Well, a lot happened this episode. We kick off with a touching farewell for some characters who kicked the bucket during the most recent episode, with the most affecting send-offs for Jorah Mormont (Ian Glen) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen). The send-offs by Dany and Sansa as the characters who had the most direct contact with them is moving and effective. The non-verbal part of this is the best, with Sansa placing a Dire wolf pin on Theon’s breastplate, a symbol that he is symbolical, if not in blood, a Stark. Jon Snow gives a moving speech and we’re on to a feast.

The mood is sombre, and things look set to get worse when Gendry gets called up. Daenerys wants to know if he’s Robert Baratheon’s son and then… Nope, she’s just legitimised him and given him Storm’s End. Will we ever see the castle the show seems to have forgotten existed? Probably not, and it’s a bit cheap how the writers construct the scene to appear as if Dany is about to do something awful (cheap, and not very clever).

Then Jon starts getting praised to the moon for riding a Dragon, annoying Dany who gets no such praise. The Hound re-unites briefly with Sansa, it’s brief, but touching, effective and (thankfully) non-romantic. The two have changed but still retain some affection. That’s good. Neither one of them is as they were when they last met.

Gendry proposes to Arya and asks her to be Lady of Storm’s End. She says no. This is a good development on a show that seems to be occasionally messing up some of the motivations of its core characters. Arya’s whole arc has been that she isn’t a lady and is a killer to the core. It would’ve been wrong to throw that away in this scene and I’m glad they didn’t, but unhappy because I’m suspecting they’ll never see one another again.

Jaime and Brienne are drinking with Tyrion and then the former two get it on, the Kingslayer and the Knight who taught him how to be honourable again. Can’t say it wasn’t time.

Meanwhile Dany’s feeling poorly. Jon pushes her away and she begs him to keep his parentage a secret so as to not spoil her claim to the throne. It’s a skilfully done scene. On the one hand, Dany’s being a hypocrite here because her entire shtick up until that point rests on her being House Targaryen’s lawful claimant, and now she knows she no longer is, she’s trying to bury the truth rather than welcome it. On the other hand, she’s also right that Jon is a political threat even if he doesn’t want the throne and that others (read: Sansa) will push him into conflict anyway. Jon, the poor dumb bastard that he is, still thinks he can have it both ways, but she correctly shuts down that notion. If he tells Arya and Sansa, it will ruin them. Jon is stuck between his two families here, the Stark family that loves and accepts him for what he isn’t, and the Targaryen one that doesn’t accept him for what he is and sees him now only in terms of dynastic rivalry. The well-constructed plotline can only end badly.

Then there’s some messing around with Bronn, who wants to kill Jaime and Tyrion but is willing to hear if they’ve got a better offer. They stayed true to Bronn here, he’s not a guy with a heart of gold. He wants his money and he’s pissed that he hasn’t got it. They resolve the situation according to his character’s motives without killing off either of the Lannister siblings, something I thought they couldn’t do, so points for creativity there.

Back in the Godswood, Sansa and Arya discover the truth (thankfully off-screen so we don’t need to sit through another tiresome reveal scene). Jon swears them to secrecy first (fat chance). Meanwhile, the War Council of Dany discusses the conflict against Cersei. Sansa preaches caution and patience, the troops are tired and wounded and need rest, but Dany’s having none of it. She wants her throne and she wants it now. This isn’t a great strategy, and the justification doesn’t make sense, given that Cersei has the Golden Company but clearly isn’t getting any reinforcements, while Dany has lords declaring for her all over the shop. She losing patience and understandably so given her losses so far. As much as I dislike Dany it’s very easy to feel sorry for her at this point. Not much has gone her way since she went to Westeros. Interesting to see again the contrast between the two powerful women while not having it be a cliched catfight. For a show that has occasionally run into trouble for problematic depictions of women, this one is a strong note. Their animosity is grounded in political reality, not a cliched idea of a catfight based on irrationalism. Hats off to both actresses as well. I take back my critique of Emilia Clarke’s lack of expression, when she’s given more to work with, as she has been this season, her natural expressiveness comes out and she does very well. Easily her best performance in this role since Season 1, her best up till now.

Also, notice how when they’re discussing moving the troops, Jon discusses marching down the Kingsroad with his troops, he moves the TARGARYEN token down the Kingsroad on the map? Grey Worm notices, and then picks up the token and moves it to White Harbour, where Dany is going. Freudian slip? Conscious decision on Jon’s part? Who knows, but it happened, and Grey Worm noticed.

Dany’s sailing back to Dragonstone with her fleet, while she’s got Drogon and Rhaegal, Jon’s marching south. He farewells Tormund and Ghost (CGI too expensive?) and Samwell. Something about that last meeting makes me feel that Jon isn’t coming back.

Sansa and Tyrion discuss Daenerys and Tyrion prods her about her dislike. He knows Sansa is clever and yet she dislikes Dany. I don’t think this is just Tyrion trying to sway her, he respects Sansa’s intelligence and wants to know what she sees that he might be missing. Sansa correctly points out that he’s afraid of her, and he seems almost desperate to convince himself that he made the right choice. She tells him about Jon, again off-screen.

At Dragonstone, a sudden ambush shoots the already injured Rhaegal full of holes and kills him. Dany is down a dragon and apparently needs glasses to compensate for the shortsightedness that prevented her from seeing the huge Ironborn ships of Euron Greyjoy. She makes to attack Euron with Drogon, incensed by the loss but pulls up just in time. Her ship with all her advisors is then sunk, and Tyrion, Grey Worm and Varys are fine but Missandei is gone.

Prisoner of Cersei, as it turns out, who is inviting thousands of refugees into the Red Keep to use as shields if Dany attacks the city. It’s ruthless and effective. Dany’s trying to prove herself better than Cersei, which constrains her freedom of action, while Cersei quit any pretence long ago. Lena Headey can’t get enough praise for this role, and it’s great to see more of her this episode when we’ve seen very little of her this season.

We end up before a war table and Dany threatens to torch King’s Landing. Varys and Tyrion object but manage to get her only to agree to talk to Cersei for PR reasons. Tyrion still seems to think Cersei might surrender for her child’s sake (where did this guy’s brain go? When has that ever worked the last times he’s tried it?) while Varys is increasingly convinced Dany is the wrong choice as Dany goes on about Manifest Destiny and doing what is necessary no matter the cost. The tragedy of the character comes full circle. The hero of her own story, destroying that which she tries to save. The show’s foreshadowing of this has been limp and ham-fisted compared to the books even if it’s still present, but it’ll be a bit jolting for fans who still like Dany and see her more or less as she sees herself, the saviour (I’ve argued for years that they are wrong, but I can see why they’d be taken aback by the show’s way of showing it, given it seemed to constantly whitewash Dany’s more ambiguous actions in earlier seasons. Without the more well-paced foreshadowing of the books, it’d be a bit hard for many people to swallow this)

A wonderful scene follows. Varys has been told by Tyrion about Jon and they ponder switching allegiance. Varys brings up all the benefits and justifies planning to switch sides. Tyrion makes a (not unreasonable) point about not switching sides every five minutes while Varys gives his spiel about people suffering if the wrong ruler sits the Throne. It’s a well-done speech by a character who has mostly been useless for two seasons. They’ve kept him around for this. Varys seems certain to betray Dany and probably die in the process, which then leaves Tyrion in the crossfire (for telling him) Sansa (for telling Tyrion) and then Jon (for telling her and Arya). How far will Dany cast the net? Far, I suspect. This is the crossing the Rubicon moment for Dany.

Jaime hears of the dead dragon and leaves Brienne to go back to Cersei, claiming she’s hateful and so is he. The heartbreak is palpable, and the scene itself comparable to a crack addict relapsing, but I’ll note that Jaime didn’t say he was going to save Cersei. I still think he kills her, but we’ll see.

Arya and the Hound on the road back to the capital again. The Night King must officially be known as the Horned Fucker from this day forward. He will answer to no other name.

Then we’re at Kings Landing and Qyburn has a bunch of Scorpions on the walls while Dany is down to one Dragon. The two hands parley and nothing is resolved but Tyrion appeals directly to Cersei, who seems to be passing off her incest kid as Euron’s (reverse of passing off Jaime’s kids as Robert’s, see?). Seriously though, did all the engineering and logistical innovation in Westeros get sucked up into Qyburn? Team Dany seems to be heading into too-dumb-to-live territory with Tyrion’s boneheaded insistence on getting Cersei to see sense. Instead, she lops Missandrei’s head off on the walls and Dany’s mad.

The end.

Overall a strong episode. The lighter tone of the first half was needed to juxtapose both the last one and the second half of this one. Tormund, in particular, was great comic relief. Huge shout-out to Ian Glen and Alfie Allen for portraying two of the characters I find more dislikeable in the books in ways that are measured and sympathetic. There were a few eye-roll moments like the death of Rhaegal via scorpion bolt and Dany’s sudden-onset blindness about the Ironborn ships, but they were not as egregious as some other moments the show’s had and the rushed timetable is showing a bit. The pacing is a bit clumsy regarding Dany’s descent into darkness, which has not been telegraphed as well as it should have been in earlier seasons, but it’s too late now and the signs were definitely there for anybody who cared to look for them.

For all that some of the plotlines are predictable, I still can’t see the final shape of the endgame. I predict horrifying twists and a high body count next week. I think the two most likely endings are Jon taking the throne over Dany and Cersei or Jon himself dying as well as them and the Throne no longer existing. My money’s still on there being no throne and no King. Proving true to the ultimate point of Martin’s message about the danger of vengeance and war and the futility and destruction of a ‘whatever the cost’ mentality towards power and authority. That would be a unique and poignant ending, and stay true to the ultimate theme of the source material, even if the road it has taken to get there is bumpier than it could have been.

A strong episode overall. Look forward to next week.

Photo:
Game of Thrones – Influencer Outreach Box by C.C. Chapman available HERE and used under a Creative Commons Attribution. The image has not been modified.

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