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August 27, 2017 at 11:24 PM EDT

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.

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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

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HBO’s epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin’s novels
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