Before I expand on that, however, a public service announcement–
In making known my thoughts about this final episode, I assume most of you know at least the general outline of the overall Game of Thrones story. I am not even going to think about summarizing the story so far. We’d be here until winter (which is coming, you know). If you don’t know the story, go and binge-watch the series, now. This post will still be here in 2017.
So, in no particular order–
1. Ho-lee frack. Oh wait, I did that one already.
2. Geez, how many characters were knocked off, blown up, incinerated, stabbed to death or self-splatted in this episode? Margaery Tyrell (which made me really sad), Loras Tyrell, Mace Tyrell, Lancel Lannister, Kevan Lannister, the High Sparrow, King Tommen, Grand Maester Pycelle (good riddance), Walder Frey, Black Walder Frey and Lothar Frey (no tears shed over those a-holes, either). That’s one way to help simplify the story-line.
3. Cersei has gone all Richard the Third. I can’t decide if this was her plan all along or if it is a desperation move now that her crowned pawn, Tommen, is gone (although he had demonstrated a disturbing independence of late, as least from his mother). Either way, she’s now got the power she’s always craved (and quite possibly full-on bat-shit crazy as well), with nothing in King’s Landing to stop her– but she’s also a patent usurper, even by the loosey-goosey standards of post-Targaryen Westeros. Her destruction of the bulk of her enemies (along with a large number of innocent bystanders and a fair portion of King’s Landing) at a single blow is the move of a ruthless tyrant, brilliant as a piece of political assassination, but sure to set all of Westeros against her.
4. Maggy the Frog’s prophecy is coming true. All that’s left now is for the “younger and more beautiful” queen to show up to finish Cersei off. Smart money is on Dany, but GoT has thrown us curve balls before. By the way, the show has allowed itself an extra degree of freedom than the books by omitting one line from Maggy’s prophecy, which reads as–
“And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
As valonqar is Valyrian for ‘younger brother’, this has generally been interpreted by fans as meaning that Tyrion will kill Cersei in the climactic confrontation between the Lannisters and everyone else (certainly that is Cersei’s interpretation, and the source of much of her antipathy toward her brother), but Jaime has also been suggested, since he was born after Cersei. But since the show-runners excluded this line, they don’t have to expend any story time dealing with its implications.
5. The destruction of the Great Sept of Baelor is one intense piece of dramatic cinematography. The music, which is a change of pace for the show, particularly builds up the tension. The explosion and its consequences are dramatic, tragic and horrifying all at once (the bell’s a nice touch). I’ve already noted how I hated to see Margaery Tyrell go out in this manner. It all has the tragic inevitability of the Titanic’s sinking- you know it’s going to happen but you wish there was something you could do….
5. We see Olenna Tyrell negotiating an alliance with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes (although it’s not so much a negotiation as a rather tart schooling), whereupon Varys, Daenerys’ envoy, shows up to offer an added element to the anti-Lannister vengeance coalition. Olenna’s presence and appearance in Dorne makes an important point about something which has confused many fans– how people seem move around the world of GoT so quickly. For example, Varys appears to leave Meereen in one episode, appear in Dorne shortly thereafter, and then very quickly reappear on Daenerys’ ship at the end of the final episode. The truth is that weeks have passed between each scene. This is evidenced by the fact that Olenna is in mourning when she goes to Dorne– she already knows about the deaths of her kin in King’s Landing. She also refers to how “Cersei stole the future from me”. If we took the breaks between scenes as amounting to a mere day or so, she would not have even yet received in Highgarden the news of the deaths of Margaery and the others, considering the distance between King’s Landing and the Reach. In fact, in the show, as in the books, considerable time often passes between scenes, and the intervals are irregular, at that.
6. Daenerys is on her way to Westeros, and not before time. There has been a lot of griping out there in fandom about the fact it took her six seasons to get moving in this direction. As frustrating as that might have been to viewers, I think from a story perspective it could not have come any earlier. Dany and her dragons have obviously been set up as key, perhaps critical, assets to be used against the White Walkers. Sending them to Westeros before the WW’s offensive reaches it’s critical moment would have ruined the whole plot-line, as if Frodo had actually flown a giant eagle to Mount Doom and just dropped the Ring into the lava. Struggle, failure and frustration are essential to drama, and Dany’s effort to create a base for herself in Esteros was the necessary prelude to her offensive to retake the Iron Throne. Time also had to pass in order for the dragons to realistically grow to their full, terrifying size. You cannot rush drama without dissipating its energy (about which, see below).
7. We finally see the second part of the Tower of Joy flashback. This sequence has been generally interpreted as confirming the “R+L = J” fan theory, that Jon Snow is actually the son of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen rather than Ned Stark and some unknown woman. The scene certainly implies this, but I have to note that the show-runners are actually still teasing us– when Lyanna whispers to Ned, we cannot hear the first part (at least I couldn’t, and I turned my ear-buds up so high I nearly bled out my eardrums), hearing only “Robert will kill him” clearly. The show-runners could still throw one of their curve-balls at us. Fans, I think, should brace themselves for a surprise. Just in case.
On the whole the episode paid off big in many ways, resolving story-lines and fairly effectively setting up the ultimate and necessary confrontations that will wrap up this whole epic. Waiting a whole year for Season Seven is going to be very tedious.
Having said that, the episode is not without issues. Chief among these (for me, at least) is the hurried way in which the alliance between Dorne, the Tyrells and Dany is cemented. It seemed sketchy, as if the writers were feeling pressured to squeeze it into this season. An alliance as critical to the story as this one should have involved more time and development. The whole Dorne story-line, in fact, has felt rather thin, over both Season Five and Six, as if the writers didn’t have the time to do it up properly.
For me this raises a concern. Despite the fact that the list of characters who still possess a pulse on this show is now considerably shorter, there are still a lot of story-lines to resolve, involving two major conflicts, between the Lannisters and their enemies, and between humanity and the White Walkers– and there are only ten hours of TV left in which to wrap it all up. That’s not a lot compared to the weight of what needs to happen to bring this tale to a satisfactory conclusion. It worries me.
Drama is hard. Pacing in drama is hard. Pacing in epic drama such as this, with hundreds of characters and all manner of disparate elements that all need to mesh, is supremely hard. I’ve watched or read any number of epic stories in which the ending seems to be hasty, patched together, or thin, not living up to the promise of everything that preceded it. J R R Tolkien is about the only writer I can think of off the top of my head who pulls it off successfully, resolving the critical story-lines and outstanding questions in a satisfactory manner, chiefly by taking time to work them out (in my paperback edition of The Return of the King, there are one hundred pages of action after the destruction of the Ring). I am very much afraid the ten hours remaining to this series are not going to be enough. I will be very, very disappointed if the good guys finish off Cersei in a perfunctory manner, and then vanquish the White Walkers in a few episodes, as if all the threat they have posed in the previous seasons was hollow and false.
Still, I’m going to risk the disappointment– I want to see how this all comes out. I’m hooked. It’s going to be a long year….