Friday, May 24, 2024

Jon and Dany’s Tepid Boat Scene Sunk the Season

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Okay, maybe that’s dramatic, because we all know the teleporting raven was the true killer here. But with Game of Thrones’s seventh season in our rearview mirror, we can finally look at what’s laughably called the “plot” as a whole. What story showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D) wanted to tell this year.

After last week’s abysmal (yet completely standard) episode, many viewers began to clue into the fact that Thrones is an entirely plot-driven story…not character. Perhaps not even a plot-point-driven one, because there was no coherent thread that lead Jon and his merry men north of the Wall to capture a wight. Did it change anything? Nope. Did it convince Cersei? Nope. Did we have any reason to think it might have? Nope. So why were they north of the Wall? Ice dragon. Super-hot-fire-breathing ice dragon, apparently.

Yes, it was unmotivated and silly, and for once, properly torn to pieces by critics and viewers alike. But let’s consider the entire season, because it’s not like this backwards approach to storytelling was relegated to “Beyond the Wall.”

Season 7’s opener had Daenerys reaching the shores of Westeros with her vastly superior army. We spent four episodes watching contrivance after contrivance chisel away at it, mostly thanks to following what is objectively one of the worst military strategies possible, while magically teleporting fleets ravaged her allies and bannermen sided with the woman who had just blown up their entire religious institution. Then the tables flipped back after one dragon attack, and we were in mostly the same geopolitical situation as before: Daenerys had an army of Unsullied and Dothraki and two dragons, and the Lannisters were friendless. So it’s hard to say there was a particular plot point driving any of that—it was wheel-spinning. Wheel-spinning that is going to save them a lot of money on actor contracts (you think Diana Rigg is CHEAP?), but wheel-spinning nonetheless.

One of our other major theaters was Winterfell, where a man who should have been executed last season was instead executed this week. It’s hard to say the season was particularly shaped by this moment, since it required the most ridiculous scripting of Arya and Sansa, as well as an immaculate off-screen coordinated effort to bring him down. Rather, the season’s number of episodes shaped how long a false tension created only to fool the viewer needed to last. I’m sure D&D thought Littlefinger’s death happening this year would be satisfying, but there was nothing especially necessary or earned about it occurring now, or in this manner.

I denounce these proceedings, I quit this court!

Also unnecessary was Sam’s entire trip to The Citadel, though it did allow D&D to write themselves out of the greyscale corner they had created with Jorah.

No, we have to keep pulling back and back to ask ourselves what actually changed this year? Well, the Wall came down and the army of the dead poured through, thanks to UnViserion. People are gearing up to fight them. And the two designated series protagonists hooked up. If we’re being really generous, we can add the third plot point of Jaime breaking up with Cersei, but there’s no reason the season couldn’t have opened with that being the case given the sept-explosion last year. They just didn’t want it to, because if Jaime wasn’t on Cersei’s side, then we couldn’t have wheel-spun for five episodes.

Also, you could tell the way the writers bent over backwards to bring about those two plot-points. The idiocy of the “capture a wight” plan has been covered to death by pretty much every major site on the internet. But it had to happen, or else Dany wouldn’t have needed to fly her dragons North, and then we wouldn’t have gotten an ice dragon. If we’re talking about #boatsex, then we’ve got Jon sailing past the North TWICE without checking in (he was a present king for what…two days in total?), the second time after having bent the knee, and he just sent letters? He did this knowing Arya and Bran were both alive, too, which is even worse. Don’t bother stopping to say “hi” or anything! But see, if he had checked in at Winterfell, then Bran would have told him his true identity, and he might not have wanted the sex with Dany anymore.

So that’s how you can tell it must have been a major plot-point!

Yup. That was Season 7. Melting the Wall and the “Jonerys” romance. Thrones’s penultimate episode relied on us caring a lot about seeing an ice(ish) dragon, and the final one episode on caring about this new relationship, the latter of which even got a full expo-dump voiceover and a pretty flashback sequence inter-cutting it.

“We’re just here to provide your brain with romantic imagery!”

It grieves me, therefore, to point out how utterly embarrassing the end result was. Granted, my own hype for #boatsex was of a more ironic nature. But this…THIS is what we got? Let’s break it down.

The Dragon and the Dragon

First, we sort of need to chat about the blue fire breathing dragon in the room: Jon is Dany’s nephew. If you missed HBO’s infographic last year since the baby crossfade reveal in the finale was so poorly done, then this is information you became privy to as the new couple was consummating their relationship. Bran is talking about his Aunt Lyanna being Jon’s true mother, with his father being Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s brother. I made my own infographic to explain:

Apparently Aemon being Dany’s great-great uncle was TOO complicated, or something.

Now here’s the thing. In Westeros, the Targaryens are rather famously inbred. The reason I extended this chart as much as I did is so you can see that Dany descends from a sibling marriage (two of them, in the books), and a few generations before Egg are hardly free of a similar structure (unless those are randomly punted out in show canon too?). So Jon and Dany are actually more closely related in blood than a typical aunt/nephew pairing.

One of the reasons that we in the 21st century have such a strong aversion to incest is because we know understand that the offspring from marriages between two people too genetically similar are predisposed towards birth defects, mental illnesses, and physical disabilities. It’s not particularly healthy or safe. This is in evidence in Westeros too, seeing as “Targaryen madness” was kind of a famous concept.

“I am no maester to quote history at you, Your Grace. Swords have been my life, not books. But every child knows that the Targaryens have always danced too close to madness. Your father was not the first. King Jaehaerys once told me that madness and greatness are two sides of the same coin. Every time a new Targaryen is born, he said, the gods toss the coin in the air and the world holds its breath to see how it will land.” —Barristan Selmy, A Storm of Swords

Aunts and nephews under normal circumstances share 1/4 of their genes, which is better than siblings or parent-children (1/2), yet less safe than first cousins (1/8). First cousin relationships more or less double the risk of something wrong with the baby, to give you an idea of issues that might unfold. If we want to assume the dialogue about Jon and Dany’s heir-making that we were clumsily treated to all year long is setting up the possibility that they’re going to make a baby together, there’s reasonable concern here for something to be wrong with the child, especially given how inbred Dany already is.

But she thinks she’s infertile, and they were just boning, so we can kind of ignore that point for now.

The other main reason incest is frowned upon for us (and also varying degrees of illegal; in the US, only select states allow first-cousin marriages, and avunculate marriage is not legal at all) is because of socialization. Two adopted siblings hooking up is still pretty messed up, because they’re socialized to have that familial dynamic. In the case of uncle-niece (or aunt-nephew), there’s often a question of exploitation and the ability to give consent given power dynamics. First cousins? A lot depends on upbringing, and the lines start to get really woolly really fast. This is one of those topics that makes you think pretty hard about what it means to be progressive because I don’t know where these lines should be. There’s other fish guys, come on.

Dany and Jon weren’t socialized as an aunt and nephew. They’re of the same age, they’ve got relatively equal footing in terms of power (he did bend the knee, but it’s not like she ordered him to take off his clothes or anything), and frankly there’s nothing worrying in terms of consent going on, which on this show is a miracle.

See? They both at least somewhat dig it.

Worldbuilding-wise, this doesn’t really break much either, since they’re Targs and people accepted them as being able to marry siblings. True, in Season 5 they had the High Sparrow sort of hint that Cersei banging Lancel was taboo, but that never made sense. It barely makes sense in our world.

But they’re still aunt and nephew.

And I’m sorry, but this is the kind of thing that should, at the least, be making us reflect heavily on our Values Dissonance. We’re probably desensitized because Jaime and Cersei’s relationship was oddly endorsed by the show throughout most of Season 5 and 6, and even this one (I’m still not sure how this was the breaking point for Jaime). But you know…that wasn’t supposed to be healthy, and the way in which people—Jon and Dany included—react to their shared genes will be interesting and likely morally ambiguous, since this is something that I doubt is supposed to be endorsed in our world.


So the tonal choice to have this reveal occur over sweet, romantic, swooping music, intercut with lines like “they were in love,” with the physical sex itself framed as more of the emotional, languid kind than the Twincest “rumpy pumpy” of Season 1 was, at the least, a rather odd decision, no?

Look, I’m not some pearl-clutching prude. To be honest, I usually like sordid implications and narratives where the writers rely on the audience to have a healthy grasp of depiction vs. endorsement. However, this was endorsement of this relationship, plain and simple. We shouldn’t need to listen to creator and actor interviews to know how to feel about what’s on our damn screens.

So how did that soundtrack choice land for you, Kit?

If it had landed as a well-earned, genuine romantic moment, then sure. But that brings us to the main issue…

I don’t like sand

At some point it was decided that Jon and Dany were going to fall in love. I don’t know if this is a Checklist Effect from George R.R. Martin’s far superior work, if they just thought Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington looked good together, or if D&D truly thought that these characters would not be able to be in a scene together without heat-rising-from-the-asphalt levels of sexual tension, and there was simply no other way to script it. But that was the decision made, and they had officially one season to make it happen, so that we could have #boatsex close it out.

Now, I’m very much in favor of bored people on seafaring journeys schtupping away the hours. I’m also in favor of two hot people having sex with each other because they feel like it. If Jon and Dany had found each other so irresistibly attractive that they had sex against the White Walker stick figure drawings in Episode 4, then I would have been cheering for it.

Limits of Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke’s facial muscles notwithstanding, the show did at least give them some Looks™ that revealed at least a mild degree of interest. Emilia Clarke actually did far better in this department, particularly when she looked like she wanted a quickie before Jon left on his stupid wight mission.

It’s almost a smile! Hold the presses!

We were told that Jon had checked out her boobies at one point, so I guess he gets a pass too.

So #boatsex would have been fine had they just, you know, let them bang for the hell of it. Dany kind of seemed to realize Jon was a giant idiot in the Dragon Pit earlier, but let her bang the dumb jock! She probably misses Daario, who could actually carry on a full conversation and (*gasp*) banter with her.

Except again: swoopy music, not a ton of physicality, soft lighting…they’re in love!

But how in seven hells was that earned? They barely interacted with each other. The scenes they had together were as follows:

  • Dany meets Jon in episode 3. They talk in circles for 5 minutes about knee-bending, and she gets slightly curious when Davos lets it slipped that Jon had been stabbed in the heart.
  • Dany lets Jon mine her dragonglass because Tyrion asked her to.
  • Jon shows Dany stick figure drawings and she agrees to help him fight them if he bends the knee. Again (I think).
  • Jon pets a dragon, Dany tells him she defeated some of her enemies, and then she asks him about the whole “you were stabbed” thing.
  • Jon gets a letter from Bran about the army of the dead, Dany doesn’t want to go North because of Cersei’s great threat, and Tyrion hatches a stupid plan.
  • Jon says goodbye on his way to hunt a wight.
  • Dany saves his dumb ass from this wight-hunt and he bends the knee.
  • Dany tells him he’s an idiot in the pit, and he hands her a not-metaphorical dragon bone.
  • Jon and Dany work out the logistics of boatsex.
  • #boatsex

Now, I’d argue the moment that there was supposed to be something ~deep~ between them (read: the moment they fell in love) was on the ship going back from Eastwatch, with Dany being emotional about Viserion and Jon showing remorse. It was a nice hand-hold.

But…there’s just no substance behind it. Everything they did together was more or less plot-related planning planning sessions, with the one exception of Jon petting her dragon. That’s meaningful to her, for sure, since she wants other riders (wait…was this even on the show?), but it was also left completely unexplored. And is that really enough to have earned the sappy mushy sex portrayal? They’re in love because he pet her pet? I’m certainly not in love with everyone who pets Trystane Nymeros.

Though he might be…

What’s even worse is that the writers seemed to realize how ~nothing~ there was for them to lean on, though rather than actually developing anything (have them talk about their tragic pasts! Romance 101!), they decided instead to position a bunch of people around Jon and Dany to tell them that they found the other one attractive.

Dany: Jon Snow is not in love with me.
Tyrion: Oh, my mistake. I suppose he stares at you longingly because he’s hopeful for a successful military alliance.

This is just… If I may quote RedLetterMedia’s Plinkett review of Attack of the Clones, “this is movie romance at its most superficial.”

Two attractive individuals having sex to sensual music—they must be in love! A voice-over talking about two other people in love—they must be in love! Tyrion standing outside their door looking sad everyone’s having fun but him—they must be in love! wait, why is that happening?

Hell, at least Padme and Anakin joked about “omg a fascist dictatorship has its merits” together. At least Anakin’s infamous sand pick-up line demonstrated intrigue! Jon and Dany didn’t even talk during or before #boatsex. Their last individual conversation was Dany coming to the realization that he was hot, but dumb, while he tried to figure out if birth control was going to be an issue or not. Then we get a knock on the door, and they’re just chilling in bed naked after that. Again, let them screw, but don’t insult us by implying it’s this magnificent love story.

Remember Robb and Talisa’s tent sex? Remember Dany and Ed Skrein!Daario’s sexually charged map-touching times? Hell, even Yara and Dany’s handshake last season was more evocative of love-type emotions, and that was blatant queerbaiting.

Yes, half my disappointment is that we didn’t even get good memes out of this. But truly the issue lies in what D&D think themselves capable of as storytellers.

Jon and Dany getting together was supposed to be one of the more momentous things to happen this year. I don’t know why this was the direction, but it is clear that as the second-to-last thing we see this season, we were supposed to feel something for it. Probably something strong. Instead, we got a cringe-worthy scene of two actors who had not-so-subtly opted out of nudity in their contracts rolling around while the most awkward expo-dump sounded over top, because we needed to be told what this moment meant to the characters. This is because D&D don’t seem to have the ability to write how people actually interact and sound, or gave up trying somewhere along the way. If they can’t conceive of a world in which two sisters wouldn’t have been threatening to murder each other because of slightly different personalities, of course they couldn’t deliver any genuine sort of romance.

Stick to the ice dragons, boys. Season 8 will be one long battle, most likely, and don’t even bother filling in the rest. It just sinks under its own weight.

Images courtesy of HBO

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