This recap is dark and full of spoilers for the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf.”
Shit just got real.
It was inevitable, even before the Night King raised Viserion from the dead in last week’s chilling final moments, that we would end up here — but knowing that we’re barreling towards an unavoidable conclusion is very different from seeing it play out before our eyes.
The Wall has stood for thousands of years, and watching it crumble (even partially) marks the end of an era in Westeros. For all the sweet summer children who have lived in blissful ignorance of the dangers that lurk just out of sight, the world has changed inexorably, and what’s even more disturbing is the fact that there are still those out there — like Cersei — who, even when faced with the truth, would rather watch millions die than set aside their own pride. (Feels uncomfortably timely, doesn’t it?)
Tormund and the wildlings have known about the White Walkers far longer than most, and yet their terror is no less potent for it — this is an extinction-level event, and it’s telling that Cersei has fallen so far and become so hardened by the indignities she’s suffered that she’s past caring about the fate of humanity and just wants to win.
The finale may have ended with a cliffhanger (or should that be wallhanger?) to end all cliffhangers, but much like previous seasons, “The Dragon and the Wolf” mostly left the action to last week’s penultimate installment, allowing this episode to focus on the character dynamics, like Brienne trying to reason with Jaime; the reunion between the heroes of Blackwater Bay; and Jon’s honest discussion with Theon.
Before the Night King blew our minds and the Wall, the show finally confirmed what we’ve all known for the past year — Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, and, as Gilly discovered a few episodes back, he’s not actually a bastard, but their legitimate son, named Aegon Targaryen (which is why the show has been namedropping his ancestor, Aegon the Conqueror, so incessantly all season long).
Unfortunately for Jon and Dany, this reveal occurred parallel to their long-awaited sex scene, which, instead of being played as a romantic, soft-focus consummation, instead took on a slightly more ominous tone, as Tyrion lurked out in the hallway with a look of concern furrowing his brow as his two favorite monarchs cemented their alliance.
On the one hand, I guess it’s a relief that the show isn’t trying to romanticize aunt/nephew incest any more than it has been encouraging sibling hook-ups all these years; on the other hand, that approach is a little questionable given the way the show has been hinting at Jon and Dany’s attraction all season long, playing it as some starcrossed fantasy instead of the deeply fucked up union it actually is.
Does the narrative want us to root for them (because we kind of are) or to recognize how destructive it is to perpetuate the dynastic model that ended up destroying the Targaryen family? It feels like the latter — especially since Jon helpfully pointed out to Dany that maybe the witch who murdered her husband wasn’t the most reliable source of information on her childbearing capabilities, meaning that there could be yet another incest baby heading to Westeros in Season 8.
If the show is setting up a seemingly perfect pairing just to tear it down, I’m all for it — that’s the kind of subversiveness we expect from George R. R. Martin’s narrative, where nobility and honor get the heroes killed instead of rewarded.
The series already played with this idea in Robb and Talisa’s marriage — they chose love instead of practicality, and it resulted in the murder of thousands — and it would be truly shocking if Jon and Dany’s idealized relationship proved just as harmful as all the political unions that came before it, perhaps paving the way for a true democracy in Westeros.
But as much of a relief as it was to finally see Rhaegar in the flesh, the truth about Jon’s parentage also suffered from the fact that we all already knew about it; it’s just not very narratively satisfying for characters to learn information that the audience already has, especially when Jon still doesn’t know, meaning that we haven’t actually progressed much further than we did in the Season 6 finale when Bran first took a peek inside the Tower of Joy.
The other issue with this reveal is the same problem that’s plagued this truncated penultimate season — the writers are taking too many narrative shortcuts to get to the action. Say what you will about George R. R. Martin’s glacial writing pace, but you can guarantee that he’s not going to infodump the long-awaited truth about Jon’s true lineage in an expository conversation between the show’s two dei ex machina.
This is also true of Arya and Sansa’s double-cross of Littlefinger — an undeniably satisfying moment, given Petyr Baelish’s years of manipulation, but one that only worked because the show was effectively lying to the audience as well as Littlefinger for the past few weeks, building up a fake conflict between the sisters to trick us into thinking that one of them might actually be capable of killing the other.
It’s fine to assume that a lot of action is taking place offscreen when that means cutting down on boring travel time, but our suspension of disbelief runs thin when characters are putting on a performance for the benefit of the audience instead of other characters. There was no one else around to witness Sansa and Arya’s confrontation in Arya’s bedroom last week, so even if we’re assuming that Littlefinger was still paying spies who might’ve been lurking outside the door (if so, why not show us?) Arya was talking too quietly to imply that the two knew they were being watched and were acting for someone else’s benefit.
Most viewers will probably give it a pass because the ends were dramatic enough to satisfy the means, but it shows a level of disdain for the audience that the series didn’t used to display. Maybe if Season 7 had been three episodes longer, like all the rest, the writers wouldn’t have to cut out swaths of context that might’ve made these twists more plausible.
Still, while the finale relied a little too much on narrative handwaving, the emotional beats remained satisfying, and unlike the last few episodes, none of our heroes or villains’ decisions seemed at all out of character.
The fact that Cersei has turned against Jaime probably shouldn’t be as heartbreaking as it is, but all of our remaining leads — the three Lannisters, three Starks, two Targaryens (that we know of) and even the Greyjoys — have been shaped by the systemic inequality of the world they inhabit, and the expectations others have placed on them as a result.
Even Jaime, the golden boy who scoffed at Tyrion’s tendency to champion the downtrodden at the start of the episode, is one of the “cripples, bastards and broken things” that Tyrion once admitted a soft spot for back in Season 1 — in fact, all of our remaining heroes are, and even as we approach the final six episodes of the series slated for Season 8, it’s hard to imagine this story without any of them.
But while Littlefinger was the only major death of the finale, we know he won’t be the last before the series ends — Cersei’s hubris should have doomed her, but given George R. R. Martin’s supposed fondness for subverting fantasy tropes, it also wouldn’t be unheard of for her to be the only one who survives this mess.
And the fact that she stopped short of killing Tyrion and Jaime when they gave her the opportunity to do so shows that there’s still some humanity left in her, under the armour and cruelty that the world has forced her to wear.
Will she come to her senses in time to see that the Night King is the true threat, or will her arrogance doom all of Westeros? We’ve only got six episodes left to figure that out.