They say that every time a Targaryen is born the gods flip a coin and the realm holds its breath. After eight seasons Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, the Unburnt, the Breaker of Chains, and the Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea finally saw her coin land… and the gods chose madness. What followed was everything that Jamie Lannister prevented when he killed the Mad King all those years ago. Echoing the last words of her trusted advisor and best friend as well as the Mad King himself, Daenerys burnt it all to the ground in Game of Thrones’s tremendous penultimate episode.
We were meant to believe that the Battle of Winterfell was to be the great battle of this final season. The living fighting for survival against the dead. The lines of good vs evil have never been more defined within this universe. The strength of Game of Thrones isn’t the battles themselves its the character conflicts within them. It’s Tyrion’s rousing speech at the Battle of Blackwater after Joffery leaves to hide. It’s Jon facing a stampede of soldiers by himself, dropping his sword belt, and preparing to die. It’s Robb Stark outsmarting Tywin Lannister and dividing his forces to gain a much-needed victory and a key hostage. The character actions are what drive the spectacle, and in that regard “The Last War” did not disappoint as it centered itself on strong character moments within the heat of battle.
What makes Daenerys’s turn to the dark side so heartbreaking is that the seeds have been planted all the way since season two and we chose to ignore them. Think back to the finale where Daenerys has the vision where she’s walking through King’s Landing approaching the Iron Throne, and everything is broken, cracked, and covered in snow. Turns out… that wasn’t snow. An easy mistake considering we’ve been told that Winter is Coming forever. And while it’s easy to think this turn is out of nowhere, that’s not necessarily the case. Throughout these eight seasons, time and time again Daenerys Targaryen has shown flashes of impulsiveness as well as temper. Whether it’s killing Samwell’s father and brother or scorching all of the Dothraki generals who wouldn’t bend the knee, the signs have been there. There should be no blindsiding here. If anything the descent into madness could have been built a bit more slowly, kind of how Breaking Bad did it, but this falls in line with what we’ve come to see even if we don’t want to believe it. It’s always difficult when a character that we believed in turns their back not only on the other characters we love but on us. We’ve invested in them. We’ve believed in them. We’ve named our children after them. So when Daenerys ignores the bells of surrender, her torching of King’s Landing is as much a betrayal to us as it is to the Seven Kingdoms.
What makes “The Last War” such a terrific episode is that Daenerys’s madness is front in center but not the focal point. Yes, we get to see her hiding in her conference room, not eating, developing bags under her eyes, as she wallows in anger and hate. Yes, we get to see her make a choice when the bells start to ring. When she speaks to Jon about being loved, there is a window there. A moment that maybe Jon Snow can help reign her in, but it’s always been fear that’s driven Daenerys Targaryen all the way to Slaver’s Bay and the Masters. After the Mother of Dragons makes her choice though, we switch perspectives. Instead of watching her as she burns it all down building by building. Innocent person by innocent person. We instead focus on the characters within King’s Landing as she fades to the background. The last war is fought by the characters who are in the middle of her madness. That’s where the point is driven home. It’s watching Jon Snow stare in disbelief as soldiers who surrendered are murdered. It’s within the Hound and Arya moving within the chaos that the Dragon Queen is creating. It’s with Cersei, who completely understands that she never stood a chance. This episode takes the heel turn and builds strong, emotional character moments off of it. We don’t need to see Dany flying around setting fire to everything in sight. Her madness is felt with each and every scene that follows.
No more so than Jon Snow who must truly question the fact if he knows anything. Jon so desperately wanted to believe that Daenerys was the Queen the Seven Kingdoms needed. The Queen they deserved, but as soon as Grey Worm killed his first unarmed man you could tell Jon understood that he was wrong. That Sansa had been right. It was wrong to trust the Dragon Queen. A woman who came to Westeros looking to cash in on her family name and found no love and no support. All the things that were promised her before crossing the narrow sea were lies or falsehoods, and Jon Snow watches as she takes her revenge. If she can not be loved, she will be feared, and then she will rule. Daenerys does not believe in the Michael Scott philosophy of leadership. She doesn’t want them to be afraid of how much they love her. She just wants them to be afraid and that makes her no better than Cersei. Now, Jon Snow is put in a situation. Grey Worm witnessed him not participating in the sacking of the city. It is clear that Jon will not side with the Dragon Queen. Does this mean he returns North to regroup or has Jon finally been forced into the leadership Varys wanted out of him? He may not want the Throne but it’s hard to believe that Jon doesn’t think that he can save the Seven Kingdoms from his aunt.
For all of Cersei’s faults, and there are a number of them, you can say that she never did anything like this. The people of King’s Landing didn’t really matter much to her. All she cared about was the positioning or the game itself. As she stands and watches King’s Landing burn we see all the cracks in the facade. Here is a woman who has arguably played the game better than anyone else in the series. She played it better than Robb Stark. She played it better than Tyrion. She played it better than the Sparrows. Watching a dragon lay waste to her city just proved that she was playing by a different rule book. How could she possibly compete with this?! The answer is she never could. Jamie was right when he returned from the loot train battle and all at once Cersei has to swallow defeat. That everything she built, fought for, and lost was for nothing.
But she doesn’t have to swallow it alone. Jamie returns to King’s Landing, after being captured by Daenerys’s forces and then being freed by Tyrion in a powerful scene between Peter Dinklage and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau that celebrated the bond between the two brothers. A move that is no doubt sure to seal the fate of the Hand of the Queen. Varys was burnt alive just for asking Jon Snow to lead, can you imagine what will happen to Tyrion for allowing his brother to escape? Then again it might not matter. Jamie braves the chaos of the sacked city, fights and kills Euron Greyjoy and manages to find his sister as the city falls around them. It’s a moment that’s bittersweet as we’ve pushed so hard for Jamie’s redemption. I truly believe his intentions for going to King’s Landing were to protect his unborn child and save the life of his sister. I don’t think Jamie was going there to be reunited with her or to fight alongside her. Jamie just wanted to spare her death and in the end, he couldn’t. An escape plan drawn up by Tyrion falls apart because their escape tunnel is collapsed. Cersei, in her most human moments, proclaims that she wants their child to live that she doesn’t want to die and it’s surprisingly sad. A part of that is the strength of Lena Headey’s performance but there’s more to it than that. For years, we’ve imagined all the different ways Cersei could get hers but in the end, she dies in the tunnels of King’s Landing embracing her brother. And while it may seem disappointing to some, I can’t help but feel the poetic nature in it. After everything, we’ve experienced with Cersei, all the conning and manipulation, her last moments in Westeros we see her for what she is. Human. This strong woman finally submits to her emotions as the world literally falls down around her. In her last moments, Cersei just wants to protect their child which has been her motivation for everything all along. The death of the Lannister twins is crushing, and while it doesn’t ring the same way as the death of Walder Frey there is still justice to be found here.
Justice is a fickle thing in Game of Thrones. Over the course of these seventy-plus episodes, we should have known by now that things don’t work out the way we want them to. That’s not how things go here. Arya’s list had been seemingly leading her towards killing Cersei Lannister but in the end, she’s given permission to find her humanity. The Hound, in pursuit of his brother, tells her to not follow through with this pursuit of revenge telling her it’ll just turn her into him and that’s no way to live. If Arya goes through with this she’s going to die, and Arya listens. She leaves that big name on her list unchecked, but I would argue that by the episode’s end she has a new list. A new list that only has one name. Maisie Williams gives an outstanding performance in “The Last War”, as she has all season. A number of tracking shots where Arya Stark goes from being no one to being a leader put her strengths on full display as she is tossed from heavy emotional beat to intense emotional despair almost effortlessly as Arya desperately tries to lead the people of King’s Landing to safety. Even at the expense of her own safety. At this moment, Arya shifts into Jon Snow mode and if Maisie Williams doesn’t get an Emmy nomination for this season, then nothing makes sense. As the dust and ash of King’s Landing settle, Arya picks herself up, takes in the gore left behind in the wake of the Mother of Dragons, and rides a white horse out of town with a new purpose. To kill the Dragon Queen… who may have green eyes?
As for the Hound, well, we get Cleganebowl and it lives up to the hype. A battle between two brothers that had been in the making since their childhoods and the Hound overcomes all his fears and gives into the one thing he’s wanted more than anything else in life. In the end, it’s fire that kills them both as maybe the Hound can finally rest now. Free from all burden.
With on episode to go Game of Thrones has certainly shaped quite the season finale. Daenerys Targaryen is gone. In her place reigns the Mad Queen. King’s Landing lays in ruin and in ash. Tyrion and Jon Snow now understand that they’ve backed the wrong horse. Arya Stark has just added one last name to her list. And after all this, Sansa Stark was right. Where do we go from here? If this is the last war perhaps there’s one more battle to be fought? A battle to save Westeros? Is it a battle that can even be won?
What do you think Geeklings? How did you feel about tonight’s episode? Were you surprised to see Daenerys transform into the Mad Queen? What do you think Jon Snow’s next move is? Is Tyrion a goner? Sound off in the comments. If you’d like to talk more Game of Thrones with yours truly then you can find me over on Twitter @iamgeek32. I’ll be there all week chatting it up as we head towards the series finale. The night is dark and full of terror and all that we wanted has turned to ash in our mouths. One episode left. We can get through this together. I think we’ll need to.