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Game of Thrones’ season 7 finale has the potential to redeem a rocky season

The show has all the pieces in place for a spectacular finale. Now it just has to pull it off.

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Reactions to the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’ seventh season were not as universally laudatory as they’ve been in years past. Vox highlighted the rich tapestry of nonsense that was the White Walker battle; the Atlantic asked, “Does this story still know what it’s doing?”; and the Ringer claimed that at this point, the show has become the sort of ho-hum fantasy it once consciously tried to subvert.

But while “Beyond the Wall” left many dismayed about the show’s future, this weekend’s season seven finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” has a chance to make up for that icy misstep. It promises the most dramatic collision of characters we’ve seen thus far, as all three Lannister siblings, as well as Jon Snow, Brienne, Jorah, Davos, and more, are set to converge for a loaded meeting in the fabled dragon pit, where the Targaryens kept their fiery beasts when they held the Iron Throne.

Conspicuously missing from the trailer for the episode is Daenerys, which makes sense given Cersei’s penchant for blowing up gatherings of important figures. Her absence also sets us up for yet another eyeroll-worthy last-minute Drogon ex machina intervention should things go predictably south.

Season seven has been at its best when it pits characters the audience cares about against each other, rather than a mythic, CGI-assisted foe with unclear motivations and questionable javelin form. And while the season has been notably light on casualties, “The Dragon and the Wolf” has the potential to bring Game of Thrones’ penultimate season to a close in a way that makes recent weak writing seem insignificant in the face of a major revelation or high body count.

To fully grasp the scope of what’s to come this Sunday, let’s break down all of the dynamics at play in this meeting that’s been seven years in the making.

Cersei vs. everyone

Helen Sloan/HBO

It seems unlikely that Cersei will end two seasons in a row with a major bang, but it’s worth noting just how many of her enemies are willingly coming to her turf.

She still despises Tyrion, even though Jaime told her that Olenna was responsible for Joffrey’s death. Jon Snow is the leader of the northern insurrection and has now partnered up with her archrival Daenerys. She surely harbors some residual Stark hatred that will factor into her frosty reception of the northern contingent. Theon is also part of the landing party, and it’s important to remember that Cersei’s would-be husband Euron still holds his sister, Yara, captive.

There’s also the potential of Davos bringing along Gendry, and while it seems hardly important in the grand scheme of things, the existence of a Baratheon bastard is surely news Cersei would not be thrilled about, given that Joffrey sought to have them all killed during the massacre in King’s Landing.

Brienne and Jaime reunite

Jaime and Brienne first became acquainted when she trekked him across the Riverlands in seasons two and three, planning to exchange him for Arya and Sansa on the orders of Catelyn Stark. That scheme didn’t succeed, but it did establish one of the more touching and unlikely friendships on the show.

The two grew close, with Brienne helping Jaime cope with the loss of his hand, and Jaime ultimately gave Brienne Oathkeeper, one of two Valyrian steel swords made from the melted blade of Ned Stark’s Ice. He also allowed her to flee during the siege at Riverrun after the castle was captured at the end of season six.

Though he’s still fiercely loyal to Cersei, Jaime has certainly seen her evil through a more neutral lens, and appears to have more misgivings than ever about his sister/queen/alleged mother of his unborn child. An encounter with Brienne, who has always seen the innate good in Jaime beyond his Kingslayer reputation, could push him further into the category of Cersei skeptic — which would have major implications going forward.

Cleganebowl? Cleganebowl!

It’s tough to tell from the preview whether the Hound is present in the King’s Landing party, but given that characters like Brienne, Jorah, and Davos are in attendance, it’s fair to assume that the younger Clegane might also be part of the party.

This would set the stage for what certain corners of the internet have dubbed “Cleganebowl,” a climactic clash between the Hound and his older brother the Mountain, currently Westeros’s scariest blue zombie this side of the Night King. Given this season’s catering to fan service, it seems we may get this long-discussed battle sooner rather than later.

Even before they were ostensibly on opposite sides of the war, the two siblings weren’t exactly pals. Both are combative, brash, and confrontational; they fought frequently; and the Hound’s distinct facial scarring is the result of the Mountain pushing his face into a fire when they were children. This history was heavily referenced in “Beyond the Wall,” when the Hound explained to Tormund that he was pushed into the flames, so it’s fresh in viewers’ minds going into this possible reunion.

The Hound hasn’t played as big of a role as the early part of this season suggested he would, but defeating his brother would be a fitting way to close out his redemption arc, and would give fans who’ve wanted vengeance for Oberyn Martell’s traumatic death at the hands of the Mountain some long-awaited vindication.

The redemption of Jon Snow

Macall B. Polay/HBO

Jon Snow has been blathering to anyone who would listen about the army of the dead for years now, and he finally has his best shot to get the most powerful ally in Westeros on his side. While his plan to capture a wight was profoundly stupid and led to the Night King acquiring a dragon — not to mention the deaths of several unnamed and unimportant wildlings and everyone’s favorite drunk priest, Thoros of Myr — he finally has concrete proof.

It’s worth noting that the last time someone tried to transport a wight (or at least part of one), things didn’t exactly work out. Alliser Thorne of the Night’s Watch was sent on a mission from Castle Black with a still-twitching hand, but it rotted on the journey south. That likely won’t be an issue now, since Jon’s crew captured an entire wight. Also, since characters can now get to any location in Westeros in the span of a single smash cut, it’s hard to imagine the show making transportation time a central issue here.

But while Cersei does apparently grant an audience to Jon and co., it’s hard to believe she’ll take the threat of their wight seriously (although there is an incredible theory on Reddit about her potentially joining forces with the Night King). If she does trust Jon and puts aside her vendettas against several members of Jon’s coalition, then the King in the North will have assembled essentially all of Westeros, along with Daenerys’s forces, to fight back against the encroaching winter.

Whatever’s going on with Sansa and Arya

(HBO)

Sansa and Arya have been bristling at each other pretty much since the latter’s return to Winterfell, and things came to a head in “Beyond the Wall” when Arya confronted Sansa about a letter she was forced to write back when she was held captive by the Lannisters. Later, Sansa stumbled upon her younger sister’s bag of faces, prompting Arya to play the Game of Faces with her.

While some see Arya’s odd behavior as part of a deeper conspiracy to take down Petyr Baelish, it’s also possible that the drama in Winterfell will continue to center on the sisters’ relationship. Arya is stealthy and smart, but she also has a penchant for resorting to violence before fully grasping the consequences; Baelish, to his credit, is more measured. Sansa, meanwhile, has proven herself to be a savvy political mind capable of ruling Winterfell in a way that Jon seemed to struggle to do before he took control of Dragonstone.

Obviously a lot can happen in the finale, and Arya and Sansa could certainly team up to take down Littlefinger in a triumphant sisterly reconciliation. Alternatively, Jon convincing the Lannisters to join him in the fight against the dead, only to return to Winterfell and see his family fractured once more, would be heartbreaking.

Grey Worm and the Unsullied: still standing, somehow

HBO

When we last checked in on Grey Worm and the Unsullied, they were the victims of a brilliant military move by the Lannisters, who gave up Casterly Rock but removed all the provisions and then burned their enemies’ ships. So it would seem that Grey Worm and his battalion have been stranded in a castle with no food for at least the amount of time it took Jon and his cohort to go from Dragonstone to Eastwatch and back down to King’s Landing.

Grey Worm looks like his usual stoic self in the trailer, and his army seems to still be large in number, so it’s worth wondering what exactly they’ve done to survive this long. Then again, it’s possible everything that’s happened since episode three, “The Queen’s Justice,” took place in just a couple of days.