Image owned by HBO and from The New York Times (Daenerys is having a bad, bad day…)
No, I did not notice that Starbucks cup when I saw the third to last episode of Game of Thrones last night.
Many people will and are already pointing to that coffee cup sitting right next to Queen Daenerys as an indication of the show in its last hours running into the one thing most had feared: an inexcusable amount of sloppiness.
Where to begin? Jon Snow spilling the beans on his heritage to the two people he trusts most, Arya and Sansa, and then the latter spilling the beans to Tyrion until it cascades into a scandal at the wrong time and place?
That’s one good area to start.
There’s also the sudden death of Rhaegal, leaving Dany with only one dragon left to fight against Cersei. Then, after Dany wisely backs off from Euron’s fleet armed with dragon-downing ballistas, he turns those same weapons on her fleet, leaving Dany ever more vulnerable after the narrow victory against the dead army. Oh, and Missendei was somehow captured by Euron amidst the carnage of the fleet’s destruction, much to Dany and especially Grey Worm’s horror.
There’s also Jaime and Brienne finally getting it on after the traumatic fight for their lives and leaving poor Tormund heartbroken as well as the many who had been shipping that potential couple. Then, Jaime decides to ride back to Cersei after confessing his many evil past acts to Brienne, leaving her somewhat uncharacteristically weeping over his seeming regression from redemption.
There is a lot to digest, seemingly more than the supposedly more consequential fight against the Night King last time. People are still split on whether the end of that grave storyline was handled as well as it should have been, let alone how the hell Arya managed to do in the big blue harbinger of doom.
When it comes to reconciling Thrones’ narrative trajectory at this late in the ‘ahem” game, everything is teetering on the edge of everything.
Despite the legitimate shock I had as the episode pressed on, a growing sense of fear was beginning to well up inside me, a fear that is not independent of what I’ve read and listened to from other people’s opinions or takeaways.
Yet, it is probably a fear more painful and depressing than the possibility of a favorite of mine being snuffed out: the fear of a show as deserving as Game of Thrones going out with a whimper rather than the desired bang.
The plot contrivances are more noticeable now than they have ever been in the nine-year run of the show. I was much more forgiving of last season’s handling of characters jumping vast distances to keep the plot moving at a faster pace due to a shorter season.
Considering this is the last and supposedly grandest season, I am less forgiving of moments of characters acting less intelligent than they were written to be seasons past. I can and shall forgive Jon’s decision to let Bran tell his sisters the truth of his royal heritage. It makes sense to me despite being a mistake because it fits who Jon is. Even though Jon has suffered, even died for being too trusting of those around him, like at the end of the fifth season, who better to ask to make a promise than those of his beloved family?
Sansa, thanks to Littlefinger’s enduring influence, decides to snitch. Predictable, but I can’t say it’s wrong for who Sansa now is.
As far as I can tell, Arya maintains the oath not to snitch, not that it matters. What she breaks instead is Gendry’s heart in declining a royal marriage in favor of being who she is: not a lady. Oh woah woah.
In a nice visual callback to the “good ole days”, she and the Hound ride south to King’s Landing for reasons obvious to anyone who has been paying attention. One may be inadvertently fulfilling a old prophecy and the other may be fulfilling a long desired duel against his hated, monstrous brother. That brother does something at the end of the episode to make that anticipated battle all the sweeter.
Jon sets out south as well, to bring a small yet sizable enough army to support Daenerys in her move on the capitol and Cersei. Before he goes, he says what could possibly be a true farewell to Tormund, who’s heading back north with what honestly, should be next to no wildlings left after what they’ve been through.
Sam and Gilly also say goodbye, and it seems apparent for now, that a number of characters are actually safe for the rest of the show. Even Ghost, Jon’s mostly wasted dire-wolf, who inexplicably survived the Battle of Winterfell, is told to go with Tormund, where he thinks he belongs. Some are sad that Jon doesn’t at least pat Ghost before he leaves, but considering how little of Ghost was used for the show’s benefit, I don’t really feel one way or the other about that part.
Of course, as is often the case with Game of Thrones in the past and now in the present, the last third of the episode is the most discussed. Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, Varys, Drogon, and a measly remnant of the Unsullied show up at King’s Landing’s gate both to ask for Cersei’s unconditional surrender and the release of Missendei, back in chains. Everyone already knows in their bones, it’s pointless.
Tyrion goes right up to the front, with dragon slaying ballistas, and a large host of archers prepared to fire with one last attempt to use his once powerful oratory skills to plead his queen’s case. It’s ultimately Missendei’s safe return and Tyrion trying to keep his sister alive that is most pressing.
To no one’s surprise, it doesn’t work. Cersei smugly orders The Mountain to behead Missendei in a manner similar to how poor Ned Stark went out all those years ago. No one on Daenerys’ side can do a damn thing. Daenerys the Mad Queen cometh? Perhaps, but at least what she’s enraged about is actually quite justifiable, unlike her kooky father.
The confrontation at the end does leave a rather alarming question though of the logic of both sides. Cersei has proven, time and time again, to use horrifically evil means to get what she wants. Her spectacular yet morally ruinous destruction of the Great Sept ( an equivalent of a church/cathedral) two seasons ago showed you how willing she was to break the rules if it worked. It most certainly did in that instance.
Now, Cersei has Daenerys, her few remaining advisers, and her dragon right where she wants them. There is a a gauntlet of ballistas, which as we saw earlier with Rhaegal’s tragic death, can slay a dragon. There is also enough archers to definitely slay everyone on the ground. Sure, the Unsullied have shields to block, but honestly, why would Cersei pass up the perfect opportunity to kill her greatest challenger right then and there? Why?
One possibility is Cersei wants to further twist the knife through Missendei’s execution to humiliate and emotionally imbalance Dany, which I would not at all put past her. Or just as likely, there is two episodes to go and Dany is definitely needed for the plot’s sake. To think I was skeptical that the show was really getting dependent on plot armor, that same show that was praised for not utilizing that trope.
Obviously, I will see the last two episodes. Obviously, people will die, blood will be spilled and a resolution will be drawn up that will be debated as long as people have the energy to debate such things.
Assuming Game of Thrones’ was ending on a quality note, I would have nothing but appreciation for the discourse to come. Instead, I feel trepidation and discouragement. This is not what I wanted Benioff and Weiss to do for this or any season.
Of course, no showrunner or writer is entitled to meet the expectations and demands of all its fans and followers. That is an impossible task to accomplish. What I think was universally desired was for a culturally defining show to be as sharply written, logically plotted and emotionally/narratively consistent as when it began in 2011.
Even though the Marvel Cinematic Universe is not really over, far from it, it did reach a point where those who felt they wanted to get off, could comfortably do so with Avengers:Endgame.
It’s offputting that a cinematic franchise aimed at audiences of most ages has a more well thought through wrap-up for its story and characters than one meant for adults.
Lastly, I now wonder if GRRM’s theoretically to be finished books for A Song of Ice and Fire have a conclusion that is not only better but more in line with what the show had once been. A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons weren’t the best received books however, so it’s anyone’s guess if Martin’s vision for his story is superior.
We won’t know it until we know it. But the debate of Game of Thrones’ latter day quality is only beginning. It’s a war that no one will like the outcome to, and I am not talking about Arya.