(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.
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 season 7‘ most consistent pleasures, with actor Jerome Flynn transforming what should have been a temporary minor character into one of the most notable 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 shown in the beginning of The Dragon and the Wolf, where the two sides of the great 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. And for some reasons, the scoundrel has played every side and stayed in the (somewhat) good graces of them all. Chalk it up to charm. Or perhaps more accurately, chalk it up to honesty. Jon may have the slow-witted “I can’t tell a lie” moment of the episode, but Bronn embodies a similar world perspective, 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 fight it out, Bronn is the perspective we so desperately long for: the ordinary everyman who just wants to survive, the guy who skips the huge dramatic meeting to grab a drink with Podrick as to not care too much is the best way to stay alive. When the dust clears at the end of the war, I fully expect Bronn to be one of the few people left standing.
In spite of its wonky timeline and faster speed, Game of Thrones season 7 still followed the pattern established by last seasons. The penultimate episode is the showstopper, the big battle or huge event that changes the game in a great 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 last swing of the sword, the calm before the next storm arrives. 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 scene of this episode was so much more exciting than the far greater 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 engage in 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 baddie marching toward them – but it’s still at its strongest when it gathers a bunch of characters in one place and just lets them talk.
And this talk (this long, lengthy talk) is about one thing only: convincing Queen Cersei Lannister that the zombie is real by presenting her with an actual wight, proof that the undeads 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 great 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 season 7. And now they’re here. And they have to work together or die. Now that’s good television.