I hope you’re sitting down when I tell you that I was not at any point in the Game of Thrones writer’s room, so I can’t tell you exactly and precisely what they were thinking. And yet I still have the strong feeling that, at some point, they said something to this effect: We’ve only got six episodes to wrap this up. Let’s spend the first three on the battle with the White Walkers and the next three wrapping up the literal game of thrones down south.
And going south is what “The Last of the Starks” is about. So let’s walk through every scene.
Table of contents
Eulogy and pyres
We begin “The Last of the Starks” in Winterfell, with a mixture of sadness for those who gave their lives that the realm may live, and joy, for the victory that their ultimate sacrifices helped achieve.
Perhaps no one typifies the sacrifice better than the late Jorah Mormont, eternal servant of Daenerys Targaryen, who laid down his life defending her, the woman he loved but who could not love him back.
Sansa cries over the body of Theon Greyjoy, who died defending Bran Stark/the Three-Eyed Raven last episode. She leaves a wolf-shaped pin — the sigil of House Stark — on his coat.
The talky part of “The Last of the Starks” begins with a eulogy.
“We’re here to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters,” Jon Snow says. “To our fathers and mothers. To our friends. Our fellow men and women who set aside their differences to fight together and die together so that others might live. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and our honor to keep them alive in memory for those who come after us and those who come after them for as long as men draw breath. They were the shields that guarded the realms of men. And we shall never see their like again.”
He seems very much like a leader. Like a king, you might say.
The survivors are assembled in long, deep lines outside Winterfell’s walls. Several carry torches, and when Jon finishes his speech, they step forward and ignite the funeral pyres. The flames consume the dead, and the smoke envelopes Winterfell.
Inside Winterfell’s great hall, the living eat and drink in celebration of their victory.
Gendry sits across from the Hound, gives him a small toast to his health, and asks a question.
“Have you seen Arya?” Gendry asks.
“You can still smell the burning bodies, and that’s where your head is at,” the Hound says.
“I just want to thank her for —”
“I’m sure you do.”
“Look, it’s not about that.”
“Of course it’s about that, you twat. Why shouldn’t it be? The dead are dead. You’re not.”
Gendry gets up to leave (presumably to find Arya), but Dany calls to him from her seat at the head table with Jon and Sansa.
“You’re Robert Baratheon’s son,” Dany says. “You are aware he took my family’s throne and tried to have me murdered?”
The room goes silent.
“I didn’t even know he was my father until after he was dead,” Gendry says.
“Yes, he’s dead. His brothers are, too. So who’s Lord of Storm’s End now?”
“I don’t know, Your Grace.”
“Does anyone? I think you should be Lord of Storm’s End.”
“I can’t be. I’m a bastard.”
“No, you are Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End, the lawful son of Robert Baratheon.”
“Because that is what I have made you. To Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End.”
The room toasts Gendry, and from his seat next to Dany, Tyrion is impressed, calling Dany’s political machination “a Lord of Storm’s End who will be forever loyal to you.” Dany smiles and lets him know that he’s not the only clever one.
Tyrion smiles back until he sees Sansa, who looks mortified at what she’s just witnessed.
Ser Davos Seaworth, aka the Onion Knight, talks to Tyrion about Melisandre the red witch’s sudden departure.
“I told her I’d kill her if I ever saw her again,” Davos says. Tyrion understands. It’s just that Davos never got the chance. He’s pissed off at her and the one she follows.
“Lord of Light,” Davos says. “We play his game for him, we fight his war and win, and then he fucks off. No signs, no blessings. Who knows what he wants?”
Tyrion says there’s no comfort in that line of thought.
Tyrion walks over the Bran and compliments his wheelchair. The smalltalk gives way to a discussion about lineage.
“You know our history better than anyone,” Tyrion says. As we learned in a previous episode, the Night King wanted Bran dead because the Three-Eyed Raven is the living repository of the world’ history. “That will be useful as Lord of Winterfell.”
“I’m not Lord of Winterfell,” Bran says.
“You’re the only surviving trueborn son of Ned Stark. You don’t want it.”
“I don’t really want anymore.”
“I envy you.”
“You shouldn’t envy me. Mostly I live in the past.”
And with this scene, we dispense with the idea that anyone other than Sansa is slated to run Winterfell now.
A wave of toasts crashes through the room. First to Dany. Then to Arya, who Dany calls the hero of Winterfell. The room erupts in celebration. Sansa sees something, and walks away.
Jon looks at Dany. They’re both uneasy.
Truth or Dare
At a table in the great hall, Tyrion invents an adult version of Never Have I Ever. He, his brother Jaime, Brienne (even though she’s not a drinker), and Podrick are all playing.
The idea is to guess something about someone else. If you’re right, they have to drink. If they’re wrong, the questioner has to drink.
Tormund Giantsbane tells stories about Jon.
“I saw him riding that thing,” Tormund says, as if he was the only one. He’s got drunken bravado.
“We all did,” Davos says, pushing back with a smile on his face.
“No. No. I saw him riding that thing.”
“That’s right, you did,” Davos says.
“I did. That’s why we all agreed to follow him. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s little, but he’s strong. Strong enough to befriend an enemy and get murdered for it! Most people get bloody murdered, they stay that way. Not this one.”
“Yeah, I didn’t have much say in that,” Jon says.
“Ah! He comes back and keeps fighting. Here, north of the Wall, and then back here again. He keeps fighting. He keeps fighting. He climbed on a fucking dragon and fought. What kind of person climbs on a fucking dragon? A madman or a king?”
It’s all true, but it’s also complicated. Jon isn’t supposed to be the king, as far as Dany is concerned, and she gets worried as she overhears this. Jon looks back to take her temperature. It’s not great.
Varys watches this in silence. He rises as Dany stands to leave.
Truth or Dare again
Tyrion’s game continues. Brienne plays along.
“You’re a virgin,” Tyrion says to Brienne.
“That’s a statement about the present,” Jaime says.
“At no point in the past,” Tyrion says, “up until this very moment, have you slept with a man. Or a woman.”
“I have to piss,” Brienne says.
“We did it!” Tormund says as he approaches the table at the most awkward possible moment. “We faced those icy fucks. Looked right into their blue eyes, and here we are. Now, which one of you cowards shit in my pants?”
Brienne excuses herself, and Tormund intends to follow. Jaime prevents it and follows Brienne. Tyrion plays diplomat and fills Tormund’s horn with wine and walks away. Pod looks on with a big, dumb grin. As Tormund walks away, Pod’s eyes fall upon a woman, and his smile returns.
Tormund finally realizes that he doesn’t have a chance with Brienne, and he picks the worst person in the world to talk to about it: the Hound.
“And after all that, this fucker comes north and takes her from me,” Tormund says, referring to Jaime. “Just takes her, like that. I mean it, Clegane. My heart is broken.”
“Don’t touch me,” the Hound says as a woman approaches him.
“You can touch me,” Tormund, the breakout star of season 8 says.
“I’m not afraid of wildlings,” the woman says.
“Maybe you should be,” Tormund says. The spark has returned to his eyes. He’s going to be OK.
The Hound isn’t interested in whores, and he shoos one away.
The Hound and Sansa
Sansa watches this happen and takes a seat across from the Hound.
“She could have made you happy, for a little while,” Sansa says.
“There’s only one thing that’ll make me happy,” the Hound says.
“And what’s that?”
“That’s my fucking business.” (It’s clearly killing his brother, the Mountain, Cersei’s current bodyguard.) “Used to be you couldn’t look at me.”
“That was a long time ago. I’ve seen much worse than you since then.”
“Yes, I’ve heard. Heard you were broken in. Heard you were broken in rough.”
“And he got what he deserved.”
“I gave it to him.”
The Hound chuckles at the serendipity.
“You’ve changed, Little Bird. None of it would have happened if you’d left King’s Landing with me. No Littlefinger, no Ramsay, none of it.”
“Without Littlefinger, and Ramsay and the rest, I would have stayed a Little Bird all my life.”
When Game of Thrones began, Sansa was naive and conceited and young and obsessed with being a princess. As Game of Thrones comes to an end, she’s the opposite.
It’s an intended testament to her strength of character — that she could take the unthinkable, overcome it, and turn it into strengths.
And it’s an echo of the conversation that Jaime and Bran had by the Weirwood tree in a previous episode.
“I’m sorry for what I did to you,” Jaime said.
“You weren’t sorry then,” Bran said. “You were protecting your family.”
“I’m not that person anymore.”
“You still would be, if you hadn’t pushed me out of that window. And I would still be Brandon Stark.”
It’s not OK that Sansa went through hell, any more than it’s OK that Jaime pushed Bran out of the window. But strength and resolve and evolution are sometimes tragedy’s strange consequences.
Gendry and Arya
Gendry finds Arya practicing her archery (shades of season 1). He proposes, but she politely refuses, letting him down with a power move where she stands him up as they kiss.
Way back in season 1, her father tried to comfort her with a future of her being a lady one day, the head of a great House. Arya is no lady. She never was.
Sansa’s character arc is about her evolving into something different, something better. Arya’s arc is about her evolving into the person she was born to be.
Jaime and Brienne
Brienne throws a log onto the fire in her room when she hears a knock on her door. It’s Jaime.
He rushes into the room and accuses her of not drinking during Tyrion’s game. He pours and hands her a glass of wine.
They spar with words for a minute, and it’s clear that Jaime is jealous of Tormund. He admits it.
Jaime complains about the heat in the room, and fumbles to remove his shirt. Brienne steps into help, and he fumbles to remove her shirt. She pushes his hands away and finishes the job herself.
Jaime Lannister, who’s never slept with anyone other than his sister, breaks that streak.
Dany and Jon
Dany enters a room where Jon is sitting on a bed, pretending to be less drunk than he is. Jon speaks some truth about Jorah, and Dany does, too. Jorah loved her, but she couldn’t love him the way that he loved her.
The aunt and her nephew embrace and kiss, but Jon pulls back after a few seconds.
“I wish you’d never told me,” Dany says, referring to Jon’s true identity as Aegon Targaryen. “If I didn’t know, I’d be happy right now. I try to forget. Tonight I did for a while, and then I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you. I know that look. So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.”
“I told you I don’t want it,” Jon says.
“It doesn’t matter what you want! You didn’t want to be King in the North. What happens when they demand you press your claim and take what is mine?”
“I’ll refuse. You are my queen. I don’t know what else I can say.”
“You can say nothing — to anyone, ever. Never tell them who you really are. Swear your brother and Samwell Tarly to secrecy, and tell no one else, or it will take on a life of its own and you won’t be able to control it or what it does to people. No matter how many times you bend the knee, no matter what you swear. I want it to be the way it was between us.”
“I have to tell Sansa and Arya.”
“Sansa will want to see me gone and you on the Iron Throne.”
“She’s not the girl you grew up with. Not after what she’s seen, not after what they’ve done to her.”
“I owe them the truth.”
“Even if the truth destroys us?”
“It won’t. ”
“It will. I’ve never begged for anything, but I’m begging you: Don’t do this, please.”
“You are my queen. Nothing will change that. And they are my family. We can live together. We can.”
“I’ve just told you how.”
And with that ultimatum, Dany transitions from vulnerable to unmovable in an instant.
Brienne and Jaime
As Brienne sleeps on the bed beside him, Jaime looks at her, then up at the ceiling with a sigh.
The war room and a plan
I love a scene with a big map and a bunch of wooden blocks representing armies, and this is another one. This is planning and a preview of what’s to come in episode 5.
Half of the army that defeated the Night King in the north is gone. In King’s Landing, Cersei has her troops, the Golden Company, plus the Greyjoy fleet. On the bright(ish) side, Yara Greyjoy is now in control of the Iron Islands. Cersei is losing allies. Dorn is on the good guys’ side.
The (surprising, given the casualties we saw last week) upshot: Their armies are evenly matched.
“The objective here,” Tyrion says, “is to remove Cersei without destroying King’s Landing.”
They need a plan, and Tyrion has an idea.
“I watched the people of King’s Landing rebel against their king when they were hungry,and that was before winter began,” he says. “Give them the opportunity, and they will cast Cersei aside.”
They formulate a plan.
“We’ll surround the city,” Jon says. “If the Iron Fleet tries to ferry in more food, the dragons will destroy them. If the Lannisters and the Golden Company attack, we’ll defeat them in the field.”
“Once the people see that Cersei is our only enemy, her reign is over,” Tyrion says.
Sansa pleads for rest and recuperation for the men who fought. She wants to talk to the officers and figure out how long they’ll need. Dany seems amenable for a moment, but then asserts her dominance.
“I came north to fight alongside you at great cost to my armies and myself,” Dany says.”Now that the time has come to reciprocate, you want to postpone.”
“It’s not just our people,” Sansa says. “It’s yours. You want to throw them into a war they’re not ready to fight?”
“The longer I leave my enemies alone, the stronger they become,” Dany says.
This is her impulsivity and her will to power asserting itself again. When she gets like this, bad things happen. She kills Tarleys. She abandons the plan to wait for the Night King and rides her dragon into the battlefield. And now she’s at loggerheads with the people of the north — people she claims as subjects, and people she knows damn well don’t trust her.
“The Northern forces will honor their promises and their allegiance to the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms,” Jon says, conferring Dany the legitimacy that she desperately needs in the moment. “What you command, we will obey.”
They finalize a plan. Jon and Davos will ride down the King’s Road to King’s Landing with what remains of the Dothraki and the Unsullied. A smaller group (including Tyrion) will sail to the White Harbor and then to Dragonstone, the ancestral home of House Targaryen. Jaime will remain in Winterfell with Sansa and, ahem, Brienne.
Everyone leaves, but before Jon can, Arya says that they need to talk.
The last of the Starks
The remaining Starks — Jon, Sansa, Bran, and Arya — stand near the Weirwood tree.
“You understand we’d all be dead if not for her,” Jon says, making the case for Dany. “We’d be corpses marching down to King’s Landing.”
“Arya’s the one that killed the Night King,” Sansa says.
“Her men gave their lives defending Winterfell — ”
“And we will never forget them. That doesn’t mean that I want to kneel to someone who —”
“I swore myself and the North to her cause!”
“I respect that,” Arya says.
“You respect it?” Sansa says.
“We needed her,” Arya says. “We needed her army, her dragons. You did the right thing. And we’re doing the right thing telling you we don’t trust your queen.”
“You don’t know her yet.”
“I’ll never know her. She’s not one of us.”
“If you only trust the people you grew up with,” Jon says, “you won’t make many allies.”
“That’s all right. I don’t need many allies,” Arya says.
“We’re family,” Arya says. “The four of us. The last of the Starks.”
“I’ve never been a Stark,” Jon says.
“You are,” Sansa says. “You’re just as much Ned Stark’s child as any of us.”
“You’re my brother,” Arya says. “Not my half-brother or my bastard brother. My brother.”
Jon closes his eyes, burdened by the truth.
“It’s your choice,” Bran says.
“I need to tell you something,” Jon says. “But you have to swear you’ll never tell another soul.”
“What is it?”
“You have to swear it, before I tell you.”
“How can I promise to keep a secret if I don’t even know what it is?” Sansa says.
“Because we’re family.”
“I swear it,” Arya says.
“I swear it,” Sansa says (and lies).
“Tell them,” Jon says to Bran.
And thus Jon defies Dany’s wishes, and his secret becomes a little less secretive.
Tyrion, Jaime, and Bron
Not for the first time this season, the Lannister brothers talk while drinking in front of a fire. This time, the topic is Jaime’s new girl and his decision to stay in Winterfell.
“Say something snide,” Jaime says, anticipating a joke.
“I’m happy,’ Tyrion says. “I’m happy that you’re happy. I’m happy that you’ll finally have to climb for it. Do you know how long I’ve waited to tell tall-person jokes? To climbing mountains.”
“To climbing mountains.”
Tyrion pumps him for the salacious details about Brienne, but Jaime demurs.
The door opens, surprising them. Ser Bronn of Blackwater enters, crossbow in hand. He explains that it’s meant for both of them.
“Year after year, I’ve shoveled Lannister shit, and what do I have to show?” Bronn asks the unworried Lannister brothers.
“You’re a knight, thanks to me,” Tyrion says.
“Thanks to me,” Bronn says. “And that title’s worth as much as a blond hair from your brother’s ballsack.”
“Power resides where men believe — ”
“Shut your mouth.”
“I’m just trying — ”
“I’ve never hit a dwarf before, but say another word and I will belt you.”
“See, I don’t believe you’d do that, after all — ” Tyrion stops talking as Bronn hits him in the face.
“You couldn’t do it on your best day, you one-handed fuck,” Bronn says to Jaime. “And your best days are long gone.”
“You broke my nose!”
“I did not break your nose.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I’ve been breaking noses since I was your size, and I know what it sounds like. Now listen.”
“Your sister offered me Riverrun. Nice big castle, good lands, plenty of peasants who do what they’re told.”
“And you trust Cersei — ”
“I knew your sister was dead the second I saw those dragons. Now, your army may be torn to shit, but I’d still bet on your Dragon Queen to win. And it just so happens I’m a betting man. If Cersei’s dead, she can’t pay up.”
He takes a swig of wine.
“That’s good. Of course, the odds change if the Dragon Queen’s Hand turns up dead. Maybe a few of her top generals get picked off one by one. All of a sudden... ”
“May I speak?” Tyrion asks.
“Why not? Only death will shut you up.”
“We made a deal long ago. Do you remember?”
“If anyone offered me money to kill you, you’d pay me double. What’s double Riverrun?”
“Highgarden,” Tyrion says. “You could be Lord of the Reach.”
“Highgarden?” Jaime says. “Are you mad?”
“It’s better than being dead.”
“He’s not going to kill us. He wouldn’t be talking to us if — ” and this time Jaime trails off as a crossbow bolt flies by his head.
“The way I see it, I only need one of the Lannister brothers alive. ”
“Highgarden will never belong to a cutthroat,” Jaime says.
“No? Who were your ancestors, the ones who made your family rich? Fancy lads in silk? They were fucking cutthroats. That’s how all the great houses started, isn’t it? With a hard bastard who was good at killing people. Kill a few hundred people, they make you a lord. Kill a few thousand, they make you king. And then all your cocksucking grandsons can ruin the family with their cocksucking ways.”
They each give him their word.
Tyrion offers him a position in the army aimed at Winterfell, but Bronn turns it down.
“Oh, no,” Bronn says. “No, my fighting days are done. But I still got a few killing days left, you hear me? I’ll come find you when the war is done. Till then, don’t die.”
The Hound and Arya
The Hound rides a gigantic black horse away from Winterfell. He’s alone, until Arya trots up beside him on a horse of her own.
“For fuck’s sake,” he says as he sees her approach.
“On your own?” she asks.
“Not anymore. I don’t like crowds.”
“Why not? They all love you now. You’re the big hero.”
“Don’t like heroes.”
“It must have felt good sticking a knife in that horned fucker.”
“Felt better than dying.”
“You’re heading to King’s Landing?”
“I have some unfinished business.”
“I don’t plan on coming back.”
“Neither do I.”
“Gonna leave me to die again if I get hurt?”
Arya and the Hound head south, smiling.
Dany and the dragons
Dany tends to her dragons, who were wounded in the battle of Winterfell. They’re tattered and bruised, but it looks like they’re going to be fine. Even with holes in his wings, Rhaegal (the green one) still takes flight.
What could possibly go wrong?
Tyrion and Sansa
Tyrion approaches Sansa, who’s standing on the Winterfell wall watching Dany’s dragons take flight. At first, she ignores his greeting. But she has something to say.
“Why her?” she asks.
“You know she loves your brother,” he says.
“That doesn’t mean she’ll be a good queen.”
“You seem determined to dislike her. A good relationship between the Iron Throne and the North has been the core of every peaceful, prosperous reign we’ve ever known.”
“Jon will be Warden of the North, so a good relationship seems likely.”
“I don’t expect him to spend much time here going forward.”
“Well, I suppose that’s up to him.”
“Sansa, look at me. With Jon in the capital, you’ll be the true power in the North. I’d feel much better about the future if I left here today believing that you and Daenerys were allies.”
“What are you worried about? Jon’s taking our army with him. Your queen still has her dragons —”
“She’s your queen, too.”
Below them, Unsullied soldiers march out of the Winterfell courtyard, reinforcing the point that the North’s defenses are leaving.
“You don’t have to be her friend,” Tyrion says, “but why provoke her? How is that in the best interest of your family or the North?”
“You’re afraid of her.”
“Every good ruler needs to inspire a bit of fear.”
“I don’t want Jon to go down there. The men in my family don’t do well in the capital.”
“No, but as your brother once told me, he’s not a Stark.”
Sansa gives a pained look.
“Are you all right?” Tyrion asks, and we can see in his face that he’s picked up on something important. “Her people love her, you’ve seen that. You’ve seen how they fight for her. She wants to make the world a better place. I believe in her.”
He turns to leave. She calls out after him.
“Tyrion. What if there’s someone else — someone better?”
The secret spreads.
Leaving Winterfell, saying goodbye
Ser Davos and Jon mount their horses, ready to take the King’s Road south to King’s Landing. The writers hang a lantern on Jon’s mode of transportation. He won’t ride Rhaegal because the dragon needs to heal. Seems reasonable, but Tormund Giantsbane isn’t buying it.
“You weigh as much as two fleas fucking,” he tells Jon. “I’m taking the Free Folk home. We’ve had enough of the south. The women down here don’t like me.”
“This is the North, you know,” Jon says. “And the Free Folk are welcome to stay.”
“It isn’t home. We need room to wander. I’ll take them back through Castle Black as soon as the winter storms pass. Back where we belong. ”
“It’s where he belongs too. A direwolf has no place in the south. Will you take him with you? He’ll be happier up there.”
“So would you.”
“I wish I was going with you.”
“This is farewell, then.”
“You never know.”
“You’ve got the North in you. The real North.”
Sam and Gilly approach to say their goodbyes. When Jon hugs Gilly, he realizes that she’s pregnant. He gives them a, well, pregnant look. Gilly looks at her belly and up to Jon, smiling the whole time. So much for the prohibition against maesters rolling around in the hay.
“Yes,” Sam says, “well, the nights have been getting longer and there wasn’t that much to do in Oldtown. There’s only so many books a person can read, so we — ”
“I’m sure he knows how it happens, Sam,” Gilly says. “If it’s a boy, we want to name him Jon.”
“I hope it’s a girl,” Jon says with an embarrassed smile.
He and Sam hug.
“You’re the best friend I ever had,” Sam says.
“You too, Sam.”
Jon walks to his horse, pauses for a moment, and looks at Ghost who whimpers. And with that decision to leave Ghost behind and head south, John symbolically turns his back on the North.
Jon mounts his horse alongside Davos, and they ride out of Winterfell.
On the ships
Grey Worm and Missandei stand side by side on the deck of a ship sailing toward Dragonstone. (This is part of the plan they devised earlier in the war room.) She grabs his hand, and they look into their eyes and smile.
Below deck, Tyrion and Varys are talking. Or scheming.
“Think of the past 20 years,” Tyrion says. “The war, the murder, the misery. All of it because Robert Baratheon loved someone who didn’t love him back.”
“How many others know?” Varys asks.
“Including us? Eight.”
“Well, then it’s not a secret anymore. It’s information. If a handful of people know now, hundreds will know soon. Then what happens?”
“She loses the North. She loses the Vale, Sansa will make sure of that.”
“No, it’s worse than that. He has the better claim to the throne.”
“He doesn’t want the throne.”
“I’m not sure it matters what he wants,” Varys says. And he’s right. Jon apathy isn’t a solution. “The fact is, people are drawn to him. Wildlings, Northmen. He’s a war hero.”
“He loves our queen, and she loves him,” Tyrion says, but you can tell from the look on his face that he’s not even fooling himself. “If we marry them, they could rule together.”
“She’s his aunt.”
“That never stopped a Targaryen before.”
“No, but Jon grew up in Winterfell. Is marrying your aunt common in the North? You know our queen better than I do. Do you think she wants to share the throne? She does not like to have her authority questioned.”
“Something she has in common with every monarch who ever lived.”
“I worry about her state of mind.”
“We are advisors to the queen. Worrying about her state of mind is our job. We still have to take King’s Landing. Maybe Cersei will win and kill us all. That would solve our problems.”
Above deck, the crew drops the anchors. They’ve arrived at Dragonstone. But before they can celebrate, an enormous arrow flies through the air, striking Rhaegal in the chest. Another grazes his wing. He takes one in the neck, too. Screaming and writhing, he falls into the sea.
It is Euron Greyjoy’s fleet, and our heroes have sailed right into a trap.
In her fury, Dany takes her dragon, Drogon (the red one), on a collision course with Euron’s ship. He fires. So do a dozen other ships. She thinks better of it, and pulls away, miraculously dodging the bolts.
The Greyjoy fleet turns its attention on our heroes’ ships. They strike, destroying what looks like all of them. Our heroes fall into the water. They later was up on shore, with one notable exception: Missandei, as Grey Worm lets us know.
Above the Red Keep
Cersei Lannister, among the most wicked people in the world, looks down into the King’s Landing courtyard as thousands of her subjects file in.
“Our message was well-received, then?” she asks.
“Your people have heard the Usurper is coming,” Hand of the Queen and world-class toady Qyburn says. “They are grateful for your protection within the walls of the Red Keep.”
“You’re certain about the dragon?” she asks.
“I saw it sink beneath the waves,” Euron Greyjoy answers.
“That must have been glorious,” she says behind her trademark smug smile.
“The glory is yours, my queen,” the bearded asshat says and kneels at her feet.
“When the war is won, the Lion shall rule the land, the Kraken shall rule the sea and our child shall one day rule them all,” Cersei says, beginning a new lie about who her baby’s father is. (It’s Jaime’s, but Eruon’s just plain thrilled.)
“She’s coming for you,” Eruon says.
“Of course she is,” Cersei says. “Keep the gates open. If she wants to take the castle, she’ll have to murder thousands of innocent people first. So much for ‘the Breaker of Chains.’”
Cersei walks away, and Qyburn and Euron smile all big and dumb at each other. They’re all wonderful people.
They walk out, passing a handcuffed Missandei.
Diplomacy or war
Grey Worm, Dany, Varys, and Tyrion stand together overlooking another map in another war room. The leader of the Unsullied says they’ll storm King’s Landing, which is the obvious move, except that Varys has other ideas.
“Your Grace,” Varys says. “I promised you I would look you in the eye and speak directly if I ever thought you were making a mistake. This is a mistake.”
“You saw my child fall from the sky. They took Missandei. ”
“Cersei needs to be destroyed, but if we attack King’s Landing with Drogon and the Unsullied and the Dothraki, tens of thousands of innocents will die. That is why Cersei is bringing them into the Red Keep. These are the people you came here to protect. I beg you, Your Grace. Do not destroy the city you came to save. Do not become what you have always struggled to defeat.”
And he’s right. This is Dany’s central struggle at the end of Game of Thrones. Will she be the impulsive leader who kills Tarlys to make a point, or will she be the breaker of chains? As Sam asked Jon earlier this season, is she the kind of ruler who’d surrender her throne for the greater good, like Jon did? Or is parking her ass on the Iron Throne an end unto itself?
“Do you believe we’re here for a reason, Lord Varys?” Dany asks. “I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny, and I will serve it, no matter the cost.”
Tyrion interjects, saying that it could be two weeks before the army that Jon’s leading will arrive in King’s Landing. In the meantime, why not at least try some form of diplomacy?
“Speaking to Cersei will not prevent a slaughter,” she says. “But perhaps it’s good the people see that Daenerys Stormborn made every effort to avoid bloodshed, and Cersei Lannister refused. They should know whom to blame when the sky falls down upon them.”
Tyrion and Varys and treason
Dany’s advisors speak in hushed tones about the state of the world and the woman they serve.
“I’ve served tyrants most of my life,” Varys says. “They all talk about destiny.”
“She’s a girl who walked into a fire with three stones and walked out with three dragons,” Tyrion says. “How could she not believe in destiny?”
“Perhaps that’s the problem. Her life has convinced her that she was sent here to save us all.”
“And how do you know she wasn’t?”
“Then there’s the problem of Jon Snow. Perhaps it’s actually a solution. You know them both. Tell me, who do you think would make a better ruler?”
“He doesn’t want the throne. That’s why he bent the knee.”
“Have you considered the best ruler might be someone who doesn’t want to rule?”
“We’re discussing treason.”
“Don’t pretend you haven’t thought about it.”
“Of course I’ve thought about it. Thoughts aren’t treason.”
“He’s temperate and measured. He’s a man, which makes him more appealing to the lords of Westeros, whose support we are going to need.”
“Joffrey was a man. I don’t think a cock is a true qualification, as I’m sure you’d agree.”
“And he’s the heir to the throne. Yes, because he’s a man. Cocks are important, I’m afraid.”
“What about my earlier proposal? They could rule together as king and queen.”
“She’s too strong for him. She’d bend him to her will, as she already has.”
“He could temper her worst impulses.”
“As you have? You’re drinking quite a lot. A Targaryen father and a Stark mother. Jon’s the one man alive who might actually be able to keep the North in the Seven Kingdoms.”
“How many kings and queens have you served? Five? Six? I’ve lost count.”
“You’ve always known my reasons,” Varys says.
He’s got a point here, and the arrow at the end is pointing all the way back to season 1. When things went south for Ned Stark in King’s Landing and he was wasting away in a dungeon, Varys visited him. And he told the same thing to Ned that he’s about to tell Tyrion: Some people are loyal to families or leaders, but Varys is loyal to the realm.
“At a certain point, you choose a person you believe in, and you fight for that person.”
“Even if you know it’s a mistake?”
“I believe in our queen. She’ll make the right choice. With the help of her loyal advisors.”
“You know where my loyalty stands. You know I will never betray the realm.”
“What is the realm? A vast continent, home to millions of people, most of whom don’t care who sits on the Iron Throne.”
“Millions of people, many of whom will die if the wrong person sits on that throne. We don’t know their names, but they’re just as real as you and I. They deserve to live. They deserve food for their children. I will act in their interest, no matter the personal cost.”
“So, what happens to her?”
Varys answers with a knowing stare that implies death.
“Please,” Tyrion says. “Don’t.”
“I’ve spoken as honestly as I can,” Varys says. “Each of us has a choice to make. I pray we choose wisely.”
Varys leaves Tyrion alone in the throneroom to ponder the implications of their treasonous conversation.
Jaime approaches Sansa and Brienne in the Winterfell courtyard. He learns of the ambush at Dragonstone.
“I always wanted to be there when they execute your sister. Seems like I won’t get the chance,” Sansa says and leaves.
Later that night, as Brienne sleeps in the bed she shares with Jaime, he sits uneasily on a chair at the end of the bed. Ss he opens the door to leave, she hears him and follows him to the Winterfell courtyard.
“They’re going to destroy that city,” Brienne says. “You know they will.”
“Have you ever run away from a fight?” Jaime asks.
“You’re not like your sister. You’re not. You’re better than she is. You’re a good man and you can’t save her. You don’t need to die with her. Stay here. Stay with me. Please. Stay.”
“You think I’m a good man? I pushed a boy out a tower window, crippled him for life for Cersei. I strangled my cousin with my own hands just to get back to Cersei. I would have murdered every man, woman and child in Riverrun for Cersei. She’s hateful. And so am I.”
Brienne breaks down in tears. Jaime mounts his horse and rides away from Winterfell.
Dany, Grey Worm, Tyrion, Verys, and a few dozen Unsullied stand facing the gates of King’s Landing. Atop the city’s walls stand the forces of evil.
Tyrion walks forward. The gates open, and Qyburn walks out. The Hand of the Queen and the Hand of the King begin their diplomatic missions.
“Queen Daenerys demands Cersei’s unconditional surrender and the immediate release of Missandei of Naath,” Tyrion says.
“Queen Cersei demands Daenerys’s unconditional surrender. If she refuses, Missandei of Naath will die here and now,” Qyburn says.
“Qyburn, you’re a rational man.”
“Or so I flatter myself, my lord.”
“We have a chance here — perhaps our last chance — to avoid carnage.”
“Help me. I don’t want to see this city burn. I don’t want to hear the screams of children burning alive. ”
“No, it is not a pleasant sound,” Qyburn says, and it’s clear that he doesn’t give a shit.
“I — I don’t want to hear it. Help me save this city.”
“My lord, I am only a mouthpiece for our queen.”
“Cersei is Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. You are her subject.”
“Her reign is over. You understand this. Help her understand it.”
“We understand nothing of the sort. Your queen’s last dragon is vulnerable. Your armies are battle-weary and depleted, while ours have been reinforced with the Golden Compan—”
Tyrion’s had enough. He walks past a stunned Qyburn to speak directly to his sister. Her archers draw their bows. Cersei looks as if she’ll have them fire, but she withdraws the command at the last moment.
“I know you don’t care about your people,” Tyrion says. “Why should you? They hate you and you hate them. But you’re not a monster. I know this. I know this because I’ve seen it. You’ve always loved your children. More than yourself, more than Jaime, more than anything. I beg you. If not for yourself, then for your child. Your reign is over, but that doesn’t mean your life has to end. It doesn’t mean your baby has to die.”
It nearly works. His words touch her. She breathes heavily, stifles tears. And then she does the only thing she ever does: Queen Cersei Lannister decides to be a galactic asshole.
She walks over to Missandei.
“If you have any last words,” Cersei says, “now is the time.
“Dracarys,” Missandei says loud enough for everyone around to hear it.
It’s High Valyrian for fire, the word Dany said last episode when her dragon started burning the army of the dead.
Cersei adopts her worst face, and motions to the Mountain. He chops Missandei’ head off, and it falls to the ground. Grey Worm turns away. Everyone is shocked. Dany grits her teeth, seething. She walks away from the capital city, seething.
It’s hard to believe, but there are only two Game of Thrones episodes left, and then it’s gone forever. There’s still a lot to do and talk about.
Everything is obvious in hindsight, but I keep thinking that I shouldn’t have been super surprised about who survived the Battle of Winterfell. And here in episode 4, we see the logical consequences of survival. Many people have many things to do, and by the end of the episode, they’re effective guided missiles headed to their targets.
- Jaime is on a collision course with Cersei. Whether that’s as an ally because he really thinks that he’s a garbage person or he’s got nobler goals remains to be seen.
- The Hound is on a collision course with his brother, the Mountain.
- Arya is on a collision course with … well, I’m not entirely sure. Cersei seems like the obvious answer, but it could be anyone on her kill list. That would include Cersei, the Mountain, and Ser Ilyn Payne, the executioner. Why choose just one? (Technically, the Hound was once on her to-do list, but she already left him for dead once, and now they’re riding buddies.)
- The good guys are on a collision course with the bad guys at King’s Landing.
- Dany has a score to settle with Euron Greyjoy, who killed her child.
We could go on an on, but those are the biggest and most obvious confrontations to look for. I’m sure there are still surprises to come. Yara Greyjoy controls the Iron Islands. We haven’t heard about Dorne for a while. There are guided missiles that aren’t even on our radar yet.