Welcome to our recap of another beautifully filmed and poorly written episode of Game of Thrones! In this penultimate episode, we finally see the attack on King’s Landing that Daenerys has been promising since the first season, and it is no fun. Let’s get to it!
We open on Varys writing a message to an unknown recipient announcing Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne. There’s a knock at his door: it’s a little girl, one of his spies. He asks after someone referred to only as “her,” and the little girl says that “she won’t eat.” The girl mentions that Daenerys’ soldiers are following her, and Varys comforts her before sending her away. Later, Varys meets Jon as he disembarks from a ship at Dragonstone. Tyrion watches from afar as Varys attempts to convince Jon to publicize his claim to the Iron Throne. Jon says again that he doesn’t want the throne, and that Dany is his queen, while Varys states again that he believes Jon would be the better ruler. Jon walks away, and a troubled Tyrion does too.
Tyrion, bless his heart, goes straight to Dany — the “she” that won’t eat, as it turns out, because she is so overwhelmed by grief — and tells her that there is a traitor in her ranks. She names Jon as the traitor, and Tyrion tells her it is Varys. Dany explains that Varys only knew about Jon’s birthright because Jon told Sansa, and Tyrion apologizes for his part in spreading the information. Dany sends Grey Worm to arrest Varys, and they hold his execution on the beach. Tyrion approaches Varys and says, “It was me.” Varys nods and says, “I hope I deserve this, I truly do. I hope I’m wrong. Goodbye, old friend.” Tyrion grasps his arm, then walks away. Dany pronounces the sentence, and has Drogon burn Varys alive. The dragon looms over us in the darkness, looking frightening in a way he never has before.
Wow. Tyrion sold out his best friend to protect Dany. Hope she doesn’t immediately betray his loyalty.
Back in her council room, Dany gives a symbolic possession of Missandei’s — the collar Dany broke when she freed her — to Grey Worm. Grey Worm throws it in the fire, and a clear understanding passes between them. Jon enters, and Dany sends Grey Worm away. Jon apologizes for the results of his sharing his secret with Sansa, and Dany is unforgiving. Jon repeats that he doesn’t want the throne, and Daenerys points out that this doesn’t matter: he has the people’s love, while the people of Westeros feel nothing toward her but fear. “I love you,” Jon says, “And you will always be my queen.” “Is that all I am to you?” Dany asks, “Your queen?” She kisses him, and he shakes his head. “All right then,” she says, “Let it be fear.”
You know how women are. Reject them romantically, they’re liable to set a city or two on fire.
Later, Dany is in the council room discussing the planned attack on King’s Landing, and Tyrion begs her not to strike against civilians. He says that, if the Lannister forces surrender, the bells in the city will be rung, and reminds her not to attack if she hears that. Dany nods to Grey Worm, who looks determined. It doesn’t look good for Tyrion. Even worse is when Dany tells him Jaime was stopped trying to get through their lines to run back to Cersei. She implies that this means allowing Jaime to live (on Tyrion’s advice) was a mistake, and says, “Next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me.” Clearly, the episode writer’s talents would be better spent on the script of a Netflix action movie, but we take what we can get, I suppose.
As the people of King’s Landing prepare for a siege, Tyrion and Jon rejoin the Targaryen camp on the shores near the city. Tyrion asks Davos for a favor, referring to his past as a smuggler. Meanwhile, the Hound and Arya arrive outside King’s Landing and are stopped by a guard. Arya announces that she is there to kill Cersei, and the guard lets them pass.
At the camp, Tyrion pulls rank on the Unsullied guards to leave him alone with Jaime in the prison tent. Tyrion gives Jaime the key to his handcuffs, telling him to find Cersei, encourage her to surrender, and then flee with her in a boat he will have prepared while the bells of King’s Landing are rung in surrender. Tyrion believes this will save the civilians of the city, as well as his beloved siblings. Jaime says he’ll try, and Tyrion hugs him goodbye. It’s emotional, and Tyrion cries. Savor that, because he doesn’t cry at any point during the upcoming massacre, and neither does a single other male character.
The gates of the Red Keep are shut on the citizens pouring in just as Jaime arrives, and so Jaime is forced to go around to the back entrance — the same place where Tyrion has stashed the boat. All this amidst the panic as the battle begins.
See, all this setup is all right. Not the best writing the show has ever seen, but not universally abysmal. Which makes what follows all the more tragic.
Euron watches the skies at the head of the Iron Fleet. Dany flies Drogon with the sun at their backs, straight down, avoiding a few scorpion bolts before wreaking havoc: she burns the entire fleet with little difficulty. Then she turns to the ramparts of the city walls, burning the scorpions stationed there, and countless soldiers along with them. At the main city gates, the Golden Company (the mercenaries Cersei hired) are facing off against Targaryen forces, and are understandably surprised when the gates explode from behind them, Drogon following after, burning most of the company in one fell swoop. Then the Dothraki charge (yes, apparently some of them survived the Battle of Winterfell, even though we literally hadn’t seen that till now).
The Dothraki wreak havoc on the city with the northmen and Unsullied at their backs. Drogon flies a mission to burn every remaining scorpion, and Cersei looks on unhappily. Qyburn approaches and tells her she has lost the Iron Fleet, the Golden Company, and all her anti-dragon weapons, but Cersei, long-time Queen of Denial, says her men will fight hard for her and that the Red Keep has never fallen.
Jon, Davos, and Grey Worm are at the head of a charge, and they end up in a face-off with Lannister soldiers. Dany lands Drogon on a roof to watch the action, while Tyrion stands at the destroyed gate, watching the nearest bell tower to see if it will ring. The Lannister soldiers drop their swords, and the order is given to ring the bells. The bells ring, but Dany is not happy with this. In fact, she is furious. And then, because women are clearly too emotional to lead, she takes off on Drogon’s back and begins to burn the city.
I know subtlety has never been Dany’s forte, but the writers used to be capable of it. Then again, every time a man writes a female character, the gods toss a coin, and fans hold their breath.
Grey Worm, clearly expecting Dany’s choice, leads an attack on the mostly unarmed Lannister soldiers, and the men follow. Jon, appalled, cannot stop them, and is eventually forced to fight in self-defense. We see a shot of the pattern of flames: Dany appears to be burning the city systematically. Davos leads civilians out of the city — that was probably Tyrion’s request. Jon sees one of his own men try to rape a civilian woman and kills the soldier.
Jaime, meanwhile, reaches the dinghy Tyrion left for him, but as he does, Euron comes out of the water, clearly just having swum back from the wreckage of his fleet. Euron taunts Jaime and announces that he had sex with Cersei, at which point the two begin one of the dumbest duels in the whole series. What kind of nonsense machismo? Anyway, Euron stabs Jaime.
Dany is burning the Red Keep for real, and it’s starting to crumble. Qyburn convinces Cersei to go belowground for a better chance at safety. Crying, she takes his hand and lets him lead her away.
I just really take offense at the notion that Cersei would let a little thing like the destruction of her home city by dragon get to her like that, you know? Remember last time King’s Landing was under attack? Cool as a cucumber and prepared for a little glamorous murder-suicide. Where are the Cerseis of yesteryear?
Back on the shore, Jaime stabs Euron back, leaves him to die, and then stumbles into the Red Keep to find Cersei. Arya and the Hound are in the castle now, but the Hound stops and tells Arya to leave. He says revenge is all he cares about, and he doesn’t want her to be like him. She thanks him and lets him go on without her. Then she…runs? Awesome. Fleeing Arya.
The Hound comes across the Mountain, Qyburn, and Cersei fleeing down a staircase. He kills all their remaining guards, and the Mountain steps forward to fight him. Cersei orders him to stay at her side, and Qyburn approaches to reiterate the order — so the Mountain grabs Qyburn and throws him against a wall, killing him. A disgusted Cersei walks right past them, and the Mountain takes off his helmet. He looks gross, that’s for sure. “That’s always been you,” says the Hound, and they fight.
Jaime finds Cersei in the room with the big map on the floor (surely this type of room has a specific name, but I don’t have George R. R. Martin’s phone number, so I can’t get you that vocab right now). They embrace, and Cersei notes that Jaime is wounded. He shrugs it off and leads her downstairs.
The fight between the Mountain and the Hound continues, interspersed with shots of Arya fleeing the city. As the Hound begins to lose his fight, Arya gets lost in the crowd. She is helped by a civilian woman, but the Hound has no such luck. He stabs the Mountain repeatedly, but the Mountain, being undead, seems unaffected. The Mountain positions his thumbs over the Hound’s eyes for the signature move that killed Oberyn, but the Hound manages to stab him through his eye. The Mountain lets go, only to raise his hand and remove the dagger. The Hound solves this hiccup by tackling the Mountain and driving him through a crumbling wall. They fall to their fiery deaths together. Which is…fine, I guess. Not the most satisfying, but fine. It’s fine.
While Jon tries again to call a retreat and is this time successful, Arya awakes with what must be a dangerous concussion and finds the woman who helped her. She leads the woman and a child that’s with her out of their shelter (which is soon to be burnt) and tries to get them to safety, but she is run down by a Dothraki rider and loses them. When she finds them again, she is too late to save them from the approaching dragonfire.
Under the Red Keep, Cersei and Jaime find all their exits blocked by rubble. Cersei panics, telling Jaime she doesn’t want to die and doesn’t want their baby to die. Which, okay, apparently the baby was real. We’ll tackle why that’s a problem in our upcoming in-depth rant analysis of this shitshow of an episode. But Cersei continues to panic and cry, and Jaime comforts her as the ceiling falls in on them.
And that’s it. That’s how they die. Cersei, the unbeatable evil queen, dies crying and begging, helpless, in her boyfriend’s arms. Words really cannot describe how much we hated this scene.
Arya somehow lives, which is nice. She surveys the destruction, sees the dead woman and girl she was trying to save, and gets that murder glint in her eye. She finds a horse, soothes it, and rides it out of the city. End episode.
All right, so we’ve got an interesting showdown coming. At least, it would be interesting if the show hadn’t become by turns predictable and disappointing. Here’s hoping the conclusion of the series won’t leave us all embarrassed to have been dedicated fans for so long. We’re not getting our hopes up.