Rewatching the Season 7 Finale
I’ll defend the TV show to my death.
Except I won’t. I believe too strongly in television, film and literature being individual, and not letting other’s opinions get to me. Hate the TV show? That’s ok. I don’t. Love the TV show? Lovely, as do I. Opinions are our own, and people can’t hurt what is not theirs.
(This is terrible advice. Do not try and hurt things that aren’t yours. It will not end well.)
Regardless, I come here today because it is exactly seven months and eleven days since Game of Thrones Season 7, Episode 7 (the season finale) aired, and that means we needed a rewatch, which I have graciously provided. What follows are my thoughts on the Dragon and the Wolf.
Before we begin, some notes:
- For the religious among you, there is no excuse for this not to be your favourite episode ever. Seven is the holiest number. This is the Seventh episode of the Seventh series. The Septon has spoken.
- A well-known fact about Game of Thrones: it is the second-to-last (always the ninth until this point) episode that holds the biggest stakes, the big budget, the wow moment of any series. This is especially true early on. Ned’s death, Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the Battle on the Wall and the Battle of the Bastards all occur in episode 9.
- (The outlier being season 5, in which Hardhome, who many argue fits the criteria of the events just listed, occurs in Episode 8.)
- I bring this up for two reasons:
- The episode prior to this was ‘Beyond the Wall’, one of the most divisive episodes in the history of the show. For what it’s worth, it still holds a 9.2 rating on IMDB. Regardless, the sight of Daenerys blasting through the clouds to save Jon and company rankled many in the week between the two episodes, meaning ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ had extra pressure on it from the start. People were just hovering above the Tweet button ready to complain. Episode 7 had to deliver.
- Secondly, with a shortened season but extended episodes, this is the longest episode of Game of Thrones ever. Just bear that in mind.
- The difference behind the later series finales is that the tenth episode began to hold bigger and bigger events than the explosive episode nines. I believe this really started in Season Four, where the finale became the truly important one. The battle at the wall was beautiful, amazing, but the events after were far more impactful and nail-biting. Rather than remind you of this singular episode, here is a quick rundown of the major events in each series finale up to this point.
|Season One: Fire and Blood||
|Season Two: Valar Morghulis||
|Season Three: Mhysa||
|Season Four: The Children (Where things really ramp up)||
|Season Five: Mother’s Mercy||
|Season Six: The Winds of Winter||
(PS, that season six ending? Rated 9.9, due in no small part to its spectacular opening. Again, Dragon and the Wolf was up against the wall to begin with.)
Why do I bring up these past events when speaking about an entirely different episode? Well, because after rewatching Season Seven, Episode Seven, the main thing I came away with was this:
Not much actually happens.
At least, not in comparison to those episodes above. Allow me to explain.
Again, episode 9s, or 6 in this case, are the money makers. But finales need selling points. Something to make the fans drool, something to hang its hat on. Season Seven’s finale had the unique selling point of its oscar-party scene.
The oscar-party scene is, of course, the council at the Dragonpit. Game of Thrones decided to do something it had never done before (and after 66 episodes, those are hard to come by) by piling almost all its major characters into one scene.
A reminder of those present:
That is nothing to sniff at. The acting talent at this council alone was something to be revel in, let alone the characters. It lead to several brilliant and heartfelt moments. Reunions between Tyrion, Podrick and Bronn; a love-triangle stare by Cersei, Brienne, and a very much in the middle Jaime; Brienne and Sandor discussing Arya (with Sandor Clegane SMILING), and several others.
Those in the know were well aware of this coming scene, so it makes sense that it serves as the crux of the episode. Evidently, it must have seemed a very good idea, because after a halftime chat between Tyrion and Cersei (while everyone else just stands around), they all decide to have another go at it.
The problem, then, comes with why this scene comes about anyway.
The Dead Man
The idea of Jon and his magnificent seven going above the wall to retrieve evidence of the dead sounded stupid from the moment it was uttered. Let’s be fair, it was cool to see a wight in King’s Landing, cool to see it finally make that bridge from sidelines to that main arena, cool to see these scoffing southerners confronted with reality. But, the storyline itself was weak, disliked by many, and ultimately corrupted this great meeting behind it all.
In many ways, the reason this finale is not so strong as others isn’t because of what the episode itself does, but what it has been left to play with by previous episodes. We’ve had the dead man storyline. Let’s see if we can top it.
Oh dear. If you think you can remember everyone being annoyed about Daenerys’ travel time to the Wall, just try recalling how much everyone hated Winterfell in Season 7. Unfortunately, Sansa and Arya, finally reunited, didn’t really have anything to do while everyone was having a chat about the future of humanity, so the writers had them turn against each other.
This was not met well. Both in terms of how Sansa and Arya were written, and the storyline itself. Prior to this episode, Sansa had been convinced by Littlefinger that Arya is going to kill her, and she needs to do something about it. The snowy Winterfell scene opens with Sansa staring out at the swirling weather and telling a guard “bring my sister to the Great Hall”.
Problem, the first: Absolutely, positively, NO ONE believed that Sansa was about to try and have Arya executed. No one. It just did not make sense that Sansa could be that easily swayed, it would have been a terrible ending, it just would not have worked.
Arya is smiling as soon as she gets in the Great Hall!
So what do we end up with? Sansa pulling the switch and turning on Petyr Baelish. I have questions:
Q: Are we happy that Petyr Baelish dies?
Q: Was it fun to watch him realise he wasn’t getting out of this one, even having him plead and cry?
Q:Was it a wonderful touch that Littlefinger, the world’s best talker, tried to keep talking after having his throat slashed?
Q: Was Littlefinger’s death beautifully set up as a mirror of Ned in that the two men tried to take their own game to the wrong arena and paid for it, something only a truly transcendent writer would notice?
A: Yes. You can read about that here: http://watchersonthewall.com/ned-littlefinger-advantage-home-court/
Q: Was it really satisfying?
It was fine. Littlefinger’s dead. Arya and Sansa are friends again. Its Fine, with a capital F. But it just did not feel quite right. Again, this was mostly due to the bad blood before this episode. It did an admirable job of cleaning up a mess. But mess was still present.
That leaves us with two, maybe three plot points remaining. Two are positive, one negative. The first of which is actually two scenes, one each with Cersei and one of her brothers. These scenes, especially the latter, with Jaime, were superb. Not only were they greatly mirrored with both brothers daring Cersei to order the Mountain to strike, but we got something that fans have been dying for.
Jaime breaks from Cersei. If we were adding this episode to our table above, without a doubt this is probably our most popular line. There are very very few book-confirmed tidbits left. To see one realised was a joy. Seeing Jaime finally see sense, finally break from the abusive relationship he’s been held in for most of his life, was the best part of the episode to me. While the majority of this episode is built on storylines of this season, the Jaime v Cersei was something that’s been building for much longer.
The image of Jaime risking death via mountain, riding off in Black into the snow…without a doubt, it is something that most fans want to see the most come Season 8.
So we’ve resolved season arcs, we’ve had a major twist. We’ve got fans itching for more. The writers decided at this point we needed something else. Something to argue about in the long night between seasons. Something to hypothesise and debate over. That came in Jon and Daenerys sleeping together.
Much like Arya/Sansa, this was kind of telegraphed from the beginning. The episode is named the dragon and the wolf, what did we think would happen?
(Sidenote: take a look at that table again. This was definitely one of the worst-named finales. I remain confused as to why this episode was not named Winds of Winter. But we’ll get to that.)
I’m not going to focus too much on Jon hooking up with Daenerys and what Tyrion might be thinking, because there’s something that irks me more. Honestly, Samwell Tarly becoming a wizard’s assistant is a brilliant pairing, I really think that is going to work on screen. However, I think that Bran and Sam’s discovery, obviously intended as a jaw drop moment, did not land.
Why? Because it is basically a repeat of season 6. In the Winds of Winter, Bran sees Jon being born to Lyanna, and being the son of Rhaegar Targaryen. In this episode, Bran hears Jon’s real name, and realised he is legitimate.
The issue of legitimacy is important to the characters, and most definitely important to book fans, but feels misplaced here. To TV and casual fans, it just comes off a repeat. Most would have assumed Jon was the heir anyway. We just didn’t need this? The information would still be valuable, I grant you, it’s not its inclusion I sniff at, but its set up as a dramatic voice-over, music-change moment. Bran’s repeated “we need to tell him” just comes off cheap. Was he intending not to tell Jon? Does it make the fact Jon is sleeping with Daenerys any worse? We already knew she was his aunt.
It just feels forced in. Keep it. Keep Sam and Bran, for definite, just present it differently.
(Further side note: They also dropped the ball on Rhaegar. Used Viserys as a blueprint wayyyy too much.)
Which brings us to the very end, the true unique selling point, and absolutely the first point on our table above.
The dead break the Wall.
Sure, we knew it was coming. That doesn’t matter. Not for a moment so huge as this. Huge doesn’t scratch the surface. This is everything, the entire series, right back to the opening scene. The very first image on our screens was the Wall. Everything has been set up against this threat, and it has come.
Don’t tell me you didn’t get chills when Viserion burst from the cloud spouting its new blue flame, as the 8000-year-old Wall fell and an army of the dead crossed into the land of the living. We waited for Jon to become King. We waited for Daenerys to cross the sea. We waited for the Wall to fall, and we were rewarded.
(Final sidenote: the part of this that cut through to me the most: Viserion’s changed scream. We hear wights wail and shriek, sure, but this was different. It was such an animalistic scream, still filled with something too close to emotion for a dead beast. You can hear Viserion’s anger, his hatred. He is all in on being the Night King’s new wraith thing. Almost like he enjoys it)
I did not enjoy my rewatch of this episode as much as I did originally. Don’t get me wrong. There are fantastic parts I did not cover: the shots of King’s Landing, Jon and his true words speech, more and more. My main issue stems from comparing it to the other finales. That is where this episode draws short, for me.
It is a wonderful episode, as I’ve always maintained, and we are all hooked more than ever (feel free to keep denying that thought). But stacked up against the majority of the above episodes, it doesn’t quite fit.
Here’s to hoping they do not build a shaky foundation for another finale to fall off of.