-A recap and review of S08E04 of Game of Thrones, SPOILERS!
Well, ‘Game of Thrones’ has finally hit the breaking point. It’s become so popular that everyone on the internet wants to talk about it and every critic wants to write about it. As I type the beginning of this review, this episode sits as one of only two ‘rotten’ episodes of the series on Rotten Tomatoes and has sparked arguably more discontent than even the blacked-out Long Night episode a week ago. More than anything, Game of Thrones is demonstrating to us that in today’s day and age, we just can’t have nice things. There’s no such thing as being beloved by all. Even the show that has changed television forever is getting nit-picked and criticized to death. So, in the spirit of going a little bit against the grain, this isn’t going to be a review that unnecessarily pokes holes in tiny things that the show decided to do out of expediency.
I have my fair share of complaints, and I fully admit that the decline in the show over Seasons 7 and 8 is notable compared to where we were after the wonderful conclusion to Season 6. I get that there are flaws and the decision-making sometimes feels reverse engineered, but I’ll ask everyone out there who takes pride in viewing pop culture objectively: when a show is wonderfully shot, has great production, visuals, sets, great music, and the best acting on television, can it truly be bad? My struggle with the criticism is that the bare minimum of Game of Thrones is still among the best stuff on screen. When economists talk of the idea of floors and ceilings, I think that analogy works here. Game of Thrones’s floor is basically a solid B or B+ for every episode they’ve ever done, just because of the acting, dialogue, and production quality. The best episodes are an A+ and often among some of the most influential and extraordinary things we’ve seen in any entertainment medium.
So, as we proceed through this recap and review and I touch on things I liked or didn’t like, remember that we should be celebrating what this show has done for all of us as viewers. Remember that even on its worst day, Game of Thrones can have every audience member leaning at the edge of their seat worried about the characters and the choices they make. The stakes are permanently high, the performances are permanently amazing, and the direction is even better. Short-cuts have to be taken to resolve this thing in the time they have left, so the nit-picking can be left at the front door. I’m not interested in tearing down something that means so much to so many people, and I’m not interested in losing sleep over tiny complaints or plot holes in a world so full of nuance. In a way, that sort of view is both inherently objective and inherently subjective. The objective view is that despite its current flaws and pacing issues, this show is still a massive achievement on so many levels. The subjective view is that I fucking love these characters and the storylines. I will entertain complaints about the story-telling or the writing, but they have to be consolidated and well-thought out instead of just disappointment that someone’s specific fan theory wasn’t true. This episode combined violence, mystery, political intrigue, sex, forbidden romances, heartbreak, and a dark foreboding that ended the episode in such a great place. If you’re too stubborn to appreciate the phenomenon that is this show and is this achievement, then stop reading now; you won’t like what I have to say.
That’s because this episode, despite its clear problems in pacing and occasional logic, was one of the episodes that affected me the most in Game of Thrones history. So, let’s get into the meat of it…
The episode opens with our characters at a funeral for those who died in the fight against the dead in the previous episode, and the camerawork decides to pair our characters in two-offs as they say goodbye to their dead. Dany leans in and kisses Jorah, whispering something unknown into his ear; Sansa weeps over Theon, giving him a Stark pin with the wolf sigil on his burial clothes, Tormund is with the wildlings, Grey Worm with Dany’s army, Sam with Edd, and Jon with Lyanna Mormont. As Jon steps back, he gives a powerful speech about honoring those who died for the living and emphasizes the importance of working together. In this moment, Jon does seem like a king with a real command of those around him. Dany cannot meet his eye when they all walk forward with torches to burn their dead.
We soon cut into Winterfell’s great hall where a feast is taking place. Everyone is drinking and laughing, celebrating their victory over the existential threat of death. After a minor verbal tussle with the Hound, Gendry is called out by Daenerys in a very Daenerys way: first, make sure the person isn’t an enemy by bringing up their past (potential) allegiances, and then get to the substance of the conversation. In this case, it was Daenerys asking about Gendry’s heritage as the bastard son of former King Robert Baratheon, to which Gendry honestly replies that he has no skin in that game. Daenerys, sensing a potential ally, legitimizes him as Gendry Baratheon instead of a bastard and names him Lord of Storm’s End, potentially getting another of the Seven Kingdoms under her control.
The interesting thing about this maneuver is exactly how it comes about. Not only are the Baratheons a branch off of the Targaryen house stemming from Orys Baratheon, the rumored bastard brother of Aegon the Conqueror, but they’ve ruled the Stormlands as Lords of Storm’s End and Lords Paramount of the Stormlands since that point. When Robert took the crown, he named Stannis Prince of Dragonstone and Renly the Acting Lord Paramount of the Stormlands and Lord of Storm’s End. Renly and Stannis both died in the eventual resolution of the War of the Five Kings, thus making this entire region and its potentially important allegiances lost to the story. Renly originally had the soldiers from the Stormlands, but upon getting murdered by Stannis and Melisandre’s blood magic, most of the soldiers fled to Stannis to support the other Baratheon while some went on to protect the Lannisters after the Tyrell-Lannister merger. We’re now years removed from this conflict, and Dany has put a potential ally in charge of a large castle and territory. She jokes with Tyrion that she can be clever too. I have a lot to say about Dany and her advisers as we go through this recap, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
At this point, the party starts to get a bit more rowdy and more characters are starting to get pretty hammered. Jaime starts pouring even Brienne some healthy glasses of wine, and Davos mourns the fact that he couldn’t execute Melisandre before she willingly gave herself up and took her magical necklace off last episode. Davos also makes an interesting comment basically surmising that the Lord of Light gives people these powers but doesn’t send any signs or anything more than some parlor tricks to determine his legitimacy. I haven’t talked a ton about the Westerosi religions in these reviews, but one has to wonder if the show basically gives at least some credence to all of the religions: Lord of Light has the flame and resurrection powers, the Drowned God does allow the Greyjoy kings to wake up after being suffocated under water, the Old Gods clearly work through the weirwood trees and it seems that the Three-Eyed Raven is their perpetual prophet, the God of Death or The Many-Faced God or the Red God has Arya consistently showing its prowess, and perhaps our characters do embody “the seven” New Gods: Jon as The Father, Daenerys as The Mother, Sansa as The Maiden, Arya as The Crone, Gendry as The Smith, Bran as The Stranger, and Brienne as The Warrior, or something along those lines. Perhaps Dany is The Stranger and Sansa is The Mother, but you get the picture.
When Tyrion says “I don’t imagine that subject will leave you any happier than before,” it seems like the writers are telling us that these rabbit-holes about The Prince Who Was Promised and Azor Ahai are incomplete prophecies. The show has seemingly embraced the idea of prophecy by only having them be legitimate when people believe them. Cersei’s children are dead because she started casting them aside believing that they’d all be dead before her. Perhaps Rhaegar Targaryen’s life was cut short because he believed in the idea that his child would be The Prince or that he had to chase down Lyanna Stark for some divine reason. Perhaps we never need to know if The Prince was even real, but rather Stannis’s death and Melisandre’s very unforgivable mistakes were due to them wrongly believing the prophecy applied to them. The prophecy given to Cersei, in the books not the show, says that a younger brother or sibling would come to kill her, and perhaps Jaime fulfills that somehow. Perhaps not. It’s the choices of the characters that make them true or not. If only 30% of prophecies are right because of happenstance, that number probably increases simply because people believe them. This line was trying to tell all of us that all of that Prince stuff didn’t matter, and the religious aspects are more important in the books. The criticism from show-watchers that feel short-changed on that issue is fine, but don’t expect the show to suddenly get down in the weeds about who “lightbringer” is going to be. It doesn’t matter. This scene ends with the line that the dead are gone, but “we still have us to contend with.” That was always the purpose of this show: the human conflict. It was great because it was mostly human with light magic elements. It’s always been that way. It will continue to be that way. There’s a shot of all of the leaders sitting apart and looking away from each other with Jon, Dany, and Sansa. Even at the start of the episode, Jon looks like he wants to say something to Dany who won’t even look at him. Tyrion’s line obviously hints at the impending conflict with Cersei, but also the clear in-fighting between everyone else. One has to wonder if people started noticing that Jon and Dany aren’t spending much time together these days.
There’s a quick Bran/Tyrion conversation where he talks about how he got the design for his wheelchair and tells Tyrion that he shouldn’t envy him because he mostly lives in the past. This cuts to the name of the episode “The Last of the Starks,” which Arya says later, because there doesn’t appear to be any chance of any of them having children to further the Stark line. Arya has no interest in a long-term mate, Sansa doesn’t appear to be either and also, if married, would take her husband’s last name presumably and not be a Stark, Jon’s last name is actually Targaryen, and Bran has no personal emotions anymore as the Three-Eyed Raven. He won’t be Lord of Winterfell, and he won’t father children. The show has done a good job of killing off the major families: there are no young Lannisters, the Tyrells, Martells, and Baratheons are gone, etc.
At this point, we really flash between two sets of people in the room. Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, and Pod all play Tyrion’s drinking game where he tries to surmise true statements about a person’s past, and Jon hangs out with Tormund and some other Northmen who push more and more alcohol down his throat. Jon: “Vomiting is not celebrating.” Tormund: “Uh, yes it is.”
Daenerys makes an effort to try to get the Northmen to accept her into the ranks, and the Gendry moment was part of that as well. She gets toasted by Tormund rather brusquely as “The Dragon Queen,” and she tries to pivot to toasting Arya as the Hero of Winterfell. It goes over fine, but the things that keep getting said about how the North has to really know you seem to be true. They do respect Dany now that she fought for them, and maybe even have some affection toward her, but it’s not the same as for Jon and the Starks.
At this point, Jon is faced away from her and she sits entirely alone at the far right of the table. Even the first time through this episode, I can’t help but think that Jon could’ve at least brought her into the circle with his friends. No one likes to be the wallflower at the edge of the room, especially not someone who usually commands admiration. When Tormund starts exclaiming how Jon climbing on the dragon is something that only “a madman or a king” would do, and that he keeps fighting, even after being murdered, Dany toasts him, but there’s a shot that lingers on her awkwardly, almost like she is becoming increasingly distressed and paranoid by the second. The ‘madman or king’ duality is interesting as it pertains to Jon and Dany, mainly because this episode, more than anything else, wants us to believe that Dany could become The Mad Queen. As things go south later in the episode, I feel that her anger is pretty justified, and I think her frustration and lashing out at those around her is pretty reasonable considering how her large advantage has been dwarfed. It’s this moment, and a moment with Jon later in the episode that bring me more to the “she’s starting to lose it a bit” conclusion. The dark swell of music under her also seems to be indicating that as well. She has this innate desire, almost compulsive need, to be worshipped, and although I do still think she’s the person best suited to govern Westeros, it’s her damaged ego in these moments that make her seem dangerous. Being sad and angry at losing those close to you is fine, but being jealous and paranoid about other people getting support instead of you is a bit different. As she storms out of the great hall, I started to get really worried. I’ll get more into specific Dany-related stuff later because a lot more happens, but that shot of her wide-eyed paranoia is a great shot. I love Daenerys, but her clear discomfort at not being the largest person in the room is totally earned. She does inspire love, but also fear. She does govern effectively, but also loses her temper. Most importantly, she deserves respect, but also commands it to a fault.
When we head back to the hall, Tyrion surmises that Brienne is a virgin (shocker), and Jamie follows her out of the hall when she storms off, pushing Tormund aside. Tyrion fills Tormund’s horn with wine after it becomes clear that Tormund has no chance to land Brienne. This is hysterical because the next scene we get is Tormund crying to someone about how Jaime came up out of nowhere and started hooking up with Brienne after Tormund has made this pursuit for two seasons now. As the camera pans over to who we’re talking to, it’s the Hound, who is probably the worst person to complain to about this stuff. It’s such a funny moment, and I’m pretty sure it’s Sansa who sends the women over to flirt with the two of them. If it is, that’s such a Littlefinger move; connect Winterfell with the women and the booze, get the warriors to have positive feelings about the Lady of Winterfell. The Hound, obviously, refuses, and Sansa approaches him, their first real conversation since Sansa refused to accompany the Hound North during the Battle of Blackwater. The scene demonstrates how Sansa has used her vast amount of adversity and learned from the people she’s sat under: Cersei, Littlefinger, Ramsay, etc., to grow out of being a “little bird” and into a leader. I don’t have much to say about some of the way this scene deals with Sansa being raped back in Season 5. I’m not enough of an expert to tell you how survivors view their experience this many years later and whether it does or does not fuel a period of personal growth. Some have supported this scene as Sansa rising above her circumstances, some have criticized it for using rape as a plot device. I don’t have enough expertise to comment, and I thought this scene between the Hound and Sansa was a bit clunky.
A few scenes now juxtapose the start and end of certain romantic relationships (presumably). Gendry can’t wait to find Arya to tell her about the Lordship and asks her to marry him and accompany her down there. She, obviously, refuses, as her character has said repeatedly that the life of marriage and children is not for her, just like how Nymeria wouldn’t accompany her North last season. It’s sad for Gendry to misinterpret Arya, but it shows that although he has affection for her, he doesn’t really understand her. Then, we get the end of Jaime following Brienne into her room. He rather clumsily tries to flirt “oh geez, it’s hot in here, let me take my shirt off. Hey, what do you think of Tormund? Jealous? Uhh, yeahhh.” It was nice to see this culminate, and it’s something that fans have discussed for seasons now. It will end up being the last moment of peace for Jaime, and it’s almost like he has to be completely hammered to think enough of himself to chase Brienne. I’ll discuss it more in his parting scene, but Jaime’s natural state now is just self-loathing. And, that self-loathing normally keeps him from showing the affection to Brienne because she’s such a pure, descent person. This episode, after the heat of battle and after several drinks, provided the environment for him to have the courage to pursue her, and things change back to his internal discontent as soon as the initial shock wears off.
The very best scene of the episode occurs between Jon and Daenerys next, and I loved this scene so much that it may be my favorite scene of Game of Thrones ever. The entirety of the show worked up toward Daenerys coming to Westeros with her army and staking her claim and Jon rising up from bastard of the North to ruler of the North, finding out his true heritage in the process. After telling Dany the truth of who his parents are, we haven’t seen them really interact. There’s been some side-eye and some reluctant smiles, but this is the conversation we’ve been waiting for. It’s not really Jon telling her that we wanted to know, it’s the effect of all of that information on Dany and how it informs their future.
Jon sits on his bedside, seemingly nursing one hell of a post-wine headache by the fire when Daenerys sneaks into his room, asking if he’s drunk. Now, my initial interpretation is that she wants him to be drunk. She doesn’t want to talk about who his father is, she just wants to spend time together and sleep with him, maybe later try to make some headway in telling him to keep quiet about actually being Aegon Targaryen. I think Daenerys feels really lonely in these moments, and she seeks Jon out for that reason. When Jon tells her essentially that he’s sorry about Jorah, she says that she couldn’t love him the way he wanted, and instead loves Jon that way. When she says “is that alright?,” it’s a really subtle nod to the fact that Dany does not care that they’re aunt-nephew at all. She sought him out for this interaction, she says it first, and tries to get his permission to continue. They kiss for a little bit, but Jon breaks it off. He’s definitely more uncomfortable with the ‘both being Targaryen’ thing. I wonder if the show set this up poorly, because my understanding of these relationships is that marrying your first cousin or something in Westeros was pretty common. I thought Tywin Lannister married his cousin, I assumed that when Littlefinger brought Sansa to Robin Arryn that the idea of their marriage would eventually be pitched. So, maybe it’s just different in the North of all places, but the scene makes clear that Daenerys and Jon view their biological connection very differently.
After the rejection, Daenerys sits down and wishes that she didn’t know, saying that she sometimes forgets of his heritage and superior claim to the throne, but when she saw the Northmen gathered around him, she knew that if people found out who he was, it would spread. She makes a great comment about how the people look at a leader like that, and says that she knows the look, but that no one has ever given her that look in Westeros. She had it in Essos, for sure, but that the Westerosi lords have never taken to her like that. Jon reaffirms that he doesn’t want to be King, but Daenerys makes a great point in response that it isn’t about what Jon wants or doesn’t want. When people find out who he is, his supporters will want to see him rise to power. Even if he refuses, the doubt will always be there. Daenerys is right that he should swear to secrecy, and in Jon’s naive decision to tell Sansa and Arya out of a desire to have his family know the truth (and also show that their father never cheated on their mother), the information does begin spreading around later this episode. Dany was right, and knows that Sansa will attempt to undermine her the second the information gets out. Daenerys gets really cold when Jon opts to tell others the truth, because she knows that the truth will probably destroy their relationship one way or another.
In the space of a four minute scene, Emilia Clarke goes from tentative, to tender, to loving, to facing rejection, to forelorn, to sad, to paranoid, to near hysterics, then to indignant and angry. I mean damn she’s great in this episode. I lament some of the choices with Dany here, because I do think the show is going to great lengths to throw her under the bus and convince us, unfairly, that she isn’t fit to rule. I also think that Sansa’s disdain is a bit misplaced, even if slightly understandable if she views Daenerys as a conqueror or her people who she wants to be free. I think the dynamics all work, I just wish there was an extra season to really flesh out the tragedy of Daenerys. Either way, specifically in this season, I think Emilia Clarke has done her best work on the show, and I hope she gets some Emmy attention for this. She’s been long lambasted for being one of the weaker actors on the show (as well as Kit Harington), but this is A-game performance. Especially in this scene.
We go from the end of this fraught and somewhat heart-breaking encounter to the next morning at a war council with our remaining characters. We learn that, somehow, about half of their army survived, such that Dany still has some Dothraki and Unsullied left. Dany proposes ripping Cersei out “root and stem,” knowing that Cersei has done plenty of negative propaganda against her as “the Dragon Queen” with “savages at our shores.” The response to this from Tyrion is that the objective is to win the war without destroying King’s Landing. I, for someone who tends to be anti-war, understand that limiting the risk of flaming innocent lives is important. However, if Daenerys had just gone to the Red Keep and burned it down, essentially as a drone strike and then immediately gave one of her speeches about feeding and freeing the poor, I think this all would’ve been a lot easier. There’s a world in which Daenerys could’ve won this entire war in one afternoon, and instead, the plotting has lost her soldiers, ships, and also months of time in which Cersei has bolstered her forces with the Golden Company and also armed her castles, boats, and supply lines with the scorpion crossbows that can affect the dragons.
The show tells us that the new Prince of Dorne has pledged his support and the Iron Islands have also been pledged after Yara Greyjoy took them back. At this point, with diminished forces and the scorpions guarding, a siege probably is the right way to go, and Jon will command her army as he and Davos head down the Kingsroad while Dany, the dragons, and a team of Unsullied guards will escort her to Dragonstone as a base of operations. I’m not sure why we opt for splitting the forces again, why not just march everyone to Dragonstone? Sansa states that the forces might not be ready to march to war yet, still recovering from the battle with the White Walkers, and I think her and Daenerys both make good points. Sansa is correct that waiting could strengthen their forces, but Daenerys is right in that she has done everything for the North, and the longer they wait, the more it dilutes her hold over the soldiers and the more it allows Cersei to plan and strengthen her defenses. Jon interrupts and says that the North will obey Daenerys’s command. Without more facts about the state of the soldiers, I’m not sure who’s right here. As per usual, Sansa was openly hostile unnecessarily while Daenerys refused to compromise because of her inflated ego.
Sansa and Arya corner Jon after the meeting, and they head to the Godswood with Bran to talk about Jon’s trust in Daenerys as the Queen. Again, Jon rightfully points out that they’d be dead if it weren’t for her and her armies, just as Daenerys said in the meeting, coming North to fight and protect everyone at great cost to her armies and strategic positioning against Cersei. Sansa, ignoring all of this, just replies that it was Arya who killed the Night King. At this point, I was out on Sansa. I had understood her position in wanting to protect Northern independence and that she would be somewhat indignant toward a new conquering force that her brother swore fealty to without her consent. But, after all that Daenerys has done, just dismissing her like this shows that for all of Sansa’s manuevering and growing wisdom, she has a bit of Cersei and her mother’s pettiness in her. Surprisingly, it’s Arya who agrees with Jon that they needed her. But she says that they don’t trust Daenerys, to which Jon rightfully replies that they can’t just trust who they grew up with, they need coalitions of people.
It’s at this moment that Arya delivers the line about being the Last of the Starks, and refers to him as her brother. Jon makes the decision here to have Bran tell them the truth of who his parents are, begging them to swear to never repeat it. When we see Arya leaving the castle later, I think we can assume that some of her decision to move on from Winterfell is because of Jon’s reveal that he is actually a Targaryen and following his Targaryen aunt-girlfriend south. Sansa obviously cannot and will not keep this secret. One of the next scenes is Arya opting to ride south with the Hound, and although I really like their road-buddies dynamic in the previous seasons, the pacing is so quick now that I doubt we get much of that. My assumption is that they take on the Mountain together when it’s time and that Arya’s espionage skills end up being really important in King’s Landing, maybe she kills Qyburn also.
I don’t have much to say about the Bronn-Tyrion-Jaime scene, mainly because it’s just awful. Tyrion promises him Highgarden and we finally realize that Bronn is lingering around the plot somewhere on the periphery to make some sort of play as we move forward. The entire scene felt misplaced and clunky, and reminded me almost of how Euron started picking on Theon during the mass Season Seven meet-up when there were a dozen things more important than in-fighting within the Greyjoys. There must be some reason that they have turned this into a subplot that will pay off in the future, because it would’ve been just as easy to have Bronn accompany Jaime North when he leaves at the end of last season. He could’ve knocked on Bronn’s door and brought him North to have Bronn join in on all the reunions and drinking parties. Instead, they’ve given us this plot. It must pay off somehow. Hell, if Bronn fights for Dany and decides openly not to assassinate Tyrion and Jaime despite being paid to do so, I would award him Highgarden or something of the sort. Why not? No one is there currently.
The Sansa-Tyrion scene as Dany’s forces begin to depart is a really good scene, one of the better ones of the episode. Sansa is fresh off of learning Jon is the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and Tyrion is just trying to find a way to bridge the gap between Dany’s side and Sansa’s. He recognizes that Jon is one of Dany’s generals and even if he survives the conflict, he will probably remain in King’s Landing, making Sansa the acting Wardeness of the North and acting Lord of Winterfell. Tyrion also acknowledges that provoking Dany is unnecessary, and Sansa rightly replies that he’s afraid of her. This is a part of Daenerys’s character that I think is totally necessary within the world of this show. Not only is Dany a female leader, she also must try to blend peace among so many different cultures and religions. I think it’s good that some people are afraid of Dany. If she feeds and arms the poor and those who have suffered, and then is really tough on the remaining lords: good! She has to be a visionary, and that’s why I though burning Randyll Tarly was a good decision. The old way of ensuring so much disparate treatment and unfairness has to end, and Randyll Tarly refused. I agree that killing thousands of innocents by destroying King’s Landing is wrong, but Daenerys should be powerful and inspire some degree of fear, and the consistent advice toward pacifism has completely lost her the advantage. If you have more men, three dragons, and growing support among the commoners, you fucking go in and win the war right away.
Sansa distributes the info to Tyrion about who Jon really is, which obviously conflicts Tyrion. He always provides a good answer as to why he supports Daenerys’s claim: she has a good vision for the world and he believes in her, but I do recognize that their styles are a bit different. Daenerys is more of a brute force ruler, and I personally respect and support that, but Tyrion is often at odds with her temperament, instead opting toward more conservative strategies. Jon would likely align more with Tyrion’s worldview, so it makes sense that this becomes an issue he would want to discuss with Varys later on, mainly because Tyrion clearly has thought about Dany’s mean streak and whether he can handle it. I like Dany’s mean streak, but a total pacifist would not.
Jon says goodbye to some characters as he leaves to head South, and it feels, more than anything, like a letting go of some of his Northern heritage. The heartless break-up with Ghost feels that way, and he refers to Rhaegal with more affection than Ghost, like his new dragon is a shiny new toy. Tormund is taking the free folk away, and this feels like his farewell from the series, and I’m not sure we’ll get much more of Sam/Gilly either. It’s revealed that Gilly is pregnant, and Sam and Jon share a tearful farewell where they admit that they are each other’s besties. Sam doesn’t know this version of Jon all that well. When Sam left for the citadel, Jon was still Lord Commander of the Watch. He didn’t see Jon get murdered, and didn’t see his resurrection. He didn’t see Jon take back the North, and although he was there when they held off the Night King and the Walkers, he doesn’t really know King in the North Jon; the Targaryen Jon. I think Jon is a fabulous character, but he’s a lot different than he was before his execution. Something that would’ve been a powerful scene is dampened by who Jon has become. In a way, the old Jon definitely was more broody, younger, more angsty. But, the tired version of Jon who comes back from the dead, who seems nearly suicidal in every battle seemingly having a death wish, and who bedded the Dragon Queen without any hesitancy is so much of a different person. He isn’t the Jon who had the bond with Ghost. These going-away scenes feel less impactful not because of the pacing of the show, but rather because Jon is so much different than he was a few seasons ago. Here’s a key question: is his resistance to Gilly and Sam naming their child ‘Jon’ if it’s a boy because a) he’s too humble to think he deserves that, or b) because he no longer really identifies as Jon Snow?
A few days, minimum, has passed when we see Tyrion and Varys discussing the nugget of info he got from Sansa: that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen with the best claim to the throne. Varys rightfully references the age-old schoolyard idea that telling a secret to one person immediately spreads it to two others. Now, eight people know, and two of them are in Daenerys’s inner circle. It’s funny that this bombshell has become one of the major plot-lines of the series because of the potential wildfire-like effect it could have on the characters as it spreads around. Ned Stark kept the secret to the damage of his reputation and openly allowed his wife to believe he cheated and fathered a bastard up until their deaths. As soon as people figure this out, it starts breaking out. That’s another reason why the fireside scene between Jon and Dany is so good, because although Dany comes off a bit crazed and desperate in the scene, she’s right that the only way to quell this is to keep it a secret. Varys starts seeming like Varys again, manipulating behind the scenes. Tyrion suggests marrying them despite the aunt-nephew thing, and Varys doubts that either of them will want that: Jon for the lack of commonality in marrying his aunt, Dany because she may not want to share the throne. Perhaps I read Dany wrong, but I’m not sure that she would reject this if she’s recognized first, ie, she’s Queen of the Seven Kingdoms and her husband is King. I guess this would be kind-of like suggesting that she gets head-billing on the concert set-list and Jon is the opener. She came to Westeros, leaving Daario behind, because she stated that she may have to marry to forge alliances. For two seasons, this had made the most sense. Yet, for some reason, no one has pitched it. I really hope Tyrion and Dany have this conversation next episode.
Just as their conversation resolves, we see Dany and the dragons flying overhead and they are ambushed by Euron Greyjoy’s fleet, losing Rhaegal in the process. There are plenty of complaints about how this scene was handled, such that Rhaegal gets hit by all three bolts that are sent at him. I hear that complaint, but would the scene be that much different if they sent fifteen at him and three hit and we saw twelve slip by? No, we’d pay attention to the fact that he got fucking killed by the bolts. That criticism is so odd to me. The script set up that Rhaegal died, so he died. Is the way it goes down logistically that important?
I get that there would be some kind of scouting ahead probably, but information also travels very poorly in this world. Dany and the dragons were flying close to the ships and clearly couldn’t see Euron because we literally get her vantage point from the sky. He comes around a bend in the cliff, and if you’re Dany, your first reaction isn’t to take the dragons away. When Drogon was shot with a spear, it was a minor inconvenience for him. I don’t think Dany really thought that her dragons were that vulnerable. The criticism that I think is better for this scene is that the show has decided to make the dragons this vulnerable. It makes sense that they would be working hard on a solution and a weapon that could damage or kill the dragons, but it feels a little convenient. So, that’s really the problem with this scene: it’s convenient that they don’t look ahead for Euron and it’s convenient that the dragons are so vulnerable when the history of wars in Westeros speak of how impossible it is to kill a dragon. Only one of Aegon’s three dragons were killed by humans when the Dornish killed Meraxes. I wonder if maybe the age of the dragons matters here, because the dragons are only like seven years old while Aegon’s dragons were over 50. Rhaegal’s death matters as well because it means that he cannot breed with Drogon. If there are going to be more dragons eventually, they have to come up with some new eggs somewhere.
My big emotion coming out of this scene was just true grief. I’m horrified that she’s lost two of her dragons. I loved the follow-up where Dany flies straight at the ships and lets out this vengeful scream. This episode had its pacing flaws, but you really felt her pain. Some of the logic to get here is a bit flawed, but the show has done a good job to show what a losing war effort looks like. It was different with Stannis because we didn’t have the same fervor for him compared to Dany, so as Dany loses her ships, dragons, friends, and then when her advisers begin conspiring behind her back, the show has earned her grief and fury at her current predicament.
Then, the scorpion bolts are turned on the remaining fleet and Missandei is captured in the process. Grey Worm, Tyrion, Varys and the unsullied swim to shore. When Euron gets back, Cersei does the predicted thing in telling him that the baby is his, and discusses the death of Rhaegal. It’d be great if there was a twist to bring the dragon back, but I doubt it. Also, Cersei openly discusses her idea to bring people into the capital to make flaming it a really bad move for Daenerys. It’s a good move for Cersei because she wants to win the battle of the message, and if Dany kills a ton of innocents, we’re in for a huge amount of infighting between the people sworn to her. My guess for the resolution of this show is that Cersei and her forces are killed and that the finale is largely about the political maneuvering of who gets what castle, lordship, and potentially a climatic showdown between Jon and Dany in their separate claims for the throne.
When they discuss the fallout back at Dragonstone, Varys tells Daenerys that attacking the city is a mistake. Daenerys responds with a soliloquy about destiny, and that she was brought into this world to free the world from tyrants and will serve that destiny no matter the cost. She tends to have these strong statements and then back off when her people convince her otherwise, and she decides to meet with Cersei first and demand her surrender to let the people know that she offered mercy and Cersei rejected it. This works for me, and again shows that Daenerys does not want to mass murder. She has the impulse, but again, if she had just flamed the Red Keep as soon as arriving in Westeros with her three dragons, more lives would’ve been spared than this war tactic would have.
When Tyrion and Varys reconvene after this meeting, Varys basically says that he will betray Daenerys. He supports Jon’s claim to the throne, thinks Daenerys is dangerous, and continued support of her is a mistake. My guess is that Varys discusses all of this with Jon next episode, and at some point, Tyrion or Jon tells Dany and Varys is executed. There’s a lot of this idea that “the best ruler may be someone who doesn’t want to rule.” I disagree with this entirely. In fiction, there’s this idea of the reluctant leader or reluctant hero. Jon has already fit that narrative again and again. But, that rationale doesn’t apply to presiding over an intricate system of politics and appointments when that person has no interest in being political. Jon is terrible at playing the Game of Thrones, which is why he continues to refuse those positions. As a general and protector for Dany, he’s great, but having a King who doesn’t aspire to politics and isn’t interested in telling small lies to keep people happy and safe will not be a good King. He’s honorable, and a good person, but Jon would not make a good King.
It’s so amazing to me that Daenerys has become Varys’s fall guy, when him and Tyrion’s advise is the very reason she isn’t already Queen. Their combined efforts failed her, repeatedly, for two seasons, and now she has become expendable as the spider leaps to a new person to follow. While we liked watching Varys navigate the chaos of the early seasons, I think the changes in the show have really shown how people like him operate. They trade in information, give advise for their own purposes, and then pivot and leave the person they had backed to die. He did it with the Starks, the Tyrells and now Daenerys, and this feels so much like real politics to a certain extent. The behind-the-scenes, fly on the wall characters control a lot of this show, but the tragedy of Dany and her claim to the throne is directly a result of her trusting the politics and not her gut instincts.
When Jaime finds out what happened to Rhaegal, he knows that the battle will become nasty relatively quickly. A lot of people feel that his departure means he’s returning to Cersei, but I didn’t interpret it that way at all. My understanding is that Jaime’s self-loathing for the terrible things he did to get back to Cersei has prevented him from truly feeling like he’s a good person. He feels like there’s no redemption for the mistakes he’s made, and is hateful toward Cersei for the way her presence in his life guided his choices. I think that he wants to be present to see this out, maybe attempt to kill her, and die in the process. I don’t think Jaime views himself worthy of staying North and eventually marrying Brienne or whatever. His legacy will be decided hand-in-hand with Cersei, and while it’s sad that this leaves Brienne completely alone and distraught, I thought that this was in line with Jaime’s character. Of course, if he just dies protecting Cersei or is attempting to participate in the war on her behalf, his betrayal would feel quick and unearned. But, if he’s going south for a purpose of ending Cersei or having a hand in it, that makes sense.
Finally, we get the attempt at truce between the two Queens as Tyrion speaks for Dany and Qyburn speaks for Cersei. Cersei obviously refuses, but in the process, Tyrion lets slip that he knows about the baby. One has to wonder if Euron cares or wonders why Tyrion knows.
Either way, Cersei is not surrendering and really wants to goad Daenerys into flaming innocents and completing her Mad Queen arc. So, she cuts off Missandei’s head, and as Daenerys walks away from the meeting, her mix of sadness and fury is really well presented. Tyrion knows that caution may be thrown to the wind, and perhaps next episode could get ugly.
My final thoughts are that I thought the acting in this episode (minus the Bronn scene) was fabulous. And although it had pacing and some narrative issues, I viewed this as classic Game of Thrones. It subverted expectations, had political maneuvering, and had plenty of heartbreak, between the relationships of the characters and deaths of the dragon and Missy. The speed-up of the episodes where people travel quickly is just part of getting everything in with the last few episodes, and the pacing isn’t enough of an issue for me to complain. The Euron-ambush logic was troublesome but its outcome is steering us toward such an interesting finale. I get that this episode has a lot of people complaining, but I think that it’s complaining for the sake of complaining. I’m not interested in taking part in that.