Game of Thrones’ penultimate episode didn’t go as planned for the viewers watching the show or the characters within it. About halfway through “The Bells,” things get bad. The worst kind of bad. Like, Red Wedding bad but on a thermonuclear scale.
It’s difficult to watch, but its rewarding to rewatch, closely, scene-by-scene. For every dragon-fire explosion, there’s a close-up where the gears are turning, and the entire series comes flooding back to mind.
So let’s spend some time, in the last week there will ever be between Game of Thrones episodes, tearing this shocker apart, figuring out how we got here, and discovering what we missed on our first, gobsmacked viewing.
Varys commits treason
Varys sits at a desk in Dragonstone Castle, the ancestral home of the Targaryens, writing a note that explains Jon’s origins and therefore the line of succession that makes him, as our bald eunuch friend writes, the “true heir to the Iron Throne.”
He hears a noise and looks up, startled, toward the door. He puts his quill away, and hides the parchment paper in a stack of blank paper. In walks a little girl named Martha.
She’s one of Varys’ little birds, effectively spies in service of Varys, the Master of Whisperers. She brings bad news about Dany who isn’t eating. Martha is worried that Dany’s soldiers are watching her, and Varys agrees but tempers her fear a bit. He holds out his hand, and she takes it.
“What have I told you, Martha?” Varys asks.
“The greater the risk, the greater the reward,” she says. And it’s as true for Martha as it is for Varys, the writer of treasonous notes.
He dismisses her, telling her to go back to the kitchen. (Was Varys trying to poison Dany?)
It’s a mirror of what our beloved Ed Stark did in season 1. Trying to do the right thing doesn’t tend to pay off for people.
Varys believes that telling the world about Jon’s lineage is the right thing to do, and it’s entirely consistent with the earliest glimpses we got of his character way back in season 1. He reminded us of this in the previous episode, too. When things went south for Ned Stark in King’s Landing and Ned was wasting away in a dungeon, Varys visited him. Varys told Ned the same thing that he told Tyrion in the previous episode: Some people are loyal to families or leaders, but Varys is loyal to the realm.
He’s basically a bureaucrat who’s served under many administrations. As such, he looks at the game of thrones on a longer timeline, not just through the spyglass of the current (or would-be) ruler. He’s looking beyond Dany, toward what he believes to be the best possible future for the realm. It is his self-appointed mission. It is also his downfall.
Varys and Jon on the beach
From his perch above, Tyrion watches as Varys meets Jon on the shores of Dragonstone. Jon’s made his way south leading an army from the North, which is two days behind him, and his first question is about Dany.
Of men and power
This is an echo of a scene from the previous episode when Varys and Tyrion discussed the Dany problem and the possible Jon solution.
One reading is about one meaning of the word “men,” as in male humans.
“He’s temperate and measured,” Varys said. “He’s a man, which makes him more appealing to the lords of Westeros, whose support we are going to need.”
“Joffrey was a man,” Tyrion said. “I don’t think a cock is a true qualification, as I’m sure you’d agree.”
“And he’s the heir to the throne. Yes, because he’s a man. Cocks are important, I’m afraid.”
The less literal meaning of men — as in humans — is also just as relevant. Absolute monarchs like Dany wants to be aren’t elected. That’s the whole divine birthright thing — her entire claim to the throne.
“What is the realm?” Tyrion asks in the same scene from last week. “A vast continent, home to millions of people, most of whom don’t care who sits on the Iron Throne.”
“Millions of people, many of whom will die if the wrong person sits on that throne,” Varys says. “We don’t know their names, but they’re just as real as you and I. They deserve to live. They deserve food for their children. I will act in their interest, no matter the personal cost.”
Monarchs like that don’t preside over a democracy, but they do operate under a form of consent. There are Houses that rule over seven kingdoms, and the monarch in King’s Landing rules them all. Dany knows that she needs the consent of her would-be subjects — particularly in the North — to legitimize her rule. She also knows that her father lost his throne after a rebellion.
So in that sense, men do determine who rules them, even in Game of Thrones’ absolute monarchy.
“She hasn’t seen anyone since we returned,” Varys says. “Hasn’t left her chambers, hasn’t accepted any food.”
This reinforces what we already knew: Dany is in a bad place.
“She shouldn’t be alone,” Jon says.
“You’re worried for her. I admire your empathy.”
“Aren’t you worried for her?”
“I’m worried for all of us. They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath.”
That’s it right there. Varys tells Jon, the man he wants on the Iron Throne, that he’s worried about Dany’s potential.
“We’re not much for riddles where I’m from,” Jon says.
“We both know what she’s about to do.”
“That’s her decision to make.”
“She is our queen.”
“Men decide where power resides, whether or not they know it.”
“What do you want?”
“All I’ve ever wanted.”
“The right ruler on the Iron Throne. I still don’t know how her coin has landed, but I’m quite certain about yours.”
“I don’t want it. I never have.”
“I have known more kings and queens than any man living. I’ve heard what they say to crowds, and seen what they do in the shadows. I have furthered their designs, however horrible, but what I tell you now is true: You will rule wisely and well, while she —”
“She is my queen,” Jon says and walks away.
Tyrion watches it all unfold from a distance with a look that sums up the entire episode.
Tyrion and Dany in seclusion
Tyrion approaches Dany in her seclusion. He’s made a decision.
At this moment, we see logical conclusion of a discussion from the previous episode, when Varys and Tyrion spoke in treasonous tones about Dany and Jon. Varys believed that Dany was too dangerous to rule. Tyrion still believed in her.
“At a certain point, you choose a person you believe in, and you fight for that person,” Tyrion said, making the case for Dany.
“Even if you know it’s a mistake?” Varys asked, doubting Dany.
“I believe in our queen,” Tyrion said. “She’ll make the right choice. With the help of her loyal advisors.”
“You know where my loyalty stands. You know I will never betray the realm.”
Both stayed true to their beliefs, and in this episode, we see the result. Varys still believes that Dany was a threat, so we began this episode with him writing notes. Tyrion still believes in Dany, and he rats his friend out because of it.
“Your Grace? There’s something you need to know.”
“Someone has betrayed me,” she says. She looks as sad as she does exhausted.
“Yes,” Tyrion says after a few seconds of stunned surprise.
“Jon Snow,” Dany says, and her answer shocks Tyrion, too.
“Varys,” he says, trying to correct his queen.
“He knows the truth about Jon,” Dany says.
“He does,” Tyrion says, but his honesty doesn’t score him any bonus points with his queen.
“Because you told him,” Dany says. “You learned from Sansa. And she learned from Jon, though I begged him not to tell her. As I said, he betrayed me.”
“I’m glad Sansa told me. I am your Hand. I need to be aware of any threats you’re facing.”
“Your Master of Whisperers needs to be aware, too.”
“You spoke to him first. Without coming to me. Without asking my permission.”
“It was a mistake.”
“Why do you think Sansa told you? What do you think she hoped to gain?”
“She trusts me.”
“Yes, she trusts you. She trusted you to spread secrets that could destroy your own queen. And you did not let her down.”
“If I have failed you, my queen, forgive me. Our intentions were good. We wanted what you want. A better world, all of us. Varys as much as anyone. But it doesn’t matter now.”
“It doesn’t matter now.”
Dany, Jon, Tyrion, and Varys
Varys is writing more notes by candlelight, when he hears footsteps approaching outside his room. He partially burns the note he was writing, and places it in a lidded box on his desk, perhaps to destroy the evidence and protect whomever he wrote about or intended to send it to.
As the footsteps get closer, he removes the rings from his fingers and places them in a goblet on his desk.
The door opens, and Grey Worm walks in. Grey Worm and a few Unsullied soldiers walk Varys toward his inevitable fate.
As Cersei said to Ned Stark way back in season 1, when you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Varys played. He lost.
They reach their destination, where a few more soldiers carry torches. At the end of the road, Jon stands next to Dany. And behind her stands her last remaining dragon, Drogon.
Everyone stands in silence for a few moments, and then Tyrion approaches Varys.
“It was me,” Tyrion says to his old friend. He didn’t have to say this. He just did what he thought was right and honorable. And it was.
“I hope I deserve this,” Varys says. “Truly, I do. I hope I’m wrong. Goodbye, old friend.”
He’s not angry. He’s not bitter. He did what he believed was right, and he’s paying the consequences. He doesn’t blame his friend, who’s just doing the same thing from a different angle.
Tyrion places his hand on Varys arm in a gesture of infinite sadness.
Dany walks a few paces forward.
“Lord Varys. I, Daenerys of House Targaryen, First of My Name, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons sentence you to die. Dracarys.”
That last word is High Valyrian for fire, and she says it coldly, without a hint of emotion. It’s also the last word that Missandei said before The Mountain beheaded her atop the King’s Landing walls in front of Dany and the assembled troops.
The dragon rears back. Varys’ eyes go wide. Drogon unleashes the flames of hell, and they consume the condemned. Nobody moves.
RIP Varys, aka the Spider, the Master of Whisperers, born a slave, made a eunuch, longtime supporter of the Targaryens, purveyor of Little Birds, who tried his best to do right by the realm, and who once kept a sorcerer in a box.
Dany, Grey Worm, and Jon
Dany sits in front of a fire, holding Missandei’s choker, a symbol of the bondage that Dany freed her and so many others from. She gives it to Grey Worm, who stifles tears as he accepts the gift. He tosses it into the roaring fire, where it withers.
Jon enters the room, and Grey Worm turns to face him.
“It’s all right, Torgo Nudho,” Dany says in a foreign tongue, calling Grey Worm by his name. “Let me speak with him.”
Grey Worm nods and leaves the room.
“What did I say would happen if you told your sister?” Dany asks Jon.
“I don’t want it, and that’s what I told him,” Jon says.
“She betrayed your trust. She killed Varys as much as I did. This was a victory for her. Now she knows what happens when people hear the truth about you. Far more people in Westeros love you than love me. I don’t have love here. I only have fear.”
“I love you,” Jon says. “And you will always be my queen.”
“Is that all I am to you? Your queen?” Dany gets up and kisses Jon, and it works for a few seconds — until he pulls away as he did before, presumably because the knowledge that he’s making out with his aunt is too much for him to stomach. (I mean, imagine making out with your aunt.)
Dany’s look changes. Anger replaces tenderness. She shakes her head. She backs off.
“All right, then,” she whispers at the final rejection. “Let it be fear.”
This is it. This is the most important, most impactful character moment we get in this episode. Daenerys Targaryen is going to park her ass on the Iron Throne by any means necessary. Now that she knows that the love and diplomacy paths have closed, she’ll assume her position using fear and the living weapon of mass destruction at her command.
Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Dany
Dany sits on the throne at Dragonstone Castle, with Tyrion and Grey Worm in front of her.
“The people who live there, they’re not your enemies,” Tyrion says, still pleading for time and arguing against the attack that Cersei is baiting her into. “They’re innocents, like the ones you liberated in Meereen.”
“In Meereen,” Daenerys Targaryen says, “the slaves turned on the masters and liberated the city themselves the moment I arrived.”
In other words, the people of King’s Landing haven’t welcomed her with open arms and resisted Queen Cersei. It’s a line delivered so quickly that it’s easy to miss what’s behind it: Daenerys Targaryen is trivializing the lives of tens of thousands of her potential subjects. If they get hurt, it’s their fault for not automatically and unconditionally loving her.
“They’re afraid,” Tyrion says. “Anyone who resists Cersei will see his family butchered. You can’t expect them to be heroes. They’re hostages.”
“They are. In a tyrant’s grip. Whose fault is that? Mine?”
“What does it matter whose fault it is? Thousands of children will die if the city burns.”
“Your sister knows how to use her enemies’ weaknesses against them. That’s what she thinks our mercy is: weakness.”
“I beg you, my queen —”
“But she’s wrong. Mercy is our strength. Our mercy towards future generations who will never again be held hostage by a tyrant. Ready the Unsullied. Tonight you sail for King’s Landing to join the Northern armies.”
This is nonsense on stilts, a tortured justification for horrible actions. Tyrion knows it, but he also recognizes that he can’t change her mind. So he plants an important seed.
“Cersei’s followers will abandon her if they know the war is lost. Give them that chance. If the city surrenders, they will ring the bells and raise the gates. Please, if you hear them ringing the bells, call off the attack.”
“Wait for me outside the city,” Daenerys Targaryen says to Grey Worm, apparently accepting Tyrion’s plea. “You’ll know when it’s time.”
Tyrion takes a long, deep breath, turns around, and walks away. Daenerys Targaryen talks to his back.
“Your brother was stopped trying to get past our lines. It seems he hasn’t abandoned your sister after all,” Daenerys says as the expression drains from Tyrion’s face. “The next time you fail me will be the last time you fail me.”
The woman and her daughter
For the first time in this episode, we see a woman and her daughter. They’re part of hundreds, perhaps thousands of refugees walking slowly, hoping to get inside the (presumed) safety of King’s Landing’s walls. Some, like the woman and her daughter above, come empty-handed. Others carry bushels of food and clothing with them.
They are all pawns in the larger game of thrones. Cersei is bringing them inside for “protection,” ostensibly against the Targaryen usurper, but really as human shields to prevent Daenerys Targaryen from attacking directly.
Tyrion, Jon, and Davos
Tyrion and Jon are on a rowboat, riding away from Dragonstone Castle.
Ser Davos the Onion Knight meets them at the shore, telling them that the rearguard will arrive by daybreak. Tyrion says that Daenerys wants to attack now, but Jon makes the call: “Daybreak at the earliest.” He walks away, leaving Tyrion and Davos alone.
“I need to ask you a favor,” Tyrion says and looks around for anyone who might overhear them. “You’re the greatest smuggler alive, aren’t you?”
“I’m not going to like this favor, am I?” Davos says.
The Hound and Arya in camp
The Hound and Arya arrive outside of King’s Landing, where a soldier stops them.
“Ay up,” the soldier says. “Where you going?”
“I’m Arya Stark. I’m going to kill Queen Cersei.”
The soldier has no idea how to respond to that.
“Think about it,” the Hound says. “She kills Cersei, the war’s over. There won’t be a siege. You might not even die tomorrow.”
“I need to go talk to my captain,” the soldier says.
“Go ahead, talk to him,” the Hound says, and they ride right past the soldier and through the camp.
Tyrion and Jaime in camp
In this episode’s only lighthearted moment, Tyrion speaks some terrible Unsullied tongue in an attempt to gain access to his brother. He fails miserably, so they speak the common tongue, and he pulls rank to make them go away.
Tyrion enters the tent where Jaime is being held prisoner. He’s sitting down, tethered to a post. And in the scene that follows, Jaime remains on the ground, marking this is perhaps the first and only time that a scene with Jaime and Tyrion has been framed to make the imp taller than his brother.
“How did they find you?” Tyrion asks, and Jaime lifts his metal right hand. “Did you consider taking it off?”
“Cersei once called me ‘the stupidest Lannister.’”
“And you’re going back to her, to die with her.”
“You’ve underestimated her before.”
“She’s going to die. Unless you can convince her to change her course of action.”
“Difficult to do from here,” Jaime says, and his brother pulls out a key that could free him. Jaime’s response is filled with doubt. “When have I ever been able to convince Cersei of anything?”
“Try. If not for yourself, if not for her, then for every one of the million people in that city, innocent or otherwise.”
“To be honest, I never really cared much for them. Innocent or otherwise.”
This is old Jaime. Bad Jaime. Jaime 1.0. The arrogant, uncaring Lannister consumed by being with and protecting his twin sister Cersei, and perfectly willing to sacrifice anyone who stands in the way of that.
“You do care for one innocent,” Tyrion says. “I know you do. And so does Cersei. She has a reason now.”
“The child is the reason she’ll never give an inch. All the worst things she’s ever done, she’s done for her children. It’s not impossible that she’ll win.”
“Her enemy’s forces have been depleted, as she said they would be. Two of the three dragons are dead. She’s evened the odds.”
“The city will fall tomorrow.”
“She has the Lannister army, she has the Golden Company —”
“I defended the city last time it was attacked. I know it better than anyone. It will fall tomorrow.”
“Then I suppose I’ll die tomorrow, if not before.”
“Why?” Tyrion asks with genuine astonishment in his voice. “Escape. The two of you, together. Remember where we met, where they keep the dragon skulls, beneath the Red Keep? Take her down there. Keep following the stairways down, down as far as they’ll go. You’ll come out onto a beach at the foot of the keep. A dinghy will be waiting for you. Sail out of the bay. If the winds are kind, you’ll make it to Pentos. Start a new life.”
“Sail right past the Iron Fleet and into a new life? Sounds a lot less likely than Cersei winning this war —”
“There won’t be an Iron Fleet for much longer. Do it! If you don’t, you’ll never see Cersei again. Swear to me.”
“You have my word.”
Tyrion unshackles his brother with the key.
“If it works, give the order to ring all the bells in King’s Landing and open the gates. That will be our signal that the city has surrendered.”
“I never thought I’d get to repay the favor,” Tyrion says as Jaime’s shackles come off. He’s saved his brother’s life. “Remember, ring the bells and open the gates.”
“Your queen will execute you for this,” Jaime says.
“If Daenerys can make it to the throne without wading through a river of blood, maybe she’ll show mercy to the person who made that possible.” Jaime looks askance at his brother, who straightens his back makes his case again. “Tens of thousands of innocent lives one not particularly innocent dwarf it seems like a fair trade.”
And then the brothers say goodbye.
“If it weren’t for you, I never would’ve survived my childhood,” Tyrion says.
Jaime shakes his head. “You would have,” he says.
“You were the only one who didn’t treat me like a monster,” Tyrion says, fighting tears. “You were all I had.”
They hug. They cry. Tyrion leaves.
The calm before the firestorm
We see a shot of the bell on which all of Tyrion’s hopes and dreams depend. Beyond it, in the bay, are dozens of Iron Fleet ships, at the command of Euron Greyjoy. On each of the ships there is a scorpion — the gigantic crossbows purpose built to kill dragons. There are plenty more mounted above the craggy coastline, too. They’re all locked and loaded. Archers run up to the top of the walls. Civilians scramble to find shelter within the walls. House Lannister’s troops guide people indoors.
War is imminent.
Arya and a cloaked Hound walk through the streets undetected. Jaime Lannister does, too.
The gates leading into King’s Landing close, with hundreds stuck outside.
Regiments of the Golden Company stand ready, mustered lines a dozen soldiers deep outside of the gate, spears and shields at the ready. A pretty man on a white horse that will become important later commands the sellswords.
A few hundred yards away, the armies of the North assemble, too. Behind them stand Tyrion, Jon, Ser Davos, and Grey Worm.
“If you hear the bells ring, they’ve surrendered,” Tyrion tells Jon. “Call off your men.”
Jon gives him a look that mixes fear with frustration and doubt. He says nothing and walks away. Davos follows Jon as more troops march to the line.
Inside King’s Landing, atop the Red Keep castle, Cersei looks down on the city she rules. In the distance, we can see the Great Sept of Baelor, which Cersei destroyed with wildfire (which causes green flames) because she’s not a good person. She paints on her smuggest smile because she’s got good reason to be smug, honestly. Like Jaime said, “Her enemy’s forces have been depleted, as she said they would be. Two of the three dragons are dead. She’s evened the odds.”
People continue to file into the King’s Landing keep, including the mother and daughter we saw earlier. The Hound pushes the mother aside, and he and Arya move past them. The latter two make it through the gate just before it closes. The mother and daughter and hundreds more — including Jaime — do not. Jaime runs away from the crowd and up a set of stairs.
Elsewhere it is quiet.
On the deck of his ship, Euron Greyjoy looks up into the sky — directly at the sun that’s shining through the clouds. He sees Daenerys Targaryen. His ship fires. She and her dragon dodge it. She knows what she’s doing this time. She uses the sun to take them by surprise. She knows the ships are slow to turn, and she uses her speed against them. She flies. Her dragon spits flames. They dodge every arrow.
She obliterates the ships at sea. Euron jumps off of his and into the water to save himself. She destroys the scorpion ballistae and the men manning them on land.
At the other end of King’s Landing — the part farthest from the sea — the armies stare each other down. Nobody says a word.
The pretty boy leading the sellswords hears something. Grey Worm steps forward. The sellswords turn around just as the wall behind them explodes in a wave of flame. Pretty boy falls off of his white horse. Daenerys Targaryen flies overhead. The forces of the North charge King’s Landing. Pretty boy runs away and lasts about five seconds before Grey Worm puts a spear in his back.
The Northern forces enter King’s Landing, cutting through the forces in their path with little resistance. Daenerys Targaryen flies overhead, destroying more scorpions and more soldiers.
From her perch in the Red Keep, Cersei watches. She sees Daenerys Targaryen ride her dragon, and for the first time, we see a little fear creep over her face.
Tyrion walks the battlefield toward King’s Landing.
“Your Grace,” Qyburn says to Cersei. The Mountain stands behind him.
“All we need is one good shot,” she says.
“The scorpions have all been destroyed, Your Grace.”
“The Iron Fleet hold Blackwater Bay. Euron killed one of her dragons. He can kill another.”
“Your Grace, the Iron Fleet is burning. The gates have been breached. The Golden Company —”
“Our men will fight harder than sellswords ever could. They will defend their queen to the last man.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
“The Red Keep has never fallen. It won’t fall today,” she says, but the look on her face lacks the confidence of her words. (Also, unless she’s being literal, that’s not true. It fell during Robert’s Rebellion, thanks in no small part to the Lannister troops.)
Grey Worm, Jon, and Davos lead soldiers through the hole that Daenerys created, killing those who stand in their way. Many of the streets ahead of them are deserted. When they arrive in a face-off with Lannister troops.
Tyrion follows far behind, praying with his stare that the bell will ring. Jaime makes his way through backroads. Citizens run through the streets.
Daenerys Targaryen lands her dragon, Drogon, on the roof of a building.
The Lannisters hear the dragon in the distance. They lay their weapons down.
The siege, at this point, is won. The Iron Fleet smokes in ruins off the coast. Cersei’s armies have surrendered.
Daenerys Targaryen looks around at the city she now owns. From her perch in the Iron Keep, Cersi look at Daenerys Targaryen.
Daenerys Targaryen’s face contorts in an expression of … what, exactly? Anger, yes. Ecstasy, sure.
The bells ring. Here, in this moment, there is a chance for peace. Cersei hears the bells and closes her eyes, knowing she’s lost. Tyrion looks up at Daenerys Targaryen, who’s now shaking, breaking hard, wild-eyed. She’s staring at the Red Keep, the castle miles away on the far side of King’s Landing. She grits her teeth, hunkers down on Drogon, and takes flight toward the castle. It looks for a moment like the obvious will happen: Dany will confront Cersei and win the game of thrones.
Underneath the queen and her dragon, people and soldiers run in terror from the monsters in the sky.
This is the precise and exact second where she stops being Dany the Breaker of Chains and becomes Daenerys Targaryen the Mad Queen. It’s not OK, but at least we know why it happens. She explained it to Jon earlier. She can’t count on being welcomed. She can’t count on anyone liking her. Her best and closest advisers are dead. Like Jorah Mormont, who once explained to her that reclaiming her throne would be bloody.
“If you want to sit on the throne that your ancestors built, you must win it,” he told the wold-be queen back in season 3, episode 3. “That will mean blood on your hands before the thing is done.”
“The blood of my enemies. Not the blood of innocents,” presaging the same word — innocents — that Tyrion used to describe the people of King’s Landing earlier in this episode.
But that was many years ago, when she was a different kind of would-be ruler. Missandei is dead, having advised fire with her final words. Jorah is dead, having defended her to his last breath. He’s not around to help her find her moral compass, and she pushed everyone else away.
When Tyrion pleaded with her not to attack earlier in this episode, she declared the innocents her enemies. That was Dany. This is Daenerys Targaryen, and she’s high on her own supply.
She wants that fucking throne at any cost.
Daenerys Targaryen unleashes the fire from her dragon. Soldiers and innocents die everywhere.
Thus begins murder on a genocidal scale.
The queen’s bloodlust inspires her subjects.
Grey Worm seethes and throws his spear, killing one of the soldiers who’d thrown down his sword, who’d surrendered, who stood defenseless before him.
The Unsullied’s bloodlust inspires his soldiers. They charge and kill.
Jon stands stunned for a few moments. He stops some soldiers. Grey Worm sees him, pauses for a moment, and resumes fighting. There’s nothing beyond cold rage on his face.
Bloodlust consumes everyone.
Daenerys Targaryen continues her flight of destruction, carpeting King’s Landing in fire, destroying buildings, murdering those she would lead.
Cersei watches the destruction. Ser Davos helps civilians run away. Jon fights off the soldiers. A little girl breathes heavily and clutches a pilar for safety. She watches a soldier who kills a woman — maybe her mother — by slitting her throat for no particular reason.
Except that bloodlust has consumed everyone.
The world goes into slow motion and the weight of what’s happened falls on Jon’s shoulders. He sees a man carry a woman off against her will, clearly intending to assault her. He kills the man and tells the woman to find somewhere to hide.
It’s an echo of what Jorah said to Daenerys in the same scene from season 3, too.
“I was in King’s Landing after the sack, Khaleesi,” he said, recalling Robert’s Rebellion when her father was overthrown. “You know what I saw? Butchery. Babies, children, old men. More women raped than you can count. There’s a beast in every man, and it stirs when you put a sword in his hand. But the Unsullied are not men. They do not rape. They do not put cities to the sword unless they’re ordered to do so.”
Well, at least they didn’t. But they do now.
Jaime and Euron
With half the city in flames, Daenerys Targaryen changes course and flies to the Red Keep. She destroys an outer spire first. Its stones fall to the ground on the beach below, where Jaime has made his way. He finds the dinghy. He means to make his way backward through the path that Tyrion described earlier: “where they keep the dragon skulls, beneath the Red Keep” and up to his sister.
He goes to pass the dinghy, when someone calls after him.
“Kingslayer,” Euron Greyjoy says as he walks out of the water.
“We need to get the queen out of King’s Landing,” Jaime says, mistaking him for an ally.
“Listen,” Euron says, and Jaime turns around. “That’s the sound of a city dying. It’s over.”
“Well, maybe for you,” Jaime says and walks away. He stops when he hears Euron’s sword leave its holster.
“If you kill another king before you die they’ll sing about you forever,” Euron says.
“You’re no king.”
“Oh, but I am. And I fucked the queen. If I win I’ll bring your head to Cersei so you can kiss her one last time.”
Above them, Daenerys Targaryen circles the Red Keep, and Drogon breathes endless fire, dismantling the buildings around Cersei. They fall to the beach as Jaime and Euron continue their fight.
Jaime is at a disadvantage, with his missing right hand. Euron takes advantage, though Jaime uses his metal hand to deal some blows of his own. They wrestle, having both dropped their swords.
Euron reaches for a weapon, finds it, stabs Jaime in the side of his chest. Jaime falls to his back.
High above, Qyburn returns to Queen Cersei Lannister.
“Your Grace, it isn’t safe here any longer,” he says.
“The Red Keep is the safest place in the city,” Cersei says, in a panic of denial. She’s stifling tears now.
“The Unsullied have breached the gates of the Red Keep,” he says. “Maegor’s Holdfast would be a better place to wait out the storm.”
She begins to cry and closes her eyes. The queen takes her Hand’s hand, and they walk out.
In the distance, King’s Landing burns. Green flames erupt here and there, bringing to mind two equally terrible things: The stories about spots in King’s Landing where Daenerys’ Mad King father planted wildfire when he wanted to destroy everyone — the same stores that Cersei detonated years later. Whenever they are, they’ve ignited, too, becoming secondary explosions.
“You fought well, for a cripple,” Euron says.
Jaime sees a sword in the distance and crawls after it. Euron rolls his eyes. Jaime picks up the sword and charges Euron, who stabs him in the other side. His wounds are almost certainly mortal.
But Jaime runs Euron Greyjoy through, killing him.
“Another king for you,” Euron says.
Jaime walks away toward his sister.
“But I got you! I got you!” Euron calls after him.
Jaime ignores him. After he’s out of earshot, Euron Greyjoy says someone to nobody but himself.
“I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister,” he says and dies with a huge smile on his face.
He won’t be missed.
The Hound and Arya in the map room
As Daenerys Targaryen continues to pummel the outside of the Red Keep, Arya and the Hound make their way through its fresh ruins. They stop in the room with a map of Westeros painted on the floor. It used to have a ceiling. Now, not so much. Rubble falls on the map around them, and hear Daenerys Targaryen and her dragon flying overhead.
They are guided missiles. The Hound is after his brother. Arya is after Cersei, who is unfinished business on her kill list.
Hearing the destruction outside, the Hound stops.
“Go home, girl,” he says to Arya. “The fire will get her, or one of the Dothraki. Or maybe that dragon will eat her. It doesn’t matter. She’s dead. And you’ll be dead too if you don’t get out of here.”
“I’m going to kill her,” she says and walks past him. And then Sandor Clegane does perhaps the most human — and certainly the kindest — thing we’ve ever seen him do. He grabs his little friend by the arm and gives her some hard-earned advice.
“You think you wanted revenge a long time? I’ve been after it all my life. It’s all I care about. And look at me. Look at me! You wanna be like me?”
Arya’s eyes go wide. The Hound puts his hand on the back of her neck, a far more tender gesture than he ever seemed capable of.
“You come with me, you die here,” he says. She knows he’s right. He walks away, heading up toward his end.
As he walks away, Arya calls to him.
“Sandor,” she says, using his first name. “Thank you.”
The Hound and The Mountain
The Mountain leads Cersei, Qyburn, and a few nameless soldiers down the winding staircase that we see every week in the title sequence. Daenerys Targaryen’s destruction continues outside, causing the walls to cave in overhead. They scramble for protection, the Mountain acting like a makeshift roof over the queen.
The dust settles, the staircase remains, but the outer walls is gone, leaving a clean view of a burning city. The survivors look down, and there stands the Hound.
The three soldiers charge him, and the Hound dispatches them with little effort. The guided missile finds it target.
“Hello, big brother,” The Hound says to The Mountain.
The Mountain steps forward, leaving behind those who he’s sworn to protect. Queen Cersei commands him to stay by his side. He looks back staring at her with his red zombie eyes, says nothing, and ignores her. Qyburn tries to command him, but the Mountain picks him up by the throat, and throws him down the stairs. The fall kills him. Good riddance.
Cersei sizes up in the situation, and walks past the brothers alone.
As the building crumbles around them, they begin to fight — or rather, the Hound does, and his brother shrugs off the attack. He catches the Hound’s sword in one hand, like it’s a toy. The Hound breaks it free and knocks the Mountain’s helmet off.
His pale, zombified face exposed, The Mountain stares down his brother.
“Yeah, that’s you,” The Hound says. “That’s what you’ve always been.”
The Mountain draws his sword and attacks. The Hound dodges, and the sword cuts through a gigantic boulder. The Mountain swings again, misses again, and takes a large chunk out of the rock wall.
The Queen and the Kingslayer
Below them, Cersei walks in a daze through the map room, just as the floor cracks, symbolically fracturing the land that she no longer rules.
Jaime finds her there, and she begins to sob openly. He rushes to her, hugs her, comforts her. It’s more than she deserves.
“You’re hurt,” she says.
“It doesn’t matter,” he says.
She takes her hands from his side. “You’re bleeding,” she says in a croak.
Jaime grabs her by the arm and leads her out of the room.
The Hound and The Mountain
While one pair of siblings heads for safety, the brothers continue their fight.
The Mountain is inordinately strong, and the Hound dodges his attacks. He sees his opening and plunges his sword into The Mountain’s stomach. The Mountain is nonplused. The Hound pushes the sword deeper through his brother, the man who’s responsible for the burn scars on his face and his lifelong fear of fire.
The sword runs through The Mountain, and then he backhands his brother, sending him flying 10 feet down the stairs. The Hound looks up and watches his brother remove the sword like you might remove a splinter. He removes his armor and shambles down toward The Hound, who sighs and then laughs at the absurdity of the situation.
Arya in the city
Arya’s made her way down to street level in King’s Landing. It’s as dusty outside as it is inside.
She scrambles through town, with no particular destination in mind, dodging townsfolk and falling rubble. Men, women, and children are huddled against buildings, clutching the little ones, tending to those who are injured as best they can.
Arya is a witness to the Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen’s destruction.
She runs, she survives, people die around her.
She finds herself in a stampeding crowd and falls to the ground, in danger of being trampled.
“Take my hand,” a woman says to Arya. It’s the mother with the daughter that we saw before. She helps Arya to her feet. After a moment, the crowd returns, and Arya and her savior get separated.
The Hound and The Mountain
The episode intercuts between the pummeling that Arya’s taking outside and the pummeling that the Hound is taking inside, but it rejoins the brothers’ fight just as the Mountain pins his brother against a wall, choking him. He’s losing air, choking for breath.
The Hound pulls a dagger from his coat and stabs the Mountain in the shoulder. It has no effect. Again. Nothing. In the side. Nothing. Again. Nothing.
“Fucking die!” the Hound screams and laughs again at the absurdity.
The Mountain has had enough. He lifts his brother higher off the ground and goes for his finishing move, jamming his fingers into his brother’s eyes. The Hound screams in agony as pus and blood ooze from his eye sockets.
The blinded Hound pulls back his hand and stabs forward one more time with his dagger. The blade enters the Mountain’s left eye and exits at the back of his skull. He drops his brother and steps back.
Breathing heavily, The Mountain starts to remove the dagger from his skull. The Hound, sitting on the ground where he fell when his brother dropped him, watches this from his one good eye. He screams, jumps to his feet, and tackles his brother.
The wall behind The Mountain crumbles. The brothers crash through. They fall hundreds of feet into the the burning rubble below.
The Hound ends The Mountain in a city of fire.
RIP The Hound, aka Sandor Clegane, killer of butcher’s boys, lover of chicken, Brother without Banners, protector of Stark women, good guy at the end.
Jon and Davos in the city
Jon looks up from his vantage point on a city street in time to see a nearby building explode with the telltale green tinge of wildfire. He sees Daenerys Targaryen on her dragon flying away in the distance.
He catches Ser Davos’ the Onion Knight’s eyes. They’re too far away to speak, but it’s clear that they share the same sadness and astonishment. There’s no winning this now.
Jon puts his sword away.
“We need to fall back!” Jon yells to everyone around him. “Fall back behind the wall! Get out of the city!”
Arya in the city
Arya is covered in the fine, powdery rubble raining down from Daenerys Targaryen’s act of terror. She coughs herself awake. The only swatches of color near her are three streaks of blood running diagonally across her face and a huge, bleeding gash running down her chest from her left shoulder.
She gets to her feet. People run by, but there’s no mob now. The bell tower next to her cracks, and she sprints away, narrowly avoiding the destruction.
She opens her eyes to see a dozen or more women and children huddled on in a building. The woman and her daughter are there. Arya approaches them.
“You can’t stay here,” she says to the mother. “You have to keep moving.”
“We can’t go out there,” the mother says.
“You have to.”
“Everyone out there is dead.”
“If you stay here, you’ll die,” Arya yells to everyone in the room.
“Follow me,” Arya says, getting the woman to her feet. “Follow me!”
She leads everyone outside. She turns the first corner, and they run to avoid the Dothraki troops on horseback killing civilians. They get separated. The woman is injured, probably from the Dothraki. Arya runs up to them, and gets the woman to her feet again. They only make it a few feet before the mother knows it’s useless.
In the background, Daenerys Targaryen and Drogon fly toward them. Only death and destruction will follow that.
“Take her!” she tells Arya. “Take her!” The mother collapses onto the ground. The girl screams for her mother. Arya tries to grab the girl, but she can’t. The girl runs to her mother. Arya runs around a corner.
The Mad Queen Daenerys Targaryen swoops down from above and fills the streets with fire.
Jaime and Cersei in the basement
The twins reach the lowest room of the Red Keep, the one with the dragon skulls that Tyrion told Jaime he could use to escape with Cersei. Jaime leads Cersei by the hand, looking for an exit to the dinghy and the water and survival.
The ceiling is crashing down around them, even here.
Jaime looks to the exit, but a mound of rubble blocks their exit. He climbs up a little to inspect it. It’s no good.
“I want our baby to live,” Cersei says, over and over. And then she looks past their baby to herself. “Don’t let me die, Jaime. Please don’t let me die.”
“It’s all right,” he says and takes her by the hand. He hugs her.
“Please don’t let me die,” Cersei says, but she can barely get the last word out through her sobbing.
“It’s all right,” he says.
“I don’t want to die,” she says, and buries her head in his chest.
“Just look — Look at me,” Jaime says. “Look at me.”
“Not like this,” Cersi says, hysterical. “Not like this. Not like this.”
“Look — Look — Look me in the eye. Don’t look away. Don’t look — Look at me! Just look at me.”
She looks at him.
“Nothing else matters,” he says. “Nothing else matters. Only us.”
That the twisted line of reasoning that animated Jaime Lannister’s entire life. It convinced him do terrible things. It got him out of bed in the middle of the night and told him to leave Winterfell to return to his sister. Because nothing else matters. Only them. Everything else was a diversion.
He caresses his sister’s face with his one good hand. They stare into each other’s eyes. Jaime nods, saying it’s over without words, that he can’t save her, and that it’s OK. Because nothing else matters. Only them. At the end of all things, only them.
In the distance, the ceilings collapse. They hug as the world collapses around them.
RIP Jaime Lannister, Kingslayer, a man who proved he was just as capable of doing good things as he was at doing terrible things, but who at the end of his life was ultimately unable to escape the twisted, sick pull of his addictive, hateful twin sister, who now shares a birthday and a death day with him.
Rot in hell, Cersei Lannister.
Arya in the city
Ashes float down from the cloud-covered sky, covering King’s Landing like snow on a winter’s day, and a bloody, shellshocked Arya Stark rises to her feet.
She looks around at the smouldering ruins and sees that Daenerys Targaryen killed everyone but her. She sees the remains of the mother and daughter, frozen forever in an embrace like the victims of Pompeii. In her charred hand, the girl still holds a toy horse.
Arya looks up and sees a white horse. Considering that the only other white horse we’ve seen this episode is pretty boy’s horse, it’s probably his. How it survived and how it got here, who knows? But it’s here, and she approaches it, comforts it, and mounts it.
Arya Stark rides out of a smouldering King’s Landing on a white horse.