The final season has arrived!

The story thus far: In a well-written, brilliantly-acted, expensively-produced show based on what European history would look like in the imagination of a clever 12-year-old boy, many people and one dragon have died, and an ice-zombie apocalypse looms.*

It was a dialogue-heavy episode, but it managed to show nearly every major character, if only in passing. We also had spectacle and darkness: Jon Snow goes for a dragon ride; Tormund and Beric find a grim warning from the Night King.

And has Daenerys Targaryen lost Samwell Tarley? Because you don't want to lose Samwell Tarley.

*From my own posting, elsewhere.

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We watched the last two episodes of Season 7 first, so we'd be primed for episode 8.1 -- and it's a good thing we did, since in those two episodes we kept saying "What's his name again?" and "Who's that?" Quick googling got us a lot of "Oh, yeah! Now I remember!" moments and we were ready.

Although I still don't know the name of the guy the Lord of Light keeps resuscitating. We just call him "Eyepatch Lad."

And I should note for the record that when Dany showed up with two dragons last season to rescue Jon, I said on the couch, in the moment: "That's one dragon too many. They're going to kill one of them, and turn him into a zombie dragon." Yes, I called it, and I'm taking credit for doing so out of sheer pride.

But I'm no genius, and am not claiming to be. How I guessed that is because I've read a lot of comic books where two teams face off. So I'm familiar with writers having to deal with the problem of one team being far more powerful than the other. For drama to take place, that imbalance has to be corrected. One of my long-time habits as a comics reader is sizing up the two teams about to fight, figuring out who would win without writer fiat, and then figuring out what the fiat will be to keep the stronger team from winning on Page Two. As I've gotten older, I've guessed right more often than wrong.

Dany's (formerly) unstoppable dragons meant the good guys could win from the air without suffering a single casualty. (Or as we comics fans like to say about who would win any potential Marvel vs. DC match-up: "Superman. WIth heat vision. From orbit." Unless you deal with the Superman problem, the Justice League always wins. Or in this case, the dragon problem. The easiest way out for a writer is to turn the most powerful character against his own team, which is what usually happens in comics, because it only changes one element without creating tons of unintended consequences. (In early Avengers, Hulk or Thor would be hypnotized or Space Phantomed into turning against the other Avengers. As recently as Jonathan Hickman's Builders saga, the Builders turned Hulk against his teammates. End result: Stalemate.) So to my comic-book mind, the easiest way to balance the scales was for the one of the dragons to change teams, and lo, Dany brought an extra one, which was unnecessary and the story didn't explain. (Why two? Why not just the one needed, or all three to overpower the foe? Two was an odd number, and it stuck out for me.) So the instant I saw the second dragon (but not a third one), it all clicked into place.

I noticed something else that I bet everyone here noticed as well, which was how obvious the Redshirts were on Jon's mission to capture a wight. There were six important characters on the mission: Jon, Tormund, The Hound, Sir Jorah, Gendry and Eyepatch Lad. Since they were all bundled up, it was hard to tell who was who.and every time a zombie bear or something would kill one of them, I'd have my heart in my mouth until I could count all the Names again. And sure enough, after every death the top five were all seen briefly (Gendry had been sent to Eastwick, so he was safe). At the end, there were the Big Five and Guy Who Didn't Have a Name, so I think we all knew who was going to end up zombie chow.

Another thing I noticed was how well written the last episode of Season 7 was. Especially the Littlefinger trial. The dialogue just sparkled, and we could almost see Baelish's mind racing from gambit to gambit, as he acted them out in real time. And Sansa's prosecution was relentless -- repeating phrases like a drumbeat of doom. ("And still you betrayed her." and "Do you deny it?") It was a joy to watch a second time, when I wasn't worried about What Happens Next. I plan to watch "The Battle of the Bastards" again when I have time, to re-enjoy that one in the same manner.

As for the new episode, it was really rewarding. For one thing, elements that might have been stretched out for multiple episodes were introduced, and done. For example, in earlier stretches of the show it's easy to imagine Samwell being delayed from telling Jon his true history by one inconvenient coincidence after another. Not now, with only five episodes left! Samwell finds Jon immediately and tells him, BOOM.

As support for that point, note how many long delayed reunions happened in this episode. Some were so old that I had to remind myself that the characters had actually met before! For example:

  • Brienne ran into The Hound for the first time since she stabbed him and left him for dead.
  • Arya ran into The Hound for the first time since she robbed him and left him for dead.
  • Jon reunites with Arya and Bran for the first time since -- what, the first season?
  • Jon and Theon have a talk for the first time since he betrayed the Starks way back when.
  • Samwell met Danaeris for the first time, where the truth about his father and brother comes out..
  • Jaime laid eyes on Bran for the first time since he pushed him out a window way back in episode 1.1!
  • Theon rescued Yara -- the first time they'd met since he ran out on her.

And so forth. All these long-delayed meetings are being addressed fast and furiously, as the story is compressed to fit the short season, and the whole damn cast is going to Winterfell. You'll get no complaints from me, as some of these confrontations have been seven years in the making.

Three other observations:

  1. Everybody -- well, Jon and Tyrion -- keep telling Dany how exceptional she is, but to me she seems to be the same sort of tyrant we're used to, only with some different ideas about the arrangement of the social order -- which she achieves by blunt, deadly force. I don't see it. Jon is the true exception, as he was willing to give up his throne to protect his people. That sort of selflessness is unheard of in this world. As the show points out, Dany wouldn't have done that, because she has an outsize sense of entitlement, which Jon doesn't have.
  2. For the smartest guy in Westeros, Tyrian is suddenly making a lot of bad calls. Is it just coincidence that the writers didn't realize they were doing? Or is part of the plot? I mean, it's idiotic to think Cersei will keep her word to help against the White Walkers, but Tyrion said TWICE in the episode that she was on the way. I chuckled aloud when Sansa said, "And I used to think you were the cleverest man in Westeros." Yeah,what's up with that?
  3. Boy, there sure were a lot of Starks! I remember early on thinking, "Wow! At the rate they're killing Starks, there won't be any left!" But even now, after seven years of bloodletting, there are still five(ish): Jon, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Theon. They can still field a basketball team. We've lost almost as many: Ned, Catelyn, Robb and Rickard. Of course Theon was a Greyjoy and Jon, it turns out, is a nephew with the last name Targaryen. Still, it's a lot of Starks.

Well, as you can see, I can talk about this stuff all day. But I'll shut up and give someone else the mic.

I don't know if you're aware of this, Cap, but there's a long-running theory among book fans that Dany will ultimately prove to be the "Big Bad" of the series.  With each passing novel she's become more and more arrogant, more and more entitled and more and more willing to buy into her own myth.

We don't know yet how accurate that theory will prove to be, but this episode certainly seemed to be leaning into it, with multiple characters questioning Dany's leadership skills (and questioning Jon's judgement in trusting her.)  It's one thing to have a polarizing figure like Sansa challenging her, but when you have beloved fan-favorite characters like Sam, Lyanna Mormont and even Arya challenging her, it really does feel like the producers want us to start seeing The Khaleesi in a less-positive light.

Captain Comics said:

  1. Everybody -- well, Jon and Tyrion -- keep telling Dany how exceptional she is, but to me she seems to be the same sort of tyrant we're used to, only with some different ideas about the arrangement of the social order -- which she achieves by blunt, deadly force. I don't see it. Jon is the true exception, as he was willing to give up his throne to protect his people. That sort of selflessness is unheard of in this world. As the show points out, Dany wouldn't have done that, because she has an outsize sense of entitlement, which Jon doesn't have.
  2. For the smartest guy in Westeros, Tyrian is suddenly making a lot of bad calls. Is it just coincidence that the writers didn't realize they were doing? Or is part of the plot? I mean, it's idiotic to think Cersei will keep her word to help against the White Walkers, but Tyrion said TWICE in the episode that she was on the way. I chuckled aloud when Sansa said, "And I used to think you were the cleverest man in Westeros." Yeah,what's up with that?
  3. Boy, there sure were a lot of Starks! I remember early on thinking, "Wow! At the rate they're killing Starks, there won't be any left!" But even now, after seven years of bloodletting, there are still five(ish): Jon, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Theon. They can still field a basketball team. We've lost almost as many: Ned, Catelyn, Robb and Rickard. Of course Theon was a Greyjoy and Jon, it turns out, is a nephew with the last name Targaryen. Still, it's a lot of Starks.

Well, as you can see, I can talk about this stuff all day. But I'll shut up and give someone else the mic.

Baron John Dalberg-Acton would like a word with Dany....

KSwolf said:

I don't know if you're aware of this, Cap, but there's a long-running theory among book fans that Dany will ultimately prove to be the "Big Bad" of the series.  With each passing novel she's become more and more arrogant, more and more entitled and more and more willing to buy into her own myth.

We don't know yet how accurate that theory will prove to be, but this episode certainly seemed to be leaning into it, with multiple characters questioning Dany's leadership skills (and questioning Jon's judgement in trusting her.)  It's one thing to have a polarizing figure like Sansa challenging her, but when you have beloved fan-favorite characters like Sam, Lyanna Mormont and even Arya challenging her, it really does feel like the producers want us to start seeing The Khaleesi in a less-positive light.

Well, Daenerys continues to look more villainous this episode; displaying jealousy, mistrust or paranoia with pretty much every person she interacts with.  I think there's a good chance that she's betraying Jon and/ or the Starks before the end of the season.

JD DeLuzio said:

Baron John Dalberg-Acton would like a word with Dany....

KSwolf said:

I don't know if you're aware of this, Cap, but there's a long-running theory among book fans that Dany will ultimately prove to be the "Big Bad" of the series.  With each passing novel she's become more and more arrogant, more and more entitled and more and more willing to buy into her own myth.

We don't know yet how accurate that theory will prove to be, but this episode certainly seemed to be leaning into it, with multiple characters questioning Dany's leadership skills (and questioning Jon's judgement in trusting her.)  It's one thing to have a polarizing figure like Sansa challenging her, but when you have beloved fan-favorite characters like Sam, Lyanna Mormont and even Arya challenging her, it really does feel like the producers want us to start seeing The Khaleesi in a less-positive light.

Tonight's episode looks like it's shaping up to contain a huge battle (presumably with a pretty high body count) so I'm getting in my "death pool" predictions now.

Theon Greyjoy.  He made amends with Sansa at the end of season five, with Jon at the end of season seven, and seemingly with Bran last week.  The only living Stark that we haven't yet seen him make amends with is Arya (although the fact that she didn't kill him last week would seem to imply that she's made her peace with him as well.)  Now that he's been accepted back in his adpotive home of Winterfell, it feels like his story has come full circle.  Dying to protect Bran from the White Walkers would be a fitting end for his redemption arc.

Brienne of Tarth.  Getting knighted last week really does feel like the end of her arc.  Sacrificing herself to save Jaime might be the thing that pushes "The Kingslayer" to the end of his redemption story when he finally decides to rid the world of Cersei once and for all.  (There's no way Jaime's story ends without a final confrontation with his twin.)

Podrick Payne.  Dies fighting alongside Ser Brienne -- ever the faithful squire to the end.

Ser Jorah Mormont.  Yet another one of this saga's redemption tales that feels like it's reached its natural conclusion.  Dany's accepted him back into the fold, his only remaining biological relative has accepted him back as well, and he himself has finally accepted the fact that Dany's never going to see him as a romantic partner.  It doesn't seem like he has any real story left to tell.

Ghost.  Gotta save that CGI budget for those damn dragons.  They can't afford to be digitally enlarging wolves as well (seriously, that's the reason they gave for killing off Summer and Shaggy Dog so unceremoniously in past seasons.)

Lord Beric Dondarrion.  His book counterpart died two novels ago.  The only reason I can fathom that the show has kept him around this long is so that he can sacrifice himself while passing on his Lord of Light resurrections to another character -- probably the Hound.

"Dolorous" Edd Tollett.  Since the Night's Watch no longer appears to have any function left, it seems fitting that the only remaining, recurring member of the group (other than Sam, of course) should die along with the Brotherhood itself.

Sandor "The Hound" Clegane (although he'll get better)  As I said above, I think he'll die only to get resurrected by Beric Dondarrion.  In the novels, Beric finally dies for good so that another character could be resurrected in his place.  Since there's no way that the show's bringing back that particular book character, it just makes sense that Dondarrion with sacrifice himself for the Hound instead.  Much like Jaime, I can't see Sandor's story concluding without a return to King's Landing for a final confrontation with his hated sibling.

I originally had either Grey Worm or Missandei on the list, but I've decided that they'll live for at least a few  more episodes.  After all, we've got to have at least  a couple of Dany's loyalists around to react once she goes full "Mad Queen".

"The Long Night"

The series has a reputation for being dark. I just never thought of that quite so literally.

However, it proved an intense episode, a certain "David and Goliath"-type scene ranks among GofT's best kills, and, in all fairness, it will be a <i>little</i> easier now to track the cast for the final episodes.

The previous episode was terrific, virtually all character bits. That’s what peak TV can do with 8 seasons.

And clearly they needed to save FX for this one! Dragon dogfights, zombie movie terror, war movie tropes ... lots going on here. And good calls, KSWolf! You got a lot right!

Addendum.

I just wanted to add that although I'm OK with Theon's redemption arc, he had a lot to answer for, and I'm not sure I'd have been so forgiving if I was Jon and Bran. He killed two innocent orphans, he tried to kill Bran and Rickon, his actions led to Rickon's death, he invaded Winterfell (and Jon had to fight the Battle of the Bastards to get it back), he killed the master-at-arms that taught the Stark kids how to fight ... man, his list of sins is long and dark.

And yet he is deemed a "good man" at the end, but female characters like Melisandre aren't given the time of day, despite her important contributions to the Battle of Winterfell. Ser Davos still wanted to execute her. It bugs me that men like Theon and Jamie Lannister are given redemption arcs, but "bad" women remain bad no matter what they do.

Getting back to episode 8.3, if you thought it was hard to actually see what was going on half the time, you're not alone. Normally I just write off that sort of thing to my aging vision, but according to the Internet it was a universal complaint. One story I read gave instruction on how to change the settings on your TV to see it better.

Not dark but still hard to understand: The dragon battles. I couldn't tell one dragon from another, I was disoriented by the fog/smoke and I just couldn't tell who was doing what to whom. Did both living dragons make it out alive? I didn't see a dramatic death scene, so I'm guessing yes. (Although Jon's dragon seemed badly injured.)

I loved it that once again the show played against expectation, and it was Arya who stopped the Night King, not Jon. In retrospect, I should have guessed. They spent some time making sure we were familiar with her two-part weapon, we were told that Eyepatch Lad Beric was kept alive for a purpose (and he saved Arya's life), and so forth. Then there's her understanding of Death, thanks to the House of Black and White, and her mantra of "Not today." The pieces were all there, but I didn't put them together.

One thing I did understand clearly is that Jon was TRYING to get to Bran, but was blocked by the Zombie Dragon. He tried every which way, and nearly got killed a couple of times. That dragon wasn't going to let him pass. For some reason, the cinematography was very clear in that sequence.

Is Bran ever going to do anything useful, or is he just going to sit there looking creepy for the rest of the series? He sure didn't do anything useful in the Battle of Winterfell, except watch a lot of people die protecting him.

I will say that the death toll was less than I expected. KSWolf's projections above were entirely reasonable and well thought out. But somehow we still have all the major players.

But we don't have the Big Bad. Yes, Cersei is as evil as hell and has a big army and is a huge threat to the survivors, but it all seems pretty tame after the Battle of Life Against Death. I guess they'll spruce it up somehow ...

... probably by having Danaerys turn on the Starks. I think they're building to that. Her father was the Mad King, after all, and mental illness can be genetic. It would be weird if at the end it was everyone against the Targaryen dynasty instead of everyone against Cersei. But it would be sort of full-circle storyteling, wouldn't it?

Wow, there's the bloodbath of major characters we were expecting at the Battle of Winterfell. Who'd we lose?

  • The Hound
  • The Mountain
  • Varys
  • Euron Greyjoy
  • The Golden Company
  • The Lannister Army
  • Qyburn
  • Jaime Lannister
  • Cersei Lannister (probably)

Did I miss any? I suspect the Lannister twins are really dead, as that was a good, lyrical death for the two to die together. However, there was the prophecy that Cersei would die at the hand of a younger brother, either Tyrion or Jaime (who is 3 seconds younger). So it's possible she may crawl from the ashes and be killed by Tyrion. But that would be a terrible distraction in the final episode, which has a lot of ground to cover as it is.

Speaking of which, Dany has taken the heel turn I've been expecting, and there's only one episode for everyone to re-align and end the story. Jon and Tyrion are no doubt going to fall on the anti-Dany side, but I don't have any other predictions.

With this season so seemingly rushed, there's not enough groundwork established to make predictions. Literally anything could happen, because there hasn't been enough story to disallow much. I don't know why HBO decided to cut this season to six episodes, but it could have easily filled twice that number, and we still wouldn't use up all the potential story. And 12 episodes would make us feel less rushed.

Speaking of Tyrion, when was the last time the once Smartest Man in Westeros made a good decision? His constant blunders have alienated him from Dany, who is also without Missandei and Ser Jorah. And with Jon refusing to continue a sexual relationship, there's no one to temper her worst instincts. Cersei really had no idea what hell she was unleashing by killing Missandei. (Of course, even if she did, she might have done it anyway -- and fled sooner.)

I don't think the story will simply end with another member of a Great House on the throne, ready to make all the same mistakes of his/her predecessors. (Isn't the subtextual story the idea that power games by the elite serves no purpose but to perpetuate an imperfect system where little people suffer?) But I guess it could happen, so I was trying to figure out who was left of the Great Houses.

CROWNLANDS

Castle: Red Keep

Surviving royalty: Daenerys Targaryen (Queen of Westeros, presumably)

 

DORNE

Castle: Sunspear

Surviving Royalty: None. Ellaria Sand murdered the last of the Martells, but her rule was short-lived, as she was captured by the Lannisters and is presumably dead.  Ruler unknown.

 

IRON ISLANDS

Castle: The Pyke

Surviving royalty: Yara Greyjoy

 

THE NORTH

Castle: Winterfell

Surviving royalty: Jon Snow (Warden of the North), Sansa Stark (Lady of Winterfell), Arya Stark, Bran Stark (Three-Eyed Raven)

 

THE REACH

Castle: Highgarden

Suviving royalty: None.  Cersei executed the last of the Martell line, Lady Orlenna. Ruler unknown, although Tyrion has promised Highgarden to Bronn.

 

RIVERLANDS

Castle: Riverrun

Surviving royalty: Edmure Tully (last seen held prisoner by the Lannisters)

 

THE STORMLANDS

Castle: Storm's End

Surviving royalty: Gendry Baratheon (a bastard recently promoted to full Baratheon by Danerys)

 

VALE OF ARRYN

Castle: The Eyrie

Surviving royalty: Robert Arryn (the little brat once under Baelish's tutelage)

 

WESTERLANDS

Castle: Casterly Rock

Surviving royalty: Tyrion Lannister

Not many left, eh? And I imagine that number will be whittled down even further next Sunday.

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