We're recapping the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones; look for these recaps first thing on Monday mornings. Spoilers, of course, abound.
After great pain, a formal feeling comes.
That's a quote from Lady Emily of House Dickinson, who might as well have been describing this episode, which probably couldn't help but feel anti-climactic and setty-uppy, coming as it does in the narrative gully that naturally stretches between last week's exultantly fire-and-bloody spectacle and next week's likely disastrous siege of King's Landing.
The aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell does some weird things to our heroes. Not to Jon Snow, who stays maddeningly on-brand, clinging to honor and truth because he's somehow still too thick to understand — even now! after getting, you know, murdered for it! which you'd think would the most teachable of moments! — when a little discretion is called for. Sansa keeps on Sansa-ing, as she once again raises concerns about the well-being of soldiers, displaying a keen tactical sense of exactly the sort of logistics you'd otherwise expect Tyrion to be all over. But no: Instead Tyrion dithers, Varys schemes, Arya remains cool and aloof, Bran MacGuffin gazes at folk unblinkingly a lot — so, yeah, all those characters are staying true to form. They're not who I'm talking about.
Daenerys, too, sticks with the characterization we've been getting from her lately, though the demands of the plot drive her straight into the outer suburbs of Crazytown, and it becomes explicitly clear that the show is giving her the villain edit.
But let's talk Brienne, you and me.
Raise your hand if you had "badass Brienne of Tarth finally gets herself some, and immediately transforms into someone who'd stand sobbing in the middle of a courtyard while begging her boyfriend not to go off to war and leave her" in the predictions pool. None of you? That's because it doesn't make a lick of sense. Her character arc just took a deep downward curve and is plummeting toward the x-axis.
The episode also featured several farewells to characters who've been around a long time – both the actual, permanent kind (Protect ya neck, Rhaegar! We'll miss you, Missandei!) and goodbyes which are clearly head-fakes, as they're certain to show up again (Sam, Gilly, Tormund, Ghost).
But this episode will probably best be remembered for the comically cavalier way these characters suddenly approach keeping secrets. Winterfell is leaking like the Titanic.
A song of ice and pyres
We start with that formal feeling mentioned earlier. Our heroes stand stiffly, morosely,looking out over the plain before Winterfell, which is filled with pyres stacked with the bodies of the dead. (That's the winning army's dead, to be clear, not the "argh, argh" dead — no word on how all those rotting corpses got disposed of. As for the remains of the Night King and the White Walkers, that's a much easier problem to deal with — sprinkle a little Snowmelt and they're slush, sprinkle a little more and they're gone.)
We get lingering shots of five of the six casualties of the last week's battle as they light them up up up, light them up up up. Ser Jorah, Theon Greyjoy, Dolorous Edd, Lyanna Mormont and Beric Dondarrion.
We cut from a shot of the smoke rising from the flames engulfing the bodies to a shot of candles burning in a chandelier above the Winterfell great hall, where a feast is in progress. Our main heroes sit along the head table, glumly stuffing their faces. This episode is big on long, meaningful looks passing between characters, and we get our first one here, as Jon looks over at Dany, who's not eating, just staring Brannishly into the middle distance.
Gendry looks around for Arya, and The Hound either intuits what went on between them, or — far less likely — already knows because Gendry told him, at some point. (Take a moment and try to picture Sandor Clegane singing "Summer Nights" from Grease (Tell me more! Tell me more!) in a Pink Lady jacket and pedal pushers, and you'll see why I'm going with "intuits," here.)
Gendry gets up to leave, and is called out by Dany, who announces to the assembled throng that he is the son of Robert Baratheon, and we're meant to worry that she'll get her "Off with his head!" on, but no: She makes him Lord of House Baratheon, and gives him the House's seat, Storm's End. Davos gets a little proud papa moment, which is nice.
Brienne and Jaime drink while Davos and Tyrion talk eschatology (so Brienne and Jaime are having a much better time). Then Tyrion moves on to Bran MacGuffin, who probably demands a new nickname now that he's suddenly become much less important to the plot. There's a nice bit where he mentions how he lives mostly in the past, so maybe I'll call him Uncle Who Makes Everyone Listen To His Grateful Dead Bootlegs At Thanksgiving. (We don't get a clear sense of what Bran and Tyrion talked about back in episode two, when they were alone by the fire. It wasn't Jon's true parentage, as that's something Tyrion only learns about later in this episode.)
We get a Boisterous Drunk Tormund scene, the better for Sansa and Dany to shoot icy looks hither and yon, while Brienne and Jaime are joined by Tyrion and Podrick to play Tyrion's drinking game. (Or at least, Brienne, Jaime and Tyrion do — they seem to have collectively decided to ignore Podrick, so while me may look favorably on these characters, we are reminded that they are trapped in a class system founded upon the oppression and exploitation of one group over all others.) Anyway, point is: They're getting happily drunk.
Tormund spills half of his horn of booze while gesticulating wildly about his love for Jon Snow, cueing more long, meaningful looks from Sansa and, especially, Dany, who's clearly threatened by Jon's men's love for him. In this scene, Tormund casually mentions that Jon has returned from the dead, so while last season that fact seemed like something Jon was taking pains to conceal, it's clear that the secret is out now.
As we'll see, there's a lot of that going around, these days.
Varys joins the long, meaningful looks club as Dany leaves. Speaking of leaving — Tyrion takes the drinking game a scosh too far when he guesses that Brienne is still a virgin. She peaces out, and Jaime follows her — but not before gently blocking Tormund's advances, putting a merciful end to the Tormund-Brienne ship, once and for all.
Everyone starts pairing off — Podrick, Tormund (not, um, with each other, though it's a matter of record that Tormund would be game — and would have a great time, if it were to happen with Podrick). Sansa goes over to an even grouchier-than-usual Hound and we're just gonna skip right over this conversation, which includes Sansa saying that the ghastly abuse she suffered from sociopathic men made her a stronger, more clear-eyed person which is — just not a great look, show. Moving on.
Gendry finds Arya doing some target practice, tells her his news and proposes to her. There's no real suspense that she might say yes, of course — but it's nice for the series to show us a woman for whom sex is not a magically life-changing thing, because it's about to show us another woman for whom it totally, bafflingly is.
Maybe it's not just his hand that's golden
Jaime comes to Brienne's room and ...
Look, if this is how you wanted these two characters to end up, I'm happy you got to see it. I truly am. But compare this scene to the one in Episode 2 of this season, where Jaime knights Brienne, and tell me you don't agree that that scene was so much more layered, and surprising, and compelling, resting as it did on a bed of conflicting emotions. That scene felt uniquely rewarding because it paid off several seasons' worth of hard-won mutual respect.
This, by way of comparison, is a... sex scene. We've seen hundreds of others just like it — a lot of them just on this show.
Dany goes to Jon's room, and proceeds to explain her plan, which can be boiled down to, "You say nothing, Jon Snow." She warns him that if he tells anyone his true parentage, it will destroy their relationship — and, not for nothing, the goal she's been striving for ever since she was a little fireproof baby.
He insists that it won't — that the world works in a way it has been shown repeatedly not to, because he's pretty dumb. (I like Kit Harington's choice, in this scene, to stare at her with a kind of uncomprehending, mouth-breathing dullness.) "I have to tell Arya and Sansa," he says, because Truth and Honor — and also because, once again, Dumb. Dany makes him promise not to, and he reluctantly agrees, which turns out to be the one promise my dude's made over the course of eight long seasons that he will willingly shatter to smithereens the first chance he gets.
At a big war meeting the next morning, we learn that the Battle of Winterfell has effectively halved our heroes' forces, and also that, now that Cersei is joined by Captain Jackass Sparrow's Iron Fleet, and The Golden Company, the two sides are roughly equal.
Dany wants to go in, and go in full throttle, but she is convinced — reluctantly — to adopt a strategy contingent on the people of King's Landing ousting Cersei themselves. She's fine with that much, but when Sansa (sensibly!) suggests letting her army heal a bit before heading down to King's Landing, Dany grows affronted, Sansa claps back, and Jon's all, "You GUYS you GUYS come onnnnnnnnn."
Arya calls a family meeting in the godswood, where she and Sansa are like, "When you're a Stark/You're a Stark all the way/From your first direwolf/To your last dying day/Because you've already died once/So it's the next one we're referring to here in this song."
Jon says, "Yeeeeeeah, funny story, in re: my Starkness." For those keeping score, the elapsed time between promising Dany he wouldn't ever tell them his secret, and him telling them his secret: six minutes. He makes them promise never to tell anyone else, because though the horse has left the barn, he's determined to at least make a convincing show of closing the barn door, and putting on a shiny new lock.
Jaime and Tyrion are drinking by the fire, and have a conversation about Brienne that's a good deal less bawdy than it would have been if it had taken place in an earlier season. Bronn shows up and threatens them with the crossbow he's supposed to use to kill them, but Bronn gotta Bronn, and wheedles a promise out of them to give him Highgarden (seat of the late lamented House Tyrell) and leaves — but not before punching Tyrion in the nose.
The last time Tyrion and Bronn saw each other, in the dragon pit in King's Landing, the actors played up the warmth of their old relationship. Here, Jerome Flynn instead leans into Bronn's exasperated impatience, which gives the scene a tension lacking from much of the rest of this episode.
The Hound and Arya head down to King's Landing, both with unspoken business to handle. (His is to take care of his brother, and hers is, mostly likely, to take care of Cersei.)
We watch Rhaegal — who was, you'll recall, wounded in the Battle of Winterfell last week — take off and fly; he's a little wobbly, with some sizable holes in one wing, but he's got gumption, this one. He's showing some real hustle out there. You guys I think he's gonna make it! I think he's going all the way this season!
Sansa is on something like her fourteenth long, meaningful look of the episode, standing on one of the Winterfell balconies where characters gather together to intone dialogue in one another's general direction without actually looking at one another. Tyrion approaches, and here's where, if the show was gonna end with Dany on the Iron Throne, he'd argue a solid case for her to Sansa.
That's ... not what happens. Instead, Sansa gets Tyrion to admit that he's a little afraid of Daenerys, and goes full Yoda in Empire, ("There is ... another"). For a ghastly second I feared the "someone else ... someone better" to which she referred was Robyn Arryn of the Vale, and while I admit it'd make for a satisfying ending if she married the littler pisher and proceeded to rule in his stead, she's of course referring to Jon. Elapsed time between promising never to tell anyone else about Jon and telling Tyrion about Jon: 10 minutes.
We next get our fake-out goodbyes to Tormund, Gilly, Sam and Ghost. Sorry; not buying it. They're not off the show for good, they're just getting strapped into the show's elaborate and well-worn deus ex machine, for later use.
We see Dany's fleet of ships sailing toward Dragonstone. Grey Worm and Missandei hold hands and smile. We practically see tiny red hearts popping over their heads. I don't know what the Westerosi equivalent of a malted with two straws is, but they're metaphorically sharing one right now.
Happiness. Contentment. On Game of Thrones. This is the show screaming "DOOM DOOM DEATH BLOOD DANGER" at you.
Below deck, Tyrion and Varys are having one of the conversations they haven't had in years, with Varys expressing doubts about Dany's fitness to rule and Tyrion insisting that everything's fine shut up not listening la la la la la la la. Tyrion's told Varys Jon's secret, of course (elapsed time: Five minutes) so, now that eight people know, Varys astutely asserts that it's no longer a secret — it's information.
As Drogon and Rhaegal (who's really comin' along! Such spirit! Such heart! I believe in this kid!) fly toward Dragonstone, a bolt launched from an unseen ballista lands in Rhaegal's chest. Then his wing. Then another take him out, right through the throat. Down, down, down he goes, into Davy Jones' Locker, down past Mike Nesmith's Steamer Trunk, Micky Dolenz's Dopp Kit and straight into Peter Tork's Duffel Bag.
RIP Rhaegal. You had a love of the game that really showed on the field.
Another bolt whizzes past Dany's ear, and we see the Iron Fleet — each ship carrying a ballista on its foredeck — and there, seated behind the one on the lead ship, is Euron Greyjoy himself, who for the rest of this recap will be referred to as Urine Greyjoy, to reflect the fact that once we get rid of him, we will all feel a tremendous sense of relief.
Dany, outraged, turns and bears down on the fleet, but that Pacey-Witter-lookin' freak and the rest of them just fires bolt after bolt at her. It's too much — she can't get close enough to light them up with dragonfire, so she retreats — leaving her own fleet of ships wide open in the process. (You guys, maybe she's not gonna be a good queen after all?)
Urine fires upon Dany's fleet, reducing her ships to flotsam and/or jetsam. Most of her army washes up on Dragonstone — except, alas, for Mellisandre.
At King's Landing, Urine and Cersei — once again rocking her metal shoulderpads from the Julia Sugarbaker collection, which she's matched with a wig that's giving you serious Season 5 Carol Brady — stand looking down from a window in the Red Keep. She's invited the people of the capital within the walls of the castle, to use them as human shields.
She lies to Urine that the baby she's carrying is his (there's a nice moment when Lena Headey shows a quick flash of revulsion at his touch, but recovers before he can notice). We see that she's got Missandei as prisoner.
Back on Dragonstone, Grey Worm urges Dany to storm the city. Varys warns of the tens thousands of innocents who will be slaughtered. Gotta say, he's right, but he's really the guy in the meeting who lists problems without offering solutions, so if I were Dany I'd start a paper trail on him ASAP.
Tyrion pipes up with a possible solution — see, he's a team player, at least — to meet with Cersei and demand her surrender. Dany agrees and she says all the right things — like how important it is for people to see that when Cersei goes low, she'll go high — but she says it in this really kind of hilariously testy way, so while the transcript will reflect she adopted the more reasonable approach, the people who were in the room will remember her super angry tone.
Which is what happens, when Varys and Tyrion talk it over afterwards. Varys is openly advocating backing Jon over Dany — even marrying Jon to Sansa, which: Ick. He's convinced that the best political platform to launch a campaign on is "I Don't Want To!" They part ways, with Varys all but threatening to kill Dany, and Tyrion all but threatening to kill Varys if he tries.
At Winterfell, Jaime learns of the Iron Fleet's attack on Dany's forces. He resolves to sneak off to King's Landing, but Brienne confronts him. He's not like Cersei, she says — he's a good man. He proceeds to read from his extensive c.v. of dirty deeds done for Cersei. Stay with me, Brienne of Tarth(!) wails(!), don't go. He ... goes. She sobs.
Gah. Who even are you all of a sudden, my girl? What show am I even watching?
Barely a parley
A small company of Dany's troops — along with Dany, Tyrion, Varys and Grey Worm — stand outside the gates of King's Landing.
On the parapets atop the gates stand Cersei, Urine, the Mountain and — very near the edge, too near it, frankly — Missandei.
Qyburn steps out of the gates and walks toward Dany's company. Tyrion meets him halfway. We're in real Mouth of Sauron territory here, but instead of creepy dental work there's just costume jewelry: They're each wearing matching brooches that signify their status as Hands of the Queen (brooch buddies!). Qyburn's wearing a kind of boat-neck number that's accentuating his worst features in a really unflattering way, also it's more wearing him, you know?
They both demand the unconditional surrender of the other. Tyrion appeals to Qyburn's sense of decency, which gets him exactly as far as you'd expect it to, which is to say: precisely nowhere. He then walks past Qyburn to approach Cersei herself. We all know that attempting to reason with Cersei is a colossal waste of time — we've seen the show. In his defense, Tyrion knows that, too. He proceeds to play a game of Two Truths and a Lie with her:
- "I know you don't care about your people." – TRUTH
- "They hate you, and you hate them." – TRUTH
- "But you're not a monster." – CLAXON CLAXON LIE LIE LIE BIG LIE HUGE LIE CLAXON CLAXON
He then attempts to play on her love for her children – for the baby she's carrying, specifically. We know it won't work, and it doesn't. She steps over to Missandei and tells her to say any final words. "Dracarys," she says, and then DROGON COMES DOWN FROM THE SKY AND LIGHTS UP EVERYONE BUT ESPECIALLY URINE WHO REALLY JUST SUPER DIES LIKE DIES EXTRA HARD DIES GREATER AND WITH MORE INTENSITY THAN ANYONE ELSE no of course that's not what happens.
What happens is: the Mountain comes up behind Missandei and cuts her dang head all the way off.
And then the episode comes to a close on — wait for it — a host of long, meaningful looks. Grey Worm: Devastated. Cersei: Gloating. Urine: Smug. Tyrion: Worried. Daenerys: Shock, Confusion, then — suddenly, finally — Cold, Seething Rage.
Just two episodes to go. Almost three hours — and just one dragon — left.