Subtitle: I like this new Game of Thrones where what I want to happen happens.
I’ve read many reviews of this season of Game of Thrones that decry “fan service”. I’m not sure what the terrible moments of “fan service” even are. Do they mean Jon and Daenerys meeting and/or falling in love? Um. It’s A Song of Ice and Fire? They’ve been destined since the beginning! I mean, look, they both cheated death for a reason. It’s not bad storytelling for the story to end the way the story is meant to end.
Maybe it’s the dragons being awesome? Sorry but that’s not “servicing fans” — literally everyone in the world wants the dragons to be awesome. People who don’t watch the show, when asked, say Hell yes, dragons should get to roar and breathe fire and cause mayhem, they are DRAGONS.
“Not enough people we care about are dying.” How is that a complaint??? I have been fighting this particular fight for what feels like my entire life. Death is not automatically dramatic and Not Dying is not automatically cheap. It’s a story about heroes, where magic exists, and multiple characters have been revived from near or actual death. If you just want everything to be constant rape and death and battle and betrayal and pain and suffering….why? Seriously, why? Every moment of love that happened in this season finale was incredibly dramatic, every time someone chose life over death was powerful. Sorry, not sorry, if that’s fan service consider me serviced, and sign me the hell up for the final season.
SO. In the feature length season finale of the penultimate season of Game of Thrones everything I hoped would happen (mainly a certain person’s demise at the hands of a united family) happened and nothing I feared would happen (mainly any of my Problematic Faves ™ dying) happened!
Let’s start with the most satisfying death in possibly the entire series. Yes, moreso than Joffrey or Ramsey, who were ultimately just sadists with daddy issues. In Winterfell, Sansa has an audience with Littlefinger and he introduces her to a game of ‘Imagining the Worst in People’ and that explains everything you need to know about Littlefinger. That’s how he a) spends his free time and b) bonds with his “loved ones” (Sansa). I almost feel sorry for him, except he is The Worst, so instead I am just imagining his comeuppance.
And it turns out: so is Sansa. After she has him convinced she believes Arya the crey crey assassin girl is out to kill her for her title (lol, he knows nothing about Arya), she calls for an audience with the lords of the North and presents charges against … Lord Baelish! His disbelief is palpable. But it’s his desperation that really sells the moment. He rushes about trying to find someone, anyone, to fight for him. He begs, literally on hands and knees. He CRIES. The Stark Sisters made Littlefinger CRY.
Creepy Bran chimes in with his spirit-evidence that Littlefinger is the one who started this whole war, when he and Lysa conspired to murder Jon Arryn and blame the Lannisters. Sansa brings up all the stuff she hid way back when Baelish threw her aunt out the moon door. That’s right: Sansa holds the murder of Lysa against him! She accuses him — correctly — of turning two generations of sisters against each other for his benefit!! She calls out his professions of love as self-serving and meaningless since he inevitably followed them up with betrayal!!! She gets hers BACK and then she commands Arya to murder him right there in the Hall and gross but WINNING.
And with that unpleasantness behind them the Stark sisters finally have the conversation we all deserve, where Arya suggests she couldn’t survive what Sansa went through and Sansa disagrees because Arya is the strongest person she knows. And we all cried because we have been waiting for 400 years.
In King’s Landing, three ostensible rulers and their various advisors converge on the Dragon Pit that Ser Jorah tells us imprisoned Targaryen dragons of the past so they wouldn’t eat people. The North has the smallest contingent, just King Jon, Ser Davos, and Brienne standing in for Sansa. Cersei has Jaime, Qyburn, Euron and his fleet, and the Mountain, as well as Bronn and her entire Lannister army because, it turns out, she lives there. But it’s nonetheless dwarfed by the Dragon Queen’s alliance of misfits. Daenerys has Tyrion, Ser Jorah, Missandei, Grey Worm and the Unsullied, all her Dothraki Riders, Theon Greyjoy, and two dragons (RIP Viserion). And by the end of the parley it’s clear Jon’s little band is already pledged to her, too. Cersei is outnumbered by a lot.
And then there’s the Hound, who has been sworn to the Lannisters and a Stark or two, but is now there as zombie-wrangler. He brings out the zombie they captured for the express purpose of proving to Cersei zombies are real. Still the most ridiculous plan ever conceived. The zombie goes right for Cersei and creeps everyone out. Except Qyburn who totally lights up with glee and very clearly wants to investigate. Euron decides to take his fleet and run. Cersei decides to join up on the condition that Ned Stark’s son agrees to honor her rule. Jon, being Jon (the theme of the season I think), says sorry, but I’ve pledged my heart, soul, and honor to Queen Daenerys so, no. Cersei stomps off in a huff.
Next is a series of scenes featuring people yelling at each other to wake up and be better. Brienne pleads with Jaime. Jaime pleads with Cersei (off screen). Daenerys and her entire team yells at Jon. Jon, being Jon, makes a speech about honor and good and everyone shakes their head. Finally, Tyrion decides to face Cersei head on and after a sweet scene with Jaime, where they agree they are both idiots who love each other, he heads in to meet with her alone.
What follows is my favorite scene of the episode. I love my terrible lion queen because of scenes like this where she uses all her real pain to sell her scheme, and Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage nail every moment of it. Cersei acknowledges that Tyrion did not conspire to kill Joffrey, but blames the deaths of Myrcella and Tommen on the death of Tywin, murdered by Tyrion. This is irrational, but given that Cersei hero worships her father it makes sense for her. (Plus it’s not even that irrational in regards to Myrcella — Tyrion sent the girl to Dorne, and Tyrion is the reason Oberyn died.) Think back to the end of season two, to Tywin riding in to save them just as Cersei was about to poison her son to protect him. That’s the Tywin Cersei imagines when she blames his loss for everything that happened to her and her children in the wake of his death.
In probably the best acted moment in the entire season Tyrion dares Cersei to kill him if that’s what she wants, and they silently glare at each other, not even breathing, until finally she waves Ser Gregor off and Tyrion pours himself a glass of wine and downs it. The tension is incredible, heightened for the audience because the silence goes on long enough to be uncomfortable. Tyrion knows it would be incredibly stupid, basically suicide, for Cersei to do it. Daenerys has her surrounded and there is every indication she would raze the capital in retaliation for the loss of her Hand. But he also knows that Cersei is made of rage, has very little left that matters to her (not only is her family diminished, she is absolutely losing the war for the throne), and blames him for the entire situation. On Cersei’s side, she is playing not only those two emotional beats, but two more hidden in their depths.
First, there’s her baby. There’s a lot of speculation that Cersei is only pretending to be pregnant but it’s much more likely she orchestrated her pregnancy. She needs an heir as much as Daenerys does and this one would be pure Lannister. I believe the pregnancy is real, and I believe she places more importance on the child than anyone or anything else. But she also knows how to use it to manipulate both Jaime and Tyrion.
Second, there’s her scheme. We learn later that Cersei, being Cersei, has a plan wholly separate from the Zombie March that she outwardly agrees to join in with after her meeting with Tyrion. Euron did not run and hide in the face of the undead, he left to pick up her giant army of sellswords, which she will use to kill off any armies pledged to Daenerys and/or Jon who survive the zombie assault. As I suggested in my previous recap: Cersei plans to let the monsters kill as many of her enemies as possible and then she will run over the survivors. It’s a good plan for a villain, and Tywin’s daughter.
Everyone was expecting something flashy — there was a moment at the very beginning when Tyrion, Brienne, Jon, and the rest, as well as the audience, thought they’d all been lured to the Dragon Pit in order to be exploded like happened to Cersei’s enemies last year. But that would be predictable and Cersei wants to be smart. She plays to her audience, emphasizes her pride, forces them to come begging to her, allows her fury to be barely checked, and ultimately ostensibly agrees to join the fight for the sake of her unborn child’s future. But beneath the surface she continues to plot.
Still, she has no chance of winning, and not only because she’s not the hero of the story. First of all, she places too much importance on her ability to buy an army. The idea that Daenerys’s and Jon’s people follow them out of loyalty, honor, and a belief in their inherent goodness and rightness has been absolutely drummed into all of us for at least the last three seasons. Second, she doesn’t kill either of her brothers. Cersei’s prophecy hasn’t been mentioned in a while and never brought up this part on screen, but it looms large in the discourse: she’s destined to die by the hand of ‘the little brother’, which describes Jaime and Tyrion, though it could also be anyone from Theon to Arya (if the prince that was promised can be a girl, why not the little brother?). And regardless of prophecy, she told Jaime her plan! And if he now teams up with Tyrion, the two people who know her best will be aligned against her. It’s part of her plan to not kill Tyrion, but it’s her indecision — based in actual feelings of affection??? — that saves Jaime.
Which brings us to the question: can Jaime be saved? He has, apparently, finally, cut ties to his mostly evil sister-lover. It seems a bit abrupt but I can point to three factors: Brienne, Tyrion, and Cersei/Tywin (….Cersei as Tywin, not Cersei in a sexual relationship with Tywin, that is not the kind of incest I can get behind). Brienne not only walks back into Jaime’s orbit, she straight up tells him to Do Something About Cersei. And as Brienne represents an alternate lover, Tyrion represents an alternate sibling. Jon Snow’s Ned Starkian honor and Euron Greyjoy’s apparent cowardice may also play a factor in making Cersei’s side appear Actually Terrible in Every Way.
But it’s Cersei’s scheming, and namechecking their dead, not so great dad, that she has spent the entire season emulating, that really drives it home. Cersei doesn’t just lie and she doesn’t just lie to their enemies. She conspires with Euron, who Jaime has zero respect for, and wants to punch for his comments about Cersei. She throws Jaime’s honor as commander of the Queen’s army away with a cheap dig that he’s the stupidest Lannister (accurate, but mean). She hides her motives and intentions from Jaime, showing him that whatever trust he’s (reluctantly at this point) placed in her, is not returned, even a little. Basically, she breaks him, and she does it in the guise of the father he disagreed with more than either of his siblings did.
It snows as he leaves, and he covers his golden hand with a black glove Skywalker style and I am so ready for his next chapter.
Once Cersei pledges her army to the Zombie fight (or pretends to), our heroes return to Dragonstone to plot their journey to Winterfell — where everybody is meeting up for the big fight. Jorah wants Daenerys to fly to Winterfell because most of the North hates Targaryens but Jon, being Jon, wants them to travel together to prove they are united. Jon wins because his story is more romantic/moral, and also traveling together gives them an opportunity for boatsex (which totally happens). I kinda rolled my eyes at this whole thing. Jorah is correct that the two of them traveling together is asking for trouble (remember what happened to Yara and Ellaria?), but it’s played as if he’s just jealous, which is boring.
Theon randomly follows Jon out of the room to haltingly try to explain that he has been inspired by Jon’s being So Jon all the time, and he now feels ready to go save his sister the way he couldn’t earlier in the season. At least I think that was the point. Don’t get me wrong, it was a lovely scene that proved once again that Alfie Allen’s acting is super underrated on this series. Theon is so ashamed he can’t fully express his shame, but he is able to describe the internal conflict that caused his destruction: the impossible choice between being a Stark as he was raised, or a Greyjoy as he was born. Jon, being Jon, forgives what he can, and tells him he doesn’t have to choose.
And then, the moment I have been waiting at least three recaps for: Theon heads off to save Yara!
First he has to have a fight to prove his worth and finds a terrible person who plans to rape and pillage his way to safety to do it. Theon wins, the pirate’s crew joins him “for Yara” and if he fails after all this I will not forgive the writers. It’s okay if Theon dies in this attempt — which is also likely to screw up Cersei’s plans — but Euron also has to die and Yara must survive. Understand D&D? Okay.
Sam shows up at Winterfell and we get my least favorite scene of the episode, Sam and Bran discussing how Jon Targaryen has the best claim to the Iron Throne while we watch Jon and Daenerys have confirmed incest sex, with Tyrion creeping in the background. Here’s why this scene is meh for me:
- Bran’s bransplaining and Sam revealing the intel Gilly found. Yawn + Grrr.
- Jon Snow is a good, kind, gentle, tired man who deserves to rule King Arthur style but also is easily the most boring choice to win the throne.
- Tyrion creeping is creepy? I think he’s worried about how this will change things, which is reasonable, but the way it was presented…creepy!
- How am I supposed to get invested in a ship the series is going out of its way to present as doomed? Accidental incest is one of my favorite tropes, really (blame Luke & Leia), but this is thus far not working for me. Maybe it’s the actors lack of chemistry. I don’t know, I don’t hate it, I’m not sickened, I just don’t really care.
Finally, at the Wall, Beric and Tormund watch the Army of the Dead arrive and then the Night King has his newly minted zombie ice dragon bring the whole thing crashing down. It is exhilarating to watch!
Winning: The Night King, Stark Sisters, Theon…Everyone else is kinda a draw.
Dead: Petyr Baelish, let’s have a party!
No new Thones until 2019! What’s your plan to get through it?