The first six seasons of Game of Thrones were a slow-burn build-up, full of simmering tension, constantly shifting alliances, and a brutal battle for control of the Iron Throne.

In season 7, it feels like the showrunners really hit the gas pedal, and all these narrative pieces start coming together rapidly. Daenerys is finally ready to challenge Cersei for the Iron Throne, but standing in both of their ways is the growing threat of the Night King and his army of the dead.

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A tale of two queens

Cersei and Dany continue to be two of the most fascinating characters on this show, even though I’m not really rooting for either of them to take the Iron Throne in the end.

On the surface, Cersei is the show’s irredeemable villain and Dany is the hero, riding in to save Westeros from a seemingly endless cycle of violence and upheaval. But, this show has always been more of a Shakespearean tragedy than a feel-good fantasy tale, and there’s a lot of nuance to these characters, once you dig beneath the surface.

I’ve talked before in my Game of Thrones blog series that even though Cersei is a ruthless schemer, at certain moments I do feel sorry for her. She really does love her children, and watching them die one by one is genuinely heartbreaking for her. Her father and her husband both used her as a pawn in the game of thrones, and her codependent relationship with her brother Jaime is unhealthy for both of them. Plus, Lena Headey’s performance makes Cersei such a compelling character that even though you’re hoping for her downfall, she’s a vital part of what makes this show work so well.

As for Dany, in the first couple of seasons I was really cheering for her and I wanted to see her triumph. She’s a character who’s been beaten down and, like Cersei, has often been used as a pawn by the people around her. Yet there’s a darkness within Dany, hidden beneath the surface, that you don’t really see until later in the series.

Dany has a kind heart and compassion for the powerless and the suffering, but she can also be brutal to those who oppose her. One of the questions I’ve been pondering throughout my time watching this series is, “Does Dany go too far in her pursuit of justice? And should she do a better job of showing mercy?” Although her new adviser, Tyrion Lannister, fully supports her, you can see his growing concern with her determination to squelch her opposition.

On the one hand, I do understand that Dany is trying to consolidate her power and make a strong case for why she should sit on the Iron Throne. Yet sometimes her actions strike me as too harsh, and I worry that she may be tempted to cross too far over into the dark side. (Actually, I know she does this, since I’ve heard season 8 spoilers.)

One of the show’s primary themes is that a desire for power can become a consuming, corrupting force that can cause even good-hearted people like Dany to stumble. Is it possible to wield that much power and still remain pure of heart? So far, the Iron Throne hasn’t really brought anyone peace or fulfillment, and pretty much everyone who’s sat in it has become corrupted in some way and come to an unhappy end.

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The prince that was promised

A character who offers an interesting contrast to this desperate struggle for power is Jon Snow, who, despite being a natural leader, doesn’t really seem to crave power or influence. When he’s named King in the North, he accepts the honor with humility and is one of the few leaders in Westeros who really does care about helping his people. His interactions with Dany show that he’s willing to set aside his own pride to recruit allies for the coming war against the Night King.

Of course, if you’ve already watched this season, you know by now that there’s a REALLY BIG twist when it comes to Jon and Dany. As in, Jon was never actually Ned’s illegitimate son, and as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, he actually has a claim to the Iron Throne himself. And this whole situation gets even weirder and more complicated because this reveal comes right as Jon and Dany have started a romantic relationship.

We’ve already got one incest subplot going on in Game of Thrones, so I’m really not a fan of adding ANOTHER one. I wish they would have either gone with “tragic romance between a queen and one of her advisers” OR “two allies whose friendship is compromised when they learn they could be rivals.”

Anyway, none of this is going to come to a happy ending, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until the next season to see how it all plays out.

Also, this is somewhat of a random side note, but I couldn’t end this blog without commenting on the downfall of one of my favorite characters, Olenna Tyrell. Even though she technically loses to House Lannister, she still gets the last laugh by telling Jaime that she was the one who assassinated Joffrey. Lady Tyrell is an icon, and I still maintain that she deserved to sit on the Iron Throne.

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The long night

Season 7 really starts to drive home just how dangerous the Night King and his army of the dead are. Like, this is a potentially world-ending event if they cannot be stopped. And to heighten this feeling of utter terror descending across Westeros, the season ends with an UNDEAD DRAGON blasting the seemingly impenetrable Wall with blue fire and then blowing a hole in it big enough to march an army through.

While I already know the final season is going to be nerve-wracking to watch, I am looking forward to seeing pretty much all the power players in Westeros setting aside their differences (at least for one battle) and teaming up to fight the undead.

Up till this point, I’ve been able to borrow copies of the previous seasons of Game of Thrones, but season 8 has not been released on home video yet. However, I discovered I can sign up for a free trial of the HBO streaming service, so I have exactly one week to binge watch the entire final season. So, see you on the other side!