With the seventh season of Game of Thrones in full swing, EW’s Darren Franich and Shirley Li 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: What will happen when Dany meets Cersei?
DARREN: On this week’s episode of EW’s Game of Thrones Weekly, our man in Westeros, James Hibberd, kicked off our discussion by noting that “Beyond the Wall” has had a uniquely split reaction among viewers. There were people who really liked it, and people who really didn’t. I lean more the latter than the former, with one qualification: I REALLY liked the Dragon Queen final act, with Dany launching skyward with her fire-breathing trio to take on the army of the dead and rescue all the important characters but none of the Wildlings and not you, Thoros.
I’d be intrigued to hear your thoughts on the episode in general, Shirley. But I also want to look forward and ponder: What does “Beyond the Wall” mean for Dany? And what does it mean for this Sunday, when we see what might be the final Big First Meeting of the show? It’s a moment I have inevitably decided to call the Queensmoot: Dany and Cersei, together at last!
We know what Dany wants to get out of the meeting. She’ll show off her fancy far-traveled wight, and pray for an armistice. But what’s Cersei’s angle here? Will she even care about the army of the dead? My theory, unformed but palpable: Something goes wrong. I don’t know what that something wrong is. Maybe Qyburn reveals the mega-ballista he’s been working on all season, and the big twist this season is that TWO dragons get killed. Maybe Rhaegal, aka “the cute one,” goes fire-crazy at the worst moment, setting King’s Landing even more ablaze than it already is. Or maybe the season ends with a haunting howl from the air, and everyone stares upward – and sees the Night King astride Zombie Viserion, and right before a cut to black we see the undead dragon unleash a fusillade of…blue fire? Ice flame?
I’m sure there will be some kind of more meticulous political angle, that Dany or Cersei or one of their strategists has some kind of political machination in mind – but I’m at a loss to figure it out. What do you think is the outcome of the Queensmoot, Shirley, and can we make #Queensmoot happen?
SHIRLEY: Yes, let’s do it! Let’s make #Queensmoot happen! I believe we’ll have to get some digital influencers on board with us for it to really get kicking. Anyone have a direct line to Ja Rule? Is this joke already outdated?
Whatever, I’m running with it because unlike last weekend’s Fyre Festival of an episode, this weekend’s episode isn’t built on a premise of idiocy. All season we’ve been waiting for these two queens to meet, and IT’S FINALLY HAPPENING! And to your point, I don’t think we’ll be in for some lengthy discourse about whether the army of the dead exists. Cersei probably cares less about the army of the dead than about growing her hair out again. (Which is to say, she cares about it a negative amount.) What’s a wight to her when her muscle is the Mountain, a walking zombie who does her bidding? If anything, I could see her wanting to control an army of ice zombies, not defeat it. A foolish idea, sure, but in a sort of convoluted way, it’d mirror Viserys’ decision to move forward with an alliance with the Dothraki. When you’re equal parts desperate and power-hungry, sometimes you have to appeal to your enemies. (And if you’re wondering, how would Cersei even control the army of the dead, well, the answer is she wouldn’t and that’s how she dies. Or I could see her coming up with an Attack on Titan-like plan where she’s safely ensconced in the walls of King’s Landing, and everyone else dies, but eh, enough about walls on this show. Let’s tear that sucker down.)
Macall B. Polay/HBO
But, oh right, this is about the queens, not one queen and the Night King. I think you’re right to predict chaos, but I have a feeling that we’re not about to see another dragon killed. Jon remaining behind beyond the Wall last Sunday wasn’t just a way to drag out an already ridiculous mission, but perhaps to keep him from riding away on the back of Drogon, because he’s destined to ride Rhaegal in this Sunday’s finale. Here’s how it’ll go: Cersei and Dany begin their meeting. Cersei has Qyburn use his child army to carry out an ambush against everyone on Dany’s side. Chaos erupts, dragons arrive, Dany and Jon and hopefully some of their friends escape on the backs of their respective dragons — and as they’re flying back up North, they hear a crack, and BOOM, the Wall’s coming down. What’s behind it? BLUE EYES WIGHT DRAGON, THAT’S WHAT’S BEHIND IT! And it’s breathing fire (or ice? fire-ice? fierce?) — whatever it turns out to be, it’ll suck up the rest of the season 7 budget.
The only thing is, the writers have been annoyingly death-averse, and I’m speaking as someone who would usually like everyone to walk away from this unscathed. To go back to your initial question, last Sunday’s episode to me was all spectacle over story. Yes, yes, Viserion’s death looked incredible, but the rest of the bloated “Beyond the Wall” was weak in logic. Characters were saved by thin ice, then Dany, and then Uncle Benjen all so the Night King could obtain a zombie dragon. D&D admitted as much in their “Inside the Episode” video that they came up with that final shot and worked their way backwards, plot holes be damned. Is that really what George R.R. Martin would have wanted for so many of his players? Does what Martin want even matter anymore? What do you think, Darren? And more importantly, if Rhaegal is “the cute one,” what was Viserion?
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DARREN: Viserion was always the crazy one, the wild card, the A.J. McLean. I mourn his death, but thanks to his sacrifice, the average citizen can’t stop talking about ice dragons. The average citizen now is every fantasy-book-loving weirdo 25 years ago! So now everyone is pondering the age-old question: Do ice dragons breathe ice, or is it just really cold fire? Is fire still fire if it’s cold?
I swore never to watch another “Inside the Episode” video long ago. (I think it was Boardwalk Empire season 2, I had to find out why they did what they done to poor Michael Pitt!) But I’m not surprised to hear that “Beyond the Wall” represented some backwards-written narrative: “Here’s the goal, how do we get here, hmmm maybe Gendry can run really fast?” Martin, by comparison, is relentlessly logical and has a pinpoint focus on how the tiniest minutiae butterfly-effects outwards throughout his known world. As a storyteller, he has more in common with meticulous Vince Gilligan than any of the great HBO showteurs. So I kind of imagine he long ago made peace with the fact that Thrones was going to off in some very, very, very different directions.
If anything, I suspect his main concern with last Sunday’s episode was the odd geometry of the battle. The army of the dead are far away, then suddenly everywhere. The Night King is close enough to Drogon to throw a spear, but distant enough that not one of three dragons thinks of spraying fire in his direction. I’m struck by the possibility that the Night King was using Jon’s crew as bait for the dragon – but that would mean the Night King knows all kinds of stuff about the outside world, and the show has thus far mostly portrayed him as an elemental force of nature.
Or maybe we’re being set up for some larger reveal? I have to admit, I was always secretly hoping that the show’s long-promised showdown with the Army of the Dead would take place this season – that the show’s final season would be a prolonged and fascinating and infuriating denouement, a brutal and bloody and political attempt to resurrect a country that went beyond the brink of ruin, an extended Scouring of the Shire with only bittersweet endings. Nope! The Dead continue to (slowly) march! I’m fascinated your notion of Cersei seeking alliance with the Night King, Shirley, since that pushes her into the weirdest/coolest Thanos territory. But if that DOESN’T happen, how do you feel about the Night King as the show’s final boss? Is he more impressive with an undead blue-eyed dragon? And what else do you want to see in the season 7 finale? Do you want to see more of Jon staring moony-eyed at Dany while Dany gets flustered? Because I do not want to see that, no no I do not.
SHIRLEY: How do I feel about the Night King as the final boss? I feel like the wight they captured last week: Trapped and confused and screaming while slung over my captor’s shoulder without any hope of freedom. (In this analogy, D&D = the Hound. This is a rough analogy.) That is to say, I am thoroughly uncomfortable with having the Night King be the evil endgame. I’ve always enjoyed the show’s jaunts beyond the Wall ever since the very first scene of the series, and I recall screaming through that scene where the baby turned into a White Walker, but I’ve never loved the idea that the last enemy our heroes will have to face is nothing but an avatar for evil (and, um, global warming?). If the Night King had a real character arc and a real personality, then I’d think differently. For now, it’s as if our heroes simply have to face off against the powers of CGI.
And so, I’m with you on wanting a little something more than a Night King with a dragon. If we’re going to have to go down this route, then I want to go all in. Give me giant ice spiders. Give me a corpse queen. Give me the Night King’s backstory. Give me the return of the Children of the Forest and their fun little nature grenades. Oh, and knock down the Wall, so we can really get this mandatory party started!
But further down the line, give me back Melisandre. I’m holding out hope that she — along with those red priestesses we had glimpsed in Essos spreading word of the Dragon Queen — will return in some spectacular fashion by the end of this season, even though that’s looking unlikely. Besides, before she makes good on her promise to die in Westeros, we’ll have to figure out this whole Lord of Light thing once and for all.
And maybe we will…? It’s why I’m not as opposed as you are to seeing Jon and Dany (Jonerys, is it? Daenon? Snowstorm?) circling each other. They should stop with the moony eyes, but they need to start getting on with making another Targaryen. Two sets of Targaryen DNA has to be the key to Dany becoming pregnant again, right? Last Sunday’s episode repeatedly brought up children and succession for a reason, and I hope that reason becomes clear by the finale. I also hope that “The Dragon and the Wolf” means a glimpse of Jon’s full parentage once and for all, so we can all properly be grossed out by the incest and understand why a Jon-Dany pairing matters. We have so many prophecies to see come to fruition, Darren. (Bring back Quaithe! Why not!) Are we any closer to finding out who the Prince That Was Promised really is? And speaking of wolves, are we any closer to solving the Arya-Sansa conundrum? I’d rather not see too much of them in the finale, but on the other hand, it’d be great if we could wrap up that whole travesty.
DARREN: The boldest move Game of Thrones could ever make would be a whole episode flashbacking through the life and strategy of the Night King. You wonder if, from his perspective, he’s not too different from Daenerys: A long-lost child of Westeros, returning with his followers to bring a new era of order to the descending chaos. Barring that, I love your idea to push Thrones all the way into the realm of Meth Fantasy – let’s have Faceless Wights and a Red Priestess/Shadowbinder alliance and maybe a sabretoothed woolly mammoth-bird!
I love how you bring up Melisandre, because her impending reappearance – the promise, really, of her death in Westeros – brings up one of the more tantalizing possibilities for next season. One of the niftier ideas embedded in Martin’s novels is that all of the religions of the world seem at least half-true. And he casts his net wide. Like, the Faceless Men seem to have some sort of purpose in Westeros, and at least one of the Greyjoys takes the Drowned God seriously, and Dany’s visions in the House of the Undying are more shamanistic and prophetic. There’s almost an Iliad-like quality to the macro-story of “A Song of Ice and Fire,” a sense of multiple opposing deities fighting a proxy war via their earthly believers. Benioff & Weiss made the understandable decision to downplay some of that stuff – the Children of the Forest seem to represent the show’s outer boundary of Weird Fantasy – but I suspect Melisandre’s return will forefront the show’s final interpretation of what the Red God means.
I hadn’t conceived of the idea that two strains of Targaryen DNA could be the Westerosi equivalent of a fertility treatment. I guess there’s some interesting bookending here: An act of incest witnessed by Bran started this war, and now an act of incest mediated by Bran will end it? It doesn’t surprise me that Dany and Jon have to get together. It surprises me that, based on this episode and on Uncle Tyrion’s nudging and on longing looks, the show so badly wants them to be really truly in wuv. The kind of wuv where a conquering Dragon Queen who just firesprayed a platoon of undead gets embarrassed when the handsome six-packed fuzz-haired nobleman takes her hand. I’d believe it more if they bonded out of mutual cynicism – like the way celebrities date each other because nobody else understands their weird struggle, the paranoia of the fabulously betrayed. (They’ll sing the Love Song of Ice and Fire. Dany: “I don’t trust nobody…” Jon: “And nobody trusts me.”) I’d also buy it if they were a shotgun marriage of political convenience, which is my private (probably wrong) theory for where the books are going.
Speaking of things I don’t buy: ARYA, WHAT. Poor Winterfell is truly the Hershel’s Farm of Game of Thrones, the place where good plot goes to linger endlessly. Putting aside all the main-character comings and goings – Bye, Jon and Brienne! Hi, Bran! – what we’ve witnessed is a six-episode corridor opera starring Sensible Sansa and Angry Arya and Lingerin’ Littlefinger. For a second last week, I actually thought Arya was going to kill Sansa, and I have to admit, the idea intrigued me. We’ve always assumed Arya’s journey was a grand-scale hero’s origin story. Were we watching her descent all along?
There remains the possibility that she is running an elaborate triple-blind on Littlefinger, which would be a merely frustrating twist. There looms the larger possibility that she fully intends to make some further aggressive move on her sister, which could lead Sansa to a pre-emptive strike, which is what Littlefinger wants because ????? We’re moving towards some kind of reckoning between those three, but what? Has everyone in Winterfell gone snow-crazy, Shirley? Did Podrick get out just in time?
SHIRLEY: They have to do it for wuv because, Darren, remember the prophecy Dany heard in the House of the Undying? That she has three mounts to ride, one to bed, and one to dread, and one to wuv? I’m 100 percent sure that’s how it went.
As for the shenanigans up in Winterfell, I do like your idea of Arya’s arc turning out to be one of a villain’s journey. Would she ever become a final boss? Probably not — but having her embrace the dark side would be a hell of a lot more interesting than seeing her toy with Sansa and reject everything we learned about her stubborn humanity last season. I had a moment where I thought she’d use the dagger against her sister as well, but that last flip makes me think we are headed for an absurd long con. And if so, ugh, how disappointing! It means that we’ve spent an entire season watching the show simply waiting to pull the rug out from under us, when there could have been so much more explored between these sisters. Imagine if Sansa had learned from Arya about where she’d gone and what she did, and then slowly tried to ease her sister away from being a cold-hearted killer, with Brienne at their side. Imagine if Arya counseled Sansa, instead of tormenting her further. But no, both Starks have become paranoid and are a heartbeat away from putting out a diss track that borrows from Right Said Fred. (Yeah, this narrative will never grow on me, just as that single never will, either. Sorry, Tay.)
You’re right to point out that we have no clue what Littlefinger wants. A long long time ago in a capital far far away, he had realized that taking advantage of Lysa would eventually win him the Vale of Arryn and the Riverlands. And once he did, he set his sights on Winterfell, and got there, and… now what? If his idea of a happy ending is life with Sansa (ew), sending Arya after her is the exact opposite of what he should be doing. And if he had been lying to Sansa and wanted to win the North, what claim does he have if Jon and Bran are still around, even if he’s been whispering with the lords? If he creates chaos in the North, does it even matter? The only possible, logical ending left for Petyr Baelish is to be killed off. He has no grander plan, no greater purpose — and I can’t see the finale pulling something off to reinstate him as a proper villain.
What I can see, though, is the finale finally giving Brienne something to do. It’s been an awkward season for the beauty from Tarth; maybe this Sunday will give her a proper scene with either Jaime or Tyrion or the Hound? Maybe if I pray hard enough to the Lord of Light, it’ll happen? Come on, D&D. Give us at least one proper Brienne scene before we have to wait a year — or more! — for Thrones to return.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.