Followers of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series must be very upset at the years-spanning delay of the sixth and penultimate installment “The Winds of Winter.” Preview chapters are good and all, but for ASOIAF readers they are a drop in the ocean compared to what they want, the book itself. Anything to them would be better than the franchise’s TV adaptation on HBO, “Game of Thrones,” which aired its penultimate series episode last Sunday. Prior chapters of this eighth season saw the elimination of the purely supernatural foe, leaving only human enemies to confront.
The prior episode of “Thrones” showed how the approach to fighting a human yet powerful opponent can be enough to divide allies who normally would stand together, as when the armies of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and the North led by Jon Snow (Kit Harington) did against the existentially world-ending White Walkers. But now Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) remains between Dany and the Iron Throne. But her impatience and increasing bloodlust has estranged her from Jon. It also caused her chief advisors – Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) to split over which Targaryen survivor is the better ruler after everything.
All this comes to a head in season 8 – episode 5 “The Bells,” when the Daenerys loyalist Tyrion outs Varys’ plot to support Jon over the Mother of Dragons. Dany has already lost many of her closest confidants to reach this point, and any loss of faith in her leadership stings only of betrayal. Dracarys. When Jon turns away from any affection by Dany, she concludes that playing the messianic liberator no longer works for her and decides to become a fear-mongering conqueror. To wit, she rides on her last dragon to put the capital city King’s Landing to the flames, Cersei’s army and the hostage residents all perishing equally.
It comes across as funny that this time the anti-dragon siege-works that killed her other dragon last time are easily dispatched here. But the wastefully brutal action serves multiple purposes: turning Jon and his army against her, and allowing several individuals to enter the burning city to resolve their respective personal issues. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) only wants to return to his twin sister Cersei’s side. Arya (Maisie Williams) aims to kill Cersei, the last remaining mastermind of the fall of House Stark. Sandor the Hound (Rory McCann) plans to kill his brother, Cersei’s bodyguard, again.
As the fifth of only six episodes, Dave Benioff and D.B. Weiss have a lot of plot points to wrap up. A lot of the characters already mentioned prior will be dead at the end of “The Bells.” Some of these swan song scenes are fairly emotive though. In particular, Sandor finally convincing Arya to call off her hit on Cersei and flee the dragon-burned red keep was notable. Cold-blooded killer the Hound may be, he now pales in terms of body-count to Arya, slayer of the Night King. She apparently knows that too, but ultimately feels she owes Sandor enough to do as asked.
That said, the closing chapters of “Game of Thrones” do not amount to much anymore for readers of GRRM’s books. It has gotten to the point that they briefly rejoiced at a rumor shared by Ian McElhinney (Barristan Selmy until season 5) that Martin has actually finished “The Winds of Winter” and “A Dream of Spring” already, only waiting for the show to finish before publishing them. The author himself has debunked the rumor on his website, also betraying his own disaffection for the TV adaptation, for which he wrote some episodes in earlier seasons.
“Game of Thrones” will return for the last time with its finale Sunday, July 19.
Image from Comic Book Resources