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By Tristan Lejeune

It’s easy to forget — what with all the zombie dragons and faceless assassins and walls of ice come tumblin’ down — that Game of Thrones built not just its foundation but its tallest columns, its highest achievements, on two-person, face-to-face scenes. Wash away the fire and blood of its best seasons and episodes and what you find are tête-à-têtes.

Think of the juicy, dicey, pulpy, menacing, warm, foreboding, and satisfying bits that came in moments alone between… Daenerys and Jorah. Catelyn and Robb. Stannis and Davos. Arya and Tywin. Arya and the Hound. Arya and a man incapable of first- or second-person pronouns.

So it’s only fitting that even at this late hour, the finale of the penultimate GoT season, The Dragon and the Wolf finds its core in a head-to-head meeting, and between a pair of lions, no less. So many of the most fun scenes of Thrones‘ first and second seasons were simply Cersei and Tyrion sniping at each other in King’s Landing while racing to the bottom of a decanter of wine. Now, with both their lives potentially at stake, we get to put a capital atop that column.

But then, it isn’t exactly a two-person scene, is it? We have the Mountain glowering silently in the background, two words away from changing who gets top billing in the credits. Ser Gregor reminds us of a lot here: how different the world has become, how the undead walk among us, how Cersei is so vain she’ll have chest plates for her knights designed to match her tiara.

She is your type, the wicked queen says, “a foreign whore who doesn’t know her place.” Direct hit! Battleship struck. And her “poor you” reminded me of Livia Soprano.

She does, however, bring up a great point: If Tywin still lived, his grandchildren very well might, too. Indeed, for all the importance of the future, The Dragon and the Wolf was an hour-plus obsessed with the past. We had one major reckoning, and lots of new perspective on old events. Jon and Theon, one pas de deux pairing whose relationship overwhelmingly took place before the series began, had their most meaningful and moving conversation yet — all about living up to who you really are. Wolf and kraken. Wolf and dragon. Just look at Dany and Jon rolling around for their incest on the high seas (go ahead, take your time) and tell me the past isn’t always in charge. Tyrion and Cersei hate each other, but that’s one sparring partner they know how to work.

“We are a group of people who do not like one another, as this recent demonstration has shown…”

That Lannister-Lannister rendezvous is of course the center of the Oreo, the creamy filling in the largest summit of the show’s history. To think we got so excited about Dany and Jon in the same throne room! Now the Dragon Pit plays host to everyone from Melisandre to Euron to Qyburn to both Hound and Mountain. Did anyone else think Bronn pealed off Podrick to knife him in an alley? Decent dark red herring, that. The extra-large meeting gave us some long-awaited follow-ups (Pod and Tyrion felt surprisingly dry, Brienne and Sandor surprisingly courteous). And it all nearly lands flat because Jon Snow is so damn honest.

Everyone watching the show knew it was ridiculous to plan for Cersei to alter her behavior and her core values just by being honest with her and coughing up a footsoldier in the army of dead. But damned if Lena Headey didn’t sell the fake transformation well.

Regardless, from a storytelling perspective, this pseudo-truce is welcome news. I’d rather see the war against the White Walkers taken care of before the war for the Iron Throne comes to a close, wouldn’t you? Specifically because they have “a general you can’t negotiate with” and a force that leaves no corpses behind. The wight forces are more fearsome, but less interesting.

Speaking of GoT tête-à-têtes, one actor who always crushed them was Aidan Gillen. In his scenes with Sansa and Varys, Petyr Baelish helped make this show, brick by treacherous brick. But his machinations on ruling Westeros never counted on the Night King striking the bee hive and getting everyone buzzing, and it all ended on his knees in the great hall of Winterfell, cut down by his own Valyrian steel blade. Surveys show this particular fatality was widely predicted.

Littlefinger’s mistake? Once someone knows all your tricks, you don’t keep playing them. With as much dirty laundry as Sansa had seen, it was well past time to fly straight with her — no more schemes of divide and conquer. In his final days he even taught her one more: Imagine the worst of someone, then consider how much sense that makes. Personally, I had hoped Baelish would make it closer to his goal before exiting the stage, not because he deserved to, but because he was such an ambitious striver that the nearer he came to victory, the more dramatic the fall would be. But he had much, much to answer for against the Stark children. Their parents would be proud.

Would Theon’s? It’s another important message this episode revisits: Sometimes, you just have to win the fight. The gelding Greyjoy takes command of the Ironborn loyalists in pugilistic fashion. “So why in fuck’s name should we listen to you?” Well, I’ll show you. Though honestly: Why IN fuck’s name would Euron not have killed Yara by this point? She’s pure threat and no reward now.

About blue-flame dragons and the loss of Eastwatch I will say very little. Winter is coming, as are at least a couple of those aboard the Targaryen fleet. The show’s producers’ delight at reveling in the incest is, well, if not contagious, at least deeply amusing. Here’s hoping Jon, by which I mean Aegon, gets a surviving-fire bit in the final season.

But we shall have to wait perhaps a year or more to find out! In season 7 Westerosi time, that’s long enough to sail around the world a dozen times over. Depending on how you spend your voyage, that’s not a terrible place to be.