The ghosts survey the ruins of King’s Landing from afar. Most look sickened, but they take care to mind what they say and guard their faces when Viserion and Rhaegal are near.
Robert: King’s Landing has…looked better?
Olenna: It probably smells better now, though.
Stannis: She’s definitely taking a hard line with the troops…
Renly: From you, that’s certainly saying something.
Margaery: I don’t recall Grey Worm ever behaving this way before.
Ned: He showed mercy at the Battle of Meereen.
Robert: Yes! He only killed the leaders! He let the enemy troops go!
Missandei: They were not free.
Stannis: I’ll say this for the Unsullied: they are tough.
Olenna: She left more of the Red Keep standing than we thought!
Edd: Some poor bastard has got to clean all of this up. They never think of the common folk, do they?
The others signal him to stop before the dragons notice his tone.
Margaery: Poor Tyrion. He is all alone in the world.
Olenna: Save your tears for people who aren’t Lannisters, my dear.
Robert: I still can’t believe we never… [he sighs]
Cat: Jon must be very careful now.
The dragons have crept closer. There are uneasy looks between the ghosts as they search for something nice to say amidst the horror.
Margaery: [brightly] She is very good at speeches!
Olenna: Oh yes! Very rousing.
Stannis: [quietly] I’m not convinced by her use of the word ‘liberate’.
Cat: [shocked] Winterfell?
Margaery: Just a rhetorical flourish, I’m sure! [She beams at the dragons]
Stannis: A bit too metaphorical at the end. That might be too sophisticated for uneducated thugs.
Olenna: [hissing to Stannis] You aren’t getting the hang of this, are you?
Margaery: [loudly] She has the heart of a poet!
Robert: [whispering to Margaery] How can you keep pretending to be so pleased?
Margaery: Years of practice.
She smiles at the dragons again, and they turn their attention elsewhere. The ghosts relax.
Stannis: She’s not wrong about Tyrion committing treason.
Margaery: It’s alright — they’ve gone.
Stannis: No — I mean it.
Robert: It’s no way to start your reign though.
Renly: She’ll never heal the kingdoms if she can’t reconcile with her Hand.
Olenna: I’m afraid I have run out of patience with the concerns of clever men.
Varys: As you wish, old friend: See, I told you.
At Tyrion’s mention of life after death, some of the ghosts start chuckling.
Robert: At least he won’t have to worry about facing Tywin. For a while, anyway.
Cat: Whatever happened to Shae?
Ned: She passed through long ago.
Cat: Really? Where was I?
Ned: [glances towards the dungeon area]
Margaery: Why doesn’t Jon remember?
Ned: He never arrived.
Cat: Some spirits take longer to arrive than others. It is unpredictable.
Robert: But after a while, we all knew he wasn’t really dead.
Rickon: Perhaps he was with his wolf?
Mance: Aye, that could be it. There was always something of the warg about him.
Jorah: Tyrion is re-writing my queen’s history. But I was there at Astapor, when she burned the slavers. And in Meereen, when she crucified the masters.
Missandei: As was I. I was there when Tyrion made a pact with the slavers, and they attacked Meereen. Talking didn’t save the city then. She did.
Olenna: [sighing] Yes, Imp. Everywhere she goes, evil men die, and we cheer her for it. If you have a point, I suggest you arrive at it.
Cat: The Starks have always struggled to balance love and duty.
Robb: Don’t remind me.
Olenna: The right thing can also be terrible. For once, the Imp and I are in agreement.
The dragons inch closer again.
Olenna: At least Jon has the sense to question his queen in private.
Viserys: I’ve got a bad feeling about this.
Olenna: You didn’t think she would share power, Spider? [she raises her eyebrows. Varys is silent.]
A sudden gasp fills the air, and the ghosts wince as the dragons roar.
Margaery: She trusted him!
Missandei: She loved him!
Cat: Oh, Jon… He didn’t want to do this.
The dragons are frantic, rising up and spreading their wings. The ghosts flee, except the Starks, who cannot tear their eyes away from Jon. Robert stays with them.
Robert: Gods, he’s brave.
Margaery: [calling] What’s happening?
Olenna: Is Jon just standing in front of a dragon again?
Robert: Well, yes. But bravely!
Robert: It’s alright! Drogon burned the throne, not Jon!
Olenna: Did he think that the throne stabbed his mother?
Stannis: Do dragons understand metaphors now as well?
Rhaegal and Viserion are still roaring, and the terrible noise echoes through the space. Suddenly, they stop, and take off. Just three beats of a wing later, they land, their cries somehow sad and joyful at the same time. Between them stands a shadowy figure with silver hair.
Robert: Oh gods…
Olenna: [with sudden urgency] With me, ladies. And you, Ser Jorah. You are an honorary lady.
Olenna, Missandei, Margaery and Ser Jorah immediately head in the direction of the furiously protective dragons. Viserys and Khal Drogo hang back, looking unsure, and Olenna keeps them at a distance with a wave of her hand. She calls to Cat, who follows, after casting a knowing look to Ned. Ygritte and Ros emerge from the depths, rushing to the side of the Dragon Queen. The Sand Snakes, freshly reunited with their mother, all join them.
Robert: What in seven hells is happening?
Ned: You never raised girls, my friend. There is a code…
Stannis: Perhaps I should go over.
Robert: Are you a girl?
Stannis: I know what it’s like to be robbed of a crown.
Renly: Perhaps I should go over. I know what it is like to be stabbed by someone you trust.
Ned: [firmly] You’re both staying here.
In the distance, they can hear heartbreaking sobs, punctuated by soothing tones, supportive indignation, and wise advice. These women know what it means to be wronged by gods and men. They know loss, and grief, and pain.
The other ghosts hear the women’s vigorous assurances that she is good, that he knows nothing, that she is loved. She doubts herself, and the tone changes. She is mostly good, then. She was just — as ever — a dragon. Like her children, she is fire made flesh. Fire burns, but it also warms, and illuminates. When we burn ourselves with a candle, do we curse the flame?
As time passes, the crying ebbs away.
Unseen, another spirit arrives. His death has been slow and painful, but he has finally expired. He looks around, and sees a crowd of women guarded by two dragons to his right, and a huge group of men to his left. No-one seems to notice him. He is alone. And he is disappointed. He always thought that what was dead could never die. Still unseen, he creeps off into the shadows. The only spirits he finds there are broken, fearful, mute. But even they eye him with scorn. Don’t they know who he is? He fucked a queen!
Suddenly, the broken spirits look away, and he feels a breeze over his shoulder. He wasn’t quite unseen then, not really. With uncharacteristic unease, he turns, and when he sees his nephew, he starts laughing.
Euron: You think you can scare me?
Euron: You haven’t even got a cock!
Theon: [smiling] Neither has she.
He is looking over his uncle’s shoulder, and as Euron spins round, he feels an icy thud at his heart. Inches away is the stony face of Catelyn Stark. With horror, he looks down and sees that her arm has penetrated his chest. How is she doing this? He tries to strike her, but his hand passes harmlessly through her face, and she smiles. She slowly withdraws her hand, and Euron can feel his spirit becoming liquid, dripping to the floor. He is shrinking; he cannot hold his form together. He is drowning. She holds his stare without blinking.
Theon: Thank you, my lady.
Cat: Don’t tell Ned.
They step over the puddle that used to be Euron Greyjoy, and return to the hall.
Some weeks later, the court of Queen Daenerys is still a space reserved for women, dragons, and Ser Jorah, and the other ghosts don’t seem to mind. For some it is a relief. For others, it is confusing. Viserys longs to join them, and it is only the glare of Khal Drogo that keeps him from breaking the unspoken rule. There will be time for reunions later. The women come and go. But Ser Jorah and the dragons never leave Dany’s side.
There are developments below. The fates of Tyrion and Jon have yet to be decided, and Robert has opened a wager. But no-one’s heart is really in it. They are all feeling the pull of the next world, and there is an understanding that their watch will end soon. For some, the time is now. An exodus has already begun.
But many of our favourites linger still. Robert is as delighted as ever to see his son representing House Baratheon. Theon is conflicted when he sees his sister bickering with Arya. Cat sets her sister free so that she can see her son, all grown up, and representing his house in all his finery. The Martells still don’t recognise the new Prince of Dorne, and Ellaria rolls her eyes, muttering ‘men’ under her breath as she returns to Queen Daenerys. It is a sentiment often repeated among the women now, and as they watch, the men concede — they have a point.
Ned: [sighs] What is Edmure doing?
Robert: Hasn’t he been locked up in a cell for years?
Robb: Ugh, Uncle Edmure.
Cat: I am not the only person cursed with an idiot brother.
Robert, Stannis and Renly concur simultaneously, and then all look mortally offended.
Olenna: Sansa really has become an interesting girl, Lady Stark.
Edd: Why are they laughing at Sam? I mean, I know why I laugh at Sam. But the Watch has run this way for generations.
Robert looks slyly at each of his brothers. Renly sighs.
Renly: Go on, then. One more time. What’s his idiot brother’s name?
They roll their eyes at Robert’s raucous laughter, but his delight is eventually contagious, and now that the tension of the world below has eased, even Ned and Cat join in.
Olenna: They are going to make that odd boy king? [to Margaery] It’s just as well you are hear, my dear. There’s no charming a tree. I fear even you wouldn’t be up to the challenge.
Renly: There is a wood joke in there somewhere…
Robert: [starts giggling]
Renly: There it is.
Ned and Cat are speechless. Hodor watches with pride. ‘It was worth it,’ he thinks. He must remember to tell Ser Pounce, if he can find him again in the world beyond.
Lyanna: House Mormont knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark. [she smiles] All hail, Queen Sansa. All hail, King Bran.
The ghosts cheer. Over in her court, Daenerys watches. The wheel is broken after all. After a fashion, anyway. Perhaps she had been exactly where she was needed.
Cat: What about Jon?
Edd: Is there anyone left in the Night’s Watch?
Ned: This was the choice he made long ago…
Edd: The poor man gave his life for the Watch already. And the food is terrible.
Olenna: Wearing black and brooding forever? Sounds about right.
Missandei’s eyes glisten as she watches Grey Worm depart for Naath. Daenerys watches her with concern, and Rhaegal draws his wings around his mother’s dearest friend.
Robert: All the Starks are saying farewell…
Ned: Indeed, my friend. It’s time.
Robert: I meant—
Ned: I always know what you mean.
They smile, and suddenly spirits are moving with purpose. Cat nods to Ros and Ygritte, and the dungeon is emptied. They had tested it with Joffrey; let them try to cross, and if they can, no more can be done. They have quietly agreed not to tell the Bolton bastard they are leaving. Let him linger there until there is nothing left of him.
A line begins to form at the veil.
Some of the spirits haven’t yet moved. Viserys and Khal Drogo inch closer to Daenerys’s court, each hoping to speak privately before they cross. Most choose to line up and leave in groups. Varys and Littlefinger leave together, deep in conversation. The Starks are ready, but Rickon is refusing to leave; he is waiting for something. Robert’s brothers and Shireen are ready, and Loras is trying to persuade his sister and grandmother to come with them.
Margaery: Soon, my love. Soon.
Olenna: [still focused on the world below] I can’t believe they gave that cut-throat Highgarden…
Loras: Are you really staying to watch a Small Council meeting?
Cat: I wish they wouldn’t call him Bran the Broken…
Margaery: Bran the Wise? Bran the Raven?
Olenna: Bran the Eerie? Blank-Faced Bran?
Stannis: Lord Davos, Master of Grammar… [he beams with pride] You are a good teacher, daughter.
Shireen smiles at him.
Cat: I don’t think we need to listen to grown men arguing about brothels. Come, Rickon.
Rickon: Not yet!
Ned: We did well, Cat. Look at them.
Rickon: And look how happy Ghost is! Jon is a wolf again.
Ned: They all are. They always were.
Rickon: We can go now.
Mance: The true North is where Jon Snow belongs. He knows it. He has always known it.
Ygritte looks like she is about to speak, but she stops and smiles. They both turn to join the line to cross over. The Starks follow.
Olenna: [to Loras] Go, child. Be happy. Be marvellous. We will be right behind you.
Soon, only Daenerys’s court, Viserys, Khal Drogo and the Tyrell women linger in the space.
At the back of the line, King Robert Baratheon, First of His Name, waits his turn. Patience was never his strength, but the rising dread he feels at the unknown path before him tempers his irritation. He has long wondered what awaits him on the other side. It won’t be the love of his life. He has made peace with that. He shifts anxiously, until finally, it is his turn. With a glance back to the Tyrell women, he nods. ‘Valar morghulis.’ His pronunciation is terrible, but the meaning is clear. They smile.
Olenna: But we are not men.
Margaery: Farewell, your grace. [to Olenna] Just a little while longer…
They huddle together. He takes one more look over to the Dragon Queen, and sees Viserys and Khal Drogo finally moving towards her. ‘If she isn’t keen to talk to them, she won’t want to talk to me,’ he thinks. ‘Perhaps it’s for the best.’ With that surprising moment of self-awareness, he turns his back on her, and steps forward.
Epilogue: The Land of Always Spring
The light that hits Robert’s face is blinding. After so long in the gloom, he flinches, shielding his eyes with his hand. That’s when he feels it: flesh. Frowning, he examines his hand, then touches his face. He is solid. His frown evaporates in a sudden rush of joy, and as he turns around, he can see others, like him, delighted to be reunited with bodies they thought were gone forever.
He is standing on a hill, and before him stretches a vast green land. It looks like home. Is he alive again? Surely not. It is Westeros but not, as if glimpsed through a looking glass. As he looks down, the body he thought he knew — beaten and bloated from years of abuse and indulgence — looks different somehow. Leaner. Firmer. When he runs his hands through his hair, it is thicker and longer. He pinches his arm to see if he is dreaming. The sensation is strange; for one thing, it is a sensation. Is it pain? It registers somewhere but it isn’t unpleasant.
As he scans the space, he sees affectionate embraces everywhere. Brothers clasp each other tightly, mothers run to sweep their children up in their arms, and lovers kiss once more. His grin widens. He sees his Little Bear surrounded by fierce warrior women. He sees Renly and Ser Loras embrace, before taking Shireen by the hands and spinning her around. He sees his dearest friend, clutching the hand of his beloved Cat, their youngest child already running into the distance, his wolf at his heels. The years have fallen from Ned and Cat as well. They shed them like a cloak when they walked through. With a roar of joy, he bounds over to them, and gathers them to his chest.
“For a moment, I thought you were Gendry!” Ned laughs.
“You’re still fat!” Robert lies, but with a long-lost sparkle in his eyes.
As they laugh together, other spirits discover the delights of their new space. Oberyn has lost no time and is fiercely embracing his paramour. The Sand Snakes run shrieking through the grass, free at last. Sitting outside a nearby tavern, departed members of the Brotherhood drink a toast with the fallen brothers of the Night’s Watch. An unscarred Sandor wolfs down plates of chicken as if his life depends on it. Laughter fills the air.
“Drink?” Ned suggests.
“Soon,” Robert replies. “There’s something I have to do first.”
He has seen them, hanging back, shy and uncertain. The man holds the hand of the woman, and he gently moves to shield her as Robert approaches. But Robert’s face is determined, not angry. He has made his own peace. Now is time to make peace with them.
It has been so long, he had almost forgotten what she looked like, but as he gets closer, everything comes back. Her direct stare, the faintest hint of a smile always twinkling in her eyes and at the corner of her mouth. ‘Gods, she is beautiful,’ he thinks. Her lover, the silver-haired and silver-tongued Bloody Targaryen Bastard, was, he reluctantly admits, one of the good ones. He sees that now. Robert has long cheered for his sister out of penance.
For a moment, all three are silent. Then Robert holds out his hand.
“I’m sorry,” he says.
Surprised, Rhaegar takes his arm. They smile at each other and nod, clasping each other by the elbow — awkwardly, but with visible relief. When they let go, there is little more either can say. Robert turns to Lyanna, and bows his head. She sighs, and raising his chin, kisses him just once, on the cheek. He smiles.
“It is good to see you again, my lady.”
He turns, and walks away, leaving the lovers to their reunions. He will see Ned later. For now, there is a tavern, there is ale, and there is a new world to explore. Things could be much, much worse.
The Starks gather around a weirwood tree. It is quiet; almost everyone else has moved on to explore, or made for the tavern. But the Starks have something they want to try.
Running his hand over the tree trunk, Ned can feel that old connection to the gods, the ones who watch over us. He looks at his wife.
“Are you ready?”
Cat sits at the foot of the tree, and places her hand on it as well. Robb and Lyanna follow suit. Rickon is still running around in wild zigzags with Shaggydog, but Summer, Grey Wind and Lady curl up in front of the tree.
It had been Jojen’s idea. The strange boy had been waiting for them to arrive, and had directed them to the tree before bowing, and disappearing silently into the distance. Ned feels foolish for a moment, but he had always sought peace and guidance from the trees below. Perhaps it is his turn to offer some in return.
“Bran? Can you hear me?”
A breeze rustles the leaves. It feels like the tree is listening.
“We’re so proud of you,” says Cat, her eyes shining.
“We knew you would be a great man one day,” says Robb.
“We’re always here for you, son.” Ned’s voice threatens to break a little at this, and the wolves whine, pawing at the bark, before Summer lets out a howl.
Far away, a king hears them and smiles.
A single leaf falls from a branch, and lands in Cat’s lap. She picks it up and clasps it to her chest.
“Send my love to Aegon,” whispers Lyanna.
They rise, and walk towards the tavern, together.
She steps into the light, flanked by her friends, and shielded by warriors, fearless and devoted. Her brother follows meekly. She blinks, but the light does not burn her eyes. She has stared into brighter light than this without flinching.
With their bodies back, her followers fall to their knees. Another miracle. She waves them up, conscious of the others, staring. This was not her magic. Her Sun and Stars moves to embrace her, but she turns her face to let his kiss fall on her cheek. She is no longer the wide-eyed Moon of his Life. He understands, and nods.
She embraces her faithful friends, clasping Missandei tightly, then touching Ser Jorah’s shoulder shyly, before embracing him as well. She turns to her court.
“You are all free. Nothing will harm you here. Where will you go?”
There is a chorus of voices, all at once, and in several languages, but the meaning is clear. They will go wherever she goes. She smiles, and looks sad.
“I’m going home.”
There is confusion among her followers. For so long now, they have had a course in mind. They have had a plan. They have crossed an ocean for her. They have died for her. And they would do it all again. ‘This is what power is,’ she thinks. ‘But I am not a queen any more.’
“I have one more command for you. If you love me, you will obey me.”
They cheer. She takes a deep breath.
“My final command is this: Follow your own path. Find what you love and cherish it. Kneel for no-one.”
There is a moment of uncertainty from her followers, but then, suddenly, they are followers no more. They cheer her name as they depart. When the crowds have passed, only a few remain. Missandei kisses her before leaving to find her family. Is there a Naath here? She will find out. Viserys says his farewells awkwardly before heading in the direction of the tavern. And finally, there is only Ser Jorah.
There is time then, for the goodbye they were never able to say in the world below.
Later, as Ser Jorah sits with his family, he hears a familiar cry above. Looking to the sky, he sees Dany and her dragons, flying off into the distance. He smiles. He will see her again. But not today.
She clings onto Rhaegal at first, unfamiliar with his movement. Viserion flies alongside. Her children. The air tugs at her braids, and as more and more silver strands free themselves, she holds on to Rhaegal’s back with one hand, and shakes the rest loose with the other. Her hair streams behind her like a silver cape.
They climb, higher and higher, before diving towards the ground, then climbing again. She laughs, and the dragons roar in response. Together they scan the ground below for a stone house, with a red door.
Header Image Source: HBO