Game of Thrones Season Finale Review

(In our coverage of Game of Thrones season 7, we’ll be examining each episode with one simple question in mind – which character is winning the game of thrones this week?)

And like that, Game of Thrones season 7 has come to an end. Who has survived? What’s left of them? Where do they go from here? And, most importantly, who’s “winning” the game of thrones? All very important questions. Let’s dive in.

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The Former Sellsword and His Many Friends

Before we dive into the meat of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” let’s pause to appreciate Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, formerly just Bronn. The scumbag sellsword turned halfway-respectable knight has been one of Game of Thrones‘ most consistent pleasures, with actor Jerome Flynn transforming what should have been a temporary side character into one of the most memorable supporting acts in Westeros. It’s telling that Bronn no longer has a major role in the novels while he continues to hang around the key players on the show – to not utilize Flynn would be a travesty.

One of these days, I may get around to writing about what the books do better than the show and how the show has improved the books. Samwell Tarly, unbearable on the page, is wonderful on the screen. House Martell, a clan of devious badasses on the page, represents a low-point for the series. But Bronn may be the finest step up from the source material and the best example of the show recognizing a good thing and pivoting hard to ensure that this good thing stays in the show as long as possible, even beyond his time in the books.

This was reflected in the early scenes of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” where the two sides of the big war head to their big meeting in the crumbling dragon pit. Bronn is the lubrication that keeps these early conversations running: here’s a guy who has proven himself a valuable ally to Tyrion Lannister, Jaime Lannister, and Podrick Payne over the years. Somehow, the scoundrel has played every side and remained in the (somewhat) good graces of them all. Chalk it up to charm. Or perhaps more accurately, chalk it up to honesty. Jon Snow may get the dunderheaded “I cannot tell a lie” moment of the episode, but Bronn embodies a similar world view, albeit far more practically. He’ll stab you in the back, but he won’t lie to your face. And you have to admire that. Appreciate it, even.

As the nobles and the queens and the kings battle it out, Bronn is the perspective we so desperately crave: the normal everyman who just wants to survive, the guy who skips the big dramatic meeting to get a drink with Podrick because the best way to stay alive is to not care too much. When the dust clears at the end of the war, I fully expect Bronn to be one of the few people left standing.

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The Lion and the Wight

Despite its wonky timeline and faster pacing, Game of Thrones season 7 still followed the pattern established by previous seasons. The penultimate episode is the showstopper, the giant battle or major event that changes the game in a major way (the death of Ned Stark, the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding, the Battle of the Wall, the Battle of the Bastards, the Night King gets a dragon) and the finale is the exhalation of breath after the final swing of the sword, the calm before the next storm. Season finales are a time to look at the pieces remaining on the board and take stock of who’s still breathing and where everyone is going.

But with the final season coming next year, “The Dragon and the Wolf” has more table setting to do than usual. It has to move everyone into place for the final stretch. It has a lot to accomplish and a generous 80-minute running time to get it done.

But it’s telling that the centerpiece sequence of this episode was so much more thrilling than the far larger and more technically complex climax of “Beyond the Wall.” Sure, Game of Thrones has grown lavish enough to deliver impressive spectacle, but there’s still nothing quite like an intense meeting between disparate characters, conversations filled with thinly veiled threats, and truces built on the shakiest possible foundations. Game of Thrones has become more willing to embrace traditional fantasy as it’s gone on – by design, as this is a story of all-too-human foibles blinding people to the very traditional fantasy villain marching toward them – but it’s still at its strongest when it puts a bunch of characters in one place and just lets them talk.

And this conversation (this long, long conversation) is about one thing: convincing Queen Cersei Lannister that the army of the dead is real by presenting her with an actual wight, proof that zombies exist and they’re coming along with the winds of winter. Watch Lena Headey’s performance during these scenes – she barely bats an eye when Daenerys arrives in style on the back of Drogon, but she allows a rare look of shock and surprise when that shambling corpse lunges at her. It’s only a flash (Cersei is nothing if not a fine poker player), but I’m reminded of when Bronn and Jaime found themselves literally under fire from a dragon. Seeing the most unshakable characters on Game of Thrones actually shake is as powerful as an expensive battle sequence.

Of course, there are a myriad of joys to be found in this scene. The brothers Clegane, meeting again. Brienne and the Hound, bonding over their mutual affection for Arya. Euron Greyjoy’s ridiculous power move that opens the armistice talks. Tyrion’s frustration at Jon Snow’s refusal to lie. Qyburn’s fascination with the wight’s severed hand. These people hate each other, but here they are, all in one room, all just talking. And while they all hail from different backgrounds, they all have one thing in common – they’ve all survived this long on Game of Thrones. And now they’re here. And they have to work together or die. Now that’s good television.

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