Monday, August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 7 - The Wolf and the Dragon (Grudges)

Old grudges can carry you a long way. Sometimes, they fuel an inner fire that keeps you going, without which you would have long stopped caring and simply laid to rest or, you know, do something useful with your life. Other times, they’re roadblocks, things you have to carefully navigate around else you break your foot and stumble over them. Ask the Brackens and the Blackwoods if you don’t believe me. There’s the kind of grudges that take you down like millstones around your necks, yet you can’t let go. And finally, triumphantly, there’s the kind of grudges you overcome, to actually do something useful, like rescuing the world. This episode showcases something of everything.

We saw this in Winterfell. Petyr Baelish, the arch-maester of keeping and honing an old grudge, thought that Sansa and Arya would keep their mutual grudge in a similarly good shape as he did with his. While Sansa certainly isn’t glad that Jon didn’t consult her, he was mistaken on that part. While both sisters definitely have their problems with each other and are as compatible as, let’s say, ice and fire (see what I did there?), in the end, they remember that the lone wolf dies while the pack survives. They conveniently forget that she who passes the sentence also swings the sword, but well, let’s call it a group effort there and be done with it.

My criticism from last week still stands, though: the whole plotline is arranged with a maximum of obfuscation only for the viewer. The two sisters conspired with each other, but the target was less Littlefinger than us. They even took in Bran, which stacks the deck against Baelish in an unimaginable way to deliver a payoff where he has no chance left. Said payoff was a dizzying array of grudges resolved: the death of Eddard, the letter to Lysa, the start of the War of the Five Kings, the murder of Lysa, the marriage to Ramsay, the marriage to Joffrey, all of it resolved in a rollercoaster of emotions. It leaves a bit of a galling taste in the mouth, however, because the show tries to bullshit me in a rather obvious way. Still, it provided a fairly logic and satisfying conclusion, so I repeat Jon’s encounter with Theon here and forgive all I can forgive.

Speaking of Theon and Jon, their meeting was powerful as well. Things that had hung unspoken in the air for seasons on end were finally said out loud, and both parties were mature about it. Theon knew he was beyond the pale, and Jon knew it was not his place to give absolution yet he told Theon what he needed to hear: you don’t need to choose between being Greyjoy and Stark, you can be both. If that’s not grounds for hope that after everything is said and done, the Iron Islands and the North will not be at each other’s throats again, I don’t know what will. The grudges the Starks bear against Theon are left behind, forgiven, but not forgotten.

Equally left behind are all grudges between Targaryen and Stark. No one cares anymore about Robert’s Rebellion and who might have killed whose relative. Wolf and Dragon are looking forward now, to a new world – provided they can save the old from destruction by the army of the dead.
Alas, not everyone is as forward looking. The Grudgeholer-in-Chief, Cersei Lannister, has agreed to a giant meeting, but only in hopes of getting herself a major pause of breath in the “Wars to come”, as the catchphrase goes. She’s rather shocked when the gambit of going beyond the Wall to procure a whight pays off spectacularly. Cersei, visibly shaken, can only listen to Jon’s explanation of how to kill them. No one is left as an unbeliever, and Euron Greyjoy leverages this new status quo to pull off a rather convincing plot: that he’s shipping the Golden Company from Essos to bolster Lannister forces while pretending to hide on the Iron Islands from the gathering storm.

Cersei believes, yes, but the Iron Throne remains hers, and hers alone. She cannot let this go. So when Tyrion meets with her and tries to defuse all the grudges she’s holding by appealing to the fact that other people might bear some as well and are perfectly able to go beyond them, she relents only on the surface, ironically by telling the truth: the only thing that matters is her family, and nothing else. She doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the world, she wants to save herself, Jaime and the unborn child they have. Tyrion should have listened more closely, because to try to leverage exact this thinking into her giving Daenerys and Jon all they want was…surprisingly successful, to say the least.

Cersei is quick to grasp an important thing: even after the war, Daenerys and Jon won’t like her one bit, and Jon’s confession that he is now a sworn man of Dany’s short-circuited her first plot – to force him to pledge neutrality while Dany bled her forces in the north – before Tyrion gives her the out for a second one. Jon’s argument for why he told the truth, of course, rings all the more true: if people lie to each other all the time and betray each other, nursing old grudges and creating new ones, how should there ever be peace? Cersei proves him right. Any scheme she was prepared to agree to was a ruse, to take up arms again after it had run its course. What Tyrion and Dany want from Jon was to do the same. It’s kind of surprising Jon didn’t say that he wanted to “break the wheel”, because that’s exactly what he was doing, but then, Jon was never a man for words until they were really personal (see: Greyjoy, Theon).

At least, Cersei was able to soften up on her “no one walks away from me”-stance. The almost total success of Jon’s plan to capture an actual zombie led to Jaime being convinced in a way that he can’t accept Cersei’s continued turning of the wheel. When she actually threatens to let Gregor kill him, Jaime repeats the desperate maneuver of his brother: If you’re truly thinking that, then kill me. And as it happens, Tyrion was also right about Cersei having a rest of a heart in her. Her father’s toxic education ruined a lot in her, but, to quote Luke Skywalker: There is still good in you. Not much, granted, but it might just be enough to throw the Emperor down the shaft.

Other persons are bearing grudges as well. Sandor Clegane informs his zombified brother that there is a giant unpaid debt that awaits payday, and if zombies could feel fear, I guess we would have seen it in that dead eyes of his. This remains to be resolved, and as Tyrion aptly notes, Gregor is hardly guilty of only hurting Sandor, so the grudges of a lot of dead people with the Mountain that Rides would be resolved as well.

The episode closed with the longest-held grudge of them all resolved. The Night King, seething in resentment for some 8000 years, finally got one up over Brandon Stark, the Builder, and used his newly reanimated dragon to burn down the wall, so that an army of dead could overrun the lands of the living. That’s a wheel still awaiting to be broken.

As a conclusion on the whole season, I have to say, I’m very satisfied. As always, the production and the acting were superb throughout, and in this season, there was nothing comparable to the letdowns of certain plotlines in season 5 and 6. Season 7 definitely ranks among the best the show ever was, if not the best of all of them. The writing was usually on point, themes well developed, character arcs meshed together and resolved skillfully.

At times this involved in some hiccups for over-convenient storytelling, but even the greatest pieces of art include things like this. I’m willing to absolutely look past this to enjoy what is definitely some of the finest stuff on television right now.

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