After an episode that was much-maligned, including by me, can the writers of Game of Thrones get the magic back in the series’ penultimate episode? The episode also promises our last big battle in a series that has given us some great ones.
The final word? My reaction is decidedly mixed. It is a much better episode than the last one, but it still has a lot of issues.
FULL SPOILERS below the cut.
The previously-on is taken entirely from last episode, with exception of audio montage over Dany’s reaction to Missandei’s murder that is less than subtle in raising the “Mad Queen” angle.
Varys said last episode that the truth of Jon’s parentage isn’t a secret—it’s information. This episode opens with Varys writing out that information for someone’s benefit.
The presence of Euron’s magic fleet notwithstanding, Jon sails to Dragonstone on a single ship. Dany is in seclusion and isn’t eating. Jon reaffirms his loyalty to Varys while Tyrion looks on darkly.
When Tyrion approaches Dany, she already suspects betrayal. But she suspects it from Jon. Tyrion tells her it is Varys instead. Dany explains Jon betrayed her by telling Sansa, who told Tyrion, who told Varys. She also points out to Tyrion how Sansa manipulated him.
Dany’s soldiers arrest Varys. She sentences him to death and executes the sentence in the usual fashion while Jon, Tyrion, and Grey Worm look on.
Jon reasserts his loyalty to Dany, but remains admirably leery about engaging in incest.
Tyrion attempts to reason Dany out of attacking King’s Landing and does it in all the wrong ways. Strategically, cutting off King’s Landing (by land, at least) and consolidating control over the rest of the continent is the best play. Cersei’s best shot is to goad Dany into open battle.
We learn that Jaime was stopped trying to cross Northern lines. Shortly after, Tyrion wants a favor from a smuggler. Totally unrelated, I’m sure.
The Northern armies somehow beat Arya and the Hound to King’s Landing, which seems both improbable and to defeat the purpose of them traveling separately.
Tyrion, stupidly, still thinks Jaime can persuade Cersei. Jaime knows his sister better than Tyrion does. Regardless, Tyrion has the chance to repay his brother the favor of saving his life by releasing him from captivity.
Arya and the Hound had considerably more trouble getting past Northern lines than they did into King’s Landing. Jaime walks right in, too, even after he takes the glove off his golden hand. Arya and the Hound make it into the Red Keep before the front gate closes. Jaime does not. Jaime literally waving his golden hand isn’t enough to catch the attention of the Lannister guards. Top men.
Euron’s magic fleet is no match for Dany’s magic projectile-dodging skills (say what you will, at least it’s consistent).
After destroying the Iron Fleet and the scorpions on the battlements, Drogon opens the way into the city and decimates the Golden Company. The Dothraki, Unsullied, and Northmen pour into the city. Drogon, though, is avoiding the Red Keep. For now.
Qyburn points out the scorpions have all been destroyed. Cersei, who watched the last episode, rather sensibly points out that Euron
has had a magic fleet and the scorpions just killed a dragon. She also points out that the Red Keep has never fallen. Qyburn cuts a quick retreat rather than point out that surely that is only because someone at some point was smart enough to yield the face of a dragon.
What soldiers Cersei has left don’t seem super interested in staying to fight either.
The bells ring in apparent surrender but Dany directs her dragon into the city nonetheless, burning soldiers and civilians alike along the way. Grey Worm starts a slaughter of the Lannister soldiers who had just thrown down their swords. The Northmen gleefully join in, although Jon, only now displaying revulsion at Dany trying to do something other than bang her nephew, tries to hold them back.
Jaime apparently went all the way around to the back entrance by the dinghy after he couldn’t get into the Red Keep through the front gate. Euron, fresh from a swim, stops him before he can enter. Their fight is mostly hand-to-hand, but Euron continues to punch above his weight. He stabs Jaime with what he, at least, thinks is a mortal blow. Jaime, though, is able to finish him.
Meanwhile, Dany and Drogon finally make it to the Red Keep and begin its systematic destruction. Qyburn didn’t run off after all. He convinces Cersei to flee the keep. Below we see that the dragonfire has ignited the wildfire under the city.
Arya and the Hound are inside a Red Keep that is already crumbling. The Hound tells Arya if she comes with him she will die. Surprisingly, it works. Seriously, they just crossed a continent for this express purpose.
Cersei and Qyburn are only saved by the Mountain’s newfound indestructability. This doesn’t bode well for Clegane Bowl, but the Hound is waiting for the Mountain when he shrugs off the rocks. The Mountain also shrugs off Cersei’s commands, killing Qyburn.
Cersei stumbles away, completely alone. When we see her in the map room our first thought is of Arya, but it is Jaime she sees first. Sans Euron and Qyburn she is a little happier to see him.
The Hound stabs the Mountain through the chest, but the Mountain just shoves him down the stairs and pulls out the sword. The Mountain almost kills the Hound like he killed Oberyn, but the Hound puts a (steel) dagger thought his head. Even this doesn’t work. I would have at least tried a dragonglass dagger. The fight ends instead with the Hound pushing the Mountain off a ledge into the fires far below, the Hound falling with him.
The Hound’s advice surely saves Arya’s life, but it almost doesn’t. We see her body covered in a little blood and a lot of dust. But she is still alive. Until a tower falls on her. Nope, still alive. Until she gets swept off the street by dragonfire. Nope, still alive.
Cersei and Jaime make it under the Red Keep only to discover the way out is blocked with wreckage. They embrace, Jaime’s hands on her neck, as the keep falls down on top of them.
The episode ends, though, with a barely-human-looking Arya, covered in ash and blood and dust, finding a white horse in the wreckage and riding it out of King’s Landing.
“And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.” – Revelations 6:8 KJV
The new opening that focuses on the White Walker threat is a reminder that the biggest driver of this season—heck, of the entire series—has been put to bed prematurely.
“We’re not much for riddles where I’m from.” Jon may not be the first person to stand up against the burning of the city that consumed his brother, his father, his uncle, his grandfather. And a man who believes the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword may not blanch at execution by dragonfire. The North is a hard place after all. What later leads, though, to what will surely be Jon’s change of heart works better.
Varys is wrong to put his faith in finding the right Great Man. No wonder he is always ready to change sides.
“Tens of thousands of innocent lives. One not particularly innocent dwarf.” A good deal, if he could have made it. Tyrion more than any of the remaining characters around Dany cares about King’s Landing. He spent relatively little time there, but his work to save the city in season 2 tied him to it.
(The deal would actually be even better than that. King’s Landing has somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 residents. Easily half of them may be dead or dead soon. It’s hundreds of thousands, not tens of thousands.)
There are issues with the dragon-killing scorpions as depicted in action, but, say what you will, they look great.
The scene in the run-up to the battle cranks up the tension delightfully.
Not even the commander of the Golden Company wears a helmet, and he’s a faceless mook.
Drogon’s success against the scorpions suggests that Rhaegel only went down because he was injured, although that is hard to square with the actual depiction from last episode. At one point Drogon flies right past two scorpions, which are apparently not in use. The scorpions that were so deadly last episode are now ineffectual. This is maybe the biggest issue with the episode. The last episode established that Cersei has means to defend against the dragons. This episode lazily dispenses with that.
Since this episode undercut’s the deadliness of the scorpions, it really looks like the only point of killing Rhaegel was to rob Jon of a dragon.
There sure do seem to be a lot of Dothraki left.
Dany isn’t dressed as warmly during the attack on King’s Landing. It is far further south, sure, but has winter receded with the death of the Night King?
Should Euron really get credit for killing Jaime? I mean, sure, he probably would have bled out eventually. But we’re going to have to put “dragon dropped a building on him” down as the cause of death.
Any episode without Sansa is a good episode.
The Hound is eating all the fucking chickens in Valhalla tonight.
Who is responsible for the bells ringing? Qyburn?
Way back when, Dany sees the Unsullied’s status as eunuchs a feature, not a bug. Unlike the Dothraki, they will not engage in mass rape after a battle. (A concern undercut when she gains another Dothraki horde anyway.) But lust for sexual violence is not the only animal spirit that drives men. Or women. Grey Worm kills a Lannister soldier, because he is happy for the expression of vengeance for Missandei. Dany’s actions are an expression of rage more than madness.
Dany’s supposed slide into madness has been poorly done. It has been telegraphed rather than foreshadowed. But then show Dany has always been badly written relative to book Dany (and relative to a lot of the other characters on the show).
“Use Drogon to crack the city open like an egg and then stop” was a really good strategy that no one seemed to talk about for some reason. Really, Dany’s actions after the fleet, scorpions, gates, and Golden Company are destroyed make little sense (except to set up a Jon v. Dany conflict in the final episode). That the city will fall is now a foregone conclusion. If Dany really wanted to burninate Cersei, then why not go directly to the Red Keep?
We do get tons of brutal city fighting, something Game of Thrones has yet to give us in all its battles.
The use of the civilian woman and her daughter throughout the episode is an effective tool for driving home the human cost of Dany’s mistake. The people of King’s Landing weren’t just eggs for an omelet.
We will have far fewer character arcs left to finalize next week. Varys, Euron, Homeless Harry Strickland, Qyburn, the Mountain, the Hound, Jaime, Cersei . . .
Jaime’s death is not satisfying. Cersei’s, though, is. Or at least it would be but-for a certain prophecy.
What can we expect in the finale? I hate to prognosticate. I can tell you one thing that won’t happen. The setup for the conflict between Jon and Dany is obvious. I’ve long thought the series would end with a heroic sacrifice by Jon and the dawn of Dany’s rule. It seems pretty obvious that now that won’t happen. Now I can’t see Drogon surviving the final episode and I strongly doubt Dany does either. The big question, for me, is whether Jon survives and how they manage to kills the last dragon. And we damn well better see a dire wolf, a warg, or a Faceless Man. Or all three.