Dressed for wartime success

An analysis of the 'Game of Thrones' season finale

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With a title so rife with symbolism as “The Dragon and the Wolf,” the seventh season finale of “Game of Thrones” was fittingly filled with significant imagery. As a war between the literal forces of life and death commences, many of the characters find a sort of freedom in the tumult — after all, as the now-late Petyr Baelish said, “chaos is a ladder.” This newfound freedom is conveyed through largely visual cues, from gestures to wardrobe choices, apparent in the episode’s major scenes.

The Dragonpit Summit

What really stunned during the initial meeting at Dragonpit was, of course, Daenerys’s arrival on the back of Drogon. The meeting place itself was once a place to restrain dragons and keep them docile; in the show’s lore, we discover, this confinement stunted their growth until they were the size of small dogs.

Drogon, as the sigil of Dany’s house, often serves as a symbol of his mother. Dany, like Drogon, grew from a helpless child into a ferociously proud dragon. By drawing Dany into the Dragonpit, Cersei perhaps hoped to corner and trap her, but Drogon’s easy exit from the Dragonpit implies that the traps of old do not work on the powerfully adept new generation of dragons. Like Drogon, Dany has the wings to escape from both the suffocating name of her family and the mistakes they made generations ago.

By contrast, Cersei enters surrounded by her retinue and led by the Mountain. Where Dany found power and freedom in independence evoked by her solo entrance, Cersei found her own by surrounding herself by powerful people with unwavering loyalty and insubstantial moral compasses. In a way, Gregor is Cersei’s Drogon — a faithful weapon.

Their wardrobe choices, too, are not insignificant. Dany is resplendent in the burgundy and black “fire and blood” of House Targaryen. Her greatest claim to the throne is still her name, despite the fractured reputation of Aerys. Her own Essos conquests and liberations mean little in Westeros; her status as a Targaryen, however, makes her part of a wronged family, no matter how much madness ran in the Targaryen bloodline.

Cersei wears her customary stiff dress of black, with a similarly dark Lannister lion brooch at her collar. Compared to her rich, colorful dresses from earlier seasons, this outfit is positively spartan. The black signifies that her mourning period is not yet finished; while she has a new child to live for, the calcification her heart underwent following the quick sequential deaths of her beloved children directly impacted her intensifying thirst for power. Her stark departure from the appealing nature of her dresses and beautiful hair symbolizes Cersei’s retirement from the ladyship game; she will still dress crisply, but no longer to ingratiate herself. Now, she only serves herself.

Even though Cersei’s house colors are missing, the placement of her brooch shows that her Lannister name is still close to her heart. This becomes significant later in the episode, when, twice presented with chances to kill brothers who defied her, she is unable to do so. After building herself up as a heartless powermonger, Cersei still cannot escape the pride she bears for House Lannister.

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Jaime’s flight from King’s Landing

After six seasons of operating only for Cersei (“The things I do for love” becoming his arc words), Jaime’s fading love as he became increasingly privy to her ruthlessness finally came to a head this episode, with his long-awaited exit from her grasp.

As he left, snow began falling from the sky over the usually balmy city, proving the Stark words true. Jaime’s skyward glance before he continues riding out is an affirmation of his action: by leaving Cersei, he can stop playing the game of politics — one he was always ill-suited for — and instead fight to save his home from the now-apparent winter.

Jaime’s flight took strength and courage — it was his biggest defiance of Cersei. His love for her, deep connection to her and increasing fear of her usually left Jaime to quail under her command, but Cersei’s refusal to keep her promise to the living was what finally pushed Jaime over the edge. Even though Cersei threatened to have him killed, he still didn’t back down. Judging by his round, fearful eyes when she almost gave the command, Jaime entirely believed, even if just momentarily, that execution was a real possibility. By risking his own life to leave, Jaime now has the chance to save everyone else’s and carry his redemption arc to completion.

But Jaime hasn’t entirely separated himself from Cersei — the twins’ symbols of liberation still mirror each other. Similar to Cersei’s all-black wardrobe, Jaime’s clothes as he departs King’s Landing are dark and colorless: the eye is drawn especially to his austere black gloves. Taking one last look at his Lannister gold hand, he shrouds it in the fabric, thereby also using his respective black garment to eschew the Lannister name.

Trial at Winterfell

This episode, Sansa and Arya freed themselves of a plot that pitted them against each other. Sansa, particularly, finally found herself free from Littlefinger’s determination to have a hand in her ultimate fate.  

Leading up to the trial, Sansa wore her cloak as she pondered her coming actions outside; the cloak is a familiar item from Sansa’s wardrobe, as we have seen her wear it as Alayne Stone in the cold of the Eyrie as well as when she fled Ramsay Bolton with Theon. In the first case, coupled with her black-dyed hair, Sansa’s cloak shrouded her identity as the de facto Lady of Winterfell, a fact that put her in peril. When she was next wearing it during her escape, she was freeing herself from a dangerous union that came about from her status as a Stark; in both instances, Sansa’s cloak came at a time when she needed protection from her own identity.

At this point, as the now-active Lady of Winterfell, Sansa is again in danger, and again from Littlefinger; her time of reflection in the cloak foreshadows that, soon enough, she will save herself from the dangers she faces as the eldest daughter of a prominent family. The only difference is that this time, she will do it not by fleeing from her heritage or her home — now, she will save herself by facing up to being Lady Stark.

This difference is reflected in her next scene. Poised at the front of the Great Hall, Sansa has removed her cloak and revealed her characteristic hair and garb. As has been true for the whole series, Sansa’s hairstyle is vitally important to her image: gone are the days of fancy Southern updos. Her simple, practical braided half-bun is a classically Northern hairstyle, with her hair swept out of her face but its length shielding her vulnerable neck. The hairstyle was one that Catelyn often wore in the first season; significantly, it is also the one that Lyanna is seen with in Bran’s flashback.

Sansa’s faithfully Northern countenance and bearing earn her the loyalty of her people, including famously obstinate Yohn Royce, who refuses to help Littlefinger even though he is the Lord of the Vale. Arya also returns to her side, encouraging her as she enforces Northern justice for the first time in her leadership stint. Arya’s major qualm with Sansa was a lack of loyalty to their family; now, she is confident in her sister’s status as a proud Northerner. With Jon moving farther away from his Northern upbringing and toward his Targaryen blood, Sansa is now a viable wolf counter to Jon’s dragon.

Similar to historical wartimes, war in Westeros shifts social orders and frees the most consistently entrapped characters of “Game of Thrones.” With one season and two wars remaining, this freedom could mean shifting alliances and unexpected power changes for the eighth and final season.

Sahana Rangarajan covers “Game of Thrones.” Contact her at [email protected].

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