With the seventh season of Game of Thrones in full swing, EW’s Darren Franich and Shirley Li will venture into the weeds of Westeros every week to untangle the latest burning questions, ruminate over theories, and trace the show’s remaining connections to the unfinished books. Consider it EW’s small council, made of two people far too obsessed with everything Thrones. This week’s burning question: Will Dany and Jon save each other?
SHIRLEY: We finally heard a song of ice and fire, and — turn away, Ramin Djawadi — it was out of tune. Dany and Jon’s meeting was as awkward as it was momentous, as depressing as it was impressive, as icy as it was fiery. (Sorry.) It’s too bad! They have so much in common outside of their bloody family history: There’s their outsider status, their closer-than-close connection with mythical creatures, and, oh right, their Targaryen blood. I’m not surprised at how their meeting played out, though, and I’m so happy we even got two entire conversations and a pair of tete-a-Tyrions. That’s so much more than I thought we’d get!
And I don’t know how you feel about their first meeting, Darren, but to me, it felt like the first time this season has let Dany and Jon breathe. We’ve seen a few quiet, intimate moments so far between other, secondary players — Missandei and Grey Worm, the Hound and the Brotherhood — but for our two leads, it’s been a non-stop ride. Jon went from arguing with Sansa to arguing with his bannermen to leaving Winterfell. Dany went from redecorating Dragonstone to, well, very quickly losing all of her allies. But here, they didn’t launch immediately into talk of the Great Wars. They introduced themselves, sussed each other out, and tested each other’s resolve, without it feeling like a massive recap of what they’ve been through.
The question now is what they’ll do for each other next. My gut says productive conversation calls for a Bran-tervention, but I’m guessing Mr. I Took More Westerosi History Classes Than You won’t make it to Dragonstone. From what we’ve seen of this Sunday, there may not be time for chatting at all, now that a field of fire and Dothraki are ready to face the Lannisters. Darren, any thoughts on how aunt and nephew should proceed? And what did you make of their first date?
DARREN: I hate to start sentences about Game of Thrones with “As a reader of the books.” But: As a reader of the books, there’s always an interesting tension with these big first-meetings-between-main-characters, events that haven’t happened (and may never happen) in The Winds of Winter or A Dream of Spring or Untitled Potential Eighth Book Probably Involving The Word “Summer.” Some of my reactions to the Dany-Jon meeting was a reflection of the Dany-Tyrion meeting a couple years ago: “Wow!” and “Hmmm,” in equal measure. What I loved about it was how the awkwardness was entirely rooted in history: Conflicts between their parents, deep history bonding together their families. There have been so many Gordian Knot-slashings of royal obligation on this show – sworn oaths betrayed, guests killed in houses, kin slayed. So I found it weirdly poignant that Dany and Jon – two truly disruptive and dynamic forces in Westeros – immediately get bogged down in the weeds of who-owe-who-fealty. (Also: Torrhen Stark shout-out!)
That said: This was basically the meeting of the two Westeros superheroes, the equivalent of a cinematic-universe crossover event between two equally long-running and beloved franchises. (We’re not even talking Batman v Superman. Like, imagine Christian Bale’s Batman meeting Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine.) So it was initially deflating to realize that, in an episode full of incident, their arc was oddly binary: “I won’t let you mine dragonglass” to “I will let you mine dragonglass,” and all it took was three ruinous military defeats! I respect what the show is doing with dragonglass, because I’m a sucker for RPG-style resource management, but three episodes in, it does feel like Jon’s in a season-long holding pattern. We’re just seeing him prepare for a big battle. Which, in fairness, is maybe half the drama of Game of Thrones. And to your point, maybe some more intimacy with that preparation – less speeches to a Small Council, more moody cliffside chit-chats with secret aunt Dany – will make his arc this season feel a bit less algorithmic.
But can we talk about those military defeats, Shirley? Casterly Rock! We saw it! Maybe I’m misremembering a sequence from the expanded literature, but in A Song of Ice and Fire, Casterly Rock is this weirdly looming distant location, like a dark tower barely glimpsed at the distant corner of an open-world Legend of Zelda. The Lannisters all remember it, of course, and the wealth of the rock seems to be the corrupt financial vein of all Westeros. But to see Casterly Rock, at last, was… confusing. I kind of enjoyed Tyrion explicating the assault on the fortress via Ocean’s 11 narration. But their strategy was the weirdest kind rehash; between this and Meereen, that’s two imposing cities that Grey Worm has conquered via secret sewer passageway. (So actually, it was more like Ocean’s 12 narration.)
In fairness, the show seemed to be playing with the idea of the “rehash”: Jaime surprises Dany’s allies by fooling them the way Robb fooled him in Whispering Wood. Which, fine, showrunners: Cool to use the show’s history, but would also be cool to show that you can come up with your own intriguing new battlefield strategies and not just keep throwing Euron and his Eerily Omnipresent Navy into every battle. How did you feel about the Great Lannister City-Swap Strategem, Shirley?
SHIRLEY: Well, Darren, Reader of Books, Referencer of Ocean’s 11, Shout-outer of Torrhen Stark, I wasn’t as bothered by the Lannister play as I was by Euron’s freakishly fast fleet, but I agree that the show’s been mining a bit too much from its previous twists to move the plot along. (Mining in Westeros, meta or otherwise — so hot right now!) I see that more as a good thing, though; I consider the rehashing to be more like callbacks, you know? They’re like solid ROI for seven years of Thrones-watching. Plus, there’s a certain pleasure to be had out of seeing Tyrion’s personal connection to their backdoor route.
What bothered me the most about that Casterly Rock montage, aside from the fact that it looked a lot smaller than I envisioned while reading the books — I wanted to see people falling off cliffs, not just really high walls! — was that I couldn’t tell how long the not-a-battle was, or how many Lannister soldiers died, or whether it was taking place at the same time as the similar not-a-battle at Highgarden. And then to play the Euron trick again on top of all that just wore me out: Yes, his ships are probably stronger, faster, better — when you think about it, ships manned by his kind will probably run better than ships manned by the Unsullied and the Dothraki — but really, show? We’re going to do that again? I know, I know, I’m re-overthinking the compressed timeline, but I felt like I was watching a clip show of a war instead of an actual war. Also, just because Ellaria and Tyene are now out of the picture, it shouldn’t mean Dorne is completely. Aren’t there more people in Dorne? Won’t someone think of Dorne?!
Anyway, even with the resurfaced Whispering Wood scheme and the invasion of Meereen, at least we saw something new when it came to Highgarden. As in, we saw nothing at all of the siege, but all of Jaime and Olenna’s verbal showdown — make that “takedown” — which was spectacular enough to make me forget all my questions about the logistics of this clash of queens for a minute. Is there any other character left who holds a trump card like Queen of Thorns’? I’m having some trouble thinking of someone who could potentially rehash this move and confess a crime right before death… maybe Littlefinger will own up to starting the entire War of the Five Kings? Would Arya be up for a confession list to match her kill list? And more importantly, what do you think Olenna’s reveal means for the Lannister twins, Darren? I want Jaime to take the news badly and finally reject his sister-lover, but I could just as easily see this cementing their lust for total control over the Seven Kingdoms…
DARREN: I love the phrase “a clip show of war.” It gets to the core of an issue with Game of Thrones – not a problem, per se, but an interesting obstruction that Benioff & Weiss constantly have to deal with. Thrones is one of the most expensive shows ever made. (Maybe the most, though it’s hard to figure out how to amortize costs over seven seasons, and anyhow, worth remembering any scene from Friends season 10 with all six cast members is a portrait of NBC losing six million dollars.) And even with all that expense, it’s basically impossible to show a complete sweeping battle – “battle” usually being, in most of human history, a multiple-day affair involving several fronts and continuous strategy. The show has figured out brilliant workarounds, most famously hiring Neil Marshall or Miguel Sapochnik to film one-off episodes where whole wars are won and lost in realtime, more hilariously knocking out Tyrion so he could hear about the Battle of the Green Fork after the fact.
But the best workaround is also the simplest: Make it about the characters! I loved the Battle of Highgarden rendered entirely via Jaime-Olenna conversation. (In the episode where Jon and Dany first met, somehow this was the De Niro/Pacino Heat showdown we all wanted.) I loved how the Queen used a secret from three seasons ago to stage a final assault. How will Cersei take this revelation? It seems specifically designed to re-open old wounds. Although I do wonder if it will change her perspective on Tyrion; much as she always despised her brother, she genuinely believed he was the poisoner. (I’m not saying she’ll apologize, just that this will make their next meeting all the more poignantly bleak.)
How will Jaime react, you ask? Yeesh, how is Jaime reacting to anything lately? He seems so locked into his current spiral, less a co-ruler with Cersei than a sworn samurai in her service. It feels strange to me that Jaime hasn’t brought up one essential point about his sister: By exploding the wildfire under the Sept of Baelor, she followed through on precisely the pyromantic plot that Jaime killed the Mad King for attempting. Surely there is a reckoning coming on that particular point?
I want to wrap up by shifting northward, to winter and the oncoming army of the dead. Bran’s return to Winterfell was a long-promised moment that immediately turned all kinds of sour. Sansa reminded him that he is the final trueborn son of Ned Stark, and I can’t decide if that’s an important plot point or not. Like, Bran holds in his head the secret of Jon Snow’s parentage; should we assume that the North might be a bit peeved to discover that their King is half-Targaryen? (Hell, do we even think that information will ever go public?) And how should we interpret Bran’s current vaguely Vulcan state of being? As you point out, Bran clearly knows his Westeros history. Does that mean he can do telepath flashbacks for every character? Surely, if that’s true, he’ll have some interesting things to say if he ever hangs out with Littlefinger?
SHIRLEY: It’s funny that you and I have very different questions about the consequences of Olenna’s mic drop. I just assumed Cersei wouldn’t care, because she hasn’t cared about much since going pyro — other than destroying her enemies, of course. Jaime, on the other hand (sorry, Jaime), gave Olenna a look at the end of last week’s episode that spoke volumes. It read to me a bit like the look Yara gave Theon as he jumped ship: a mix of regret, pain, and betrayal that has to result in some action, one way or another. Why hasn’t he brought up how similar Cersei is to the Mad King? I think that simply goes back to what he said in the pilot seven years ago: “The things I do for love.”
Which brings me to the North. Yes, the North would probably be none too happy to find that their King is a half-Targaryen, but I see this going one of two ways if that little secret gets out: One is Jon encourages the North with even more evidence as to why they should fight the Great War™ — it doesn’t get any more poetic than ice and fire in one man — but the other may be Jon being his honorable Jon self and giving up the crown and proving once and for all that all these royal titles and sworn oaths and such don’t matter in the end, because history is messy and Westeros might as well start off with a clean slate.
Of course, this all depends on Bran, who, like you, I’d love to see talk to Littlefinger, if only to give Petyr Baelish a chance to deliver a Hans Gruber-ian monologue about all his sins and all his wants to someone other than Sansa. Bran’s Vulcan affect scares me — wasn’t it, like, three seconds ago when he was a little kid climbing the walls of Winterfell? — but it makes sense. He’s transcended this plane! He knows everything! He’s the IBM Watson! Here’s to the power of knowledge!
So with all that said, let’s end with our predictions for this Sunday, because none of us are watching or should be watching that leaked episode. (I swear fealty to House HBO.) My guesses? Dragons and a field of fire, Arya’s arrival at Winterfell (hey, it took more than an episode of travel!), and another surprise appearance from Euron’s fleet, because why not. Yours, Darren?
DARREN: “Ice and Fire! One Man! Two Elements!” I agree that Jon will wind up pulling a Cincinnatus, giving up his power once the war is won. I also agree that Arya will arrive at Winterfell in this next episode – and I kind of wonder if she’ll arrive in secret, if there will be a scene where Sansa is talking to Yohn Royce and then Yohn reaches up to his forehead and YES THE SURPRISE FACE SWAP TRICK! And although we’re being led to expect a great big battle scene – ride, Horse Lords, ride! – I do wonder if the simmering Littlefinger-Sansa tension will finally boil over. Heck, maybe Arya’s arrival will spur that boiling-over. Petyr Baelish isn’t on her kill list, but there’s always more room on a kill list.
My last bold prediction: We’ll check in on Poor Theon, and he’ll be worse off than ever. Come on, Last Greyjoy Standing, redeem yourself!