Like most of Season 7 itself, tonight’s sprawling Game Of Thrones penultimate season finale can be best encapsulated in five terms: betrayal, bloody, bullion, battle and big. Very big.
Only competed in the rarefied pantheon of the current Peak TV era by The Walking Dead in many aspects, the two-time Best Drama Emmy winner tonight fought off a summer of hacks, leaks, hype and repeated record viewership to bring us not only its longest episode yet in The Dragon And The Wolf but also undoubtedly one of its best.
Yet, amidst the unsurprising but stunningly rendered death of the perpetually scheming Petyr Baelish, or Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen), and the dragon-enabled Night King’s army tearing down the Wall at the northern border of the Seven Kingdoms, one once vital term that cannot be used more in the show based on George R.R. Martin’s novels is bastard. As the flashback envisioned by Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) to the secret marriage between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark makes at last clear, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is not illegitimate. In fact, as current King of the North, Snow makes love to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), who is actually his aunt as well as the Queen to whom he has pledged to bend the knee. It is also clear that Jon, born with the name of Aegon Targaryen, is the true heir to the Iron Throne.After relatively few fatalities this year, the death of Littlefinger and the long-feared and blue-flamed advance of the Army of the Dead will likely fill the first wave of fanbase jaw-drops tonight. However, it is Snow’s true lineage and the implications of his now romantic as well as political relationship to the throne-aspiring Dany that sets the board for Season 8. Fulfilling the job of a delightful season finale (not as often accomplished as it should be), Game of Thrones’ seven-episode crescendo in this penultimate cycle has more than effectively brought all the forces of nature that make up the key characters of Westeros and Essos into direct collusion.
To that end, swooping and burning towards 2018’s six-episode finale like one of Dany’s dragons, tonight’s David Benioff and D.B. Weiss-penned The Dragon And The Wolf finale at almost 80 minutes was in the end, absolutely, and appropriately epic. With overlapping storylines of revelations, vengence, sibling allegiances and dissolution — underhanded and vice versa — and a likely unwinnable war that finds the still-bickering factions in diabolical disarray thanks to the double play of everyone including Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the savvy Tyrion (Peter Dinklage, the brothers of Queen Cersei Lannister (a truly brilliant and again Emmy-nomination worthy Lena Headey) as the Army of the Dead advance, the Game of Thrones season ender cunningly blurred whatever line remains between the small and big screens in a manner that may be as game-changing as the HBO blockbuster’s plot itself.
Heaping more praise on the well-praised Game of Thrones, I say that of tonight’s finale, also, as the hundred thousand strong Army of the Dead truly bring winter here and the tens of thousands of those in service to the rich Iron Bank of Braavos stand willing to back up Cersei’s power play after the King’s Landing summit of principals ended with the duplicitous Queen aiming to watch all her enemies destroy themselves. The scale of melodrama seemed almost shrewdly sparse in an episode that was actually jam-packed.
All of which simultaneously streamlines and builds up the upcoming final season to what lurches toward no less than a figurative and literal battle royale (to draw on an overused term), as a final ending of the often profane Game of Thrones has to be at this point.
Discussing the August 20 Beyond The Wall episode, director Alan Taylor said that “now everything’s coming together, and that’s going to get only more so in Season 8 when really, all the storylines converge.” Or as The Hound (Rory McCann) said to the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) in tonight’s finale, “You know who’s coming for you brother, you’ve always known.”