‘Game of Thrones’: The Pack Survives

“We are a group of people who do not like one another.” Ya think? Tyrion’s assessment may be too on the nose, but he’s not wrong. Everyone’s got a bone to pick with someone, two interactions that happen early on involving taunts and threats to kill the other. The meeting hasn’t even begun. By all rights, they should not be within proximity. Then again, Game of Thrones loves playing things close to the chest. This far into the show and that much closer to the end, everyone is well aware of what the other is capable of – who’s aligned with who, what’s motivating them – leaving little to no tricks up anyone’s sleeve, their hands shown for all to see. Or perhaps there’s one final move left to play. 

If the meeting in the Dragon Pit was too good to be true, it’s because it was. Despite an illuminating Ted Talk by Jon Snow, Cersei, in the end, did not care for the great war in the north (she holds herself with the stature of her father, and the blind deference of Joffrey). Whereas Jaime and everyone else saw the end of humanity, Cersei saw the looming White Walkers as a strategic maneuver come true (she, of course, spends her days looking at a map). Whilst the Dragon Queen remains occupied in the North, the Lannister forces will bolster their numbers and their hold on the region.  

It’s not just queen versus queen. We get a Cleganebowl prelude (not much, but it’ll have to do) and a bit of a nephew-uncle showdown. Strange, Daenerys gets along with her nephew just fine (more on that later). And we get front-row seats to a sibling rivalry we haven’t seen since Season 4. “I don’t care about why you did what you did, I only care what it cost us.” Cersei, ever the strategist. Tyrion fires back: “I’ve thought about killing you more times than I can count.” Remember that bit about not liking one another? Quarrels aside, they must’ve hoped for something, otherwise neither would have vied for this meeting of meetings. The future, perhaps? There has been much talk about the line of succession recently. Cersei places a keen hand on her womb. Too keenly. Tyrion falls for it. Shouldn’t he know his sister’s deceptions better than anyone?

At Winterfell, Sansa knows her sister better than Littlefinger, yet that didn’t stop him from attempting to drive a wedge between them. “Every possible series of events is happening all at once,” he had said, and he never considered the possibility that two long lost sisters might stand in solidarity against him (Petyr apparently did not watch Big Little Lies). His need to be Sansa’s only confidant drove him to initiate this ploy to corner Arya, and wound up putting him in checkmate. 

Littlefinger’s only flaw was having found a pupil in Sansa, his teachings far more effective than he realized. Indirectly, he provided her the proper weapon. A familiar dagger makes its way up the Stark ranks, Petyr confiding in Bran, Bran handing it to Arya, and finally to Sansa. If Littlefinger had stopped talking and seen with his own eyes, he would’ve admired the symmetry of it all. Instead, he plays a game of faces: abject confusion, denial, a desperate power grab, and lastly, defeat. So long, Littlefinger (though it may not be the last we see of his face).

Cersei may not know who the faceless men are, but she plays the game of faces extremely well. So well, in fact, that Jaime calls her bluff before her opponents do. Every word Cersei has exchanged with Jaime this season has been a manipulation of some kind. She’s kept him in bed, kept him in the fight, and kept him loyal. Rallying to the northern cause is a betrayal to their family name, but to stand down would betray his honor. We may have been hoping for a confrontation over Cersei’s use of wildfire last season, but what we got here was even better, and final. Jaime is pitted with an ultimatum: the woman he loves, or his newly-forged honor. Then again, Cersei made it easier after bluffing to kill him (I truly believe she only meant to scare Jaime). Honor, now, is all Jaime has left. We’ll see how far it gets him as he rides off unscathed (though not unwounded) to the North and into the pantheons of the greatest redemption arcs of all time (step aside, Odysseus). 

Redemption is surely going around. Theon rediscovers what it means to be a Greyjoy again (utilizing his lack of manhood to prove himself worthy of leading his men). After all, what is dead may never die. But it is his conversation with Jon beforehand that’s the most telling. “You don’t need to choose,” Jon tells him. “You’re a Greyjoy and you’re a Stark.” Once Jon finds out about his lineage, will he have that same luxury?

If Theon was an Ironborn raised by Starks, then Jon is a dragon raised by the same wolves. Not just any dragon, the dragon. If you thought the revelations of last season’s finale couldn’t get any bigger, you’re fooling yourself. Jon is Aegon Targaryen a.k.a the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (RIP Jaehaerys). 

We go back to the pit. The Targaryen reign ended in King’s Landing with the death of the Mad King, the throne usurped by Robert Baratheon whose rebellion we discover has been built on a lie. In the rubble of the dragon pit, two dragons confide in an open section narrow enough for anything long thought to be dead or extinct to reemerge from myth and into existence. What are the odds of the only remaining Targaryens coming together? They are aunt and nephew, except aunt and nephew don’t know it as they do more than confide in each other. This was the whole point of the season, to bring ice and fire together (and, according to George R.R. Martin, the point of the entire series). The episode of course is titled “The Dragon and the Wolf.” Though incest may be the Targaryen way, their inevitable union doesn’t appear to signal a coming peace. With Tyrion lingering outside their door, framed acutely beneath a ladder, perhaps another cycle of chaos is brewing.

Deeper in the north, the White Walkers have finally reached the Wall. Such a simple arc they have, and they make good on their promise. Behold an ice dragon (the bad guys always get the cool stuff). A key portion of the wall collapses. Enough for the dead to continue droning their way into the Seven Kingdoms. How the White Walkers factor into the game of thrones remains to be seen. The Long Night, as we have been told, is rapidly approaching. At the same time, it can’t get here fast enough.

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