Well, we’re finally near the resolution of Game of Thrones. And if the pacing of the final season is any indication, it seems the question of the Iron Throne will matter more than the Army of the Dead. Which is something of a surprise for those who believed A Song of Ice and Fire had an inadvertent ecological message. But then again, there is still time for that — particularly if next week’s Battle of Winterfell goes particularly bad for our heroes.
And that seems to be the point of these first two hours of Game of the Thrones final season: everything can still go bad. Which means this is the only chance the series will have to put the majority of its characters in one place and how they interact. To be honest, I could’ve done with more of these interactions. Example: last night’s show featured a great moment between Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), the Lady of Bear Island, and her cousin Jorah (Iain Glen). But that was clearly not their first interaction since his arrival at the castle. What was that meeting like and did she immediately shame him the way she shames just about every other man who dares to meet her gaze?
At the same time, it is fair to call much of Episode 802, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” a long exercise in fan service; right down to Arya (Maisie Williams) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) consummating their kinda-weird-but-sorta-alright attraction to one another. No plot is advanced as much as Edd’s (Ben Crompton) declaration that the Dead will be at their doorstop by dawn. But after so many years of these characters apart or never meeting, a bit of fan service seems warranted. Many of these people may not be alive after next week’s battle and, well, it was time to settle some things.
The big one was, of course, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) knighting Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). Considering the strange, courtly love affair between them, this is the best way for their story to round out. And it was genuinely emotional. In fact, every bit of business in that Winterfell hall, from Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) filling Podrick’s (Daniel Portman) wine cup to Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) simultaneously terrible and wonderful origin story made for the sort of moments these characters deserved to have before the end. And that includes Pod’s song, itself adapted from a snippet of verse from the novels of George R.R. Martin.
Speaking of emotional moments, Theon’s (Alfie Allen) return to Winterfell, his reunion with Sansa (Sophie Turner), and his willingness to defend Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) all added up to something surprisingly tear-jerking. This guy has been nothing but terrible and pathetic for so long, that the sudden burst of welcoming energy was quite overwhelming. I suppose that means Theon will be among the Dead soon — but then again, this guy is a cockroach and a bad penny all wrapped in one.
Also, I’d like to just note Yara’s (Gemma Whelan) decision to take back the Iron Islands as it may lead to something in my grand endgame theory for the series. Namely: her boats will take the few survivors out of Westeros and to the southern continent Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) longs to see again.
But before we go too deep into conjecture, let’s head back to episode 801 and south to the Red Keep where Cersei (Lena Headly) is entering a mad king stage. Note her disappointment in Euron’s (Pilou Asbæk) failure to bring back elephants with the Golden Company. Note her decision to keep her end of the bargain and sleep with him. Note that by possibly claiming her child is his, she gives House Greyjoy a claim to the throne. All of it is the sort of madness which made A Feast For Crows-era Drunk Cersei a deliciously wonderful read. And it seems by keeping her in the south, Game of Thrones is making the Iron Throne its ultimate resolution. Which, from a dramatic sense, works better than an ultimate row with the Night King. He is an inscrutable opponent whose real drive and purpose will not be revealed until the Prequel series is well into its run sometime in 2024. Cersei, meanwhile, is a verbal sparer with great resources like Qyburn (Anton Lesser), the Zombie Mountain, and the Golden Company at her command. That all adds up to a more interesting end boss than a mute villain and his throngs of wights.
Nonetheless, it makes Game of Thrones slightly less interesting as letting anyone sit the Iron Throne means the show ultimately props up a classical, hierarchical hegemony Martin seemed to be interested in tearing down. Remember when Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) told Tyrion she wanted to break the wheel? Breaking it means destroying the very notion of the Iron Throne itself. Something she seems uninterested in doing now as her wish to hold the North as a vassal state is more important to her than proving to those around her that things will be different. Meanwhile, it is important to remember that seeming ecological metaphor I teased earlier. It seemed A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones were telling the tale of man’s downfall because it was too occupied by petty squabbles of leadership to notice the natural disaster barreling down upon it. It is possible the former may still do that — if it is ever completed — while the outcome of the Battle of Winterfell will determine Game of Thrones ultimate feelings on what the White Walkers represent and if it cares more about seating a king.
Oh, yeah, about that. Should
Jon Snow Little Aegon Targaryen (Kit Harrington) survive the Battle of Winterfell, it seems there may yet be a Dance of Dragons to consider. Will he and Dany find an accord? Will they look passed being blood relatives and get married to unify the kingdoms and let the Prince of Indecision sit the Iron Throne? Or is all of this for naught as Jon finally faces final death next week? It would be an impressive bait-and-switch if not for the seeming investment the executive producers have in this storyline. And on that front back in A Song of the Ice and Fire, I sort of hope Jon remains deceased from his first stabbing at Castle Black or permanently warged inside Ghost.
Come to think of it, it is interesting we saw Ghost for one fleeting moment last night.
Meanwhile, let’s prepare to say goodbye to some folks as Jorah, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Pod, Brienne and Theon seem destined for bitter ends. And in Game of Thrones, those bitter ends have the potential for a sad and terrible afterlife. At least a lot of characters like Tyrion and Gilly (Hannah Murray) will be safe in the crypts, next to the corpses of 100 generations of Starks…
Game of Thrones airs Sundays on HBO.