Spoilers? You betcha, buddy...
How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Enjoy Game of Thrones Season 7: realise that the show is now just a stadium rock act playing its mega hits. You can stand at the back sniping, wishing they'd do something edgy like the earlier albums, or you can just sing along for an hour and go home happy.
The key tenements of the show's early appeal - 'no one is safe' and 'you don't know what is going to happen next' - are no longer true. You know more or less what is going to happen next: the thing most people are hoping for. Shock has been replaced by awe. Once we gasped as our favourite character died, we now marvel at last minute survivals, baddies getting their comeuppance and ice dragons destroying walls. The seeds sown by the 'Battle of the Bastards' - the first time GoT resembled a conventional TV show, albeit on a breathtaking scale - have come to fruit.
Judged on those terms, 'The Dragon and the Wolf' delivered just about everything you could hope for: plot twists, sex, monsters thundering through the sky. For an episode with no fighting it managed to thrill from start to end, and while there were no true surprises, it set up season 8 perfectly.
As such, it can have a Glastonbury headliner-worthy:
The talking points.
The strongest cast members were together again at last
Season 7 has been all about major characters being reunited or meeting for the first time, with mixed results. Jon and Dany's scenes have been alternatively hammy and wooden (and even woodier this week, more on which later…), but the much anticipated confrontation between Cersei and Tyrion did not disappoint. Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage are, by some margin, the best actors in the show and their scenes crackled with contempt, regret and just the smallest trace of a perverted kind of love. For just a moment, it was like the good old days again.
Elsewhere, the smaller reunions at the tense diplomatic hoedown were handled mercifully lightly, from the Hound's face-to-face with his zombie sibling ("you know who's coming for you, brother. You've always know" he said to the Mountain, meaning what? Himself, presumably, keeping those Cleganebowl hopes alive for another season), to Podrick and Bronn nipping off for a well-earned beer. The whole dragon pit scene was tense and brilliantly executed, with the dialogue and action paired back to allow the magnitude of so many major players being in the same place for the first time work on its own.
The (partial) redemption of Theon Greyjoy
One of my favourite scenes in the finale was the small but moving one between Jon and Theon, the former odd brothers of the Stark clan. Jon forgave Theon for 'what he could', an act of magnanimity which sadly didn't even cover half of it but was evidently a good start - Theon was suitably inspired to try and galvanise his men into going on a rescue mission for Yara.
Even still, did anyone else feel it would have been more fitting for Theon to fight valiantly but die, face down in the sand, at the hands of his own banner man? One last measly shot at redemption, one last pitiful failure - and one less character to deal with in the final stretch. It's what the older, brave GoT would have done.
Instead, Theon's weakness – his lack of (literal) balls – turned into his strength as he discovered his (figurative) balls, won the fistfight and earned the respect of his men (easily won over set of lads aren't they, the Greyjoys?), setting up a subplot in season 8 which, I suppose, might be a welcome break from all the zombie fighting. It was also a nice nod back to Jamie and Bronn's opening patter about fighting 'without a cock' as they looked over the Unsullied. This is show with affection for eunuchs, if little else.
Littlefinger is finally lost for words
You saw it coming a mile off, but Sansa feigning to execute Arya but really accusing Littlefinger was still satisfying. "I'm a slow learner, but I get there in the end" she told the man who has been whispering in her ear since she was a child. Thank God that's true. For a moment there it looked like she was regressing.
Watching Littlefinger grasp for something to say that might save his skin while all his worst secrets rained down around him was a fitting end for a character who has gotten so far on words alone, but truthfully, has looked surplus to requirements ever since season seven began. Arya's swift, unceremonial throat slicing - which left Littlefinger literally lost for words for the first time – was perfect. Goodbye and good riddance to the most confusing accent in Westeros.
Did anyone else notice, though, in that final scene between Sansa and Arya looking out over Winterfell, that a turret had been placed between them in the frame? The sisters have entered a truce for now, but may never be truly bound together.
Cersei gonna Cersei
Euron's 'fuck this shit' moment after seeing the wight in the dragon pit was very funny and seemed totally in keeping with his character. ("Can they swim? No? Good, I'm going back to my island"). But it didn't sit right that Cersei just watched him leave.
And so it was revealed that, far from meaning what she said about calling a truce and joining forces up North, she'd sent the Randy Goth Pirate and his fleet on a secret mission to collect the Golden Company, paid for with looted Highgarden gold. She's going to 'let the monsters kill each other' and sit tight in King's Landing amassing an army, thanks very much, meaning Cersei appears to have outwitted everyone again. It was a good twist, though - as Jon would not doubt dourly pronounce while gazing into the middle distance - not exactly the most pressing concern facing the others right now.
For a short, brilliant moment at the end of her big reveal, it looked like Cersei was really going to have the Mountain lop off Jamie's head when he refused to go along with her - the idea of betraying his word as a soldier the final straw for him - but alas, she bottled it, leaving us with a Jorah-esque banishment scene as he rode out of King's Landing, presumably to head North and narrowly escape some ice zombies. It does mean, however, that we may yet see 'King Slayer 2: Slay Harder', if and when bro and sis are brought back together again.
Jon Snow – sorry Sand – sorry Aegon Tarageron
Dany decided to sail North with Jon, rather than fly there with her dragons. It appears to have been another tactical blunder, but before we get to why, let's address the incest in the corner.
No sooner did we watch Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly (well, Gilly, actually) put their dweeb powers together to deduce what we've all known for years - that Jon Snow is in fact Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark's son and therefore the rightful heir to Iron Throne – we saw the two hottest characters in the show engage in one of the most awkward sex scenes in TV history. A shot of Jon's bum (but not Dany's - it's in her contract) couldn't distract from the fact that this felt as weird as an Aunty shagging her nephew should. Fair play to GoT for going through with it though and challenging our innate desire to see beautiful characters bonking on TV. I'd rather have watched Hodor and a de-necklaced Melisandre go at it.
Anyway - if you thought things were weird between Jon and Dany already, wait till he gets back to Winterfell and his space cake of a little brother tells him the truth. He's going to furrow his brow so hard it might knock him out.
The Night King finally gets a move on
But there may be no time for any of that! How funny that the biggest complaint people have had about season 7 – that characters seem to move from region to region like they have a private jet stashed somewhere – was put right for the final episode, and everyone may die a horrible death as a result.
While Dany and her dragons were meandering up the sea weeks from being any use to anyone, the Night King and his army finally completed their twenty-minute trip from Eastwatch to the foot of the wall and then blasted a friggin hole through the thing using their new ice dragon. (How does ice destroy ice, by the way? We need to get Sam on this one).
The sight of the army of the undead finally marching through the gap into the seven kingdoms proper for the first time was a fitting note to end the season on. We've been told for years now Winter is coming. Now it truly has. Game on.
Some other thoughts
- The look between the Hound and Brieanne when they talked about Arya was perfect. Proud parents indeed.
- Intriguing throw away line of the week: Cersei's reference to the Golden Company having elephants. There's another million lopped off HBO's CGI budget, then.
- We've all been Tyrion, stood outside the room while two sexier people have all the sex. Was he just jealous, or does he feel the incest in the air? Either way those eyebrows were getting a working.
- Did Tormund perish in the wall explosion? We didn't see it, so it seems unlikely.
- Once again Ned Stark's ghost loomed large over this episode, from Jon's refusal to lie to Cersei to Theon's last bid for redemption to Sansa and Arya remembering 'the lone wolf dies but the pack survives'. It's a vastly different show to the one it started as, but I love these respectful nods to Game of Thrones' history.