In a magnificently unique conjunction of literature and cinematic magic, the world awaits the finale of television’s most epic undertaking, Game of Thrones season eight. It seems almost cruel to leave fans in such fiendish anticipation for the final six episodes, but there is much to analyze and discuss in the interim. As opposed to merely reviewing season seven’s jaw dropping culmination, “The Dragon and the Wolf”, let’s take a look at what’s been brought to light, and all that remains left in the shadows, lurking in the dark.
The beginning of the last episode, which marks the start of the two-year intermission, opens with a showcasing of military forces on either side of the southern war. The purpose of this, driven both by ego and precaution, is protection and peacocking in its grandest form. The meeting of two powerful queens has a high probability of turning into a bloody affair, so it makes sense to have the entirety of their fighting forces on hand. And while it appears that Cersei is vastly outnumbered, the audience is not privy to her dealings with the Iron Bank, what she’s conspired to arrange with Euron, or whatever other schemes she has up her sleeve. And knowing the ruthlessness of the queen that sit atop the Iron Throne, it’s almost certain that she’s withholding and it’s important to understand that. She’s gone rogue, she’s absolutely insane, and has already sold her soul multiple times. There’s no limit to her faithlessness.
As both sides are preparing to finally make contact in the Dragonpit of King’s Landing, many old acquaintances, enemies and friends reconnect. Ser Bronn of the Blackwater finds himself shooting the shit once again with Tyrion and their former squire Podrick. The Hound reconvenes with one of his fiercest opponents in Lady Brienne, and the two find they share a fondness for a young warrior in Arya, who’s development was influenced by the both of them. Brienne of Tarth is also reunited with Jaime, who throughout a series of trying experiences, has gained her respect and favor, something shared between the two. It’s unclear if there’s any romantic connection, but their unquestioned bond seems to be deeper than merely that of revered partners on the battlefield. Not all of the reunions are ones that show potential in their connectivity as Theon is reminded of the treachery of Euron while The Hound promises to deliver a horrific death to his brother, The Mountain. Aside from the latter, it’s interesting to see the bonds still shared between many players on both sides of the war. It’s an important reality to note as The Mother of Dragons has this lying in her favor, connections to all sides stemming from her employment of generally moral and capable council. Cersei however, has no real bonds to anyone, her closest being a connection to a soulless corpse and a mad scientist. As she slowly destroys what’s left with her brother and the remaining loyalty of the few that support her, her lack of empathy and human connection will most likely result in her demise; a demise she fears not in the battle for ultimate power.
A lifetime of anticipation has lead up to this moment. Each side’s respective armies are in place, the dead man has since been captured, ready to be unveiled, councils solidified and present, and with the entrance of Daenerys Targaryen on Drogon, the meeting of the two queens finally begins. Such a pivotal event needs to be carefully minded, all aspects including those appearing unimportant, must be scrutinized and taken not for granted.
As planned, Tyrion is encouraged to open the discussion with the topic of the living’s true enemy, but Euron interrupts him, swinging his boisterous ego around like a meat sword. He threatens loudly that he’ll kill Yara at once if Theon doesn’t submit. Submission to whose side and for what cause remains grey. Is Euron truly aligned with the Crown? Will the Crown remain loyal to anyone who pledges loyalty to it? These waters are murky indeed, and something to keep an eye on.
Euron furthers his performance by insulting Tyrion, derailing the introduction even further, and is finally called to silence by Jaime, with Cersei reinforcing the sentiment through the power of The Mountain. So before this unprecedented discussion can even begin, there’s a ridiculously obvious display of divisiveness amongst the Crown’s panel. This begs the question, could this sloppy display be the product of Cersei’s crumbling internal regime, or a show of sorts, to make things simply appear that way.
At last, Tyrion proceeds and at first, it’s just more of the same. He presents reasonable points of view in regard to their opposition, and a truce being enacted in wake of the Army of the Dead’s decent, and the fact that they need one another to survive. Cersei naturally disregards and combats all the rationale, believing in nothing but her own dark instinct. Jon steps in to try and convey the seriousness of the situation but Cersei reiterates that she takes none of what they’re saying seriously, and in fact, she believes it all to be a distasteful joke. At last, Daenerys’ representatives decide to just show, the telling will be of no need once the dead is revealed.
The Hound emerges in the center of the pit with the crate. He disassembles the locks, removes the top and an unexpected silence fills the air. Everyone on the Dragon Queen’s side knows what’s inside, a bit mystified by the stillness. The Crown’s panel, awaiting some sort of action, sits confusedly as Cersei’s skepticism grows stronger by the second. Finally the Hound, palming his weapon, kicks the crate over and an undead soldier with chilling blue eyes surfaces, making an aggressive dash right towards Cersei. It took some time, but now, with this reveal, all parties are privy to the horrific reality that is the Army of the Dead.
It’s been commonly brought up that Cersei, who we all know is claiming to be with child, doesn’t reach for her belly as she stares death in the face. And while that may be something to consider, I think it’s hardly the most intriguing observation of the scene. The Mountain, who kills anything threatening his queen, hesitates, and doesn’t make an attempt on the dead man’s existence. Had this attack been from any mortal or living animal, there’s no question her faithful zombie would have slaughtered the attacker. I believe this may come into play later and might be very important to consider. Maybe Qyburn’s creation isn’t fearless after all, something the mad scientist may too be considering as he reaches for the severed soldiers hand, mystified by the still-moving, chopped limb.
Jon Snow cuts into the chaos, displaying both known killing methods: fire and dragon glass. After performing both tactics, he puts the terrifying show to rest. Euron immediately gets up, inquires as to whether they can swim, is given the answer he desires and announces he’s taking his fleet and returning to the Iron Islands. We later learn this to have been a rouse, but at this stage, with this new threat, it’s unclear who will do what when death is knocking on the door.
Cersei seems to be effected as Daenerys’ side had hoped she would be. She gives a less than convincing speech about how their battles and trials will have all been for nothing if the dead descend upon the living and agrees to the truce. Of course, being that it’s Cersei Lannister, there’s a caveat. She asks that Jon will remain in the North, refraining from taking sides even after the battle with the White Walkers has concluded. Dany wonders why she wouldn’t ask something similar of her, Cersei scoffs. Reiterating that their hate runs too deep and would never ever ask this of her, furthering, that if she did indeed ask, and Dany accepted, she would trust her even less than she does now. Cersei’s a good liar; she knows the intricacies of mixing in true sentiment with the falsehoods, making her very hard to read. Is any part of her proposal legitimate?
Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how things play out, Jon, loyal to a fault, declines her ultimatum. His love for Daenerys has rooted deeply within his heart. This mixed with his nobility and true sense of honor, prevents him from accepting in a truthful manner or even in the form of a lie.
In less than surprising fashion, Cersei abandons all that she’s said previously, comments that they’ll deal with whatever’s left over after they wage their death war and begins to exit. Jamie and Brienne briefly speak. Jamie’s sullen words of doom are met with a fiery backlash from Lady Tarth. She snaps him out of his sulking, “Fuck Honor.” Pleading that this goes beyond all the bullshit politics of old, and that he needs to talk to his queen.
The group of unlikely heroes are left in the Dragon Pit alone, letting the full weight of the, “we’re fucked” reality take hold. While they commend Jon for his allegiance they condemn him for his honesty, wondering why he couldn’t have just agreed without truly agreeing. He explains himself, remarking that a web of lies is no real solution to this fantastic predicament and they all kind of feel each other’s sentiment respectively. Tyrion then makes a bold decision to go and speak with his sister. It’s met with opposition but he convinces the group it’s the best chance they’ve got at mending some of the tears in the fold. So he goes, all knowing, including himself, that he very well may not return.
Tyrion meets Jaime on his way and they share a brief moment of understanding before younger brother enters the Lion’s Den. The meeting goes as one may expect. A whole lot of of family issues aired, rage, lack of communication and finally the threat of death. The screams and shouts culminate with Tyrion urging Cersei to just kill him, walking right up to the Mountain, ready for the end. She doesn’t make the call. Maybe through her impassioned anger she realizes her younger brother is one of the only human connections she has left. Or maybe Tyrion has a role to play in her plans to come. Things calm, interesting facts are revealed, or planted, and Tyrion ends up coming out alive.
What’s important to note, are a few aspects of their exchange as well as an unknown quality that needs to be minded. First, Cersei mentions Euron having the right idea. There’s no way she’d praise anyone that abandoned or betrayed her. She’s plotting. Second, Tyrion becomes privy to the knowledge that Cersei is pregnant. This information he’s led into discovering after they hash out and share may aspects of their individual goals in the meeting and in regards to the Great War and preservation of their houses and families. Now, whether she is truly pregnant remains unknown, but it changes Tyrion’s perspective. It’s easily distinguishable on his face, and it seems as though Cersei wanted him to discover the knowledge, after bringing up him being directly related to the death of her previous children. Remember, she’s an expert liar, which means she plants and manipulates, not just delivers the lies. They are weaved and carefully kept, complex and layered. After this information is brought to light, we are moved into darkness, as the remainder of the meeting is unknown. All that the audience sees is a seemingly successful Tyrion returning to the Dragon Pit followed by Cersei who, so completely out of character, claims that she’ll not only help, but march all of her banner men north with nothing in return.
Back in the north, Little Finger continues his slimy games, attempting at growing a bigger divide between Lady Sansa and Arya. It’s been difficult to believe and an unattractive plot turn for the audience, to ride along with the narrative that two Stark sisters dream of each other’s end, whether it be the physical or political manifestation of such. It seems as though Little Finger successfully implanted an innate fear of her sister, into Sansa’s head, and the disappointment of his success hints at its falsity. We’ll return to Winterfell shortly to see the unveiling of this distasteful potentiality.
Meanwhile, time and space seem to bend as Daenerys and company all make it back Dragonstone in expert time. They discuss briefly how they’ll all travel north and it’s agreed upon by the queen, that she and Jon will travel together to represent their unified position.
What follows is a rather long sequence in where Theon kind of reclaims his soul. He goes into a lengthy confessional with Jon in the throne room, seeking forgiveness. And while Jon doesn’t have the ultimate sense of sympathy, he does reassure him that Ned always loved him and what he could forgive him for, he does in fact do. The most noteworthy part of this scene is Jon telling Theon that he doesn’t need to choose, “You’re a Greyjoy and you’re a Stark.” Ironically, I don’t find the importance in Theon’s takeaway from the statement. I think it’s key to note that Jon’s moral principles don’t divide the love of two families, or the honor if one has both. He will soon have to face a reality where his heritage is unveiled, and I believe he will be able to accept this new reality because of his morality and where he stands regarding this matter.
Theon get’s the final kick in the pants from Jon to go and save his sister and he proceeds to do so. He has to deliver a beat down to some nameless Iron born captain before setting out, but he’s successful and gains the favor of his fellows. They sail off to save Yara, potentially coming upon Cersei’s collusion with Euron before anyone else.
Following this seemingly frivolous span of events surrounding Theon, the episode arrives at one of the most gratifying, championing moments in show’s history. Back at Winterfell, on a chilling, white day, Sansa summons Arya to the Great Hall. At the table, sit Sansa next to the Three Eyed Raven. Arya asks Sansa if she’s sure she wants to do this, and she responds, “It’s not what I want, it’s what honor demands.”
From there, Sansa presents the charges of murder and treason, and looking straight at Arya, asks, “How do you respond”? But not before cocking her head slightly to the right, addressing Lord Baelish in a devilishly satisfying turn of events. From there, all of his filth is unearthed. His murder of Lysa Arryn, the attempt on Jon Arryn’s life with the poison, the false letter sent by him noting the Lannister’s as responsible for the death of Jon Arryn, only it was him the whole time. From there she continues to dig the metaphorical knife deeper by unveiling his key role in the death of their father Ned Stark, his scheming with Joffrey and Cersei behind the Stark’s back. Basically identifying him as the root and soul of the hell that so many of the beloved and noble characters have experienced, the source, the disease.
He tries to deny it, but is then shook to his core when Bran, who is now all seeing and knowing, reveals intimate details about his role. Little Finger now knows that he’s done for. In a rare moment of true vulnerability he squeals on his knees like a pig, and while Sansa expertly delivers the sentence, Arya hands out physical judgement with the knife that started it all. And finally, one of the true snakes is slaughtered, and justice is served.
The power of the Stark children is, especially as a unit, very real. It ranges from a series of strengths, gifts and magic. I believe this trifecta’s continued life is heavily important in the Great War; hopefully its solidified position is sound, at least for the moment.
And if not for anything else, Arya may have acquired a new, fun face to add to her collection.
In a paralleled kickoff to the conclusion, we see the final phases of deterioration take place in what’s left of the royal family in the south. Cersei approaches the war room where she finds Jaime laying out thoughtful, sound strategy for the march north. She interrupts him as he’s addressing his captains asking for a moment alone. Jaime’s reaction shows he’s got some clue as to what’s coming. Cersei waists no time in shaming her brother, condemning him for believing that she would align with the north in the Great War. They’re completely divided. Jaime’s shocked at her selfishness, the lies and the blind ignorance against an unprecedented terror coming for them all. The mad queen is disgusted by her brother’s treasonous transformation and is sick in her quest for power. This isn’t going to work.
They argue, two opposing schools of thought that won’t meet in the middle or anywhere. And while Jaime tries to drive the point home that if they remain unallied they will all die, Cersei reveals that she’s purchased a mercenary army and Euron is en route to retrieve them. Capping off the betrayal by adding, “Do you think he abandoned the chance to marry the queen? No one walks away from me.”
“You plotted with Euron Greyjoy without telling me the command of your armies?” Jaime is done. He vows to fulfill the promise he’s upheld in marching north to fight for the living. Cersei then invokes the mountain and whatever’s left between them dies. Jaime remarks that he doesn’t believe her, a deeply complex statement pertaining to all that’s unfolded right down to the literal threat of her taking his life, and he leaves.
A tide changing event, shifting the power dynamic and energy of the southern landscape, leaving it emptier than it’s ever been. And as we see Jaime for the last time in season seven, preparing to abandon all that he’s ever known in the name of what’s right, another first manifests as snowflakes grace the grounds of King’s Landing.
The revealing chill in the air blows with the winter winds back to the north as Samwell Tarley arrives in Winterfell. He finds his way into Bran’s quarters where the Three-Eyed Raven sits calmly by a beautifully burning fire. He enters and the two men begin an incredibly profound discussion. Bran reveals to Sam that Jon isn’t a Snow, but a Sand, being that Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark are his parents. Sam then reveals to Bran the most important piece of the puzzle. At the Citadel, he discovered through his transcription, that Rhaeger’s marriage was secretly annulled and a private ceremony was performed for he and Lyanna, making Jon a Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Bran uses his gift to see, and confirms that the information Sam has revealed is of the upmost truth.
In a beautiful culminating of what’s come to light, Bran’s verbal discovery is coupled with the visual of Jon knocking on the door of Daenerys’ private chamber, where he’s welcomed in with a sensuous warmth shared between the two souls. And in an epic pronouncement of Jon’s right to the seven kingdoms he gives himself to the woman who he’s chosen as his queen, his lover and who unbeknownst to him, is also his aunt.
While what’s to come will test the hearts of everyone, the illuminating love of Jon’s parentage and that which he shares with the silver haired goddess is intense, beautiful and real. And may just be the saving energy on which the living stands a chance.
The intensity of this love burns brightly and is not missed by Tyrion, who watches from a distance as Jon enters his queen’s chamber. A clever man, he knows what he’s witnessing, and I’m sure the melody of lovemaking amplifies the reality of the situation. Tyrion is wearing something on his face, an emotion that I can’t fully place. Regret, betrayal? Something happened in that chamber with Cersei and there’s no doubt that after Jon’s refusal to her, something was struck between brother and sister to the detriment of the heir to the Iron Throne. All will be revealed after the passing of hundreds of moons, this we can be sure of.
As love solidifies en route to Winterfell, the women of the house have also began to develop a new kind of their own. Through an act of respect and honor Arya and Sansa deliver justice to the man responsible for the death of their father along with many others in their family, a man who almost succeeding in obliterating the Stark legacy. Together, the two women are rebuilding, reinvigorating their family name through a powerful respect for each other and all that they’ve grown to be. It seems as though the honorable players have finally begun to unify, and the wicked are finding that they’re more and more alone. But in the end, will any of this unification be good enough to make a stand against death itself?
The final minutes of our precious season seven showcase Bran, entranced, near the sacred trees, traveling with a group of ravens to Eastwatch by the Sea. It’s bone chillingly quiet aside from the raven’s cries, and the sky is powdered with ominous black clouds and white winds. We find Tormund and Beric scaling the top of the wall, coming to a post that provides a clear view of all that lies beyond. In a horrifying sequence of events, the Army of the Dead emerges from the trees, inching out slowly, dramatically revealing the massive reach of their militia. The horn is sounded, crying it’s desperate warning to the men manning the castle, and strangely it ceases the army’s movement. A few moments of terrifying silence fills the air but not before being broken by the shrilling scream of a beast from beyond the grave. The Night King emerges on the hide of the undead Viserion, unleashing deathly, blue flames on the castle and wall. Tormund screams to run, for everyone to run. The wall is then decimated. A monument that stretches three hundred miles long, built 8,000 years ago and upheld for millennia, now completely vulnerable and has, in the vilest of ways, been breached.
It’s unclear whether Beric and Tormund survive, and while one can’t imagine their deaths to have taken place with no attention paid to the event, it’s hard to believe that anyone manning the wall survived the attack. The snowy remnants settle and it’s clear the monument has been completely leveled in the area it was hit. The lieutenants in the Army of the Dead move first, and the rest follow. The White Walkers have finally broken through.
Now whether the rumors to Bran being the Knight King are true or not, no one will know until season eight. Personally I’m impartial to the idea, and can find many holes in the arguments backing it up. I do, however, believe there is a connection. And the aerial view of the dead army’s formation looks to solidify some of the thought behind that. What we see as we look down on death itself, is a shaping of the men into a symbol that looks remarkably similar to the wolf in the Stark’s family crest. It’s a troubling observation and one to keep in your back pocket while waiting for the final season to be revealed.
Game of Thrones is one of the greatest cinematic achievements of our time. It’s a multi-layered, highly complex epic that’s converged the worlds of film and literature beautifully. The ending season will be, without question, the greatest television event of our generation, and the secrets that are to be revealed will be as delicious as the execution of Little Finger himself. Until then, keep pondering, watching, pulling clues and crafting theories. This is a time unlike any other, and while the wait is grueling, and doesn’t seem fair, it’s prolonging the eventual end, which is in its own way, a beautiful gift. Throne on, my compatriots. Throne on.