/Game of Thrones recap: There are no winners in the apocalyptic penultimate episode

Game of Thrones recap: There are no winners in the apocalyptic penultimate episode

“I am not your little princess. I am Daenerys Stormborn, of the blood of Old Valyria, and I will take what is mine. With fire and blood, I will take it.”

She said it seven years ago, in Season 2’s sixth episode. She did it Sunday night.

Before she and Drogon laid waste to King’s Landing in “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) was betrayed by Varys (Conleth Hill), leading her to fulfill another destiny: “If you ever betray me, I’ll burn you alive,” she told him, in Season 7’s “Stormborn.” And so she did.

Before that, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) executed her closest confidant, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). Before that, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) murdered one of her two remaining dragon children. Before that, she learned that her lover Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is her nephew, and the rightful Targaryen heir to the throne. And before that, she suffered indignity after indignity, and on occasion exacted cruel justice that seemed fitting. She crucified Meereen’s slave masters. She burned Randyll and Dickon Tarly alive. All in the name of “breaking the wheel,” or, as Daenerys put it Sunday, showing “mercy toward future generations who will never again be held hostage to a tyrant.”

History and destiny culminated in the liquidation of King’s Landing and, yes, its people — the innocent people that are the collateral damage of any war, whether waged by a dragon queen in Westeros or the dapper-suited men of our “civilized” world.

It would seem that there are no winners in this game of thrones, especially not the commoners who have rarely been given attention by the show. For eight seasons, we have been entranced by a show about politics and human nature whose fantastical, dare I say fairy-tale setting makes all that bloodshed easier to swallow. Here, it is made clear that no fairy-tale ending awaits us next Sunday.

Arya and The Hound

History and destiny aligned perfectly for Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann), who came to King’s Landing to kill his brother Gregor, aka The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). The long-awaited “Cleganebowl” took place on a crumbling staircase, surrounded by dracarys. It brought to mind both the lava-planet showdown of “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” (“I have the higher ground”) and the Mount Doom climax of “The Return of the King.”

The most arresting visuals of an episode directed by Miguel Sapochnik came in this confrontation that ended when The Hound realized that only one thing could kill his zombified brother, the one thing The Hound feared most: Fire. They plummeted into the ruin of the Red Keep together, a fitting conclusion for both terrible men.

But what do we make of Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) abandoning her mission to kill Cersei? In a season full of character decisions that have baffled large sections of the viewing audience, this was the first one to truly ring false.

One tiny, not especially profound speech from The Hound is enough to convince Arya to leave. After hearing words that call back to The Hound’s confrontation with Sansa (Sophie Turner) at the Battle of the Blackwater, the assassin who killed the Night King is a wide-eyed little girl again. “Sandor. Thank you,” she says, before giving the audience a front-row seat for the ruin that Daenerys and Drogon have brought upon the city. The cruelty of war is on graphic display, again and again, as walls crumble, fire burns, and the men who thought were on the side of good — on the side of our benevolent Jon Snow — do horrible things.

After a few cheap fake-outs designed to make us think Arya has died, the dust clears to reveal a pale horse, which Arya rides out of King’s Landing.

Death is coming in the form of a pale rider for someone in next week’s series finale. I think we all know who it is.


The pirate from the Iron Islands was a braggart to the very end, taunting Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) about having sex with his sister before dealing two stab wounds to the Kingslayer’s side that would have almost surely claimed his life, if given the time. “You fought well for a cripple,” Euron says, before that cripple deals a fatal blow of his own. As Jaime stumbles away to find Cersei, Euron spits out his final words: “But I got you. I got you. I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister!”

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) spent most of this final season on the sidelines, a fact that will likely rankle viewers for a long time.

Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) spent most of this final season on the sidelines, a fact that will likely rankle viewers for a long time.
– Home Box Office

Jaime and Cersei

Faced with the end of her rule, her life, and her unborn child’s future, Cersei Lannister finally loses the icy veneer in place she made the walk of shame at the end of Season 5. Amid the dragon skeletons in the cellars of the Red Keep, she falls into Jaime’s arms. “I want our baby to live. … Don’t let me die, Jaime, please.”

“Nothing else matters. Only us,” he replies, as the ceiling caves in, presumably closing the book on the most tumultuous romantic pairing in the “Thrones” canon. (I don’t think Alfred will look up from his Fernet Branca and see the Lannister twins in Florence.)


Peter Dinklage was given his two finest scenes in a long time Sunday, both of them farewells. His scene with Coster-Waldau was particularly heartbreaking, as it reminded us once again of the humanity underneath all of Jaime’s awful deeds.

“If it weren’t for you, I never would have survived my childhood,” The Imp says. “You were the only who didn’t treat me like a monster. You were all I had.”

The two brothers embrace, the finality of their conversation apparent to everyone, audience included. Tyrion Lannister has been a sideshow for much of the last few seasons, a bad adviser and strategist good for a rude joke now and then, but keeping him around past his sell-by date was worth it for this scene.

Ramin Djawadi

The show’s composer who took center stage in the closing minutes of Episode 3‘s war against the undead solidified himself as the MVP of Season 8 with Sunday’s horrific reimaginings of both the “Light of the Seven” theme and the Jon and Daenerys love theme. Daenerys’ conquest of King’s Landing was not met with the soaring strings that usually accompany her awesome dragons; Djawadi’s dissonant music here amplified the hopelessness of it all.

Death toll

Sunday’s episode was (presumably) the final bow for Cersei, Jaime, The Hound, The Mountain, Euron, Varys and Qyburn (Anton Lesser), Cersei’s Hand of the Queen who was ultimately killed by the monstrosity he created.

Jon Snow

The man everyone now knows is Aegon Targaryen could do little more than watch in slack-jawed horror on Sunday as his own men displayed the kind of cruelty he had perhaps convinced himself was only possible from the Lannisters. He has seen what he enabled by bending the knee. Now what will he do about it in next week’s final episode?

Will Jon kill Daenerys and take the throne? Will Arya beat him to it? Will he convince Daenerys to truly break the wheel and dissolve the monarchy altogether? Will he sacrifice himself for the good of Westeros?

Further, will showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss find a way to satisfactorily convince their doubters, in one episode, that many of the things the audience has endured — the demonization of Daenerys, the elimination of the show’s nonwhite characters, the cruelty to women, the abject terror of this episode — were all part of the point?

The world will be watching at 8 p.m. Sunday.

• Follow Sean on Twitter at @SeanStanglandDH.


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