That sound you heard late Sunday night was a collective sigh of relief from the fans of "Game of Thrones."
The finale to season 7 seems to have put the show back on track after an uneven season. After the previous two especially shaky episodes, many fans were wondering if the show they had come to love had finally changed direction for the worse.
The season finale episode, "The Dragon and the Wolf," has alleviated many of those fears and put the show on the course many had hoped for seasons ago.
The remaining Starks are working on utilizing their unique talents to survive the winter, while dispensing some well-deserved justice to Littlefinger.
By contrast, the Lannisters continue their family infighting, as Jamie's desire to protect the realm has finally come to a head with Cersei's cruel indifference.
Finally, providing the fan service that so many had been clamoring for, Dany and Jon enjoy a romp below deck after weeks of giving each other "the eyes."
And of course, who could forget the bombshell of all bombshells. It turns out Jon Snow isn't a bastard, but instead the true born son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark and [SPOILER ALERT] the heir to the Iron Throne.
What makes these developments both satisfying in the moment and exciting for the future is that the actions that led to them were consistent with the characters we have grown to love, hate, and understand over 60-plus hours of television.
Much of the well-deserved criticism during the season's earlier episodes was over the plausibility of moving characters around such a vast world in such little time. The season's true sin, however, was characters making choices that contradicted all the character building that had been done in the show's previous seasons.
This betrayal was all done for the sake of moving the plot from point A to point B. The perfect example was the suicidal ranging mission north of The Wall which seems to have only served as a reason for one of Dany's dragons to be turned into a monster of the dead.
These choices weren't simply frustrating because now the Night King has an undead dragon he used to breach The Wall (although those who were killed when The Wall collapsed might disagree). But it's that the mission's very existence relied on so many characters making such inconsistent choices with who we as viewers have understood them to be.
Tyrion, who knows his sister Cersei better than anyone other than Jamie, knew his sister would be unpersuaded by the existence of an undead army, but nonetheless proposed the plan.
By contrast, the finale had Tyrion using his understanding of Cersei to convince her to accept a truce by leveraging the one thing she does care about: her children (unborn in this case). He even poured her a glass of wine beforehand, the only thing she might love more than her children.
Even the smaller characters who have made the show so memorable, such as the Hound, return to be the characters we know and love. Rather, seeing visions in the fire from the Lord of Light, the Hound finally gets the chance to confront the undead monster of his brother. (As a side note, if the Clegane Bowl doesn't happen, this fan will consider the show a complete failure.)
It's in these moments where these histories and desires come into conflict where "Game of Thrones" is at its best — not the large set pieces, although they are often spectacularly done.
As "Game of Thrones" races towards its series finale, with presumably epic battles to come, it would do well to remember why the show has become the phenomenon it is in the first place.
When the show began, it didn't have the budget to show dragons taking down a giant wall made of ice. In fact, the battle where Jamie is captured by the Starks happens entirely off-screen.
What made and continues to make the show special is its commitment to its characters, even when it's killing them off.
While the scale of "Game of Thrones" is at its zenith, what will leave the fans of the show satisfied at its conclusion will be how the show ends the stories of the characters we care about.
Eric Peterson is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is a native of Illinois and all-around nerd. His love of film probably comes from the fact that "Groundhog Day" was filmed in his hometown, which he heard about over and over and over again.
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