If it’s true that episode 5 of Game of Thrones this season will be even bigger than the Battle of Winterfell, the show needed something of a breather in between. This week’s entry may not be as action-packed, but it makes some big moves to set the stage for the next conflict.
The war against the Night King now over, the survivors gather the many dead into huge piles for a mass funeral. Daenerys sheds a tear over Jorah, and Sansa one for Theon. Jon gives a sufficiently stirring and kingly speech mourning “the shields that guarded the realms of man.” As the pyres are lit to burn the corpses, it strikes me that the ceremony is taking place far too close to the castle. That smell will take years to fade, and it can’t be too healthy for anyone to breathe in all the ashes.
The funeral is followed by a very somber dinner in the main hall. Daenerys breaks the awkward silence by calling out Gendry and publicly revealing him to be Robert Baratheon’s bastard. Just as it seems that this scene is about to take a very bad turn, the queen announces that she’s officially legitimizing him as the former king’s lawful son, and names him Lord of Storm’s End. The boy is thrilled. It’s a smart play that sidelines him as a claimant to the Iron Throne, and brings some much-needed good will from the other Northerners Dany’s way. Tyrion sees the strategy immediately. The Hound does as well, and is unimpressed.
The mood in the hall lightens a bit further when Daenerys raises a toast to Arya. However, Dany’s own mood sours when she sees Tormund drunkenly sing Jon Snow’s praises. She recognizes that the Northerners love Jon in a way they’ll never love her, which makes him a threat to her reign, especially in light of recent revelations. Varys watches all this with interest.
Jaime, Brienne, and Tyrion play a drinking game in which they must guess private facts about each other. Tyrion embarrasses Brienne by calling her out as a virgin. She leaves the room and Jaime follows. Tormund sees where this is going and is heartbroken, but finds another random girl to console himself with.
Sansa sits for a moment with the Hound. They discuss the fact that her life would have gone very differently if she’d left Winterfell with him back in the day. Sansa says that all the experiences she went through, terrible as they were, forged her into the person she is now.
In the background of all this is the amusing suggestion that Podrick is about to have a threesome.
Gendry leaves the party and finds Arya alone, practicing with a bow and arrow. He tells her his news, proclaims his love, and proposes marriage on the spot. Arya is flattered but has no interest in becoming anyone’s wife.
Jaime follows Brienne to her room and, in the episode’s biggest fan-service moment, the two finally consummate the sexual tension between them.
Jon and Daenerys have a frank talk about what his true heritage means for them. Despite Jon’s assurances that he will remain loyal to her as his queen, she demands that he keep his Targaryen blood a secret. He insists that he owes it to Sansa and Arya to tell them the truth. Dany begs him not to, but he’s already set his mind on what he believes is the proper and honorable thing to do. In the moment, it becomes clear that their relationship is dying.
The Next Day
One war may be won, but another awaits. Daenerys, Jon, and the other leaders meet to discuss their next battle strategy. An offhand line of dialogue confirms that Yara Greyjoy has taken control of the Iron Islands.
The plan is to surround King’s Landing and lay in siege until the public’s support for Cersei dwindles and the people revolt against her. When Sansa points out that their armies are exhausted and need rest before marching off to another battle, Daenerys gets angry and impatient. She insists that they can’t afford any postponements. Jon puts an end to the debate by siding with his queen.
Daenerys will take her dragons and the Unsullied and sail to Dragonstone as a staging area. Jon will lead the rest of the armies and march by ground. Jaime will stay in Winterfell with Brienne.
Jon, Sansa, Arya, and Bran – the last of the Starks – meet privately and argue about Daenerys’ impetuousness. Jon of course stands up for Dany, but the girls don’t trust her. Jon swears them to secrecy and makes Bran tell them about his (Jon’s) true parentage.
Tyrion and Jaime have a drink and a laugh about Jaime’s new relationship. Their talk is interrupted by Bronn, wielding a crossbow. He informs them that Cersei offered him the kingdom of Riverrun if he’d kill Tyrion. Neither of them takes this seriously, thinking him a friend, but Bronn reminds them that he’s a mercenary first and foremost by decking Tyrion and bloodying his nose. The only reason he didn’t kill them off the bat is because he thinks Daenerys’ odds of winning the war are better than Cersei’s. Tyrion had once promised to double any offer Cersei ever made to Bronn, and does so by pledging him Highgarden. Bronn finds this fair and accepts, but won’t join their army or fight alonside them.
The Hound leaves Winterfell on horseback, alone. Arya catches up with him. The Hound says that he’s heading for King’s Landing on “unfinished business.” Arya has some there as well and will join him. Neither plans to come back.
Tyrion meets with Sansa to discuss Daenerys. He urges her to give the queen a chance. Sansa wastes little time breaking her promise of secrecy by filling in Tyrion about Jon’s heritage.
As the armies prepare to leave, Tormund tells Jon Snow that the Freefolk have played their part and he’s going to lead them back home north of the Wall. Jon asks him to take his direwolf, Ghost, with him. Sam and Gilly then bring Jon news that they’re expecting a child. Gilly promises to name it Jon if it’s a boy. Jon says that he hopes she has a girl. They say their goodbyes, leaving the impression that this may be the last we see of Sam.
Daenerys flies on Drogon, with Rhaegal at her side, while the Unsullied sail to Dragonstone. On board the lead ship, Tyrion spreads the news about Jon Snow to Varys. He says that only a handful of people know so far, but Varys correctly assesses that once the information is out, it can’t be contained.
As they approach Dragonstone, Rhaegal is suddenly pierced by a gigantic arrow into his chest, shot from the Iron Fleet in the sea below. All the ships are equipped with massive “scorpion” crossbow weapons. Another bolt nails Rhaegal through the neck, and the dragon plunges down into the water, dead. Daenerys is shocked. She’s just lost another child. As more arrows fly, she pulls back and retreats to her own fleet.
The Iron Fleet then take aim at Daenerys’ ships and tear them to pieces with a barrage of high-powered artillery. Tyrion jumps ship into the sea and is nearly smashed by a falling mast beam. Luckily, he survives and washes up on shore. So does Varys. Grey Worm frantically calls out for Missandei.
Euron returns to King’s Landing to gloat about his victory, and he presents a captive Missandei as a gift to his queen. Very pleased with his actions, Cersei officially accepts his marriage proposal. She then issues an order to open the castle gates and allow civilians (in whom she has drummed up significant fear about the mad Dragon Queen coming to roast them all alive) into the compound. Of course, Cersei doesn’t really care about the people. She’s using them as a buffer to discourage Daenerys from sending in the Unsullied to sack the city.
Daenerys is furious about being taken by surprise like this. Varys counsels her against storming the city, warning, “Do not become what you have always struggled to defeat.” Unfortunately, she’s set on her course and won’t be dissuaded, not even by a reminder that Jon Snow is still two weeks away with the rest of their army. Tyrion manages to get her to back down slightly, suggesting that she should demand Cersei’s surrender first. In Dany’s mind, this will show the public that Cersei – who’s being given an opportunity to avoid bloodshed by surrendering – is to blame for what’s about to happen.
Varys meets with Tyrion privately again. He says that he worries about Daenerys’ state of mind, likening her to her father, the Mad King. He suggests that Jon Snow would be a more level-headed ruler, and his shared Stark and Targaryen blood would finally unite the North and South. Tyrion says that Varys’ words amount to treason. At the same time, he can’t dispute the truth of them. His only suggestion is that Jon and Dany should marry and co-rule, but he and Varys both know that Daenerys wouldn’t have that. Even so, Tyrion still believes that Daenerys is a good queen and will make the right choice – or, at least, he really wants to believe that.
News of the defeat reaches Winterfell. Jaime leaves Brienne in the middle of the night. She catches him saddling his horse and begs him to stay. Jaime coldly reminds her that he’s not a good man, and confesses to her some of the awful things he’s done out of love for Cersei. A heartbroken Brienne is brought to tears as he rides off.
Daenerys and what’s left of the Unsullied march in formation to King’s Landing. Their force looks small and outmatched by what they’re up against. Freshly fortified and backed by the Golden Company, Cersei stands on a battlement and smugly looks down at them. She sends Qyburn out as her envoy. Tyrion steps forward to speak with him.
Tyrion conveys Daenerys’ demand that Cersei surrender immediately. Qyburn in turn relays Cersei’s demand that Daenerys surrender. Realizing that talking to Qyburn is futile, Tyrion walks right past him, up to the castle gate, to address Cersei directly. Cersei signals her archers, including one manning a gigantic scorpion, to take aim at Tyrion, but withholds them after a tense moment.
Tyrion tries to appeal to Cersei’s humanity – what little she has – by telling her that he knows she’s not a monster. She loves her children, and if she wants to protect the one in her belly right now, it would be in her best interest to stand down.
What shouldn’t be lost in the moment is that Tyrion has just announced to the world – including to her betrothed Euron Greyjoy standing beside her – that Cersei is pregnant. Euron should be smart enough to know that the child isn’t his. If Cersei tries to pretend that it is, for appearance’s sake, Euron will always know that the next heir to the throne isn’t his blood.
Seething with hatred for her imp brother, Cersei walks over to the bound Missandei and asks if she has any last words. Missandei defiantly says, “Dracarys,” Daenerys’ command word for the dragons to breathe fire. In other words, she’s telling Daenerys to burn this place to the ground.
Cersei nods to The Mountain, who unsheathes a sword and beheads Missandei. Grey Worm is shaken at the sight of his love dying.
Barely able to contain her rage, Daenerys turns and walks back toward her troops. Bad times are coming very soon.
Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones proved to be incredibly divisive among the show’s fandom. Personally, I think that most of the complaints against it were absurd. Nevertheless, I do have to concede that the characters this week make some incredibly poor decisions.
Jon Snow blurting out his parenthood to his family, and defying Daenerys’ wishes against doing so to her face, is astoundingly tactless. I’m sure the point of this is that Jon takes after Ned Stark in being blinded by a devotion to notions of loyalty and honor, but it’s very frustrating to watch him learn nothing from his father’s mistakes. Considering everything he’s been through, he should be better at playing this game.
Likewise, Daenerys walking right into Cersei’s trap is incredibly naïve of her – not to mention her experienced advisors like Tyrion and Varys, who should definitely have seen the move coming. Daenerys knows about the scorpion weapon and was almost killed by one before. She’s also been warned repeatedly that Cersei is a cunning strategist. Again, I fully get that the intent is to show Dany falling victim to her Targaryen liabilities, allowing hot-headedness and arrogance to override her better judgment, but she really ought to be smarter than this. If we’re supposed to believe that she’ll take a dark turn and become the type of villain her father was in the last couple episodes, I wish it were set up better.
None of this ruins the episode for me. In large part, it’s another very good entry with some terrific character work from the other players and the shocking twist of a second dragon dying. But expectations for the show are unavoidably heightened this close to the big finale, and the gears of the writers’ plot mechanics are a little too transparent this time.