So much of Game of Thrones’ seventh season finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” felt like a checklist of inevitabilities finally realized onscreen: the fall of the Wall under dragon fire; Jon and Daenerys consummating their love; Bran at last confirming, for all to hear, Jon Snow’s true parentage—and his real name, Aegon Targaryen, to boot. The Hound confronts his undead brother; Cersei alienates her last confidante and other half. These events progress naturally from a season or more of set-up. They make sense.
But not every step forward rings true here. There are “twists” the episode doesn’t quite justify, chief among them the deadly culmination to Arya and Sansa’s clunky arcs this season. Other hints at new story directions come bewilderingly out of left field. (Could Tyrion be in love with Daenerys? That curiously morose shot of him outside Dany’s door seems to want us to consider it.) The episode also glides over certain long-anticipated character beats, deflating their momentum even with its record 79-minute runtime. Daenerys and Cersei’s long-awaited first meeting in the Dragonpit, for instance, falls sort of limp, leaving untouched a host of potential connections between two enemies who have more in common than most.
The difficulty of resolving so many converging plots at once, while giving each its due in a way that feels neither rushed nor forced, is starting to show. This episode doesn’t always succeed. And yet, as usual, there are more pure-gold moments (the Hound’s tiny smile at the news that Arya is alive and well; Littlefinger’s grotesque heartbreak before his death) than misfires. In that way, it’s a season finale perfectly reflective of a riveting, if at times spotty seventh season.
Jaime’s spot-on observation sets the tone: “Maybe it really is all cocks in the end,” he muses to Bronn, gazing on Dany’s incoming army of eunuchs. (It’s a line that later hilariously comes to mind as Theon smirks in his enemy’s face, his lack of said cock suddenly turned into an advantage.) Cersei’s choice of meeting ground for the big Lannister-Targaryen get-together is deliberate: the Dragonpit, where the Targaryens’ dragons were kept for generations until they grew small and weak, is a living reminder of the fall of Dany’s family. Not that anything about this meeting—or anything ever, really—pans out the way Cersei envisions it.
The Mother of Dragons rolls in fashionably late on Drogon’s back and remains unruffled by Cersei’s passive-aggressive jabs about tardiness. As with most important meetings, this one is delayed by men who will not stop interrupting. The Hound issues a rain check for Cleganebowl (booo!), marching right across to his undead older brother with comically little regard for Cersei’s glares and promises, “You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” Euron, who in fact still exists, also interrupts to rail against Theon, firing off a faux-clever line he probably spent weeks rehearsing in the mirror. To Tyrion, its clunkiness is practically offensive: “You’re not supposed to explain the joke at the end,” he tells him, aghast.
Climate change-denier Cersei is soon made a believer when The Hound unleashes the wight from beyond the Wall. It fascinates her Hand, Qyburn, and scares the hell out of everyone else. We’re given what feels like a lowball estimate of the Night King’s forces (only 100,000, really?) as Jon demonstrates the ways they can be killed. Still, it’s enough to convince Cersei to accept Dany’s offer for a truce—as long as Jon agrees to stand down and remain neutral in the conflict between both queens. Any normal man would agree. All of Jon and Dany’s allies want him to agree. Everything would be so easy if he agreed.
Of course, he doesn’t agree.
Like a madman, Jon openly asserts his allegiance to Dany—“I cannot serve two queens,” he declares, to practically audible groans—infuriating Cersei enough to call off negotiations and leave them to fight off the undead alone. It’s another of this season’s hints that Jon and Daenerys’ affections for each other might be clouding their judgment. Dany lost a dragon in her determination to fly north of the Wall and rescue Jon. Jon’s protectiveness of Dany, meanwhile, is presumably why he stayed behind to fend off more wights than he needed to, instead of hightailing it away from the Night King on Drogon’s back with everyone else.
Even here, after Jon blows it with Cersei, Dany is less than stern; “I respect what you did,” she says instead. “You’re not like everyone else,” he tells her soon afterward. It’s all gross and sweet and supremely eye-rolly, very much like love.
In the same conversation, Dany mentions to Jon yet again that she can’t bear children—or so a vengeful godswife named Mirri Maz Duur would have had her believe. The Lhazareen witch, who used blood magic to “revive” Khal Drogo into a vegetative state at the cost of Dany’s only pregnancy in Season 1, foretold the queen would never bear children. But as Jon points out, prophecies don’t always come true. “Your family hasn’t seen its end,” he predicts. With that wallop of foreshadowing and the couple’s subsequent roll in the hay, it now feels all but certain that a pregnant Dany is in the cards for Season 8. Two pregnant, prophecy-laden queens for the price of one! What could go wrong? (Everything.)
Tyrion, meanwhile, volunteers as tribute for the most terrifying task at hand: sitting alone in a room with Cersei. He and the sister who’s always hated him last saw each other at his trial, when the Mountain squeezed Oberyn’s head into mush and Jaime freed Tyrion, saving his life. Their reunion is a model for what so many others this season (especially Sansa and Arya’s) never got the chance to be. It allows its characters the time and space to unload everything left unsaid, following every volatile cycle of emotions to its natural, logical conclusion, to enormously cathartic effect.
She snarls at him for murdering their father and how it led to the deaths of her children. He indignantly lays out everything he’s done to protect their family. She taunts him and rages, pain erupting from every word; he dares her to just execute him already. She doesn’t. They each vent and rant and reason until silence falls. Then he apologizes. And, in a poignant return to his old self, he chugs down a goblet of red wine and pours one out for her. It’s a breakthrough of sorts, after which they’re both calm enough to talk about why he believes in Dany. It’s right about then that he realizes his sister is pregnant.
It could still turn out that Cersei is lying about her pregnancy, feigning it as a tool to manipulate Jaime. (Maggy the witch’s prophecy, for what it’s worth, foretold Cersei would bear and lose exactly three children, which she already has; then again, prophecies have been wrong before.)
Still, her grip on Jaime finally comes loose after she agrees to march north to help quash the Army of the Dead—then goes back on her word in private with him.
Jaime’s breakup with Cersei—painful to watch for all the uncertainty, pride, and instant regret etched in Lena Headey’s performance—is years in the making. His travels with Brienne exposed an honorable side to the Kingslayer, one buried under self-loathing but revealed more with every passing season. His encounter with Brienne at the Dragonpit, where she surprises him by saying “fuck loyalty,” is too brief to carry the impact it should. (The story of so many reunions in this hyper-accelerated season.) But it no doubt influenced his decision to cast off the burden of loyalty to family—a metaphorical image foreshadowed earlier this season, when his Lannister armor nearly weighed him down to his death in a river.
That same prophecy about the deaths of Cersei’s children contains a line about her own death in the books that foretell it will come at the hands of a “valonquar”—a little brother, which many have taken to mean Jaime. With Jaime now having switched sides completely, and Cersei plotting to take back the kingdoms she’s lost with the Golden Company from Essos, a violent conflict between the ex-lovers may indeed soon be at hand. But there’s another “little brother” who now poses a more immediate threat: Theon Greyjoy, who is determined to set his sister Yara free from King’s Landing captivity.
It would certainly be a twist to have Theon turn out to be the valonquar—though at this point, with only six episodes left, we’d rather see anything than yet another female character’s torment (first Sansa, and now Yara) being used as a catalyst for Theon’s redemption. We have been there and done that. His smirking, triumphant moment in this episode—when his biggest perceived weakness, a lack of balls, turns into his greatest asset and wins him the respect of his men—is already a more creative and gratifying resolution than that.
Up in Winterfell, meanwhile, the worst plot since Dorne has finally been put out its misery. Arya and Sansa, of course, were indeed working together to trick Littlefinger into thinking they were playing into his hands. While it may have been a nifty twist on paper, in execution, the episodes-long lead-up to this twist felt jumbled and confused. The twist itself, meanwhile, mostly just left us thinking of the precious time we wasted on this silly plot.
Littlefinger’s denial turned to shock turned to tears may have been satisfying, but it was also long overdue. There was simply nothing left for the architect of the game of thrones—the one who single-handedly sparked the War of the Five Kings—to do. In spinning its wheels and overextending his life for the sake of a supposed finale gut-punch, this season also cost us what could have been far more coherent plots for Sansa and Arya. And that’s a shame.
In a different quarter of Winterfell, for the first time in many episodes, Bran decides to speak up. Sam arrives from Oldtown and convenes with the new Three-Eyed Raven, quickly piecing together Jon’s true lineage. (Don’t think we didn’t notice Sam not giving Gilly credit for her discovery! Jerk.) Finally, everything fans have figured out over the years about Jon’s parents, Rhaegar and Lyanna (whom we glimpse in a flashback on their wedding day) is confirmed: They were in love, they were married, and Jon is the true heir to the Iron Throne. We also learn that his birth name is Aegon Targaryen—a strange choice, considering that one of Rhaegar’s older sons, one he had with his previous wife Elia Martell, was also named Aegon.
Jon would actually be the sixth Aegon, five named after Dany’s ancestor Aegon the Conqueror. From what we know of him in the books, Rhaegar’s second marriage was motivated by both love and his belief in prophecies. He thought he was destined to father the Prince Who Was Promised, and that he needed three children (Elia could only bear two) to fulfill another prophecy about three dragon riders. We’ll surely learn more about the significance of Jon’s birth name in Season 8. Here though, information about his lineage is weaved into a montage of Bran’s flashbacks, his narration to Sam, and Jon (his smolder set to kill) knocking on Dany’s door, then stepping inside and making love. It’s a steamy scene but hardly romantic, what with Bran’s narration screaming “SHE’S HIS AUNT!” the entire time.
Tyrion’s forlorn, lurking presence in the shadows outside Dany’s room on the ship also adds a puzzling layer to the proceedings. (He isn’t the only one who didn’t want this, of course: Jorah futilely tries to convince Daenerys to fly to Winterfell instead of riding with Jon in the ship. Better luck next time, Jorah.) On a purely strategic level, Tyrion already has plenty reason to dislike the idea of Jon and Dany together. You know what they say about people in love—they do stupid things. And he needs Daenerys to keep her head in the game; as he’s reminded her repeatedly, without an heir, the future they want for Westeros hinges precariously on her alone. Still, there’s something about the shot that suggests there might be more feeling at play. Tyrion certainly admires Daenerys, maybe even loves her—but I’d have a hard time buying that he’s in love with her, as some have suggested, or that he’s plotting to betray her.
Even further north, as we knew it would, the Wall finally comes down. The magic spells that once shielded the Wall against the undead may indeed have been broken when Bran passed south with the Night King’s mark on his arm. (It’s the same principle that allowed the Night King to break the spells that protected the old Three-Eyed Raven’s cave in last year’s “The Door.”) Curiously though, the episode offers no explicit explanation for how it falls; we also haven’t seen Bran’s mark since last season. But what other explanation is there? Was it dragon fire alone that negated magic and ice-masonry that’s stood for thousands of years?
What we do know is that without that wall at Eastwatch, as Tyrion so eloquently puts it, “we’re fucked.” (Beric and Tormund especially so—though without explicit onscreen deaths, I’d say they’re fine for now.) The endgame is here. The Night King’s army of the dead is finally loose in Westeros. Let’s just hope the show holds its final plot strands together better than the Wall held its own tonight.