Game of Thrones: The Dragon and the Wolf

“Maybe it really is all cocks in the end.”

Let’s start with the big news, the real spoiler, the most unexpected event: after an entire season of wearing a dyed IKEA rug, Jon Snow finally removed his furry cloak.

Oh, and:

ZOMBIE DRAGON BREATHES BLUE FLAME!

Maybe we should start there, with the beginning of the end. After an episode spent tying up loose ends, killing Littlefinger, and watching everyone glare at each other in the Westerosi version of Yalta, Game of Thrones finally pulled the trigger on the White Walkers breaking through the warded, magical, gigantic Wall of Ice. It was fearsome and destructive in the best way possible, aside from the possible loss of Tormund Giantsbane, who had such lovely plans for gigantic babies with Brienne.

That carnage will have repercussions throughout Westeros. Dany and Jon are now a power couple. Their armies merged, so to speak. They will fight the zombies together. (That’s how the kids describe sex these days, right?). Will they defeat the threat? Will life win over death?

For the first time, my money is on a victory. Game of Thrones bills itself as a cynical twist on the idealized version of the past found in both modern fantasy novels and their medieval counterparts such as romances and historiographies.

Cynical twist on idealized past courtesy of Mighty God King

But the show’s recent portrayal of Jon Snow falls neatly in line with a common trope of both medieval and Renaissance texts that deal with succession and noble lineages: the idea that nobility is innate and easily recognizable.

This episode combines Jon’s political debut (in which he refused to lie or break an oath) with an emphasis on his genealogy (he is not just a Targaryen, but a legitimate one). It contrasts his character and his lineage with Cersei, who falsely promises to save Westeros from zombies and thinks only of her (illegitimate, incestuous) baby and not the fact that she has precisely zero genealogical claim to the throne.

In doing so, this episode valorizes the idea of genealogical succession. Bran Stark describes Jon as the “rightful heir,” as though that phrase has any meaning at all in a world in which the throne has been contested for longer than some of these characters have been alive. It’s a weirdly idealist, almost innocent construction of the transmission of power, especially since, historically speaking, “rightful heir” is often a moving target. Just ask those bastards the Tudors.

The Song of Ice and Fire books argue that life is a cruel chaos ladder that you win or you die, and that it’s probably all about cocks, anyway, as Jaime Lannister explained in this episode. But while the show maintains that patina of cynical ambiguity—especially in dialogue—its chewy candy center has increasingly become a traditional narrative of good versus evil.

Somewhere in that ice-wall of verbiage, I’m mildly criticizing the show for veering towards a simple narrative. But I’m also filled with hope: for the first time, after this episode, I almost think that some of our favorite characters might survive the coming apocalypse.

That simple narrative is not, of course, without its potential flaws. The meeting of the three rulers in the dragon arena was filled with beautifully complex moments. My favorite was the pissing match between Euron and Tyrion, but we also got awkward reunions between Tyrion and Bronn; Pod, Tyrion, and Brienne; Brienne and Jaime; Jaime, Cersei, and the Hound; Brienne and the Hound; the Hound and his Frankenbrother; Theon and Euron. I’m probably missing something.

But it’s worth noting how little Jon had to say—how few people he could even say hi to—until the Hound pulled out the White Walker. Put more simply: Jon doesn’t know many people. He’s an outsider. This was his first visit to King’s Landing. Everyone around him is a political operative in one sense or another. He is nothing more than a great IKEA rug, a penchant for honesty, and the right parents.

That’s not to diminish the importance of the man Jon thought was his father, Ned Stark. The events in Winterfell felt like the closing of a chapter: Sansa finally punished Littlefinger for starting the war of the five kings and for scheming to kill her father. I’m so glad I was wrong about the Arya/Sansa conflict. Arya and Sansa working together to avenge their father’s death, even Arya doing what her father demanded—kill the man herself rather than outsourcing it—would have made him very proud.

Grumpkins and Snarks:

• Meanwhile, Theon is doing his own thing with ten guys and a few boats.

• Sam is back at Winterfell! Does this mean he also has access to Davos’s teleportation magic?

• Jaime is back on Team Good Guys!

• Does this mean that Beric Dondarrion and Tormund Giantsbane are dead? I really liked those guys.

• Tyrion was staring meaningfully at the door to Dany’s bedroom as she was uniting her kingdom with Jon’s. Did Tyrion have a crush on Dany? My heart just broke a little.

• Speaking of a lack of ambiguity: the final scene was Dany having sex with Jon as Bran explained that Jon was the rightful heir, a legitimate Targaryen. Think of how different it would have been if his voiceover continued: “His name is Aegon Targaryen…and he is the nephew of the Mother of Dragons.” That would have ruined it, right? But that the show didn’t emphasize the incest tells me we’re supposed to be okay with it. That’s my take, at least—what do you think?

Three out of four blue flames.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

8 comments:

Logan Cox said...

I knew that would be the quote of the episode. What a hilarious way to open the finale.

I loved this episode despite the fact that it is probably the most predictable one they've ever made. Almost everything that happened was something I already guessed: bunch of big reunions, Cersei learns the truth about the White Walkers and doesn't care, Euron lives to troll another day, Jaime finally realizes Cersei is a bitch who is ruining everyone's lives, Sansa and Arya kill Littlefinger and reconcile, Bran Stark drops the R+L=J bomb, Jon and Daenerys make sweet love, the Night King breaches the Wall. The only thing I guessed wrong was Cersei's death, which I'm not even mad about since Lena Headey is so electrifying in that role.

But there were so many beautiful moments for the characters that I really didn't mind its predictability or that certain things didn't make sense. The Hound ignoring all the other players and their concerns to confront his brother was awesome, as was Littlefinger's downfall, Tyrion and Cersei's confrontation, Jon and Theon's very meaningful talk.

I also got the feeling that Tyrion may have a thing for Dany. The way the music changed when it revealed he watched Jon go into her room. And there was Cersei's line about how Dany is just his type, which Tyrion doesn't really deny.

I think the show emphasized the incest well enough. We see Jon and Dany having sex right after it's revealed that he's her brother's son. Plus D.B. Weiss makes it very clear in the Inside the Episode. Maybe they just relied on us to put two and two together, for a change. And I won't lie, compared to the other examples of incest in this series, I am okay with this one.

Thomas Ijon Tichy said...

This finale didn't work for me. All we really got was Sam and Bran getting together to confirm what we all knew. I didn't have a single choke-up moment. It certainly wasn't terrible but I think if we discount the fireworks this was probably Game of Thrones' worst season finale.

Oh, and Littlefinger dies.

Anonymous said...

Something about Arya, Bran and Sansa teaming up was extremely powerful.. In particular Sansa and Arya...It hit me in the moment how formidable they are and what they could become. Sansa at this point could hold herself well against Dany and Cersei and with Arya and Brienne as her 'enforcers'...She could find herself in a great position at some point in this war. I expect the big hitters to die (Dany AND Jon are not making the end of this story) so you have to still watch the players who are deemed on the periphery.
Lena Headey is amazing..How can i still root for this character...How can i still see slivers of humanity..In years to come Headey and her performance as Cersei will be looked at and remembered just like Sigourney Weaver as Ripley.

Juliette said...

ZOMBIE DRAGON!!!

So awesome!

Like Logan, I incorrectly predicted Cersei's death, but am glad we'll see more of Lena Headey. (I think, based on obscure book stuff, that the Mountain will kill Cersei some point before the end). I get the feeling they can't quite decide whether Beric, Tormund or both should be dead, but if either or both die, presumably they'll come back as zombies :( Talking of which, it occurred to me last week that the Starks like to bury their ancestors under Winterfell - bury, not burn...

Anonymous, I agree, there's something powerful about Sansa, Arya and Bran pooling their knowledge to take down Littelfinger. Bran was behaving like a Stark and a member of the family again! And these are Ned and Cat's last remaining biological children, it's good to see them together (and the two non-biological, Jon and Theon, sharing a scene was cool too).

I have to admit, I think the books are eventually heading for this same surprisingly idealistic and traditional story as well, and always have been, Martin just got distracted - but they haven't been finished yet, so I might be wrong!

ZOMBIE DRAGON!!! :)

Juliette said...

Oh yes, and I'm surprised that I was wrong about Littlefinger last week - a little disappointed that Varys won't get to finish him off, but glad the Stark girls turned on him (and Arya has his face now!). I like Josie's way of reading the plot armour a lot of the others have though - they don't survive because they are protagonists, they are protagonists because they survive - exactly! :)

Henrik Bennetter said...

All of you have already said everything I had to say, and said it better than I would have so - here's my shower thought from after the episode;

Could Arya's facelifting-skills enable her to take the face of a zombie/white walker? Could that be the answer to getting close to the Night-king and killing him (with the Valerian-steel-dagger)?

Actually, one more thing. It felt to me like we also finally got the answer to why the white walkers haven't attempted to breach the wall - the Night king was waiting, maybe even baiting, for someone to deliver the means for him to do it.

Sam Smith said...

I don't think Beric Dondarrion was resurrected a half dozen times just to help jon on the expedition north, so i'm hoping that means Tormund is alive as well. I am a bit annoyed at HBO though, as the zombie dragon was completely spoiled by the thumbnail on the site i watch this on(I literally have no way of legitimately watching it, please dont judge me!) which is poster of the night king on a white dragon breathing blue fire atop the wall.

magritte said...

Since it's an area of speculation here, I'll share my thoughts on how certain characters will die. Cersei was prophesied to be killed by the valonqar, but she's also on Arya's list. Maybe that means valonqar isn't gender-specific and a little sister will do, or maybe it means he'll kill Jaime first and wear his face when she kills Cersei. The Mountain's on Arya's list too, but I feel he's got to be Sandor's kill. I am almost sure the Night King will be killed by John; he's the prophesied Prince of Light. I suspect he'll die in the process of doing it.

While it does feel like the show is moving toward a more traditional epic fantasy ending and a restoration of the Targaryen's, but I wonder if there's a curve balls yet to come. A pat ending seems a little out of keeping with the themes of the books. What happens to the Seven Kingdoms if both Jon and Dany die. The Boratheon's, Tyrrells, Martells are gone, Tyrion's the only Lannister likely to survive. The last remaining Arryn is a useless twit. Stark's proper heir is Bran who seems an unlikely king. Who will rule? Sansa and Tyrion? Arya and Gendry???