This season of Game of Thrones has felt like a sprint, packing in huge plot points, long-awaited reveals, and action-packed sequences in record time. The season finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” hewed to that formula from the very first frame. Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, and Cersei Lannister all ended up in the same location at the same time. The Clegane brothers finally faced off, if only for a moment. Littlefinger finally ended up on the losing end of a manipulation gone wrong. And the long-awaited romantic union of Dany and Jon finally arrived — just as the show decided to clue audiences in on Jon Snow’s real name and lineage. And did we mention that The Wall came tumbling down? Because that happened, too.
Like much of the season, “The Dragon and the Wolf” felt like a Game of Thrones greatest-hits album, pulling in as many high-impact moments with the show’s heavy-hitters as possible. But it wasn’t just about crowd-pleasing moments. The season finale also did some heavy lifting in setting up both the stakes (the Night King’s army is now past the wall and marching inexorably south) and themes (family, honor, and honesty) that will no doubt end up defining the final season of the show, whether it arrives in 2018 or 2019.
Following the episode, we sat down to discuss the most memorable scenes from “The Dragon and the Wolf.”
Jon just has to tell the truth
Bryan: The entire pretense of the big meeting that kicks off the episode is that Dany and Jon need to convince Cersei Lannister to join them in their fight against the Night King and the army of the dead. The Iron Throne isn’t good to anybody if Westeros is a wasteland roamed by wights and White Walkers, so ensuring everybody plays on the same side — even if only briefly — is pretty essential to survival on the continent. After a lot of posturing on everybody’s part (Euron Greyjoy just can’t help being the loudest, most annoying dude in any room), Cersei agrees, as long as Jon promises he won’t take sides between the two queens.
But Jon Snow is so golly-gosh-gee-whiz honest he can’t help but alert everyone that he’s already bent the knee (the phrase never goes away, does it?) to Dany, causing Cersei to storm out and leaving everyone else to gripe at Jon. You broke down the long-term ramifications of Jon Snow’s honesty, Tasha, and narratively, the present conflict here works out fine(ish) in the end. But one thing that really struck me about this sequence was the number of reunions in the lead-up, and how so many of those individual relationships transcended the politics in play. Podrick and Tyrion’s cheerful greeting. Bronn and Tyrion first negotiating, then begrudgingly admitting they have real human emotions. Brienne of Tarth smiling slyly while walking alongside The Hound and discussing Arya, and later grabbing Jaime and begging him to talk to his sister. Game of Thrones has always played in the greys rather than the bold black and white of good and evil, and we saw that pay off as characters aligned against each other in the moment nevertheless connect as living, breathing humans.
That will no doubt become even more important in the final season, where some of these characters will work alongside each other to fight the Night King, or perhaps even switch sides. (Was Tyrion’s conversation with Bronn foreshadowing a possible betrayal of Cersei?) Of course, it’s also just a sign of a show that, in its final hours, is condensing itself down only to the characters that make a difference, no matter what side of which fence they’re on.
Tasha: And for me, that manifested most clearly in the way Bronn pulls Podrick aside before the summit, they disappear offstage, and they’re never seen again. It reminded me immensely of Edmure Tully being whisked away into captivity before the Red Wedding — Bronn basically says “Let’s let the important people talk,” but it feels more like “Let’s get you out of this deathtrap, we need you for later.” As important as Bronn has been this season, he still gets summarily swept offstage, for no clear reason, and that’s the end of him for this year.
And those reunions you mention are all equally short. I understand why Brienne and Jaime aren’t going to get any kind of space to enjoy their long-awaited (by me, anyway) reunion, but Brienne’s terse exchange with the Hound and Tyrion’s with Podrick both feel to me more like the showrunners were forced to acknowledge “Oh crap, these guys know each other.” It’s magnificent that Game of Thrones has lasted long enough and spent enough time on character development that these characters all have a history, and all have well-established grudges to pay off, or connections to acknowledge. I just wish it wasn’t being done in such a half-hearted rush. There wasn’t more time for their conversation given the way the summit was staged, but I suspect the George R.R. Martin version of the same event would have involved different people arriving at different times, settling in overnight, and having the time and space to really talk. I know Game of Thrones episodes are expensive, but how much would it have really added to the budget to have these characters get 10 minutes in a room together instead of two minutes on the road?
But anyway, back to Jon. I admire his straight-up honesty and his reasoning for it: essentially that there’s been too much lying already, and that words need to mean something. I admire that the show is still willing to let him come across as a little naive, and a little doomed, because he has morals and can’t let go of them. Given that Cersei needed a reason to storm out of the meeting in order to make her later capitulation more believable — surely no one would have bought it if she’d offered them everything they’d wanted up front, no questions asked — I can’t help but wonder if she already knew Jon had sworn fealty to Daenerys. (Lord, I’m tired of “bend the knee.”) Maybe Cersei was deliberately using that as a wedge because she knew he wouldn’t lie about it. She does have her spies, and Jon has already sent word North about giving in to Dany’s demands. Regardless, though, this is a big moment because it’s so telling about Jon’s character and how predictable he is. We’ve had seven seasons of lying, intrigue, and manipulation, and here we once again have the one guy who can’t even tell a lie to save his cause and his friends. Good for you, you naive, doomed, not-a-bastard-after-all.
Littlefinger gets played (and slayed)
Bryan: This season we’ve been watching the escalating tensions between Sansa and Arya, hoping that somehow they might be working in concert rather than being so easily manipulated by Littlefinger. The show was leaning heavily toward the latter during the season finale, as Lord Baelish walked Sansa step-by-step through the reasons why Arya could be there to kill Sansa. But just when it seemed Sansa was going to try her own sister for murder and treason, the tables were turned, and Littlefinger wound up on trial.
It was a fist-pump moment, awaited ever since Petyr Baelish revealed his sleazy skills early on in the show, and it represented a clear rite of passage for all three of the Stark children involved. The Sansa audiences first met would never have been able to make the call that the Lady of Winterfell made here. Arya had to train to become the brutal killer who so casually slashed Littlefinger’s throat. And Bran had to lose himself completely to make his appearance as Expert Witness Three-Eyed Raven.
But despite the satisfaction of the Starks winning one for a change, I couldn’t help but notice that the scene was strangely unearned. Scene after scene this season showed Littlefinger playing the Stark sisters against one another with ease, without any onscreen moment where they questioned or wondered what was happening. Granted, it’s totally plausible that they could come to this conclusion — with Bran in the family, they can probably figure out anything — but it did feel a little easy for everything to happen offscreen.
Tasha: Yup, it was kind of a cheap shot, played for shock, and so was Littlefinger’s abrupt and keening cowardice, throwing himself on his knees and weeping for his life. I don’t care. As clunky as the lead-up was, it was just such a relief to see the show wrap up this plotline, with Littlefinger mysteriously hanging around Winterfell even though everyone important had told him to bugger off, and Sansa suddenly going from “You should leave, no really, leave, get out of here, go already” to running to him for advice. It was about time she actually did something about the guy who sold her off to a sadistic torturing rapist for his own profit. (That move never really did make any sense, given that Littlefinger somehow hoped to end up with her himself — did he just think he’d look like a better catch after she’d been at Ramsay’s mercy for a while?) Put it this way — I watch Game of Thrones with a group of friends who normally sit in complete respectful silence during this show out of deference to everyone else’s experience. And we were whooping like drunks at the Mayweather/McGregor fight during this scene, because it was such a payoff.
Now, it’s still hard to reconcile this with the Arya/Sansa scene we got last week, where Arya kind of threatened to cut Sansa’s face off and steal her identity, and Sansa seemed genuinely frightened that it might happen. Apparently right after that scene, Arya walked back in and said “Oh, sorry, I forget I’m kinda weird sometimes. What I’m trying to say is, we can kill that betraying backstabber Petyr Baelish and I can take his face and keep the soldiers of the Vale on our side by pretending to be him, so you can stop holding back.” And then Bran apparently wheeled in and said, “Oh, by the way, I’m actually useful when people like Sam come and ask me direct questions. Would you like to list off some things and have me jump back in time and witness them? Say, the last three times Littlefinger betrayed our family as part of a long-term bid for power?”
If that didn’t happen, I’m hard-put to explain exactly how this scene came together. But as I said, I don’t care at the moment. I’m just glad this plot is resolved and largely over with, apart from Arya possibly assassinating kill-list members Ilyn Payne, Gregor Clegane, and maybe even Cersei while wearing Littlefinger’s face.
That aside, though, why in heaven’s name is Winterfell socializing so built around people standing on balconies and parapets several feet away from each other, staring forward and barely ever looking at each other? Is this a Stark thing? That final shot of Arya and Sansa, complimenting each other and reasserting their familial bond, would be downright touching if they weren’t both so dedicated to acting like awkwardly-placed gargoyles.
Cersei triples down on family
Tasha: We got a lot of important Cersei moments this week. She condescended to sit down with her enemies, and sneered at Daenerys for keeping them all waiting. (Never mind that Cersei herself kept most of the rest of the summit team waiting in a beautifully tense scene where it seemed like the summit itself might just be a trap.) She met a wight face to face and nearly had her face ripped off in the process. She pledged her armies and her energies to ending the undead menace. Then, behind closed doors, she took it all back. But for me, the most significant Cersei moment this week was when she had her brother Tyrion openly baiting her to kill him… and she didn’t.
You can say there are political reasons behind that choice, that she wants to keep her cover as a card-carrying member of Team Living in the fight vs. Team Dead. She still may hate Tyrion and want to kill him. But for me, this was still a huge moment for Cersei, who constantly says family is more important than anything, but has never shown it more clearly than in this moment. She believes Tyrion cost her her father, her mother, and two of her three children. That’s not a fair assessment, certainly, but Cersei lost any pretense of being fair to Tyrion back when she was torturing him in his infancy, as Oberyn Martell once told us. But she still passes up the chance to murder him. And I think it’s because deep down she knows he had valid reasons for killing Tywin, and that he couldn’t have foreseen the fallout. More importantly, he’s still family. Cersei’s a plotter and a schemer, but her protective impulse toward her children has always been her defining trait, and I just don’t think she could have let Tyrion go — even as part of her big “Here are my armies”/”Yoink!” ploy — if she truly blamed him for their deaths. No matter how calculated it is, this was still a huge moment for her.
Threatening to have the Mountain kill Jaime was a completely different order of business. For a minute, I really believed Game of Thrones was going to go there — not because it made any damn sense for her character, but because Benioff and Weiss haven’t had a really shocking, memorable death in quite a while, and no one would see this one coming. I’m glad Jaime called her bluff — c’mon, Cersei, after your umpteenth speech about family, and after letting Tyrion go, you thought your lover and oldest supporter would believe you were willing to kill him for defiance?
Bryan: Perhaps I’m applying Littlefinger’s “think of the worst possible motivation” guide to living here, but I don’t know that I buy Cersei keeping Tyrion alive due to family. At that point, she’s in a position where she has to make some sort of nice with Jon and Dany, just to make sure nobody’s looking when Euron comes back with her secret Iron Bank army. And when Dany arrived atop a dragon, there was actual fear in Cersei’s eyes. That and the wight probably made for a stressful day, and Tyrion becomes quite useful in that moment, in terms of making sure her plans go off without a hitch. If she kills Tyrion, Dany might just dragon-ize her. That’s a no-win scenario for everyone.
But that scene with Jaime is a totally different scenario. I think the moment I enjoyed the most is when Jaime simply called her bluff and walked away. Cersei’s gotten so used to being the Queen of Terror that, aside from the High Sparrow situation, she just doesn’t know how to cope with people not cowering in fear. It’s almost like post-Tommen’s death, she doesn’t understand why they wouldn’t just kowtow — particularly Jaime, who she’s been able to quietly manipulate for their entire lives.
Ultimately, she thinks she’s got that pregnancy ready to fill any familial gaps, should it come to that. But I can’t help but wonder if she forgot the prophecy we were shown in the fifth season — the one that stated Cersei would have three children. Those kids have come and gone, and the odds of her latest child making it into the world seem unlikely.
R + L = everybody was right
Bryan: Game of Thrones had already made it clear to those paying attention that Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen were related, and that Jon was a legitimate heir, not a byblow family offshoot. The only thing left was for the characters to put the pieces together explicitly — and in the season finale, they did. Bran and Samwell Tarly coming together to share information was delightful. Sam’s been a lot of fun this season, but aside from saving Jorah Mormont, he hasn’t had a chance to do a whole lot. Trading notes with the Three-Eyed Raven, however, his trip to The Citadel finally paid off. R+L=J is a theory that book fans have been talking about for years, and having it all spelled out on the show felt like two different Game of Thrones fandoms finally syncing up.
But the most Game of Thrones-esque aspect of it was that the moment happened at the same time that Jon Snow paid Dany a late-night visit, and the two finally had a glowing, backlit romantic moment. Fans have been clamoring for Jon and Dany to get together, and the tension has been growing with every look, hand-touch, and knee-bend this season. The show finally delivered it — at the same time it was reminding fans that the two are actually related. It turned a triumphant moment of fan satisfaction into an awkward squirm, which is of course what the show loves doing. Game of Thrones just loves taking expectations — Ned Stark is the heroic audience surrogate! Robb Stark will avenge his father’s death! — and turning them on their head, usually drenched in blood.
Taking the romantic coupling that fans have been desperate for, and underscoring its inherent creepiness with a huge cinematic Sharpie, was marvelous. Well played, Game of Thrones.
Tasha: I think you’re vastly overestimating the fans’ willingness to squirm over this one, Bryan. At least that’s what I’m getting from people reacting in comments and on social media — I’m seeing a lot of hand-waving and contemptuous dismissal at the very idea that their blood relationship might be any sort of problem. The fans seem to want hot wolf-on-dragon action, no matter what. Personally, I find the whole blood-relation thing pretty abstract, especially compared with the graphic imagery of beautiful (and beautifully lit and shot) naked-actor bodies mushing up against each other. And I say this as a viewer with no particular emotional interest in this particular ship. I’m certainly curious how they’re each going to react to finding out their relationship, but the moment didn’t play out any particular squick factor for me because it’s not written or shot that way.
I feel differently about Tyrion lingering outside Daenerys’ bedroom, forlornly watching as Jon walks in and the door shuts behind him. There have been times this season where Tyrion’s seemed to be nurturing a bit of a crush on Daenerys, but it’s always played in a low-key, readily deniable kind of way. (Unless what he meant by his succession talk last week was “You should marry me,” and I missed that.) Now all of the sudden we’re in a John Hughes movie, with the protagonist’s best nice-guy buddy skulking around, realizing that she’s getting with the hot guy instead of with him. I’m not happy with this characterization for a lot of reasons, one of the biggest ones being that I don’t think the show has enough time or space to do much with it. The showrunners haven’t had a lot of interest in Tyrion this season — or a lot of the other once-major characters. And now this is what they want to do with him? I’m more squicked by lovelorn, useless, angsty Tyrion than I am by the Jon/Dany romance.
The Wall falls
Bryan: More than any other season, this year of Game of Thrones has felt like a tightly plotted piece of fiction. Every setup has a payoff, and nary a moment goes by without serving some vital plot function. When the show put a zombie dragon into play at the end of the season’s penultimate episode, it was just a matter of when he would show up — and, fittingly for season 7, it was in the next episode.
There’s a math-problem simplicity to the Wall solution. In the behind-the-scenes look that follows the episode, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss acknowledge that a dragon was a great option for punching a hole through the Wall, and it suddenly makes the use of the dragons earlier in the season seem even more impressive and efficient. They were used to convince Jaime Lannister that it was impossible to fight against Dany and her forces (just one of many decisions that led to him finally breaking ranks with his sister in “The Dragon and the Wolf”); they were used as emotional stakes for Dany, leading to her decision to join Jon and battle the army of the dead; and here was a dragon again, a blue-fire sword to the Wall’s Gordian knot.
Part of me wonders how much dragon use is too much, and whether the show will have to ease back a little in the final season (whenever it arrives). But I can already see the dragons becoming a point of contention between Jon and Dany, particularly after they both discover Jon’s true identity. Earlier this season, we saw how surprisingly tolerant Drogon is of Jon. A scenario where his ability to ride one of the dragons becomes a huge problem for Dany seems likely. There’s also the convenient fact that we now have two Targaryens and two dragons for them to ride, offering up the opportunity for Jon and Dany to simultaneously take to the skies to battle the Night King and zombie Viserion.
But before we can even get that far, we have to grapple with the simple fact that the Night King and his army are now marching unimpeded. The Night’s Watch is probably gone. And the army of the dead have a weapon that was able to take down a structure that has stood for thousands of years. As far as season cliffhangers go, Game of Thrones left audiences plenty to worry about while waiting for the final season.
Tasha: I wouldn’t call the Night’s Watch gone so much as irrelevant — the Night King didn’t take down the entire wall, just the Eastwatch section. But it remains that the “shield that guards the realms of men” has failed, and the army is moving south, most notably toward Winterfell.
I think you can predict that the show will hold back at least somewhat on dragon use. Among other things, everyone I’ve talked to behind the scenes has reiterated over and over that dragon CGI is monumentally expensive and difficult to coordinate, which is saying something on a show that routinely flies its cast and crew around the world whenever the characters switch castles. It’s going to be interesting to see how the show avoids having a Drogon/Viserion duel to the death in the first episode of the next season, but there are a couple of reasonable options. In one, Dany’s advisors warn her against taking Drogon into battle, potentially getting him killed, and giving the Night King another ice-dragon to play with. In another, Drogon and Viserion do face off, both are hurt, and both have to spend some time licking their wounds, leaving the living and dead armies to engage in more conventional warfare. However it happens, I’m betting the final dragon battle doesn’t happen until near the end of the series, because if you eliminate the dragons from the equation, suddenly Game of Thrones starts seeming a little more mundane than it was.
Let’s not talk about why an undead dragon breathes blue flame, okay? Or how blasting a 700-foot wall with fire near the top, and collapsing it into rubble, somehow left a surface flat enough for an army to walk across. Or the fact that this season of Game of Thrones ended much like Wonder Woman, with a sequence that’s basically an all-CGI videogame cutscene. Let’s just stick to OMG DRAGONZ! and consider it pretty badass that the undead army has its own loyal dragon to offset Dany’s. So much of this season, and this episode in particular, was about rah-rah payoff, action and sex, and long-gestating protagonist-banter — about giving the fans the things they most want, especially if they don’t think about them too hard. I’m almost ready to stop thinking about this show, and to just marinate in the warm feelings of having seen some pretty intense and promising things happening to push it all toward an explosive end.
Bonus scene #1: Theon finds his balls
Tasha: In the middle of all this big action, there’s one little sequence that doesn’t make a huge difference in the big picture, but still feels satisfying, in a little personal way. And that’s Theon Greyjoy deciding to man up and go after his sister Yara, who’s been missing ever since Euron captured her and Theon jumped into the sea to avoid fighting him. This was the episode where Theon found out she’s still alive (well, at least according to Euron, who was openly baiting him) and decided to do something about it.
First he seeks absolution and encouragement from Jon Snow, who gives him the minimal admission that doing the right thing can be hard. Then he takes control of her men by taking a tremendous beating from one of them, and refusing to go down. The moment where he takes a series of kicks in the groin, and doesn’t go down — because Ramsay Bolton castrated him, see, so finally not having balls is an advantage instead of a disadvantage — plays like a wry joke, but it’s still a little bit of a reversal for him after being the butt of so many eunuch jokes. His attempt at redemption has been a long time coming, but in a small, sad way, it’s as satisfying as Littlefinger’s death, because it signals that we might finally be done with endless scenes of Theon being a coward, a victim, and a failure. Here’s to him fighting back instead.
Bonus scene #2: The Cleganes decline to bowl
Bryan: Cleganebowl has become the Game of Thrones equivalent of an urban legend: a fervent fan theory that eventually Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane (aka Cersei’s gigantic zombie bodyguard) and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (the burned warrior with the driest sense of humor in Westeros) will battle each other to the death. Whenever they appear in the same episode, the Cleganebowl hype ratchets up, and with both brothers meeting face to face in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” there was no better time.
Only… the brothers didn’t seem all that interested in bowling. The Hound confronts The Mountain by talking about ugly he’s become over time, then teases him with “That’s not how it ends for you, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” Is this a threat of a Futurebowl? A reference to something The Hound saw in the fire, thanks to the Lord of Light? Something else entirely? Who knows! All I can tell you is that after another round of Cleganebowl build-up, The Hound said some mean things, and then simply walked away into a hole in the floor of the dragonpit. It was so anticlimactic, I couldn’t help but laugh. Perhaps there will be better bowling next year.