We’ve had the Battle for Winterfell, now the fight for the Iron Throne has exploded across our screens in this penultimate episode of Game of Thrones.
The finish line is almost in sight, but before we get there, two queens had to duke it out.
Join your Westerosi correspondents Pete and Dan as they dig into the penultimate episode.
Catch up on our season 8 recaps:
These recaps are dark and full of spoilers, so only continue reading if you’ve caught up on the latest episode of the show.
We won’t be spoiling anything from any production leaks that may or may not have found their way onto the internet. Some deep book lore may feature.
DAN: I have incredibly mixed feelings about this episode. Taken on its own, I loved it. There was so much to enjoy — the cinematography, Evil Queen Dany being totally sick of it and taking out the city, Cleganebowl, fights in the streets and yes, maybe even Jaime and Cersei’s end.
Did I mention the cinematography???
But it wasn’t an episode in isolation; we had years and years of build-up to this moment, and while this might have been the end that George RR Martin and showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss always had to reach, the payoff didn’t feel justified.
At least we started out this week’s action with Varys getting a fitting send-off for a traitor. His scene with Tyrion last episode was among my favourites and it was a little heartbreaking (but understandable) to see Tyrion rat him out despite their friendship.
As Melisandre had predicted, Varys did indeed meet his end in Westeros. Those tweets he sent out to everyone proclaiming Jon the real king will be a big key to what happens next week I suspect.
Jon will need the support of all major houses in his final battle.
This was a big episode for final scenes. Varys and Tyrion, Arya and The Hound, Jaime and Cersei and of course Tyrion and Jaime.
Tyrion returned the favour in freeing his big brother after he himself was freed from the dungeon in King’s Landing way back in season four. It was an emotional farewell for those two. If we do lose Tyrion in the finale, he’s at least given us so many wonderful scenes along the way.
PETE: Who knew Dan? The Iron Fleet’s greatest enemy in the end was … a lack of sunglasses? I guess?
What happened with the ballistae this episode I think is emblematic of the issues we have with the show, really since we left book territory.
These things have been dropping dragons out of the sky for two seasons now, yet only now when it serves the plot they’re nothing but useless tinder?
It’s the inconsistencies that’ll linger once we’re finished next week, I think.
And speaking of inconsistent, it looks like the Golden Company’s vow to never break a contract had never been tested by dragonfire.
Drogon exploding the Iron Fleet and decimating the Golden Company were such perfect fist-pumping moments that put you on a high, right before this episode started to kick you in the guts again and again and again.
One of Bran’s visions from all the way back in season four came true, as the shadow of Drogon finally descended on King’s Landing.
It was not long after this that I scribbled in my notes that “dragons are terrifying”, and that was *before* those bells started to toll and everything went south.
DAN: The bells tolled, the Lannisters put down their swords and Dany is the new Queen. Let’s end the show there Pete. We even had some awesome dragonfire moments already with the fleet burning and Drogon ringing the front doorbell.
But no. Instead, we have Dany snapping. Fixated on Cersei and the Red Keep, she wants to burn down the whole city and most of its inhabitants.
To be fair, she did try to do things the right way, and she did plead with Jon. But with word out there about Jon’s parentage to constantly threaten her and Jon showing no interest in an aunt-nephew marriage, “let it be fear” instead.
My issue with it is that she’s just taken it WAY too far.
You don’t need to kill a million people and burn down the seat of power (your own future seat of power I’d have thought) to inspire fear. You’ll just unite everyone in Westeros against you.
As civilians fled in disbelief as dragonfire rained down on them, I felt much the same way myself. I’m not disappointed that Dany turned villain and toasted the city (it was incredible to watch), just that it didn’t feel earned.
PETE: I think experiencing that feeling of “Oh no, she’s going too far” just as Jon, Tyrion, Davos and Arya did was one of the real triumphs of this episode.
It also feels very true to the depiction of war that the books have portrayed as well — that the fight over power, by the powerful, is an awful thing that sweeps up the innocent for no reason.
Now, the readers who follow us over on Messenger know this well, but there are two things I like about Game of Thrones — characters having long, tense chats and CLEGANEBOWL.
WHAT IS HYPE MAY NEVER DIE, FRIENDS, BECAUSE WE FINALLY GOT CLEGANEBOWL.
And somehow, it wasn’t even as dumb as I expected.
Tying Arya’s fate in here was a great move because it gives her motivation to move beyond the kill-bot we’ve been watching for two seasons now.
Arya’s list is done (except for maybe one new addition we’ll get to later), and she’s got a firsthand lesson on what a lifetime of pursuing revenge looks like.
It was too late for Sandor, but not for her.
I don’t think we’ll ever get a Cleganebowl in the books. We’ve only got the slightest of hints that The Hound and The Mountain are even still alive. This felt like a big ‘ol helping of fan service from the show.
And I ate it up.
THEY FOUGHT ON A CRUMBLING STAIRCASE AS DRAGONFIRE WAS BLASTED OUT OVERHEAD.
DID YOU SEE IT DAN. DID YOU SEE???
DAN: It was glorious! And we even got the Darth Vader reveal as the helmet came off! Coming into this episode I had expected The Hound to be killed by The Mountain, so I was half right.
They killed each other. And that’s probably the most fitting end you could have for them. I had wondered how Qyburn was going to die and I got great enjoyment in seeing Frankenstein being punted down a staircase by his monster.
However, I never really wondered how Euron was going to die. I hate his character. A quick dragon-fire BBQ would be fine for him. But he managed to outdo his general stupid shenanigans by magically popping out of the water just in time to fight Jaime and die on a quip.
What a prat.
PETE: At least he was technically wrong about his final boast.
The end of the Lannister twins arguably came about at their own hands.
My problems with flip-flopping show-Jaime aside, the tragedy that was set up last week absolutely landed for me.
Jaime’s story absolutely had to end with Cersei.
And his final words — “nothing else matters, only us” — as their world fell in on them while the Rains of Castamere played, were a fitting end.
Bran was pushed out the window, the War of the Five Kings was waged, great houses of Westeros crumbled and a chance at redemption was wasted because nothing else mattered.
Before we go any further, everyone get on your feet and give Lena Heady the BIGGEST round of applause.
Her performance as Cersei is one of the key reasons the show has grown into the pop culture behemoth it is today. The rise and fall and rise again of the elder Lannister twin has been a joy to watch.
The heroes you’re rooting for are only as good as the villains they’re fighting against, and you’re lying if you didn’t enjoy watching the baddest lady in Westeros play the game of thrones.
And if Peter Dinklage can get a consolation Emmy a season later than he should have, Lena Heady should get one for almost a decade of top-shelf wine drinking GIFS.
DAN: How dare they make me feel sympathy for Cersei *sheds tear*.
I didn’t expect THAT. What a great scene. I’m not totally on board with giving Cersei (and Jaime) such an anticlimactic death as being crushed by some rocks, but that scene was still SO, SO GOOD.
On rewatching the whole series I expect I’ll love it even more and not miss the fact I didn’t get to see a dragon eat Cersei or Jaime killing her.
These final two seasons feel very much like the writers knew the endpoints for each character and had to write backwards.
Jaime had to be in King’s Landing with Cersei as they died. But they took a bloody confusing road to get there. The show version of Jaime feels like he has a completely muddied character arc.
He should never have gone to Winterfell or hooked up with Brienne if he needed to be by Cersei’s side in the end.
I wonder if Dany will even be able to confirm Cersei has died next episode.
She’s buried under quite a lot of rock…
PETE: In the next episode I think it’s pretty clear that the question is how Daenerys meets her end, rather than if.
And given what she saw during the massacre of King’s Landing, there might a name added to Arya’s list before all’s said and done.
To echo Dan from earlier, I’m pretty mixed about that.
I can accept the destination we’ve ended up at, but I’m cold on the journey we’ve taken to reach it.
There’s going to be people pointing to all the hints that have been dropped along the way (and there are plenty), and there’s going to be those angry that this came from seemingly nowhere.
For me, the fall has been so swift that it didn’t stack up against the slow burn of seven seasons of Dany doing everything to shape herself into a leader that would break the mould.
The Mad Queen theory has been floated for a long time, but the story work from the show to get here was sloppy and leaves it open to legitimate criticism about its portrayal of women in power. Especially if we end up with Jon on the Iron Throne.
DAN: I don’t know about you Pete, but I’m getting a bit tired of Jon doing nothing all season. There better be a big payoff next week to justify him being around.
And if he lands on the Iron Throne because he just happens to be the last man standing (with all powerful women being ‘Mad Queens’), so help me.
I’m calling Jon’s death. He’s been kept alive by the Lord of Light, he has to die once his purpose is done. Jon on the throne? Nah. Jon on the throne and Arya knifes him because he sided with Dany? Yeah, I’d watch that.
PETE: With one episode left, we’ve only got one vision that is left unfulfilled on the show.
It’s Dany’s visit to the Iron Throne covered in what we now know is ash.
Later in that scene, she reaches for the Iron Throne but stops at the last moment.
George RR Martin promised us a bittersweet ending a long time ago.
We’ve got the bitter this episode.
Daenerys Targaryen has won, but she’s undoubtedly Queen of the Ashes.
Let’s see if there’s any sweet coming next week.
“Nothing else matters matters, just us” – Jaime trying to calm a terrified Cersei
“Your Grace” – Sandor Clegane, remembering his manners before a fight to the death
DAN: Tyrion ratting out his friend Varys, even though he knew it’d mean death and that Varys was potentially right.
PETE: I’ve made my criticisms of how we got there, but Emilia Clarke’s portrayal of the frustration and the rage inside Daenerys at the moment she snapped was so good.
You didn’t miss this one with your eyes, but rather your ears.
Series composer Ramin Djawadi has dropped several very subtle callbacks with the soundtrack this season, and this episode was no different.
As Dany rained fire down on King’s Landing, we were treated to a version of what many consider his best work on the show, “The Light of the Seven”, which played in the lead up to Cersei exploding the Sept of Baelor with wildfire.
During both versions, King’s Landing is in flames.
And as Arya struggled to come to terms with a city in ruins around her, we heard a version of “Home“, the track that played when she finally returned to Winterfell last season.
Then, snow fell around her. But during this more sombre version, it’s ash that’s falling instead.
One of the longest, and most impactful list of deaths we’ve put together.
- Euron Greyjoy
- The Golden Company
- Hapless civilians
- The Hound, Sandor Clegane
- The Mountain, Gregor Clegane
- Jaime Lannister
- Cersei Lannister