Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Assorted Thoughts on Game of Thrones, s7e7, “The Dragon and The Wolf.”
– Among the things that the series’ storytellers have enjoyed doing this season is reminding us how much history exists between the remaining players on the board, either with or without their knowledge. “Beyond The Wall” gave us several exchanges between the seven members of Operation Wight-Out that allowed them to fill in gaps about people they knew and experiences that they had in common. At King’s Landing, we are given much less vocal exchange but a great deal more in terms of loaded glances.
Tyrion reunites with both Podrick and Bronn for the first time in several seasons, despite the three of them having been instrumental in repelling Stannis Baratheon at the Battle of the Blackwater, and despite the three of them each now working under three different declared sovereigns–Tyrion with Daenerys, Bronn with Cersei, and Podrick a low-ranking squire in the Stark conglomerate–it seems sincere and heartfelt when they agree they’re glad to still see the others alive. When Bronn suggests Tyrion wait a bit before getting reacquainted with Pod’s “magic cock” it is clear that there is an affection he still feels for both men. There’s a similar sense of camaraderie and respect between Brienne and The Hound; their once-mortal struggle given the odd sheen of a merely respectable sparring, the two of them essentially calling it quits because the girl they both intended to protect grew up to need nobody’s protection at all.
Brienne and Jaime also have the smallest of exchanges, but it’s noteworthy in that Brienne–whose character has been so defined by her sense of loyalty that she killed Stannis in honor of Renly, who trekked everywhere across Westeros to maintain her vow to a dead woman, and who used to hold Jaime in particular disdain for being the Kingslayer–is now telling him to “fuck loyalty.”
Euron is, as expected, haughty and condescending with Theon. The Hound takes an opportunity to remind The Mountain that there are still Matters To Be Settled. While Varys finds no opportunities to banter with Cersei, and Missandei has nobody she would have known, it’s strangely comical that Jorah’s return to Westeros finds him with few people remaining who still remember that he’s a fugitive from justice–the last man he fought alongside with before heading into exile was Thoros of Myr, who died on their last adventure.
– While it’s easy for Jon’s compatriots and those of us watching at home to groan at another instance of him Knowing Nothing when he announces his fealty to House Targaryen–to both Cersei and his sister at Winterfell–Jon does make a good point that subterfuge did much to tear the realm apart in the first place, and that perhaps honesty could be a more useful policy in the long run. Although he doesn’t know it yet, Robert’s Rebellion was started the lie that Lyanna Stark had been taken against her will. Jon has grown tired of opaqueness and palace intrigue; it already killed him once and the energy it takes to maintain one’s lies is energy better spent on fighting the army of the dead.
We also see how Jon has grown in his exchange with Theon, in which he is capable of being both forthright and forgiving. He does not internalize Theon’s praise of him and he finds a sense of common ground, planting the question for himself to answer later as to whether he will be more Stark, Targaryen, or a combination thereof. Theon, for his part, takes this as inspiration to reclaim something inside him that he had lost, while only giving enough power to the culture of the Ironborn to gather allies for his rescue mission.
He does not rally his men with the sigil of House Greyjoy, or ask for an echo of “What Is Dead Shall Never Die.” He instead uses Yara’s name, and the ideals she represents, to be his banner, while offering something of a sacrifice to those ideals in the man he murders. Theon is reborn in both saltwater and blood, and the next time he faces off against Euron, he will not back down, even if it costs him everything.
– For as much as happens in the conference between Dany, Jon, and Cersei, the truly potent conversations are between the Lannister siblings, who fall back into their usual patterns even after everything they have been through individually and in relation to each other. When Jaime and Tyrion first saw each other again in the dragons’ crypt there was a greater sense of urgency and raw feeling that made a true reunion fraught. They seem much more like their old selves as they comprehend the new form of terror their sister has become–both somewhat fond of each other and amused at the circumstances that surround them.
For Tyrion and Cersei however, we find them continuing the same fight of barbs and festering hatred that was in the room the last time they faced each other from relatively comparable positions of power. But while Tyrion’s experiences have left him both bolder and more cautious with his clever remarks, the losses Cersei has suffered have driven her to a constant state of cold calculation. She is clear with Tyrion that she does not care for any of the grand stories of conquest and dynasty and even the existential threat of the White Walkers. Whatever heart remains within her is focused solely on not being the end of the Lannister line. If there is nothing left in the world but her name after winter has destroyed the realm, that is enough victory for her to savor.
When Tyrion pours the wine for both of them, there are two different purposes taking place. Tyrion is attempting to remind his sister that he remains a human being who knows her well, and is willing to care for her if she will let him. But in that kindness, Cersei understands that Tyrion is trying to appeal to a memory of her, and she presses her advantage in that knowledge. Remembering that Tyrion did indeed love at least Tommen and Myrcella, and that he considered her love for her children one of her most noble features, she purposefully gives away the secret of her pregnancy to sell the lie that she’s willing to fight the Night’s King for that child’s sake.
– Twice in this episode we also see the sibling relationships from Cersei’s perspective as Queen of the Realm. While both Tyrion and Jaime challenge her to have her headsman cut them down, it is only with Jaime that she has Ser Gregor draw his sword. Cersei has become the possessor of ultimate power, which includes being able to kill with but a word. That she comes closer to using that power on Jaime, however, is an indication that she is more hurt by the prospect of losing him than she is by whatever pleasure she’d gain from finally killing Tyrion. She has all but lost the ability to communicate in human emotions. She communicates instead in acts of power, regardless of whether the message can be heard in such broad, lumbering strokes.
– In the end, while Littlefinger remained a fully capable liar, he was unready for how he could betray himself by sharing too much of what had made him dangerous. His fatal error turns out not to be his deception, but in sharing with Sansa the cornerstone of how he navigated trust.
In the prior episode, Arya had terrorized Sansa with what she called the Game of Faces; in this episode Littlefinger ends up empowering Sansa with his otherwise unnamed game of motivations. I tend to believe that up until he taught her this lesson, she still remained vulnerable to his trickery, and did in fact follow him to the conclusion about Arya that he was trying to establish. But I then also believe Sansa took a few moments in her mind to fight the other battle, and she played the game by asking what motivation Littlefinger had for turning her against Arya.
Bran’s near-omniscience provided Sansa with the information she lacked about Littlefinger’s involvement in the death of her father, the attempt on Bran’s life, and the spark that ignited the War of the Five Kings; this information was useful in terms of solidifying her case against him with the lords of the Vale. But before that, the decision to have him sentenced and executed came from the clarity of recognizing that Littlefinger was running the exact same scheme against her and Arya that he had once run against the Tully sisters, Catelyn and Lysa.
It is poetic and satisfying for Littlefinger to die frightened, begging, the chief instrument of his power cut open in a northern castle’s great hall, exactly as his great love Lady Catelyn died. It is satisfying that it is his own dagger that did it.
But the fate of Littlefinger manages to be both satisfying and cheap at once, because so many of the choices made for this story were designed around misleading the audience at the sacrifice of other character traits. I still have no idea why Arya felt it necessary to threaten her sister except that it helped Littlefinger sell his own story, but obviously Arya was not colluding with Littlefinger. It is uncertain why Sansa decides to accept Bran’s greensight powers at the fateful hour when she found them unbelievable before. There is both relief and joy in seeing the Stark siblings work as a pack, but it begs so many questions about why exactly it took until the final chapter of the season for that to occur.
– Jon’s revealed birth name of Aegon Targaryen is a complicated matter. Five prior Targaryen kings were named Aegon, including Maester Aemon Targaryen’s brother. It’s the name of highest honor in the House, as it belonged to the first of the dragon kings to conquer Westeros.
But there’s also something very discomfiting and odd about Lyanna and/or Rhaegar choosing this name for their son, because Rhaegar already had a son Aegon, his younger child with Elia Martell. When that Aegon was murdered at the Sack of King’s Landing, Rhaegar had long since been killed at the Battle of the Trident. Lyanna was sequestered in the Red Mountains of Dorne at the Tower of Joy. It’s plausible that she knew about Rhaegar’s death at Robert’s hand, but it’s much less plausible that she knew his son Aegon was dead as well.
Was Lyanna naming their son Aegon due to some agreement she had with Rhaegar, and if so, why was this agreement made? Did she choose this name in a moment of sorrow based solely on its historical glories? Or was Lyanna in fact more petty, attempting to erase Elia Martell and her children from the picture, in the same way Rhaegar had had their marriage annulled?
It’s a peculiar choice, and I don’t know if it’s Martin or the showrunners who made it. A child’s name can have several consequences if not chosen carefully, especially when you are bringing the weight of history and dynasty to it.
– For better or worse the series has staked its claim in Sophocles’ territory, escalating Jon and Dany’s relationship of mutual respect and affection into the carnal and incestuous. For much of the season the will-they-or-won’t-they has been a topic of significant debate, and how it will affect them after they know the truth now becomes the operative question.
It is convenient to point to the Targaryen history of marrying brothers to sisters, or even the typically noble manner elsewhere of marrying cousins to cousins, to assume that the revelation will eventually be acceptable. But Jon’s parentage is only a part of him–he was raised in the north as the bastard son of a Stark, and the realization of what he’s done–probably several times, before he discovers the truth–will horrify him. And even though she has proudly held her family name for her entire life, it’s not a given that Dany will tolerate the truth either. Other Targaryen rulers before her rejected this tradition, as recently as her great-grandfather Aegon V. Her grandfather Jaeherys II was particularly knowing about what the practice had done to their family, musing once that when a new Targaryen was born, “the gods flipped a coin and the world held its breath” to see if it would land on either greatness or madness. (This is not a moment from the series so far, but a moment from Martin’s histories, yet I think it still applies.)
Dany’s coin remains in the air, Jon’s was caught mid-toss and kept in a closed fist. But neither of them may wish to see what happens with their own children, should it be determined that they can have any. And both Jon and Dany have become invested in breaking cycles in any way that they can. Their feelings for each other may need to be sacrificed for that end.
– And there is also the question of Daario, who I still believe will take the opportunity of the Golden Company traveling across the Narrow Sea to try and reunite with Daenerys. Either his loyalty to her will die as he feels betrayed by her, or he will remain an ally within the enemy’s camp for her, out of a devotion that transcends his mere lust.
– We’re relying significantly on the Night King’s form of greensight to understand how he knew he’d one day acquire a dragon. But I think once he knew that was an option, he knew it could bring down the wall both physically and in terms of its enchantments. It’s important to remember that in the fabric of this world, a great deal of magic returned the day the dragons were born–the warlocks in Qarth were suddenly astounded by their powers, the red priests discovered the ability to resurrect the dead. Dragons are beings of magic, however the population of the world chooses to view it. They could naturally make short work of the Wall, especially if they no longer required food or rest.
– I’m pretty sure Tormund and Beric managed to make it to the part of the Wall that didn’t come down. If they didn’t kill Beric last week, in particular, it wasn’t going to happen offscreen now.
– For as accelerated as the travel has been among the living this season, I have a feeling that the army of the dead will continue to plod as it makes its way south. The Night’s King may make his presence felt early upon Viserion’s back, but I don’t think the very first episode of the final season will see Winterfell facing off against a siege of wights.
A lot of villages in between, however, are going to be recruited before that showdown occurs.