It’s as if “Game of Thrones” has taught its audience Littlefinger’s game, to assume the worst of its characters, before presenting an alternative. It’s easy to do when every living thing stands to be crushed by an unfeeling force swiftly moving southward. That the realm’s biggest behind-the-scenes string-puller couldn’t have followed his own advice in the relatively small-scale power grab at Winterfell rang false, even as explained away some of the uneasy sister chats of the previous weeks.
Withholding that final blow for Lord Baelish might not have been the most logical endpoint for the season’s biggest misdirect, but it was an execution executed in a way that set the Stark women on firmer footing heading into Season 8. (Still, that post separating the two as they stand on the balcony seems to be leaving the door open for a little bit of unfinished business, should the final installments call for some drama in Winterfell.)
Their sibling standing is more than can be said for their Lannister counterparts, a trio that, even under a batch of stressful verbal sparring, has the most uncertain future of any of the central characters. Short of Cersei waking up nauseous at sunrise, “Game of Thrones” is still asking us to believe her pregnancy is not a fictional tool of her own devising, so separating Jaime and Cersei once again feels like a false move heading into what’s to come. Constantly having to check back in on a conniving Cersei as the rest of humanity fights for survival seems like a recipe for all of what ailed this past season.
And “The Dragon and the Wolf” still couldn’t escape some of the temporal fudging that’s marked most of the past few seasons of the show. In a snap, Team Dany is back at Dragonstone, plotting their next move forward. At least the series made good on the length between the wight army and Eastwatch — the protracted length of Gendry’s near-fatal mad dash meant that the cavalry wasn’t much farther behind him, even at ambling pace.
“Game of Thrones” isn’t incapable of subtlety. For every awkward reintroduction that preceded the dragonpit gathering, there were the tiny reunions that consisted only of furtive eye contact. Jaime gets a pair of mortified reaction glances, one at Cersei giving her very specific kill instructions and the other in their final staredown. But Bronn’s bro talk, staring down at the Unsullied, threading through Tyrion’s glowing brothel reviews, all the way through Theon gaining an advantage by his missing anatomy, only reinforced a male-heavy perspective that would have been apparent even if Benioff and Weiss hadn’t underlined it with a giant thematic Sharpie. (Shrimply Pibbles was right.)
Some of this felt like the show doing its best at a do-over. After Samsplaining the Rhaegar/Lyanna reveal back in Oldtown, Bran’s vision of their secret wedding did seem to give the cosmic reveal of Jon’s parentage the heft it had commanded after seasons of speculation. Interspersing that flashback with Jon and Daenerys’ tryst in the present makes sense, in showing what each of them stand to gain and lose by a potential union. But even in a tender moment, the show can’t help but fend off the wrath of offseason speculators by narrating the importance of both of these reveals with a leaden thud.
Lo those six episodes ago, Daenerys asked the gathered counsel, “Shall we begin?” That question, with the Night’s King doing to the wall what flamethrowers were brought in to do to reveal this season itself, has been asked and answered. Aside from that army traversing the snowy countryside, the show’s biggest question now is whether it can wrap this up without these characters’ motivations and intentions melting into a pool that drowns them all.
“Game of Thrones” Season 7 is now available on HBO GO and HBO NOW.