Well, Jon, I have some good news and some bad news.
The good news is, you’re not actually a bastard. Sure, we’ve known this for a few weeks now, since Gilly confirmed that Jon’s parents, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark — we’ve known that for even longer — were married when she had him. But legitimacy will no doubt be some sort of relief to a man whose fine features have borne the strain of second-class status from the beginning of this story.
The bad news? Say hi to your aunt.
Jon and Daenerys, last seen entwined in Sunday’s season finale of “Game of Thrones,” are blissfully unaware of both their connection and the complications it will cause, once they realize that the obliging knee-bender Jon (or Aegon, but I’m sticking with Jon for now) is the true heir to the Iron Throne. But for those of us with the facts, the simultaneous confirmation of both their sexual attraction and the true story of Jon’s birth made theirs the most awkward in a spate of charged family reunions.
But not by much. Not in an episode that also found Theon cower again before his loony uncle, Cersei blast both of her brothers and the Hound promise to somehow kill his undead one.
“That’s not how it ends for you, brother,” he told the Mountain. “You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” (It wasn’t exactly a Cleganebowl, but it will have to do for now.)
Wilf Scolding, left, and Aisling Franciosi as Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Credit Helen Sloan/HBO
More hopefully, we had various Stark components making up, including the de facto brothers Jon and Theon and the actual sisters Sansa and Arya, who finally, after weeks of antagonism, united to condemn and kill Littlefinger. (Nothing brings families together like bloodshed.)
“Game of Thrones” has always been concerned with the benefits and burdens of family. But it hit that theme particularly forcefully on Sunday, as this story that is broadly about the move from murderous tribalism to more globally oriented coalition leadership arranged the Risk board for its final stretch.
But while Sunday’s very busy episode had plenty of enjoyable moments and blue fire-fueled spectacle, and effectively set up next season’s culminating clashes of the living, the dead and the old venal forces of cyclical destruction, it didn’t offer much in the way of surprise. Indeed, the finale largely checked off boxes that have been broadly telegraphed throughout the season.
Dany and Jon became a thing — check. Jon’s parentage was confirmed, along with his status as the heir to the throne — check. Littlefinger was punished for his crimes as the Starks reconciled — check. The Night King used Zombie Viserion to breach the Wall — check. Cersei made her own plan rather than join forces with her enemies — check.
We’ll come back to Cersei, but first let’s return to the Targaryen tryst. Last week Beric Dondarrion suggested that the cost of resurrection is sacrifice, telling Jon that “you and I won’t find much joy while we’re here.” Well, that at least looked like joy Jon was experiencing in that ship’s cabin on Sunday. (They’re into boats, those two.)
But was it also something more? We keep hearing about how Dany can’t have babies, to the point that she now seems pretty guaranteed to have a baby. It seems likely that we saw the beginning of that arc on Sunday, especially since their interlude was intercut with scenes of the baby Aegon Targaryen coming into the world.
How will Jon and Dany react when they learn about their true connection?
And how are we supposed to react to it now?
As recently as two weeks ago, I hung on to the belief that Daenerys and Jon, despite their clear, mutual attraction, would avoid the interbreeding inclinations of their Lannister rivals and remain platonic allies. Perhaps Bran would get to Jon first and spill the facts of his birth. (“We need to tell him,” Bran told Sam on Sunday, which was far too late, of course. But why should timing be a strength of a man for whom time means nothing?)
Besides, did they even have to pair off at all? Wouldn’t the more surprising move be to have two powerful, attractive leaders, who we’re told represent a new way forward in Westeros, decide that the fate of the world was too important to complicate with romance?
I guess things could go that way eventually, but that’s not where they sit now, which I admit feels kind of gross. I know such tendencies are well established in Westeros and in the Targaryen family, specifically (and in real-life royal dynasties from centuries past). But as a story that began with crimes committed to conceal incest nears its conclusion, are we now really supposed to be rooting for incest?
Back in King’s Landing, not even Cersei seems to be into it anymore, having finally driven Jaime away with her wily plotting with Euron to bring in the Golden Company to help her capitalize on Team Targaryen’s White Walker detour.
Her feint and betrayal confirmed that Jon and Tyrion’s wight-demo plan was as ineffective as most viewers predicted. (Also, yes, Dany, Viserion died for no reason as far as you’re concerned.)
In fact, it gave Cersei an advantage, at least for now, in the conflict to come. The meeting offered her a good look at her rival forces — where’s the other dragon? she wondered — and allowed her to fool them into thinking they had her support.
The Dragonpit summit was a fitting conclusion to a season distinguished by far-flung characters coming together, offering a buffet of enjoyable reunions. I loved Podrick’s enduring loyalty to Tyrion, and the Hound and Brienne’s almost paternal pride over Arya. Brienne, as always, connected Jaime to his better self.
Most captivating was Cersei and Tyrion, partly because Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage are great together and haven’t shared the screen since Season 4, but mostly because the scene was a terrific stew of manipulation and raw emotion. Even as Cersei was clearly using Tyrion as part of her plot, her resentment was authentic. And because, as with Jaime, the pregnancy served as a valuable prop with Tyrion — convincing him that she truly is invested in the future, and thus on board with the truce — the mystery of whether it is or isn’t legitimate persists. And in a season full of uncharacteristically dense moves, Tyrion again was played for a fool.
While Cersei’s double-cross was expected, it did produce a surprise in Jaime’s departure. Ms. Headey has talked about how Cersei resents Jaime for the easier life he led as a son of privilege, and that dynamic was apparent in their final fight. While you were off hunting and having fun I was learning from father about gold and ruling, she said spitefully. But when he left, her expression conveyed her alarm.
Jaime headed north, leaving an incest-size hole in the story for Dany and Jon to fill a few scenes later. But as I said a few weeks ago, at this point I won’t believe he’s truly turned on his sister until he has his hands around her throat.
Speaking of throats in jeopardy, up north Littlefinger learned that while chaos may be a ladder, it’s trickier to climb than it looks and sometimes ends with you choking on your own blood. After taking one last meeting with her would-be Svengali, Sansa showed how much she’d learned by luring him into a fatal setup, outlining his many offenses against the Starks as he groveled for mercy.
Had the confrontation not ended with Arya slicing open his neck, Littlefinger might have enjoyed the cunning poetry of it: A master manipulator outmaneuvered by a pupil he’d victimized, killed by the very dagger he’d used in past plots against her family. (Aidan Gillen portrayed Lord Baelish’s final disintegration with pathetic aplomb.)
Littlefinger was fun while he lasted, but his time had come. So, too, had it become time for Arya and Sansa to get past differences that at times this season felt forced in the name of drumming up conflict.
Families can be complicated, even when you’re not sleeping with your relatives. But when “the snows fall and the white winds blow,” Sansa told Arya, quoting their father, “the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.”
Season 7 Shrinking Pains
As Jaime rode north he saw the first snowflakes fall as winter finally, indubitably, arrived in King’s Landing. This is what we’ve been moving toward for years, of course. I suspect much of the awkwardness of the abbreviated seventh season of “Game of Thrones” — which delivered arguably the most impressive visceral thrills and the least satisfying storytelling of the show’s run — came from having to get there in a hurry. “Thrones” picked up the narrative pace considerably last year, but that was nothing compared to this season, which flew by faster than that Eastwatch raven that drove viewers so crazy last week.
I don’t get as worked up about logistical implausibilities like the raven or how long it takes to fly a dragon north of the Wall. (The incest is my raven, I guess.) Time has always been fungible and intentionally vague on “Game of Thrones,” presumably because it’s really hard to maintain roughly 47 subplots and have them intersect when and where they need to. I’m willing to give the show latitude in the details in order to let it tell its story, though I understand why these kinds of logic-stretching moments are distracting to some viewers.
I did have other issues with Season 7, though. If the high-octane battles, dragon scenes and other magical happenings give “Game of Thrones” its dazzle, it’s the recognizable human impulses, frailties and behaviors in characters we’ve come to know well that give it its emotional power. For much of this season, however, it felt as if the story was driving the characters instead of the other way around.
Why, for example, has the formerly shrewd and insightful Tyrion become a dunderhead since he joined up with Daenerys? Because the story needed her to face challenges and overcome them, generally with triumphant dragon attacks. Perhaps Tyrion’s strategic gaffes are part of his own humbling arc as he evolves from a cynic into a true believer, a phase he will overcome later as a powerful force in the war. But his constant underestimating this season of Cersei, the person he knows better than perhaps anyone, rings false.
The narrative information has been rushed in some ways and frustratingly restricted in others. Some weeks have brought so many revelations — Cersei’s pregnant! Jon’s not a bastard! Here’s Gendry! — they overshadow one another. Meanwhile Three-Eyed Bran can see anything, anytime, apparently, but only does so when someone like Sam goes, well, why don’t you give it a shot? (I get it: Bran isn’t driven by revenge or other human desires to know things anymore, but he still seems to function as a tool of convenience.) The show has also been more reliant on gimmickry like hackneyed fake-outs, like all the pretend near-deaths this season (Jaime, Jorah, Tormund).
A common theory hangs all of this on that fact that “Game of Thrones” eclipsed George R. R. Martin’s books, resulting in plotting that has become more conventional and less nuanced. There may be something to this, but it’s also worth remembering that the creators David Benioff and D. B. Weiss are the same people who took an enormous saga and masterfully streamlined and arranged it into a still-complex but captivating story that has become the most obsessively tracked pop culture franchise in the world.
I imagine most of the disappointing aspects of Season 7 amount to shrinking pains, products of having to condense all those subplots we’ve watched over six seasons down into one master one, while also preserving enough major characters to give ample emotional weight to next season’s final clashes.
With untold millions of HBO’s dollars to spend on just six episodes and no reason to hold anything back, I fully expect “Game of Thrones” to end in satisfying fashion, at a scale befitting its outsize place in the culture. I may end up being wrong, but the show and its creators have earned the benefit of the doubt.
A Few Thoughts While We Check the Pilot Light
• I wondered last week what Zombie Viserion would shoot out of its mouth. Turns out the answer is blue fire, I guess. It did the trick, at any rate, blowing a gap in the Wall wide enough for the dead army to stagger through. If their previous rate of travel is any indication, they should make it to civilization three winters from now.
• Tormund is brave, but he’s not stupid. “Run!” he shouted once he saw the full, dragon-assisted scale of the White Walker force. For the record, I don’t think he died in that Wall collapse. The show wouldn’t have brought him back from the brink in the wight fight just to kill him off in vague fashion a week later.
• What did you make of Tyrion’s apparent concern outside Jon and Aunt Dany’s love shack? Jealousy? Concern about how it would complicate the Great War? Or was he, as he often seemed in earlier seasons, a stand-in for us?
• Turns out castration confers a superpower that’s handy in a scrap. After taking still more shaming from his Uncle Euron in King’s Landing — but learning that Yara was still alive in the process — Theon finally had something like a hero moment this season, taking his Ironborn rival’s best kicks and still emerging on top. By the way, is anyone more swayable than Ironborn soldiers? One minute they’re up for pirating, the next for noble rescue missions. Those guys are more weather vane-y than the Northern bannermen.
• I’m guessing Lesson 1 in Dothraki boot camp is “How to shriek and gallop over a horizon.”
• The next conversation between Sam and Jon could be awkward. Guess what: You’re not really a bastard! Guess what: My new girlfriend immolated your family!
• What did you think? Are you cool with Jonerys? Will Jon ever learn how to lie every now and then, just a bit? What did you think of Season 7 as a whole? Please share your thoughts in the comments and, as always, many thanks for reading and weighing in over the past seven weeks.