It took four weeks, but it finally hit me during Sunday’s traumatic episode that the greatest television series that ever was or will be is not only coming to an end, but an inevitably tragic one. And then, a week after HBO spent $15 million on a historic, record-breaking battle, a Starbucks coffee cup was left on screen…

Some comic relief, I suppose, after the emotional rollercoaster that was the fourth episode of the eighth and final season of “Game of Thrones.”  

“When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”

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This Season 1 quote is one of the most iconic of the series and it was Cersei who spoke it. When Jaime told her this was a battle she could not win, she knew he was speaking the truth—but there was never going to be a third option for her. She is either going to win or die trying, and she will always choose violence over surrender.

To be or not to be a dragon. When Dany walks up to the gates of King’s Landing after losing yet another dragon, she is essentially acknowledging that they are now on a distressingly even playing field. Cersei has been playing the game far longer than Daenerys and she knows how to use her opponents’ weaknesses to her advantage. One of Dany’s weaknesses is that she has a good heart; and the other is that she is the Mad King’s daughter no matter how hard she fights those instincts.

Varys is already concerned about Dany’s state of mind, and as Tormund warns, there are only two types of people who can climb on top of a dragon: a madman or a king. The easiest way for Cersei to show the people that she is not the one to fear is to get Dany’s blood boiling hot enough to topple over. If killing her child didn’t do the trick, killing her child and her best friend will.

Choosing one secret over another. It’s unclear whether Tyrion was being strategic in doing this, but Euron's likely going to wonder how Cersei’s little brother knew about her pregnancy when he only found out five minutes ago. Intentional or not, Tyrion learned from Yara and had confirmation from Jaime that Euron intends to marry Cersei once the war is won. On the one hand, Euron might not care that the kid’s not his so long as he is king of the Seven Kingdoms in the end; but on the other, he has also admitted that he has no problem sailing the Iron Fleet elsewhere so long as he gets in Cersei’s pants first.

“Burn them all.”

Missandei and Grey Worm don’t care about the Seven Kingdoms or what happens to its people so long as they’ve done all they can to ensure their queen’s victory. In fact, making peace was never a thought in their minds until Tyrion forced it on them. Prior to Tyrion’s arrival, the former slaves had only one mission: “kill the masters.” As the Dragon Queen’s most trusted advisor, Missandei used her final breaths to encourage Daenerys to ignore the rest and be her father's daughter. Burn them all.

“The biggest fire the North has ever seen.”

In addition to successfully displaying how many thousands died fighting the Night King, the funeral pyre also served another more important purpose in our story. It proved, and Varys confirmed, that half of the Stark-Targaryen fighters are gone. Even with Yara back on board and the allegiance of some new Dornish Prince we’ve never heard of, their army is now equal in size to Cersei’s.

From the Great War to the Last War. Although on the surface the post-battle celebrations were about as lighthearted as “Game of Thrones” gets, some of the individual exchanges within the larger scene—both verbal and non-verbal—have the potential to impact the outcome of the final season.

Dany enhanced Sansa’s distrust of her when she used the peaceful atmosphere of the feast to further her political agenda. Neither of the Stark sisters trusts Dany, and Jon only made it worse by telling them Dany knows his secret. We didn’t get to see how this conversation played out—but we can imagine that the Stark girls not only believe Jon is the better choice, but that they also believe Dany doesn’t love their brother (or the people of Westeros) enough to give up her crown for the rightful heir.

What’s in a name? The thrill of hearing Tormund toast the Dragon Queen was short-lived as the praise once again turned to Jon. Dany’s one redeeming quality in the episode was that she told Jon exactly how she was feeling after she looked dangerously on the verge of a breakdown throughout the feast. Not only does the man they're all praising have a better claim to the throne, he is also adored by every person in the room, including her. She knows it wouldn’t take them long to bend the knee to Jon if they knew who he really is, but Dany chooses to inform Jon of her jealously rather than letting the frustration get the best of her.

She wants to maintain their relationship; it just doesn't work in her favor that Jon can’t see past their shared last name. As a product of incest, Dany doesn't see it as an issue that she’s in love with her nephew (if that nephew can keep his parentage a secret). But Jon didn’t come from a place where the nature of their relationship is accepted; and keeping the secret won't change the fact that he feels the truth every time he kisses her.

“These bad people are what I’m good at: out-talking them, out-thinking them.”

Sansa has already outwitted Tyrion once, and when she realizes Tyrion is afraid of the Dragon Queen, she seizes the opportunity to do so again. It seems clear to everyone but Jon and Tyrion that Sansa is not the same girl they knew all those years ago. As clever as Tyrion has always been, he admitted earlier this season that a clever man’s curse is underestimating his enemies. Despite Sansa’s best efforts to explain her position to Tyrion, he repeatedly fails to see that Sansa’s refusal to support Daenerys puts her right up there among Dany’s (and therefore Tyrion’s) enemies.

Taking advantage of this, Sansa is looking several steps ahead as she reveals Jon’s secret. While Tyrion looks at Sansa and sees a stubborn young woman who just wants to do right by her family, Sansa looks at Tyrion and sees an opportunity to undo all of it without getting her hands dirty. She is not only depleting his faith in Daenerys by giving him a better option—knowing full well that Tyrion does, in fact, want to make the world a better place—but she is also ensuring that the secret gets out. She knows Tyrion won’t be able to keep a secret of this magnitude with all these lives on the line.

Loyal only to The Realm. We cannot blame Varys for whatever he decides to do with this "information," which he declares is no longer a secret now that eight people know. He kept his word: he looked Dany in the eye and told her she was making a mistake. The Spider flits from one ruler to the next, but he has always been upfront about his motives. He told Dany from the start that he is not loyal to her; he is loyal to the realm, and he will always support whoever he thinks is the better choice.

What he really should do is give Dany one more shot—tell her the secret is out and advise her on the best plan of action—because Dany vowed to burn him alive if he ever betrays her and she is not in the mood for treachery.

“The better choice.” Jon’s actions in this episode could not have been more frustrating. In fact, I’m going to write him a letter:

Dear Jon,

You’re a Stark, damn it, and you always have been. You’re the one who told Theon he was a Stark, not because of his parentage but because that’s who he was raised to be. Take your own advice and listen to Tormund—you have the real north in you. Your beloved direwolf is missing an ear and crying out for your attention and you just look at him like, “You’re a Northern pet and I’m not a Northerner so I don’t deserve you.” Quit acting like a sulky teenager and get your head in the game.

Winning this next battle is more important to your queen in the long run than agreeing to strategies you know are fatal just to prove your loyalty her. Daenerys believes everything out of Sansa’s mouth is meant to undermine her, no matter how much sense your sister is making. Speak up before thousands are killed on your medieval watch.


The fans who have come too far for this nonsense

(Side note: I don’t care how tight the CGI budget is or the writers are saving it for more dragons that might still show up. That bit with Ghost was just…rude.)

A hateful pair of twins...

Jaime is drawn to Brienne because she is Cersei’s polar opposite, but he ultimately can’t fight his love for Cersei. It has gone beyond his control, as Olenna kindly pointed out and Jaime confirmed last season. However, Olenna also warned Jaime that Cersei is a disease, and that one day he would regret his role in spreading it.

Upon hearing that his sister killed Rhaegal and captured Missandei, Jaime is struck with a sudden and intense emotion that causes him to take off—leaving Brienne to explain this betrayal to Sansa after she publicly vouched for him. This news also comes after Bronn’s arrival with a crossbow intended to kill Jaime on Cersei’s orders. Whether he is heading to King’s Landing to save Cersei or to kill her, Jaime is on a suicide mission—and I think he has accepted that.

A wolf leaves a stag for a hound…

If the extent of Arya’s skills becomes common knowledge and Cersei already has people keeping an eye out for her, Jaime might be the only one with any hope of getting close enough to Cersei to get the job done. Still, it would be wrong to underestimate Arya’s devotion to completing her list—which now only includes Cersei and The Mountain.

It broke my heart when she broke Gendry’s because they could have been the first couple in “Game of Thrones” history to have a pure and uncomplicated love story. Joining their Houses by choice rather than being assigned as Arya always feared. But that’s exactly the issue, and at least she was upfront about it—it was never in the cards for Arya to “marry a high lord and rule his castle.” She can’t be planning a wedding when she doesn’t expect to survive her next endeavor.

Rather than following the rest of the pack, Arya chooses to travel with the one person who might understand her need for vengeance and the one person who wouldn’t dare to stand in her way. The Hound says there’s only one thing left in this world that can make him happy, and that’s killing his brother. With their goals aligned, the two still make a good team.

Moral of the story…

I feel physically ill after Sunday’s episode because it was the best episode of the season by a long shot, but it also left a bit of a hole in my heart. It was satisfying in that it finally brought the story back to the characters, and yet the only truly likeable characters in the entire episode were Gendry and Tormund—and maybe we’ll throw in Davos Seaworth for good measure.

In fact... While everyone else is celebrating, Davos continues to contemplate the Lord of Light’s role in all this. He never got to speak to Melisandre upon her return, so we still have no insight as to what she was doing in Volantis. I highly doubt she crossed the Narrow Sea just for a spell to ignite some weapons. Melisandre might be gone, but she is not the only Red Priest/Priestess taking orders from the flames.

Why they matter. Both Varys and Jon still have some unfulfilled purpose. And when Dany left Meereen, the whole lot of them believed Dany was “The Lord’s Chosen” and that her dragons were “fire made flesh.” Whether Melisandre recruited an army of followers to bring Jon back if he falls, or found more dragon eggs, or did something else that could help—Melisandre knew something we don’t, and we only have two more episodes to find out what that is.

Click on the headlines below to read more:

Halfway to the Throne: Who’s Left and How We GOT Here

The Night Was Dark and Full of Terrors for Fans of “Game of Thrones” (A recap/review of Episode 3)

"Game of Thrones" Deaths Foreshadowed: Who's in Trouble for Season 8