I know that not everyone is sticking with Game of Thrones as it staggers its way across the finish line, suffering some form of dragons-breath heatstroke dementia. But if you did watch last night’s penultimate episode, you certainly SAW SOME THINGS. Get it — because things happened! Big, plot-moving things! Pre-finale type things! Things like multiple deaths — even lead character deaths! — and oodles of mindless destruction. If you’re a tick-the-boxes viewer, then you definitely watched some boxes get ticked.
But if you were hoping the show might suddenly veer back toward the kind of thoughtful, established character motivations and behavior we’ve enjoyed for most of this series’ run, then you might have been left disappointed. Or enraged. Or simply resigned to continue maintenance-viewing this show because you’ve already sunk enough of your time into it, but you refuse to get too invested because that way lies heartbreak. Personally, I was a little bit of all of those things.
On the plus side, at least the show wrapped up the fall of King’s Landing in the same amount of time it wrapped up the war against the White Walkers: during the span of a single episode. Or maybe that isn’t a good thing, I’ve sort of lost track (insert familiar “everything is being rushed to the point of ruination” complaint). Point is: Dany and her motley misfit army marched in and took the capital city, defeating the current monarch of the Seven Kingdoms, Cersei Lannister (only without ever confronting Cersei at all). Which means all that’s left for the finale to cover is Dany’s smooth, uncontested ascent to the Iron Throne as the next Queen, and then she’ll marry Jon and they’ll totally rule together over an era of unprecedented peace and harmony and everybody will live happily ever after. Right? Right. I’m sure that is definitely exactly what will happen.
But before I get too far ahead of myself, let’s look at all those ticked boxes, shall we?
— Dany executes Varys via dragon flambé
The execution scene itself, I’ll admit, was one of the strongest parts of the episode. How we got there was another matter. If you’ll remember, last week Varys and Tyrion had several treasonous chats about whether Dany is really the leader they need, or if mayyyyybe the newly Targaryen-ed Jon “Call Me Aegon” Snow would be a better horse to back (because he’s
a dude popular and level-headed) — and the outcome was that Vary all but announced his intention to betray Dany. Cut to this week, and Varys is… uh, betraying Dany. He’s spreading the secret of Jon’s heritage through little notes, and he even approaches Jon directly to feel him out on this whole “right ruler on the Throne” business. Which was uncharacteristically sloppy, since all the reasons why Varys thinks Jon would be a good king are exactly the reasons why Jon would never be receptive to Varys’ schemes: he’s loyal, he’s honest, and he literally does not want the job anyway. Sloppier still, Varys pulls this stunt in plain view of Tyrion, who follows his own conscience and goes straight to Dany to tattle. Only problem? She already knows she’s been betrayed — BY JON. Despite her request that Jon keep a lid on his secret birth, he told Sansa, who then told Tyrion, who then told Varys, and now here we are in Betrayal City. On the one hand, the fact that Dany predicted this series of events in advance is proof that she’s smart, sane, and probably doesn’t need either of her so-called advisors anymore. But on the other hand, the fact that she holds Varys accountable while letting everyone else off with a warning seems unexpectedly generous? She told Tyrion that his next mistake will be his last, but honestly, she probably should have drawn the line in the sand 3 mistakes ago. Tyrion has been USELESS lately.
Anyway, this all leads up to an oddly touching execution. Tyrion admits he sold Varys out, to which Varys responds, “I hope I deserved it. I truly do. I hope I am wrong. Goodbye, old friend.” Because that’s the thing — in their own strange way, they were friends to the very end. It was a friendship based on mutual respect, equal cunning, and a desire to live to see a better world in their lifetime. I am glad they got to have a moment before Drogon Dracarys-ed all over Varys. Moving on!
— Dany sure learned how to fly, huh?
Hey, remember how last week Euron surprised Dany with his fleet, and killed Rhaegal while Dany just took evasive maneuvers and didn’t fight back? Apparently, she learned her lesson, because last night she *checks notes* easily destroyed the entire fleet single-handedly and with only one dragon. No, I’m not sure why couldn’t have done that the first time around. Seems like it should have been even easier with two dragons than one, but hey — what do I know? The upshot of Dany’s sudden tactical dragon mastery is that she destroyed all of Cersei’s scorpions (those giant spear-guns), leaving no remaining threats to Drogon’s life. And then she knocked a hole in the outer wall to allow her army (led by Jon, Davos, and Grey Worm) into the city, roasting the mercenary Golden Company along the way. Gosh, it’s all going so smoothly! It’s almost like MAYBE THE WAR AGAINST THE WHITE WALKERS WAS A BIGGER DEAL OR SOMETHING. Ahem.
— Hey, Wildfire!
Remember that stuff?! Remember when it was, like, a terrible defensive measure used horribly in a moment of vengeance against a bunch of innocent citizens of King’s Landing? Yeah, it’s still there, exploding due to all the other, ACTUAL dragon flames covering the city. I’m not sure if it was leftover reserves, or if Cersei tried to recycle her old schtick and planted it offensively, but either way, it was meaningless.
— The Bells, they’re a-ringing (and Dany don’t give AF)
Tyrion, in his continued effort to defend King’s Landing (even from his own Queen), made everyone promise to stand down if they hear the bells ringing because it will be a sign of surrender. Then he goes to Jaime, who had been captured trying to cross the battle lines and get to Cersei, and makes a deal: he’ll let Jaime escape if he promises to try and make Cersei surrender, and also ring those damn bells (oh, and he’s arranged a boat to take Jaime and Cersei to freedom because why not). And I’ll be honest, up until this point I genuinely thought Jaime was returning to King’s Landing to clean up his Cersei-sized mess. He enabled her reign of terror, and now he was going to take responsibility by becoming a Queen- and King-slayer. But LOL no of course not, he just wanted to, like, be with her again or something. Cersei is his drug of choice. Which means I’m pretty sure he really did bang Brienne out of pity, but I can’t dwell on that because I’m angry enough as it is.
ANYWAY, cut to the battle and sure enough, the bells do ring! Lannister soldiers are dropping their weapons, and the citizens are scared and ready to be saved, and then… Dany takes to the air again and starts systematically destroying the city. Even Grey Worm attacks the unarmed soldiers who have already surrendered. Jon, for his part, is not happy about this dishonorable turn of events (you can tell because he looks… constipated) and does what he can to help the innocents escape. Now that he’s seen what his Queen is capable of… gee, do you think he’s going to do something about it next week?
The problem is, the show CLEARLY wants Jon to be the King. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t want Dany to be Queen. And look, I was never the biggest Dany fan to begin with, but the way the show is leaning on SHE’S CRAY-CRAY rather than rooting her actions in her actual established character traits and motivations is insulting. She’s always been willing to use violence. She’s wanted power, but she also wanted to use it righteously. And she’s also been willing to bide her time and earn the love of her prospective citizens along the way. She’s done it time and again, and we’ve been given no reason to think she’d do any differently now except, what? The 50% chance of insanity in her Targaryen blood? Or is it really just the fact that this badass woman, who is no stranger to toppling rulers, is threatened by the knowledge that the dude she’s in love with also has a claim to her crown? Either way, this seems cruel and unearned. But I mean, if you want everyone to stop rooting for the character you spent 8 seasons dragging from the gutter to glory, I guess having her roast an entire city alive is one way to go about it.
— Cersei’s Stares
As much as I may have my reservations about how toppling Cersei became the show’s endgame rather than defeating the Night King, I never had any doubts about Cersei’s effectiveness as a villain. Her evil may be rooted in protecting her children — a discomforting warped mother instinct that is simultaneously sympathetic and predictably sexist — but she has always been so much more nuanced than just another crazy mom. And that’s why, for some reason, the decision to continuously cut to Cersei, standing in her tower and watching her city get sacked, worked for me. Because Lena Headey sold the hell out of it. The way her expression slowly changes from cool, detached wariness to abject fear is a marvel. Her plans failed, her city is captured, and if she’d just surrendered from the start she might have made it out alive — but now she and her unborn baby are basically doomed.
— Cleganebowl! Arya!
The Hound and Arya both made it into King’s Landing because unlike Jaime they just told Dany’s troops they were going to kill Cersei and nobody stopped them. Then they made it through the stampede and into the Red Keep before the gates closed. But as they felt the city being blasted around them, the Hound tells Arya to save herself and leave. They both may want revenge, but he sees a chance for her to not throw her life away by being like him. And, SHOCKINGLY, she… takes him up on it. She even calls him Sandor and thanks him. It was a believable moment in his character evolution, but I’m still not sure I completely buy the way Arya “Killer of the Night King” Stark looked more scared and unsettled by a little architectural shakiness than she did when fighting an army of the undead. Besides which, the Hound only ever wanted revenge against his brother, whereas her beef was with Cersei herself. Would she really have trusted Sandor to get the job done without her help? And considering they both rode to King’s Landing with the expectation they’d never make it out… what changed her mind and made her want to live?
In any case, Arya runs and the Hound continues into the Red Keep, where he encounters Cersei, Qyburn, and the Mountain making their escape. He challenges his brother, who steps forward against Cersei’s orders (and kills Qyburn when the man tries to remind him of his duty to protect the Queen), and the two do battle. It’s brutal, but there are no surprises here. The Mountain is, thanks to Qyburn’s experiments, seemingly unkillable — so Sandor tackles him through the Keep’s outer wall and they both plunge to their deaths in the dragonfire below.
— They really did make Euron a thing, huh?
Jaime was not as lucky as Arya and the Hound, and didn’t make it into the Red Keep before the Gate closed. So he took the long way around and found the boat Tyrion had left for him by the secret exit, figuring he could follow that path inside. Unfortunately, Euron just happened to wash up on that same stretch of hidden beach, because of course he didn’t die with his fleet. So the two fight, with Euron bragging about how he’s going to be Cersei’s King and if Jaime kills him he’ll be a Kingslayer all over again (oh, gag me). In the end, Euron fatally stabs Jaime, but not quite as fatally as Jaime stabs Euron (it’s not a matter of deadness, but quickness!). And as Jaime staggers off to find Cersei, Euron says, “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister.”
Too bad he’s actually not, because…
— Jaime and Cersei, co-dependently entwined in death as they were in life
Jaime and Cersei dying together is hardly a surprise. It may not be satisfying, really, as it seemed to reset all of Jaime’s character growth back to his “nothing else matters but the two of us” days, but seeing Cersei finally falling apart in his arms did bring some sense of closure to the woman who accrued power for the sake of her family, only for it all to amount to nothing. Would it have been more satisfying to see Jaime kill Cersei, or Dany execute her, or literally anyone having an actual confrontation with the woman whose stubbornness caused so much death? Of course. But I suppose all that really matters is that they both died, together, buried in the rubble of the crypt because Dany and Drogon successfully demolished the Red Keep. So take that, Euron! Dany killed Jaime, not your stupid ass!
— Arya found a horse!
Look, I’m not going to get into all the ways Arya almost died but didn’t as she attempted to flee King’s Landing. Suffice it to say, she got an up close and personal view of Dany being flame-happy all over a lot of innocent people — and by the end, Arya was concussed, covered in ash, and obviously traumatized. But hey, at least she found a random unscathed horse! Unless it was imaginary. Honestly, I really do think she has a concussion.
— Just to reiterate: JON DID NOTHING
Look, whether we like it or not we all are going to have to accept that Dany, thanks to bad writing, is no longer fit to rule. But let’s just remember that Jon isn’t either. He was just as useless in this battle as he was at the one in Winterfell. He stood around, looking concerned, but even if he had an inkling of how pear-shaped this was going to get, he didn’t stop it. Sure, he tried to save some lives, even stopped a very on-the-nose attempted battlefield rape (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), but he couldn’t even stop Grey Worm from killing unarmed soldiers, let alone Dany. And remember, if he’d just kept his mouth shut like Dany asked, mayyyybe her own authority wouldn’t have been undermined in the first place.
We’re nearly there, folks. Only the last episode awaits. Maybe, if we’re lucky, the Iron Throne is buried with Cersei under all that rubble and everyone will be left fighting over more comfortable seating arrangements. Or, hell, maybe Dany will just finish burning everyone and fly off into the sunset. I’d be down with that.
Header Image Source: HBO