Beware! The night is dark and full of terrors, and this review will have spoilers. Which could be a scarier prospect.
This week: Dany lights up King’s Landing.
We’re in the endGame Of Thrones now. But while the penultimate episode wrapped up a lot of story in one explosive encounter at King’s Landing, the distant feelings of disappointment with how the story is chugging along on its path continued to grow. Daenerys Targaryen, angered by the death of beloved friends, feeling betrayed and alone, took her vengeful feelings out on both the structures and people of the capital, spurred on by the sight of the Red Keep, originally built centuries ago by her family and denied to her all these years. Was her rampage a punch-the-air, cheer-at-the-sight moment? Only partially. In the past, Dany’s more vengeful acts have usually been given human context. Here? She’s really just death from above.
Sure, there was some righteous justice to be had as the fire raged and the Iron Fleet was ravaged (we’d honestly in some way would have rather seen Euron torched than die by Jaime’s hands… sorry, hand, but you can’t always get what you want and that was somehow more effective). The nagging concern that her rain/reign of fire represents all of the show’s worst impulses about its treatment of Dany couldn’t be denied. Whether writers/executive producers David Benioff and DB Weiss can stick the landing in a way that is satisfying is an “if” roughly the size of Drogon. Talking of, he clearly developed a stealth mode this week, appearing almost out of nowhere to send Varys off in a roar of flame. So long, you crafty devil. You went out not with a whisper, but with a bang.
There was also a distinct feeling, partly because of how the creators have gunned the engine by necessity this condensed season, of expected threads being tied up because we’ve all been waiting for them, not necessarily because they arise organically from the storytelling. Varys is offed quickly, Qyburn dies at the Mountain’s giant zombie paws (we were mostly fine with his swift, largely expected death) and it’s the last we’ll hear from Euron (thank goodness). Clegane Bowl finally happened as the Red Keep crumbled and, yes, though it was truly fun to see the Hound and the Mountain square off and plunge to their shared doom in a fire, by that point it almost felt like fan service overload. At least they gave Sandor Clegane his scene with Arya.
Her storyline was less satisfying, if only because it’s likely to fuel the torches of the mob who think she’s too powerful/lucky. Turning away from her big revenge plot (did she figure Cersei was done for anyway?), she went all Black Hawk Down through the streets of the capital as she attempted to escape. The choice of a beloved character to give some context to the suffering of the innocents on the ground as Dany destroyed the place was an interesting one, but it was also a narrative blind alley. If she’d died ignominiously on the way out, no one would have been happy, yet her constant lucky escapes served to make her seem somehow immortal, even given her training.
Once again this episode, elements built up to be hugely important were dispensed with relatively easily. Case in point? The Golden Company. Hired at great expense, feared the realm over as some of the greatest sellswords imaginable, they effectively stood still while Daenerys turned them into human bbq. A fair twist, but hardly the most dramatic. Cersei and Jaime’s final scene was pretty much as predicted – especially by Jaime – yet again, it feels a little wasteful in its treatment of everything Lena Headey has brought to the smartest Lannister across the years. She essentially spent the episode like the Emperor in Return Of The Jedi, smugly confident in her forces and fortress, and then reduced to a less-than-glorious death. Even Jaime got something more to do, finally doing away with Euron on his way in to find his sister. At least there was poetry at the end for the two of them, clinging to each other as the ceiling caved in and a version of ‘The Rains Of Castamere’ echoed in the score.
Jon Snow, meanwhile, stumbled through the episode with his standard look of a a puppy that can’t decide if it should be afraid or confused. Blindsided by Dany’s decision (honestly, man, you didn’t see that coming? Have you not been watching the show?) to go rogue after the bells started ringing and the Lannister forces threw down their swords, he was largely reduced to fighting his way into King’s Landing then telling everyone to run aw… sorry, fall back. This guy would empathise.
Tyrion had a few moments – his goodbyes to both Varys and, though he might not have thought it was truly the final meeting – Jaime were both touching and gave Peter Dinklage a chance to do what he does best. Plus, he got to survive another battle and will make it through to the finale. But what sort of man will he be, and will he still stand by his queen after her actions here?
Director Miguel Sapochnik certainly knows how to orchestrate a chaotic battle, and on pure impact alone, this was more satisfying than the Battle of Winterfell. It was hard not to feel your stomach knot as the camera glided over the ramparts of the city and the ocean, not knowing exactly how it would play out. The twists and turns of the conflict – the bells that give this episode its title forming a crux point – served to make it visceral and devastating, even as the storytelling never quite stepped up to meet the visual firepower on display. And unlike The Long Night, there was at least some chance to breathe and to explore the characters briefly before the hacking, slashing and fire started up. Game Of Thrones has always been a show to cast a realistic eye (magic and dragons not withstanding) on how people treat each other when power is in play, and there were multiple examples here. Just not all of them worth our while.
Next week, it’s all over. Can it be wrapped up without leaving a raft of complaints? Probably not, but we’ll see you then.
Highlight: Clegane Bowl.
Lowlight: Dany’s flaming crusade.
Kill of the week: Tough to pick between Cersei, The Houndtain and Flaming Varys.
Quote of the week: “I don’t have love. I have fear.” – Dany, outlining her situation in simple terms.
MVP: The Hound.
Random thought: Sandor really should have gone for the head earlier. Thor could’ve told him that.
What is Dany’s situation going forward?
She won. She still has the support of the remaining Dothraki and Unsullied. But now she’ll be seen as a “Mad” Queen, the latest in a long line of Targaryens who have gone for dragon-powered brutality over diplomacy and more traditional combat. Can she truly rule if she’s regarded as an antagonist by the people and, to some extent, by those around her?
Was the horse at the end one convenient plot point too many?
After Arya’s run through the city, it really did seem more of a contrivance than a happy accident.
Has Arya added Dany to her Kill List?
We’ll have to wait for next week to see for sure, but she wasn’t certain about the woman to begin with, and now she likely sees her as a merciless murderer. And there’s only room for one murderer in Westeros right now.
Season 8 Reviews
Season 7 Episode Review Guide
[Episode 6 – Beyond The Wall
Game Of Thrones airs Sunday evenings on HBO in the States, with a simulcast on Sky Atlantic and Now TV in the early hours of Monday and a repeat Monday evenings at 9pm.