After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 7, we’ll be answering a crucial question: Who is currently the worst person in Westeros? This week, Jacob Brogan is joined by June Thomas, managing producer of Slate podcasts.
Brogan: Hello, June! Thanks for joining me to talk about “Dragonstone.” Let’s dive right in.
“When people ask you what happened here, tell them winter came. Tell them the North remembers.” So speaks Arya in the cold open of this episode’s premiere, shortly after pulling off her latest disguise, which had her passing herself off as Walder Frey, whose throat she slit last season. It’s a phrase that feels triumphant in the moment, since she’s just killed a ton of terrible people (who were wearing terrible hats). In retrospect, though, it’s both literally and figuratively chilling. Winter is here, and there is, as Sandor Clegane learns, a wall of ice rising from the heart of the flames.*
It’s tempting, then, to suggest that this episode’s true villains are the people who refuse to acknowledge the danger that’s coming. It’s a danger we see just after the credits, as an almost endless army of the dead that’s swollen to include poor Wun Wun, the fan-favorite gentle giant, strides toward the camera. It’s a danger that Jon Snow fixates on, possibly to his strategic detriment. But it’s also one that Sansa and Cersei blithely ignore, insisting that what really matters is their generations-long struggle. And, of course, it’s one that Samwell’s archmaester boss, played by Jim Broadbent, blows off, seemingly assuming that the wall will simply hold, as it long has.
I ask you, then, June. Is one of them the worst? Or is it someone else altogether?
Thomas: Perhaps because I was watching with an eye to the conversation that I knew we were going to have afterward, my eyes were peeled for WPiW candidates. And then everyone was nice, kind, and brave. Even Littlefinger was woke, telling Sansa how empowered he felt to behold Brienne’s fighting skills.
My prime candidates for WPiW are the chef at the Citadel, who was so effective at providing hideous implements for Sam to gather and clean. Or maybe just the man who figures out the duty roster at the Citadel for making Sam’s maester classes so damned vile.
Brogan: Indeed, this is a show in which we’ve been witness to horrifying acts, including the Hound’s robbing an innocent father and daughter and leaving them for dead—an act that we’re asked to revisit this episode. But for all that, there have been few sequences more grotesque than that montage of Sam emptying chamber pots, or dinner pots, to the extent you can even tell the difference.
Thinking about what we’ve endured, though, I keep coming back to Arya brutally murdering the assembled Freys, who, in the moment, resemble nothing so much as the audience for this show—hungry for yet another meal. Is it possible that we are the worst for continuing to watch this shit?
Thomas: When it comes to divining portents from the entrails (please gods old and new, not of the dude Broadbent was cutting up), Game of Thrones doesn’t send the clearest messages. I think your earlier suggestion is probably right, though—the most important task is to stay awake to the threat of the army of the dead. Don’t zone out (knocking back “Walder Frey’s” booze will not end well); don’t ignore the pleas of the untutored maester-to-be who knows so much about the army of the night or the enemies of the undead might miss an important clue.
But at the same time, as Beric Dondarrion admits, there’s nothing special about him, and he keeps being brought back from the dead. Screw the portents and the prayers to the Seven and special rooms full of learned books, some are meant to live and others to die, and there’s very little rhyme or reason to it all.
Brogan: That’s the thing, though, isn’t it? The Lord of Light on this show really does feel all powerful but also profoundly arbitrary. We’re often told that Sam is a stand-in for the soup-loving George R.R. Martin, but the Lord of Light can only be a fusion of showrunners Benioff and Weiss at this point. They kill who they want and resurrect who they love, whatever their reasons. Who are we to interpret their motives?
Thomas: We’re just the saps who tune in every week, know the sigils of various invented houses, and can psychologize them as if they’d been lying on a couch telling us about their mothers (or, this week, their fathers) for these six years gone.
Is this where you tell me to seek help because I was a bit disappointed that all the characters I care about (and at least one I love to hate) made it to the end of the episode? Not that I wanted any of them to die—I’d be complaining up a storm if any of them had been offed. But when the biggest surprise is that there weren’t really any big surprises, something feels a little off. Survival is more stressful than death—honorable or otherwise—on this show.
Brogan: I’m right there with you. What does it say about us that we keep waiting for someone to die? What does it say about the Lord of Light that He delivered no new Corpses of Note™ for our amusement?
Thomas: But, you know, I was also relieved that everyone lived to die another day. That Poor Tortured Arya got to have the first bite of rabbit from a group of nice singalong-enjoying family men; that Sansa feels safe if not happy; that Bran is at least behind the Wall; that Meera gets to rest her dragging muscles for a little while; that Cersei has someone who seems vaguely worthy of her talent for unfair fighting; and that the Dothraki haven’t freaked out on the passage over the Narrow Sea.
Oh, and that Sam has managed to keep Gilly and Little Sam close, despite the Citadel’s exclusionary attitudes.
Brogan: Why am I unhappy, then? Is it because so many of our favorite characters are happy?
June … am I the worst?
Thomas: You really are. You can’t stand to see them relatively content, because you know that their happiness is temporary and will just make their inevitable return to self-soiling terror all the more terrible. (But not really. As long as Cersei is alive, she’ll always be the worst. Even Jaime knows that now.)
Brogan: It’s not Cersei, though. Not this episode.
Brogan: If I’m being honest, I love that guy. This is a dude who brushes away Jaime’s murder of his kin by saying, “place was getting crowded.”
Thomas: True, anyone whose heartlessness can shock Jaime is a Westerosi of Note.
Brogan: Let’s be real. This was an episode with “pop” “star” Ed Sheeran in it. Could anyone be worse?
Thomas: I’m just glad Kid Rock wasn’t leading the singalong.
Brogan: Had he been, he would have been worse, but Ed Sheeran …
Thomas: You are the worst person in Westeros.
*Correction, July 17, 2017: This post originally misidentified Sandor Clegane as Gregor Clegane.