*** WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD ***
As the final episode approached, Game of Thrones felt like it was slowly descending into an abyss of illogical inconsistencies and apparent disregard for the audience’s intelligence. After delivering a string of good episodes, culminating in the breath-takingly brilliant The Spoils of War, the previous two episodes threatened to destroy the show as a satisfying narrative experience.
But just like Jaime miraculously surviving from a plunge into the depths of a pond, The Dragon and the Wolf pulls the show up blinking into the sunshine and spluttering somewhere off down the river. With now just one six episode season to come towards the end of 2018 (or perhaps later), I’m not sure if I can trust the writers to pull it off – but for the first time in a few weeks I now have hope.
Isolated, The Dragon and the Wolf is not an amazing episode of television, but it does a highly commendable job of covering up the gigantic narrative mess it created with not too many suspicious stains left to see.
So many of the problems seem to stem from the changing tasks the writers have had to undertake. What started off as an adaptation has become a purely creative endeavour, which isn’t what the writers really originally signed up for.
As with The Fast and the Furious, Game of Thrones is now best enjoyed as a silly and spectacular visual joyride rather than the dense and complex strategic political drama is was for its first few seasons. This episode showed that when it has a stunning visual idea it can execute it almost flawlessly.
The scenes of the assembled armies around King’s Landing, the conference in the Dragonpit, and the destruction of The Wall are all beautifully executed spectacles.
However, much like the Furious franchise, the show is trying to swat away any questions about character motivations with a bit of hand-waving and mumbling something about ‘family’, to which every other character then instantly sympathises with and understands. It’s not the most nuanced approach to storytelling, but with such an absence of general common sense it actually feels a little refreshing.
As with The Fast and the Furious, Game of Thrones is now best enjoyed as a silly and spectacular visual joyride.
Cersei’s double-fake of turning down the truce, then accepting the truce, but then revealing she didn’t plan on fulfilling the truce, and her secret plan all along was to accept it and actively work to undermine it, was a bit baffling.
What it did present was plenty of opportunities to throw a series of character combinations together for what the show used to do best – two people sitting around talking to each other. It’s rare for any story to have such an ensemble of fascinating and memorable characters, but it remains a delight to see people like Bronn, Podd, Brienne, Theon and The Hound having opportunities to bounce off each other.
I don’t really understand why most of them were at the meeting, or what they really provide to the narrative overall anymore, but it’s fun regardless (but where the hell is Gendry?)..
It shows what this season has given up with its shorter episode count. The Dragon and the Wolf is the show’s longest ever episode at a tick over 80 minutes, and the extra running time gives space for these interactions to breathe and provide a little understanding of where these characters are at mentally.
Cersei’s scenes with Tyrion and Jaime are the most effective. With Tyrion’s reputation for strategic excellence reduced further to rubble this episode, at least he finally got some adequate screen time to do some scheming.
There’s a heartbeat where you actually think that Cersei might actually allow Jaime to be killed after she accuses him of betraying their house and he seems to finally acquiesce to her selfishness. But what would have been a bold move by the writers turns out to be a bluff as Jaime headsnorth to join the fight because Cersei couldn’t bring herself to kill either of her brothers, because, you know, ‘family’.
Jaime’s journey is one of the most successful in the show. A misunderstood and publicly reviled Kingslayer, who is trapped into living up to other people’s grand expectations and the roles thrust upon him by family and society, who finds redemption and a conscience but then is drawn back into atrocity by the women he loves.
The show had the opportunity to round off this character’s story at what feels like an appropriate juncture when he peers beneath Cersei’s true goals and sees only horror and self-interest. Instead, it leaves him lying around to join the collection of caricature fighters against the dead.
The execution of Littlefinger at Winterfell was the most significant death of the season (sorry Thoros and Olenna). While the show has a reputation for killing off main characters, it has played it remarkably safe for several seasons now.
While it’s hard to believe the Stark siblings would really turn on each other just so they could be ‘The Lady of Winterfell’ (a position of no power or direct influence), the sight of Littlefinger finally getting his comeuppance and collapsing into a cowardly mess was entertaining.
Some commentators have proposed that because the machinations of Sansa’s supposed betrayal and Arya’s murder motivations make no sense, the siblings all concocted a devious scheme to trap Littlefinger. I tend to disagree – I think it was just an ill-conceived and stupid plot mechanism.
The ‘big reveal’ which most people had probably put together even if the show never explicitly stated it, was the confirmation that Jon Snow is really a legitimised Targaryen and the true heir to the Iron Throne. (Oh hey, Sam! Time to tell you this incredibly important information I’ve been sitting on all season and not telling anyone for no apparent reason.)
The intercut with Jon and Daenerys’ sex scene was a nice little piece of audience subversion. While both the reveal and the sexual tension between the two has long been brewing, should we now be cheering for accidental aunt-nephew sexual relationships, or worried about the potential implications of Jon’s better claim to the throne?
How the show plays the relationship going forward could be interesting, and an inter-family feud for power could be even more so. But most likely this will just open the door for a marriage alliance, citing the family’s long-standing tradition of sibling marriages. In the words of Vin Diesel: ‘family’ (cue hand-waving; everyone nod).
Thank you for reading another season of reviews. Hope to see you back for the final episodes sometime in the future. To help, please consider making a contribution to this wonderful website.