Game of Thrones finale recap: 'The Dragon and the Wolf'
Wow. A Game of Thrones season characterized by a blazingly fast pace and staggering action sequences closed with an extra-long episode that absolutely riveted by hitting the brakes. So much happened in “The Dragon and the Wolf” that set the stage for a climactic final act. There were tense first-time meetings, exciting reunions, alliances that were made, alliances that were broken, a major character who was executed, a forbidden love that was kindled, and the giant ice Wall came a-tumbling down. Yet the 80-minute episode’s contemplative tone and masterful direction by Jeremy Podeswa gave every scene plenty of breathing room. This felt like a return to focusing on the basics of drama — great writing, acting and direction — and was the best episode of the season.
We begin, for the last time this year, at…
King’s Landing: An enemy at the gates. Dany’s Unsullied and Dothraki armies show us order and chaos, respectively. Cersei readies for the Dragonpit summit and tells The Mountain that if anything goes wrong, she wants him to kill Daenerys, then Tyrion, and then Jon Snow. She never wants to miss an opportunity for vengeance — even if she’s dead.
They enter the massive Dragonpit, which was once an arena the Targaryens used to house their dragons. The sequence was shot at the ancient ruins of a Roman gladiatorial amphitheater outside Seville, Spain. Most of what you’re seeing here is an actual historic site dating back to the fourth century BC — not set dressing or special effects.
As they gather, The Hound goes up to his brother, who’s sporting menacing new black-and-silver armor. He looks like Darth Mountain. The Hound stares at him dead in his nearly dead eyes. “You know whose coming for you brother…you’ve always known,” The Hound promises. We might not get the Cleganebowl in this season, but it sounds like it will happen.
The representatives for the Starks, Lannisters, and Greyjoys take their seats. The setting for this incredible gathering of characters is both grandiose in its surroundings and yet sparse given the bare platform — they’re simply in chairs on a wide-open surface, like this is a minimalist stage play. And that’s perfect. Because these characters loom so large, and each has so much backstory, and they have such tangled histories with each other, and there are so many of them up there, it’s almost an overwhelming scene. There’s so much going on that the producers stripped the environment to a near-blank space that keeps our focus entirely on the actors. In fact, it’s like a reflection of the “back to basics” style of this episode as a whole.
Cersei wants to know where Daenerys is. She’s not used to waiting for anybody. She’s the queen! She also glances over at Brienne like, Oh yeah, you, I remember you.
But oh, Dany’s coming. She learned this season about the persuasive power of showing off her dragons in person. So the Breaker of Chains rolls up to this Westeros prom in the sweetest ride of them all, buzzing the canopy and landing atop the ruins. Cersei looks at Drogon: Stupid dragon. If this meeting were televised in Westeros, viewers would be making “Cersei Lannister is not impressed” memes.
RELATED: Hear the latest from EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly podcast
Daenerys enters this gladiatorial arena of verbal combat. Euron, who once told Cersei he wanted to marry “the most beautiful woman in the world,” gets an eyeful, and you can see his gears turning. Cersei, who was once warned in a prophecy that a woman younger and more beautiful than her would be her undoing, now hates Daenerys even more than she already did.
Daenerys calmly walks toward Cersei, unafraid, like: I’m coming for you, and whatever chair you’re sitting on. She then angles toward her own open seat.
There’s a pause. Truly powerful people don’t talk first. Tyrion tries to open the discussion and Euron rudely breaks in. It’s like Euron was waiting for somebody to talk just so he could interupt them, thinking it makes him look more alpha or something.
Euron demands Theon surrender or he’ll kill Yara. Oh yeeeaeah, Yara! She’s still in a cell somewhere (and so is Ellaria Sand, but we expect to see Yara again and not Ellaria).
Cersei is embarrassed by her doofus ally. Shut up and let the grown-ups talk. Then she goes back to looking at Tyrion as if she’s having a hard time deciding which person here she hates the most. Next: The Westeros Summit on Global Cooling
Jon Snow does his inconvenient truth presentation on the disastrous effects of global cooling. This is his big moment. He’s been running around saying, “Winter is coming and it’s worse than you think!” for so long. But what if The Hound opened that crate and the wight just played dead? Like the cartoon frog that would only sing when nobody else was watching? Jon would be humiliated, and the meeting would become pointless. Thankfully, that doesn’t happen.
The wight rushes out acting all demonic and scary and goes straight for Cersei. The Mountain is pretty unimpressively useless in defending her. Jon calmly demonstrates how to kill it. Qyburn is intrigued like he’d love to have days with this down in his dungeon for some unspeakable things.
Euron actually asks a smart question: “Can they swim?” They can’t, so the man decides to go to his island, have a pint, and wait for this to all blow over (or so it seems). For once it’s good to be a Greyjoy. He notes to Daenerys if they both leave Westeros, they’ll be the only ones left alive when this is over. Leave it Euron to try to wrangle a post-apocalypse hookup with Daenerys right in front of Cersei.
Cersei offers to accept the truce until the dead are defeated — IF “Ned Stark’s son” stays neutral in the war.
Jon’s all: Uh, but I already picked a queen! Also, he’s not Ned Stark’s son, but that’s a whole other conversation. He tries to express this in the most polite and honorable-sounding way. “I cannot serve two queens,” he explains (especially how he’s serving Daenerys, nudge-nudge). But Cersei isn’t somebody who can be mollified by being let down easily: Go to hell if y’all are just going to try to kill me after this is over anyway.
So there’s no truce! Cersei storms off. That went poorly. And notice nobody was drinking the wine or eating the snacks that were left out on the little tables. Jeez, the Lannisters kill one family at a feast and everybody gets all paranoid.
Everybody is unhappy with Jon Snow. Even Daenerys is annoyed and she was the one pressuring him to bend the knee the whole season.
Tyrion: “Have you ever considered learning how to lie, just a bit?”
Jon: “When enough people make false promises, words stop meaning anything, and there are no more answers — only better and better lies…”
It was about this point when I wrote in my notes: “This episode is terrific.” Next: A storm of siblings
Red Keep: Tyrion goes to talk to Cersei. In real life, Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey are good friends and love having scenes together. It’s been a while since they’ve had their chance, and they go full tilt here.
Cersei accuses Tyrion of plotting the destruction of their family. And for this first time, she admits Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey. But she counters that by killing their father, Tyrion greatly weakened their family, which led to the deaths of her other two kids, Myrcella and Tommen; the likes of Ellaria Sand and the High Sparrow might never have moved on the Lannisters if Tywin were still ruling with his iron fist.
And you know what? … Cersei’s right about that.
And unfortunately for Tyrion, he’s smart and rational enough to know she’s right, so this must sting a bit. Yet Cersei has also been the one most in charge since Tywin died. So she’s also criticizing herself and her own fitness to rule. It’s like a circular argument you can never win — you ruined everything by putting me in charge and I should stay in charge!
He tries to appeal to her sense of nobility, but Cersei isn’t working in Silicon Valley: “I don’t care about making the world a better place.”
In fact, the more Tyrion tries to convince Cersei of his good intentions, the more angry she becomes. “I don’t care! I will not hear it!” This is more raw emotion than we’ve perhaps ever seen from her. She’s been the epitome of cool and collected the last couple seasons, but Tyrion brings out her deepest anger.
As for Tyrion, the stress of confronting his sister compels him to compulsively go for the wine in desperation, something we haven’t seen him do since he settled in with Daenerys.
At one point, Cersei is on the verge of ordering The Mountain to even kill him. She just barely contains herself. Part of this is surely pragmatic: Tyrion warned that he’s the only person stopping Dany from nuking the Red Keep. But one reason I think Cersei hates Tyrion so much now is because he did the one thing she wouldn’t do: Kill a close family member. He broke the only rule that she has. If she kills him, then in her mind she’s no better.
Tyrion suddenly realizes that Cersei is pregnant, and of course can’t help but blurt that out. It clicks into place for him: Her unborn child is her hope. That’s her reason for even considering this.
Speaking of getting pregnant, back at the Dragonpit, Jon and Dany have a little chat. This might be the most relaxed we’ve seen them together. She tells him the reason she thinks she can’t have a child is because the witch who killed Drogo told her so. When she says it aloud it like that it does sound rather stupid, and Jon points that out. Daenerys is so getting knocked up.
Cersei comes back in. Tyrion has swayed her. Or at least they think he did. Next: The big breakup
Red Keep: I almost feel sorry for Cersei. This episode has been an emotional gauntlet for the queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Now comes arguably the toughest moment of them all: Jaime. She secretly plans to back out of the Dragonpit Accord, having no intention of helping Dany’s forces to defeat the Army of the Dead. She rather smartly deduced why Viserion wasn’t among Dany’s dragon entourage and thinks the dragons are vulnerable. She’s dispatched Euron to Essos, where he’ll stock up on some guyliner and buy more troops. Her plan is simple: Let them fight them, we’ll kill whoever’s left.
The moral rift between Jaime and Cersei has been widening ever since the Kingslayer returned from being captured in season 3. Until now, he’s been able to straddle being supportive of her psychopathic selfishness and his need to retain pieces of his tattered honor. This is decision time, and he makes it: Jaime will ride North. “That’s treason,” Cersei declares, but for Jaime it’s about doing the one thing people always believe he cannot do: keep his word.
The Mountain is there, ready to kill Jaime. He’s rattled. “I don’t believe you,” he says, and boldly walks away.
She gives a hand signal and The Mountain starts to make a move, yet doesn’t go through with it. It’s unclear what happened. Did The Mountain misunderstand? But Cersei could have followed up with a verbal order to her massive kill-bot. Yet once again, she didn’t do it. She couldn’t kill Tyrion, whom she hates. So how can she kill Jaime? If Cersei were to execute him she’d be killing the only person in this entire world who still loves her. If you do that … well, what’s the point of living? She must let him go, even though tactically it’s a poor decision. Letting Jaime leave might even result in her eventual downfall. But as a man once said: The things we do for love.
Jaime rides out of King’s Landing, hiding his golden hand, and he sees it: snow. Winter has come to the south. Cersei can’t hide from this.
And as one incestuous relationship seemingly ends…another is about to begin. But first:
Winterfell: Littlefinger tries to convince Sansa to turn against Arya by leading her through a really cynical worst-case scenario thought exercise. She does what he advises. But she doesn’t just think about Arya. She thinks about him.
She has Arya brought into the Great Hall. Littlefinger is smirking his final smirk in the shadows. Arya asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
Sansa starts reading out a list of charges: treason, conspiracy — our hearts are in our throats. But GoT is messing with us.
“Do you deny it…Lord Baelish?”
Sansa, Arya, and Bran — they know. They all know all of Littlefinger’s crimes. They rudely had their big intelligence-sharing meeting behind our backs while we were watching Jon and Dany fool around. Thrones, you tricky. Next: One rung too far
Arya presses Littlefinger — “My sister asked you a question” — and we cheer. The sisters are finally working together!
Sansa runs down his crimes: Littlefinger poisoned the Stark kids’ uncle and King Robert’s former Hand of the King Jon Arryn — which started this whole chain of events that led to war. He turned Sansa’s aunt Lysa against their mom Catelyn — playing the sisters against each other (so Littlefinger playing Sansa against Arya is really a reprise that not many of us picked up on — he was doing the same trick twice). He betrayed Ned Stark, of course. And he shoved Lysa out the Moon Door (ehhh, we’re okay with that one).
Littlefinger says she can’t prove it. That’s when Bran speaks up, blowing him out of the water with his third-eye evidence. Baelish demands to be returned to the Vale, but there’s no escape. “I might be a slow learner, but I do learn,” Sansa says.
Sansa is upset. She doesn’t really want to do this. Arya is gleaming. She totally wants to do this — and never takes her eyes off Littlefinger the whole scene. Bran doesn’t much care about anything and is probably already watching one of HBO’s upcoming GoT prequels in his mind.
Together, they are literally the judge (Sansa), the jury who examined the evidence (Bran), and the executioner who carries out the sentence (Arya).
Littlefinger falls to his knees and begs and cries. He’s utterly humiliated. This too is a callback, and one that actor Aidan Gillen reveals in our interview tonight (link at end of recap).
Arya walks casually in front of Littlefinger and shows off how gracefully and effortlessly she can slash somebody’s throat. Killed by his own dagger, and nobody is more shocked than he is. The man famously said, “Chaos is a ladder,” but the rest of that speech is typically forgotten: “Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.” Littlefinger started from the modest of houses and climbed higher than anybody would have expected. But he reached for one rung too many.
Later, Arya and Sansa have a chat. We get the bonding we’ve been longing for all season — mutual respect and understanding of each other’s talents and sufferings. “The lone wolf dies but the pack survives,” Sansa declares. But we suspect that with only one more season remaining, even staying together in a pack won’t keep all the Starks safe.
Later: Samwell arrives. This might not seem like a big deal, but it’s huge in the show’s history. Sam was the final major Game of Thrones character to have his own separate story line. Now all the surviving major characters are clustered into groups with one another for the first time since early in the show’s debut season. No more lone wolves; they’re all in packs.
Sam has a chat with Bran, who explains he’s now the Three-Eyed Raven. Somebody needs to buy Bran a T-shirt that says, “I’m the Three-Eyed Raven” so he can stop telling people this. Together they hold the two Jon Snow ancestry puzzle pieces that will reveal the King in the North’s true identity and doubtless put the poor guy into years of therapy. The subject of Jon Snow thankfully comes up rather quickly. Can you imagine if it did not and these two just chatted about ravens and food? We’d be dying. Next: Hey Bran, is there a middle name Jon can use instead?
Bran tells Samwell that Jon Snow’s mother is Lyanna Stark. He also confirms the key bit of news the show held back from last season’s Tower of Joy flashback — Jon’s father is indeed Prince Rhaegar. He truly has Targaryen blood. Bran says Jon needs to know who he really is. You’d think Bran could have included this bit of intel to Jon in the 28 scrolls he’s sent to Dragonstone by ExpressRaven this season…but then we would have presumably been denied the upcoming #BoatSex scene and, well, we’re kinda torn about that. Perhaps everything has worked out for the best and/or worst.
Sam surprises Bran by knowing something Mr. All-Seeing did not know — that Rhaegar married Lyanna in a secret ceremony. This triggers Bran to have a vision where we see Prince Rheagar marrying a happy and non-kidnapped Lyanna.
It’s impossible to understate how big of a deal this is. It means Roberts Rebellion and the overthrow of the Targaryens was built on a lie. It means Jon Snow has no business being King in the North. It means Jon Snow has every right to sit on the Iron Throne. And it means Daenerys — after seven seasons of questing for the Iron Throne with total certainty that ruling the Seven Kingdoms is her birthright — is not the true heir at all.
Oh, and Jon’s name isn’t even Jon! You know nothing, Jon Snow, not even your real first name. He’s … Aegon! … Yeah, we’re not entirely thrilled by that either. The man doesn’t exactly look like an Aegon (though we’re also not entirely sure what an Aegon looks like). Plus there’s the whole incest thing. Which we get to watch next.
Here’s what’s really weird about Jon and Dany’s romance: We all started watching this show with our anti-incest feelings clear and intact. Thrones introduced an incestuous relationship between Cersei and Jaime in the pilot, and we learned Daenerys is also the product of incest (the Mad King marries his sister). We gradually got to know these characters, accepted who they are, and, to some degree, accepted how incest plays a role in who they are.
For all of season 7, we’ve been certain-ish that Jon and Dany are related. Yet most fans are rooting for them to get together. Game of Thrones established incest as part of its fantasy world — it’s not celebrated but also not uncommon — and then kept Jon and Dany apart for so long, separately growing them as awesome, heroic, and sexy characters. So we feel both of them deserve romantic happiness and we know they’re compatible in so many rare and uncommon ways. Even though their courtship has felt rushed this year, we begin this episode wanting to see Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen hook up. Story-wise, this is a stealth accomplishment: Game of Thrones has gradually convinced millions of fans around the world, over several years of storytelling, to root for something they would normally consider totally disgusting and immoral. In other words: GoT has taken us from “incest boo!” to “incest yay!” and it only took seven years to do it.
I love that this next sequence has no dialogue. There’s some voiceover, but between Jon and Daenerys there is only silence. They have talked enough. They both know what’s looming between them. Jon knocks on her cabin door… Next: Jon Snow and Not His Aunt
Jon knows why he’s there.
Dany knows why he’s there.
And he knows that she knows why he’s there.
We get a romantic scene that will result in plenty of freeze framing, replaying and gif-making of Jon Snow’s butt (I’m going to stick with “Jon Snow” for now; is that cool? I need time to get used to “Aegon”). How do we feel about this happening? They’re finally together! She’s his aunt! It’s so hot! He’s her nephew! They’re so awesome together! Do they have snacks for afterward?!
This has to be why the official confirmation of Jon’s father’s name was saved for the finale — to maximize our conflict. Game of Thrones has always been a heady mix of pain and pleasure, of good and evil, and here with this climactic intimacy, we get what we’ve long wanted while also feeling uneasy: a sense of pending tragedy.
Afterward, lying there, they look into each other’s eyes. This is not Drogo sex, or Daario sex, or Ygritte sex. These two are in luuuuv. We can’t imagine this will end well, just like it didn’t end well for Rhaegar and Lyanna. How could it? It can’t, right?
In another cabin, Ser Jorah sits alone, plugging his ears and crying softly (or so I imagine).
Dragonstone: Chronologically, I’m jumping around a bit, but I want to briefly discuss this scene with Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy. Theon hasn’t had much to do this season, but tonight the producers gave Alfie Allen his absolute best scene in the show. I found myself tearing up over his desperate need to feel accepted by Jon, whose answers were so perfectly Jon Snow-like — forgiving Theon for what he can, but not pretending for one moment that his sins aren’t truly terrible. “You’re a Greyjoy and you’re a Stark,” he says, which could be foreshadowing to next season to how he processes his ancestry news — he’s a Targaryen and a Stark.
Theon tries to rally his few remaining men to support him on a mission to rescue Yara. They prefer Euron’s island tactic and want to go home. Their leader beats the hell out of Theon and tells him to stay down or he’ll kill him. Faced with the choice of backing down or facing death in the past, Theon typically chooses backing down. So he keeps fighting.
The man knees Theon in his castrated groin, and is confused when Theon isn’t wounded. This isn’t meant to be funny. If you can get past that this moment hinges on that silliest of comedic tropes — the kick in the nuts — it’s emotionally powerful. Theon breaks into a big smile for the first time in years. Because he realizes: All that was taken away from him can no longer hurt him.
Eastwatch: The Army of the Dead finally reaches The Wall. Not bad: Their march only took seven damn seasons. (I would speculate that the zombie army’s strength is tied to the coming of winter and it took winter really settling into Westeros before they could begin marching in earnest — or something along those lines.) Anyway: Tormund and Beric watch in horror as hundreds of thousands of wights gather at The Wall.
The Wall is 8,000 years old and is held together by ice, but also by magic that prevents anything dead from passing. But the builders didn’t figure on The Night King getting a zombie dragon, did they? Viserion blasts the wall with blue fire. Aww, it matches his eyes. The wights pour through the broken Wall. The Great War is on.
Some interviews for you and thoughts:
— Can Dragonglass kill a zombie … if the zombie is a dragon?
— When you think about it, nearly all of Tyrion’s plans this season have been disastrous. But they did result in the summit meeting. The GoT producers once noted that the problem with combining certain characters at this point is there are so many you can’t put in a room together without them immediately trying to kill one another. While the plot mechanics to bring about the Dragonpit summit this season were pretty intricate, and received some criticism, the result was a terrific sequence of characters conversing that we otherwise would never have.
— The prospect of Jaime Lannister partnering with Daenerys and Jon Snow in the final season is especially exciting. It’s going be a bit awkward for Jaime to meet Bran…but then again, every meeting with Bran is now awkward.
— Fans asking on Twitter about Tormund and Beric. Are they alive? I’m 99 percent sure they are — even if just going by the “if you don’t see it, it didn’t happen” rule of TV character deaths. “Will they survive the first episode of season 8?” is the question.
— Littlefinger. This was a good time for Baelish to bow out. As much as I enjoyed his character, it felt like there wasn’t a place for him anymore — we can’t respect anybody who trusts him. We have an interview with the great Aiden Gillen about his time on the show and his final scene (link below). We have the showrunners talking about Littlefinger’s exit as well.
— Jon and Dany. I spoke a bit with Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington about the Aegon reveal (Clarke’s reaction is really funny) and how they debated their “sexual chemistry” on the set. I also have a post speculating about the seven big questions Jon’s parentage raises for the final season:
- More “The Dragon and the Wolf” coverage:
- — ‘Game of Thrones’ stars Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington react to that huge Jon Snow reveal
— ‘Game of Thrones’ actor on his shocking season 7 finale death
- — How that Jon Snow twist changes everything (and the 7 questions it raises for the final season)
- — Your 10 biggest finale questions answered
- — Our Game of Thrones finale podcast
- — Game of Thrones showrunners on Littlefinger’s death
And on a concluding note: A sincere thank you to every one of you who read EW’s Game of Thrones coverage this season. And thank you for your comments, shares, tweets and podcast listens too. I know some of you have been reading us from the very first season and we appreciate you continuing to return. I’m very grateful to cover such a spectacular series and will continue to post GoT updates as we enter the long hiatus until season 8. If you like, you can follow me at @jameshibberd.
Trivia question! The nickname “Littlefinger” refers to two things about Lord Baelish. What are they? Two randomly selected winners will get either a Breaker of Chains mug or a Viserion mug if they email the right answer to email@example.com…