“We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”
Tyrion hits the nail on the head. In the first two episodes of this final season, Daenerys showed a strange preoccupation, not with the encroaching army of near-invincible undead, but with what would happen on the slim chance they survived. Because we knew it would be hard to fill three episodes if everyone at Winterfell died, we anticipated our heroes would survive at great cost. They really only lost a handful of second-stringers.
Unlike Episode 2, which provided a smattering of well-earned world’s-gonna-end fan service, Episode 4 had the unenviable duty of providing a little post-battle housekeeping and setting up the conflict that will rule over the final two episodes. The result is an uneven mess as the once-unified heroes choose new allegiances before the finale.
The episode begins with a mass funeral at Winterfell. Daenerys says goodbye to Jorah, Arya says goodbye to Beric, Sam says goodbye to Edd, Jon says goodbye to Lyanna, and Sansa bids farewell to Theon, even placing a Stark pin on his corpse. It’s one more nice touch for the surrogate Stark, a man who never found acceptance until returning to the family he once betrayed.
After the funeral, the survivors head indoors to party it up. They did defeat an ancient evil, after all. This is the most smiles we can remember on this show since the first episode. Throughout the great hall, the survivors are laughing, drinking, and hooking up.
Gendry faces a tense moment when Dany calls him out for being a Baratheon – a member of the family who overthrew hers. In a rare moment of magnanimity, Daenerys actually awards Gendry the title of Lord of Storm’s End.
Excited by this news, Gendry hunts down Arya and proposes marriage. She shoots him down. A girl has no plans to marry. Is this the last we’ll see of Gendry?
Back in the great hall, Dany surveys the room and realizes she’s in trouble. The Lannister brothers are laughing it up with Brienne. Tormund and the Wildlings sing Jon’s praises. Sansa shoots an arched eyebrow a the dragon queen. Dany is alone. This Iron Throne plan may not be as easy as she thought.
Jaime, Brienne, Podrick, and Tyrion play the drinking game that originated back in Season 1. Tyrion makes a guess. If he’s right, the other person drinks. If he’s wrong, he drinks. Tyrion guesses Brienne is a virgin. She stands up and leaves abruptly. Jaime follows after her. Poor Tormund is heartbroken.
In Brienne’s room, Jaime makes his move. The rival-friend-lovers consummate their relationship. What can we say? Jaime likes blondes. It does seem odd that a woman so concerned with oaths would be willing to bed a man without being married first. Maybe staring death in the face has softened her resolve. This scene feels out of sync with the rest of the series. “Game of Thrones” has never been about what we want to happen. For Brienne, being knighted would be a bigger deal than losing her virginity. Brienne reached her apex when Jaime touched her on the shoulder with that sword. If she survived “The Long Night” just to make love to Jaime and watch him leave, that’s a really strange choice.
Seems everyone in Winterfell is ready to blow off some sexual steam because some women approach Podrick and The Hound. Podrick is down to mingle, but The Hound will have none of it. As The Hound chases away his potential paramour, Sansa comes over and sits down. If you look in the background of this scene, Podrick swings in to catch the rejected girl and head off for a threesome.
The Hound uses his old nickname for Sansa, saying that if the “little bird” would have left King’s Landing with him during the Battle of the Blackwater, she wouldn’t have had to endure Littlefinger or Ramsay. Sansa replies, “Without Littlefinger, Ramsay, and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird.”
Indeed, this show spends a lot of time on the idea of the teachers and (sometimes unwilling) students: Jon is the sum total of what he learned from Ned, Jeor, and Mance. Arya is the result of her father, Syrio, Jaqen, Tywin, The Hound, and the Waif. Sansa is Sansa because of her mother, Cersei, Littlefinger, and Ramsay. Bran is, well, the Three-Eyed Raven.
Perhaps Dany’s problem is that her mentors were all seriously flawed. Her brother, Viserys, was a monster. Khal Drogo may have brought her strength, but their marriage began with rape. After that, all her advisors were her subjects, unable to wield true influence. She frequently ignored counsel from Jorah, Ser Barristan, Daario, Missandei, and Tyrion. In this episode, she continues ignoring good advice in favor of a single-minded sprint to the Iron Throne.
Daenerys visits Jon in his room and pleads with him not to reveal the truth of his parentage. Jon bends the knee to reaffirm his allegiance, but Dany sees what’s going down. Jon already has the hearts of the northerners. If his heritage were revealed, Dany would lose at least half the kingdom. Since Jon is Jon, he is unable to lie, and refuses to promise to keep his bloodline a secret.
The next day, the survivors plan their assault on King’s Landing. It appears half of the army is dead, while Cersei’s army has grown – the Golden Company has arrived, courtesy of Euron Greyjoy’s fleet. On the plus side, Yara retook the Iron Islands and the new prince of Dorne will align with Dany. Jon and Davos will take the northern army south, Dany will take the remaining Dothraki and Unsullied and sail to Dragonstone. (This is the first time we’ve learned that any Dothraki survived the idiotic charge of last week’s episode.) Jaime plans to stay put in Winterfell. This is the military equivalent of walking into a haunted house and splitting up to find the ghosts.
At the end of this meeting, the Stark girls corner Jon. In the Godswood, Jon spills the beans. The secret is out. Jon is a Targaryen and a Stark. To paraphrase Ben Franklin, three people can keep a secret as long as two of them are dead. The Stark girls are very much alive, and it doesn’t take long for Sansa to tell Tyrion.
Bronn somehow strolls into a room with Jaime and Tyrion and demands Highgarden in exchange for not killing the Lannister boys. Then he strolls off, one more convenient dangling plot thread that should come back over the next two weeks.
Jon saddles up and prepares to say goodbye to Winterfell. He shares a hug with Gilly, discovering she’s pregnant. Sam blushes and hugs his best friend.
Tormund also dishes out a hug and tells Jon he plans on taking the remaining Wildlings back to Castle Black.
In a moment that is driving fans crazy, Jon asks Tormund to take Ghost with him. Jon doesn’t even give Ghost a hug or anything! After some early-season direwolf displays of power, the show totally turned its back on the savage pups. Ghost should have been a huge asset in last week’s battle, but he was AWOL after the first charge. Ghost could be a great force in a King’s Landing battle. But sure, send him north. What a weird choice.
Some other heroes are headed off on their own. As The Hound rides from Winterfell, he’s joined by his old traveling partner, Arya. Both killers have unfinished business in King’s Landing.
Jaime also takes his leave. Despite Brienne’s pleas, Jaime rejects her and says he needs to return to Cersei. It’s unclear whether he’s leaving because he loves Cersei or because he intends to kill her… or something else. Brienne is heartbroken.
As Varys and Tyrion sail for Dragonstone, they kick around the information that Jon is the true heir to the throne. Varys correctly intuits that this knowledge won’t stay secret for long, and the people will swing behind Jon. Tyrion holds out allegiance for Daenerys. Yes, it would be easiest if Dany became the queen, but Varys understands that the course of the realm doesn’t always work that way. The two friends even float the idea that Jon and Dany could get married. Even that would be too easy. Dany comes from a family of inbreeders, but Jon was raised in the north, where such things are frowned upon.
In a total headscratcher of a scene, Dany and her dragons are ambushed by Euron Greyjoy’s fleet. Somehow Euron managed a direct hit on Rhaegal with his first shot from a giant crossbow mounted on a ship that’s bobbing up and down on the water. A second bolt clips Rhaegal’s wing. A third stabs him through the neck. Rhaegal plunges under the water, presumably dead. (It’s weird that Dany couldn’t see the ships from her vantage point in the sky, but whatever.) Euron’s fleet fires a few more bolts at Dany, then destroys her fleet.
Euron captures Missandei and, somehow, Dany’s team knows this. (You’d think there would be a lot of confusion after a giant naval battle, and they’d be unsure if she drowned or was killed or captured.) You’d also have to imagine all the aquaphobic Dothraki and their horses drowned in the “poison water,” but the episode doesn’t even bother showing this.
Euron and Cersei share a moment of victory. Cersei lets Euron believe her baby is his. They discuss their strategy against Daenerys: they’ll pack the Red Keep with innocent people to use as human shields.
Varys and Tyrion chat again. Although they both suspect Jon would be the better ruler (a reluctant one), Tyrion seems like he’s going to stick with Dany. Varys, on the other hand, prepares ready to cast his lot with Jon. It looks like a happy ending won’t be in the cards.
Furious about the loss of Rhaegal and the kidnapping of Missandei, a badly overmatched Daenerys marches to King’s Landing. In the one great scene of the episode, Tyrion steps forward to try to convince his sister to surrender peacefully. It’s a tense standoff that shares some DNA with the end of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” Tyrion looks at Cersei, who looks at Dany, who looks at Missandei, who looks at Grey Worm. This thing could go either way.
Despite Tyrion’s best efforts, and an appeal to her motherly instincts, Cersei appears ready for war. She asks Missandei if she has any final words. “Dracarys,” Missandei says. (That’s basically the same thing the Mad King said in his final words: “Burn them all.”) The Mountain swings his sword. Missandei dies. Tyrion is crestfallen. Grey Worm is shattered. Cersei smiles. Dany is pissed. The screen fades to black.
The best seasons of this series offered episodes that nudged the season-long arcs forward while providing thrilling moments of action or betrayal each week. Think of something like Arya serving as Tywin’s cupbearer. That not only provided exposition about the battles around Westeros, it made us wonder whether Tywin would come to discover Arya’s true identity. It was tense and playful and smart and there was no way of knowing how it would end. In the latter seasons, and in this truncated final run, “Game of Thrones” has become an exceptionally claustrophobic series. Epsidode 1 was merely a place-setting. Episode 2 was a wonderful character tapestry. Episode 3 was all battle. Episode 4 was more place-setting. The patience and pace have been replaced with your typical third-act-of-an-action-movie speed.
Compare this season’s offerings to an episode like Season 2’s “Blackwater.” Although that episode contained plenty of action with the Battle of Blackwater Bay, it also provided lots of character development: Joffrey proved he was a chicken, Cersei threatened Sansa while spiraling into fear that almost led her to poison Tommen, Tyrion stepped up to lead the army, The Mountain decided he would rather risk death than fight for Joffrey, and Tyrion was slashed in the face by one of the Kingsguard. Since the show has outpaced the books, it seems like the writers have forgotten how to walk and chew gum at the same time.
Before Winterfell, the last time Brienne saw Jaime, he was sacking Riverrun and allowing her escape. This season, Jaime arrived at Winterfell, supplicated himself, broke tradition by knighting Brienne, fought alongside her, then bedded her and left her. That would be like Oberyn arriving in King’s Landing, declaring he would fight for Tyrion, and getting his head smushed all in the same episode.
“Game of Thrones” has been so good when showing its characters thinking, plotting, and discovering. Now, they all seem to be bumping into each other because they can’t see more than three inches in front of their faces. We want to see traps laid, traps thwarted, and traps sprung. The series has appeared to have moved from chess to Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, and that’s a shame. Here’s hoping the final two episodes can return the show to its former glory.
Final score: 1 out of 4 stars