What to do with a season of television that wasn’t particularly well-written, but was endlessly satisfying? So much of the quality of Game of Thrones Season 7 relied on the narrative infrastructure the show had already built. Season 7 added almost nothing new to its many storylines in terms of nuance, twist, or complexity, but it didn’t really need to. In the end, it was enough to watch the storylines we’ve been following for six prior seasons converge, tangle, and hit all of their inevitable, long-awaited story beats. It didn’t make for particularly narratively ambitious TV, but it sure was entertaining.
This was particularly true of the Season 7 finale, which was arguably the best episode of this entire, paint-by-numbers season, even if all of the epic things that happened in its 79-minute runtime were things were events the audience already knew was coming. Game of Thrones may have built its reputation on the unthinkable murder of its main characters, but, seven seasons in, it’s playing by the same rules as most other TV shows. But it also has dragons and six seasons of carefully-constructed plot and characterization, which really does put it ahead of the game.
Here’s everything that went down in “The Dragon and the Wolf”…
Everyone goes to King’s Landing
Seven episodes into Season 7, and it’s still a novelty to see most of the Game of Thrones cast together in one place after so many seasons of them scattered across Westeros and beyond. Aside from Sansa, Arya, and Littlefinger, basically every character whose name you actually remember was in King’s Landing as part of the meeting Tyrion has organized to convince Cersei that she needs to back the frak off while the Dany helps the North battle the ice zombie army.
If anyone thought this would be an easy sell, then they obviously haven’t been paying attention to Cersei for the last few seasons. Bitch be crazy. As she explains to Tyrion in their one-on-one meeting (that somehow doesn’t end with him dead), she has never cared about the world; she has only ever cared about the people who matter to her. That group used to include more people. Now, it seems to be down to one: her unborn child.
At first, when Cersei sees the wight Team Dany brought back from beyond The Wall, she seems willing to make the pragmatic decision. After her convo with Tyrion, she agrees to pledge her troops to fight alongside Dany’s in the battle of the living vs. the dead. It’s the mature decision, one that might have even won her some points in the subsequent battle for the throne, should Team Living come out of this one on top.
Of course, it’s also a lie. Cersei has never put her faith in the power of camaraderie. She believes in gold. The Iron Bank has helped secure her an army of mercenaries from Essos, one that Euron Greyjoy has gone to collect under the guise of heading back to the safety of the Iron Isles. While the North and Dany fight for the lives of every living person in Westeros and beyond, Cersei is using that time to bolster her position.
It’s the last straw for Jaime, who is more similar to Jon Snow than Jon may think: he, too, believes in the power of a promise, despite his “Oathbreaker” moniker. He gave his word that he would join the fight, and he intends to. (It probably helps that Brienne scolded him on the subject, too.) Cersei claims she will kill him before she lets him go, but she’s not that far gone yet, and Jaime rides for Winterfell. Question is: Will he tell the others of Cersei’s plans or will he keep his sister’s confidence? It seems to be a hard habit for him to break.
Littlefinger gets what’s coming to him
The best scene of the entire night was one that was seven seasons in the making: the justice of Littlefinger. It was Littlefinger who started this whole mess between the Starks and the Lannisters when he killed Jon Arryn and had Lysa write a note to Catelyn claiming that it was the Lannisters who did it. He has been pulling the strings all along and, finally, he got his comeuppance.
The fact that it was at the hand of Sansa, one of the characters who has been most hurt by his scheming and who has been too often cast as the victim is particularly fitting. I don’t think the Game of Thrones writers were as clever as they thought in trying to make us believe that Arya and Sansa were turning against one another (it’s not clever to purposefully lie to your audience in order to surprise them — it’s lazy writing), but the satisfaction of seeing Sansa and Arya work together to protect their family and one another was not tainted by it.
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wrote the Arya/Sansa interaction assuming that the Game of Thrones audience would accept that these two characters who have respectively been through so much and have finally found one another again would not set aside their relatively small differences in order to face the darkness of the world together, but we did not. We are smarter viewers than that. We pay attention.
Game of Thrones wasted episodes of valuable Sansa/Arya character time trying to make Littlefinger relevant again and to prolong his downfall, but at least we got this ending. At least we got to see Sansa and Arya call each other strong. At least Ned and Catelyn Stark finally, after so many years, got some justice. And it was their daughters who brought it to them.
The Night King brings The Wall down
Of course the big, plot-smashing event of the night came in The Night King’s destruction of The Wall from atop Ice!Viserion. Again, we all knew it was coming, but watching a massive structure that has been standing for thousands of years come down so quickly made its mark. Tormund doesn’t even try to pretend there is anything the Wildlings holding The Wall can do. “Run!” he screams when he sees Viserion flying closer.
This is all Jon Snow’s fault, of course, for his choice to go beyond The Wall to catch a wight, but there’s no time to point fingers now. It won’t help anyone. No, the only chance the living have now is to fight (and to start crafting a dragonglass spear to take down Viserion). Bring on Season 8.