Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark even are.What’s more, flashback!Rhaegar looked so much like Viserys – Dany’s asshole brother from season one – that I got a confused text from a friend asking if Viserys was Jon’s father.
As we wrap up this mess, it’s good to remember just how unnecessary it all was. They spent two episodes planning and executing the wight-capture plan, then another showing it to Cersei and negotiating with her, then they finally got her to agree to truce that she never had any intention of honoring. In fact, assuming that the absence of the Lannister armies was noticed at roughly the same time Jon and Dany were having sex on a boat, she openly breaks the truce in the very same episode she made it, a development that should surprise exactly no one. Go team!
Writing about the Arya-Sansa-Littlefinger Winterfell storyline for too long gives me a pounding headache, so I’m gonna try and get this over with as quickly as possible.
After spending most of the season building up some kind of showdown between Arya and Sansa, events take a swerving left turn that ends with Sansa accusing Littlefinger of various crimes and Arya slitting his throat with the valyrian steel dagger (irony!). There are two ways of interpreting the events at Winterfell this season:
- The conflict between Arya and Sansa was genuine. Arya really was threatening to kill Sansa, both for not being sufficiently loyal to Jon and out of residual childhood resentment.
- The conflict between Arya and Sansa was staged for Littlefinger’s benefit. In most or all of the conversations they had, Littlefinger was listening – hiding under the bed or something, or possibly braced against the ceiling ninja-style.
If you believe the first interpretation, the final-act swerve was completely random and unearned. If you believe the second interpretation, the entire storyline was pointless. Littlefinger, it turns out, was not needed to retain the loyalty of the Vale Knights after all. Bran would have had knowledge of Littlefinger’s betrayal this whole time. And Sansa has had dirt on Littlefinger – both that he killed Lysa Arryn AND that her “kidnapping” by the Boltons was not a kidnapping at all – this whole time. (To make things even more confusing, the dirt she exposes – Lysa Arryn’s murder – is a lie in which Sansa herself was complicit! Fortunately Lord Royce seems to have forgotten about that, I suspect because the writers have as well.)
The most plausible explanation for all this I can see is that Benioff and Weiss are just deliberately yanking our chains for their own amusement. Have they gone mad with power? I would advise HBO’s top brass to start searching for caches of wildfire in the New York subway system.
Anyway, the season ends with Arya and Sansa standing between Winterfell’s Crenellations of Deep Thematic Significance. At least now they finally seem to have a supportive and loving relationship, complete with an against-all-odds touching callback to Ned’s “the pack survives” line. It’s what they should’ve had from the beginning of the season.
Did We Mention that Theon Doesn’t Have a Penis?
Theon gets a very abridged storyline as well. First, he has a scene with Jon, where Jon forgives him for all the things Jon feels he has the right to forgive. I’ve personally found Kit Harrington to be a limited actor, but there are certain notes he can hit very well. And Alfie Allen is, in my opinion, too good for this show.
Then, Theon regains the loyalty of the Ironborn via the ancient ritual of “beating up some jerk in front of everyone.”
Theon’s secret weapon in this fight is that he doesn’t have a penis anymore. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a movie, show, book, or anything else that’s been so consistently preoccupied with the presence or absence of male genitalia. Constant Varys eunuch jokes, Unsullied eunuch jokes, Theon eunuch jokes, magical severed dwarf cock jokes… if there isn’t a graduate student out there right now writing their thesis on castration in Game of Thrones, then America’s institutions of higher learning have failed us.
The final thing that happens this episode is the Blue Eyes Wight Dragon attacking the wall and crumbling a section of it. This is a momentous occasion, of course, though it does make me wonder whether the wall could have stopped the Army of the Dead before they had a zombie dragon.
Benjen, who is a wight-kind-of-but-not-really (it’s never quite explained) states that he can’t go south of the wall. But team capture-a-wight brings theirs south of the wall without having it crumble or anything. The Night King seems to be in no rush to get to the wall, and it may be that he deliberately sought to lure one of Dany’s dragons north so he could javelin it to death and then zombify it.
What would he have done if he didn’t have a zombie dragon? Would he have just been stuck in the far north forever? When Bran learned that the wights were marching towards Eastwatch it seemed to be a matter of some urgency. I’m not sure if it actually was – several times characters on the show say things like “the wall should stop them, right?” but no one gets a chance to answer this question.
Was the Night King just killing time until a dragon showed up? Did he somehow know that Tyrion was going to send Queen Daenerys’ secret crush on a suicide mission, and that she’d rush to save him? If so, that’s some real eleven-dimensional chess going on. This might all be cleared up next season, but I suspect it’s just going to be added to the pile of things that were never really explained.
Aaaaaand that was season seven. I’m going to try and arrange some thoughts on the season as a whole into a coherent post for next week. The next season apparently won’t premiere until 2019(!), so we’ll have plenty of time to think about everything.
 Did you notice how the two Queens barely interacted with each other at all?
 What’s more, flashback!Rhaegar looked so much like Viserys – Dany’s asshole brother from season one – that I got a confused text from a friend asking if Viserys was Jon’s father.
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