The plan was to set out from Winterfell in two waves: Team Dany by sea, and Team Jon by land. But others soon leave on missions of their own, and some get proper goodbyes. Tormund is taking his people back to Castle Black (he’s done with “the South”, lol), and Jon asks him to take Ghost, too. Wait — WHAT? IS THIS YOUR KING? The irresponsible pet owner? And I know it sounds silly, because Ghost has barely been on screen in recent seasons and the show hasn’t established the warg connection that is so critical to Jon’s book story, but this is kind of ridiculous. It literally would have been better for Ghost to die last week than for Jon to just cast him aside because he can’t take care of him properly. Because he got a new pet that he can ride now. OR SO HE THINKS.
Anyway, he also says goodbye to Sam and Gilly, who will name their child after him if it’s a boy (Jon hopes it isn’t), and that’s very sweet. And this really does feel like a goodbye, though if the series finale is the extended epilogue many predict, hopefully it won’t be the last we’ve seen of Sam the Slayer. He still has to write the story of everything that happened, after all.
The Hound is heading south, too, but for a different reason. “There’s only one thing that will make me happy,” he had said earlier in the episode, and the Cleganebowl bells are ringing again. He’s joined by Arya, the lonely killers reunited. Neither expects to ever again return to Winterfell, and there’s something profoundly sad about that in Arya’s case. She had to leave home to find her identity, and every moment back there reminded her of that little girl — not to mention the discomfort of hanging around a castle where she committed her bravest and most consequential act. She’s a wanderer now; a ronin, and she can be anything she wants to be — once all the names on her list are checked off.
That final entry is determined to hold onto what she has no matter the cost. As Varys points out, the balance of Dany and Cersei’s forces “has grown distressingly even,” and the Queen is holed up in a nigh-impregnable castle, making sure that Dany is viewed as the violent usurper and not the savior of humanity. Everyone warns Dany not to take the nuclear option, and she acquiesces, again: She’ll keep her two dragons offshore, and win the old-fashioned way: Starving the commoners into revolting against Cersei for her. Um… okay. Sure. How are they so bad at this?
And you know that as soon as you see Grey Worm and Missy holding hands, finally happy, that things are about to get darker than last week’s cinematography. Somehow, no one sees Euron’s fleet, armed with more of those stupid giant physics-defying wind lances. Somehow, multiple bolts hit an already gimpy Rheagal, who falls tragically and messily into the ocean. Somehow, more bolts take out Dany’s entire armada in one cruel stroke, with the survivors coughing up on shore — except Missandei, who — SOMEHOW — is the one to get fished out by Euron. This was all genuinely shocking, but if you think about it for 30 seconds, there’s only frustration. Especially with the Rheagal thing: Now Dany is down to just one dragon, and with the fall of the Night King, the disappearance of the Children of the Forest (along with Bran’s relevance to the narrative), Melisandre going out for cigarettes, and the dispersal of the direwolves, I’m now wondering if the end of the show will see all of that magic gone from the world. There’s something profoundly sad about that, too.
Dany is told AGAIN to resist dropping Drogon on King’s Landing (in what must now be considered a suicide mission), but she is in a corner and about out of options. Jon’s army is two weeks away, and she’s down to just a single company of Unsullied. But if she can be seen by the smallfolk making the effort to negotiate in good faith, it might buy them enough cautious goodwill should Cersei, true to form, choose violence. But this is all still incredibly dumb; not only is bargaining with Cersei is a colossal waste of time, the scene happens outside the city gates, with no one that Dany would hope to protect even watching. Cersei will still control the narrative. It’s a mess.
Also a mess: Jaime! This was the most infuriating decision of the episode: Why have Jaime stay at Winterfell at all, if it was only so he could say mean things and leave Brienne in tears? It would have been incredibly easy to have him go south with either Tyrion or Jon; instead, he hangs around, gets comfortable, lets Brienne get comfortable, before putting on his cool jacket to go rogue again. The way his departure is written leaves his true motivations ambiguous — is he going to save Cersei, or rid her from his life and thoughts himself? — but the effect is the same: Emotional devastation to Brienne, who really deserved better. “You’re not like your sister. You’re better than she is…stay with me,” she pleads. Jaime responds by listing off all the terrible things he’s done for Cersei. “She’s hateful. And so am I.” But I don’t believe it, and I don’t think he believes it either; I hope that he’s simply saying these things because he’s upset and the show has contrived for him to hold back the truth in this moment, but still: We didn’t need this. Disappointing.
And then there’s the episode’s other, final troubling moment: After Tyrion’s Hand-to-Hand parley with Qyburn (who pops out of the gates like the Mouth of Sauron) comes to nothing, he goes straight to his sister to stave off catastrophe and try to save Missy’s life. For the second time, Cersei has it in her power to kill Tyrion on the spot, and she doesn’t do it. Tyrion has gambled on his life and won, again, but it just means someone else has to lose. “You’re not a monster,” he tries. Which isn’t true, and everyone knows it. “You’ve always loved your children more than yourself, more than Jaime, more than anything.” He begs her to give up the ghost (sorry) to, if nothing else, save her unborn child. We see this actually gets to her, but perhaps in retaliation for Tyrion’s desperate emotional manipulation, it’s not enough to save Missy. And so the show’s one remaining woman of color dies in chains. (THAT’s a whole thing that smarter writers than I are addressing.) Grey Worm nearly vomits. We knew, as viewers of television, that he was was signing a death warrant by planning their future, but we thought it would be his own. And that sucks, too.
This is now a story of two mad Queens, who have lost nearly everything in pursuit of a throne they both believe is theirs by right. But you can’t help but think that if Dany had played things a little less conservatively, if she had ignored her loyal advisors and burned the Red Keep to slag, things would have worked out a lot better for her. She would have won Westeros through might alone and have been no better than her ancestors, but she would have won, re-written the story of her revolution the way Cersei has, and all three of her dragons might still be alive. Now, she’s limping to the finish line — no Viserion, no Rheagal, no Jorah, no Missandei — and making everyone wonder if she’s still the best person for the job despite her having done what they wanted. But Missy, who has praised her instincts in the past, gave her her cue with her final word… and Dany’s not going to miss it.
Next week: Happy Mother’s Day!