After the second last episode of Game of Thrones, the internet is aflame with people debating the spectacular turn of Daenerys from seeming hero to villain. Dany’s descent into fire and blood has been a long time coming. This spectacular episode showcased the dragon queen’s darker side and more importantly shows the pathos of people war touches.
Lots of characters die in this episode, but it still isn’t clear who will hold the Iron Throne.
Varys could not continue to support Daenerys once he suspected she would take King’s Landing with fire & blood. Before Grey Worm arrests him, Varys burns a letter he is sending to somebody, who is not clear.
Dany sentences him to die and immolates him via Drogon’s fire. It’s a nasty death for somebody who served her well for years.
Ultimately, it is Tyrion who betrayed Varys to Daenerys – and sends his best friend to death in the process. Varys mutters that he hopes what he did is actually successful enough to rise to the level of treason. So what exactly did he do?
Daenerys blame Tyrion for telling Varys the truth about Jon. (She also blames Jon for telling Sansa, who told Tyrion.)
Dany grudgingly listens to Tyrion’s pleas to spare the city. If the people of King’s Landing ring the bells to signal their surrender, Daenerys reluctantly agrees to uphold it.
After this she informs Tyrion that she is holding his brother Jaime captive and hold him accountable for believing Jaime wanted to side with them in the first place. Dany warns Tyrion that this is his last mistake.
Tyrion sneaks off to the army’s camp to free Jaime from his captors. He doesn’t want his brother to die and he’s hoping that Jaime will persuade Cersei to flee the capital for Pentos, which might just save millions of lives.
Tyrion is playing with fire. Daenerys won’t fire Tyrion except in the most literal sense of the word. She’ll execute Tyrion if she learns he freed his brother – especially since executing Jaime in front of Cersei would have been the ultimate revenge for Missandei and Drogon’s deaths.
At the start, it was unclear whether the scorpions could take down Drogon or if Dany could evade the giant crossbows’ bolts long enough to do some real damage.
Dany incinerated the Iron Fleet and much of the sea defense on the city walls within minutes.
She burst through the city walls and burned up large parts of Cersei’s sell swords, the Golden Company.
When Jon and Grey Worm’s men were fighting some of the Lannister soldiers in the streets, the men surrendered and the peace bell rang. But when Dany and her dragon kept attacking and burning, it becomes a free for all.
Now, last week I criticized HBO for not showing more of the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell. I’m taking it all back. This superb rendition of what happens once besiegers break through a city walls – in the real world, of course, this is usually after months, not minutes – more than atones for the lack of corpses and chaos after Winterfell.
This is what I’ve been I’ve waiting for. An episode that reveals what war means for the smallfolk, the innocent civilians, the children – and this episode more than delivers.
The Hound: Clegane Bowl
One of the highlights of this episode was the final battle between the Hound and the Mountain. And it certainly felt epic and apocalyptic as they fight on the crumbling stairs in the Red Keep.
I absolutely loved this scene and the setting. For Narnia fans, it reminded me of what the world might have looked like in Charn where Jadis was from or something like that. I can’t quite put my finder on it, but the setting is wonderful.
A moment of beauty before the face off begins occurs when the Hound in an almost avuncular way persuades Arya not to be like him, not to go to her death trying to kill Cersei. It was kind and Arya finally acknowledges her debt to Sandor, her hated protector and mentor, by thanking him.
The showrunners said that the Hound had to die by fire, and I do see the symmetry in that. But, I kind of wanted him to live. Surely, he deserved a happy ending? He atoned. He protected both Stark girls. He was a victim of circumstance and early disfiguring child abuse.
Jaime and Cersei
Cersei decided to stubbornly stay in the Red Keep and not surrender to Daenerys — not that Dany would have shown her any mercy after that stunt with Missandei.
What’s interesting her is that Cersei has always prided herself on her intelligence, but ultimately other people’s assessment of her “she’s not as clever as she thinks she is” is born out.
Why did she goad Dany by killing Missandei? How could Bronn spot that there was no way for Cersei to win against the dragons whereas she could not?
It’s understandable that Rhaegal’s death might fill Cersei with a false sense of confidence. How could she know that Rhaegal was less agile in flight because he had been wounded in the Battle of Winterfell? And nobody really knows how fast dragons can fly since before Dany, they’d been dead for 300 years.
On the way in to the Red Keep via Tyrion’s secret passage, Jaime encounters Euron Greyjoy, who fatally stabs Jaime twice in the gut.
Somehow Jaime manages to make it into the Red Keep and finds Cersei.
Together Jaime and Cersei try to reach Tyrion’s passage, which requires going down into the bowels of the castle. But, when they reach Maegor’s Holdfast, the passageway is blocked with crumbled bricks.
As the ceiling begins to collapse and shower bricks down on them, Jaime and Cersei hug each other and try to forget the world around them.
It’s kind of tragic.
I’d particularly hoped that Jaime would live and go back to Brienne. Hadn’t he atoned enough? Yet this war that he helped start when he pushed bran out of the tower has grown and evolved into something he could never control.
And Cersei, well, she dies as she lived: imprisoned like a caged bird in the tower. Poetically, she is crushed by the Red Keep itself: the very institution that kept her imprisoned since she was 16 years old.
Arya entered the city with the Hound, aiming to kill Cersei. After he persuades her that she will die pointlessly if she doesn’t abort her mission, she has to work her way across the city to escape.
By this point, Daenerys and dragon are engulfing the city in flames so hot that brick buildings crack and crumble continuously.
This is “fire from above” and it reminds you of scenes of the aftermath of sky bombings in WW2.
Arya is almost trampled to death, but after a woman saves her, Arya tries to help her and her daughter escape the city. She urges people sheltering in a building that they need to try to leave. The building will collapse and be destroyed.
Through great luck, Arya manages to survive the attack. All that’s left is ashes but a white horse emerges in the dead city streets. Will she be our next hero?
It’s worth saying a few words about Daenerys. I’ve been saying for years that she’s no hero. But I didn’t expect her to bathe the city in fire and blood. I mean, what’s the point of being queen of the ashes?
Dany’s premonition in the House of the Undying of snow falling in the Iron Throne room now makes a lot more sense.
Dany is the Queen of the Ashes.
Throughout the series, she’s shown us that she can’t control her emotions any more than she can control her dragons.
Missandei told Daenerys to make the city burn, and the dragon queen does exactly that.
Grief stricken after the death of her second child (Rhaegal) and the deaths of Jorah and Missandei, she unleashes her wrath on Cersei’s city burning buildings and innocent civilians when the battle is clearly won.
The internet is angry because they didn’t see Dany’s “turn” coming, but I’d argue it has been there all along.
First of all, conquerors are never good. What gives anyone the right to go into a city and kill thousands of people simply because they want to be the ruler? No modern person would think this is okay. But the perspective of historical biographies, echoed by that in GRRM’s novels, causes us to overlook all the harm from conquest.
Second, as I’ve said before Dany has always been a grey villain who had the occasional lapses into heroism (breaking chains). She’s only ever wanted one thing: her destiny, the iron throne. She never thought that killing even one person to obtain it was a crime.
Her greatest love was the fiercest warlord Essos had ever known: Khal Drogo. The child she was carrying was born a literal monster but would have behaved monstrously if it had survived (“the stallion who mounts the world”).
Third, sure Dany was a very sympathetic character, especially in A Game of Thrones when you get the backstory of how Viserys beat her, etc. etc., but she didn’t exactly develop or evolve the right way. Spending your formative years on the run with your crazy brother and then with the Dothraki didn’t help.
Fourth, last but not least, we didn’t see Dany as a potential villain because she is a point of view character. We are too busy identifying with her to notice that she’s a narcissist.
War is Horrifying
In case I never write another word about Game of Thrones after next week, let me say this. This entire series is about the horrors and futility of war. This is Martin’s magnus opus, his War and Peace.
The scenes of the smallfolk desperately trying to flee Daenerys’ dragonfire in this week’s episode truly does his vision justice. Certainly, more screen time might have allowed for more story development in places, but Dan & David’s attempt to show us war from the perspective of the innocent on the ground is masterful.
The fire from above appears to be inspired by the Allies 1945 attack on the innocent civilian cathedral town of Dresden, Germany. Despite the fact Dresden had no military importance, the Allied forces dropped 2400 tons of high explosives and 1500 tons of fire bombs on it. This blew up or burned 25,000 to 35,000 civilians to death in just a handful of hours.
A little reported fact is that these fire bombs included Napalm. Some victims melted when they were hiding in an air-raid shelter. Children under three years were vaporized.
Napalm, of course, was also used in Vietnam to horrific effect.
The proverb is wrong: Not all is fair in love and war. There is a line. Some weapons are inhumane.
Putting Arya, one of our favorite characters, in peril and making her play the Virgil let us feel some of the terror that real-life victims of war must feel.
If you walk away from this series with one thing, let it be this: we should all think critically about war. War should only ever be a last resort and in the most dire of circumstances.
War leaves famine, plague, death, and destruction in its wake. And if history is any guide, war does so all too often with little having been gained.
These weren’t my beliefs when I began writing about Game of Thrones, but after six years of researching the history behind the series, I believe I now see Martin’s point.
Next week wraps up the series, and I’m very sad to see it go. It has provided some truly spectacular entertainment, triggered many fascinating discussions, and made a lot of people think.
- Did Varys deserve his death?
- Will Tyrion get the axe next week?
- Where Arya go on that white horse?
- Will Jon rebel against Dany?
- Will Dany end up on the Iron Throne?
Maybe if Dany does end up on the Iron Throne it will be the lesson of the series: the futility of war.