There’s a lot of ground to cover in the final three installments of “Game of Thrones,” so anything that doesn’t keep the plot surging forward is understandably going to be left out. That said, this episode should have started with at least seven to eight minutes of just pure celebration of Arya Stark. Carrying her on shoulders, chanting her name, maybe have Podrick sing a few songs about her. She takes out the Night King and is barely acknowledged. How is that possible? Maybe because the Night King, the White Walkers, that whole story line — it’s a thing of the past. Time to deal with the true villain, Cersei Lannister.
Daenerys reaches her breaking point
For many seasons it seemed as if Dany’s destiny was pretty straightforward — to swoop in on the back of Drogon (with Rhaegal and Viserion in tow) and to quite easily take her rightful place on the Iron Throne. It hasn’t been that simple, and the developments of the past few weeks have been among the most brutal. She just found out she’s not the next Targaryen in line to the Iron Throne, but it’s her boyfriend/nephew; she watched Ser Jorah Mormont, her most loyal and committed adviser, die in her arms; and just this week she saw another one of her beloved dragons plucked out of the sky and killed; and that’s followed by watching Missandei, her other most loyal adviser and companion, get brutally decapitated by the Mountain, on orders of Cersei Lannister.
There were bad omens for her from the beginning. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves more than her at the celebratory feast following the Battle of Winterfell. (Except maybe the Hound, but when’s the last time he enjoyed anything except for maybe a roast chicken?) There’s plenty of carousing, but Dany can’t help but notice how skeptically Sansa still looks at her and how Jon Snow, and not her, is the leader who most inspires those in the banquet hall. Tormund recounts all of Jon’s heroics, which honestly boil down to him being “little but strong” (“gritty” in sports announcer lingo) and the fact that he was killed (that’s on him) but then brought back to life (not his doing) and kept fighting (credit there).
After Tormund’s over-the-top tribute to Jon, Dany gets a little crazy-eyed (lots of eye acting from Emilia Clarke in this episode) and storms out but goes to visit Jon a little later. He’s a little drunk, they make out a little, seemingly unbothered by the whole aunt-nephew thing, and if that bothers Dany it doesn’t bother her as much as the way everyone was treating Jon earlier. That’s the real impediment to her reaching the Iron Throne, and that’s all she cares about. The way the surviving soldiers looked at him is the way she is used to being looked at, but it’s never happened in the North. Jon insists he will never accept any call for him to be king. Dany in turn insists that he keep his true background a secret, but he says he has to tell Sansa and Arya. This doesn’t sit well with Dany. “Sansa will want to see me gone and you on the Iron Throne,” she tells him. “She’s not the girl you grew up with, not with what she’s seen and what they’ve done to her.”
Daenerys even goes so far as to beg Jon not to tell his (sort of but not really) sisters the truth. “You are my queen, nothing will change that,” he says. “They are my family, we can live together.” Daenerys agrees: “We can. I’ve just told you how,” before walking out.
Jon does have her back when they hatch their battle plan (another brilliant one, it turns out) to march on King’s Landing. There’s more Dany-Sansa drama, though, when Sansa wants to delay the next battle for the very logical reason that the men who just got finished outlasting an army of the dead would need a little time to recuperate before marching right off to the next battle. Jon puts himself in the middle and overrules Sansa, pledging the Northern forces to Daenerys and promising to follow her commands.
But the planned attack never happens, as Daenerys and her fleet are ambushed by Euron Greyjoy and his fleet on the way to King’s Landing, near Dragonstone. Euron, equipped with Qyburn’s custom-made Scorpion, scores a few direct hits on Rhaegal, who quite gruesomely plummets to his death in the sea. Maybe it was just good luck on those initial kill shots, though, because the next few dozen arrows that fly toward Daenerys and Drogon all miss their mark. Every single one of them. Yep. Still, Dany is now down to her final dragon.
The sneak attack results in the destruction of Daenerys’s fleet, the death of her dragon and the disappearance of Missandei. As the survivors regroup in Dragonstone, vengeance is front and center on their mind, but Varys wants to pump the brakes a little. “I promised you I would look you in the eye and speak directly if I thought you were making a mistake,” he tells Daenerys of her plan to storm King’s Landing. “This is a mistake.” Cersei needs to be destroyed, he agrees, but it can be done without the loss of tens of thousands of innocent lives. “Don’t become what you have always struggled to defeat,” he pleads.
At this point Daenerys doesn’t seem as interested as she once was in that sort of reasoning, but Tyrion is able to persuade her to at least make the effort of demanding surrender and trying to avoid bloodshed, so at least the poor residents of King’s Landing will know to blame Cersei when the sky falls down upon them.
The meeting at the gates of the Red Keep in King’s Landing starts with Tyrion and Qyburn exchanging pleasantries, and their respective requests for unconditional surrender predictably go nowhere. Tyrion tries to reason with his sister, who stands on top of the gates to the Red Keep, alongside Euron, captive Missandei and plenty of soldiers with their weapons aimed at Daenerys and company. (Why didn’t Cersei give the order to take them all out right then? Daenerys had only a couple hundred soldiers with her, and they were fully exposed. It’s not like Cersei is one for battlefield decorum; she exploded plenty of innocents in the Sept of Baelor. Take your shot, Cersei!)
Tyrion’s strategy is an obvious one — play to the one thing she feels any affection for, her children. They’re all dead except for the one that’s inside her right now, and Tyrion’s words seem to have some effect on Cersei, but every time she feels a little bit of actual human emotion, it seems to make her want to double down on her evil tendencies. So after offering Missandei her last words (she chose “dracarys”), Cersei gives the order to the Mountain, who proceeds to take off her head with one vicious hack.
Grey Worm is distraught. Dany is shaking with anger as she walks away. And Cersei does what she always does — smirks. If Dany wanted to set the city ablaze before this, now she surely wants to watch the city burn.
Tyrion and Varys battle to pull the strings
This episode was a welcome flashback for any viewers who missed the days of earlier seasons, when the behind-the-scenes workings by the likes of Tyrion and Varys were often at the center of the plot. Those two were sidelined for a while but are now right back in the thick of things, particularly Varys, who is souring on the idea of Daenerys on the Iron Throne, much to Tyrion’s dismay. Varys, for his part, has been loyal to the Targaryen claim to the throne since the very beginning, and he’s also been close with Tyrion, helping him escape King’s Landing (in fact, escaping with him) after Tyrion killed his father, Tywin.
Varys, as ever, claims that his true loyalty is to “the realm,” which can be both true and a convenient way of changing allegiances, depending on the situation that presents itself. They talk about the secret of Jon’s parents, which Varys simply calls “information” now that eight people know. (Jon, Daenerys, Bran, Sam, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, Varys — are those the eight?) Tyrion keeps hoping Jon and Dany can get married and rule together, which seems naive for Tyrion; Varys rightly points out that sharing is not one of the traits Dany’s known for. “I worry about her state of mind,” Varys says, which seems like a pretty important thing to say about the daughter of the Mad King, especially on a show that has become pretty blatant about telegraphing things.
Tyrion admits that he’s thought about whether Jon might be better suited for the throne than Daenerys. A Targaryen father and a Stark mother make him uniquely suited to rule the Seven Kingdoms, argues Varys but he can’t quite wear down Tyrion, even though he seems to start realizing he’s playing a losing hand by supporting Dany. “Each of us has a choice to make,” Varys says. “I pray we choose wisely.”
Jaime and Brienne, together then apart
Their romance had been simmering for years, and with a little liquid courage plus the added adrenaline of having just defeated the army of the dead, Jaime and Brienne finally turn years of flirting into something physical, with some true affection.
They briefly try to make us think these two will have a happily-ever-after, as Jaime isn’t part of the traveling party departing from Winterfell but instead says he will stay there with Brienne. That changes after news comes back to the North about Euron’s ambush and Jaime starts packing his things to journey south. Brienne pleads with him to stay, but something has seemingly turned in Jaime. He runs through a list of the awful things he’s done on Cersei’s behalf and closes with: “She’s hateful and so am I,” leaving a bawling Brienne as he rides off. It still seems entirely likely that his journey to King’s Landing is to end Cersei and not aid her, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was a pretty terrible way to leave Brienne, the woman he grew to actually love.
Arya Stark is no lady, and don’t call her a hero, either
Again, it seems like the people of Winterfell could have maybe spent a little more time celebrating the person who brought down the Night King all on her own. I think Drake gave her a lengthier shout-out at the Billboard Music Awards than anyone in Winterfell did. Maybe they all knew that she wouldn’t like the attention, but I’m not ready to give them that credit.
Gendry — the newly named Lord of Storm’s End — was eager to find Arya and offer her the chance to be the Lady of Storm’s End by marrying her. Seriously? She sleeps with you once — and it was a “day before we all might die” special — and all of a sudden she’s going to marry you? After she just killed the Night King? Have we even seen this so-called Storm’s End once in the opening credits? Arya gives him a kiss and lets him down gently. “I’m not a lady. I never have been,” she says. “That’s not me.”
For her, it’s time to find her old traveling companion — the Hound. They ride for King’s Landing, where they both have some unfinished business. The Hound will certainly seek out his brother, and we’ve got two more episodes left for the much-anticipated Clegane Bowl. As for Arya … Cersei is one of the last names on her list. Neither of them plans on coming back to Winterfell, which is much more troubling to hear about Arya than the Hound.
Odds and Ends
— My favorite line of the night was when Bran told Tyrion, “Mostly I live in the past.” I really connected with that one, as I delayed watching this episode by a little bit so I could catch Stephen Malkmus in concert.
— Bronn and his crossbow showed up in Winterfell to tell the Lannister brothers that Cersei has promised him River Run if he kills the two of them. Bronn being Bronn, he wants to see if he can find a better deal, and Tyrion offers Highgarden, which I guess is open for business now that Olenna Tyrell and House Tyrell are no more.
— Euron Greyjoy seems to think he’s the father of Cersei’s child. Or at least he seems to want to think that’s the case. Would he think it’s weird that Tyrion would know about the pregnancy? Is Euron Greyjoy going to be a bigger factor in the end of this show than the Night King?
— Speaking of pregnancies, Sam and Gilly are expecting. There is really nothing else to say about Sam and Gilly.
— Tormund is taking the surviving free folk back home, to the real North. “Women down here don’t like me,” he says. Poor Tormund. He doesn’t get Brienne, but Jon gives him Ghost, who happily did survive the Battle of Winterfell.
Previous Season 8 recaps
An illustrated guide to all 5,862 deaths in “Game of Thrones” (updated through the Battle of Winterfell)