“Every time a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin.”
It’s a familiar quote, one that’s been said about the Targaryens going back hundreds of years back in Westerosi lore.
And Varys was the one who said it Sunday night in the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones’s final season.
The Master of Whisperers spent his final moments in the series desperate to see Daenarys Stormborn replaced as the one sitting the Iron Throne with Jon Snow. And right before he’s burned by Dany for treason, he tells Tyrion, Jon, and all the crew sticking by her that he hopes they were all right.
Well, they were wrong, Varys. They were all wrong. In Dany, they saw a just and fair ruler who’d care for the common people as much as she did the nobles. But that was nowhere to be seen as Dany turned King’s Landing to ashes.
Now, it’s not like this Targaryen madness has come out of nowhere. In the first season, Daenarys watched emotionless as her brother had melted bronze poured on his head. Sure, Viserys was a horrible brother. But the lack of emotion was truly chilling.
She adorned the cities of Slaver’s Bay with the hanging bodies of slave holders as a sign that slavery was ending in the slave cities. Daenarys burned alive every Khal in season six so she could take charge of the Dothraki. And there was last season, when Daenarys burned Sam’s father and brother for not bending the knee to her.
Sure, all of these were moves in the game that helped the mother of Dragons increase her power. And most were forgiven because we didn’t know or like the victims.
But all those episodes set a trend that Daenarys brought to complete fruition Sunday night: the only way the Mother of Dragons gets what she wants is fear.
While the Dothraki joined her because they recognized her power, all the other events brought people to their knees because Daenarys scared them. They don’t love her like Jon. People fight for Jon because he inspires them. People kneel before the Mother of Dragons because of fear.
Combine that with the isolation (think of all her advisers and friends who’ve either abandoned her or died this season) Dany’s felt ever since she arrived in Westeros, and the Breaker of Chains finally broke.
Now, I’m really struggling with what I think of the direction Daenarys has taken this season. I respect the technical brilliance in how her madness was showcased Sunday night. And I also respect Game of Thrones for keeping us guessing until the very end. Who out there is truly confident in what they think will happen in the final episode next week?
But did we really cheer on Daenarys’s rise to power only to see her give way to the tyranny she was desperately trying to end? Should those of us who cheered Dany and her dragons feel like Jon and Tyrion did throughout the burning of King’s Landing? That feeling of “How could I unleash this monster on Westeros?”
Ultimately, we should give credit to Game of Thrones for keeping things unpredictable until the very end. But that uncertainty also has me wrestling with exactly what would even be a satisfying ending as King’s Landing sits destroyed before the finale.
Now before everyone starts theorizing about the finale (who am I kidding, you’ve been doing that since the final 30 minutes of the episode), let’s go back through another traumatic episode in Game of Thrones’s final season.
“I’m Not Certain Where Her Coin Has Landed, But I’m Certain About Yours.”
Varys efforts to supplant Dany as the rightful heir to the throne are short lived. He’s writing a letter when one of his little birds comes in to report on Dany’s soldiers. They don’t trust Varys anymore and are keeping a close eye on him.
Varys is there when Jon Snow makes it to the shores of Dragonstone. He tries to convince Jon to step up and be the man. But Jon will have none of it.
In fact, Varys is all alone in his latest (and last) attempt to pull strings to get someone on the Iron Throne. Tyrion reports him to Daenarys, to which she repeats the name of everyone who’s betrayed her in spreading this secret. That’s not a good sign for anyone.
Varys is sentenced to death. He burns the note he was writing before Drogon burns him alive. I’m curious if Varys was able to get any of those notes out before his execution.
“This is What Happens When People Hear the Truth About You.”
Dany later confronts Jon about his loose lips. Yes, those loose lips give her another kiss. But once again, Jon is not exactly thrilled to be kissing his aunt.
Dany points out Varys as an example of what people are going to do when word gets around that Jon is, indeed, a Targaryen. She also notices the fear in Jon’s eyes when he talks to her. He loved her once. But now, she knows his presence by her side has as much to do with fear as it does loyalty.
“The Next Time You Fail Me Will Be the Last Time You Fail Me.”
The night before the battle in King’s Landing, Tyrion pleaded with Dany one more time.
There’s a bell in King’s Landing that is supposed to signal surrender (or at least “open the gates and come on in” when there’s not a siege under way). He pleads with her to call off her forces if she hears that bell. Dany reluctantly agrees, but then tells Tyrion that he will not be allowed to fail her again.
And Tyrion’s plan for ringing that bell? Free his recently captured brother and send him to go do it. I’m sure the Mother of Dragons will be cool with that, Half-man.
The brothers share what turns out to be their final moment as Tyrion gets Jamie to help Cersei flee King’s Landing. Tyrion believes her baby will be enough to convince her to leave. It wasn’t enough to save Missandei, but Tyrion is all in with this thinking.
We’re all set for another classic battle. The Golden Company stands in front of the walls of King’s Landing as Dany’s forces stare them down. Euron’s ships surround the capital. And the people crowd into the gates of the Red Keep because we all know the Mother of Dragons would never burn civilians, right?
None of that matters when Dany shows up with Drogon. Her first move is to burn Euron’s fleet (a move that would have been really helpful about 10 episodes ago). Those giant scorpions prove useless as Dany gives no time for them to be loaded, burning the ships and the men on the ships before they can get the cumbersome spears into position.
As Dany takes down the outer defenses, Arya and the Hound are marching through King’s Landing. Jamie is frantically seeking out that bell. And a young mother and her child are highlighted as peasants seeking safety from the coming attack.
“All We Need is One Good Shot.”
The Golden Company was hired to fight for Cersei. They have a sterling reputation coming into the battle.
Well, they sure didn’t live up to it.
Dany takes Drogon to the other side of the wall and burns it down. The flames consume most of the Golden Company and open the way for the Dothraki, the Unsullied, and the men from the North to enter the city. The captain of the Golden Company, Harry Strickland, takes a spear to the gut from Grey Worm, the Unsullied captain now hell bent on revenge.
Qyburn delivers all this bad news to the queen. Cersei’s response: this is fine, everything is fine.
“That’s the Sound of a City Dying.”
Dany’s troops fight their way to the gates of the Red Keep. Lannister troops stare them down, but seem ready to give in as they throw their swords to the ground.
Jamie successfully rang the bell, indicating “surrender” and “open the gates.” For the first time since season 6, a Tyrion plan is working.
But Cersei will not surrender, and Daenarys has grown impatient.
To put some perspective here (this is not to defend what Dany does next, which was horrible in so many ways), I understand what is going through Dany’s mind at this moment.
Every plan her advisers have presented to her since arriving in King’s Landing has failed. She lost her top Westerosi allies, lost two dragons, and lost of her most loyal supporters based on things told to her by Tyrion and others.
And throw in a complete lack of trust in Cersei, who said she’d bring troops to fight the Night King before she didn’t and who burned down the entire Holy Sept to stay in power, and there is reason to see why Dany snapped.
The Mother of Dragons ignores the bell and flies Drogon to the Red Keep. I don’t understand why she had to blaze a path of fire that included all those civilians running around. Why couldn’t she just fly to the Red Keep and light up Cersei?
Her troops take the cue and attack the Lannister troops, who’ve already turned their backs. Jon tries to stop the north men from fighting (something Grey Worm makes note of) , but his efforts are futile.
“Do You Want to End Up Like Me?”
Meanwhile, Arya and the Hound have found their way to the Red Keep. Arya means to kill Cersei, while the Hound plans to take out his brother.
But as the Red Keep starts to crumble, the Hound realizes quickly this is a suicide mission. Hee sends Arya away, encouraging her to avoid the type of grudge that’s plagued his whole life.
All of Dany’s soldiers, including men from the North, start killing civilians. One north man tries to rape a woman, but Jon kills him before he can. Eventually, Jon’s struggle turns from taking the capital for his queen to getting as many people to safety as he can.
“I’m the Man Who Killed Jamie Lannister.”
Two side battles emerge while Daenarys is lighting everyone on fire.
One of those battles was long anticipated, epic, and awesome.
The other was, well, meh
The silly grudge none of us wanted between Jamie and Euron finally comes to an end.
Mostly because I’ve never liked Euron, I really didn’t care who came out on top here. And Jamie takes some pretty intense cuts from Euron. But Jamie kills him and heads into the Red Keep to rescue Cersei.
Finally, something Game of Thrones fans have been waiting for arrived in the form of the Hound vs the Mountain. Clegane Bowl is on!!!!
Whatever spell Cersei and Qyburn had on the Mountain was broken the moment he saw his brother. Qyburn tries to order the Mountain around, but gets a death by brutal toss against the stairs for his trouble.
The two big men battle it out, and we finally get to see what the Mountain looks like underneath his armor.
The Hound puts a sword through the heart of the Mountain. But that’s worthless against whatever Qyburn did to him. The Mountains prepares to give the Hound the Oberyn Martell treatment and squash his head. But the Hound gets a knife out and shoves it through the Mountain’s skull.
But why would that kill whatever undead monster the Mountain has become? So the Hound charges his brother and the two fall to their deaths in the blazing inferno at the foot of the Red Keep.
“I Want Our Baby to Live!!!”
Jamie finds Cersei in the Red Keep and the two try to escape using the tunnels under ground. But the way is blocked by all the falling rubble, and their is no way out for Queen Cersei and Jamie.
Finally, Cersei proves Tyrion right. She cries knowing her baby will not survive. Would have been nice if you would have thought about that last week, Cersei!!! Might have saved a lot of people from burning!!!
Jamie and Cersei embrace one final time as the structure of the Red Keep falls on top of them.
King’s Landing Turns to Ash.
With all the side plots taken care of, let’s focus on the final result of Dany’s massacre. I appreciated putting these final moments in Arya’s perspective. Putting a character we care about in peril gave us all a vested interest and provided a real scope of the damage Dany rained down on the city.
Arya frantically tries to escape the city and take as many people with her as she can. She runs into the mother and her child from earlier and tries to lead them to safety. But they are separated fleeing Dothraki on horses, and Arya falls behind dragon fire.
The dragon fire does not kill her, however. Arya stands up, covered in ash. She sees the burned body of her mother and the child she was so desperate to protect holding each other before finding a lone white horse waiting for her. She rides out of the city, streets covered in ash and buildings destroyed.
Daenarys has taken King’s Landing, a city that no longer exists.
-A really nice touch on the intro, combining all the things that have been said about Dany and Targaryens throughout the show. All said together, they gave a really strong sense of the madness going through her mind.
-Daenarys considered her work “…mercy for future generations who will never again deal with tyranny.” Yes, the people you burned alive will never know tyranny again, that is for sure.
-I assume the mission Tyrion had for Davos involved sneaking Jamie into the city. We’ll see how the Mad Queen addresses Tyrion and Davos’s actions with Jamie next week.
-“You’re the only one who didn’t treat me like a monster.” Tyrion expressing his gratitude to Jamie in their final conversation.
-Just what factory existed in King’s Landing that could mass produce that many scorpions?
-The song that played in the background as the Red Keep fell in on Jamie and Cersei was “The Rains of Castamere. House Reyne tried to rebel against House Lannister before Tywin Lannister had the entire house executed. Some of them were flooded inside underground tunnels. The song memorializing that event was a nice touch to play in the background as two of the three remaining Lannisters died in a similar fashion to members of House Reyne.
-Another reason to despise Cersei: the Undead Mountain could have been a lot of help against the Night King’s army. Of course, being that close to the Night King might have turned him to fight for the dead, so maybe we should be thanking Cersei for keeping him out of that conflict.
-Remember when all those peasants cheered on Joffrey as he beheaded Ned Stark? Bet you guys wish you had good ole honest Ned now, don’t you?
I have some speculative spoilers coming. If you want to avoid those entirely, stop reading here. And I hope to see you for the finale next week.
-I know Varys burned the final note he was writing before Grey Worm came to take him to his execution. But how many notes did he get sent out before dying? And who were those notes sent to?
-Arya’s ark has taken an interesting turn these last three episodes. She’s been all about her kill list and revenge for most of the series. But then she killed the Night King, a killing that was about the survival of the human race, not revenge.
The Hound continued this change in ark by sending Arya way before she could kill Cersei, the top name on her kill list.
But she’s still has the skills of a faceless assassin. So will Arya using her skills for good instead of revenge play a part in next week’s finale?
-King’s Landing was built by Aegon Targaryen, the first Targaryen king, as a seat to rule all of Westeros. Now, the city has been destroyed by a Targaryen. Was Dany’s rampage symbolic of the end of rule in Westeros as we know it?
Can’t believe there is only one more episode left. Come back next week as I recap Game of Thrones for the final time.