[Better late than never.]
My biggest prediction about “The Dragon and the Wolf” was that it would be boring, and that turned out to be largely correct. Sure, some things happened, and a couple of those things were somewhat unexpected, but the show’s generally awful writing and failure to effectively build consistent characters with understandable motivations makes it difficult to care deeply about any of what happens on screen. It’s an action-light episode, which doesn’t help, and even the moments that should provide the greatest catharsis after years of build-up don’t. It’s an altogether disappointing end to a season that has turned out to be one long slog of nonsensical plot points, poorly conceived battles and silly character beats.
At King’s Landing
Taking a page from last season’s finale, this one starts with a long sequence leading up to what seems intended to be a major event in King’s Landing, but this sequence is overstuffed with meaningless character interactions and doesn’t come close to matching the stately rhythm and ominous quiet that gave last season’s King’s Landing finale (absurd as it was) a strong feeling of weight and importance. Here, the show relies almost entirely on the viewers’ preconceptions of these events as meaningful to grant the happenings weight; the watcher is anticipating something, and there is enough superficial similarity to last year in the editing of the sequence to let the viewer project whatever sense of tension, foreboding or excitement they want onto what is seen on screen. It’s profoundly lazy, and when you actually start to pick apart what is actually being presented, it looks sillier and sillier with every passing moment.
To the degree that anything this season ever was on track, things go off the rails from the very start of the episode, which opens on the walls around King’s Landing, where Jaime and Bronn seem to be making preparations for war as Daenerys’s forces line up in a field outside. They’re even getting ready some barrels of hot pitch for throwing on people, which certainly works to give the impression that a major battle is imminent. A major battle is not imminent, and there is in fact no action whatsoever until the last few minutes of the episode, and none of that action is south of the Wall. Instead, this backdrop of war preparations in King’s Landing serves as a brief frame within which Jaime and Bronn philosophize about the importance of cocks before never being seen or mentioned again for the rest of the episode. I never don’t hate this show’s childishly crass jokes about eunuchs, and this little talk, played for laughs and without anything serious to add to the hour, is a tiresome waste of time in an absurdly bloated episode.
Rather than a quiet, reflective montage of preparations, as in last season’s finale, most of the early scenes of this episode are more reminiscent of the previous episode’s montage of beyond-the-Wall interactions, filled with short snippets of conversation that pair off various characters and work—when they work at all—as simple fan service. Reunions between Tyrion and Podrick, Bronn and Podrick, Brienne and Sandor, Tyrion and Bronn, and so on may appeal to some viewers, but most of these interactions serve little purpose and do nothing to further any of the show’s story lines. Tyrion and Podrick remember each other fondly, Brienne and Sandor bond over Arya, Tyrion and Bronn discuss loyalty (kind of), and the Bronn and Podrick head off screen to hang out. Every one of these interactions is shallow and glib, without even the saving grace of being funny or interesting. Even the much-anticipated confrontation between the Clegane brothers comes to nothing; Sandor threatens zombie Gregor, but it doesn’t come to blows, which seems like a serious anti-climax for fans who hoped to see the much-hyped “Clegane-bowl” happen this season.
As all the principle players make their way to the Dragon Pit, much is made of the building tension of the situation, with Cersei angry that Daenerys hasn’t arrived yet, Tyrion verbally reiterating the danger they are all in, Podrick and Bronn stepping out of the scene specifically to avoid the coming conflict, and a couple of reminders that there’s a dangerous zombie in a box in play as well. Once everyone except Daenerys and Cersei are gathered together, there are several minutes of them all staring at each other and miming an almost comical apprehension, though the obvious studied theatre and deliberate filming of it prevents the moment from being one of true hilarity; it’s simply eye-rollingly silly. The dramatic effect of Cersei’s arrival is similarly blunted, and by the time Daenerys finally arrives on Drogon, one could be forgiven for screaming at the screen to get on with it; it’s fifteen minutes into the episode, and nothing has happened yet.
Once Daenerys is settled in, some talking starts, but things don’t get much more exciting, largely because it’s not truly clear what the stakes are for any of these characters and none of what they profess to want from each other makes any sense. In turn, this is because it’s not clear what any of these characters have to offer each other at all. A diplomatic solution to their conflict isn’t possible; Cersei and Daenerys are existential threats to each other, and there is no external threat that will motivate them to forge a lasting peace with each other. They cannot both be Queen, a fact that only Cersei appears to fully accept and understand, and they don’t benefit anywhere close to equally from the armistice that Tyrion (speaking for Daenerys, of course, which makes one wonder why Dany even bothered showing up for this farce). In any case, the ostensible sticking point turns out not to be this fundamental incompatibility of goals, but Jon Snow’s loyalty and perennial inability to ever do the politic thing, even in the direst of circumstances. Cersei’s single condition for cooperating is that Jon Snow commit to neutrality in the war between the two queens, so when he tells her that he’s already pledged to Daenerys, Cersei walks right out of the negotiations.
After a solid round of condemnations of Jon from Daenerys and her gathered allies, it’s left for Tyrion to go talk to his sister by himself, and if there’s any scene in the episode that works well, it might be this one, though your mileage may vary. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey have always worked well together, and that continues to be true. Most of what we see here, however, is relitigation of their familial squabbles, which is compelling enough on the surface and delivered sincerely but is nonetheless made absurd by the sheer stubborn disconnect from reality and inability to take any accountability for her own actions displayed by Cersei. She knows for certain now that Tyrion didn’t murder Joffrey, and Cersei’s own actions and lack of supervision led directly to Tommen’s suicide. And literally no one on screen was shown to give a shit about Myrcella’s death at all, so it seems unreasonable for her to blame Tyrion for it now. Regardless, it’s not entirely sure what either of the Lannister siblings want in this scene. Tyrion’s vague idea of an armistice so that Cersei and Daenerys can set aside their differences and fight the common threat posed by the Night King and his army of dead doesn’t offer any clear tactical benefit to anyone; even with the Lannisters’ recent victories and the loss of Viserion, Daenerys has a clear upper hand in these “negotiations,” and Cersei is well aware that there’s no way out of this war where Cersei and Daenerys both survive.
This long (nearly forty minutes) opening sequence ends with Cersei returning to the Dragon Pit and pledging, magnanimously, to send forces North to help deal with the zombie problem. She “only” asks that they remember her cooperation in the future. It’s an interestingly heroic moment for Cersei, and the framing of the scene doesn’t suggest any duplicity—as if the audience really is supposed to think well of her for finally coming to her senses and doing the right thing for once—but was anyone really surprised when it was revealed before the end of the episode that Cersei is doing no such thing? On the bright side, Cersei’s highly predictable and in character behavior does finally push Jaime away from her as he can’t countenance the betrayal. It’s a bit of character development for Jaime that comes a good three seasons too late, so it feels nonsensical. There have been many moments in previous seasons where the relationship between Jaime and Cersei felt much more fraught and where the tension was at such a height that this development would have felt earned and natural. Here, no matter how many lovely, atmospheric shots of falling snow and how much dramatic music they put behind it, it feels perfunctory and shallow, a plot development being checked off a list somewhere in the writers’ room rather than a truly compelling story of the breakdown in Jaime and Cersei’s dysfunctional, codependent and highly toxic love.
So, you know how the last few episodes positioned Arya and Sansa as adversaries so that it felt as if, heading into this finale, we could expect a final confrontation between the sisters where they would have to fight/argue through their many differences? I mean, it was ridiculous, from start to finish, and none of their motivations or actions made any sense whatsoever, but by the end of episode 6 it seemed like it was going somewhere.
This is a mixed blessing at best.
The Winterfell action in this episode starts with Sansa and Littlefinger hanging out in a poorly lit room. Sansa is worried about Arya, what with Arya’s recent threats to cut off Sansa’s face and wear it and all, and Littlefinger is always ready and willing to nurture resentment and encourage paranoia. It’s the most he’s had to do all season, to be honest, and his game of “Assume the Worst” certainly fills some time. However, it also heavily telegraphs what happens next, albeit in a sort of “No, that can’t really be what they’re doing, can it?” kind of way.
By the time we get our second big Winterfell scene, which takes place entirely in the great hall, there’s a sense of what I might call Shakespearean farce if this was a better-written show. Sansa has summoned Arya for what appears to be a sort of public trial, even though Arya hasn’t committed any crimes and it seems like it would be a terrible idea for Sansa to publicly accuse Arya of nothing. This is the first tip-off that this isn’t what it seems, if you don’t count the whole “Assume the Worst” conversation from earlier. In any case, and quite predictably, Arya’s not the one on trial at all. This whole bit of theatre has been contrived for Littlefinger’s, well, not benefit, but for him. Because surprise! Littlefinger is facing charges, mostly for Lysa Arryn’s murder, which seems shortsighted of Sansa, since she’s the one who backed up his story to the Vale Lords back when that all went down, but no one seems to care, and, anyway, after Littlefinger begs for his life a little, Arya cuts his throat, right there in front of everybody.
This real puzzle here, of course, is at what point Sansa and Arya started working together. Before this episode, all of their conflict, silly as it was, was portrayed as entirely earnest on both sides, and their scenes together were always just the two of them so that it seems highly unlikely that they would have been putting on a show. So, when and how did they bury the hatchet and move past Arya threatening to murder Sansa and wear her skin? There is, I suppose, the outside chance that at least some of those interactions were put on for Littlefinger, who was shown to be watching the girls and is well-known for having spies everywhere. It’s kind of his thing. But then that begs the question of how the girls managed to plan this whole trial and execution thing with the other Northern and Vale Lords without Littlefinger catching wind of it. There are just an awful lot of questions here, none of them with particularly satisfactory answers. I mean, sure, Littlefinger has been practically begging to be murdered for years, but the only serious charge laid against him is Lysa Arryn’s murder, which Sansa can’t tell the truth about without implicating herself. Bran does accuse Littlefinger of ordering his murder, years before, but that doesn’t make any sense, since Littlefinger wasn’t at Winterfell, couldn’t have known about Bran’s injury, and had no way of directing the attack from King’s Landing since ravens weren’t as fast as email back in season one. Also, psychic visions aren’t exactly hard evidence of a crime, even in a grimdark medieval fantasy world.
Regardless, this wraps up the Winterfell story relatively nicely, for all that it’s an absurdly silly turn of events. Much of this season has been about paring down the cast to a group of essential main characters, and Littlefinger’s death accomplishes another piece of that downsizing. It’s too bad that none of these characters had more to do this season, and it’s especially bad that what they did do in the previous six episodes was all completely nullified by the events of this one. There was always a sense that the Winterfell plot was going to be spinning its wheels for a while, and some of what happened this season was stuff I predicted, but this garbage show really outdid itself this season in trying to live down to even my already very low expectations.
That said, I’m happy that Arya and Sansa both made it through alive and that Sansa, in particular, wasn’t especially tortured this year. Our last sight of the Stark sisters in season seven is the two of them standing on Winterfell’s battlements, missing their father and remembering some of his advice. There are few enough truly positive interactions and relationships between female characters on this show that I’m inclined to treasure this quiet moment of two women not hating each other. Goodness knows, we likely won’t see anything like it again on Game of Thrones.
Because this episode is very concerned with being able to sell itself as the longest episode of the show to date, and because they spent good money building that big stone map table, we don’t get out of here without one more visit to Dragonstone. Daenerys is trying to decide how she wants to travel back north, where she’s going to visit Winterfell before going to fight the Night King. Should she take a boat, which Jon Snow is in favor of so they can arrive together, or should she fly there on Drogon alone like Jorah suggests because he doesn’t want her to be anywhere together with Jon Snow? Boat it is. Give these guys another Emmy.
Before we get to the boat, though, there’s a final meeting between Jon and Theon where they talk through Theon’s issues one last time before Theon goes off to rescue his sister. Alfie Allen has always been so good in this role, and he brings a real pathos to every performance as Theon that’s still evident here as he rehashes his character arc from season two. Unfortunately, this is, at this point, boring and redundant in addition to glossing over the reality of Theon’s situation and his life with the Starks. Theon may have some daddy issues, but Ned Stark wasn’t his father. No matter how kind Ned Stark may have been, Theon was a political hostage, kept as leverage against his actual father and raised with the understanding that he could be killed at any time if Balon Greyjoy made a wrong move. To treat that here as if it was analogous to more normative family models and upbringings does both the source material and the character a disservice by ignoring important nuance and context for Theon’s choices.
The real Theon showpiece this episode, however, is his duel with another Ironborn man over whether they’re going to go rescue Yara. It’s the natural culmination of Theon’s redemption-ish arc, and it’s a way for him to prove that he’s still capable of filling the toxically masculine role he’s required to in his society. Hooray. We even get to see his castration played for laughs as the way Theon wins this fight is when the other man tries, unsuccessfully, to knee Theon in the balls. Now, realistically, getting kneed in the crotch should still hurt, even if not so much as if Theon still had balls, but let’s not allow realism to get in the way of making another joke about eunuchs on Game of Thrones, natch. I guess Theon is the boss of these Ironborn guys now, though, and I look forward to seeing him die tragically while probably failing to actually save Yara when the final six episodes of the show come out.
Back at Winterfell
The last scenes at Winterfell this season start with Sam Tarly arriving there, where he meets Bran, who tells him that Jon isn’t a Snow, but rather a Targaryen bastard born in Dorne. Sam suddenly remembers what Gilly told him in Oldtown about Rhaegar Targaryen’s annulment, takes full credit for the discovery (because of course he does) and tells Bran about it. Bran is shocked and says that “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie,” which really oversimplifies what that rebellion was about in the first place, but okay. Bran goes back in time to see his aunt Lyanna marrying a guy who is, I swear, just wearing one of Viserys’s old wigs, then flashes forward a little to find out that Lyanna originally named her son “Aegon,” which is weird because at the time Rhaegar already had a living son named Aegon. I’m still pretty pissed off about the whole annulment thing to begin with, but this is ridiculous. Also, this whole revelation that Jon isn’t just a Targaryen bastard but is the legitimate heir to the throne (as if that’s a thing that has mattered in Westeros in the last twenty years or so) is intercut with Jon getting it on with Daenerys.
On a Boat
Jon shows up at Daenerys’s door in the middle of the night for some sex. It’s profoundly unsexy for multiple reasons ranging from the actors’ lack of chemistry to seeing baby Jon partway through to the revelation that Daenerys is Jon’s aunt right in the middle of it. Not that we didn’t all know this already, as the audience isn’t nearly as stupid as Benioff and Weiss think we are, but still. The voiceover exposition from Jon’s kid brother is a serious mood killer.
The really baffling thing about this scene, however, is Tyrion creeping on Jon and Daenerys in the hallway outside her room. There’s no dialogue here, but Tyrion seems weirdly troubled by this turn of events and it’s not clear why—either why he is or why he should be. There’s no reason why Tyrion would suspect that Jon and Daenerys are closely related, which isn’t something that the Targaryens have historically cared about anyway, so it can’t be that. While Tyrion and Dany are friendly, there’s been no inkling of Tyrion nurturing the same sort of sexual jealousy over her that, say, Jorah does, so that seems unlikely. It could have something to do with Tyrion’s concerns about Daenerys’s need to secure the succession after her, but with her belief in her own infertility and the evidence supporting that belief it seems unlikely that he would be overly worried about a bastard child. Even as a matter of policy and dynastic concerns, without the knowledge of their shared lineage the Dany/Jon alliance is a genuinely good idea. Jon rules the North and has strong alliances with the Lords of the Vale, and a marriage would be an easy way for Daenerys to secure those people’s support as well. In any event, Tyrion hasn’t proposed any other options for Daenerys to consider, and there are no other obvious potential suitors in the Seven Kingdoms.
The episode finally ends at Eastwatch, where the Night King and his army have finally arrived. I’m sure that I should have expected it when they were pulling Viserion out of that frozen lake, but I’m sad to say it honestly didn’t occur to me that the zombie dragon was how the dead were going to get past the Wall because there’s no way the Night King could have reasonably planned for this eventuality. Surely, they had another plan of how to get past the Wall, right? Because it would be nonsensical if the Night King needed a zombie dragon the whole time and only got it at the eleventh hour.
The CGI was alright, though.
That said, if Tormund is dead I’m gonna riot.
- The single perfect moment of this episode, nay, this whole season, is when Qyburn picks up a piece of ice zombie off the ground and stares at it like he needs to go rub one out immediately. Like, he got the biggest science/magic boner, and it was hilarious.
- Jon points out that maybe Daenerys shouldn’t believe what a witch said about her fertility, but, one, Mirri Maz Duur never said it on the show, and, two, Daenerys was banging Daario for years and never got pregnant, so it’s not like there’s no evidence to support her belief that she can’t have children.
- It should be said that Aidan Gillen’s performance in his final scene was excellent. He deserves much better material than this.
- Where is Robin Arryn?
- Also, where is Ghost?
- And what happened to Gendry? Did they seriously bring that character back just so he could complain about the cold and send a text message to Daenerys?