Since its premiere in 2011, “Game of Thrones” has developed a reputation for bold, sweeping season finales. That’s not to take anything away from the rest of the series’s episodes, which are equally ridiculous and consequential, but only to say that “Game of Thrones”’ finales have become almost larger-than-life. True to form, the latest season send-off, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” more than lives up to this tradition. Capping off the show’s seventh season masterfully, “The Dragon and the Wolf” redeems some of the series's earlier season missteps and reminds audiences of the show's status as television royalty.
Clocking in at 81 minutes, “The Dragon and the Wolf” is a massive cinematic episode that sees “Thrones” scheming at its best, with the Starks and the Lannisters leading the way. Having followed Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner, “Barely Lethal”) through her brutal upbringing in King’s Landing, viewers finally got to witness the culmination of Sansa’s transformation into a merciless and cunning Lady of Winterfell. In one of the most powerful scenes of “The Dragon and the Wolf,” Sansa beautifully conspires with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams, “iBoy”) to finally extract vengeance against Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish (Aidan Gillen, “The Wire”). Watching Sansa use lessons in ruthlessness learned from Littlefinger himself — the architect of much of her suffering — was simply incredible. Elsewhere, in King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headley, “The Brothers Grimm”) concocts a brilliant plan with Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk, “Lucy”) to stealthily ferry The Golden Company mercenaries to Westeros.
While Cersei’s maneuver to bolster the Lannister army through mercenaries figures to be a central aspect of the next and final season, Season Eight seems primed to be dominated by the war between the White Walkers and the Stark-Targaryen allied forces. “The Dragon and the Wolf” did a great job of featuring many of the series’s various overlapping stories, while still making clear that this war between the armies of the living and the dead is the show’s primary focus. For now, audiences will have to wait for any more clashes between the Lannisters and the Targaryens.
“The Dragon and the Wolf” also handled Theon Greyjoy’s (Alfie Allen, “John Wick”) meandering storyline well, inspiring viewers to root for the disgraced Greyjoy son again. After yet another season of a timid, spineless Theon, nearly all loyal “Thrones” supporters had given up hope of any sort of redemption from Theon. Flipping that narrative on its head, this season finale featured Theon summoning the courage to set out to rescue his sister Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan, “The Wolfman”). In the process, Theon kills a fellow Ironborn in a barbaric fistfight that wins back the support of his soldiers and, by extension, “Thrones” fans.
This is one of the biggest strengths of “The Dragon and the Wolf” — it rewards “Thrones” viewers’ loyalty with outstanding pay-off scenes. For years, “Thrones” has teased that “Winter is coming,” and with it, the army of the dead. The finale portrayed winter’s arrival in grand through a snowy scene in King’s Landing with a breathtaking shot of the Wall collapsing, shredded with fireballs by a White Walker riding an undead dragon. Outside of these shots, “Thrones” gave audiences a Jon Snow (Kit Harington, “Pompeii”) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke, “Terminator Genisys”) sex scene after several episodes of subtle sexual tension.
As a “Thrones” season finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf” wouldn’t be complete without some last second plotline bombshell, and the episode fully delivers in this area. In the penultimate scene of the episode, fan-favorites Samwell Tarly (John Bradley, “Traders”) and Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright, “The Boxtrolls”) learn of Jon’s true lineage as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. While the show has hinted at this revelation since its premiere, the discovery remains monumental by making Jon the true heir to the Iron Throne, though it also makes his relationship with Daenerys clearly incestal — she is his aunt. Having such a stunning reveal as only a minor piece of the stellar season finale is exactly what audiences have come to expect from “Thrones,” and it’s why they will keep returning to watch the series’s eighth and final season.