Each Monday, the New Republic staff will discuss the newest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones, which is in its seventh and penultimate season. Join us as we chat about the latest plot developments, incest (again), and where the show goes from here.
Ryu Spaeth: “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the finale for season seven, was composed of a series of breakthroughs. Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen finally hook up, and in so doing coin a new euphemism for sex (“We sail together”). Jaime Lannister finally leaves his sister Cersei, after he discovers that she is going to double cross Jon and Daenerys as they attempt to defeat the White Walkers and the Army of the Dead. Sansa and Arya Stark finally see the light and execute Littlefinger; RIP Petyr Baelish and the worst English accent in modern television. Bran Stark finally decides to use his all-seeing powers to dispel the mystery surrounding Jon’s birth, revealing that Jon is the legitimate son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and therefore the heir to the Iron Throne (as well as Daenerys’s nephew). And the White Walkers finally broach the Wall, using the reanimated corpse of Viserion to melt a good chunk of it with blue fire.
A lot happened, in other words, in keeping with this season’s breakneck pace. Let’s start with the confirmation that Jon is actually Aegon Targaryen, a revelation that roughly coincided with some hot nephew-on-aunt action.
Emily Atkin: Never did I think I’d be gazing upon Jon Snow’s bare booty at the exact moment the screenwriters are telling me that the woman underneath him is his aunt. Like most Thrones fans, I already knew Jon and Dany were related—but the combination of that fact with the explicit imagery of their coupling was not super fun for me.
More seriously though, this revelation means that Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. At first, I imagined this would cause a lot of drama between Dany and Jon—Dany clearly likes Jon, but not enough to spare his life if he tries to usurp her. But in the parley with the Lannisters, Jon demonstrates quite clearly (and, to be honest, annoyingly) that he is not an oath-breaker. He promised to bend the knee to Dany, and I don’t think learning the truth about his bloodline would be enough for him to break that promise.
Sarah Jones: It certainly feels like the show wants us to believe conflict is brewing between Jon and Dany but I agree with Emily; it’s not going to happen, or at least it’s not going to last very long. They’re dull, pretty people! They say what they mean and then they do it and their hair always looks perfect. Jon has said over and over he didn’t choose to be king, and that will still likely be true when he finds out that he’s Aegon Targaryen. The solution is already obvious: They’ll get married. And they may even be able to have kids—that was a neat bit of foreshadowing in last night’s finale, when Jon tells Dany that her witch nemesis probably wasn’t a reliable source of information about her supposed infertility.
Alex Shephard: This episode was season seven in miniature for me. It was spectacular (blue fire! Dany and Jon!). It answered loads of open questions from the books (Jon is Aegon frickin’ Targaryen, rightful King of the Andals and all the other titles!). And it was also really, really frustrating from a storytelling perspective. I didn’t see the bait and switch they pulled with Littlefinger coming, which did mostly redeem a nonsensical b-plot revolving around a supposed feud between Arya and Sansa. (RIP Littlefinger, whose accents I will miss very, very much.) But that can’t be said for everything else, which felt rushed.
For example, it’s not entirely clear why an undead wight—as opposed to, you know, all the other stuff—would be the final nail in the Jaime-Cersei coffin. But they had to split up, so it was. The whole Ocean’s 11-style heist north of the Wall still makes no sense, because Cersei did exactly what Cersei was always going to do: lie and cheat and fuck everyone over who isn’t her. And we finally got what I’ve been waiting twelve-odd years for: the Jon Snow parentage reveal. But it makes no real sense that Bran would tell Sam Tarly, whom he barely knows, and not anyone else about it. And why did Bran, who has sent cryptic ravens across the realm about every other silly development up north, wait however long it’s been since the end of last season (three weeks? three months? three years?) to tell anyone about it?
Ryu Spaeth: The scene with the wight was definitely the weakest. The acting was universally terrible, starting with the look of fear on Jaime’s face. He really got it, you know? Euron Greyjoy was so scared that he literally ran off (though apparently this was staged by Cersei, which, come on). And I got a little tired of zombie Gregor Clegane standing menacingly behind everyone like some silent, mountainous shadow. But the redeeming part was that Cersei did in fact stay true to form; I was crestfallen at the prospect of her actually joining Jon and Dany’s alliance and showing some common sense/decency.
And I agree with Alex that everything felt a bit rushed. But the scene where Littlefinger was finally thwarted was still good right? Arya got him right in the throat, as if to silence that atrocious accent once and for all.
Sarah Jones: It was glorious. Everything about it was cathartic. No more Littlefinger, and the Stark girls are finally working together! And if the Jons and Danys of Westeros are ever going to build a new order, it has to be cleansed of Littlefingers. And possibly Varyses, though it pains me to say this.
Emily Atkin: In seven seasons of this show—of which I have dedicated literally thousands of minutes of my life—this was the first moment I felt like the writers allowed us to be truly and completely satisfied. Personally, I was so satisfied that I punched the soft ottoman in front of me and yelled, “YAS. YOU. QUEENS!” Obviously Littlefinger was bad, but I had almost forgotten all the awful things he did: telling Catelyn Stark that the dagger used in Bran’s attempted assassination belonged to Tyrion; betraying Ned Stark; giving Sansa to Ramsay Bolton; conspiring with Lysa Arryn to kill Jon Arryn and then eventually pushing Lysa through the Moon Door. When you think about it, Littlefinger was behind almost every major intrigue in the series—and that’s perhaps the only negative thing about his demise. Who besides Cersei will be around to pull the scheming and betrayal that have ultimately made Thrones such a nail-biter?
Sarah Jones: It’s also important that Sansa and Arya were the two people who finally took Littlefinger out. If this rushed season has a theme at all, it’s a feminist one. Jaime even touched on this in the beginning of the episode, agreeing with Bronn that their motivations can be reduced to one thing: “Maybe it really is all cocks, in the end.” But as Theon discovered last night, cocks can be a liability—and by the same token, not having one can be a benefit. If Westeros is put right, it’ll be largely because of the efforts of women. Even Cersei, in her pathological fashion, has helped break down old patriarchal patterns.
Ryu Spaeth: Aegon Targaryen bending the knee to Dany would dovetail nicely with that theme. However (and we have argued about this in the past), I always expected the show to come down strong against incest, which along with the patriarchy and the Littlefingers has contributed to Westeros’s corruption. But I guess the show is fine with it?
I’m also glad you brought up Theon, since that was a major-ish plot thread and one that I found unsatisfying. At this point, are we really to believe he will end up redeeming himself?
Emily Atkin: Honestly, I don’t care about Theon or his redemption. Too much time has passed since those early moments when his betrayals were exciting and mattered to me. This is a plotline I could do without; I would rather the precious time be given to more compelling characters like Arya and Sansa. Though I could be convinced otherwise—I do really love Yara.
Sarah Jones: I actually feel invested in Theon’s arc; if the show spent that much time depicting his torture, I’d like to think it will match it with a compelling redemption. But the only thing Theon can do to redeem himself is to die, and if he dies saving Yara, that ties a tidy bow on his story—perhaps too tidy.
Alex Shephard: My immediate takeaway after Theon beat the shit out of that random Greyjoy goon was that the Ironborn are a really flighty bunch—it does not take much for them to switch sides! But my second was that Theon is going to die in a rushed and heroic fashion—probably one that resembles Yara’s failed rescue way back when—and that I will cry a lot, because I’m a sucker.
Ryu Spaeth: Finally, thoughts on where this is all going? What happened to Bronn and Podrick? What about Brienne? And should we expect a new gang from Essos?
Sarah Jones: I think Jaime and Brienne are destined for another meet-up, before he finally kills Cersei (this is totally going to happen, don’t @ me). As for Dany and Jon: They’re gonna get married and have weird babies. The show has already made it clear that no one really cares about Targ incest.
Emily Atkin: Brienne has proved that she is the most badass, honorable woman in Westeros. She deserves some love in her life. For this reason my only hope for season eight is that Tormund somehow survived the Wall’s collapse and his brush with death will give him the confidence he needs to deliver his lady some Wildling lovin’.
Alex Shephard: My question is: How the heck are they going to get everything done in six to seven hours next season? Don’t get me wrong—I liked this season, but it really felt like three hours of storytelling were cut out to make room for three boring battles. We’ve got to defeat the Night King, resolve the Targ succession and all the icky incest questions it will raise, figure out what happens up North now that Jon has pledged himself to Dany/is a Targ, resolve the Theon stuff, and Sam has to write A Song of Ice and Frickin’ Fire.
I had faith that Benioff and Weiss would stick the landing using whatever cocktail napkin sketch George R.R. Martin gave them. But they were clearly in over their heads this season, and it showed. Now they have to do even more with even less time.