‘Game of Thrones’: The Dragon Queen comes to King’s Landing
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD THROUGH SEASON 8, EPISODE 5 OF ‘GAME OF THRONES’***
Last week, my fellow “Thrones’n’at” panelist Cassie Nedelco was upset about several aspects of “Last of the Starks.” I thought it was great — not necessarily the choices that some of the characters made (PET YOUR PET, JON. DON’T BE A JERK.), but rather the series’ return to political jockeying and tense conversations in dark rooms.
This week, I am fully ready to take the reins of the Angry-Fan Dragon from Cassie and callously burn this episode to the ground.
Despite my carping earlier in the week, that people were getting in their feelings a little too much about this final season because all of their fan-service/pet/conspiracy theories about “Game of Thrones” weren’t coming true, I found myself both angry and disappointed in the way this penultimate episode went down.
That’s a strange thing to say about “The Bells,” an episode in which we got several major character deaths, the fulfillment of #CLEGANEBOWL and the wanton destruction of King’s Landing.
It’s fitting that this episode begins with the one character among our heroes who cares about the actual people living in King’s Landing — RIP Varys — being roasted alive for his “traitorous” ways.
Apparently Varys watched last week’s recap and saw all of the heavy hints being dropped about Dany going full-on Mad Queen.
“I hope I deserve this,” Varys tells Tyrion. He doesn’t.
I’ve always been a big Varys guy, so while I wasn’t happy to see him go, I’m not surprised and I understand why.
What I don’t understand is how Daenaerys Targaryen went from moping on Dragonstone to adding “Burner of Ballistas” to her lengthy list of titles.
Attack with the sun at your back. Makes perfect sense. Destroy a handful of ships and swoop back into the air. You can do that once. But all of the ballistas, both on Euron’s ships and on the King’s Landing parapets, seemed to have nearly 360-degree swivel ability. It’s hard to imagine that no one was able to get a shot in at all. It beggars belief that these soldiers could accurately triple-tap a dragon in flight a week ago, and the not manage to get one good lick in before being burned to a crisp.
But fine: she decimates the ballistas AND the Golden Company in about five minutes’ worth of screen time. RIP Harry Strickland. You had a dumb name, and we barely knew you, and before you even had a chance to draw your sword, this battle was essentially over.
I’ll even go so far as to say I understand why Dany would want to go after Cersei at the Red Keep. I honestly thought that’s what was going to happen for a minute: Dany and Drogon would just fly right to that balcony and light her up. That would make perfect sense. This is personal for Dany. I wouldn’t want to let Cersei just surrender, either. Go get her!
What I don’t understand is why Dany would make the decision to light up THE ENTIRE CITY. She and Drogon blew the front gate to let their armies in. So why start barbecuing peasants street by street? Why destroy the Red Keep itself, the home her own family built centuries ago?
In some alternate universe, perhaps it’s possible she wants to really and truly break the wheel and she’ll announce the establishment of the People’s Republic of Westeros next week. Not here. Here, the show-runners have her leaning all the way into the Mad Queen scenario. At least I think so. Benioff and Weiss said in the post-show featurette that they wanted to show the battle from the perspective on the ground. We saw it mostly through the eyes of Arya, who finally may have seen enough from the god of death. She spent the majority of her screen time trying in vain to save the citizens of King’s Landing, including a woman and her daughter who just kept crossing her path.
Even still, it was kind of a bizarre decision to not show Dany’s face at all as she was turning women and children into charcoal briquettes. She was nowhere to be seen during the last 40 minutes of the episode, except as a dot on Drogon’s back.
But even if all of this death has gotten to Arya, I have a feeling she is still going to be adding Dany’s name to her list.
Jon may be doing the same. He’s certainly not going to be happy with Grey Worm, whose zeal to avenge Missandei pretty much kicked off the second sacking of King’s Landing in the past two decades. And look, I know the remaining soldiers in Jon and Dany’s army are at the end of their collective ropes. I can forgive them killing Lannister soldiers, even after those soldiers have surrendered. I’m not certain I buy the jump to full-on citizen slaughter and attempted rape, though. I thought the war-is-hell metaphor was being driven home perfectly well by way of the Godzilla movie unfolding all over the city: Arya’s increasingly desperate attempt to find a way out as buildings and streets crumbled around her jangled my nerves a few times.
The death of Queen Cersei Lannister and the Kingslayer Jaime Lannister, however, did not jangle my nerves. It was just kind of dumb and lame and unworthy of either character. I buy Cersei’s unwillingness to accept defeat after a life of victory and privilege, but if the show was going to give her final-boss status, it was a chump way for her to go out.
I suppose the question then becomes: is Dany the final boss?
Legions of Unsullied lined up in front of her in next week’s preview doesn’t seem like the way she’d choose to announce the first Westeros General Election, that’s for sure. “Let it be fear” are pretty much the last significant words we heard Dany say in this episode. That doesn’t really jive with her self-stated destiny to rid the world of tyrants.
It lines up pretty well with her family motto of “Blood and Fire,” though.
I’m going to predict that the first scene of next week’s series finale will be Dany walking through the Red Keep’s throne room, just like in her season-two vision, except it will be filled with ash instead of snow.
Can Jon still pledge himself to Dany after what she’s done? Everyone left in the show has heard some sort of warning about what an angry and/or mad Targaryen is capable of. They’ve just seen it, and it has to horrify almost all of them. Their “rightful queen” just murdered hundreds of thousands of her subjects.
Let me be clear: at least on first viewing, I don’t like this episode, for many of the reasons I stated above, and the others I’ll state below. I do like that, in the best of “Game of Thrones” traditions, the plot has put allies at odds and will force characters we love to make hard decisions that may result in the death of OTHER characters we love.
As we head into the final episode, I think this series needs to be looked at as two halves in order to be judged fairly. The first half is seasons 1-4, where the show-runners had an amazing wealth of perfect, intricately plotted source material. The second half is seasons 5-8, where the show outran the books, while at the same time, its more-fantastical elements started taking center stage. It went from amazing television to merely pretty-great television, and from uber-violent political drama to dragons-and-ice-zombies spectacle.
I welcome the return to the former, even if I’m not pleased about how they got there in this episode. Let’s see what the series finale holds.
• • •
A FEW STRAY RAVENS
• Varys to Jon: “I’m worried for all of us.” Not only did that turn out to be a prophecy for King’s Landing, it could be a meta reference to all of US at this time next Sunday…
• The first five minutes of this episode was a race to see who would be first to snitch on Varys, Jon or Tyrion.
• “I’m Arya Stark. I’m here to kill Queen Cersei.” She’s the best. Honestly, I hope she still gets a chance to kill a queen. I’m over Dany at this point. She’s starting to remind of Veruca Salt from “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” if Veruca’s dad had bought her a giant fire-breathing dragon.
• JAIME: “Cersei once called me the stupidest Lannister.” That’s a bold statement, considering that family includes Lancel “Slept With My Cousin And Then Carved a Star In My Forehead” Lannister.
• Turns out that trip down the King’s Landing parapet in this year’s new title sequence was a tease for Tyrion’s treasonous plan to sneak Jaime and Cersei out of the Red Keep. Even though I’m still irked about how the showrunners did my man Jimmy Goldfingers, it was nice to see him get an emotional moment with Tyrion.
• Seriously, though, Cersei and Jaime really get stuck in the basement and crushed by rubble? That’s trash.
• #CLEGANEBOWL — I did sort of predict last week that when two Cleganes entered, zero Cleganes would leave. It was pretty hilarious how they both just let Cersei stroll on out. The fight itself was… okay?
The sequence where Sandor is just laughing grimly while stabbing his brother everywhere and simultaneously being choked out was very much in keeping with the best of the series. But now that it’s happened, it’s possible we all liked the IDEA of #CLEGANEBOWL more than the bowl itself.
But if I’m being honest, Sandor’s season-four fight with Brienne of Tarth was more engaging, better choreographed, and had better stakes.
• RIP Qyburn. You were the creepiest grandpa in all of Westeros. But you did come up with a weapon that killed the greatest beast the world had ever seen, even if its effectiveness was wildly inconsistent.
I was just watching a video yesterday where someone recalled that it was Robb Stark and his ill-fated bride Talisa who found Qyburn at Harrenhal in season two, nursed him back to health and sent him on his way. Whoops!
• I love that Cersei’s solution to devastating defeat is to basically lock herself in her room.
• Jon Snow desperately commanding his men to “Halt!” while also killing Lannister soldiers is the most Jon Snow thing ever. His life (and death, and second life) is a series of impossible decisions. It’s not going to get any easier next week, when his ex-Girlfriend/Aunt takes the Iron Throne after murdering a few hundred thousand subjects.
• That was a nice shot of debris falling all around Cersei as she crosses over the giant map of Westeros in that Red Keep courtyard. I believe we’ve spoken previously of the Keenan Ivory-Wayans’ “MESSAGE!” scene.
• From a distance, the Red Keep looks just a little bit like the Heinz factory, doesn’t it?
• ONE. MORE. EPISODE.
Patrick Varine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Patrick at 724-850-2862, [email protected] or via Twitter .