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Night of the living plot explosions: 5 thoughts on the stunning season finale of 'Game of Thrones'

Well, that was something. And it was also something else — and then some. The seventh season of “Game of Thrones” on Sunday went out with a bang, a whimper, a double-cross, a triple-cross, a killing, an execution and a massive demolition project.

A major character — spoiler alert — died. Another found his courage. One creepy enduring romance ended, and a new one began. A key piece of knowledge was spoken aloud. And the Army of the Dead — which should never be confused with those folks who followed Jerry Garcia and company around, although the boots are similar — marched southward.

We knew going into this episode that the story cup likely would overfloweth. So much has been packed into this shortened season, the second-to-last before we get the final burst of six episodes, presumably next year. But Sunday’s action was enough to make more excitable viewers wish they were watching from a fainting couch.

Jaime Lannister now appears to be a lone wolf in the south, while those newfound paragons of sisterhood in the north, Sansa and Arya Stark, recited their father’s old rhyme about what happens to lone wolves.

Tyrion Lannister made another bold move, walking alone into sister Cersei’s chambers to try to talk her into selflessness. The imp demonstrated it; the evil queen, it turned out, only pretended to.

And Jon Snow was even bolder, knock-knock-knocking on Daenerys’s bedchambers door late at night, after the big meetings with Cersei were over. Was that 1970s porno music I detected playing in the background or just Tyrion humming outside their door so he wouldn’t hear too much?

On and on it went, one plot explosion after another — Bran spilled the beans! Samwell made him re-examine those beans, and the legumes became even more spillable! — ending with the Night King’s freshly minted Night Dragon using that hot blue breath of his to blow a hole in humanity’s centuries-old first line of defense.

When people talk excitedly about it all around the water cooler Monday, most will do so without the faintest acknowledgment that HBO and source material author George RR Martin have made the hottest entertainment topic in America out of, in essence, a live-action version of Dungeons and Dragons.

Here are 5 thoughts recapping “Game of Thrones,” Season 7 Episode 7, the One that Reminds You to Always Set a Place for Brandon Stark at the Wedding:

1. This was the episode of the great fake outs.

It started mildly enough, with Daenerys’ Unsullied and Dothraki armies amassed outside King’s Landing walls while Jaime’s soldiers hurriedly prepared boiling oil to pour upon them. This was going to be quite a fight, and — psych! That fight never happened. It was just a show of force as Dany prepared for her head-to-head with Cersei.

Fake out No. 2 came in Winterfell, home castle of Jon Snow and his Stark siblings. Littlefinger counseled Sansa Stark to always assume the worst about potential enemies, in this case little sister Arya. Sansa seemed to agree and brought Arya before her but then — psych! She turned to Littlefinger, recited his crimes against the Stark family, and thanked him for the advice about always assuming the worst.

The third big fake out came after Tyrion seemed to talk Cersei into coming back to the arena of negotiation she had walked out of. “I will march north to fight alongside you in the great war,” Cersei said, and viewers gasped at the ice queen finally demonstrating humanity. Psych! It was all a mega-ruse, we later learned, three-dimensional chess or 16-square tic-tac-toe or some such. Cersei had no intention of joining and instead would let Jon and Daenerys try to fight the White Walkers so that she could take on their weakened forces should they win.

That’s an awful lot of intentional misdirection — quite a few flags popping out of guns — to ask viewers to accept, but I’m inclined to allow it on the grounds that each individual instance felt earned by past actions. And the latter two packed quite a wallop as they were revealed.

2. Somebody should test Brandon Stark for doping.

Some kind of PEDs must have sneaked into the bloodstream of our favorite gazer into the middle distance. Suddenly the passive Bran we’ve come to know and be exasperated by turned into Action Bran.

Instead of wielding his status as the Three-Eyed Raven — able to see all through history — mostly as an intellectual exercise, he decided to put it to devastating use.

First, he was the primary witness at the surprise trial of Littlefinger. When the great schemer tried to defend himself by saying no one had seen him doing the things he was accused of, there was Bran, telling the room and his sisters that Littlefinger had held a knife to the throat of their father and said, “I did warn you not to trust me.”

Arya stepped forward and ended Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish’s long run of upwardly mobile connivance. It’s difficult to stage whisper well-aimed innuendo with a throat slit wide open.

Then Bran went further. He officially confirmed what viewers have pieced together by watching a vision Bran had, the secret on which this entire fictional world might turn.

Jon, who has always believed himself to be Ned Stark’s bastard son, “needs to know the truth,” Bran said to Samwell Tarly, Jon’s old Night’s Watch pal, newly arrived at Winterfell. “Jon isn’t really my father’s son. He’s the (bastard) son of Rhaegar Targaryen and my aunt Lyanna Stark.”

Better than that, Samwell said, he’s not really a bastard. Sam said he read in an old book the confession of a man who had secretly married Lyanna and Rhaegar, and if that’s the case, Jon is the legitimate heir to the Iron Throne over Daenerys Targaryen, Rhaegar’s sister.

Bran zipped back in time to confirm this and, boom, there he was standing alongside Jon’s parents as they were, in fact, married. He looked like that one groomsman who only gets invited out of family obligation. I hope he brought them something.

As this scene was going on, the show was cross-cutting to Jon and Dany’s big love scene, now with 100 percent more incest. It might have seemed a little skin-crawling except, remember, Targaryens marry Targaryens. (And also, truth be told, the action came off as more dutiful than incendiary.)

Once Jon and Dany do find out the truth next season, though, things may get a little uncomfortable in that bed: “You know how I said I’d bend the knee to you? Well, really, it’s kind of the other way around …”

3. Theon, like the Cowardly Lion, found his heart, or maybe it was some other missing body part.

This was an episode of big reunions, including Jaime and Brienne, Tyrion and Bronn, Tyrion and Cersei.

But one of the more fraught reconnections saw Theon Greyjoy, who had been raised by the Starks but then betrayed them, re-meeting his boyhood idol Jon Snow.

Sad trombone music started playing, and Theon whimpered about all the wrongs he had done in his life. Jon forgave him to a point, but then urged him to stop wallowing in regrets and go try to rescue his sister Yara from Cersei’s prisons.

So Theon moped on down to the beach where he tentatively tried to get his former men to join him in the rescue mission. Nope, said the biggest, loudest one. Not gonna happen.

They fought, and Theon, surprise, was nearly beaten to death. Their embraces were more passionate than those of Jon and Daenerys, and somehow Theon rallied.

The turning point was when the guy tried to deliver debilitating knees to Theon’s groin but apparently forgot that Theon had been made into a Ken doll by his tormentor Ramsay Bolton. Grinch-like, Theon’s heart grew five sizes in that moment, and he triumphantly bashed his opponent’s skull in.

So the men all joined Theon because he barely won the fight and set off to save Yara. Weirdly, really stirring music played behind this only marginally inspiring moment.

4. If Jaime and Cersei can’t make it as an incestuous couple, what hope is there for Jon and Daenerys?

Jaime took Cersei, his sister-lover, the mother of his three deceased children and one more in the oven, at her word and prepared to march north alongside the armies of Jon and Daenerys.

Nope, she explained, just saying what I needed to say to protect the fam. Euron Greyjoy hadn’t really quit, along with his fleet, when he stormed out of the meeting; he was sailing east to bring back a mercenary army. Cersei was content to “let the Stark boy and his noble queen defend the North.”

Foolish, said Jaime. If the dead win, they kill us. If the living win, they kill us. “I pledged to ride north,” he said. “I intend to honor that pledge.”

“That would be treason,” said Cersei. And in one last fake out, she gave the nod to kill Jaime to her henchman the Mountain, a looming sort of fellow for whom the term “henchman” was invented.

“I don’t believe you” will do it, Jaime said, and he walked away. Next thing, he was alone on a horse, outside, and snowflakes were falling even as far south as King’s Landing because — everybody chant along — winter is coming.

5. A live zombie slaying at your big meeting is way more impactful than any PowerPoint.

I’ve been skeptical about last week’s mission north: Capturing a zombie soldier to prove their reality to Cersei so she would join the greater cause didn’t seem worth risking the lives of Jon Snow, his buddies and, as it turned out, one of Dany’s dragons, who died and was resurrected as the Night King’s lizard steed.

For a while though at Sunday’s momentous powwow between the women who would rule Westeros, it seemed the gambit had paid off, at least a little. The skeletal monster snarled nastily in front of Cersei, and when the Hound cut it in half, it kept trying to fight. I think I heard it snarl, “It’s only a flesh wound.”

When Cersei seemed to indicate seeing one had changed her mind about putting on pause the battle for the Iron Throne and joining Team Human, the horrible price exacted by that mission almost seemed worth it.

But then she revealed what she believed hadn’t really changed what she would do, and once again the zombie capture mission was a fool’s errand.

This became especially true when the episode ended with the undead dragon vs. Wall fiery fly-by. The men of the Night’s Watch, guardians of the Wall for eons, plummeted to their deaths, fresh recruits for the ghostly fighting corps that walked through that new breach and toward Winterfell, lurching straight into Season 8.

sajohnson@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @stevenkjohnson

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