A solid conclusion to a (mostly) strong season. “The Wolf and the Dragon” allows space to breathe for its actors, delivering great payoffs and character work. There are some points to hit, namely some pacing issues in several sects, as well as otherwise great moments that end up being undercut by the fact that they should have happened three episodes ago.
(Also, lots of spoilers).
The first forty minutes or so were genuinely great, representing a return to form that beared a closer resemblance to the Martin source material. Lots of politiking, Jon follows in Robb and Ned’s footsteps and biffs it at the wrong time because of his honor, that sort of thing. The truly great part was seeing all of these characters, most of whom had never met or had serious interactions with each other throughout the series all converged in one place. Its easy to wonder what Cersei’s plan to screw them all over from earlier in the season was. She doesn’t seem to have a good plan. Her plan is to fake allegiance to Jon and Dany’s cause and backstab them with mercenaries when everything is said and done. This isn’t a very good idea and her brother/lover tells her as much. She doesn’t seem to listen. This will make her a fun player next season at the very least, and a necessary one too. This show is demonstrating how mind-numbing it can get when the primary focus is just on the white walkers.
I’m happy that the dynamic in Winterfell between Arya/Sansa/and Littlefinger didn’t have a dumb, blunt ending. They must have been collaborating off-screen, which is fine; but I’m mystified as to why the writers took so long to get around to doing the deed. Most expected Littlefinger to die, everyone wanted Littlefinger dead, and all were just waiting for Thrones to get on with it. Still, it ended on a good note. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, I guess.
That sort of a cliffhanger ending is never great, like “Who Will Negan Kill?”, you’re asking a question and no one is truly going to be happy with the answer. If both Tormund and Beric die, people will say its too drab; if Beric dies only, people will say the show’s stakes aren’t high enough. The imagery of the Night King on his zombie dragon is cool and all, but capping off seasons with a cliffhanger is generally a lousy idea.
The magic of the episode rests in how much space it gives its actors. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey in particular, get a compelling, commanding scene together. I imagine it will net them both Emmy nominations. Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke started out not having the greatest chemistry together, due to limits in their acting, but they’ve grown into this relationship, with their scenes being genuinely romantic.
The reveal of Jon’s name also seems like it should have been given several episodes. Bran is one in particular that seems to be written in a way that will serve the plot and whatever big season reveal Benioff and Weiss have in mind as opposed to basic logic. (“He’s the Three-Eyed Raven, man, why should he have to remember crucial plot information that the characters desperately need at a time that makes sense and isn’t painfully convenient?”)
It was still a good episode overall, however, and I liked it more than “Beyond the Wall.” What I’m wondering, going forward, is how the show is going to balance the scheming, politics and character work with the epic fantasy battles with the ice zombies. A better question, how are the showrunners going to play with these epic battles so they don’t seem so familiar and “Tolkieny”, for lack of a better word. This is not to say J.R.R. is anything short of a genius, but George R.R. Martin himself is quoted as having said that one of the main problem with fantasy writers is how heavily they borrow from the Hobbit-inventing legend. Since then, Thrones has borrowed a little from Tolkien, but never too much so. That seems to be fading as the material from Martin thins.
There is always room for surprises, of course; and despite occasional bumps in the road, Thrones is still as thrilling as its always been.
Written by Jeff Turner