Everyone can stop obsessing about who will ride the third dragon. The answer, it turns out: The Night King. Wonder what odds Vegas would have given on that.
Dragons, White Walkers and an undead polar bear highlighted this week’s episode. But let’s get the frustrating scenes at Winterfell and Dragonstone out of the way before reliving that wonderful wretchedness.
Arya and Sansa’s Machinations
The action in Winterfell has been painful. No better word for it. None of the long-awaited reunions have yielded any joy and, really, we have to kind of hate all three Stark siblings a bit now. The girls, especially, are unlikeable in this episode. Sansa rudely dispatches her devoted servant and protector, Brienne, to King’s Landing, and Arya appears to have turned into a careless, wild-eyed menace. Both are acting out of character. Maybe that’s the point. The only rational explanation for their behavior is that things are not what they seem, that the Stark sisters are play-acting, that they are setting Littlefinger—and us—up for a surprise.
Take, for example, Arya’s snooping around. Last week, Littlefinger laid a trap for her by planting Sansa’s message to Robb from season 1. He smiled that oily smile when he saw her take the bait. We know that recently Arya was able to infiltrate the Twins, kill two of Walder Frey’s sons, bake them into a pie, feed it to Walder, kill him, assume his identity for several days, at least, and orchestrate a bloodbath of a banquet for dozens of other offending Frey offspring—all right under the noses of the entire household. Nobody knew a thing about it until she finished her mission. But Littlefinger supposedly catches her listening in on his conversations in the stable and the courtyard and plays her with a planted raven scroll? Don’t think so. Unless the comforts of home turned her into a complete idiot.
And what about Sansa sending Brienne away (and being so rude about it)? The whole “invitation to Kings Landing” thing is a head-scratcher. Why would Cersei invite Sansa—not the Queen of the North, mind you, but a stand-in for Jon—to the Capital? Even if the invitation is legitimate, there is no way Sansa would go, and Cersei must know that. The invitation is a ruse. But who’s ruse? Littlefinger knows Sansa won’t go and would likely send Brienne. Maybe he wanted her out of Winterfell because of some nefarious plan for Arya. Or Sansa. Professions of his idyllic Iron Throne vision aside, Littlefinger wants the throne much more than he wants the girl. Sansa is only a trapping of his true desire. He has used her before, and he would kill her without any remorse if it got him what he wanted. Maybe he sent the message to get Brienne out of his way.
It is also possible one or both of the girls set up the fake invitation. If they are pretending to contest each other, Brienne could intervene and wreck the plan, or worse. If they faked the message, though, Littlefinger would surely know it is not legitimate. His sources are better than that. This could be the sort of inconsistent detail the show is increasingly hoping we’ll overlook, of late. Let’s hope not.
In another confusing moment, Arya plays the “Game of Lies” with Sansa when she catches her pawing through her bag of faces. And Arya tells some whoppers. She says she would never serve a Lannister, yet she did, as Tywin’s cupbearer. She says she wonders what it is like to be Sansa and wear all those pretty dresses; we know she doesn’t care at all about prissy stuff. She also claims Sansa just stood there when Ilyn Payne beheaded Ned; Sansa was frantic and had to be restrained, as I recall it. In the end, when Arya is at her most menacing, she flips the dagger over and presents it to Sansa, handle first. Then she turns her back. Submission, then trust.
To believe in the giant rift that seems to exist between the sisters, we would have to accept that after years apart, with each assuming the other must be dead, they never took ten minutes to sit down and share their stories. That assumption strains credulity. (To be fair, though, the show has expected us to believe that Jon, like an inconsiderate college student, has failed to write home with any news or updates on his crucial mission for weeks. For better or worse, HBO does expect us to accept some nonsense.) Even if the sisters are not close, the “who had it worse” competition would compel them to exchange details.
We would also have to believe that the semi-omniscient Bran—detached though he is—has not clued them in about the schemes of the mustachioed creep among them. Most of all, we would have to believe that Sansa has forgotten Littlefinger sold her off to a sadist and that Arya abandoned her training and turned careless moron the moment she wheedled her way through the Winterfell gates. Too many signs point to this rift being fake. Whether both are in on the same plan or each is working her own angle, Littlefinger is about to get his comeuppance. Unless, that is, he is cleverer than they are. That would be a nice surprise.
How will the northern machinations make sense in the end? We can only guess, for now. But they had better make sense. Winterfell is too important to become a nonsensical story pit, like Dorne.
Dany and Tyrion Discuss Succession
Does anyone else miss drunken, whoring, interesting Tyrion? Apart from the banter he shared with Jon earlier this season, he has become the dull voice of conscience trying to rein in a petulant and impatient mother of dragons. His story has become subservient to Daenerys’, which is a shame. He was so much more engaging when his own motivations drove him. Now, he’s a casualty of the rush to resolve everything. He’s as morose as Jon. He’s a sidekick. Who saw that coming?
This week he offers valid counsel about his queen’s temper and the need for a succession plan to preserve her vision after she is gone. Daenerys dismisses his counsel. When she rides off to aid Jon, he nonsensically tries to dissuade her, saying that without her, everything is lost. Does he really want to let the expedition perish? And does he really worry about losing Dany? Or is it the dragons? Something just doesn’t ring true.
Tyrion’s hatred of Cersei would never permit him to return to the Lannisters’ side. But his love for Jaime creates inner conflict. Lest he be relegated once and for all to also-ran status, don’t be surprised to see something unexpected involving our once-favorite lovable imp at the dragon pit convocation.
Beyond the Wall
Fantastic stuff happened on the most ill-conceived expedition since Jaime and Bronn’s Dornish adventure. Most of it came in the form of high-energy CG eye candy, though, rather than measured storytelling.
The banter among the ruffians was a mix of meaningful, delightful and cloyingly preachy. The episode eased us in with Tormund’s infatuation for Brienne, the Hound’s lecture to Gendry about “whingeing,” and Thoros’s recounting of his heroic gate charge at Pike that happened only because he was too blackout drunk to know what he was doing. Jorah shows he has regained his honor, refusing to accept Longclaw from Jon because he knows he brought shame to his house, broke his father’s heart, and is not worthy to carry the family blade. Beric gives us a paradoxical sermon about battling death, even though that particular enemy always wins, in the end.
A bear in a blinding blizzard is the first sign of trouble. And no, Gendry; bears do not have blue eyes. Fortunate that our heroes brought along a handful of nameless lackeys to do most of the dying. The bear gets two of them and mauls Thoros. The scene rivals quality horror films, as the zombie bear launches itself out of an opaque whiteout, enormous and seemingly unstoppable. Eventually, Jorah remembers they have dragonglass daggers, and that dragonglass kills wights. Beric cauterizes the wounds, and they shamble on.
When the party encounters a platoon of zombie scouts, accompanied by a single White Walker, it appears the stupid plan just might work. All they have to do is peel one off and drag him back to the Wall. Jon dusts the Walker, and all but one wight fall to a pile of bones. The remaining undead soldier (regrettably, a nameless one of no previous identity), they capture. But not before his otherworldly shriek calls the main force upon them. It is at this point that the episode starts to get profoundly sloppy.
Look, we got dragons blowing up wights with fire-fueled geysers of ice and spray. We saw the Night King go all magic ice javelin champion to bring down Viserion, the creamy-gold dragon that was named after Dany’s loser of a molten gold crown-wearing brother. We saw Viserion raised from the depths of the lake and then resurrected as an azure-eyed servant of the Night King. All good stuff. But there was assorted nonsense, too. For example:
- The wights, who have marched the lethargic march of the dead for seven seasons without reaching the Wall, are able to outrun all the men (save Gendry) to encircle and trap them on an unlikely rock island in the middle of a frozen lake.
- When Beric suggests killing the Night King as a means of ending the war, Jon says, “You don’t understand.” How about explaining why this is a bad idea, so we’ll all understand, King in the North? The others shrug it off. Deference to the king. Even if it kills us all.
- The Hound, who has never had any patience for foolishness or fun, first throws a snowball at a wight, knocking off its jaw. Then, after muttering his favorite epithet, he heaves a rock that skids along the ice to alert the army of the dead that the lake has refrozen, and they can safely attack the ranging party. Maybe boredom makes Clegane reckless.
- Gendry retraces what earlier seemed an arduous journey in a matter of, what, a few hours? (Why weren’t these guys on horses, to begin with?) Good thing he gave up the war hammer, or everyone would have died. He collapses at the gate, and Davos dispatches a hyperspace-enabled raven to ask for Daenerys’s help. It takes Dany longer to put on that white fur gown than it does to fly the length of the continent and start melting the icecaps.
- With Drogon and all but one of the human antagonists nearly at his feet, the Night King ignores them to heave his spear at a riderless flying target in the distance. He could put an enormous dent in the resistance, but chooses not to. Maybe he’s just a showoff.
- After one miraculous rescue saves the day for everyone else, a second one, in the form of blue-white semi-undead Uncle Benjen, rides out of time and unknown space with his flaming flail to save Jon, who should have died in the freezing water that the wights dragged him into. Even if Bran sent him, as some theorists suggest, it’s just too convenient. Benjen rejects Jon’s plea to ride out with him because there’s “no time.” No time to do what? Jump on the damn horse?
- Wights can’t swim, right? That was the whole reason for the standoff. Yet somehow they manage not only to produce four enormous shipping chains in the middle of the frozen wilderness, but also to go beneath the surface of the ice and wrap them around a several-ton dragon on the bottom of the lake, all so they can dramatically tow the carcass out to be reanimated. It would have made more sense for the Night King to just levitate the body, like Yoda raising Luke Skywalker’s X-Wing fighter from the swamp in the Dagobah System. We would have bought that. It’s fantasy, guys! When it’s more believeable than implausible elbow grease, why not use it?
One of the directors basically said this week that fans should get over the time warp issues and seeming inconsistencies since, after all, they accept without question that dragons and White Walkers exist. This dismissive attitude insults the entire genre. The best fantasy has rules. Magic does not supplant certain truths about the universe. Claiming viewers should just enjoy the spectacle and ignore sloppiness demeans both the product and its fans.
The wight bear, the dragon battle sequence and the downing of Viserion were breathtakingly depicted. HBO has shown itself peerless in the cinematography and staging of such epic scenes. You would think that creative geniuses who are so dialed into their art would value character continuity and story consistency in the pursuit of a masterpiece. You don’t set out to paint the Mona Lisa, make it perfect in nearly every aspect, then, to cover up a smudge, give her a unibrow. It is unacceptable to stage a fantasy story and then, when viewers notice shortcomings, belittle the genre as unworthy of a few house rules. There was so much to admire in this episode. It’s a shame that careless narrative choices detract from the finished product.
Thus ends the mission that turned out to be as silly as it seemed when Tyrion suggested it. Jon has been saying for months that the Northern army can’t defeat the army of the dead alone, yet a dozen dudes were supposed to confront this same army, steal one of its foot-soldiers, then run away? Okay, then. Dany declares it was still worthwhile because now she has seen, and you have to see to understand. Here’s betting Cersei will be unmoved, and their efforts and losses will be for naught.
Daenerys also promises to help Jon defeat the Night King. Then, when it is no longer necessary, he agrees to bend the knee to her. It’s Robb’s moon-eyed foolishness all over again. Can’t they share the rule? They are barreling toward romance, anyway.
If the gaping holes in Jon’s chest at all repulse Daenerys, she conceals her disgust. She also seems to have lost her curiosity about their origin. Maybe, in an unhinged battle episode where the one named dying character uttered, “I just got bit by a dead bear,” all of the characters are coming to accept that it is, indeed, a funny old life.
Pop extra popcorn and take care of all bodily necessities before 8 p.m. Sunday, because the finale is longer yet, at nearly 80 minutes. All of the principal players, other than the Stark sisters, Littlefinger, and the Night King, appear to be descending on King’s Landing. Well, I guess the Night King could show up on the back of his newly-acquired toy and wreck all of the puny human plans. And how awesome would that be?
Over the first several seasons, final episodes were exposition-laden affairs that wrapped up lingering details and set the stage for the next season’s intrigue. Last year’s finale, “Winds of Winter,” broke that mold. Cersei blew up the Sept of Baelor, annihilating the Faith Militant and dispatching most of the Tyrelle nobility. Tommen committed suicide. A pack of kids murdered Grandmaester Pycelle. Arya pulled the faceless serving wench trick to kill Walder Frey. Benjen dropped off Bran and Meera at the Wall. The Tower of Joy scene revealed that Jon is the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen, not Ned Stark’s bastard. Davos urged Melisandre’s execution, and Jon banished her. Cersei was coronated. Dany and her forces, at long, long last, set sail for Westeros.
With so many storylines coalescing this year, we can’t expect as many major developments. Here’s hoping for at least one clever, well-conceived and plausible surprise. That candy machine that has been pouring out wish-granting gumballs all season needs to spit out a slimy, radioactive rock to repulse and delight us for the long offseason.
The "big event" of the final episode will be:
This poll is closed
Jon finding out he’s Aegon’s true heir, then riding a dragon.
Cersei annihilating her gathered enemies (again).
The Wall comes tumblin’ down.
Other (enlighten us in the comments)