‘Game of Thrones’: From the Great War to the Last War
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGH SEASON 8, EPISODE 3 OF ‘GAME OF THRONES’***
Just before tonight’s episode started, I posted a Facebook message saying I had a feeling “Game of Thrones” was about to make me feel like a real jerk for being critical of last week’s “The Long Night.”
Barely ten minutes into the fourth episode, “Last of the Starks,” the look exchanged between Tyrion and Sansa — right after Sansa realizes that Dany is in the middle of an Iron Throne public-relations flanking maneuver — confirmed it.
“Game of Thrones” is back, baby — not that it went anywhere.
But let’s be honest: flame-filled dragons, tidal waves of zombies and magical mystical malevolent ice kings aren’t what made this show an international phenomenon and one of the most-pirated series in the history of illegal streaming. It’s the palace intrigue with real-world stakes, the political maneuvering where making a mistake could mean your head (RIP, Missandei).
As Queen Cersei herself once said, “When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.”
Cersei roared back as only a Lannister lion can after being gone for two straight weeks, sending her unknowingly-cuckolded fiancee Euron to stage a surprise-attack that wipes yet another dragon off the map.
Magic has been on the rise for the past seven seasons on this show, and now it seems to be dying off very quickly. Someone in an earlier season once made a comment about magic returning to the world with the birth of Dany’s dragons. That included the return of the White Walkers. Now, with their apparent extinction, Melisandre shedding the mortal coil and Rhaegal deep-sixed, the magic forces in Westeros are down to one dragon who, if he’s as smart as legend says dragons are, should be very afraid of ballista bolts. (Side note: is winter gone? It was pretty much sunny skies down in King’s Landing!)
But the death of magic heralded a return to the backroom political dealings and all-around paranoia and sketchiness that has marked some of the series’ best runs. Remember when Tyrion was traipsing through King’s Landing, setting people up and racking up favors and blackmail victims? He might not be crazy about it happening at this particular time and place, but this type of situation suits his talents best. His scene with Varys in the Dragonstone throne room even had echoes of Varys’ conversations with Littlefinger in the Red Keep’s royal chamber.
And speaking of Littlefinger, Sansa is flexing her Baelish game in this episode, strategically snitching Jon’s parentage to Tyrion knowing he’ll never be able to keep it to himself.
That is able to happen because Jon comes clean to his family about being a Targaryen — right? That’s what happened, right? BECAUSE THEY DIDN’T SHOW IT.
Really, “Game of Thrones”? One of the most important moments of the Stark family’s history and we don’t get to see it? We have time to watch a game of Westerosi truth-or-dare but not Sansa and Arya’s reaction to the news that their brother is really their cousin and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne? I really hope that’s not a setup for some kind of fake-out reveal later on.
Anyway, Jon snitching on himself right after Dany begs him not to is a very Ned Starkish thing to do. Ned might not be Jon’s real pops, but that could just be proof that nurture can sometimes override nature. He passed up a chance to have most everything he could want — a beautiful queen for a wife, happiness, a chance to help guide and govern the Seven Kingdoms — and he gives it up because he can’t keep a secret from his sisters. It’s the honorable thing to do. And now he’s going to King’s Landing. Stark men… great guys. Sometimes though… I mean, I just… they can be… kind of dumb.
It seems pretty clear that the show is leading Dany toward a “mad queen” scenario. You could see the very tiny beginnings of it on her face when her little early-episode political victories pale in comparison to the love and admiration Jon’s men show for him.
You could see it in her face when she charged Drogon head-on toward a dozen ships with scorpion bolts pointed right at her. It was only at the last second that she finally seemed to realize her own stupidity and retreated.
And you couldn’t miss it plastered all over her mug after Missandei of Narth was beheaded by the Mountain.
I’m very interested in the battle that I imagine will dominate next week’s penultimate episode. But if I’m being honest, I’m looking forward to a lot more palace intrigue and backstabbing before this is all over. I mean, there are still a whooooole lot of main characters left who could die, no? Jaime’s back on the road to King’s Landing (more on that below; I’m not sure I like how the showrunners did my man Jimmy Goldfingers)… so are Arya and the Hound, for that matter, and if you think I’m not all-in for one last Arya-and-the-Hound/Smokey-and-the-Bandit episode, you are sorely mistaken. (again, more on that below)
TWO. MORE. EPISODES. LEFT. Yikes.
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A FEW STRAY RAVENS
• The opening scene had me a little misty. The flames we saw in last week’s preview were massive funeral pyres rather than the ruins of Winterfell, and the scene had a very terrifying beauty to it.
• Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End — that’s got a pretty nice ring to it. Honestly, I wouldn’t mind watching a future ‘GoT’-Universe series about just that. I mean, how do you walk into a castle and say, “Okay, everyone, this is mine, I guess, so…”?
How do you take charge of a huge geographical area like the Stormlands? How do you raise a standing army? Do you form some sort of local government? It’s almost got echoes of “Deadwood” creator David Milch’s original idea for his series, which I believe was to show government and community slowly forming in the wake of the Roman Empire. (HBO was already producing “Rome” at the time, so Milch changed his setting to the American West, and the result is one of the greatest television series of all time, with a series-finale film coming out on May 31.)
• JON: “Vomiting is not celebrating.” / TORMUND: “Yes it is.”
Never change, Tormund. I’ll miss you. It makes good sense for him to take the remaining free-folk back beyond the Wall. Their enemy is gone, and they’re on good terms with what’s left of the North. If you think your average Northerner doesn’t care about King’s Landing, just imagine how little the wildlings care! I’m not really cool with Jon sending Ghost north, but this show has done the dire wolves dirty at just about every turn, so this is really no surprise.
• Arya and the Hound are road-trippin’ again. I’m 100% here for this. To me, this is a clear sign that #CLEGANEBOWL is a go. Two Cleganes enter. One Clegane leaves.
Possibly no Cleganes leave.
As for Arya, I know she’s never wanted to be a “lady,” per se, but she had to know that she could be any kind of Lady of Storm’s End she wanted. She could be out in the woods hunting wild boar with a buck knife every day, for all Gendry probably would care. Her essentially saying goodbye to Gendry makes me think she’s on a one-way trip to cross Cersei off her list. She’s got a bagful of faces. Who knows whose face she may have nabbed before they burned all those bodies? She could wander King’s Landing as a completely anonymous… well, I mean, let’s just be straight up: as a FACELESS MAN.
• Tyrion to a roomful of passively-aggressively bickering war councillors: “So… if all are in agreement…” Never stop trying, buddy.
• Samwell Tarly feeling the need to explain how he got a girl pregnant will never not be cute.
• “Maybe Cersei will win and kill us all. That would solve our problems.” Tyrion got several excellent moments in this episode. Like I said, it’s not the situation he’d choose, but he thrives in this type of environment.
• So Varys is Team Jon now? It sure sounded that way. I don’t think he knows that Jon was resurrected by not just magic, but by Melisandre, and I don’t know if he’d feel the same if he knew (THAT’S a secret Jon has seemed willing to keep from most everyone except for Arya, and possibly Sansa…? I don’t know if he told her or not).
Varys has always said he’s about the people. He said he’d speak plainly to Dany, and he did. But he basically told Tyrion that if Dany keeps taking after dear ol’ Dad, he’s jumping ship. Losing his spy network would be bad enough, but having him actively working against Dany — presumably in service of Jon — would be interesting indeed.
• Jaime Lannister is gonna need to off his sister if he wants to redeem himself after this episode. He had a nice little redemption story going for that Kingsguard book of heroes, before he went all stereotype-high-school-jock, took the nice-but-awkward girl’s virginity and then went running back to his blonde bimbo girlfriend. Or sister, as the case may be. Man… this show has me writing some weeeeird sentence sometimes.
I don’t like this decision by the writers. Jaime left Cersei last season because he could see she was too far gone and didn’t care about anything but her own power. If he’s heading back to confront her and kill her, so be it. But if he left Brienne in tears just to try and rekindle the incest flame, I kind of hope he gets burned up by dragon-fire.
• Bronn blackmailing the Lannister Bros. and betting on a bigger castle is the most Bronn thing ever. I knew he wasn’t going to kill them, but I also don’t blame him for threatening to do so. If there is anyone in Bronn’s life he could legitimately call a friend, it’s Tyrion — after all, he shot the warning arrow at ol’ Jimmy Goldfingers — but even Tyrion has purposely leveraged his power over Bronn and forced him to do dangerous and unpleasant things. Get yours, Bronn.
• Bran, to Jon about A VERY IMPORTANT DECISION: “It’s your choice.” Really, Bran? REALLY? I’m gettin’ super fed up with the Three-Eyed Encyclopedia Brit-Brannica. He didn’t really do much in the battle against the dead, and when it comes to a piece of information that sets fire to everyone it touches (in true Targaryen style!), Bran’s all, “Eh, do what you feel, bro.” Thanks!
• Next week it looks like it’ll be the Battle of King’s Landing and perhaps the Battle for the Seven Kingdoms. I’ll be curious to see just what size army Jon and Dany are bringing, and what their strategy will be. Is there a way to take advantage of dragon-fire without putting Drogon in fatal danger? Will Yara Greyjoy show up to sink her uncle’s battleship? Will Euron’s men fire some more of those sweet ballistas outfitted to look like kraken tentacles? Will Jaime or Tyrion fulfill the ‘valonqar’ prophecy that was deliberately left out of the show but would still have book readers losing their minds with joy?
Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to check back later for this week’s “Throne’n’at” discussion!
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .