“Maybe it is all cocks, in the end?” muses Jaime at the start of episode 7. Quite the opposite. Game of Thrones has finally fulfilled the promise of its very first scene, setting aside the petty squabbles of men (and women) in favour of a more basic, primitive urge: to survive. Even Cersei - who clings doggedly to the old ways of thinking - is trying to endure, in her own way. Each season finale, such is the show’s pattern, offers up a handful of revelations, a decent character death or two, and a strong teaser for the next run of episodes. The Dragon and the Wolf delivers exactly what you’d expect from a show at the top of its game, heading into its final season, making it one of the single best episodes, not just of Game of Thrones season 7, but of the series as a whole.
In many ways, episode 6 - Beyond the Wall - exists purely to make episode 7 look so damn good. It justifies all the posturing, spectacle, and grand moments in The Dragon and the Wolf, which thrill and delight more than a hundred CG dragon deaths or swarms of undead. Game of Thrones, at its best, is a show about small moments feeling huge, and big moments feeling personal - both of which are in abundance here.
Let’s start at the start, then. All the major players are just outside King’s Landing, at the Dragonpit. Yeah, it’s a fitting arena for the meeting, as the various major players spar with each other, exchanging sharp words where dragons once (and now, again) prowled. While the more significant moments will echo louder in season 8, it’s the smaller meetings that delight the most. Pod chatting to Tyrion, with Bronn making dirty comments in the background. Brienne and the Hound figuratively (not literally, calm down Tormund) kissing and making up. The Hound squaring off against The Mountain, in a colossal tease for all the Cleganebowl enthusiasts who have demanded the sibling’s impending fight to the death more intensely than everyone else has shipped Jon and Dany. “That’s not how it ends, brother. You know who’s coming for you. You’ve always known.” One of season 7’s biggest accomplishments is in the way it reunites old characters, tying the knots in plot threads, and leaving the viewer utterly satisfied with the result... even if they often leave room to be expanded, should the final season allow. The start of The Wolf and the Dragon does this impeccably. If Bronn, Pod, and Tyrion never meet again, we’ll feel fine about it but there’s always a hope their reunion will continue and flourish in season 8. It’s smart stuff.
For all the story satisfaction, however, Game of Thrones season 7 has suffered from some of the most obvious narrative signposting you’ll ever see. During the opening negotiation Cersei continually uses the phrase “Ned Stark’s son” when asking Jon to promise not to fight against the Lannisters after they defeat the Night King. She seems one step away from turning to the audience and saying ‘Nudge, wink, he’s a Targaryen really, and we’ll tell you about that later, yeah?’ Similarly, all her talk of family, as she addresses Tyrion, massively foreshadows the exit of Jaime near the end of the episode. Compressing the length of the season from ten to seven episodes has proven troublesome, and while the payoff from these revelations is still amazing, Game of Thrones has definitely lost some of the subtlety of storytelling that made it great.
That’s not to say the show lacks surprises or twists. Euron’s sudden departure at the start of negotiations seems a little hasty, but well in keeping with his character - he’s selfish and impulsive. Cersei’s later revelation, not that she isn’t going to honour the truce but that Euron has gone to fetch 20,000 mercenaries, is a genuine shock. Similarly, the way Sansa and Arya reveal that they’ve been working together all along comes as a pleasant surprise, even if you’d been deeply cynical of how easily Littlefinger seemed to have manipulated the Lady of Winterfell in previous episodes.
Speaking of Littlefinger… it says something about the quality and significance of an episode when his death probably isn’t even in the top three moments. Arya’s sham trial does a great job of drawing him out, and her execution of the scheming Lord Baelish is utterly satisfying, yet it almost gets lost amongst all the grandstanding in King’s Landing, the inter-family rufty, and the massive undead dragon melting a vast hole in The Wall. In a way, Littlefinger’s scheming had reached a dead end, and his last significant act was in season 6, when he helped Jon win the Battle of the Bastards. As character sacrifices go, his value wasn’t as high as it once was, so perhaps that’s why it doesn’t feel as momentous. His inability to even beg convincingly for his life is a testament to how well Aiden Gillen has played the character throughout.
One character whose stock is very much on the rise is Theon. We’ve been waiting for him to grow a pair of balls all season (yes, yes, figuratively), and ironically, it’s his lack of them that enables him to do so. His conversation with Jon starts out familiarly pathetic, but becomes deeply touching as he’s told that he doesn’t have to choose between being a Stark or Greyjoy because he’s both. The fight on the beach, then, was only ever going to have one outcome, yet it had me shouting at the TV for Theon to get up, before chuckling with delight as his enemy’s groin-shots failed to have the desired effect. If season 8 allows it, Theon’s neat little side-story about rescuing (or not) Yara will be one of the highlights of the final run.
And yet Theon’s victory still isn’t the moment in The Dragon and The Wolf most likely to please fans. It’s probably a two-way tie here between the predictable yet pleasing romance between Jon and Dany, and the revelation that occurs when Sam reunites with Bran. To be clear: Dany is Jon’s aunt, so what they’re doing is beautiful incest, but if the Targaryens are ok with it, then so am I. It seems far less sordid than the brother/sister love between Jaime and Cersei, even if your brain goes a little bit fuzzy if you think about it too hard (and the show deliberately plays the love scene alongside Bran's revelation about Jon's heritage to give the viewer pause for thought). But let’s not spoil the moment: hurray for main character sex!
It’d also be easy to criticise Bran for being nothing more than the convenient narrative device he is, but the revelation of Jon’s in-wedlock parentage, and his real name, is such a colossal payoff you can totally overlook it. If that scene is the sole reason for Bran’s inclusion in the story, I can almost forgive all his dreary turns in the show and dull chapters in the books. Plus, he gave us Hodor, which is a beautiful thing. In a sensible bit of character pairing, his deliberately deadpan delivery is wonderfully offset by Sam’s boundless enthusiasm, and the line “That’s nice” in reply to Bran declaring himself The Three Eyed Raven is one of the episode’s funniest. How convenient is it that the pair with two halves of the puzzle just happened to end up in the same room, and get chatting about Jon? Very, but again, let’s not spoil the moment: hurray for revelations!
Finally, then, the closing scenes. Jaime’s departure from King’s Landing as the snow falls in the south is absolutely haunting, and a perfect fusion between screen and score - it has huge ramifications for the rest of the show, but here it’s one of the quieter moments. However, the thing we’ll all be talking about for the next 18 months until season 8 arrives is that dragon attack on The Wall. No messing about - the Night King shows up and has zombie Viserion rip a large chunk out of the edge, causing a good portion to just collapse into the sea and allowing his army to pour through into the north. As closing spectacle it’s flawless, especially as it throws in the uncertain fate of Tormund and Beric - two characters we’ve grown to love during S7 - for good measure. If episode 6 existed to both bring all the principal characters together in King’s Landing and gift the show’s Big Bad with a dragon, then so be it. Let’s quietly ignore the teleportation of characters, the second swift disappearance of Gendry, and the magical iron chains used to drag the dragon from the lake… it was all worth it.
And that is very much the story of Game of Thrones season 7. A flashy masterpiece of TV, yet one that shows its cut-corners and imperfect joints on careful inspection. Episode 7 is the perfect end to such a season because, for all its flaws and lack of precision, this is sheer fan-pleasing spectacle. And that’s what TV is about. It’s brilliant entertainment, smart storytelling, and a wonderful set-up for what promises to be a thoroughly emotional farewell in season 8. Way more than just cocks, then, in the end.