*ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE SPOILERS*
In television, as in life, you can’t always get what you want. With this deeply frustrating episode and the one before, though, Game of Thrones seems determined not to give us much of what we need, either.
We begin with Varys, plotting away till the end. ls that last chat with his last little bird about trying to poison Daenerys? Or just trying to cheer up Her Royal Sadness with a tub of the Seven Kingdoms equivalent of ice cream? (Haagen-Daariozs? Ben’n’Jorah’s? Never mind.) Maybe we’ll find out next week, maybe we never will – either way, Tyrion adds another to his very long list of bad decisions, and shops him to the increasingly moody Dragon Queen who seems more upset about her nephew/ boyfriend’s “betrayal” / reasonable refusal to hide his own identity having waited 8 seasons to find it out (you say potato, I say potahto, etc) than anything else. Still, at least she doesn’t let it spoil her sense of the dramatic – Varys, er, “goes Dracarys” on a dark, windy Dragonstone night, with everyone but Her Grace and Grey Worm looking profoundly uncomfortable because nothing says “I’m not going the full Targaryen” like flame-grilling the guy who suggested you might be.
Goodbye, Varys. Conleth Hill’s performance over the years has been such that l’ve forgotten practically all the deceitful things the Spider ever did and will remember him with fondness. His death is sad but it’s fitting, in terms of the development of the character and the story over the years, and it makes sense. Would that the same could be said about some of the others this week, though, as the show lays waste not only to Kings Landing but to years of writer and audience investment in Jaime Lannister who, it turns out, is doing exactly what he told Brienne he was: going back to Cersei and, in the process, as legions of distressed fans have pointed out today, going back on years of character development because, in the end, everything Jaime did to redeem himself in our eyes and his own matters naught to him. All that matters is Cersei.
Sigh. At least he gets a sweet, final scene with Tyrion first, as his little brother repays a favour and helps him escape. I don’t believe he means it when he says he’s never much cared for the common people either – the very reason he became the Kingslayer gives the lie to that. That’s just some of the old Golden Lion bravado coming through, but it’s the old Golden Lion that the show seems determined to leave us with: battling his way back to Cersei’s side to save her or die trying. It’s a sad, ignominious exit for a character who should have been one of GOT’s greatest triumphs – when we first met him, he pushed a child (a Stark child!) out of a window, to stop his own nasty, seedy family secret getting out. You’d think there could be no sympathy for him and there could be no coming back from that but, somehow, thanks to patient writing, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s fantastic work, and his wonderful partnership with Gwendoline Christie’s Brienne, there was and he did. Until this week. Jaime and Cersei dying together is an ending that makes sense too, yes, but Jaime and Cersei dying together with him back in her arms as if he never left them is an awful, nihilistic one that doesn’t, made even worse by that smirking idiot Euron being a smirking idiot right till the end.
Sigh. I’m talking around rather than about the basic plot, I know, but then the basic plot is exactly what I thought it would be: Dany has a tantrum because she’s lost her friends, and she might not get the cool crown she wants, so Kings Landing and everyone in it has to burn.
The outrage on the Lannister army’s faces when they realise their surrender is being dishonoured in this way; the horror on Jon Snow’s as he tries fruitlessly to stop the fighting; the men, women and children of the city running from the flames and the fighting but dying in their thousands nonetheless – it’s all beautifully, majestically shot and fantastically acted, with each scene its own perfect tableau of violence, terror and senseless, merciless bloodshed. None of this needs to happen, none of it, but Daenerys must be queen, or kill everyone else trying because the First of her Name has always sought revenge and the throne above all else. She only wants the wheel broken if she’s the one who gets to do the breaking, and since the only people she would have allowed to talk her out of fire and blood before are now either dead or standing in her way to the Iron Throne, then fire and blood it must be.
What Dany does this week, then, what she has finally become is, unconscionable but, like Varys’s fate and unlike Jaime’s, it’s fitting and it makes sense. Contrary to a lot of online chatter and a lot of criticism I’ve levelled at GOT over the years, I don’t think this particular twist is misogynist, and I don’t think it’s sexist – I just don’t think she was ever the hero people thought she was, and the show did a better job showing that over the years than it did with Jaime, even if the ultimate goal was to show that neither of them could ever really escape the families and family traits that made them what they were.
In one sense that is the ultimate theme of the episode, I suppose. After all, the Hound and the Mountain are family who couldn’t ever truly escape each other too, albeit their mutual self-destruction is both horrible to watch and absolutely perfect. And at least their ending gives rise to one of the few moments of humour in the episode when Cersei, realising that the Mountain is more interested in fighting his brother than looming about behind her any longer, quietly slides past them and scoots off. I don’t know if I was supposed to, but I smiled. The Hound’s also semi-responsible (in a very roundabout way) for the one time I laughed during the episode, too. His last redemptive act may be one of vengeance and death, but his last truly good deed is to persuade Arya (if nobody minds me borrowing from Wham here) to choose life. Nothing funny in that, even though Arya’s subsequent doomed attempts at heroism as she tries and fails to save Michelle from Line of Duty (!) and various other unfortunates border on the farcical. But the sudden, random appearance of a horse for Arya to ride out on reminded me of this and made me shout “HORSE!” again for the first time in years. I know I wasn’t supposed to, but I laughed. After all that, I needed it. See you next week for the big finish.