There are, once again, no books to work from on Game of Thrones this season (the final season!) and things could get confusing. To help you out, after every new episode, two resident Thrones experts/dragon enthusiasts, Josh Kurp and Ryan Harkness, will answer your eight most pressing questions.
1. Who was Varys writing to?
Varys should take pride that he survived until the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones. Of course, that’s hard to do when you’re being burned to death by a dragon, but the point remains: it’s shocking that the Master of Whisperers made it this long. But once Daenerys discovered that he was spreading the word about her and Jon being related, he was executed for treason. We never get a full look at the eunuch’s letter — only snippets like, “…not the only Targaryen left,” were legible — but the intention was clear: he was writing to the various lords of Westeros that Jon, not Daenerys, is the true heir to the Iron Throne.
It’s obvious why Dany wouldn’t want this information getting around; it’s less obvious that Varys was actively trying to kill Dany before she could, well, do what she did. In the first lines of the episode, Varys and one of his little birds are discussing a certain someone who won’t eat. “We’ll try again at supper.” “I think they’re watching me.” “Who?” “Her soldiers.” “Of course they are. That’s their job.” Varys was attempting to poison Daenerys, and she either picked up on his scheme or unknowingly thwarted it by being too despondent to eat. And to think, Cersei was one poisoned date away from winning. — Josh Kurp
2. Couldn’t Tyrion have paid more money to the Golden Company than Cersei and make them switch sides?
That’s the only way they could have provided less bang for Cersei’s buck in the defense of King’s Landing. But to give them a slight shred of credit, they didn’t switch sides. The Golden Company’s reputation centers largely around their absolute loyalty to those that hire them. Their motto is, “Our word is good as gold,” and in a world where your own lord allies are one side-eye away from treason, mercenaries that won’t sell you out are a valuable commodity indeed.
Still, there was precedent for the Golden Company to turn on Cersei. In the books, they break a contract with Myr to team up with a mysterious new Targaryen that didn’t make it onto the show. But siding with Daenerys would have gone against a lot of the established backstory of the group. It was Dany’s ancestors that banished the bastard Blackfyre side of the Targaryen family tree to Essos after a failed rebellion a hundred years ago, and the army was founded by Blackfyres and made up of their ancestors and allies to this day.
In the end, the loyalty question was moot. Daenerys no longer seems interested in ploys like bribing away an enemy’s forces. The Golden Company ended up being more useful to her as human kindling for the funeral pyre she created out of King’s Landing. The terrible decision to meet Dany’s army in an open field was made even worse when Drogon hit them in the rear with dragonfire. They were routed to such a degree that a thousand elephants wouldn’t have made a difference, and their leader, Harry Strickland, didn’t even manage to swing his sword before Grey Worm took him out with a spear through the chest. We have a feeling there’s going to be more ignoble deaths like his next week as Game of Thrones continues the ruthless work of tying up loose ends. — Ryan Harkness
3. Why did Daenerys’ ride over King’s Landing look so familiar?
There’s a lot to say about Daenerys Targaryen this episode, and we’ll get into plenty of it. But first, let’s flashback to season two when the Mother of Dragons entered the House of the Undying in Qarth and had a vision of the Great Hall, where the Iron Throne is kept, covered in snow. Possibly from the Night King himself. Or so we thought at the time. The room was, with the benefit seeing it play out, covered in ash from her own sacking of King’s Landing. That wasn’t the only vision to reappear this episode, though. Daenerys soaring over King’s Landing on Drogon is what Bran saw after touching a weirwood tree back in season four’s “The Lion and the Rose.” If only he knew then what’s so obvious now: that Dany didn’t come to break the wheel, but rather, to kill thousands of innocent men, women, and children. You might even say she’s gone… mad.
Here’s what Bran (who also glimpsed the snowy Great Hall) envisioned.
Here’s what actually happened.
It’s telling that this shot of Drogon flying above King’s Landing happened right after Daenerys ignored the ringing bells and unleashed “Dracarys” below. So, yes, technically Dany acted on-brand this episode, considering her attack on King’s Landing is something that’s been teased for six seasons now, and it’s not as if she hasn’t solved a problem with fire before. I totally buy Daenerys: the Villain, not Daenerys: the Conquering Hero. That’s not the issue. But this level of heel turn, where she’s suddenly killing innocents because she has no friends (basically), felt rushed, like a conclusion driven less by character motivation than plot convenience. It’s almost as if there’s only one episode left… “If circumstances had been different, I don’t think this side of Dany ever would have come out,” co-showrunner David Benioff said during a defense of Daenerys’ turn in the latest “Inside the Episode” feature. “If Cersei hadn’t betrayed her, if Cersei hadn’t executed Missandei, if Jon hadn’t told her the truth… if any of these things happened in a different way, then I don’t think we’d be seeing this side of Daenerys Targaryen.” But they did, and now Jon Snow & Co. will have to deal with the consequences in the series finale. — JK
4. How much fire does a dragon have?
Daenerys’ attack on King’s Landing involved a pretty sustained amount of dragonfire being unleashed on the city by Drogon, raising the question of just how long they could have kept up that level of carnage. There’s no glands, organs, or other physical properties to consider when trying to estimate how much fire a dragon can breathe. They’re inherently magical creatures that have been described many times as “fire made flesh.” There are literal connotations to this, as George R.R. Martin’s World of Ice and Fire book alludes to numerous ancient races using dark arts to create new creatures.
Reputable Westeros scholar Septon Barth claimed dragons were bred by bloodmages using fire magic, wyvern stock, and Valyrian blood. Magic in Westeros seems to focus around elemental forces and blood sacrifice, with the Valyrians enslaving entire civilizations and working them to death in the volcano mines of the Fourteen Flames. If this was the birthplace of dragons, it’s no wonder they’re as close to the essence of fire as you’re going to see in the world.
Elemental magic in Game of Thrones also waxes and wanes, with Westeros enjoying a relatively magic-free period until Daenerys’ dragons hatched. It’s unclear whether dragons brought the return of magic or magic brought the return of dragons, but at this point these forces are stronger than they’ve been since the Age of Legends. With all that considered, should we really be surprised that Drogon had enough power to level King’s Landing? — RH
5. Is Euron the man who killed Jaime Lannister?
No. — JK
6. What was the exact moment Daenerys became the Mad Queen (and why did it feel so sudden on a show otherwise known for its patience)?
I’m going to take a controversial stand here and say I don’t actually think Dany has actually gone full Mad Queen. But you’re going to need a better PR person than me to convince Westeros of that after the fire and blood she just rained down on King’s Landing. The moment Daenerys ignored the church bells signifying the city’s surrender, she gave up on that strong Mhysa / Breaker of Chains brand she built in Essos in favor of something much darker and harder.
But simply saying Daenerys went mad in that moment ignores all of the realities she’s been hit with over the past four episodes. As the old adage goes, “It’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.” Most of her closest allies are dead, and her armies are substantially weakened. She’s gone from three happy dragons to one sad dragon. Her boyfriend is an idiot, and a massive political liability (more on this later). Sansa is plotting to overthrow her. And she has a team of advisers that has botched every move in the war against Cersei thus far.
It’s no wonder Daenerys was unwilling to take Tyrion’s latest plan to heart and accept the bells as the city’s surrender. So Cersei could escape and continue to be a thorn in her side? So the forces of King’s Landing could survive, ready to pick up arms again for her future rivals? At every turn, Dany’s attempts at being civil and reasonable have been rebuffed. The peasants distrust her and her forces. The noble houses are practically lining up to replace her with Jon Snow. What else can she do but turn to fear and give both groups a lesson in what happens to those who defy a Targaryen with a full-grown dragon?
So maybe this was a rage fueled but calculated decision from Dany. Just as likely? That she’ll be completely unhinged and as crazy as her father, the Mad King, in the next episode. Unfortunately, Game of Thrones has lost a lot of its ability to portray more nuanced character development lately. The decision to wrap things up in two short seasons rather than milk the show for as long as possible was originally hailed as a positive development. But the downsides are only becoming more obvious as we hurtle towards a final ending with no time for any single element of the show to breathe. Dany’s sudden shift from hero to villain was particularly jarring, as Josh mentioned above. They had enough time to set it up but not enough to sell it very well, once again leaving fans grasping for rationalizations to fill the gaps in the show’s logic and reasoning. — RH
7. Is everything that happened basically Jon Snow’s fault (again)?
Well, you have to give Cersei and Euron a certain amount of credit for killing Dany’s dragon and best friend. But I’d still put Jon Snow in the top position for making a complete hash of things this week when he turned down Daenerys’ advances on Dragonstone. His queen wasn’t exactly being subtle about her mindset in the preceding moments, saying ominous stuff like “I don’t have love here. I only have fear.” Jon started things off right by saying he loved her, but couldn’t get over the whole Aunt Dany thing when she went to kiss him.
Incest is gross, fair enough. But this hot and cold crap is enough to drive any normal person nuts, let alone someone dealing with all the stressors Daenerys is. Jon knows how hard of a time it is for her. He hasn’t exactly made things easier, what with the whole telling Sansa he’s the true heir to the Iron Throne and all that. The least he can do is reassure Dany with more than just words. If that requires turning off his brain and forgetting about the family tree for a bit, that’s what a good leader does.
This has always been Jon Snow’s issue – he’s big on idealism but short on practical action. He clearly wants to save King’s Landing from being burned to a crisp by Daenerys, yet he just can’t get over how icky kissing her is now that he knows they’re related. Varys was willing to die via agonizing dragonfire in an attempt to make Jon king, and meanwhile Jon isn’t even willing to brave a bit of moral discomfort to pull Dany back from the brink and prove he’s not part of the rapidly growing movement to overthrow her. — RH
8. What was the deal with Arya and the white horse?
Let’s get this out of the way now.
You were thinking it, I was thinking it, the entire internet was thinking it.
Anyway, following Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing, Arya is greeted among the ruin and rubble by a white horse. My immediate (dumb) reaction was, “Oh cool, Bran came to help out.” It’s not Bran. I mean, it could be Bran in warg form, but that seems less likely than the more obvious answer: it’s Harry Strickland’s horse. Who is Harry Strickland? There’s no reason to know his name, because the character never said a word in his two appearances on Thrones. He’s the leader of the Golden Company, the mercenary company that, as we discussed earlier, proved to be fairly useless. Like, REALLY useless.
You can tell it’s the same horse by that majestic haircut. (I don’t buy the theory that the horse was a stand-in for death — Game of Thrones has never dabbled in overt Christian imagery before. Why start now?) As for why Arya was in King’s Landing in the first place: she was there to kill Cersei, but the Hound ultimately convinced her to move past her revenge, and that if she doesn’t, “You’ll die here” (like he did in the long-hyped Cleganebowl). Of course, Arya didn’t know that King’s Landing crumbling infrastructure did the dirty work for her, but she’s already moved on, either back to Winterfell to be with her family or “west of Westeros.” Or maybe she’s added another name to her list… — JK
HBO’s Game of Thrones series finale airs next Sunday, May 19.