I wasn’t going to write full reviews of the last season of Game of Thrones. But, as Andy Greenwald said on the most recent episode of The Watch, we who are lucky enough to experience a story’s end as it finishes should enjoy it while it lasts. These last weeks of speculation and worry and delicious, delicious waiting will never come again, at least not where GoT the TV show is concerned. Everyone else will be able to immediately press play on the next episode whereas we — like the characters in this week’s episode — have nothing to do but wait and wonder. How lucky we are. Here are the thoughts running through my head leading up to episode three’s impending Battle of Winterfell.
Dany & Jon
I think it’s pretty clear that we’re headed into potential Mad Queen territory. Despite Dany’s protestations to Sansa that she was “manipulated” by her love of Jon to coming north, I don’t think Dany is nearly in love enough to give up the single pursuit of her entire adult life. In Jon’s mind, the battle against the Night King is the only thing that does or should matter. For Dany, this is a pit-stop on the way to her ultimate goal. I do hope that we’re heading for a breaking of the wheel a la Battlestar Galactica’s breaking of the cycle of violence — in fact I expect to see a final destruction of the Iron Throne itself — but I’m increasingly unsure of Dany’s ability to be the one to achieve it. And some of this is understandable. In an episode that championed the glass-ceiling breaking accomplishments of our women characters (Dany and Sansa’s conversation about leadership and unity, Arya’s agency, Brienne’s historic knighting) it’s a crushing blow for Dany to find out that after all that there’s some bloke with a legitimate claim to her throne. Figures. And yet, if Dany hopes to be the one to break the wheel and usher in a new way in life, she has to find a way to get over her own myth of self-aggrandizement. The writers’ placement of Samwell in a place of moral opposition to Dany’s rule is extremely telling and worrying.
#TeamSansa. Kat Island knows no queen but the Queen in the North whose name is Stark. Look, is Sansa’s outlook a bit provincial? Perhaps. But someone has to worry about the boring shit and Sansa is willing to do that. It’s not fun or glamorous or sexy. Sansa has no dragons or magic or prowess on the battlefield. But she is admirably stepping into her parents’ shoes as the just and moral warden of the North, concerned with the well-being and independence of her people. She can let Dany and Jon worry about the army of the dead and Cersei — that’s not Sansa’s forte. Instead, the Lady of Winterfell is concentrating on Winterfell and it looks great on her. It’s been wonderful to see Sansa flourish upon finding her northern roots, taking what’s she’s learned at the feet of the masters of court intrigue — Cersei, Littlefinger, Olenna, Margaery, etc. — but tempered by her Stark values of honor and duty. She warms so quickly to Dany when taken aside by the Queen, eager to make peace, but knows the moment she’s being manipulated and calls bullshit. She has made and will make mistakes but I am here waving my banner for this character and her exquisite development. I am a little worried for her survival — she has often been one of those characters to whom good things are not often allowed to happen, and she’s been on a winning streak for a while. However, with Cersei’s inevitable smackdown coming and Dany teetering on the brink, I find it hard to believe that the writers will end up knocking all of the women in positions of leadership off their pedestals. I don’t believe that’s a message they want to send in the end. Right now, Sansa seems like the strongest candidate for survival. Then again, this is Game of Thrones. Perhaps (as with the oft-mentioned crypts) her position of apparent safety is the most precarious position of all.
Sansa & Theon
I ship it. Not necessarily in that way — one of the things these two characters share is an all-too-intimate experience of the degradations of sexual violence and I could easily see both of them concluding that they’re just not into it. At the very most, the heart-eyes they gave each other at the end of episode 2 indicate potential more than full-bloomed romantic love. Potentially that will almost certainly be snuffed out next week. Nevertheless, there’s genuine love there. While their arc with Ramsay at Winterfell in season 5 was problematic and frustrating, I did find their alliance and escape incredibly satisfying, as well as Sansa’s revenge on behalf of everyone who Ramsay had ever tormented. Their compassion for each other’s suffering and Sansa’s forgiveness of Theon turned into one of the sweetest relationships and their reunion here was very touching, showing a softer side of Sansa than we’ve seen so far this season. I wish we’d had more time with them, as it seems pretty likely that this is the end for my guy. While Theon’s rescue of Yara was comically brief (I don’t even mean that as an insult — it was genuinely funny!), I am glad to see that the writers have bigger plans for him. I was a little concerned that he’d be knocked off rescuing Yara in episode 1, which would have been a fine ending but something they could just as easily have accomplished last season when Yara was taken prisoner. Having Theon return to defend the home and family of his choice is even better. Of course I hope he survives to continue serving the Lady of Winterfell — perhaps his knowledge of the escape tunnels in the crypts will prove useful — but more likely this is the end for one of my favorites. RIP Theon. I loved watching your slow, intermittent crawl toward redemption. What is dead may never die. Shame it’ll be so far from the sea, but at least he’s home.
Arya & Gendry
This I definitely ship that way. Get it, girl. All of the hand-wringing over Arya’s choice here strikes me as rather silly, especially for this story. Their connection is clearly foreshadowed in seasons 2 and 3 (not to mention the books themselves) as well as in King Robert’s “I have a son, you have a daughter” comment in the very first episode. And now Arya’s old enough to enjoy it (as is the actress). Maisie Williams has always done extremely well with the physical side of Arya’s character, and it was fun to see her stalk around Gendry like a graceful cat, twirling her staff and tossing her knives. She is seductive and impressive but never loses that tomboyish and even androgynous air that makes Arya who she is. For years, Arya served Death, the Stranger, the Many-Faced God, who demanded the annihilation of Arya Stark until she became merely no one. In returning home, and even more in reconnecting with Sansa and Jon and Gendry, Arya Stark has begun to resurface. More scarred and more deadly, sure, but wholly alive for the first time in seasons. I’ve always like the prospect of these two together, if only to payoff Arya’s heartbreaking plea to Gendry that she could “be his family.” If Arya’s story is about her reclaiming her sense of identity, both individually and familial, then I’m on board with her reclaiming that in whatever way she sees fit.
Jaime & Brienne
The dubbing of Brienne was everything: The culmination of two beautiful and complementary character arcs. For Jaime, easily the subject of one of the most radical redemption arcs I can think of, the lack of cynicism in the character at this point is pretty astounding considering where he started. A character who started by mockingly flouting the charges of his title and spoke bitterly of the hypocritical and contradictory nature of knighthood (“they make you swear and swear — no matter what you do you’re forsaking one vow or another”) not only turns against the fickle and selfish love of his family and chooses to defend the weak, uphold the good, and fight for the living, but now has the moral authority to pass that charge on to others. Earlier in the story, the idea of Jaime knighting anyone would have been entirely laughable. If Jaime is an example of how far a character can come, Brienne is the opposite — a character that has remained steadfast, true, and wholly herself from the beginning. Her knighting isn’t a change but a confirmation and celebration of the ideals she’s already been living. An idealistic character not punished for their idealism is a rare thing in this story, and largely I think this is a story about the value of doing the right thing even though you may be punished for it. She has feared such punishment least of anyone, maybe even including Ned. I’m worried that next week may be the end for Ser Brienne of Tarth, but this is about as gorgeous a sendoff as I can think of if it is. She is the true knight of the Seven Kingdoms, and that beaming, tearful smile — so rare in such a guarded and defensive character — said it all.
The Fireside Chat
An amazingly sweet and funny collection of scenes with some of the show’s greatest characters and personalities. In a way it reminded me of the little game of musical chairs from season three — initially just in the mundane concern with the seating arrangements of the ensemble, but more deeply in the humor and character development. This is a group of characters we know well and have spent a lot of time with, and seeing them just sit around and enjoy each other one last time was delightful. I smiled as soon as Brienne and Pod entered, sensing that we were headed for a drunken little gathering. I was not anticipating it would become so emotional, between Brienne’s knighthood and Pod’s sad battle song. Pod’s song — taken from a quick reference to “Jenny’s Song” in A Storm of Swords — references Jenny of Oldstones and contains some interesting potential clues for where things might be going with Dany, Jon, and/or the prophecy of the Prince That Was Promised (more on that here). It’s also a clear nod to the film Return of the King’s portrayal of Pippin singing over Faramir’s doomed mission to take back Osgiliath (itself adapted from Tolkien’s “A Walking Song“). The trope of the sad folk song is an interesting one. Other recent series like the Netflix Watership Down and Battlestar Galactica contain similar moments that seem to be inspired by LOTR, but surely this goes back further? If anyone has other suggested older references to similar scenes, I’d love to hear it in the comments. Anyway, Pod has many hidden talents. I’ll be sad to see him as a wight next week.
All right, who else? The Davos and Gilly scene was sweet, if a bit on the nose. As others have joked, Grey Worm should probably not count on sailing away on the SS Live Forever just yet. Sam giving Jorah his family sword was rough, and might have actually doomed both characters (if so, ouch). I completely missed Varys — why no last character beat with him? Hopefully he’ll survive so get can get final showdown with him and Melisandre. That’s a lifeline to grab on to for Arya’s survival, too, actually. Tormund is a legend and I’ll miss him and his stories.
Predictions & Final Thoughts
If there’s one sure thing, it’s that the crypts are definitely the worst possible place to be, especially now that Sam gave away his Valyrian steel sword. I’m concerned we’re going to see some undead Starks — hopefully Ned is too far gone, but maybe Rickon? As I said on twitter, a theory that I only partially subscribe to is that everyone assumption that the Night King will make a move for Bran will be subverted, with the Night King not showing up at the battle or going somewhere else entirely. I certainly don’t think he’ll be lured to the godswood that easily or simply. I’m sure we’ll see some White Walker action there, but I’m not convinced it’ll be the big guy himself. Similarly, while I’m sure we’ll get dragon vs. dragon action this season, I could see it going either way during the Winterfell battle. The dragons have to get in the mix somehow, if only to test their abilities against White Walkers, so I presume we’ll see some action with Dany on dragon-back. Will Jon join her on Rhaegal, or will he insist on sticking with the men? I’m going to say no — Jon won’t ride his dragon into combat until later. Finally, I feel pretty sure that our heroes will lose this battle and the few survivors will scatter to the Iron Islands, Dragonstone, and/or King’s Landing.
Overall, this was a really beautiful and contemplative last breath before the plunge — small and intimate in the best ways. While I will be sad to see any of them go, I think they’re leaving us in a place where almost anyone could go down and I wouldn’t feel cheated of character fulfillment, even if I’ll still be sad. Writer Bryan Cogman wanted this episode to be a love letter to the characters, and the emotion he displayed expressing that thought to an interview crew came through in what we saw on screen. However, like the characters themselves, it’s one thing to feel at peace the night before the big battle. It’s quite another to keep your composure when being hunted down by ice monsters and zombies. The calm and peace they’ve found won’t last, and I suspect I’ll be screaming at my TV next Sunday. As a book reader, it was thrilling to get to experience episodes like “The Door” and “The Spoils of War” along with everyone else, on the edge of my seat and without any idea what would happen next. I love that feeling, painful as it is, and I can’t wait to experience it for 90 minutes (!) this weekend.