Game of Thrones is no stranger to heartbreak. This is a show that has built its reputation by defying expectations. Your emotional investments mean very little when it comes to the overall narrative, and despite how much you love a character or how badly you want to see them get what they deserve there’s a very strong chance that you won’t. Life within Westeros is cruel and oftentimes unflinching. Just look at the Battle of Winterfell, for eight seasons we have been led to believe that Jon Snow was destined to destroy the Night King, when in fact it was Arya who saved the future of man. It was a bold choice that cemented the legacy of Arya Stark while subverting expectations. For eight seasons Arya has trained and made herself become this weapon, it would make sense for that training to serve a purpose. Much like life, Game of Thrones doesn’t always give you what you want while staking its success on zigging when we thought it would be zagging (unlike a certain Stark sibling who runs in a straight line), and this has often resulted in mass amounts of heartbreak.
“The Last of the Starks” was a powerful follow up to the Battle of Winterfell. A more deliberate, character-driven episode that touched on years of storytelling and resulted in what we’ve grown to expect from Game of Thrones. Heartbreak. Just when we believe we’re getting what we want it all turns to ash in our mouths. A strong episode that delivers on a number of levels. The opening twenty minutes in Winterfell is a showcase of the power of Thrones. Tremendous character moments that mirror events in the past fleshing out this narrative while reminding us that these characters are human. The call back to Tyrion’s drinking game, Pod’s ability with the ladies, or Sansa being the Hound’s Little Bird brought nostalgia at every turn. The Great War has been won and why shouldn’t they celebrate? These characters have been through so much, they’ve earned this night. This night of happiness, and in true Game of Thrones fashion, happiness is fleeting.
Gendry being named a Baratheon and being awarded Storm’s End is a touching moment that solidifies his position within Westeros. Of course, it’s also a massive political move by Daenerys to try and win the favor of the North something that alludes her at every turn. And while we celebrate with Gendry we come to quickly understand that this honor is bittersweet. That even though he’s now a lord he can’t get what he wants. His proposal to Arya is sweet and touching but showcases that he never really understood who she was. Always caught up in her title, Gendry now views himself as worthy of being in the same room with her, but the thing is, Arya is no one. That’s who she’s strived to be all along. She was never meant to be a lady of any place and her future is mapped out. There are green eyes still on the board and until they’re closed for good, Arya can’t rest. Sure, it’s a suicide mission but she understands that. She accepts that much like her journey partner, the Hound as the two reunite to head down the King’s Road toward their destiny and most likely their deaths.
Outside of Theon, it would appear that the show’s greatest redemption arc is found within Jamie Lannister. We’ve forgiven him for pushing Bran out a window, I think. We’ve given him time to understand that Cersei is poison, and when he comes to Brienne’s room it seems that finally, Jamie is allowing himself to be free of it all. Another strong moment between two characters who have shared so much together, but again nothing lasts forever. Hell, it barely lasts a few nights. With news of the initial battle at King’s Landing and a little poking by Sansa, Jamie feels compelled to be with his sister at the end of all things. In what seems like a dramatic one-eighty, Jamie leaves Brienne in Winterfell flat out refusing the life of happiness and redemption he’s fought years for. Because Cersei is a poison. Because despite all his actions he can’t accept the fact that maybe he’s a good man or maybe it’s the fact that he believes he can never be a good man while Cersei is alive. The two are tied together in ways no one else understands, and Jamie leaves a begging, crying Brienne in Winterfell as he heads to King’s Landing to see his sister. It’s crushing and cruel and disappointing. Unlike Theon, Jamie chooses to ignore his redemption and one can hope that he finally finds peace within the death of his sister. Whether at his hands or the hands of the Night King Slayer. If nothing else, Jamie Lannister deserves peace and Brienne weeps not for herself but for his stupidity and his ignorance. She weeps because he can’t understand who he’s become.
There is no such thing as peace in Westeros though. The Great War may be over but there’s still the pursuit for the Throne, and desperation sinks in. Daenerys Targaryen has built her legacy on obtaining the Iron Throne believing it belongs to her because it once belonged to her father. Over the course of eight seasons we’ve wanted to believe that she was worthy of the Throne and turn after turn after turn she has shown that she’s not ready. That maybe she doesn’t fully understand what it takes to lead. There have been glimmers in Slaver’s Bay but for the most part Daenerys Targaryen has had to rely heavily on the council of others because she’s impulsive. Because she doesn’t think things through, and those actions have finally caught up to her.
There is no doubt that what remained of her army should have stayed in the North a while longer and be given the time to rest. To gather themselves before this last war. Yet, Daenerys feels threatened not just by learning of Jon’s claim to the Throne but also by her isolation in the North. She figured she could come to Westeros and be celebrated based on her family legacy. These are things that were whispered in her ear while she struggled to return to Westeros, and now that she’s back… no one cares. She doesn’t understand how Westeros works and just because you have dragons it doesn’t mean you can rule. The North rejects her for being an outsider. For not understanding. They follow Jon because he’s one of them. Not because he asks but because he’s displayed an understanding. As Varys and Tyrion argue, sometimes the best leaders are the ones who don’t ask to lead and at every step of the way, Jon has not asked to rule. He never asked to be the Lord Commander. He never asked to be the King of the North, yet these titles have found their way to him because of his strength of character. Daenerys should know this by now but instead of learning from Jon she chooses to beg him not to reveal his secret as her desperation seeps through. Daenerys asks Jon Snow to be Ned Stark, and when given the opportunity Jon chooses family. He’s searched for identity his whole life, and to not share that with his siblings is a cheat. It’s dishonest. And in classic Ned Stark fashion, it dooms them all.
Daenerys rush to King’s Landing seemingly costs her all that she has left. Her forces are already cut in half. She’s lost her sword. She’s down one dragon and in her arrogance and desperation, she heads to destroy Cersei as if it’ll be some easy task. This, in turn, has opened the door to what many of us have expected, a Mad Queen. A ruler pushed to the brink and ready to crack. Make no mistake about it, Daenerys Targaryen is broken and now has become a threat not only to the country she looks to rule but to herself. This in no way is an indictment of Cersei Lannister. Cersei is not fit to rule the Seven Kingdoms and needs to be removed, but she plays the game better than anyone else and that’s on full display here.
In one fell swoop, Daenerys has lost another dragon and her most trusted advisor. Her best friend. All because she fails to see the big picture. Why, in the name of all the gods wouldn’t she send a scouting ship forward heading into King’s Landing? The arrogance to fly in on her dragons with her fleet at her back is an attempt to make a bold proclamation to the people of King’s Landing while serving as a warning to Cersei, but Cersei has already thought three moves ahead. The death of Rhaegal is violent, sudden, and extremely frustrating. For a woman who claims that these dragons are a massive part of her, she sure doesn’t put them in positions that guarantee their safety. This power flex costs Daenerys everything she has left and instead of trying to fight back she frustratingly flies away as her armada is destroyed.
Her council, now knowing that Jon is rightful heir because Sansa can’t keep her mouth quiet, is already questioning her behind her back. Varys lives for the realm and he’s been point blank this entire time that he will always do what’s best for Westeros. Tyrion understands he’s right but is holding on to this delusional hope that Daenerys can turn this around. A hope that might have faded at the gate of King’s Landing as the Mad Queen is born.
Sure, we can question why Cersei doesn’t wipe out Daenerys at the end of the episode as she’s greatly outnumbered and outmaneuvered. Instead, it’s Cersei who flexes her power. Killing Missandei, not because she has to but because she can. It’s a very Joffrey like moment and as Missandei defiantly shouts the very word that set her free all these years ago, we feel the power shift. We see the cracks burst in Daenerys as Cersei dares Daenerys to live up to the Targaryen name damning herself in the process. Cersei may not win the Iron Throne but she’s won the war between herself and Daenerys. Tyrion’s speech, an attempt to play on the emotions of his sister, proves that Cersei is far gone. That she’s playing as if she has nothing to lose. She takes that pain and harnesses it. Uses it to her advantage. It makes her stronger but Daenerys… Daenerys is different. She’s not Cersei and because of that, she’s lost. As she walks away from the gate of King’s Landing we’re left with a feeling that we’ve lost Daenerys Targaryen, and only heartbreak remains.
There you have it Geeklings, what did you think of this week’s Game of Thrones? Has Cersei already won the war? Do you think Jon is destined to rule the Seven Kingdoms? What will Daenerys do now? Sound off in the comments. If you’d like to talk more Game of Thrones with yours truly feel free to throw me a line over on Twitter @iamgee32. Only two episodes remain. There is more heartbreak on the horizon but we’ll move through it together. I promise.