The Hollow Game of Thrones Twist
First, I need to start by saying that “The Dragon and the Wolf” was nearly the best episode of Season 7, and definitely a highlight of the series as a whole. It had great character interactions, satisfying conclusions to season spanning arcs, and a great action set piece. Taken on its own merits, the episode was spectacular. But when viewed within the context of the rest of the season, one scene becomes extremely problematic, and is an indicator of what the show has become as it gets further from the books.
Here is your obligatory spoiler warning for Season 7, Episode 7, “The Dragon and the Wolf.”
Before Game of Thrones became the ratings behemoth that it is now, I used to describe its spectacular ability to construct a satisfying twist as a selling point to my friends. It’s a truly shocking show, but the twists always felt earned. Ned getting his head chopped off in the first season didn’t come out of nowhere; all season long they explored themes of honor coming before common sense, and the consequences of those decisions. George R. R. Martin is so meticulous about seeding events and character motivations, that any of the big reveals can be traced back to finite points. This is why Littlefinger’s death and Sansa’s sudden reversal are so infuriating.
Sansa and Arya’s reunion at the beginning of the season started off very promising. They acted like people who had their differences in the past, but had now moved past them because they were no longer naive children who’s bickering could seem like such a monumental problem. Now, they each have their own traumas, and those events in the past are inconsequential by comparison. That dynamic was quickly abandoned as the show writers reverted the pair to their season one characterizations — constantly fighting and undermining the other. It got to the point where I would start checking my phone whenever we went to Winterfell. And all of this was just so they could create artificial tension between the two, in order to make the reversal in the season finale more dramatic. Yes it was dramatic, but it was also hollow.
Compare this to the other big reveal in the episode: Jon’s true name and birthright. This is an event that is still from the books (even though George hasn’t gotten to it himself), and they have been laying the groundwork since the beginning of the series. Even if you saw the reveal coming, the interspersing of the information dump from Sam and Bran, with Jon and Dany’s sex scene, brought that reveal to a whole new level of surprise and audience discomfort (the good kind).
I think it would have been much more narratively satisfying if we had known that Littlefinger was going down. Sansa and Arya could have acted like they did in their first and last scenes together the whole season — not bickering, but working together and plotting. We’ve seen Littlefinger scheme against and manipulate so many people and events, it would have been so fun to have the roles reversed and see him being the target. His death would have been even more satisfying.
The last couple seasons have been full of these hollow twists, like Jaime on the brink of drowning in “The Spoils of War,” only to miraculously appear on the shoreline (still in full armor) in the next episode. We know that the showrunners have the details of how the series should end from George R. R. Martin, so hopefully next season is based more on that information, and have less of them trying to connect the dots by themselves without George’s writing to guide them.