“Game of Thrones” has always been concerned with the benefits and burdens of family. But it hit that theme particularly forcefully on Sunday, as this story that is broadly about the move from murderous tribalism to more globally oriented coaliton leadership arranged the Risk board for its final stretch.
But while Sunday’s very busy episode had plenty of enjoyable moments and blue fire-fueled spectacle, and effectively set up next season’s culminating clashes of the living, the dead and the old venal forces of cyclical destruction, it didn’t offer much in the way of surprise. Indeed, the finale largely checked off boxes that have been broadly telegraphed throughout the season
Dany and Jon became a thing — check. Jon’s parentage was confirmed, along with his status as the true heir to the Iron Throne — check. Littlefinger was punished for his crimes as the Starks reconciled — check. The Night King used Zombie Viserion to breach the Wall — check. Cersei made her own plan rather than join forces with her enemies — check.
Cersei’s feint and betrayal, a prearranged plot with Euron to bring in the mercenary Golden Company to help offset the Unsullied and Dothraki multitudes, confirmed that Jon and Tyrion’s wight-demo plan was as ineffective as most viewers predicted. (Also, yes Dany, Viserion died for no reason, as far as you’re concerned. Sorry.)
In fact, the meeting gave Cersei an advantage, at least for now, in the conflict to come. It offered her a good look at her rival forces — where’s the other dragon? she wondered — and allowed her to fool them into thinking they had her support.
Similarly fooled up North was Littlefinger, who learned that while chaos may be a ladder, it’s trickier to climb than it looks and sometimes ends with you choking on your own blood. After taking one last meeting with her would-be Svengali, Sansa showed how much she’d learned by luring him into a fatal setup, before outlining his many offenses against the Starks as he groveled for mercy.
Had the confrontation not ended with Arya slicing open his neck, Littlefinger might have enjoyed the cunning poetry of it: A master manipulator outmaneuvered by a pupil he’d victimized, killed by the very dagger he’d used in past plots against her family. (Aidan Gillen portrayed Lord Baelish’s final disintegration with pathetic aplomb.)
We’ll see what Jon makes of all this when he arrives at Winterfell next season, but he might have other things on his mind. Last week Beric Dondarrion suggested that the cost of resurrection is sacrifice, telling Jon that “you and I won’t find much joy while we’re here.” Well that at least looked like joy Jon was experiencing in that ship’s cabin on Sunday (they’re into boats, those two).
But was it also something more? We keep hearing about how Dany can’t have babies, to the point that she now seems pretty guaranteed to have a baby. It seems likely that we saw the beginning of that arc on Sunday, especially since their interlude was intercut with scenes of the baby Aegon Targaryen coming into the world.
How will they react when they learn about their true connection? And how are we supposed to react to it now?
As recently as two weeks ago, I hung on to the belief that Daenerys and Jon, despite their clear mutual attraction, would avoid the interbreeding inclinations of their Lannister rivals and remain platonic allies. Perhaps Bran would get to Jon first and spill the facts of his birth. (“We need to tell him,” Bran told Sam on Sunday, which was far too late. But why should timing be a strength of a man for whom time means nothing?)
And besides, did they even have to pair off at all? Wouldn’t the more surprising move be to have two powerful, attractive leaders, who we’re told represent a new way forward in Westeros, decide that the fate of the world was too important to complicate with romance?
I guess things could go that way eventually but that’s not where they sit now, which I admit feels kind of gross. I know such things are well-established in Westeros and in the Targaryen family, specifically (and in real-life royal dynasties from centuries past). But as a story that began with crimes committed to conceal incest nears its conclusion, are we now really supposed to be rooting for incest?
We’ll have more on all of this later, as well as a broader consideration of Season 7 as a whole. But for now, here’s what else happened on Sunday:
• I wondered last week what Zombie Viserion would shoot out of its mouth. Turns out the answer is blue fire, I guess? It did the trick, at any rate, blowing a gap in the Wall wide enough for the dead army to stagger through. If their previous rate of travel is any indication, they should make it to civilization three winters from now.
• Tormund is brave but he’s not stupid. “Run!” he shouted once he saw the full, dragon-assisted scale of the White Walker force.
• While Cersei’s double-cross was expected, it did produce a surprise. That was when Jaime finally decided he’d had enough and hit the road, leaving an incest-sized hole in the story for Dany and Jon to fill a few scenes later. But as I said a few weeks ago, at this point I won’t believe he’s truly turned on his sister until he has his hands around her throat.
• Cersei’s either actually pregnant or committing hard to the performance, passing up wine in that charged meeting with Tyrion.
• Turns out castration confers a superpower that’s handy in a scrap. After taking still more shaming from his Uncle Euron in King’s Landing — but learning that Yara was still alive in the process — Theon finally had something like a hero moment this season, taking his Ironborn rival’s best kicks and still emerging on top. By the way, is anyone more swayable than Ironborn soldiers? One minute they’re up for pirating, the next for noble rescue missions. Those guys are more weather vane-y than the Northern bannermen.
• I’m guessing Lesson 1 in Dothraki bootcamp is “How to shriek and gallop over a horizon.”
• The next conversation between Sam and Jon could be awkward. Guess what: You’re not really a bastard! Guess what: My new girlfriend immolated your family!
Please check back for a more in-depth version of this recap.
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