That’s it, folks. Season 7 is over; there is, finally, no unscreened Game of Thrones episode to
find on BitTorrent anticipate this coming Sunday. With a long, long wait until Season 8 — possibly arriving as late as March 2019 — the time has come to process what the world just saw.
It’s fair to say that Season 7 showcased Game of Thrones both at its strongest and its weakest. It was crowd-pleasing, but also clearly playing to the crowd. It gave us jaw-dropping, heart-thumping surprise set pieces, but anchored many of them to decisions so dumb they felt like plot holes — seriously, is anyone ever going to notice the trail of casualties caused by this Jon Snow kid?
The best episodes created the perfect pitch for a final act: story arc resolutions mingled with action scenes worthy of the wars that were promised. The worst landed its plot points with a thud and actively worked to take us out of the action.
Herewith, a definitive reverse-order ranking that demands you bend the knee:
7. ‘Dragonstone’ (episode 1)
What happened: Arya came for House Frey and hung out with House Sheeran. Sam emptied chamber pots. Dany entered her ancestral home.
The opening scene of Season 7 seemed to divide fans like no other. Was Arya’s Walder Frey impression a cheer-worthy scene of revenge, or did it make the whole concept of magical masks look as ridiculous as Scooby Doo? Personally, I’m in the latter camp.
But whichever way you fell, the episode proceeded to unite viewers in contempt at that needless Ed Sheeran cameo. No one was arguing whether that was bad. Same goes for the Sam-at-Oldtown montage, which lingered too long on direct cuts between soup and poop. Guys, we get it.
The final sequence — Dany arrives at Dragonstone, faces not even token opposition (really?) and inspects the place in silence — ended with the words “let’s begin.” It might as well have been the audience shouting at the showrunners after an episode that will be utterly skippable in any rewatch.
6. ‘Eastwatch’ (episode 5)
What happened: Dany burned the Tarlys. Davos and Tyrion snuck into King’s Landing. Littlefinger set Arya up. Jon took his wight-hunting party to the wall.
Otherwise known as “the one where everyone makes poor decisions.” And not in the sense that we all make poor decisions; in the sense of decisions that make the fiction less believable.
Would the Dany we’ve known for seven seasons really perform such a brutal execution of a key Westerosi Lord and his heir, with no time for counsel? Maybe, maybe not. Would Arya really be fooled by Littlefinger’s game, even for a moment? Unlikely. Would Cersei just let Tyrion come and go from her capital like that? Seriously unlikely. Would Davos really find Gendry so fast, then wink at the audience that he thought the kid was “still rowing”? Come on.
But it was Jon’s half-assed plan to capture a wight for a show-and-tell that took the cake. He’s sitting on a mountain of dragonglass and takes none with him? He’s allied with a dragon queen and doesn’t at least suggest scouting the area from the air first? We knew Jon Snow knows nothing; what we doubt is whether he would so easily convince people like Tyrion and Davos that his thinking is flawless.
The wight hunt may have been enjoyable in itself and necessary for the overall plot — but by the light of the Seven, could you ever hear this setup episode go clunk.
5. ‘Stormborn’ (episode 2)
What happened: Dany met Mellisandre. Grey Worm and Missandei got it on. Sam treated Jorah. Euron captured Yara, Theon jumped overboard.
In literally her first conversation of the season, Dany lashed out at Varys. She suggested one of her best advisors could be working against her. Fair enough; we got the hint that she’s supposed to have echoes of the Mad King. But why have it out now, after Varys formed an alliance that proved his loyalty?
Similarly off-key was that Grey Worm-Missandei scene. In itself, their coming together was tender and highly charged with emotion; you felt their built-up pain. But then a virgin eunuch suddenly demonstrated highly confident, um, linguistic skills, and you remembered you were watching a show with an approach to sex that varies between highly problematic and highly unrealistic.
Also unrealistic: the notion that the Maesters banned a medical procedure that clears Grayscale so effectively. This seemed merely an excuse to stick another gross-out scene in Sam’s plotline. Who would have thought the Oldtown had so much pus in it?
Euron may have built his thousands of giant ships at a suspicious speed, but his surprise attack on Yara’s fleet was the most believable thing about this episode — especially Theon’s heartbreaking encounter with his own PTSD.
4. ‘The Dragon and the Wolf’ (episode 7)
What happened: Cersei made fake peace after the wight show in the dragonpit. Jaime left her. Arya executed Littlefinger. Jon and Dany got it on. The White Walkers finally blasted a hole in the Wall.
The season finale bravely stuck to the tradition of season finales past: it was a little quieter, a little more contemplative, it looked to Westeros past as well as future, and it had a breathtaking sting in the tale.
All manner of reunions were nicely dealt with in spare dialogue. Cersei focused on the long game over short-term gain. That meant there was no one for the Mountain to kill, though the threat hanging over both Tyrion and Jaime amped up the tension.
Having Sansa and Arya pull their triple-cross on Littlefinger might have landed a little better if we’d seen just a quick scene of them conferring before Arya’s fake trial. Still, it was about the best resolution to the Lord Baelish story for which we could have hoped.
3. ‘Beyond the Wall’ (episode 6)
What happened: Jon’s party captured a wight and got stuck on the ice. Dany defied Tyrion, swooped in and lost a dragon. Arya confronted Sansa.
“The Battle of the Bastards on ice,” some Twitter wags called it. Indeed, the siege of the wights at the center of this episode was a cold echo of last season’s pitch-perfect war for Winterfell, right down to the cavalry-like rescue.
There were plot imperfections aplenty (just where does the Night King rent his chains, anyway?) but this was not an episode that left you any time to ponder them. It was a masterclass in amping up tension, in making us feel for the poor bastards on the ice island, and it was one of the most cinematic standalone-style episodes yet.
In particular, the scene at this episode’s crucial climax — a dragon dying at the hands of the Night King — was handled well enough that it stands as one of the most heartbreaking moments in the entire series. RIP Viserion.
2. ‘The Queen’s Justice’ (episode 3)
What happened: Jon came to Dragonstone. Bran came home. Euron gave the Sands to Cersei. Grey Worm took Casterly Rock. Jaime took Highgarden, Olenna took poison.
At its best, Game of Thrones quietens all our disbelief. Fantasy-world questions fade away in the halo of fantastic performances and a script that just feels right. That was on display when Jon met Dany, finally, after seven seasons of setup.
Their chemistry in this first contentious meeting did not disappoint. Nor did Ser Davos, whose attempts to bring a bit of majesty to the occasion instead provided laughter, the necessary release.
Bran came across a creepy Dr. Manhattan, which felt right for what this character is now (a demigod at minimum). Cersei got her revenge on Ellaria Sand and daughter in a grisly-but-fitting reversal of Myrcella’s killing, all while keeping Euron Greyjoy at arm’s length. Well played.
And then came the greatest military twist in the show’s history: Though Tyrion took the Lannister seat of Casterly Rock, all our expectations of a Targaryen triumph were dashed. Jaime’s assault on Highgarden was as surprising — and believable — as it was swift.
But of course the episode belonged to Diana Rigg as Olenna Tyrell. The Queen of Thorns died as she lived: with perfect poise and peerless ability to deliver a sharp sting.
1. ‘The Spoils of War’ (episode 4)
What happened: Arya reunited with Sansa, sparred with Brienne. Bran freaked out Littlefinger. Jon showed Dany cave paintings. The Lannister army burned.
Unfortunately, it looks like it will forever be known by the shorthand the showrunners gave us: the loot train attack. It’s a misnomer, largely because it was a massacre. But not enough of us called it the Crispy-Fried Lannister Massacre, so here we are.
More important than its name is what it contained: the show’s only vision of Dothraki and dragons going to town on a large-scale Lannister army, which many fans immediately declared their favorite moment of the whole show.
The scene bears repeated viewing with its perfectly framed moments: Drogon lighting up a whole line of wagons. Bronn standing tall amid the fires, preparing the Scorpion. Jaime on a white horse galloping for Dany with a lance. Tyrion watching it all with a galaxy of emotions on his face.
You didn’t want any of the characters to die. And yet there they were, coming at each other with sudden and unprecedented ferocity. Rock, meet hard place: the essence of drama.
That kind of compelling collision is also what we saw in Arya and Sansa’s understated, highly affecting reunion in the crypt of Winterfell, as well as Arya’s “the learner has become the master” duel with Brienne. In Bran and Littlefinger’s encounter, we now know, were the seeds of Lord Baelish’s doom.
And then there was the hottest scene this season between Jon and Dany, their later so-so sex scene included. Those smoldering looks offered their own kind of drama, while the paintings gave us an important dose of mythology. Now this is sexposition.
In short, episodes 3 and 4 will likely rank on many 10 best Game of Thrones episodes lists when the show is all said and done.
Brace yourself: rewatch marathons are coming.