Full spoilers on for this one.
For six years they warned us, “winter is coming”, so much so that you’d be tricked into thinking it was nothing but ominous promotional prattle and that no reckoning was coming for the heroes and villains of Westeros, similar to the notorious disappointment of late game Lost or the second season of Twin Peaks’ original run. HBO would have none of that though, for this year winter arrived on Game of Thrones, and even though the series had now outlived its literary source material, this would be no lifeless, limp crawl to the finish line, with this truncated, penultimate season delivering far beyond its predecessors and then some.
Season 7’s biggest payoff was the inevitable face to face meeting of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Of course they start as adversaries, then find a common ground as Jon proves the existence of the undead threat storming in from beyond the wall, and how the key to their defeat lies in the depths of her home base of Dragonstone Island. Then it turns out they’re related! And before you know it, they’re fucking. That’s Game of Thrones FOR YOU.
Payoff was a big theme here though, with Arya Stark finally returning to Winterfell, now presided over by her sister Sansa in Jon Snow’s absence on Dragonstone, initially leading both viewers and the conniving Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish to believe that a rift between the surviving Stark sisters could destroy the reformation that Jon fought so hard for in season six’s “battle of the bastards”, only to find himself nearly decapitated by Arya for his continued treachery and deception. Truly one of the most satisfying and long simmering revelations in a season full of them.
Despite the decreased episode count, Game of Thrones’ secondary characters haven’t gotten short shrift in season seven, with the fates of Samwell Tarly and Jorah Mormont intertwined, the reaction of his instructors to Tarly’s risky but successful gambit to cure Mormont’s grayscale cutting short his quest to become a Maester. Not all is well in King’s Landing either. The Lannisters’ monetary woes mirroring their ineffectuality on the battlefield in the wake of Daenerys’ winged prowess (despite their defeat of Oleanna Tyrell and capture of Highgarden) and Cersei now once more pregnant with Jamie’s lovechild, even as she entertains a dalliance with the villainous Euron Greyjoy, fresh from mercilessly crushing Daenerys’ naval fleet and taking Yara hostage, once again emasculating the disgraced Theon.
Those dragons did meet their match beyond wall though, as the season’s other main talking point, the rampaging army of near infinite white walkers hell bent for civilization, felled one with a well placed spear shot from their de facto leader The Night King, when Daenerys came to basically save not only Jon Snow’s ass (though that responsibility ultimately fell to his uncle Benjen Stark), but also his all star expedition to capture a white walker “alive” to prove their threat to the Lannisters. The evidence ultimately did sway the queen regent (or did it?), at least as much as a heartfelt plea from Tyrion (who otherwise did little else but handwringing this season, such is the life of the Hand of a Queen) but it also gave the army of the dead an incredible weapon, a resurrected, zombified ice dragon, which was used to destroy the wall itself as this remarkable season drew to a close.
Game of Thrones Season 7 had all the makings of a pop culture disaster. A seven episode season of original material after fans had grown to love ten episode servings adapted (mostly) straight from the source could’ve completely derailed everything that had thus far made the series one of the most dependable on TV. Instead the show’s creative team made good on all of the snow zombie and dragon carnage threatened since its inception, while also staying true to the interpersonal character dynamics that have made this cast one of history’s most indelible. With a six episode eighth season due as possibly late as 2018, viewers will find themselves as ravenously carnivorous for more Game of Thrones as the wights themselves, but the masterful storytelling on display in season seven at least ensures that the wait will be worth it.