4.5 out of 5 stars

The finale was a good antidote to the breakneck pace of season 7, as 80-minutes allowed more space for the character interactions this year’s sometimes pushed aside in favour of spectacle and busily moving the plot along. It was a solid end to this season of Game of Thrones, despite most of the big moments just confirming of old theories, or following a predictable path. But there were a few unexpected twists and big emotional moments, which made “The Dragon and the Wolf” one of the most balanced episodes of the year.

game of thrones - the dragon and the wolf

In King’s Landing

Most of the finale took place in the Westeros capital, with an attempt to broker a truce between the warring Queens, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Cersei (Lena Headey), who convened in the city’s ancient Dragonpit to discuss their situation. It was great to see more disparate characters come together, sharing the screen for either the first time, or getting reacquainted after a long time apart. I especially enjoyed the Hound (Rory McCann) marching alongside Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), the woman who almost killed him in brutal combat; and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) enjoying the company of selfish Bronn (Jerome Flynn) once more, despite now being on an opposing side.

The meeting itself was every bit as tense and rewarding as one could hope for. As an appetiser, the Hound faced his reanimated older brother, the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson), without a hint of fear in his eyes, instead happy to insult his appearance and renew his promise to be the one that ends his life. But the crux of the matter was explained by Tyrion and Jon (Kit Harington), who made it clear to Cersei that a “great war” has arrived, as tales of the undead beyond the Wall have proven to be true. They then delivered their captured wight as unequivocal proof to sell their fantastical claim. Of course, it was never going to be that easy, with Cersei only agreeing to a truce if Jon agrees the North will come under dominion of the Iron Throne once again, which the King of the North refused to accept. So, after everything they’ve been through to get here… no deal.

One of the best things about “The Dragon and the Wolf” was how it kept you guessing, as Cersei’s a devious bitch who rarely means what she says. Even faced with clear evidence a war between the living and the dead is brewing, she still took some convincing to forego the North coming back under her rule, mainly thanks to a visit from Tyrion at the Red Keep. This was another wonderful scene, as it’s a moment we’ve been waiting years to see after Tyrion fled King’s Landing after murdering their father to escape execution. Dinklage and Headey were magnificent together, able to play their characters’ mutual disgust for the other, tinged with a certain respect and admiration for each other’s survival. Blood is certainly thicker than water, as even cold-hearted Cersei couldn’t bring herself to order the Mountain to lop her little brother’s head off. This, despite presumably remembering the prophecy that a “little brother” will be her undoing.

game of thrones - the dragon and the wolf

Tyrion was fortunately able to deduce from his sister’s words and body language that she’s pregnant, and a moment that happened off-screen seemed to convince her that an alliance with the Mother of Dragons is in her best interest. One presumes Tyrion focused on Cersei’s motherly instinct to protect her unborn child, and not see her baby born to rule a land of walking corpses. So, the deal was eventually struck.

Or was it? No, not really. The episode successfully tricked me, but Cersei’s old plan to betray her allies is still in effect. Interestingly, while Jon refused to lie by pledging fealty to Cersei just to get her help fighting the Night King, Cersei has no such qualms about speaking untruths for selfish reasons. This speaks to their opposing values as rulers.

Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Walder) later learned that his sister doesn’t want him to send their armies north to fight alongside Daenerys, as agreed, preferring to instead hold back and fight whatever creatures come at them later. It’s a very risky tactic, perhaps even suicidal, but Cersei believes fate’s on her side after soliciting the help of 20,000-strong mercenary army the Golden Company. That’s why Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) uncharacteristically left the Dragonpit after seeing the wight. He wasn’t being cowardly, he was merely setting sail with the Iron Fleet to execute Cersei’s real plan. All very clever, although what was Cersei’s plan if a wight hadn’t been delivered to her? It’s hard to see what Euron’s cue would’ve been to leave the meeting.

Regardless, Jon mentions that the entire North contains about a million people, who will become wights if they lose the battle against the Night King, so the Golden Company are going to have their work cut out.

And in a spine-tingling foreshadowing of season 8, Jaime left King’s Landing after his life was threatened by Cersei, noticing the first flakes of snow to fall on the Crownlands in generations. Winter is coming, even for southerners. But what’s Jaime’s plan now? If he’s been forced into exile, rather like his brother Tyrion, will he ride north to warn everyone that Cersei has no intention of helping them? It would appear so, but that makes a mockery of Cersei being incapable of going through with her threat to kill Jaime if he betrays her. Her deception is going to be exposed before she knows it, and there’s really no point having a secret plan.

So, in essence, it won’t be long before Jon and Dany are back to square one having to go it alone against the Night King and his undead horse.

game of thrones - the dragon and the wolf

On Dragonstone

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) hasn’t had the best of seasons, but one of my favourite scenes was his touching moment with Jon. Theon’s a character trying to move past a lot of unforgivable acts he perpetrated on the Stark family, who’d always treated him like a brother, in addition to his awful torture and the psychological trauma it’s left him with. Here, Theon was inspired by Jon’s decision to speak honestly to Cersei, no matter the greater cost, and it encourages him to try and follow that example. He desperately wants to make amends and prove himself a worthy man of principle, and it was incredibly touching when Jon seemed to absolve Theon of his interminable struggle for identity (Stark or Greyjoy), by making it clear he can be both. It was a beautiful moment of wounds beginning to be healed.

And so, Theon puffed out his chest to give a rousing speech to his men as they were about to leave Dragonstone to resume their old Ironborn lifestyle, away from any threat from the wights. It didn’t quite go to plan, with Theon beaten to a pulp by an alpha male who doesn’t want to help him rescue Yara Greyjoy. Thankfully, Theon’s tenacity (and lack of genitals) was enough to see him victorious in the tiring fist-fight. It was a bit of a cheap gag to have Theon get repeatedly kneed in the groin, where he feels no pain as a eunuch, and I’m not sure that even makes sense (he still has testicles, right?), but it was amusing enough.

game of thrones - the dragon and the wolf

At Winterfell

One very welcome surprise was seeing the mishandled Sansa (Sophie Turner), Arya (Maisie Williams), and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) storyline reach such a good conclusion. It’s still been a weak use of all three characters this year, but the destination was worth some of the earlier aggravation. I must confess that I was completely taken in by what was happening, so was equally as shocked as Littlefinger when Sansa switched from sentencing Arya to death (for plotting to kill her and become the Lady of Winterfell), to ordering her advisor’s execution. Sansa never had any intention of killing her sister, as they’ve been playing Littlefinger at his own game, manipulating the situation to prove he’s an untrustworthy worm. And, presumably with a little help from all-seeing Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), build a case against Littlefinger for his multiple crimes: murdering their aunt Lysa and Jon Arryn, betraying Ned Stark, and starting a war between the Houses of Stark and Lannister.

It’s rare to see Littlefinger on the back-foot, caught completely off-guard, and having to improvise a way out of a situation he didn’t see coming. One almost felt sorry for him, as dropped to his knees begging for forgiveness, before Arya swished her Valyrian dagger across his throat. It wasn’t a total surprise that Littlefinger would meet his end this episode, as his character was becoming redundant in the big scheme of things, but how it played out was an effectuve moment of comeuppance for a master tactician outmanoeuvred by his “student” Sansa.

Sam (John Bradley-West) also arrived in Winterfell from Oldtown, meeting with Bran. It was here we got the overdue confirmation of Jon Snow’s true origin, through a combination of Bran’s visions and Sam’s newfound knowledge of a secret marriage annulment. Bran believed Jon was the child born to Lyanna Stark (Ned’s sister) and Rhaegar Targaryen (the Mad King’s son), at the Tower of Joy, making him “Jon Sand” because Rhaegar was then married to Elia Martell. However, Sam knew that Rhaegar’s got divorced and secretly married Lyanna in Dorne — whom he loved and didn’t capture just to rape (the latter a terrible lie that Robert Baratheon based his entire plot to overthrow the Mad King on). So, in fact, Jon Snow was named Aegon Targaryen and is the true heir to the Iron Throne. Bran’s subsequent vision of Jon’s parents getting married was then intercut with Jon having sex with Daenerys in her bed chamber, unaware he’s bedding his own aunt.

To be fair, I’m not sure how easily casual viewers would’ve realise that hot sex scene was also a moment of incest… but it certainly throws a spanner in the works for their blossoming relationship. Is Dany going to stand aside if Jon’s the true heir to the Iron Throne, not her? Will Jon even accept this position, or abdicate to let Dany rule? And given the fact Dany thinks she can’t fall pregnant was raised once again, I think it’s very likely she’s going to become pregnant with their baby next season. Maybe, somehow, that’s a way to open a proper dialogue with Cersei, as we now have two queens carrying children who are the product of incest? Stranger things have happened.

At Eastwatch

It had to happen, didn’t it.

I don’t think many people weren’t expecting the Night King to successfully pass through the Wall in this finale, although I was expecting it might take up more than 8-minutes. Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) could only stand and watch as the White Walkers and wights emerged from the forest below, looking up at the imposing and seemingly impassable icy barrier before them. But, of course, the Night King now has a wight dragon, which he flew alongside the battlements, letting his new pet breathe blue flame, which melted the ice and allowed a huge portion of the Wall to crumble to the ground. The undead army are through, about to march on the Seven Kingdoms. And does this mean Tormund and Dondarrio were killed in the cataclysm? It seems an odd way to end the latter’s storyline, and won’t please those hoping to see Tormund get together with Brienne.

While the Wall’s fall was expected, it was still a thrilling moment.

One has to wonder what the Night King’s original plan could have been, as he only managed to get his ice dragon thanks to a moment of good luck. This might be a sign that a popular fan theory is correct: that the Night King is actually Bran Stark, seer of all things. The idea is that Bran might vision-trip into the past to better understand the White Walker enemy and scout for knowledge, but stay too long and get stuck in the body of the person the Children of the Forest turned into the Night King. So Bran is effectively stuck in a centuries-long time-loop, becoming his own enemy. I’m not sure I buy into this idea, mainly because it’s a complex tangle to explain to audiences, certainly given the limited number of episodes we have left, but it’s fun to consider.

So, the table is set for the eighth season and all the pieces are in play. Is Jaime going to lead his loyal troops north anyway, betraying his queen? Will Cersei just wait around in King’s Landing, biding her time for the North to swell the Night King’s ranks by a million, until the Golden Company turn up to save the day? Is Winterfell doomed now the Night King and his army are through the Wall? What will Jon do once Bran tells him he’s actually a Targaryen heir to the throne, and he just shagged his auntie? Will Dany’s two dragons be enough against one that’s undead? Will someone build a dragonglass ballista to defeat the Night King’s steed? Will Theon rescue Yara and both defeat their uncle Euron, to return the Iron Fleet to their command and use it against the Night King?

There’s certainly lots to do, but not too much time to do it.

It’ll be interesting to see how the final season of six episodes is packaged, as one presumes it’s going to be crammed with action and spectacle, but even a HBO prestige TV budget is unlikely to stretch too much in that direction. There’s also talk that many episodes will be more 70–80 minute specials, so we’ll actually have a longer running time than the standard 10-hour seasons. I’m just curious about how they’re going to ensure it’s not just weeks of battles and fights, which would become a little draining. Game of Thrones has always been more interested in character and politics, as it’s intentionally not like Lord of the Rings.

I’m hopeful a good right balance will be struck, but it’s certainly a huge challenge.