Monday, September 18, 2017

Game of Thrones Watch 7.7: "The Dragon and the Wolf"

Read the previous entry in the series here.
Read the next entry in the series when we return!


7.7 “The Dragon and the Wolf”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Jeremy Podeswa

Warning: extreme amounts of snark ahead. Also lots of gifs. And nit-picking. Also a couple of book-only spoilers. You have been warned.


This season finale is emblematic of all the problems this season has had. A bunch of nothing-special wheel-spinning happens all to lead up to a major dramatic moment that looks really pretty. Several other smaller dramatic moments happen with absolutely no seeding so they’re completely unearned.

The first third of the roughly 75-minute episode is the great big meeting/face-off they’ve been promising all season. We open with the Unsullied standing in ranks outside King’s Landing (how did they get here? Did they march across Westeros from Casterly Rock? Completely unmolested? Who knows!). The music is portentous and tense, and the Lannister forces are preparing for a siege. Bronn has them prepare a bit harder, clearly intimidated by the Unsullied array (which is the point, really), and then spends several minutes talking to Jaime about the sense of being a soldier when you don’t have a cock. In fact, between the two of them, they say “cock” five times in about a minute and a half. Jaime comes to the conclusion that “maybe it is all just cocks in the end.”


(Emmy-award winning writing, ladies and gentlemen!) The Dothraki arrive and do their intimidation/dominance display, riding around and whooping. (How did the Unsullied beat them here? Were they just lurking over the hill waiting for a dramatic moment? Who knows!)

The camera pans over the Ironborn fleet at anchor, over the Red Keep, and over to four or five lonely ships coming in carrying Tyrion, Jon, Davos, etc. Jon asks how many people live in King’s Landing and Tyrion says about a million which brought any remaining suspension of disbelief I might have had to an abrupt end. I’m sorry; there’s no way a pre-industrial city can support that many people. A quick look at Wikipedia shows that in the 14th century, which is roughly analogous to southern Westeros in terms of cultural time period, the population of London was just over 23,000. London didn’t get close to a million people until the early 19th century.

 
It's not like this show is frequently praised for its realism and authenticity or anything.

Meanwhile, Sandor goes below to poke the box with the wight in it and remind us why we’re all here in the first place.

Over in the Red Keep, Cersei asks why Dany isn’t on the ship with her allies, and Qyburn says nobody’s seen her. But everyone else is gathering at the Dragonpit (for some reason), so they head out, as well. Cersei tells Gregor that if anything goes wrong, to kill the “silver-haired bitch” first, then Tyrion, then “the bastard who calls himself king.” Jaime looks mildly confused; it’s almost as if he hasn’t been paying attention to what kind of person Cersei is this whole time. Or maybe he’s just not sure why he’s even in this storyline when he ought to be out meeting Lady Stoneheart with Brienne.

As the “good guy” contingent heads toward the Dragonpit, Missandei asks why it’s even here and Jorah explains that dragons have boundary issues and had to be kept away from the rest of the population. It seems Missandei has forgotten the little incident of Drogon killing and eating a little girl that led to Viserion and Rhaegal being locked up, but it seems everyone’s forgotten about it (more on that later) so whatever.

A group of Lannisters and Bronn, escorting Brienne and Pod, encounter our group; Bronn says he’s to escort all of them to the meeting. Brienne and Sandor spot each other and stare. Tyrion and Pod try to say hi, but Bronn hurries them along and says Tyrion can “suck [Pod’s] magic cock later.”


One of the soldiers asks Sandor what’s in the box, and Sandor, in all his articulateness, tells him to fuck off. He gets a moment with Brienne in which they exchange news—he’s not dead, but she came pretty close to killing him, also Arya’s doing fine. Tyrion and Bronn catch up, and Tyrion tries to talk Bronn into switching sides, but he won’t for some reason (his reasoning is that Cersei will be super grateful to him for bringing her two traitors, but clearly he doesn’t know Cersei very well).

They enter the Dragonpit, where tents and chairs have been set up so they can sit and talk. Bronn takes Pod away with him while Brienne and Jorah scope out the exits. Sandor stomps over to Tyrion to remind him that he abandoned this “shit city” after the Blackwater because he didn’t want to die in it, and is Tyrion going to make him die in this shit city? He blames Tyrion for this whole plan and says behind every plan like this there’s always “some cunt.” Tyrion, seeing Gregor and Cersei coming in, remarks that there’s always “some Clegane cunt” to help them. (Emmy-award winning writing!)

There’s lots of meaningful looks passed around as the Lannister contingent sees the Targaryen contingent—Brienne/Jaime, Cersei/Tyrion, Euron/Theon—and then Sandor hard-stares Gregor, stomps over, and informs him that he’s going to kill him eventually because character development what character development.

Cersei demands of Tyrion where Dany is, and Tyrion says she’ll be here soon. She has to make her dramatic entrance, see, which she does with Drogon landing on the rim of the arena and stomping his way down into it so Dany can dismount. Euron stares at her as though he’s dimly remembering that he was going to seek out and marry the Dragon Queen at some point, and Dany approaches her seat. Cersei snipes at her that they’ve all been waiting, but Dany doesn’t care about Cersei’s attitude.


Dany gives Tyrion the go-ahead nod because what we need is more Tyrion talking at people, but Euron butts in, completely incapable of not being the center of attention. He demands that Theon submit immediately or Yara will die, then makes a bad dwarf joke at Tyrion and tells him that they don’t even allow “his kind” to live in the Iron Islands, seeing it as a mercy to the parents to kill them at birth. Everyone yells at Euron to sit his ass down, but it’s Cersei’s order, backed up by Gregor’s looming, that does the job.

Tyrion continues his talk, acknowledging that nobody here likes each other but they need to stop fighting for a bit and handle the real threat. That’s when Jon steps up and explains the whole army of the dead thing, which Cersei doesn’t believe for a moment. She instead expects that Dany will take advantage of Cersei agreeing to a truce by consolidating her hold on the rest of Westeros. Dany says King’s Landing is perfectly safe and Cersei calls her a “would-be usurper” (pot, kettle) and Tyrion shuts them both up by reminding them that these grievances they have go back fifty years. And besides, they have a demonstration.

Sandor hauls the box up into the pit on his back, then takes an interminably long time opening it, which I think is there to ramp up the tension but only made me wonder if they were going to subvert the tension by having the wight somehow really-dead when they open the box. Nope; the wight scrambles out of the box and goes straight for Cersei’s face, with only Sandor’s grip on a chain keeping it from getting to her. Qyburn, predictably, is fascinated by the whole thing and when Sandor hacks off one of the wight’s hands, he picks it up to examine it. Jon demonstrates how to kill them—with fire and dragonglass, no mention of Valyrian steel—and says that if they don’t fight and win, everyone in the world will be like that. Dany says she didn’t immediately believe it, either, but she’s seen the army—100,000 strong, which makes Jaime go bug-eyed—and it’s real and a danger.

Euron asks if they can swim, and Jon says no, because they can only swim when they need to drag a dragon out of a lake apparently. Also we’re ignoring the fact that the presence of the White Walkers brings winter, which could presumably freeze a good chunk of the ocean solid so they wouldn’t need to swim. Euron says bye, suckers, and takes his fleet and goes home.

For a moment, it looks as though Cersei’s going to be reasonable; she agrees to stand down on the condition that Jon also stands down and doesn’t help either one of them until the threat is over. I have no idea why this is her condition; maybe she already knows Jon won’t swear to it because of the way we keep being told he and Dany look at each other. She says she knows she can trust Ned Stark’s son to keep his word and nobody calls her on the rampant hypocrisy of that statement considering her role in Ned’s death. Jon, being honest to a fault, tells her sorry, he’s already pledged the north to Dany. Cersei flies into a rage and stomps out, leaving everyone pissed at Jon for not lying, not pissed at Cersei for being impossible to deal with. Davos yells at him. Dany yells at him. Tyrion yells at him. Then Tyrion decides it’s all up to him now; he has to walk into the lion’s den and deal with Cersei himself.


All of this—from the opening of the episode to this moment here—takes roughly 30 minutes, a bit over one-third of the episode. There’s been a lot of talking that got us absolutely nowhere. I understand the desire to have characters who haven’t seen each other for a while catch up. I don’t understand why they bothered with all the siege-tension when clearly Dany has no intention of attacking King’s Landing no matter what Cersei’s decision is. And their tension ramp-up with the wight was misplaced, as well, because we-the-audience have seen this before. We’ve seen hundreds of thousands of them. This one single wight and look-how-we-can-kill-them does nothing for us. If the point of this was to finally bring the queens face-to-face, the fact that they barely say two words to each other kind of ruins that. If it was about bringing Tyrion to a point where he has to go talk to his sister, then it took too long. The pacing is all wrong for the whole first part of the episode.

So Tyrion goes to see Cersei, which apparently involves hiking all the way back up to the Red Keep. Jaime says he’s wasting his time and will probably end up dead. He goes in anyway and we get some quality family drama. Cersei refers to Dany as Tyrion’s kind of woman—“a foreign whore who doesn’t know her place”—and Tyrion reminds her of what she did to the last whore (Ros)—kidnaping her, beating her, and intimidating her—both conveniently forgetting all about Shae, who Tyrion murdered. Cersei blames Tyrion for everything bad that happened to the family, and Tyrion again makes excuses about killing Tywin. It all comes to a head when Tyrion asks why Cersei doesn’t just order Gregor to kill him and Cersei can’t seem to give that order. The tension broken a bit, Tyrion gives Cersei some wine (which she doesn’t touch) and she asks what he’s hoping for, why he wants Dany to be queen of Westeros. He says he thinks Dany will make the world a better place and Cersei points out that he just told her that he stopped Dany from burning King’s Landing to the ground. Tyrion’s face says that not even he can pretend Dany will be a good queen anymore, and with the reveals about Jon from last week, I’m beginning to think the writers have assassinated Dany’s character so that Jon will look like the best choice for the Iron Throne.


Cersei goes off about not giving a crap about making the world a better place, and Tyrion realizes she’s pregnant. And scene! (I’ll talk about this weird cut a bit later.)

Back in the Dragonpit, Dany scolds Jon again and they pass a dragon bone back and forth because that’s not suggestive. She remarks that building the Dragonpit was a bad idea because a dragon is not a slave and locking them up is what made the Targaryens start to be less extraordinary. Again, they seem to have forgotten that Dany locked up her dragons for the exact reasons Jorah mentioned earlier. Either that or this is Dany’s understanding that she did the wrong thing there, but if so, we needed a clearer connection between her opinion now and her actions then. Jon says she’s extraordinary and her line won’t end with her, and Dany reminds him that she’s barren. Jon’s not so sure that Mirri Maz Duur is a reliable source in this matter. So, they’re totally gonna have a baby cause that’s some serious heavy-handed setup there.

Tyrion and Cersei come back and Cersei passive-aggressively agrees to help fight the White Walkers and hopes that when it’s over Dany will remember that she did so without the benefit of oaths and assurances, but she probably won’t.

The group splits up and goes to make their various plans. We get a completely unnecessary scene on Dragonstone where Dany and Jon make travel plans that set up them being on the same boat (I don’t feel like we needed this setup at all. Just put them on the boat. We don’t need a reason). Jaime starts planning for the trip north, and Cersei tells him not to be an idiot; she’s not helping. She actually sent Euron to pick up the Golden Company from Essos and they’re going to retake Westeros. For some reason, this is Jaime’s breaking point. He says he swore an oath and he’s going to keep it and she’ll have to kill him to stop him. She actually does give Gregor the nod, but he doesn’t believe that she’ll follow through and leaves. Finally.


Meanwhile, up in Winterfell, Petyr pushes Sansa a bit more to try to turn her against Arya and get her to take the North from Jon, and it somehow (more on this in a minute, too) backfires and he finds himself on trial for murder and treason. Sansa lays out every single offense he’s committed against the Starks, and he goes from pretending not to understand to arguing that he had good reasons to begging on his knees (and Aiden Gillen sells every second of it). Bran the Omniscient backs up Sansa’s statements, and Sansa nods to Arya, who cuts Petyr’s throat. On the one hand, this is a fitting end for Petyr—he dies in the exact same way Catelyn did, executed by those he’s harmed the most—but on the other, it’s completely unearned. Sansa says it’s about honor, but what’s honorable about this kangaroo court, at which Petyr isn’t allowed to present evidence in his own defense, and he’s summarily executed without even being pronounced guilty? Other than all the accusations being true, it looks a lot like Tyrion’s trial. Not to mention the whole thing about the person passing the sentence swinging the sword. The northern idea of honor may have its problems, but they didn’t even come up to the basic level of northern honor with this “trial.”


The core problem of this episode is that all the politics happen off-screen. When did Cersei decide to send Euron to pick up the Golden Company? When did she contact the Golden Company? Why did Euron even go to the summit if he was just going to come up with an excuse to leave and go pick up the Golden Company? What did Tyrion say to Cersei to get her to pretend to agree to help? When did Sansa figure out that Petyr was playing her? When did Arya figure out that Petyr was playing her? When did they pull Bran in? Apparently Benioff and Weiss have realized that they’re bad at writing politics and decided the solution was to just not write politics and let the audience fill in all these questions on their own, which is just bad writing. Either that or they were trying to fake us out and do big shocker-reveals, which without the setup/seeding necessary is just bad writing.

Theon decides he needs to go rescue Yara, but first he has to apologize to Jon and verbally hash through the themes of his entire character arc. Then he has to go prove himself to the remaining Yara loyalists, which consists of getting his ass kicked but refusing to go down. The guy beating on him finally goes for the knee-to-the-groin, but surprise! Theon doesn’t have anything down there! The dude hits him with a knee five times, and then Theon headbutts him and then beats him to death with his hands because yay toxic masculinity and something something weaponized disability and I just can’t even.


Sam makes it to Winterfell and goes to see Bran, and Bran decides Sam is the person who needs to know about Jon’s heritage: he’s the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar, and his name is really Sand, not Snow. Sam gets all excited and says no it’s not because he (excuse you Samwell Tarly!) discovered that the High Septon at the time married Lyanna and Rhaegar! Bran goes to look and watches the wedding. I actually got super distracted because they made Rhaegar look really similar to Viserys, and sure, they’re brothers, but that is not at all how Rhaegar is described in the books. Aside from that, though, if I was confused, I’m sure lots of other people were confused. Because seriously, they managed to make Wilf Scolding look a lot like Harry Lloyd (the wig has a lot to do with it).


Meanwhile, under Bran’s voiceover as he figures out that Rhaegar and Lyanna were actually madly in love and Jon isn’t the product of kidnap and rape, Jon goes into Dany’s cabin on the ship and they proceed to have really awkward sex (some of the awkwardness is from the posing of two actors who clearly don’t want to do nude scenes anymore). I honestly don’t know how they want us to feel here. They’ve got Bran talking about Jon’s parentage, which (although he never says it out loud) makes Dany Jon’s aunt; rising romantic music; meaningful looks between Jon and Dany; Rhaegar and Lyanna’s Super Romantic wedding; and Tyrion’s concerned looks at the closed door. Is this a good thing? A bad thing? An inevitable thing? What am I supposed to be feeling?! Is this romantic or creepy? And why is Tyrion doing that creeper-stare at the door? What emotional response do you want from me, Jeremy Podeswa, because you’re only getting confusion. Oh, and by the way, all of this also means that Jon is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and that’s not going to be at all awkward when Bran finally gets around to telling him.

Also! The flashback reveals that Lyanna actually named Jon, and his real name? Is Aegon Targaryen.




First of all, I will never be able to think of Jon as “Aegon,” but that’s a “me” problem. But beyond that, there’s one serious problem with this (two if you count some stuff from the books that they didn’t adapt): Rhaegar already had a son named Aegon. Granted he was dead by the time Jon was born, but that doesn’t make it better; if anything, it makes it worse. There’s a few possible explanations for this:

  1. Lyanna was trying to honor Rhaegar by giving his son a name she already knew he’d like because he’d given it to a son before
  2. Lyanna is a giant jerk for giving her son the same name as the son of the woman whose husband she “stole” (there’s a lot to unpack regarding Lyanna and Rhaegar’s relationship that I just don’t have room for here)
  3. Rhaegar told her to name him that and he’s a giant jerk because he died before Elia’s Aegon
  4. Rhaegar was trying to hedge his bets on the whole Prince-That-Was-Promised prophecy by naming both his baby boys Aegon (they kinda skipped over this in the show, though, so this one’s less likely)
  5. The showrunners honestly forgot that Rhaegar had a son and his name was Aegon

None of these are remotely good reasons. Add in the fact that in the books, there’s a boy running around who says he is Aegon (whether he is or whether he’s Quaithe’s “mummer’s dragon” is a whole other question). The show does have a (really bad) habit of combining characters and/or handing one character’s storyline to another character, but this is just egregious.

Finally we get the big set-piece that the entire season has been building toward. Bran’s warged out into some ravens who are hanging out at Eastwatch so he can be a witness. Tormund and Beric are at the top of the Wall, and they look down to see a rider come out of the forest, then some walkers, then a few more walkers, then a buttload of walkers. A horn blows three times, which I’m pretty sure is only the second time that’s happened in the show (the first being at the Fist of the First Men), and the entire army of the dead stands in front of the Wall. There’s a beat of “well, what are you going to do now?” face from Tormund, and then the Night King shows up on a battered and dead Viserion and proceeds to blast the Wall down with blue ice/fire breath. The Wall comes down in chunks, killing lots of wildlings and Night’s Watch (hopefully not Tormund and/or Beric, though they’re fuzzy on that point), and the Wall comes a-tumbling down, letting the army of the dead through into Westeros proper.


So that was a thing. That we watched. The entire season gave up logic and character development to tear at breakneck speed toward this ending, moving characters where they needed to be like chess pieces and completely ignoring themes or trends or, you know, good storytelling.

RIP:
Petyr Baelish
Lots of Night’s Watch
Lots of Wildlings


3 comments:

  1. I thought this was one of the better episodes in an otherwise lackluster season. It certainly had its problems, many of which you pointed out, but I feel like you were just grasping and nitpicking for things to criticize for the most part of this review. Sure, point out flaws, but why not give props where they're do as well? The music, the cinematography, some beautiful acting and tense character moments.

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    Replies
    1. I frequently give props to those things in my reviews. :)

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