Winter has officially come, fellow Game of Thrones fans! As the penultimate season came to a close, we’ve been left with so much to talk about—more than I could ever cover on my own. So I enlisted the help of some amazingly articulate and passionate members of the NGN Family to talk about the finale and the season as a whole. Naturally, we all had so many feelings that one post can’t contain them all, so our entire roundtable discussion will be posted as a series, with the first part available today and a new portion posted every day for the rest of this week.
Today’s segment will cover our general thoughts on the finale and one of its centerpiece scenes: the Dragon Pit.
Without further ado, let the discussion begin!
Let’s start fairly general: What was your overall opinion of this episode? Did you love it, or did it leave you underwhelmed? Did it live up to the incredible amounts of hype surrounding it?
Katie: Although this wasn’t my favorite Game of Thrones finale (That goes to last season’s epic ending.) or my favorite episode of the season (I still can’t stop thinking about “The Spoils of War.”), I still really enjoyed it—and I have come to appreciate it even more as I rewatch certain scenes and see the nuances different actors brought to their time on screen. Overall, it did exactly what a penultimate season finale should do: It set the table and raised the stakes for the final season while still containing some genuinely shocking, compelling, and moving moments of its own.
Shauna: I enjoyed it, but it didn’t quite have the weight of previous finales for me. I will admit that I had read spoilers since I have zero self control, so nothing here was shocking or surprising, but it was still enjoyable to watch it play out on screen. At the same time though, this finale felt very much like a retread of last season’s finale—another big revelation about Jon (one which they actually gave away two episodes ago), and the dead inching (ok now I guess they are marching) closer. When all was said and done, the way it was framed made it feel like there wasn’t much progress this season, even though there was. I am also having a really hard time caring about Jon being the true heir to the Iron Throne, because I don’t feel like Jon is going to care. With the kingdom so bruised and battered it just doesn’t seem all that important anymore, and I think that made the reveal land with a bit of a thud.
Maii: It was not as amazing as the Season 6 finale, but it was much better than I expected. It had a lot of weird choices, but I like the set ups of the episode. I will say the thing that angered me the most was “Robert’s Rebellion was built on a lie.” No it was not. It was brought by centuries of incompetent ruling by the Targaryens and the fact that in 300 years Westeros had like 7 civil wars and a lot of tyrants. What Aerys did to Rickard and Brandon Stark was not a lie, they were wrongfully executed without judiciary process. He then asked for Robert and Ned’s heads, which is what brought the start of Robert’s Rebellion. I hate Robert, but in this instance he was in the right. Not only was the king asking for his head, but Rhaegar leaving with Lyanna was a slight against his family and the Starks.
Lyanna and Rhaegar are not a romance, they are a tragedy. He was a grown man with a family who apparently didn’t seem to care about anyone except for a prophecy, and Lyanna was a 16-year-old girl who died a million miles from her home. And she’d never name her kid Aegon, because there was already another Aegon, and it would have been considered a slight even if Elia and Aegon had already been killed. And no, Jon will not care about being the heir; Dany will care, but Jon just wants to be in Winterfell with his siblings/cousins.
Heather: I have kind of contradictory feelings about the finale. On one hand, the political maneuvering is my primary interest on the show, and there was a lot of that and some great character moments in this episode. I enjoyed watching it from start to finish (which surprised me because I’m not a fan of extended-length episodes). On the other hand, it’s not one I can think about too hard as far as plot movement or it falls apart for me. Everyone did an excellent job with the material they were given, but there were too many things that felt like twists for the sake of twists. That will never be my favorite method of storytelling and it brought my overall feelings toward this episode down a little.
Lizzie: I think we’re all in agreement here so far; it was a good episode, but it wasn’t the best Game of Thrones episode ever, or even the best finale. That being said, it did what it had to do and it moved the storyline to where we knew the storyline had to go, while still giving us a few conversations that amused us (The Hound and Brienne, Tyrion and Bronn), some long-awaited moments (bye Littlefinger, Jaime finally leaving Cersei) and, for me, personally, a chance for my OTP to breathe the same air (JAIME AND BRIENNE FOREVER), so I can’t say it was bad.
Gissane: I’m probably the only person who believed that this finale was the best to date. There were a number of great moments that I was waiting for with no expectations in regards to how they’d be executed, so getting those scenes alone was incredibly satisfying.
Sarah: I thought it was a great episode, but it wasn’t my favorite finale I’ve seen for Game of Thrones by far. The reveal about Jon would have been better if the hints hadn’t been blatantly and obviously dropped throughout the season after the revelation in last year’s finale. Outside of those sore spots, I loved seeing Sansa and Arya take down Littlefinger together, Jamie finally riding away from Cersei, and the wight dragon burning down the Wall. The war of the dead is finally here, and I can’t wait to see how it picks up in the last season.
Dalissa: I am in the camp of ‘not my favorite finale,’ but that is true for me of nearly all the seasons. I have always been a greater fan of the penultimate episodes because they tend to be the ‘consequence’ episode for the season we are in, and then the finales have gone on to be more of a ‘set up’ for the season to come. I think to a large degree this episode delivered on that score. For my money, no line in the history of the show stood out more than when Cersei tells Ned “When you play the Game of Thrones you win, or you die. There is no middle ground.” It was Season 1’s penultimate episode, and it remains the one truth of the show. I agree with Heather that this episode gave us a good amount of maneuvering, which is one of my favorite aspects of Game of Thrones, and I found the coming together of the different sides of the realm and putting all the players in a scene together was something I didn’t realize I wanted until it happened. And key scenes were delivered in spades, Littlefinger’s comeuppance being my favorite not simply because I’ve been living for him to be outmaneuvered, but because after betraying Ned in Season 1, having the Stark daughters be the cause of his downfall was truly satisfying. Especially because their journeys to that moment were so different. While I didn’t hate the sequence, I am never a fan of voice over for plot movement/discovery and agree with most here that it was anticlimactic because of the crumbs that had been dropped earlier in the season. Overall though, I enjoyed the interpersonal exchanges to the point that my complaints are minor and I am left eagerly awaiting the final season.
The centerpiece of this finale was the Dragon Pit meeting, which allowed so many characters to descend upon King’s Landing and interact in some combinations we’ve been waiting years to see or see again. Out of all the character interactions surrounding this meeting, which were your favorites?
Katie: Initially, the Dragon Pit was a scene that I actually found a little underwhelming. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but as I was watching it, I thought that there were so many great character dynamics to play with that it was a bit of a letdown for it to all feel so formal and restrained. However, I’ve come to appreciate the reality of that tone more as time has gone on. This scene was about tension—not about catharsis. It was about putting all these people with deep and complex relationships together and purposely not letting them act as they would if they were alone with each other—and that allowed a bunch of brilliant actors to do some stunning work with little to no dialogue.
I might be showing my Brienne bias here, but two of my favorite character moments revolved around her. Seeing her reunite with the Hound and come to a kind of grudging friendship or at least mutual understanding of their shared desire to protect Arya was lovely. And then, of course, few things in this episode made me more excited than seeing her and Jaime share the screen again. I thought it was noteworthy that they were featured in that brilliant opening montage of looks between characters with so much history together, highlighting that their reunion ranked right up there with Cersei and Tyrion’s, the Clegane Brothers’, and Euron and Theon’s. And adding Cersei into that dynamic made it all even better. One of the most interesting and nuanced beats of the entire Dragon Pit meeting was that short sequence of looks between Jaime, Brienne, and Cersei, creating this incredible tension all without any of them saying anything. I also found it interesting that Jaime and Brienne were basically the only people to have a moment in this scene that was without restraint. When Brienne told him to “fuck loyalty” in front of basically everyone and dared to angrily grab his arm and force him to face her, it spoke to a kind of intimacy that no other characters allowed themselves to display in this very formal situation. And upon watching that scene (too) many times, I was struck by how perfectly Nikolaj Coster-Waldau played Jaime’s reaction to such unexpected openness and candor from Brienne and how perfectly Lena Headey played Cersei’s understanding of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship. When he looks back to see the death daggers she’s giving them with her eyes, the panic in his expression is palpable just for a moment before he puts on a mask of formality, brushing Brienne off out of fear of what his sister would do to both of them—but especially Brienne—if he showed any kind of softness or even openness toward her. It was a much shorter and less intimate moment than I’d hoped for between them, but it still had plenty of depth for me to think about for the next year and then some until they reunite once more.
Shauna: My favorite interactions were basically anything with Brienne. Brienne and the Hound talking about Ayra, Brienne and Jamie reuniting…Basically there just wasn’t enough Brienne this season. I don’t really have much to say here because while we got some good moments, It was not a highlight for me.
Maii: Brienne and Jaime looking at each other for 5 seconds and then talking for 2 seconds was everything to me.. I just love how offended he looked when she said “Fuck Loyalty;” he was like who are you and what have you done with my Brienne? But on a serious note, I loved the Podrick/Bronn/Tyrion reunion; it was hilarious. Also Sandor/Brienne being proud of their murder daughter Arya.
This wasn’t truly a part of the Dragon Pit meeting, but my favorite part of the King’s Landing scene was the conversation between Jon and Theon. These two don’t like each other; they have never liked each other, as they were always competing in their childhood. Both of them were outside of the Starks, one being a bastard and the other a hostage. But here’s the thing, they’re both very similar characters, for both of them Ned Stark was their father and they see him as such. They both loved Robb so much; it’s why Jon couldn’t forgive him, and it’s why that scene earlier in the season is so important. Because Theon did a lot of horrible things, but most of all he betrayed Robb and yet all that is nothing compared to the fact that he saved Sansa. Saving Sansa is more important to Jon than any of the things Theon did. Because that’s how much Jon loves the Starks.
This scene also has two interesting things, the first is obviously the foreshadowing of Jon learning about his heritage. (He tells Theon he can be both a Greyjoy and a Stark, and well, D&D aren’t great at being subtle.) The other gives more fodder for the idea that Jon is playing the long game. There’s a lot of clues in the season that Jon isn’t being entirely truthful to the Dragonstone crew. And this is one of the biggest hints.
Theon: Every step you’d take was always the right step.
Jon: It’s not. It may seem that way from the outside, but I promise you it’s not true. I’ve done plenty of things that I regret.
Theon: Not compared to me, you haven’t.
Jon: No, not compared to you. […] Our father was more of a father to you than yours ever was. And you betrayed him, betrayed his memory.
From the outside it looks like Jon is committing EXACTLY the same mistakes that Robb and Ned made; he’s been viewed as a “Northern Fool” and he might just be that, but I have a feeling there’s more to this story. Giving up the North and Winterfell to a foreign invader (because no matter if she’s a good ruler or not she IS a foreign invader) is a betrayal to the Starks, and especially to Ned’s memory. Ned who lost his father, brother, and sister because of the Targaryens. Season 7 had horrible pacing, but the scenes they managed to show were important. So why would we get the scene of Sansa telling Jon not to be like Ned and Robb if that was exactly what he was going to do?
Yes, he’s heard good things about Dany, but he’s also been privy to not-so-great things, like her going against her advisors and having to be convinced not to burn cities to the ground. So I think he’s doing his best to protect his family and the North. Book!Jon has been known to be ruthless in the name of the greater good/his family, so I definitely think there’s more to this than just Jon being out of character and giving up the North.
Heather: There were so many I loved, it’s hard to narrow them down. I’ve always loved Tyrion, Pod, and Bronn’s friendship, and I especially loved Bronn and Tyrion’s discussion about his motivations. Bronn is such an interesting character to me while also potentially being one of the least loyal. He clearly cares about the Lannister brothers, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be on their side in the end. I also have to pick Brienne’s two reunions. Her grudging respect for and potential friendship with The Hound was a delight to me in every way. They were both so proud of the fighter Arya has become, and it was cute to see. Finally, my very predictable favorite was Brienne and Jaime’s reunion. It wasn’t the one I wanted for them at all, but Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie do so much with their faces and I could watch that forever. Add in the Cersei-induced tension, and I was absolutely riveted. I hated to see Jaime push Brienne away and I hated her hurt face even more, but there was so much intimacy in Brienne physically grabbing Jaime and turning him to look at her. People don’t touch each other a lot in Westeros, at least not in a non-sexual way. It wasn’t a gentle touch by any means, but it spoke to a deeper familiarity and connection between the two that everyone could see.
Lizzie: I’m not even going to pretend my answer has anything to do with other people but Jaime and Brienne; everyone has gone on about other things quite eloquently, so forgive me if I just gush about that moment of Cersei looking at Jaime looking at Brienne, and especially, the understanding in both Jaime and Cersei’s faces. Cersei knows what Brienne means to Jaime, he knows Cersei knows, and yet Brienne is so perfectly clueless to how charged the moment is. Or, not perfectly clueless, she realizes the significance, but since she’s Brienne, she doesn’t get the depth of Jaime’s feelings, or Cersei’s disdain. If she did, she might not have approached Jaime a moment later, urging him to “Fuck Loyalty.”
My favorite part about this whole thing, the tiny moments that tell such a big story, is how the actors are so good at playing up the nuances of the relationships. Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau understand Jaime and Brienne in such a deep level that they don’t even need to look at each other, or be in the same scene, for you to feel the depth of the love they have for each other. In fact, you don’t even need for them to use the word “love,” and they might not be able to—you just get it. The same goes for Lena Headey in the few instances she’s had to react to this thing she sees in Jaime, this pure thing she didn’t expect of him and she certainly doesn’t approve of.
And yes, I do think Brienne’s words are what Jaime needed—not because he loves her or because he wants to make her proud, though he does, but because she always thinks he can do what everyone else considers unthinkable for him: be a hero, or at least try. And don’t we all need one person to believe in us?
Gissane: I appreciated the scene for the sake of seeing everyone in the same area. It was meant to be taken seriously, but I couldn’t take it as so just because there were a number of moments that could’ve been joked about: “Daenerys shows up five minutes late with Starbucks.” Overall, I have to echo everyone else’s thoughts about Brienne and the Hound and Brienne and Jaime. And with the above comment, Lena Headey’s expressions were top notch. There were so many moments where I genuinely feared her.
Dalissa: So for me, the four things I loved in no particular order were the Hound and Brienne, for all the reasons stated above. In the most warped of ways they were like two proud parents who’d watch their little girl grow into a woman. The double-take smile in response to the Hound saying, “It won’t be me” was priceless and my favorite moment from her the whole episode, not only for its humor, but because it reveals a respect that Brienne has spent a lifetime searching for and earning as a woman within the realm who doesn’t conform. Ayra’s lack of conformity being admired is a glimpse towards change she has fought and sacrificed so much for. Cersei’s actions/reactions/lack thereof in both her annoyance that Dany is late and her refusal to react/dignify her dragon arrival while all the men in Westeros stand in awe was priceless. And it is emblematic of why even though Cersei is literally the worst person ever, I am riveted by her every time she is on screen. Cersei and Tyrion’s reunion while not in the Pit, was the scene I was waiting for all season. It delivered for me, because I think, of the many faces Cersei wears, her truest self, her vulnerability, has only ever been revealed to Tyrion. Not even Jaime gets to see her that way because unlike Tyrion, she’s in control of Jamie or working to keep control of him. You see it in their exchange when she blames him for her children’s deaths as she tries to regain her facade of her seat on the throne by yelling over him “I will not hear you,” but in reality, she’s a broken woman clinging to revenge and power as her only purpose in life. It is a rare moment we see her actually vulnerable and honest. And only in her exchanges with Tyrion does that ever happen, and I loved every moment of it. It is why their scenes always remain my favorite in any Game of Thrones episode. Finally, I can’t be the only one who was amused at the homage/nod to Star Wars in the exchange between Tyrion and the Hound. It screamed Luke and Han hovering over the Pit of Carkoon on Tatooine in Return of the Jedi. Just me? OK, moving on.
That’s it for Part 1! Come back tomorrow for our thoughts on Jon/Daenerys, Jaime’s character arc, and the Stark sisters! And you can always join the discussion in the comments!