Still, things are looking pretty bleak in the light of day with new episode, “The Last of the Starks.” The destruction of the White Walker threat means that our friends now need to turn their attention to more complex and tangled issues, now rendered incredibly urgent. There’s Cersei, of course, who has an army that didn’t just fight a big war, and also reinforcements from Euron Greyjoy’s Iron Fleet, and the Golden Company (sans elephants, alas). But even more pressing at this point is the matter of succession.
This episode was all about choosing a side: Jon vs. Daenerys, Daenerys vs. Sansa, Tyrion vs. Varys. Arya makes the bold choice to turn down newly-instated Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End’s marriage proposal in favour of that lonely assassin life; Bran chooses to remain Three-Eyed Raven rather than pursue a claim to Winterfell. Even Bron shows up in time to make a deal to turn his back on Cersei’s promise of Riverrun if only Tyrion grants him Highgarden. And then of course, there’s Jaime, torn between the love of a woman who actually makes him happy, and the one he has devoted his entire life to thus far.
Sansa cries over Theon — a man I feel duty bound to remind you once watched her get brutally raped, yes even though he did help save her after — and no one properly mourns all the Dothraki who came to shiver in the North and died without so much as a cheer.
And since a funeral without food is a shande, our friends all head in to the great hall to feast their victory. There are strong echoes of the premiere episode again here, when Ned and Catelyn Stark feasted the arrival of King Robert back in season 1. Only this time, a giant red-headed wildling is chugging a horn of wine, telling everyone that “dude, he SAW the Night King ride a dragon,” and weeping at Brienne’s ghosting him for Jaime.
But what’s most striking about this scene is that Daenerys finally realizes that the beautiful soft-lipped boy she’s in love with is A) kind of a dummy, and B) a real threat. Think what you will about the dragon queen, most women have had that moment of realizing that no matter what they say in the meeting, the bro-y dude is going to get credit.
That gut feeling is further cemented when Daenerys confronts Jon in his room, and begs him not to tell anybody else that he has a claim to the Iron Throne. It doesn’t matter if he’s bent the knee, or even wants to rule. If this comes out, he’ll be a rival. Of course, Jon is Jon and so he immediately tells Sansa and Arya. And since Sansa is not here to make friends, she tells Tyrion, who tells Varys, who smartly points out that, “it’s not a secret anymore, it’s information.” (Also, thank you Varys, the only person in this show to point out that SHE IS HIS AUNT.)
Jon is so desperate to prove his loyalty to Daenerys that he commits the Northern troops to fight a battle they’re not ready to win. Sansa points out that maybe that’s not such a good idea as they just, you know, fought a big, dark war and probably need to recover before they go lay siege to King’s Landing. (Seriously, Sansa is the only true ruler in this show.) Even Arya, who has not remotely gotten the kind of credit she deserves for single-handedly killing the goddamn Night King, tells Jon that “we need a word.” Neither of them trust Jon’s queen, and they don’t really see why he keeps backing her up.
And yet, Daenerys, whose tyrannical tendencies have been alluded to at multiple points throughout the show, will not brook opposition. And so off they go.
The problem is that Cersei is a shrewd tactical leader, and has sent Euron to ambush Daenerys and the Unsullied ships as they arrive on Dragonstone. And he brought his mega-dragon-death crossbow with him. In the blink of an eye, Daenerys loses another dragon (Rhaegal, RIP), bringing the count down to one. Euron also kidnaps Missandei, bringing her as a hostage for Cersei.
Once again, Dany’s leadership comes into question, leading Vary and Tyrion to have a very serious and treasonous discussion in the empty throne room at Dragonstone. It’s frustrating, after a nice long arc showing two women at odds over the throne, to have the succession suddenly discussed by two men, wondering if the new, male contender, might be an easier, safer choice. And though Tyrion’s zinger, “I don’t think a cock is a true qualification,” is appreciated, the fact is that...well, in this case, it kind of might be.
Although if we're being serious, neither Jon nor Daenerys, nor Cersei are qualified to rule over the Seven Kingdoms. Jon, as Varys points out, is too weak. Daenerys, with her fateful musings about ridding the world from tyrants, is well on her way to becoming one. And Cersei — in this episode alone, she lied about the father of her baby, and also probably condemned thousands of innocents to a fiery death.
As Daenerys and the Unsullied stand before the gates of King’s Landing — without waiting for Jon to arrive with his troops, by the way — Tyrion pleads with Cersei to surrender and save her unborn child. For a second, it looks like she might. And then she gives the order, and Missandei dies, beheaded by the Mountain. Her last words, fittingly, were “Dracarys." (I get that this is all to make Daenerys extra mad at Cersei, but it seems a waste to be using the only significant woman of colour on this show to prove such a moot point. Missandei and Greyworm deserve better.)
Daenerys turns away, wordless with fury. And though that’s really the end, you can almost imagine her saying her father’s fateful — and last — words: “Burn them all.”
P.S. — Meanwhile, Brienne and Jaime DID IT. And although I sustain that we were robbed of an actual sex scene, that kiss was indeed hot. Also, let’s raise a glass to Jaime for his incredible come on: “You keep it warm enough in here.” His leaving her to ride back to Cersei hurts, of course, but how could it have ever been any other way?