Game of Thrones s8 ep 5

*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.

Game of Thrones s5 ep 1

Since we only get ten hours of the astonishing Game of Thrones every year, every second of it seems even more precious. The decision then to spend several minutes of this season-opener on a flashback which either told us little we didn’t know already or nothing we needed to know at all seems slightly baffling. Which is not to say the flashback scene wasn’t interesting (it was) or indeed a little bit chilling (shiver), but more that wasting time on flashbacks which don’t take the story anywhere seems as self-indulgent as the shots of the nameless topless prostitutes hanging around Meereen’s alleyways, purely there to ensue the nipple count is sufficiently high before we get to the violence.

But never mind. Maybe the introduction of the flashback device will lead to something significant (more Tywin?!) or maybe the showrunners just thought it was cool. Either way, I’ve probably wasted more time on it now than the ep actually does, so let’s move onto the rest of “The Wars to Come,” which is, for the most part, terrific.

Picking up not long after season 4 left off, it’s almost time for Tywin’s funeral, and each of the Lannister children is coping/not coping differently.

Cersei lashes out at Jaime over their father’s death at Tyrion’s hand. Jaime tries to remind her that the imminent  threat to their family comes not from her brothers but from the lords and ladies who’ve come in their hordes to make sure Tywin is really dead. And Tyrion has drunk himself across the Narrow Sea to relative safety (for now), but would like nothing more than to drink himself even further.

His tragi-comic self-pity is interrupted in a marvellous scene by the brilliant Varys, who persuades him to go see what Daenerys has to say before he decides “whether the world is worth fighting for,” but I’m not sure this is such an advisable strategy.  After all, Daenerys these days is still doing nothing more than her usual Daenerys thing of saying “No” to someone standing in front of her in the Throne Room. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what they’re asking her for, these scenes have become as interchangeable as they are dull and she’s about as convincing a queen as I am a multi-national conglomerate. Even Michiel Huisman’s glorious Daario can’t make this sub-plot worth watching on his own, so the sooner Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill do turn up to help him shake up the seemingly endless “Daenerys liberates/conquers somewhere which is delighted to see her at first but then not so much” side of things the better.

No such complaints from me about Jon Snow’s storyline, however, which has, over the past couple of seasons, gone from rivalling Bran’s for tedium to rivalling Sansa’s for unexpectedly coming into its own. (More Dark Sansa please, by the way, show – she is awesome.) Seems like Jon Snow knows a lot more than nothing now – his scenes with Stannis and with Mance are a perfect blend of persuasion, desperation and resignation, and his story this week culminates in an utterly humane act of compassion and courage that gives the lie to Brienne’s declaration that all ”The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” Not Jon Snow, Brienne.  At least not yet.

Although Brienne does have a point about everyone else, especially the inexorably cruel Stannis, who, with demented paramour Melisandre – how fitting that one so ice-cold should be so in thrall to one so obsessed with fire – is responsible for perhaps the episode’s most horrible moment. If he’s Westeros’s best hope for King, then Varys is right – Westeros is doomed.

Thankfully, however, there is still plenty of humour to leaven the horror. From the Tyrion and Varys travelling roadshow to the Pod and sulky Brienne buddy movie bickering, there’s a lot to laugh at in an episode which manages to balance scene-setting, humour and an unflinching commitment to this nightmarish, brutal world of politics and power with aplomb. A quiet-ish way to start the season then – if you can call checking in with 3/4 of the cast and killing REDACTED quiet – but a bold and thoroughly compelling one.