(WARNING! SPOILERS AHEAD FOR SEASON 8 EPISODE 5 OF GAME OF THRONES!)
Fans of professional wrestling call it a "heel turn". It's the moment when your classic good guy goes bad. Typically there are hints, or things that have happened to lead up to it. Sometimes they're subtle, sometimes not so much. We've all seen the signs, whether or not we chose to ignore them is another issue. Was this week's Game of Thrones truly The Last War? The answer lies in "The Bells".
The Battle of King's Landing is almost upon us, but there are a few things that happen to lead up to it. We see Varys writing a letter to someone revealing Jon Snow's true identity. It's a letter than he would never end up sending, and would never get the chance to write another. Tyrion tells Dany about everything, and I do mean everything. What was interesting is, not only does she automatically think Jon is the one who betrayed her, but it seems like she blames him for everything. I got the impression that she feels like any betrayal is ultimately Jon's doing. She tells him as much when she sees him later, saying that this is a win for Sansa. Dany is suffering from something that all potential rulers do at some point, extreme paranoia. Jon has say "you are my Queen" like a hundred times, but she will not believe it. You could see that, when Tyrion told her what was going on, something broke in her. She may have been fragile already, especially after what happened when they first got to King's Landing, but this was the last straw. Little did we know at the time how important that moment and that vibe would be.
Another significant development happens when Tyrion learns that Jaime was captured by Dany's army trying to enter King's Landing. Tryion decides to help Jaime escape, saying that he never would have survived without Jaime. It's a nice moment between the two of them, and you can tell that there is genuine love there. Tyrion tells Jaime to go find Cersei, get her to ring the bell at King's Landing to surrender and then flee the island on a boat with her. Tyrion knows that something isn't right, because Dany has given no indication that she is going to allow any kind of surrender. He is clearly desperate and is hoping that he can enact one final plan.
Now I'm going to talk about the battle itself. The thing is, I'm not really going to spend a whole lot of time on it. Why? It was an absolute massacre. The great army of King's Landing, The Iron Fleet and all of those extra forces? They were absolutely no match for Drogon. That dragon carved up every last piece of those forces like a hot knife through butter. This time Dany was fully prepared for the spears coming from the water. She dodged them very quickly and made short work of the fleet. Euron was even forced to abandon ship pretty quickly. Then it was the castle walls, the outside forces and the gates, they all fell in what seemed like a matter of seconds. So much for the forces not being well rested and not ready for battle. It's almost like the battle was over before it even started. I realize that they had just been through hell against an opponent the likes of which had never been seen before. You could make the argument that if you can survive the Night King and the White Walkers, that you can survive anything. My problem with that is all of the hype that was given to Cersei's army leading up to this. They gave Cersei an early win, made it look like Dany's forces took a major hit and then made it seem like none of it mattered. I get it, Dany has a dragon and that's hard to compete with. Well the same thing happened on the ground, where the Dothraki, Jon and the rest of the soldiers just mowed down the King's Landing army. It looked like a major mismatch from start to finish. There were still plenty of epic moments, and it looked stunning, but it lacked the real punch that the Battle of Winterfell gave earlier on this season. It was an easy victory, the surrender came quickly and the bell did indeed ring. That is when everything changed and took a very dark turn.
Dany and Drogon sat on top of a wall in King's Landing, looming over those that were left standing in apparent victory. Dany had tears welling up in her eyes, and you feel like it's finally hit her that she has won. The Iron Throne is now hers, right? That's when you see her look change, and the rage takes over. She takes off and starts to completely destroy King's Landing. Each pass was another section up in flames, and we start to see innocent people getting either burned down or crushed by debris. We see a similar turn in Grey Worm's face as well, and he is the first to attack an unarmed soldier. Before you know it, the "battle" is back on with once unarmed soldiers dropping like flies. At one point, Jon actually tries to stop the advance, but ultimately ends up having to defend himself against the now oncoming King's Landing forces. We actually see Jon kill one of his own soldiers who was trying to rape a civilian. Most of the remaining moments we saw Jon, and also Tyrion at certain points, just stunned and saddened as they watch Dany continue her ruthless assault. There is absolutely no turning back now for Dany and she has absolutely gone full tyrant at this point. Argue against that point if you like, but the killing of innocents in mass is a hard thing to justify. So what happened to Cersei? To Jaime? And where is Arya during all of this? Let's get to that now.
We do get to see Jaime make his way through King's Landing, but he decided to check and see if the boat that Tyrion promised would be there. He found it, but he also finds Euron. The two end up having a battle to the death, which sees Jaime get badly wounded and Euron eventually suffer a fatal wound at Jaime's hand. I was definitely not sad to see Euron go, I never liked him one bit. He was a trash talker until the end though, and believes that he died a king. That is the kind of delusion that is on another level isn't it? Jaime is now back on his way to find Cersei, but she would find someone else along the way first in her escape.
Remember, Arya and The Hound are also trying to track down Cersei to kill her. With the castle falling down around them, The Hound tells Arya that she needs to turn back. He tells her not to live her life for revenge like he has, and it works. She turns around, but she would be in for a whole different kind of hell on the way out. I'll get to that in just a minute. The Hound does catch up to Cersei, but it's not her that he was after. It was big brother The Mountain that he was really interested in. Cersei actually manages to slip by as the two start to fight. This may have been the only somewhat evenly matched fight of the entire episode. The Mountain can take an incredible amount of punishment, and it was actually uncomfortable to watch at times. The Hound throws everything he can at him, and The Mountain just will not fall. It looks like The Mountain will be the one that kills his brother, until The Hound stabs him in the eye with a dagger. This backs him up, but still doesn't do the trick. That's when The Hound rushes him and they both fall through a wall and into the fires below. You want to talk about an epic way to go out, that was it. I'm sure there will be a lot of memorable moments from this week's episode, but this will be one for me.
When Cersei doesn't look like she is going to get very far, then she finds Jaime. I don't think we have ever seen Cersei more emotional and real than we did in that moment. It also might be the only moment of actual love that is shown between them, but I'll leave that for a larger debate between fellow fans. Jaime is trying to lead her to the boat through the bowels of the castle, but find that their only way out is blocked. At this point, Cersei starts to freak out and talking about how she wants their baby to live. THEIR baby, which I kind of figured all along, but it's Cersei so we can never be 100% sure. It was also interesting because Cersei was saying how much she wanted the baby to live before herself. If THIS Cersei came to the party a lot earlier, we might not be talking about any of this (at least not to the degree that we are.) Jaime embraces her one final time, and pretty much tells her that nothing else matters now that they are together. That is when the ceiling crashes down on them. This is not how I thought things would end for Cersei or Jaime. I actually thought that there was a chance that Jaime would kill Cersei at some point. It may be one of the strangest love stories ever, but you could argue that they did get a storybook ending in a very ceiling crashy, fiery kind of way. Still, part of me can't really be sure that they're dead until I actually see the bodies. I get it, they were crushed to death, but stranger things have happened.
Before I wrap this up, I want to quickly talk about Arya. Leaving that castle was the right decision, but she went through a kind of hell that most people don't make it out of. She was pretty much trapped on the streets with the fleeing citizens of King's Landing. I couldn't believe Dany was STILL raining fire down on that city. The fight was long over, the point had been made, and Arya being caught up in this will only magnify the problem. There are several times where it looked like Arya had died, but manages to somehow be alive. She also tries to help a woman that had helped her earlier, but just couldn't do it in the end. After cheating death several times, Arya wakes up covered in ash with tears over all of the destruction. The only thing she sees is a white horse, almost as if it were waiting there for her to wake up. She calms the horse, and that's where everything ends.
Ok so, a lot of shocking moments and I've already seen a lot of very heated debate on social media. Did Cersei deserve it? Did Dany have a point? Is there really all Jon's fault for not stepping up? One thing I think this episode did answer is, this story definitely doesn't hinge on the race for The Iron Throne. As I've said before, it's more of an "absolute power corrupts absolutely" kind of a story for me. Look at what's happened to Dany in her quest. Don't you think Jon sees that and doesn't want that for himself? You could say the same about Sansa, who doesn't like Dany but really isn't pushing the issue to rule herself knowing that her brother wants nothing to do with it. Then there's the school of thought where placing blame isn't what we need to do here. I'm not sure which is the right angle, but here is where the episode lost me on my hype so far this season.
From all of my browsing through Twitter, I am in the minority that has really been enjoying this season. My problem now is, you drop this bombshell that has been brewing for a while now and where does that leave us with one episode to go? In my opinion, there is not nearly enough time to unpack what just happened. You give us this shocking, yet still a bit predictable moment, they you give us one episode to resolve the fallout? You could argue that this was THE moment of the entire series so far. Dany finally crosses that line, we have Jon's looming claim to the Iron Throne and you drop that with one episode to go. All this does for me is support the argument that the Battle of King's Landing should have happened before the Battle of Winterfell. Things should have ended with the Night King, not the other way around. That way you either justify Dany's ruthless turn or you deal with her being overthrown and everyone rallying around Jon/Sansa/Arya. You could have started that in this episode as well, but a lot of time was spent showing the city getting roasted. We get it, she's going to burn it all to the ground. We didn't need to keep seeing it over and over again to get that point. To me there is no way to fully wrap this up without rushing through and glossing over quite a bit.
I still enjoyed this episode, and I am still enjoying the season, but this was exactly what I hoped would not happen. So what's left? The way I see it, Jon has to step up at this point. One way or another has to publicly reveal who he is and then let the consequences play out. Maybe he tells everyone to rally around Sansa, because she is the leader that everyone needs? Either way, this has to be done. I'm also going out on a limb here and saying that Arya will kill Dany. I don't know how, but that's what I see happening. This then forces Jon's hand to make some kind of decision. With no Queen, the burden is his one way or another. It feels like Jon will end up winning the throne in the end, but I wouldn't at all be surprised if that honor goes to Arya. I know I said Sansa before, but it just feels like Arya has been given a lot of empowering moments this season and survived a lot. Usually those are signs of who will win out in the end. Arya takes the Iron Throne, Jon goes off the grid to live a peaceful life and Sansa could even end up as Hand of the Queen for Arya. This might seem like a step down for her, but who better to guide a young Arya through what will be a tough reign? Family sticks together, and the Starks are clearly the heroes of this story.
There is a lot more to talk about, but I really want to save the overall talk of what's been happening for my review of the finale. Listen for that coming up on Episode 265 of our podcast later this week. Until then, feel free to leave your comments.
Photo credit: Courtesy of HBO