We've recapped Season 7 of HBO's Game of Thrones here on Monkey See. Spoilers abound.
First off: 85 minutes! Long for an episode of Game of Thrones, sure, but put that in perspective: It's roughly equal to the running time of any given movie based on a '90s SNL sketch. So even if you're one of the many who have found this season lacking, consider that "The Dragon and the Wolf" ate up the same amount of your lifespan as A Night at the Roxbury.
Also: The final season, when it comes, is going to be just six episodes long, and most if not all of those will clock in at durations we big-time professional media critics classify as "It's Pat!-or-longer."
Before tackling this season finale, with its artisanal mix of feelings-meetings and head-fakes, a few thoughts on Season 7, writ large:
- Lots of folks are bothered by the tendency, this season, for characters to make their way across Westeros' vast distances so very, very quick-like-bunnies. I'm not among them. For one thing, when asked to list the factors I appreciate about a given television series, "assiduous attention to transit time" doesn't break the top 50. It seems an awfully specific critique, inasmuch as we'd otherwise just bet getting a lot more scenes of folks in mid-schlep. ("Oh, but what of the trudging? Whither the slog, man?" These are not questions that loom large for me.) I fully expect the people who complain about these characters zipping around the continent must absolutely never choose Fast Travel when they play Skyrim. Me, I just want everyone to get where they're going already so that, you know: things can happen. ("Why aren't more things happening?" is very much a question that looms large for me, but then I watch Twin Peaks: The Return.) We're entering the endgame. Of Thrones. Give all of these mooks a TARDIS, as far as I'm concerned.
- My prediction that the Wall would crumble this season was A. Exultantly right, and B. No big whoop. It had to come down, if the White Walkers were gonna do anything other than ... well, pretty much what they've been doing for seven seasons. And there were just too many characters gassing on, this season, about how the Wall would last forever, how it was perfect and beautiful and looked like Linda Evangelista, for it not to get turned into shaved sno-cone ice.
- There's a looming question that's been dogging the series for a while now – will it end with everyone burying the hatchet to fight the ice zombies, or will they just keep burying hatchets in one another's skulls? The answer – both, basically – was not necessarily predictable, but it does seem inevitable.
- It took Jon and Dany just four episodes to Fast Travel from Dragonstone to Bonetown, which just underscores how much things have picked up. If this was Season 2, they'd still be at the Gazing At Each Other With Their Big Cow Eyes stage.
To the episode:
OK, ladies now let's get in formation, 'cause I slay
Legions of the Unsullied, led by Grey Worm, stand outside the gates of Kings Landing and are soon joined by hordes of mounted Dothraki, who fit neatly into the gaps between the ranks of soldiers like screaming-barbarian Tetris.
Bronn and Jaime stand at the parapets, looking out — and looking worried. Bronn's been ordering soldiers about, having been granted a lordship, and is warming to it. Bronn, being Bronn, proceeds to talk about genitals a tremendous lot.
A tiny fleet — a fleetlet? — of ships approaches Kings Landing, which is guarded by a huge fleet led by the yep-still-tiresome Euron "Maybe It's Maybelline" Greyjoy. The lead ship of the teensy fleet carries all of Team Dany (Tyrion, Jon, Davos, Missandei, Jorah, Theon, Sandor and Varys) except for Dany, a fact Queen Cersei learns from Qyburn.
Team Dany makes its way to the Dragonpit in the Kings Landing suburbs, which only sounds like a strip-mall gaming shop, but is in fact where, long ago, the Targaryens locked up their dragons to prevent them from gobbling up the local populace like so many chocolate-covered cherries.
On the road they're met by Bronn, Brienne, Podrick and some Lannister soldiers, who escort them to the meetup, amid lots of meaningful looks, guarded reunions, and, in the case of Sandor and Brienne, low-level bonding over how their precious little Arya Stark has grown up and is slitting faces off people all by herself now.
Bronn and Tyrion feel each other out on the subject of Bronn's loyalties, and Bronn makes it through an entire monologue without mentioning anyone's genitalia, so who says these characters don't have arcs?
Mandatory all-staff brown bag meeting at the Dragonpit
Team Dany enters the Dragonpit, a ruined coliseum, and starts glancing around nervously because the show wants them — and us — to worry. It's a bunch of characters we like, gathered together in the proximity of Lannisters; we are supposed to get some Red Wedding vibes. And we do.
Cersei and company arrive, Cersei looking as put-together as one can in a dress with the texture of a garden hose. More meaningful looks get traded around while everyone takes their seats, and the two Clegane brothers face off. Or would face off, if Ser Gregor's face hadn't already rotted off under his helm. They exchange threats (technically Sandor threatens, Gregor merely fixes his brother with a — literally! — dead-eyed stare). This isn't Cleganebowl, though. Not yet. This is just the weigh-in.
Dany rolls up to the club in style, astride one of her two remaining dragons. (You'd think we'd get that shot of a dragon shadow flying over Kings Landing that was featured so prominently in Bran's vision; you'd be wrong.) If Cersei is at all nonplussed by the presence of a great big honkin' dragon, her face doesn't show it. She looks pretty darn plussed, in point of fact, and seizes control of the meeting as soon as Dany sits down by calling out her tardiness to the partyness. "We've been here for some time," she says, like some kind of Westerosi Miss Manners, issuing a stern corrective. Yeah, great, missy, dragon schmagon, whatever, there's this little thing called the social contract, you see ...
"My apologies," says Dany. "Got stuck on the tarmac at Newark."
Tyrion begins his speech but is interrupted by Euron, in a flagrant violation of Dread Pirate Robert's Rules of Order, who wants to taunt his nephew Theon and needle Tyrion in a manner that's just as tedious as you'd expect. Oh, Maybelline, why can't you be true?
Let's take a step back and savor this scene a bit. We've got pretty much every surviving major character in this sprawling cast (save Sansa, Arya and Littlefinger) in one place for the first time. Just from a standpoint of pure narrative logistics, this feels significant. This cast and crew have spent most of the past six years scattered across the globe, but for now at least, the ensemble is assembled.
Jon steps up and you can't help but notice, given the lush tropical vegetation the group just walked through to get here, how much homeboy looks like he's wearing a moose. Really should have packed a tank top.
He explains the threat. Cersei is unmoved. The Hound brings out the crate that houses the ice zombie and opens it with a bit of nervous fanfare. The wight eventually breaks out and hauls its necrotic butt straight at Cersei before being stopped by the Hound. He mauls the wight – in fact he Darth mauls it, you might say. (He cuts him in two, is the point.) Then he Luke Skywalkers it. (He cuts off its hand.)
Qyburn the necromancer gets very excited Defense-Against-the-Dark-Artsy about the hand, because he is the worst, and suddenly it's an episode of Jon Snow the Science Bro all up in here, as he patiently demonstrates how to kill Walkers.
Euron's like "Do they swim?" and Jon's all "Nope!" and Euron's like "Homina homina homina PEACE OUT." (They can't swim, but what's to keep them from walking across the bottom of the ocean? Or is that going to wait for the Fear the Game of Thrones spinoff?) Cersei seems ready to agree to a truce, so long as Jon agrees to return to the North, twiddle his thumbs, and not choose a side.
She asks for his word ... as Ned Stark's son. (BRAN: Yeah, funny story ...)
Blood or no, it turns out Jon has inherited Ned Stark's sense of honor and loyalty and confesses that it's too late — he's already chosen a side, and it's the one with the lady who immolates folk using dragons, not the one with the lady who immolates folk using wildfire.
Now that Jon has effectively thrown his team under a dragon-sized bus, Cersei adjourns the meeting abruptly. One by one, Davos, Dany and Tyrion address Jon with variations on the theme of "REALLY, DUDE? REALLY?"
Tyrion decides that the meeting isn't truly over, that all that's happened is they've broken into response groups and will meet back here in 15 minutes. He goes to take another crack at convincing his sister. There's a nice moment with Jaime before he goes in to Cersei's chamber that's meant to feel like it could be their final scene together.
This next scene, an extended fight between Cersei and Tyrion, is all about the terrible things they've done to one another in the past, so it involves a good deal of telling each other things the other one already knows ("You killed our father!"), which tends to get pretty clunky. But these two actors have a great time, and find little moments — flashes of anger and pangs of regret — to keep things moving along. Tyrion invites Cersei to kill him, which we the audience know won't happen, and it doesn't.
But it does do everything scenes like this are supposed to do; it delineates the differing motivations of these two characters clearly. Tyrion believes in Dany, in part, because she knew he would check her impulses. Cersei cares about nothing but her family ("Hang the world") ... and there's a bouncing baby Lannister on the way.
Back at the Dragonpit, Jon and Dany canoodle over a crusty old dragon jawbone like it's a malted at Pop's Chocklit Shoppe, and Jon suggests that when a diagnosis of infertility is administered by a Dothraki witch who bears you a grudge, a second opinion juuuuuust might be in order.
Tyrion and Cersei return, and Cersei announces that she will send her armies north to join them in the great war. "Call our banners," she says. "All of them." Everyone looks relieved, and the music swells, so you can't hear Cersei adding under her breath: "Psych!"
At Winterfell, Sansa and Littlefinger learn that Jon has sworn allegiance to Dany, and they plot next steps. It's mostly Littlefinger doing the plotting, per yoozh. He invites Sansa to imagine that Arya has it in for her, by getting her to imagine the worst possible reason for her behavior. To Littlefinger, chaos may be a ladder, but pessimism is a nice, sturdy footstool. Sansa seems to buy it.
On Dragonstone, Team Dany makes plans to take its armies north. The important bit: Dany and Jon will be sailing on the same ship. They'll set a course for adventure, their hearts on a new romance. And love. Won't hurt anymore. It's an open smile. On a friendly — anyway, yeah, no, you get it.
Theon and Jon get a scene together, which feels like a final scene between them. Theon is wracked by regret, and at one point states his belief that Jon always does the right thing, which is why you heard all those millions of eyes rolling at 9:52 Eastern time Sunday night. He resolves to rescue his sister Yara from the clutches of his evil and boring uncle Euronalysis.
He approaches the crew of the ship that rescued him a few episodes back and attempts to get them to sign on to his cunning plan. They're not having it, and the captain starts beating Theon up quite soundly. "Stay down, or I'l kill you!" he warns, and if you're keeping score at home this is the third major head-fake this episode has thrown at us. We're meant to think this is it for Theon. The captain beats him up some more and repeats, for those of us in the back who missed it, "Stay down, or I'll kill you!"
But because he doesn't say it three times, it doesn't happen. Instead, the captain attempts to knee Theon in his greyjoys, which doesn't prove to be a winning strategy, and the tables get turned, and Theon beats the captain to a bloody pulp. Yay?
Sisters are doin' it for themselves
At Winterfell, Sansa summons Arya to the Great Hall, where the various Northern lords wait, alongside Littlefinger, smirking from his spot against the wall, as is his enervating wont. Given what's about to transpire, they should hang a plaque on that spot on the wall: "Baelish slouched here."
It's head-fake No. 4, as we're meant to think Sansa is accusing Arya of murder and treason but – psych psych psych! – it's actually Littlefinger who stands accused. Littlefinger got fingered!
It's a satisfying turn, especially to those of us who felt the conflict between Arya and Sansa seemed awfully contrived. But was that one creepy conversation between the two sisters last week, in which Arya basically threatened to slice off Sansa's face, just a fun bit of long-form improv? Is that what we're meant to think? Did they suspect Baelish might be lurking behind an arras? Which, in their defense, there was always a better than 60 percent chance Littlefinger was lurking around any given corner.
Baelish panics, and pleads, and Arya steps up and slices his throat with his very own Valyrian steel dagger. Told you.
Back at the Kings Landing map room, Jaime is making plans to head north with the Lannister armies. Cersei: "Nuh-unh." Jaime: "But you said ..." Cersei: "NUH. UNH."
It was all still yet another head-fake: Cersei lied to Team Dany. She's still the same fiercely protective schemer she always was. She's content to let all the various beasties destroy each other up North, and while they do, she'll pay for a mercenary army to retake all the lands that have slipped out of her clutches.
Jaime is outraged and resolves to head north to join the fight. Cersei attempts to stop him with Ser Gregor, but Jaime calls her bluff and heads out, just as snow begins to fall on Kings Landing, falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, over all of the living and the (army of the) dead.
The nerds of winter
Sam and Gilly arrive at Winterfell, and Sam makes straight for Bran Muffin's room. "I remember everything," he informs Sam, and John Bradley-West's silent reaction demands to be savored over a quick rewind or two. (See also his nonreaction reaction to "I became the Three-Eyed Raven.")
Bran informs Sam that he sees all, knows all ... and then, in the same breath, asks him why he's come. Way to undercut your pitch, there, Bran. You played yourself.
And so two of Westeros' biggest know-it-all nerdboys come together to geek out over royal lineages. "Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and my aunt, Lyanna Stark," Bran says.
This causes Sam to remember the diary he transcribed (that Gilly read from, a few episodes back), in which a Septon confesses he secretly married Rhaegar and Lyanna in Dorne. Suddenly, Bran is standing on a riverbank watching that very ceremony in a vision, though it's unclear from his position whether he's a friend of the bride or the groom.
Meanwhile, on Dany's ship, Jon stops by her cabin to ... restock her mini-fridge, as it were.
We see the scene from the Tower of Joy again: Lyanna dying in childbirth, whispering to young Ned. This time, we hear what she's whispering: Jon Snow's true name.
Aegon Targaryen. The heir to the Iron Throne.
About any of the above, Jon Snow ... knows nothing. Which you gotta admit is at least very on-brand, for him.
Back on Dany's ship, Jon's got an aunt in his pants. Outside in the hallway, Tyrion looks on, but because the boat is a-rockin', he, wisely, chooses not to come knockin'.
Stop, collaborate and listen
At Winterfell, Sansa and Arya reminisce about Ned Stark and realize they've both found their place. Bran wargs his way, via crow, to Eastwatch, where Tormund and Beric look out over the top of the Wall. "It's a long way down," says Beric, which is the moment I knew for certain what was about to happen. Because come on, show.
The White Walkers approach the Wall in their vast, stinky, rotting numbers and pause. And then, on patchy leather wings, in flies poor dead Viserion, ridden by the impassive Night King. He aims a blast of ... something blue and magical ... at the Wall. You'd think it would be ice-breath, logically, but no — because breathing ice onto a wall of ice would just give you ... more wall. This stuff does exactly the opposite of that. It glows like wildfire, blue instead of green. Wildice? Is that a thing?
The upshot is the Wall is down. Very, very down. And with it, lots and lots of Wildlings and Night's Watch and — though we don't see them fall — Tormund and Beric.
A huge gap has opened, and the army of the dead streams through, led by the Night King. Credits.
A satisfying end to a pretty touch-and-go season, no? The body count of major characters was far, far lower than expected, but that will change. There were some pretty big surprises — undead dragon! — and some smaller, human ones: Cersei agreeing to join the fight genuinely surprised me, because A. The plan to kidnap and deliver a wight to Kings Landing remained abidingly stupid, and B. I hadn't thought her capable of acting on behalf of the greater good. Wow, I thought, look at Cersei Lannister growing as a person! That's a new look for her!
Yeah, not so much.
See you all in ... 2019, maybe? That means going two solid years without hearing the phrase "Bend the knee" at all. It's a hardship, I know, but we'll get through it if we stick together.