Game of Thrones: “The Dragon and the Wolf” Season 7 Finale Review

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No matter what you thought about Jon’s insane, suicidal plan to capture a wight or last week’s episode at large, “Beyond the Wall” successfully put all the pieces in place for one hell of a finale. And I’m most pleased to say that “The Dragon and the Wolf” found its success by merely taking its time. As the longest episode of the series yet, the finale’s strengths weren’t rooted in grand spectacles. The epic cliffhanger aside, the only real action here was Theon’s short round of fisticuffs with the Greyjoy solider who had become the leader of that pack, which needed to be small to be effective. Instead, there was rich drama to be played out, and genuinely great dialogue and superb performances supporting it.

For example, this episode may be called “The Dragon and the Wolf,” but it was a clash of two lions that pretty easily became the best scene of the whole season. After the grand meeting of pretty much everyone still living minus Sam, Littlefinger, and the remaining children of Ned and Catelyn Stark goes poorly, with Jon refusing to declare that he won’t help Daenerys take the Iron Throne after the collective forces of all of Westeros band together to defeat the Night King, Cersei leaves in a fury, putting essentially the whole world in a state of imminent destruction. But after all this time, it’s Tyrion who must try to appeal to his sister’s cold, withering heart. They first argue, with the Mountain looming dangerously behind Tyrion. But in this moment, all their scheming in seasons past has brought them to this place, through both success and failure. And that’s where Tyrion finally finds a place where he and Cersei have some common ground: they both loved Tommen, Myrcella, and yes, even Joffrey. Because that’s what family does, no matter how tall you are. Tyrion may, in Cersei’s eyes, be the root of much of her anguish, but she doesn’t have the Mountain kill him because she knows a world without Tyrion in it is a world she’ll find herself only more alone in. And so we get a quiet moment of honesty, of nostalgia even, as Tyrion, after chugging his own glass, pulls up a second and pours his sister some wine. This is the type of emotional moment Game of Thrones can only pull off in season seven because of all the legwork it did in the 66 hours that preceded this one. Tyrion here is appealing to a time before Cersei lost her children, before Tyrion was being sentenced to death by their father. They despised each other then too, but their respective games hadn’t swallowed them whole yet. Back then, drinking with their sibling was a chance to boast about their recent victories against each other, but now it’s about saving the world.

The short while afterward in the episode where Cersei appears to agree to fight the White Walkers alongside Jon and Daenerys feels like a monumental victory, even if we know the show is almost certainly about to the feeling away from us. Of course Cersei isn’t really going to help; in fact, Euron is on his way to Essos to bring aboard a 200,000 solider army (with elephants!) to help them take over the Seven Kingdoms and the dragon queen and Ned’s bastard fight the undead. The only reason this doesn’t undo Tyrion’s emotional effort is how we see Jaime successfully navigate the situation to stay alive. At this point, the Kingslayer is fully on board to fight the dead, and finally admits to himself the madness bursting from behind his sister’s eyes. Much as Tyrion knew, Jaime knows Cersei won’t kill him. But he also knows he can’t stay, a decision that could make Cersei all the more dangerous in season eight. With Jaime presumably joining Tyrion on the opposite side of the battlefield, this finale finds a way to make Cersei lose everything and appeal to her humanity. This is the kind of writing that makes Cersei an easy top five contender for the best TV villains of all time. Game of Thrones is among the most difficult shows to predict, even if this season has felt like it was playing it safe at times, but I’ll put some stake in claim now for the last six episodes: before the end, there will be tears shed for Cersei Lannister.

That brings up the biggest question of all: who will sit on the Iron Throne in the end? As Bran’s voiceover reveals late in the finale, as Jon and Daenerys consummate their romance, Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, making him the true heir to the Iron Throne. Here’s a man so honorable that having that much power actually scares him, which might just be what makes him the perfect person for the job. Jon emulates his father on more than one occasion in “The Dragon and the Wolf.” Not Rhaegar, but Ned, the honorable man who raised him (though we also learn that Rhaegar wasn’t the kidnapping rapist he was made out to be). In refusing to lie to Cersei, in inspiring strength and purpose in Theon, the ghost of Eddard Stark has never been more felt than through Jon’s actions here. Now we just have to get him to stop having sex with his aunt.

But Jon’s actions weren’t the only place in the finale where Ned’s persona felt instrumental. Together, his three remaining children finally find a way to shut down the person who put pretty much everything but the impending winter into motion. The highly intense scene between Sansa and Arya from last week sure makes a lot less sense now, but this overwhelming victory for the family, which saw each of them play a part, from Sansa’s double crossing, to Bran’s all-seeing eye, to Arya’s slit of the throat, Littlefinger fell by the very family he claimed to love and yet continued to cause unending anguish. With Cersei and the Night King shifting or gaining their power, it felt like the right time for this thorn in their side to fall. The entirety of Game of Thrones, to some degree, is Littlefinger’s mess, and it’s time he paid for it, allowing the Stark family to finally start working together without power struggles. They’re going to need each other, as war is heading straight to their doorstep.

The final haunting moments of “The Dragon and the Wolf” finally made good on a promise that’s existed since the series started. Walls are built to keep things that want to get in out, so naturally, that wall had to come down before the war against the White Walkers could really start. And what a way for it to come down, with the Night King riding a dragon that just blasts the whole damn thing down. It sends us off on a note of anticipation for the final episodes, but without sacrificing the satisfying arc of season seven. For both reasons, the wait for season eight already feels long. Finale Grade: A / Season Grade: B+

Some Other Notes:

  • As a whole, season seven was a wildly uneven ride, featuring both some of the show’s best and worst episodes. But even bad episodes of Game of Thrones find a way to be worthwhile. That said, with where this finale leaves things, six episodes seems perfectly adequate to end the series.
  • Theon also, thanks to Jon, showed the qualities of Ned left within him. Honestly, top notch writing and material.
  • So the Stark siblings have yet to meet Daenerys, which should make for a really fun premiere for season eight.
  • I guess the Hound will fight the Mountain another day…?
  • I actually loved Sam’s brief interactions with Bran. Playing up the ridiculousness of the young Stark seems like a solid way to go for including him more next season.
  • Jaime and Brienne’s brief reunion must be noted as well. Those two shared one of the most emotional journeys in the show’s entire run, and seeing them have to face that after all this time is really satisfying, especially with how much Jaime has changed.
  • Thanks for reading all season, folks. It’s been fun, even if occasionally frustrating. Whenever season eight airs (do NOT drag this thing out to 2019, HBO), I’ll be back at it. Six episodes left…

By Matt Dougherty

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