A very long finale gave us a lot of time to dig into stories that have been developing over the series, some more than others. Some of it hit very had on things I’ve had problems with all season, like the development of Cersei from a conniving, self-centered woman prone to fits of rage who thinks she’s a lot smarter than she actually is to a conniving, self-centered woman who is apparently a master strategist and actress who can control her reactions perfectly. Also, occasionally a strong ending makes you see how weak the story preceeding it actually was, like in the conclusion of the Winterfell plot and the episode-long mission to bright back a wight from beyond the Wall that cost several lives and has incredibly far-reaching consequences we see this episode, and still did not accomplish its primary goal of getting Cersei to support the effort to fight the Army of the Dead. But, it was still an enjoyable finale and thank the gods because Sunday was my actual birthday and if they’d totally shit the bed I would have taken it VERY personally. Onward!
Everyone is massing in King’s Landing for the great conference regarding the Army of the Dead and the need for a truce so they can fight it together. The opening sequence teases like this is all going to devolve into a battle in King’s Landing as we see Bronn directing Lannister soldiers to increase the amount of pitch they have ready to throw off the walls. Euron’s whole fleet is also there, but in the open. I was a little worried they’d try to pull a surprise attack on the Targaryen ships as they were coming in. (I was actually thinking of doing a “Where’s Euron” piece last week and decided not to because it might make him appear again. I should have done it, apparently.) Tyrion might have been worried about this as well, since Daenerys isn’t on the ship. Missandei has also made a miraculous reappearance, in time for their party to be escorted to the meeting by Bronn with Brienne and Pod.
Brienne and the Hound have a little talk about how he’s supposed to be dead, and their shared affection for Arya Stark. The Hound does visibly react when Brienne lets him know she’s alive, and he asks who’s protecting her. Brienne lets him know that Arya protects herself these days. They share a smile at their little baby murderer all grown up. Bronn and Tyrion also snipe at each other for a bit, with Tyrion implying that Bronn should join the winning team, and Bronn insisting that he’s definitely still winning. We’ll see about that later, buddy. Team Daenerys (without their leader) arrives to the dragonpit to await Team Cersei, who marches in what she thinks is probably fashionably late. Unfortunately, when your competition has dragons there’s no such thing as “Fashionably late” there’s just “before the dragon.” And no one remembers what happened before the dragon. All players in place, we can get down to business. Well, no actually, first we have to have a couple stand-offs.
We don’t get a full Cleganebowl, much to the disappointment of dozens, but Sandor recognizes his brother walking in with Cersei and her crew, and threatens him before heading off to bring in the guest of honor. As they are trying to get started Euron decides to jump in and make an ass of himself, as he does. He threatens Theon, threatens Tyrion, and just is generally unpleasant to remind us all of why we haven’t been missing him these last few episodes. We get a glimpse of the old Tyrion who was fun and quippy as he calls back to telling Theon about dwarf jokes and lets Theon get a bit of a dig in at his jerk uncle. Everyone reflects for a bit about how terrible Euron is, and then he sits down so we can get on with why we’re all actually here.
The Hound dumps a wight out and it immediately charges Cersei who looks appropriately terrified before the Hound yanks it back and hacks it into a couple still wiggling pieces. Qyburn looks… I’m gonna go with “disgustingly intrigued” as he picks up a still wiggling hand and examines it. Jon then demonstrates how to destroy the wights, with fire or with dragon glass. It’s a good pitch! Jaime and Cersei both look pretty rattled, Euron looks thoughtful and quiet for once. He asks if the wights can swim and then says he’s headed for the Iron Islands. Remember this later, Euron looks pretty serious and devoid of his usual crass humor and Cersei looks very off-balance. They had no idea what was going to be shown here today. I still thought that Cersei’s pivot to recognizing the dead as the true enemy happened a little too smoothly so of course Cersei demands that Jon stay out of the conflict. But too late! Jon has totally pledged himself to Dany and can’t lie about it! Ugh, Starks (and Stark adjacents) and their honor. Anyway, this causes Cersei to flounce off which is the first hint that however scared she was, she’s not taking the threat of the dead seriously. Everyone rags on Jon for not being able to lie for a while and Jon’s retort is something along the lines of “but this is better in the long run!” and everyone else is like “WE JUST NEED YOU TO PRETEND FOR LIKE 20 MINUTES, BUD, COME ON! LITERALLY ONLY THE TWO OF YOU KNEW ABOUT THIS, THAT’S NOT EVEN REALLY LYING.” Tyrion’s going to try and fix it. Tyrion doesn’t have a great track record with Cersei OR fixing things this season, but OK.
Tyrion does get a chance to have a little chat with Jaime on his way into see Cersei as both of them recognize the real stakes here, and acknowledge that Tyrion may be walking into his own death. And while I love seeing Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey together, this scene feels weird. These characters have both been very strangely written this season so getting back to the meat of their relationship with each other from way back in Season 4 feels kind out of place. They are both very different people now than they were then, but so much of how they’re talking to each other could have come right out of that time period of the show. Cersei also doesn’t have Tyrion killed on the spot and I don’t care how much coaching Qyburn has given her, that just doesn’t seem true to the Cersei we know and, well, know from every previous season of the show. There’s a long chat about who’s responsible for the death of Cersei’s children, even as she acknowledges now that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey. We get some yelling and big emotional moments from both of them, and then Cersei practically SCREAMS “I’m pregnant” at Tyrion by rubbing her belly while talking about “what really matters” and he catches on. I think the show is making Cersei out to be more canny and intelligent than is really believable lately, but this bit of her performance felt familiarly clumsy. “How do I tip Tyrion into knowing I’m pregnant? Oh, I’ll just conspicuously rub my lower belly. I’m so clever.” Her not drinking the wine, though, is a very anachronistic touch.
Jon and Daenerys are wandering the dragon pit talking about the fates of Targaryens. A topic they BOTH have a lot of interest in! And one of them will soon have a lot MORE interest in! Jon is the first person, bless him, to point out that a woman practicing dark magic who wanted Daenerys dead might not be the most reliable source on the state of her uterus. Tyrion returns, and after him comes Cersei who agrees to send her armies North with a big speech about how she’s doing the right thing with no promises or assurances from anyone. Which is, you know, kinda the opposite of what happened. But whatever, that’s not why I find this annoying. Cersei being petulant and playing the victim when she’s being an ass is far more in line with her character than the new diabolically evil Cersei plotting seven moves ahead of Tyrion and everyone else.
Back at Winterfell Jon has FINALLY sent a raven letting them know that he’s pledged himself and the North to Daenerys Targaryen. Littlefinger gets one thing right, which is that Jon and Daenerys may be looking to a different kind of alliance than just political. Littlefinger then starts hinting around that Sansa should displace Jon and Sansa says she can’t because Arya would never stand for it. Littlefinger tries to imply that the Faceless Men ain’t shit, because he’s an idiot, then he walks Sansa through a scenario that Arya is only in Winterfell to kill Sansa. Since Sansa started the season very openly dismissive of Littlefinger, and after she sent away Brienne after his suggestion that she “use” Brienne, I’ve suspected that she’s been having these meetings primarily to figure out what Littlefinger is up to in order to quietly ensure that doesn’t happen. But given how clumsy some of the writing of Sansa and Arya has been this season, I didn’t entirely trust it. Basically, I didn’t want to believe the worst implications of this storyline but I also didn’t really trust them to make it better, and here was one of the points where I was really uncertain which way it was going to tip. Until Sansa finishes Littlefinger’s game by saying that Arya’s goal is to become “Lady of Winterfell.” Arya has never wanted to be Lady of anything, that’s the heart of the conflict between her and Sansa. Littlefinger assumes that it’s about power, because that’s his motivation, but it’s not Arya’s. Sansa knows that.
Back at Dragonstone they’re figuring out the best way to bring Daenerys to the North to announce the alliance. Jorah wants Dany to fly to the North to stay safe, but Jon wants her to sail with him and march to Winterfell from there together. Ultimately, Daenerys wants to arrive as someone coming to assist, not to conquer, so she will sail with Jon much to Jorah’s dismay. As Jon and Davos leave to make preparations, Theon approaches Jon to let him know that he is literally the ONLY person who thinks it’s great that Jon wouldn’t lie to Cersei. Theon talks to Jon about feeling like he was torn by his conflicting alliances to Ned Stark and his Greyjoy lineage and it’s a nice moment for him to have after everything he’s been through. When Theon can really identify what’s left of him after Ramsay’s torture and his own displacement. Jon assures Theon he can be a Stark AND a Greyjoy, that Jon forgives him his sins against Jon, and encourages him to do what Theon knows is right; to try to save Yara.
For some reason Theon’s Ironborn are still hanging around Dragonstone a few weeks after they dumped him off there. I have no idea why they were hanging around UNLESS they were waiting for Theon but they seem intent on leaving him behind while they go find a nice island to kill all the men and rape all the women on. Anyway, Theon tries to order them to go after Yara, the main Ironborn guy refuses and starts punching Theon, and we get Theon’s Captain America “STAY DOWN!” moment. In one of the attacks, the Ironborn dude (no idea what his name is) tries to knee Theon in the groin only to find out that’s not effective! And somehow the ineffectiveness of that attack gives Theon enough strength to tackle him and beat his face in. And now the Ironborn are his because they’re kind of a trash people who’ll follow whatever dude beat someone’s face in most recently. I’m glad Theon’s going after Yara and the shot of him, falling to the surf to wash his face is lovely, but the Ironborn are still awful.
Back at Winterfell Sansa is on the ramparts looking at the snow and stealing herself for something. She commands a guard “have my sister brought to the Great Hall.” and when Arya arrives Bran and Sansa are sitting together at the front of the room. OH HEY, BRAN! Weird for you to FINALLY show up, right? We get some back and forth about honor and defending the North from those who would betray us and then Sansa reads the charges of murder and treason to LORD BAELISH! We finally see Littlefinger on his back foot as Sansa questions him with the help of Bran. He becomes increasingly more desperate as Sansa calmly recounts his many MANY sins and conspiracies. Arya just looks at him like he’s a particularly tempting dessert. Bran lets Littlefinger know that he knows about Littlefinger threatening Ned, and Arya reveals that they know the dagger was his. NOW Littlefinger starts to panic and demands a private audience with Sansa, and she throws it back in his face that he was trying to turn her against Arya. He demands Lord Royce take him back to the Vale, and is rebuffed. He falls to his knees pleading his love for Catelyn and Sansa, but he betrayed them both. Finally, as he calls Sansa’s name one last time, Arya approaches with the dagger and slashes his throat open. He collapses and bleeds out onto the stones of Winterfell.
Look, the scene was great because Aiden Gillen is great and this has been a long time coming. In particular, it helps smooth out the development of Sansa’s political acumen which truly began when she revealed herself to the Lords of the Vale. She thought she knew Littlefinger then, and she knew a little bit, but she didn’t truly UNDERSTAND him until he both sold her to Ramsay Bolton and then turned around and offered her the Knights of the Vale once she escaped. But it still doesn’t redeem the previous clumsy handling of the Stark siblings reunion. This was done ENTIRELY to trick the viewers. There were moments in Winterfell, we know now, that these three came together to learn and understand each other. To plan together. Those would have been difficult conversations and they would have been INTERESTING conversations. Instead, we get some contrived series of events designed to make us think Arya and Sansa have been at each other’s throats. That’s not my perception, David and Dan in the post-show credits admit that they WANTED us to think that one sister would murder the other, which is such a tawdry way to create drama. There was an interesting series of events in Winterfell this season and I’m sad we only got to see the worst parts of the lead up to a very strong conclusion. But man, WHAT a conclusion. Sorry, Littlefinger, your kind of villainy has no place in the War for the Dawn.
Jaime is attempting to lay out the plan for how to move troops to the North as soon as possible. So Cersei comes down and tells him that he’s an idiot and she never intended to send troops North. But is he the dumb one here? As he points out, if the armies in the North are overwhelmed the Army of the Dead will come kill them. If the Army of the Dead is defeated, then the united Targaryen/Stark army will remember that the Lannisters did not honor their promise and will come kill them. Whatever else Cersei says, she’s playing an increasingly short game and Jaime is starting to see how power-mad she truly is. She says she’s bringing in the Golden Company and that Euron’s cowardice was an act. Which means that prior to knowing what Jon and Daenerys were going to present, Cersei told Euron to pretend to run away whatever it was so he could sail to pick up the Golden Company. Ok. Sure. Cersei then starts threatening Jaime if he intends to ride North to honor his pledge. There’s a tense moment with Ser Gregor and the fact that Cersei appears to even consider having Jaime killed seems to be what finally breaks Jaime’s devotion to her instead of just goggling at her villainy and then following her anyway as he’s been doing all season. He heads out, and then begins riding North alone as the snows come to King’s Landing.
Sam comes to Winterfell and heads up to visit Bran who gives him a creepy “I remember everything” greeting and dives right into the “I’m the three-eyed raven now” and “I can see everything.” After all that’s gone on with Sam he’s willing to roll with it. Bran decides to entrust Sam with the news that Jon’s parents aren’t Ned Stark and [unnamed woman], but rather Rhaegar and Lyanna. Bran still thinks he’s a bastard, though, and Sam has to prompt him to look for the wedding of Rhaegar and Lyanna which was Gilly’s find but whatever I guess we’re short on time NOW. As Bran walks through what this means, Jon knocks on the door of Daenery’s cabin on their ship, and she lets him in as Tyrion creepily looks on from the shadows. We get another flash to Lyanna on her deathbed telling Ned that Jon’s name is Aegon Targaryen. No, not that Aegon Targaryen, the OTHER Aegon Targaryen. The one currently naked in bed with his aunt, which makes a kinda gross juxtaposition and Bran’s voiceover continues that Jon/Aegon’s the heir to the Iron Throne and that he needs to know as Jon finally gets to ride a dragon. (I’m sorry, that was tasteless.) (But not tasteless enough for me to edit it out.) Everyone is acting like this is going to cause a huge rift between Jon and Daenerys, but Jon has already flat out said he wants her to rule. I don’t see him going back on that. Jon only takes on positions of leadership when they’re literally FORCED on him by others. If anything, I see him taking it as MORE incentive to marry her and let her get on with the business of ruling while he becomes Westeros most prominent stay-at-home dad because you KNOW babies are coming. And the only thing verifiable in text is Rhaegar and Lyanna’s marriage. Jon’s birth we only know about because of Bran’s visions which aren’t exactly legally binding. I’m saying it’s far from certain that Jon will become convinced that it’s his destiny to rule, and it would feel really weird for him to suddenly have a change of character that points him in that direction.
Elsewhere in Winterfell (maybe the next morning?) Sansa and Arya are on the ramparts together discussing the death of Littlefinger. Ned Stark once said the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword, but here Sansa has the understanding of justice and Arya has the will to enforce it. They are stronger together than they ever were apart. And together, they quote Ned’s words to each other, affirming that they will need each other as Winter is upon them. Behind them looms the Godswood, where Bran is watching Eastwatch.
Beric and Tormund are at Eastwatch, at the top of the wall as the Army of the Dead begins massing on the Northern side of it. Only this time, they’ve come with a dragon that can apparently blast straight through the Wall. Tormund starts herding people down off the top of the Wall, but things are happening very fast. The last we see of Tormund is him standing at the edge of the Wall as the whole thing comes down. Maybe he was on that Western edge with no way down. Maybe he’s under a pile of ice that an army of zombies are now marching over. It’s not clear. But the Wall is down, and the Army of the Dead is coming for Westeros. So, for those of you keeping score the mission beyond the wall to capture a wight was so that Cersei would see how real the threat to Westeros was and pledge her army to fight it. That mission resulted in 1. Cersei not allowing her armies to go north and 2. The loss of Viserion to the White Walkers which has now led to the collapse of the Wall so the Army of the Dead can actually invade Westeros. Great job, everyone! Really glad Tyrion convinced you all that this was an excellent plan instead of being like “Cersei does not understand any greater good than herself so let’s just handle her later after we’ve saved the entire country, at which point we might have a hell of a lot more public opinion on our side.” But hey, the White Walkers needed a dragon and I guess this was the most convincing way David and Dan could think of to get them one. Fine. I guess we’ll see how this all shakes out in 2019. Thanks for reading and ranting with me this season!