Here we are on the other side of Game of Thrones’ penultimate season. How does it feel? Are you listening to your break-up playlists in honor of Jaime and Cersei, or your twinkly sex-song playlists in honor of that other pair of close relatives? Are you drinking red wine with your breakfast in celebration of some first-rate drunken diplomacy, or are you munching on bugs, training yourself to subsist on lean proteins in preparation for a hard winter? Are you crying because it’s over, or smiling because it happened?
We open the 81-minute finale with a 45-minute scene in King’s Landing that is, I’m sorry to tell you, mostly bickering. First, Jaime and Bronn watch the Unsullied and the Dothraki show off their numbers in front of the city, and have a conversation about cocks that made me regret investing so many years of my life in a TV show that’s so irrationally obsessed with this piece of anatomy. The folks at Fantasizr say Jaime should get +5 for the line “Maybe it really is all cocks in the end.” If I had not already been asleep when they made that decision, I would have fought it with every ounce of strength in my body. Whatever, Jaime — enjoy!
Then it is announced that everyone will meet in the old dragon pit. This is a good time to remember that Cersei blew up the main church and several ancillary buildings in the center of her city a year ago, and also this hideous crumbling dragon pit has been out of use for hundreds of years. King’s Landing is a mess. It’s also a good time to get the murder order pinned down, so Cersei pulls the Mountain aside and informs him that the order will be Daenerys, Tyrion, Jon, then “whichever order you see fit.”
If you ask me, The Mountain wouldn’t need to bother with Jon, as he is way overdressed and likely to drop dead of heatstroke in the middle of the meeting. Nobody told him what to pack! He has never heard of light layers!
We’re 10 minutes into the finale, and nearly every named character you ever cared about is walking around King’s Landing, as part of a huge herd. Tyrion and Pod catch up. Pod and Bronn catch up. Brienne and the Hound catch up, and Brienne takes this opportunity to tell the Hound that Arya is still alive. These two have a nice moment in which he says he has laid his grudge against a 14-year-old girl to rest. He has grown. The Hound also runs into the Mountain, whom he tells, cryptically, “You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” (That’s +10 to the Hound, even though I don’t have any idea what he’s talking about.)
This entire scene feels like a dream sequence, or like we’re watching the cast of a musical get ready for a big finale number in which people kiss non-diegetically. I’m not saying I don’t like it, but how is this real?
Daenerys arrives on Drogon after making everyone wait around for a while, a power move that isn’t as impressive as it used to be, because it comes with the quiet subtext of “I’m here, shitheads. I have THREE — I mean, two dragons.” Euron, who has misinterpreted this global summit as a Real Housewives reunion special, stands up in the middle of Tyrion’s opening remarks to tell Theon to “submit,” or he’ll kill Yara. Tyrion gets +5 for a deep sigh and a weary “I think we ought to begin with larger concerns.” Yes, for example, we should discuss what happened to the dragon-killing technology that someone could have easily used to kill Drogon when he landed in the middle of an enclosed pit, right in front of the guy who invented dragon-killing technology. (Did they really only have the one giant crossbow?) Just kidding! let’s talk about the sort-of boring universal enemy, death.
Jon launches into his speech about the army of the dead, which falls flat because Cersei correctly points out that it sounds like “a bad joke,” and it doesn’t make any sense to expect her to agree to a truce held up only by “the word of a would-be usurper.” She’s shooting the peace talks down left and right until The Hound emerges with a crazy wooden backpack and kicks the captive wight out into the arena to gargle and scream and flash his baby blues. Now Cersei is freaked.
Having added a much-needed hands-on element to his presentation about “The Great War” (messaging is so important, and it took Jon so long to get here, but I’m proud of him), Jon shows off the handful of ways you can kill a wight (+10). At this point, we have two positive developments that I initially took at face-value like a total rube: Euron says he’s too scared of the wights to stay in mainland Westeros anymore, and declares that he’s going back to the Iron Islands to wait out the whole situation. Okay, bye. Cersei tells Jon “The crown accepts your truce. Until the dead are defeated, they are the true enemy.” That was easy! I have been lulled into a false sense of security. I am not understanding how there are 40 more minutes of television to get through, seeing as everything is now fine.
that was easy!
Ah, but wait. Cersei’s only condition is that Jon swears he won’t fight on Daenerys’ side to take the Seven Kingdoms post-truce. Cersei is in top form in this episode, really doing impeccable emotional manipulation, and she leans on Jon hard with “I know Ned Stark’s son will be true to his word.” But Jon, being the world’s most handsome and honest doofus for long-term plot-related reasons, says he can’t make that promise. Within two minutes, we go from “everything is fixed!” to Cersei tearing up the contract and telling Jon, “The dead will come North first. Have fun dealing with them.” (+10) Then she’s out of there, followed by Brienne, who manages a +10 for “Oh, fuck loyalty.” Incidentally, she never gets around to representing Sansa in whatever conversation Cersei invited her to King’s Landing for.
The post-game huddle for Dany’s crew is unpleasant. Tyrion, who looks more exhausted than we have ever seen him, even when he lived in a crate for a month, asks Jon, “Have you ever considered learning how to lie every now and then? Just a little?” (+5) At this point, the King in the North bites back tears long enough to deliver a shoulder-dislocating reach of a speech about the value of truth-telling. “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything,” he tells Tyrion, which would be a good line were it not followed up by the claim, “Lies won’t help us in this fight.” Jon, a lie literally would have just helped you in this fight. A lie would have immediately helped you in a very tangible and obvious way. You are a crybaby, and I do not respect you.
They have to send someone to have a follow-up conversation with Cersei, and Tyrion decides it can’t be Jon because “She’ll definitely murder you.” (+5) Tyrion volunteers to go instead, and he preps for a long talk about simmering resentments by knocking back a glass of the house wine (+5) without asking.
Cersei gives a great lecture (+10) on the difference between intentions and effects, refusing to forgive Tyrion for the deaths of Myrcella and Tommen, and telling him “Your love doesn’t matter; your feelings don’t matter. I don’t care why you did what you did; I only care what it cost us.” In a season with remarkably little tolerable dialogue, and almost none of the complex character work or political intrigue of the early seasons, this conversation felt like a crisp, cold seltzer after a day of eating only frosting and cocaine. It’s a new all-time classic for the show, or as Jezebel’s Julianne Escobedo Shepherd put it this morning, “their little come-to-Jesus scene laid bare the respective pain which turned Tyrion righteous and responsible, and Cersei bitter and savage.”
Cersei promises to join forces with Daenerys, if only to protect her personal loved ones from the White Walkers — who cares about anyone else? And she delivers the best line of the season, which I’m considering getting permanently affixed to my body: “I don’t care about checking my worst impulses.” She goes back to Dany and Jon (interrupting a conversation they are having about whether Daenerys should have trusted gynecological advice from a vengeful, murderous witch) and says again that she will send her armies to the North to help them. “When the Great War is over,” she tells them, “Perhaps you’ll remember I chose to help. Without promises or assurances from any of you. I expect not.” (+10) They do not have a response to that.
Is there not a semi-affordable way to make a large wolf look slightly larger?
Up in Winterfell, Littlefinger is trying to convince Sansa to steal the Northern throne from Jon. Luckily, we linger in this scene for no more than 45 seconds. Then it’s back to Dragonstone, where Jon and Daenerys decide to sail together to White Harbor to save the North. Jorah looks like he’s going to cry, as does Ghost. Just kidding, Ghost was deleted from the show entirely, and none of the characters ever bring it up. I’m still hopping mad! Daenerys got to bring two dragons to King’s Landing, and Jon couldn’t even bring one wolf? If the CGI for the direwolves was going to be so freaking expensive, why did they commit to them in the first place? Is there not a semi-affordable way to make a large wolf look slightly larger? I’m just finding this all very sloppy and hard to ignore.
Speaking of which, it’s at this moment that Theon realizes that he was just in King’s Landing, which may be where his only sister is imprisoned, and he didn’t actually ask if she’s there or somewhere in the Iron Islands or what. He has a heart-to-heart with Jon in which Jon says Theon is still both a Greyjoy and a Stark, and that he forgives him for betraying Ned: “You never lost him. He’s a part of you. Just like he’s a part of me.” Begrudgingly, I will give them both +5 for this speech about the past, but they’re alone in an enormous room and not saying anything classified, so I don’t understand why they’re whispering. Jon’s forgiveness is sweet, even though it does seem to come from a place of “Who cares at this point? We all have so much brain damage from getting hit with things.”
Oh well. Here comes some violent-boy stuff to clear the air: To get back to King’s Landing, Theon needs the help of the approximately 11 remaining Ironborn soldiers, led by a rude guy named Harrag who hates him, so they commence beating the shit out of each other. Harrag would prefer to find an island and murder everyone on it (except the women, who he will instead rape) and Theon would prefer the crew go rescue Yara, so it’s a classic teen sports-film match-up. “Stay down or I’ll kill you,” Harrag informs Theon several times (+10), which is chilling, but not enough to derail our sweet boy’s rehabilitation and redemption arc. He’s in it to win it now, inspired by 240 seconds of uninterrupted eye contact with Jon Snow.
Actually, Theon wins the fight because getting kneed in the crotch doesn’t hurt him as Harrag expects. Hmm. For season 8, one gentle piece of feedback I have for David Benioff and Dan Weiss is that people don’t care about dicks (as body parts, concepts, or punchlines) anywhere near as much as they think. Regardless, Theon flops onto the beach in a state of euphoria because he finally stood up for something, and also — just lying there counting his blessings — it’s nice that the Game of Thrones showrunners never had him lose as many teeth as he did in the books. Someone douse this little champion in Gatorade, he really made it happen.
He gets a tentative +25 for possibly killing Harrag, and another +25 for his promotion to “having a purpose in life.” I wish I could give him even more points for cracking my heart open and coating my TV dinner with a thick, unseemly goop. This is satisfying television, and I apologize for everything I said before.
We ride that high into Winterfell, where Sansa appears to be bringing Arya up on vague charges of murder and treason. She gets +10 for the incredible pivot, “How do you answer these charges… Lord Baelish?” This is fun — a classic Game of Thrones bait-and-switch, and the most the show has felt like Medieval Desperate Housewives all year. (That is a compliment, and the ideal to which Benioff and Weiss should be constantly aspiring, by the way.)
Sansa rattles off a list of all the things Littlefinger has done, including but not limited to betraying her aunt, uncle, father, and mother, and indirectly murdering everyone else she’s ever loved. Littlefinger responds by running around in a circle with his arms still lying flat under his cape, and shouting, “I deny it! None of you were there to see what happened!” That’s a great setup for Bran, who pipes up and quotes Littlefinger back to himself for the second time this season: “You held a knife to his throat. You said, ‘I did warn you not to trust me.’” (+10)
Sansa also quotes Littlefinger to Littlefinger, which sounds repetitive now that I’m writing it down, but I swear, it felt so good in the moment. She gets +10 for “Sometimes when I’m trying to understand a person’s motives, I play a little game. I assume the worst.” I don’t know if we’re meant to interpret all those frustrating arguments between Arya and Sansa as fake, orchestrated solely for the purpose of tricking Littlefinger, but I don’t care. Here’s +25 to Arya for a poetic-justice execution with the knife Littlefinger gave to Bran’s faceless assassin, and +50 to Littlefinger for dying memorably. He’s the only season 1 character we’ve seen die this year, and he’s also a good collaboration opportunity for two sisters who didn’t get the chance to murder Joffrey together.
This scene added 15 years to my life.
Back in King’s Landing, Cersei is the only person who has figured out that Daenerys brought two dragons with her because the third one is probably dead. (One of the things this season did best was force me to question whether Cersei might be a better, savvier ruler than Daenerys.) She has also come up with a plan to buy the Golden Company, a huge army of mercenaries that comes with elephants (cool!), and reveals to Jaime that Euron actually sailed off to Essos to pick them up for her. She still plans on betraying Dany and crew after all. The tension between Jaime’s desire to do the right thing and his desire to continue being in romantic love with his sibling reaches a breaking point. Cersei tells him he can’t go North to help fight the White Walkers, because she’ll consider it treason. Then she lightly threatens to have the Mountain kill him right this minute.
Jaime storms out after making sad eyes and muttering a harsh “I don’t believe you” (+10), leaving Cersei alone to ponder all she has sacrificed for power and revenge. At least I assume that is why we lingered on this shot with only a pounding symphony of violins for company:
Jaime rides out of King’s Landing just as it starts snowing there for the first time. It’s extremely poetic, lovely, and emo. I wish HBO had saved some of the ice-dragon budget for the rights to a Coldplay song. And though I spent most of season 7 waiting for Jaime to die, I would now like to ask the Old Gods and the New to watch over this sweet, sad, newly single dude, on the run from his feelings and toward near-certain death. Be careful out there, handsome, and keep your heart open to love!
Up North, Sam nets +25 for escaping his job as janitor / whiner and making it back to Winterfell to help Jon, who isn’t there. Sam is stuck with Bran, who is being annoying, as is typical for him. “I became the Three-Eyed Raven,” he says yet again, as if that is a thing. Sam gets +5 for flatly responding, “I don’t know what that means.”
Bran, this is at least the 40th time you’ve had to explain this. Write yourself a script or something. Piecing together a vision (+20 to Bran) and a diary entry that Gilly found and Sam took credit for, they figure out two pieces of vital information that we have more or less known for a year already. Not only is Jon the secret child of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, he’s also not a bastard, as the two were married in a secret ceremony in Dorne shortly before their deaths. At this point, Jon’s birth is shown in flashback, just as it was in last year’s season finale. How have we gone through a full season of ice dragons, incest babies, face-swapping, and zombie polar bears, and ended in exactly the same place as we were a year ago? Is the true beauty of this show that it reminds you how, no matter what you do, it is never too late to end up exactly where you started, treading water and waiting for whatever bits of happiness you’ve managed to cling to to get blown apart in your hands?
It would seem so, as Bran and Sam’s shared epiphany is revealed as voiceover while Jon and Daenerys finally get naked (+15 each) and make out, staring at each other’s faces for a very long time before they actually go in for the (+25 each) sex with a blood relative. Finally some kissing! Finally some romance! Finally some more unbearable dramatic irony and the grating voice of a whiny teenager!
Oddly, and I would say this for no other show, I don’t think the voiceover is supposed to make us feel uncomfortable about the incest. To be absolutely far more graphic than I need to be, the line of Bran’s speech that’s dropped precisely as Jon is putting Dany’s “I can’t get pregnant” theory through its first live test-case is “He’s the heir to the Iron Throne.” The ironic pang we feel is supposed to be for Daenerys, who has no idea that she is getting it on with the one guy who could derail her entire life and the ambition she has sacrificed so much for already. These two lovebirds are going to be tested by their political aspirations, not their genetic similarities. Do I call this… modern? Kind of?
In any case, I don’t feel like I need to know why Tyrion was standing outside the door the entire time.
Up at Eastwatch, things are about to get even more uncomfortable. Beric and Tormund are hanging out, watching the woods and expecting to see nothing — but here comes the fucking ice dragon. It strikes me as odd that no one considered the existence of an ice dragon as a possibility, especially after their encounter with the zombie polar bear, but there’s nothing to do about it now. These derps run away as the Night King flies around on the undead Viserion and lays waste to the Wall, which is impressive to watch, even though we don’t exactly know how the ice dragon’s ice-breath melts ice. It appears to be made of ice-fire, somehow. If only someone would write a song about that.
As the Wall crumbles, the army of the dead marches through the gaping hole, forcing us to ask the question, “How many points for destroying the world’s most crucial piece of infrastructure?” The Night King gets +50 for random kills and +60 for taking Eastwatch. If you’re playing with special teams, the White Walkers and the wights pick up +60 each for city-sacking as well. Bran gets +50 for warging to the Wall to see all this happen (and a blanket +50 to the Old Gods for all their help this episode). We will not be giving Tormund or Beric points for dying memorably, because a building collapse is not a particularly memorable way to go. To be honest, in my heart of hearts, I am clinging to the hope that they somehow survived falling from a six-story height and landing underneath 500 tons of ice shards. Would that be the craziest thing that happened on Game of Thrones this season?
Sister, it wouldn’t even be close.
We end this season where it began — wondering whether Jon Snow even wants to rule the Seven Kingdoms, and unsure whether we still believe genealogy should factor into any decisions at all, from “Who should be in charge?” to “Who should kiss?” But more literally, we end it with an ice dragon. Look how far we’ve come! Check your scores and inform your friends that whoever won your fantasy league is entitled to nothing more than bragging rights and my best wishes for good luck in the long, lonely months or years to come.
THE VERGE FANTASY LEAGUE FINAL STANDINGS
1. KWAME OPAM, 640 POINTS
Top scorer: Daenerys Targaryen, 40
Special team: The Dothraki, 0
2. CHAIM GARTENBERG, 630 POINTS
Top scorer: The Night King, 110
Special team: The Wights, 60
3. MICHAEL ZELENKO, 580 POINTS
Top scorer: Arya Stark, 25
Special team: The Royal Army, 0
4. ANDY HAWKINS, 455 POINTS
Top scorer: Jon Snow, 55
Special team: The Unsullied, 0
5. LOREN GRUSH, 450 POINTS
Top scorer: Bran Stark, 80
Special team: Brotherhood without Banners, 0
6. SARAH SMITHERS, 440 POINTS
Top scorer: Littlefinger, 50
Special team: Dragons, 0
7. TASHA ROBINSON, 415 POINTS
Top scorer: Jaime Lannister, 15
Special team: The White Walkers, 60
8. BRYAN BISHOP, 275 POINTS
Top scorer: N/A
Special team: The Night’s Watch, 0
9. LIZ LOPATTO, 250 POINTS
Top scorer: Sansa Stark, 20
Special team: The Lord of Light, 0
10. T.C. SOTTEK, 250 POINTS
Top scorer: N/A
Special team: Wildlings, 0