Warning: The Game of Thrones Season 8 Ep 5 review contains spoilers. Tread lightly.
Okay. Now, deep breath.
An episode that caused millions of viewers to go, “WHAT THE ****?!”
Each character in Game of Thrones, be it Ned Stark when he executed the Night’s Watch brother for deserting after seeing a White Walker before his very eyes; Jon Snow when he made the decision to execute Mance Rayder or executing Ser Alliser Thorne and his co-conspirators for killing him; even Stannis Baratheon when he made the decision to burn his daughter at the stake (that was tragic); each character had a sense of justice and honour, no matter how misplaced it was.
So, saying that, “What the hell was Danaerys thinking?” would be the question on everyone’s minds. This was in no way, shape or form, justice. Even Cersei Lanniser of all people has a sense of justice, from her own twisted perspective.
It was justice in her eyes when she blew up the Sept of Baelor, albeit cruel, when it took the lives of thousands of innocents as well. But still a necessary evil from her perspective. It was justice (and revenge) when she poisoned Tyene Sand and forced her mother Ellaria to watch her die like Jaime had to watch Myrcella die. But with Danaerys, her power and authority were threatened, and with a child in her womb, she’d do whatever it took to stay in power.
Killing Missandei was an act of cruelty by Cersei. An act which caused Danaerys to become unhinged mentally and set her on a fiery path of ‘justice’. She was alone. No one loved her. After years of trying to take the Iron Throne by rightful means, Danaerys understood that nobody wanted her to become Queen.
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After so much heartbreak and loss, the people, and even her advisers preferred a man who didn’t want to sit on the Iron Throne. So she decided that the only way to rule was through fear. “Fear it is”, she says coldly to Jon Snow.
So when Tyrion tells her about Varys’ plans to crown Jon as King, she decides to follow her family’s traditions. To the letter. Fire and Blood. Varys, the Master of Whisperers, goes rather loudly with his secret plans, which he reveals to Tyrion, who remains steadfast in his support of Dany. Good move, Varys.
Tyrion then goes on to tell Dany, who’s just looking for any excuse at this point to say ‘Dracarys’. Which she duly does, and she executes a character who had been pulling the strings in this game of politics, betrayal and war from the very first season.
Now the entire battle is on a clock. With Dany, Jon, Tyrion and Davos prepping the troops for battle, Arya and Sandor magically teleport to King’s Landing, with Jaime following suit. Tyrion is convinced that if Cersei gives up and rings the Bells, there would be no need for any sort of bloodshed and there could be a peaceful transfer of power. But hey, it’s GoT. Things aren’t that simple here.
Jaime gets captured by Danaerys’ forces trying to enter King’s Landing. Tyrion gets word of this and decides to set his plan in motion prevent any sort of bloodshed. We get a little callback to Season 4, when Tyrion was the one who needed saving. The final moment between the two brothers was one of the best in the episode, especially considering Jaime’s fate later on.
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Fast forward to the battle, where Danaerys and Drogon make quick work of the Iron Fleet whilst the men on the ground slash their way into King’s Landing. Cersei’s forces are outnumbered. They’ve surrendered. The whole city is in a state of shock and panic. The soldiers call for the bells to be rung, signalling the city’s surrender.
Right on cue, the bells ring. The plan works. Tyrion had single-handedly saved a whole city from burning.
Danaerys goes off-script and snaps. And might I add, Emilia Clarke’s work into bringing out Dany’s psychotic side in this entire season has been fantastic. She totally sells it. There was absolutely no need for Dany to burn down King’s Landing. But she does so anyway, as revenge for Missandei’s death, as well as payback for the Westerosis not recognising her as the one true Queen.
Varys told Tyrion that every Targaryen’s sense of morality is a coin flip, and Daenerys’ actions here strongly suggest that the coin landed on the same side as her father. She brings out the ‘Aerys’ in her name.
Dany’s contrversial heel turn has raised considerable debate, especially on Twitter. While we see both sides of the arc, fans found themselves divided, with some pointing to the trail of fire and violence that Dany’s left in her wake as evidence of an effective slow-burn turn. Others though, have slammed the decision to turn Danaerys heel.
Here’s my take. Simply attributing her father’s mentally unhinged state as an excuse for her current behaviour isn’t enough. The entire point of Game of Thrones has been to tell its viewers that power is corruptive and corrosive.
Honourable men and women lose parts of themselves in the long, relentless pursuit of it. After Cersei and her forces laid down their arms in surrender, any sort of violence from the invading army’s part would be considered a war crime. So from a narrative point of view, having Danaerys burn down King’s Landing, and with Jon Snow, Tyrion Lannister and Davos Seaworth, each of them men of honour and dignity on the wrong side, is a logical choice in my mind.
From a character development point of view, it gets trickier to defend these actions. Like I’ve already said, Danaerys had to undergo various tortures, both physical and mental in her pursuit of sitting on the Iron Throne. And in the end, the people prefer Jon, who doesn’t want to rule. It isn’t because of the fact that her father was the Mad King, or that she was a Targaryen. Her life experiences leading up to this point, where she fails to achieve her life’s calling in the last possible second, force her to believe that fear was the only way to rule from that point on.
This was the direction they intended to take. But many have found the manner of her turn to be quite sexist, as she is the one who is perceived to be the ticking time bomb, especially with everyone against her, whilst Jon/Aegon Targaryen, the male heir is the one perceived as the cool, level-headed leader.
The concept of Danaerys’ heel turn in her character arc was a good idea. However, the execution behind it wasn’t so much. It felt too rushed. And it doesn’t help that the previous episode had another strong female lead, Sansa, attributing her growth to two men who tortured her and left her scarred for life. Or even Brienne’s out-of-character sobbing when Jaime left for King’s Landing. Not great execution.
Moving on to other matters now. CleganeBowl was pretty fun, with Sandor and Gregor facing off in one of the most anticipated battles of the season. There was a touching moment between Arya and Sandor just before the battle, which was a nice way to end their arc. After an intense, gruelling battle between the two giants, Sandor tackles Gregor into a fiery abyss, thus facing both the fear of his brother and fear of fire before going out.
Meanwhile, Jaime who tries to make a last-ditch attempt to save Cersei, goes face to face with Euron, who conveniently washes up on shore after his ships are wiped out by Drogon. After another fight, Jaime finally gets the upper hand (no pun intended) on Euron and kills him, not before being stabbed a couple of times.
Cersei may be many things. But in the end, she is a mother desperate for the safety of her children. After realising that there was no other way out, she decides to flee, when she runs into Jaime. They end up dying in each other’s arms under the streets of King’s Landing as everything comes crashing down around them.
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It goes to show that despite all of Jaime’s personal growth the past seven seasons, everything he did, was for love. His one true love, Cersei. They were born together, and they died together. And thus, two of the best characters in Game of Thrones meet a tragic, unspectacular end.
“Nothing else matters. Only us.” We came right back to that.
Arya, who barely makes it out alive, finally finds a lone white horse and rides out of the crumbling ruins of what was once a great city.
Jon, Tyrion and Davos are left stunned at the actions of their Queen and don’t know what to make of it.
Miguel Sapochnik’s direction was evident, with beautiful visuals and cinematography capturing the horrors of the massacre of King’s Landing. The acting was once again top notch, especially that of Danaerys and Cersei. Everything seemed to click in place in Game of Thrones Season 8 Ep 5. Except the story. Like most things that happened this season, the idea was good, but the execution, not so much.
Game of Thrones cannot make a bad episode for TV, let me tell you that. But it has fallen short of the astronomical standards it has set for itself till Season 8. So the disappointment of the fans over the direction the show has taken is justifiable.
At this point, theorizing about the last episode is futile. This is the series finale of one of the greatest shows in television history. Despite its recent shortcomings, that fact is set in stone. Hopefully, DB Weiss and David Benioff have an ace up their sleeve to make all of this worth it.
We’ll find out in the last ever Game of Thrones episode next week.
By Aditya Sarma