Season 7 of Game of Thrones came to an end on Sunday night. It was a season of highs and lows — stunning dragon attacks and beyond-the-Wall excursions sprinkled alongside unbelievably stupid plans. Now that some time has passed and the ice has settled at Eastwatch, the Ringer staff has taken some deep breaths and carefully reviewed the season to determine the big winners and losers.
Winner: Arya Stark
Michael Baumann: So here’s what Arya’s done this season: Cut off Walder Frey’s face and used it as cover to poison a big ol’ mess of Frey men. Then she hung out with Ed Sheeran, who bought beer for her so she wouldn’t have to get a fake ID; after that, she checked in on Hot Pie, and returned home for the first time in six seasons, where she found out that her sister and brother were still alive. Then she teamed up with Bran and Sansa to kill Littlefinger, to cheers from an adoring crowd. That’s so often the case for siblings who don’t get along — you come back from college and realize those annoying little kids are actually grown-ups now, and aren’t that bad after all. Not only that, but now Arya gets to do all the cool Faceless Man assassin stuff without any of the responsibilities. Hard to say how this season could’ve gone better for her.
Andrew Gruttadaro: The one good moment for eunuchs happened way back in the second episode of Season 7 — when Grey Worm showed the world (specifically Missandei, though) that cockless men still have “many things” to offer in the bedroom. That’s it. Since then, Grey Worm has done a lot of looking at or from castles and basically nothing else:
That last face definitely says, “Maybe the oral sex wasn’t worth it.”
Elsewhere, Theon continued being Theon, literally jumping ship at the first sign of danger after Euron attacked his and Yara’s fleet, then getting punked by his own men, and later again by Euron, who kicked off the summit at King’s Landing by making him look like a loser. Theon eventually decided to be courageous for once later in the season finale — and won a fight almost entirely because of his lack of genitals — but be honest: You, too, were hoping that he would lose that fight and die on the shores of Dragonstone. And then there’s Varys. In early seasons, Varys was one of the most feared characters, a devious wild card who could single-handedly shift the tides of the show. In Season 7, he … did what exactly? Got sonned by Melisandre and meekly forwarded queen management tips along to Tyrion? Was he even in the season finale?
The redemption and exceeding will power of the show’s eunuchs has always been fascinating and compelling, but this was not their year. Hopefully Season 8 corrects course, makes Varys a player again, and gets Grey Worm back in the bedroom. As for Theon, I could go either way. His comeback seems to be a given, but I wouldn’t be that upset if he just got scurvy on the high seas and died.
Winner: HBO’s Wardrobe and Makeup Teams
Ben Lindbergh: Game of Thrones characters made a lot of dumb decisions in Season 7, but at least they looked good. Euron’s makeover didn’t make me want to watch him, but it did help me tolerate his time on screen. The former Mountain’s new Helghast-meets–Dark Trooper–meets–Fullmetal Alchemist armor made him even more intimidating, and the crown-like silver filigree embossed on its breastplate matched that of Cersei’s sleek, high-necked House Atreides outfit from Dune. Arya, Sansa, Dany, and Tyrion got in on the trend toward dark costumes, too, although when conditions dictated a lighter look, Dany’s white winter wear was exquisite. As the show’s costume designer, Michele Clapton, explained, this season’s outfits sent a message about maturation, consolidation of power, and a common foe.
Thrones stepped up its game in the makeup room, too. Dany’s hair and skin seemed suitably regal, Jorah’s greyscale (and ensuing surgery) was convincingly gross, and the Night King & Co. looked less cartoonish and more menacing than they had in previous years. The cast had to work hard to sell some of this season’s story lines, but their outward appearances sold themselves.
Alyssa Bereznak: Let’s be real for a second: At the beginning of Season 7, you probably wouldn’t have been able to pick Viserion out of a generic dragon lineup. Maybe you didn’t even know his name. Despite being a rare, magical monster with a pretty famous mother, he was a “who?” in Westerosi gossip scrolls, constantly overshadowed by his larger, more famous brother, Drogon.
But all that is going to change now that Viserion has died in battle and become an ice dragon. Yes, his untimely death was a tragic loss for the forces representing good in the world, and it will be hard to see him face his still-living siblings on the battlefield. But it’s unquestionable that the moment Viserion switched sides, his profile was immediately heightened. For one thing, people needed to know his name. For another, he’s now flying around one of the most powerful army leaders in Westeros. And hey, ever heard of a little thing called the Wall? My dude Viserion knocked that shit down in, like, six minutes. Write his name down; you’re going to need to know it.
Losers: Tormund and Beric Dondarrion
Kate Knibbs: The dynamic duo of Tormund and Beric are this season’s clear losers, as they were last seen probably dying terrifying ice- or ice-dragon-related deaths. All Tormund wanted to do was make love to a tall woman and this is what he gets? And Beric lost his priest, minimizing his chances at coming back to life again. Game of Thrones has become very fond of scenes that seem to depict certain death, only to later reveal that characters somehow walked away from catastrophe unscathed, which means these two aren’t 100 percent dead. But their best-case scenario involves hiding from a vast army of the dead from within a crumbled pile of ice, so: still not great.
Alison Herman: Between the fully grown dragons on one side and the White Walker army on the other, Game of Thrones had more opportunities than ever this season to showcase the awesome talents of its special effects team. Dany’s children are at long last both fully grown and ready for battle, whether over a loot train or a frozen lake; the army of the dead is now powerful enough to bring down the Wall, with the help of a freshly turned dragon. That may spell trouble for the kind of nuanced writing that’s marked the show’s other major conflicts, but it certainly ups the spectacle to a scale never before seen on TV. And next season, with every human threat except Cersei neutralized, CGI is only going to become a more essential part of Game of Thrones’ aesthetic. Remember when this show had to spend half of “Blackwater” inside the Red Keep because it didn’t have the budget to go outside? Us neither.
Loser: The Wall
Bereznak: Full disclosure: I have not read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. I don’t know the particulars of how Bran “the Builder” Stark constructed it — aside from hiring some giants and using a bunch of magic to seal it off from White Walkers — but it seems like maybe he could’ve done a better job? Because, as impressive as this ancient, 300-mile-long, 700-foot-tall structure appeared to be, it crumbled against the strength of just one ice dragon, like a poorly constructed Ikea bookshelf that once collapsed in my hallway. This is the kind of stuff that Old Nan warned us about, and it seems like something our dear King Bran should’ve expected — so why did it fall so easily?
Knibbs: In the very first episode of Game of Thrones, viewers were, uh, “treated” to a twin-brother-sister sex scene. It was depraved, it was scandalous … and it was a symbolic act of the characters’ innate villainy. Cersei and Jaime really paved the way for incest in GOT, but even on a show that has never shied away from showing familial coitus, incest has been a marker of perversion. Craster was disgusting for a lot of reasons, but making his daughters his wives was his grossest act. However, with Jon and Dany’s boat bang, Game of Thrones just turned its two main heroes into incest-havers, and the decision to cut between the maritime mating and Bran explaining exactly how they’re related meant it was impossible to forget that we were watching an aunt and a nephew get down. So, incest is not that bad now?
Loser: The Leaders of the Reach and Dorne
Zach Kram: This meeting initiated what might qualify as the shortest-lasting, most ill-fated alliance in Thrones history.
When Jaime strolled into Olenna’s chambers to offer her poison and wipe out the Tyrell line, the Queen of Thorns sarcastically recited, “And now the rains weep o’er our halls” — the start of the chorus of “The Rains of Castamere,” the Lannisters’ song about obliterating rival houses. House Tyrell was already gone, in essence, all its remaining members of child-producing age wiped out in Cersei’s wildfire plot in “The Winds of Winter,” but the Lannister army sacking Highgarden and offing its leader completed the final note of that dirge.
But at least relatively, Olenna didn’t suffer much in Season 7; Jaime saw to that. That wasn’t the case with the destruction of the leaders of Dorne, who bore the brunt of the Lannisters’ famous “debt” repayments this season. Obara and Nymeria Sand were slain violently and displayed as trophies atop the prow of a ship; Tyene was sentenced to a slow and painful death, and Ellaria to watch her daughter’s body rot in front of her, in perpetuity.
Elsewhere, the house presumed to replace the Tyrells as leader of the Reach — the Tarlys — didn’t fare much better than their predecessor, as both its ranking male members were roasted just days after taking Highgarden. With the the army of the dead now free to pass through the Wall, Westeros’s southernmost kingdoms might seem like the safest areas on the continent. But Season 7 featured only doom for the houses that ruled them.