For the first time in eight seasons, I am torn as I embark on my second-to-last “Game of Thrones” recap and review.
In honor of all those we lost on Sunday and for the sake of maintaining loyalty to the characters whom I have devoted so much time and energy to over the last several years, I’m going to do my best to keep my opinions on the quality of the writing at bay for the time being.
Well, for the most part…
“Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.”
The most intense scene of the episode occurred before it even started. All they had to do in the intro was show us the terror and anger conveyed on Daenerys Targaryen’s face with a series of voiceovers from previous seasons transposed in the background for us to know exactly what was going to happen. It served as a reminder of Aemon Targaryen’s warning in Season 5: “a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing.”
Some Targaryens—like Dany's father and brother Viserys—are born bad to the bone, while others—like Rhaegar and Jon Snow/Aegon—are born a with hearts of gold. And then there are Targaryens born in between, with the battle of angel vs. devil waging constantly on their shoulders.
Jon Snow, blinded by love and loyalty, chooses to see the best Dany, saying he’s not much for riddles. But when her coin finally lands—decisive and final—Jon is partially to blame. Dany’s been living in exile her entire life and when she finally makes it to Westeros she’s left feeling more isolated than ever. That isolation becomes unbearable when Jon is unable to return her affection, and she hits her limit when she reaches King’s Landing.
“The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved.”
The bells ring for peace and the Lannister soldiers lay down their swords, but Dany is so close to defeating her enemy that she simply can’t handle it. Finally she is in King’s Landing, the home that was taken from her while she was still in her crib, and she snaps. Dany spent her entire life thinking the people of Westeros would rally to her side only to learn within months of her arrival that this was a myth.
In Essos, Dany had the love of the people because she earned it—and it took her years to do. In Westeros, Dany had her family’s name—and for some reason this gave her the impression that she didn’t need to make an effort. Then she met someone who, much like she did in Essos, earned the love and support of the people despite having no birthright to his position.
It’s simple really: people will only follow you out of fear or love; and when you don’t have love, there is only fear. When Cersei’s armies lay down their swords and Jon Snow—the biggest threat to her of all—stands at the head of hers ready to accept their surrender, Dany feels an urgency to finish what she started. She burns King's Landing down to nothing—even setting off the wildfire her own father placed throughout the city—as her soldiers rape and murder innocents on the ground…With Grey Worm at the helm, no less, ruthless now with nothing left to live for but revenge.
Dany leaves herself with no choice but to do exactly what she was trying to avoid: rule over a pile of ash with the support of two foreign armies that proved themselves the savages everyone feared they would be.
“Power resides where men believe it resides.”
Varys has preached from the beginning that men decide where power resides, and this notion has proved true in all cases. He served the realm valiantly for as long as he could and accepts defeat knowing he did everything in his power to place the right person on the Iron Throne.
The Spider could have gone behind Dany’s back from the start, but he remained true to his word. His betrayal of Dany comes only after he looks her in the eye as promised and she is unable to see reason. He even tries speaking sense into Tyrion and Jon, but neither is willing to undermine his queen.
His plan to overthrow the queen is unclear apart from minor hints that he attempted to poison her, including Maester Pycelle's declaration in Season 1 that poison is a weapon for women, cravens and eunuchs (like Lord Varys). He's caught before he can succeed, but sending even one of those letters revealing Jon’s identity could have been enough to make a difference—and to Varys, that would have made it all worth it.
The question we are still left with is what Varys heard in the flames the day he was cut, and whether the Lord of Light’s prophesy has been fulfilled. Whether Varys was meant to accomplish some greater purpose or the Lord of Light simply gave Varys a glimpse of his own demise, all we know for sure is that Varys was meant to die.
Where he went wrong was making his betrayal known, because now he has put the true heir—someone who Varys believed would rule well and wisely—in mortal danger. Dany sees Varys’ betrayal as a domino effect of Jon’s betrayal—and after burning Varys alive, Dany admits that this will be the fate of anyone who learns Jon’s true identity.
In addition to anyone who receives Varys’ letter, all the remaining Starks plus Sam Tarly and Tyrion are now targets—and especially Tyrion once Dany learns that he freed her prisoner…
“In the arms of the woman I love.”
If the writers are smart (which is still up for debate), Dany’s reaction to Cersei’s death will be regret. Regret that Cersei Lannister died peacefully in her lover’s arms rather than painfully and publicly. And rather than taking responsibility for this after failing to fly directly to the window of the Red Keep, Dany will find a way to blame Tyrion.
Apart from Varys, the only ones who were certain of how Daenerys would react to the death of her dragon and the execution of Missandei were Sansa Stark and Jaime Lannister. The minute she heard that Missandei was captured, Sansa knew what Cersei would do and that Dany would respond with fire and blood. She told Jaime as much, and Jaime fled to be by his sister’s side knowing it would mean the end for both of them. Ultimately, Jaime got the death he always wanted: in the arms of the woman he loves.
Merciless Mother’s Day. Since the episode in which Tywin Lannister was killed aired on Father’s Day, it was only fitting that his daughter—a woman driven entirely by her love for her children—would die on Mother’s Day. All of Cersei’s redeeming moments as a character have been in dialogues with or about her children, and her final scene was no different. Without her children, there is only power and she concedes to either win or die; but the wall built around her heart as a result of Tommen’s death comes down along with those of the Red Keep.
It wasn’t the violent death many fans hoped for, but in some ways it was more brutal. Whereas before she was a strong, confident woman prepared to die, the final version of Cersei is a defenseless, horrified and loving mother wanting nothing more than to see her child live.
“The Mother’s love outshines it all.”
Motherhood continued to be a theme throughout the episode, and not just because the Mother of Dragons finally showed her true colors. Motherhood was also central to Arya’s escape from King’s Landing.
Revenge was all that was left for The Hound in the end, but it doesn’t have to be for Arya—and he helps her see that. When Arya set sail for Braavos to become a Faceless Man, she thought that all was lost. She learns of her aunt’s death in a last-stitch effort to be with family, and then she loses her protector—without whom Arya knows she won’t make it.
By becoming a Faceless Man, Arya thinks she’ll at least be able to avenge her family upon her return to Westeros. What she doesn’t realize until she gets there is that the family she thought she lost is waiting for her at Winterfell. It takes her until the last possible second, but she finally realizes she has something to live for—or at least that Cersei isn’t worth her demise.
The mother that Arya and The Hound inadvertently prevented from getting safely into Red Keep is the same one who ultimately saves Arya’s life. Arya is distraught when she can’t return the favor, and it’s a sign that something in her has changed. When she is no longer blinded by hatred, she can see the other things that matter.
Arya is still in King’s Landing during the very brief series finale preview, so it seems like she’s had a change of target if not a change of heart. She might not be a lady, but she did have a princess moment in the end with that white horse.
“Like a nice, juicy mutton chop.”
At the risk of annoying fans with a Lion King reference, Clegane Bowl was decidedly “slimy yet satisfying.” At first, I felt myself cringe at the corniness of the Hound vs. Mountain brawl—but how could it not be a tad corny? This is what we’ve been asking for since Season 1.
First of all, Qyburn’s death was arguably the greatest of the season thus far. But beyond that, having their fight intertwine with Arya’s escape was a work of visual genius. The two are connected even after their heartfelt goodbye and their storylines tie together beautifully.
We always knew that the The Hound’s death would involve his brother or a deadly fire, so we can’t be mad that the writers gave us both. After all, “death by fire is the purest death.”
Unfinished business and a potential time jump…
Sadly, with only a little more than an hour left in the series, Jaime and Cersei’s romance could be the last we see on screen unless a serious time jump is written into the finale. (This with the exception of Sam and Gilly, whose absence from the finale would be an insult to the fans; and with the assumption that Dany and Jon do not end up together.)
They simply didn’t leave enough time to tie up every loose end, which leads me to be believe that they either won’t, or that the dreaded time jump is a tragic but likely possibility.
Further evidence of this was subtle but unmistakable in Sunday’s episode as Drogon’s massive body casts shadow over King’s Landing—something we’ve seen once before through Bran’s visions.
Determined to believe that the use of the same clip was not another lazy mistake by the writers, I took another look at Bran’s vision and discovered that it is not, in fact, the same clip. HOWEVER, this vision also includes other scenes that hadn’t occurred yet up to that point—such as the weir-wood tree where Bran later spends several months training to be the Three-Eyed Raven—and one scene that now seems likely to occur in the finale—the same vision Dany once had of the Red Keep destroyed and covered in ashes.
In a chat with the writers immediately following the Season 4 episode in which Bran has the vision, the writers said we would find out whether these visions were of the past or future—suggesting a possibility that they hadn’t occurred yet. But since Bran has repeatedly said since then that he cannot see the future, we were led to believe this was ultimately a vision of the past.
Bran has also frequently said, however, that he is still learning to control his visions and that he spends most of his time in the past because there is so much to learn. There is a distinct possibility that Bran can see the future, and he’ll realize this as he watches the Battle for King’s Landing and recognizes it as something he’s seen before.
It would be a shame for the writers to tie up loose ends through Bran’s visions of what the future might look like when we would all have preferred the extra four episodes—but it would be better than having them leave it open-ended.
Impossible not to mention…
There are at least two outlying scenes to peg on the writers vs. the characters that I cannot let go unnoted.
The first was a dialogue between Davos and Tyrion that made no sense from a character standpoint and can only be written off as lazy writing.
“I’m not gonna like this favor.” The writers needed to create a reason for the Lannister brothers to have an emotional final conversation and felt the best way to do that was to have Jaime captured. Jaime’s escape hits two birds with one stone by providing another reason for Dany to turn on Tyrion—but it comes at a cost to Ser Davos.
What I cannot comprehend is what made Davos agree to Tyrion’s favor—which we don’t actually hear, but presumably involved using his smuggling abilities as an accessory to Jaime’s escape. Davos Seaworth would never do something so precarious without speaking to Jon, who would have known better than to go against Dany or to believe that this was her idea. It was so completely out of character for Davos that there is no other justification for his actions besides the writers simply needing a believable way for Jaime to get from Point A to Point B…
Only it’s not believable. And what bothers me most is that this will either never come up again—which would be even less “Thrones”-like than the fact that it happened in the first place—or it will lead to an extraordinarily disappointing and unwarranted death for Davos.
“I’m the man that killed Jaime Lannister.” Even if we give the writers the benefit of the doubt and say that Euron’s purpose in this episode was to delay Jaime from getting to Cersei in time to escape, the fight between the two is completely unrealistic.
Forget about the fact that if Euron survived, some of the other ironborn would have also washed up on shore alongside Euron when he just so happens to run into Jaime. Seeing as one is a ruthless madman in addition to being a capable warrior while the other is a one-handed knight who hasn’t picked up a sword in who knows how long, the fight itself is also impractical.
Someone needed to kill Euron, sure, but this was a complete waste of time that could have been better used showing us Euron’s reaction to learning that Theon kidnapped his prisoner or that the baby Cersei’s carrying isn’t his. In fact, Euron’s demise made it feel like all that time spent building up his character was wasted as well.
“Ring the bells!!”
The episode title, “The Bells,” signifies that the ringing of the bells was the true turning point of the episode; but for me, it also served as a turning point for the writing.
Dany proves just how powerful she is by using Drogon to tear through the walls of King’s Landing, killing a massive portion of the Golden Company and allowing her armies through the gates without Cersei’s surrender. Further bloodshed is quickly avoided when the bells finally do ring; and while it could all be over then and there, it’s only the beginning.
The city surrenders, begs the intruders to stand down, and Dany blows it to bits. Every man fighting for her follows Dany’s lead in becoming completely vicious—including Jon’s men despite his attempts to call off the Northern troops. He even looks one of his own soldiers in the eyes as he kills him—and the look on Jon’s face as he tells the woman he rescued to find a place to hide is one of pure guilt and disbelief.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it didn’t make sense for Cersei to be the final villain for “Game of Thrones.”
Although on the surface this seemed like an unexpected turn of events, we really can’t be that surprised. It has always been Dany’s prerogative to “answer injustice with justice.” She didn’t become the Breaker of Chains by walking up to each slave city’s gates and kindly asking its occupants to pack up and leave. It was death and destruction that freed the slaves, and we turned a blind eye to Dany’s cruelty because we saw the masters as enemies.
It was within Dany’s character to burn King’s Landing, which is why she chose Tyrion as her Hand in the first place. She needed an advisor that was going to check her worst impulses, but Dany feels her advisor has failed her and is acting out of the best interest of his family, her enemy.
She didn’t come into this battle with the intention of burning down the city, but a part of her is disappointed when she hears the bells. Her comprehension of the scene below is that these people will never love her; and unless she takes the city by force and instills fear throughout the realm, the people will put Jon on the throne.