Season seven of "Game of Thrones" is one that will stick in the audience's craw as it sits through the long wait – at best until next summer, probably longer – for the show's final season.
While the show's delivered some jaw-dropping, blockbuster moments, it's often done so at the cost of the storytelling to get to them, feeling like showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss merely got George R.R. Martin's bulletpoints. And while those moments were undoubtedly great (dragon attacks! ZOMBIE DRAGON ATTACKS!) the truncated path to get to them likely left some viewers wanting more – specifically wanting at least one more episode where the show could've filled in its gaps and taken some time.
But also ZOMBIE DRAGON ATTACKS.
The blessedly slower "The Dragon and The Wolf" began with Jon's big meeting bringing all the chess pieces tensely onto the same board for the first time. Cersei tells The Mountain who to kill and in what order if things go poorly. Tyrion and company look at Euron's gigantic fleet of ships, while Jaime and Bronn look over Greyworm's military and the Dothraki horde lined up outside their castle. And what else are you supposed to talk about when facing down a giant gathering of troops than penises, as Bronn soliloquizes about the importance of the penis (pardon me, "c*cks," to use his word of choice) for a soldier and how it's all there truly is to fight for. He then talks more about c*cks while escorting everyone to the meeting, so I guess we know what was the word of the day on his daily desk calendar.
Meanwhile, The Hound risks briefly knocking on the kidnapped wight's little wooden prison box, and IT DOES NOT LIKE BEING AWAKENED FROM ITS NAP! It freaks out, rattling and hissing around, which freaks out The Hound (and the audience for that matter).
Eventually, they all arrive at these dilapidated ruins at King's Landing, a former arena for the old dragons that also became their prison. It's perfectly tense, as everybody pretty much hates everybody sitting across from them, and director Jeremy Podeswa does a great job of communicating how much anyone could just snap and murder their enemy at any moment. But instead, they wait for Dany to arrive – AND BOY DOES SHE, bringing her two dragons to drop her off like the world's most epic Uber service. Cersei and her signature haughty perms-smirked face, however, looks unimpressed. I mean, when you've got a slightly larger crossbow, what's the big deal?
Tyrion begins but freaking Euron interrupts to mock Theon and threaten him onto their side by saying he'll kill his sister. Tyrion doesn't appreciate the interruption, and the two have some more tense words before Cersei insists for Euron to sit down because, dude, you've been here for like a season at best.
With that out of the way, Jon Snow makes his pitch: This war is "not about living in harmony ... it's just about living." After that line doesn't convince Cersei, however, Jon moves on to his more convincing argument: a wight in a box, which The Hound trucks up to the meet and nervously kicks open, spilling pissed off snow zombie all over the place. It sprints at Cersei and briefly scares the usual permanent "who farted?" sulky smirk off her face. Jon politely puts the White Walker out, with fire and with dragonglass, before ending his pitch: "There's only one war that matters – and it is here."
Euron looks at the re-deaded zombie and decides, "Hard pass," taking his fleet back to Pyke. Cersei, meanwhile, says she'll accept the truce – but only if Jon Snow refuses to take a side in the war. Being a good and noble boy but also a moron, Jon says he can't because he pledged himself to Dany. That ends that negotiation, as Cersei wishes everyone luck before sulking off from the meeting. Dammit Jon, learn to lie! It's fun! You might even like it!
For some fans, this extended negotiation might've dragged a bit, but in a season that's been constantly running at full sprint, barely letting moments sit – much less properly set up and make sense – this sequence worked for me. When you're not hurrying to get to the next story beat or big moment, as it turns out, you can milk some pretty great character-driven, nervy tension – the kind of palpable intensity that this scene, featuring almost all of our major players on screen together for the first time, deserved.
Anyways, the immediate problem right now, according to Tyrion, is that they're f*cked. So he goes to meet with Cersei, because somehow he's the one she's least likely to kill. After Jaime wishes him luck – maybe for the last time – they chat in her lair. And if there was any question about these two earning massive checks from "Game of Thrones" nowadays, this scene nicely settled that. The two act out quite the conversation, with both Headey's Cersei and Dinklage's Tyrion clearly fighting years of fury and guilt (well, only Tyrion on guilt). Cersei tries to sell that she doesn't care about making the world a better place, but Tyrion cuts her off because he sees her secret: She's pregnant.
Apparently that leads to some offscreen revelation between the two, because she comes back to the arena to say she's on the team. I'm VERY intrigued to see what officially turned her, but I doubt it's all good.
Speaking of not good, we're off to Winterfell, where Sansa learns of Jon bending the knee to Dany. Littlefinger pitches that Dany is a pretty lady – and single – so maybe he's thinking with Bronn's favorite topic, then nudges Sansa some more into taking King of the North standing. Sansa knows that won't fly with Problem Child Arya, but Littlefinger wonders why Arya might be so sulky right now. He plays a little game with Sansa in which you basically assume the worst of a person – and what's the worst reason Arya would want Sansa dead? To take the throne herself. Hey, quick question, WHY ISN'T ANYONE PLAYING THIS "ASSUME THE WORST" GAME ABOUT LITTLEFINGER? He's only ten smirking, conniving weasels that learned English and stuffed themselves into people clothes.
Meanwhile, back at Dragonstone, there's a debate: Should Dany sail to the North or call another dragon Uber? Jorah thinks the dragons would send a message of power, while Jon thinks she needs to show that she's peaceful. She goes with Jon, and Jorah looks dismayed, probably because he realizes she's crushing on the King of the North. Dammit, he got de-Greyscaled for this?
Afterward, Theon chats with Jon, sad that Jon always seems to make the right, noble choice while Theon never can. Alfie Allen hasn't had much to do this season, but he crushes this scene, looking broken by his devastatingly human weakness. He knows Yara needs him. "So why are you still talking to me?" Jon retorts. And suddenly, Theon's brave, headed down to his sailors to recruit them into saving Yara. And like the loyal men they are, they hard pass. Theon refuses to take no for an answer, so he and the lead sailor asshole get into a fist fight that Theon promptly loses – until the sailor goes for a finishing move kick to the Bronn. Twist: Ain't no Bronn to kick down there on Theon! He takes the moment to punch the ever-living Christ out of the sailor dude and wins the rest of the men's respect.
Like most of the story arcs this season, it could've used more dramatic build-up – Theon's had maybe two scenes over seven episodes to get here. But also like most of the story arcs this season, the moment itself is pretty great.
Back at Winterfell, Sansa puts Arya on trial while Littlefinger snivels in the corner, so proud of himself for completely ruining this reunion. But then Sansa flips her accusations ONTO LITTLEFINGER. FINALLY! Now Littlefinger's battling accusations of murder and treason, and he's got nothing. Even when he tries, Bran's there to look into EVERYTHING THAT'S EVER HAPPENED EVER to prove his guilt. Then Sansa uses Littlefinger's "assume the worst" speech against him and Arya finishes him off, slitting his throat.
There's a story beat that feels missing here – the jump from Arya and Sansa distrusting one another to suddenly being BFFs again is significant – but again, the moment is great. That's season seven in a nutshell: a great moment rising above sloppy storytelling.
While that's settled, a terse conversation between the Lannisters reveals what convinced Cersei to agree to the truce: Cersei lied and never truly agreed to the truce. She lied so hard that even Euron's quitting was planned, a ruse so he could bring an army of mercenaries from Essos to their shores. Jaime tries to reason with her – through a broken heart, realizing she went behind his back – but Cersei refuses to finish anywhere other than on top, even if she's ruling over a kingdom of corpses and even if that means deceiving her supposedly beloved family. Jon and company may have brought a White Walker to King's Landing, but this finale makes clear that the show's truest monster was already there, sitting on the throne.
It's made clear to Jaime too, who does the unthinkable and walks away from Cersei, finally reaching his limit to her need for power. Cersei threatens to sic The Mountain on him, but Jaime calls her bluff and rides his way out of King's Landing to head north – just in time for the first snow of the season.
But when one incest closes, another incest opens. So while the Lannisters are done, the Targaryen incest just begins – and it's made official on the show too, as Sam and Bran (in full Philosophy Freshman mode again) chat about Jon's true origins as Aegon Targaryen. And not only that, but it turns out Sam DID listen to Gilly as she read from that book before, because he adds that the marriage was legitimate, making Jon/Aegon the true heir to the throne. Would've been good to hint that he was actually listening in the show (that rushed storytelling thing again).
I bet Jon and Dany wish they knew all that before they had some pre-White Walker War sex time! Hey, at least it's better than the Lannisters; at least this is accidental – and nobody's pushed a kid out a window. Yet.
The finale saves its most literally earth-shattering moment for the final scene, though, as the White Walkers finally make it to the wall (only took you guys the whole season, while apparently Gendry made that trek in a commercial break). And while The Wall may be good against wights, it's TERRIBLE against snow zombie dragons that breathe blue fire, collapsing – and possibly killing poor Tormund in the process. It's official: Winter's here – and it's marching on ... to next season of "Game of Thrones."
But what to make of this season? It sure feels like we accomplished a lot, between the epic dragon battles in the heat and the snow, the big reunions and the moments upon moments piled up like the rubble at The Wall. But what did we, really? Cersei's still on the throne, Dany's still vying to reclaim her rule and Jon's still prepping for war with the White Walkers. After seven episodes and one Ed Sheeran cameo, we're not all that much removed from where we started.
Like most penultimate chapters, it turned out to mostly set-up the true finale, the final season – and a fairly sloppy set-up at that, delivering winning moments at the expense of winning television and chugging through more than its scant episodes could really handle. It was often great, but rarely graceful in the process. But now there's nothing left to tease or tee up; "Game of Thrones" has arrived at its endgame. Almost everyone's in their final position, and winter is officially here.
Or at least it will be in at least a few years.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.