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With the Army of the Dead dispatched, it was time for Westeros to deal with the living. And, as Episode 4 agonizingly showed, hell is other people.
**Spoiler Warning: There are, obviously, spoilers for the most recent episode of Game of Thrones below**
Sure, there were bright spots, but every moment of hope in the episode was quickly followed by shocking, agonizing moments of despair. After burning their dead, with Jon echoing the funeral rights of the Night’s Watch in his eulogy, the survivors of the Battle of Winterfell go off to enjoy a much-deserved feast. Although the mood is understandably somber at first, Daenerys tries to be a good sport. She toasts Arya Stark, the hero of Winterfell, and legitimizes Gendry Rivers — sorry, Gendry Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Davos are wondering what god’s whole deal is, before Tyrion starts playing his truth-guessing drinking game with Jaime, Brienne, and Podrick.
Everyone is having a great time, until it’s a terrible time. Daenerys, still mourning the loss of Jorah and grappling with the truth of Jon’s parentage, is dismayed to see everyone praising Jon’s natural leadership abilities. When Tormund is talking about how nuts it is that Jon rode a dragon, it’s all Dany can do to stop herself from getting up and shouting, “I’ve been riding dragons for four seasons, you ginger goon!”
Tyrion, continuing his multi-season streak of making colossal tactical errors, ruins the mood of the drinking game when he asks if Brienne is a virgin. Then again, it does give Brienne and Jaime a reason to go off together and finally, finally do something about all that sexual tension, though it was still an awkward moment.
Speaking of awkward moments, Gendry proposes to Arya, and while she’s happy for him, Arya remains firm in who she is — and who she isn’t. She won’t be his lady, despite what Gendry unwittingly prophesied back in Season 3.
There are other little moments during the feast, including an exchange between the Hound and Sansa that’s perhaps somewhat problematic, but the mood of the episode irrevocably changes when Daenerys and Jon have some alone time.
For all the worry that Dany is becoming a Mad Queen, she’s making a lot of sense when she tells Jon the only way to ensure that his true parentage and claim to the throne don’t become a problem is not to tell anybody. Jon, being a Jon, promptly spills the beans, telling Sansa and Arya the truth. Sansa in turn tells Tyrion, who tells Varys, and by the end of the episode, Varys is plotting full-blown treason. This is far from the worst thing that happens to Dany in this episode.
The next day, Jon, Dany, Sansa, and the rest of the major characters plan their next move against Cersei. We learn that about half of the Unsullied died, along with half of the Northmen, and it’s unclear how many Dothraki are left, though it seems wild that there are any survivors. The last scene of “The Long Night” made it seem like literally eight characters, all named, survived while everyone else died, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear that Dany even has this much of her army left. And, in another (brief) bit of good news, Rhaegal is healing!
After hearing that Yara has retaken the Iron Islands and an unknown, unseen Prince of Dorne has pledged support, they hatch a plan. Dany will go to Dragonstone with the dragons and a small crew, while Jon will head south with the bulk of the troops. Together, they’ll lay siege to King’s Landing. What could possibly go wrong?
There are a couple more nice moments in Winterfell before everybody heads south. Tormund says goodbye to Jon, as he’s planning to take the Wildlings back north of the Wall. Jon tells him to take Ghost with them, because apparently HBO decided a brief return was enough for the poor dog, who took a licking during the battle. Jon also gets a nice goodbye with Sam and Gilly, who are expecting a son. Heck, even the Lannister Boys get what could constitute a nice moment with Bronn, who surprises the pair with a crossbow and decides not to kill them, so long as he gets Highgarden once this is all said and done.
Everyone’s favorite dynamic duo, Arya and the Hound, are hitting the road again too, both headed to King’s Landing. The Hound has some “unfinished business,” which might as well be Rory McCann turning to look directly into the camera and saying “Cleganebowl get hype.”
Still, even though tensions are high, and Varys and Tyrion are debating if Jon would make a better leader than Daenerys, things seem nice as they arrive at Dragonstone.
And then Euron Greyjoy frickin’ murders Rhaegal, sinks Daenerys’ fleet, and captures Missandei.
It’s hard to overstate just how terribly things have gone for Daenerys since she’s arrived in Westeros. Two of her children are dead, her armies have been decimated, her lover is actually her nephew and a rival to the throne, and her advisors are either dead, captured, or pondering treason. It’s uncomfortable to watch, in part because Game of Thrones is leaning so hard into the idea that she’s a Mad Queen in the making that it’s flattening out several earlier seasons of hard-fought struggle and (mostly) good intentions. As Dany is brought increasingly close to her lowest point, a lot of the show seems to be wanting the viewers to root against her, and the end result is disconcerting.
Rooting against Cersei is pretty easy, though. She’s invited civilians into the Red Keep to act as a human shield, and she’s boldly inviting Daenerys' wrath. Upon hearing what his sister is up to Jaime flees Winterfell, leaving a crying Brienne behind with the words “She’s hateful. And so am I.”
It’s unclear if Jaime is going to rescue his sister from certain doom or deliver it to her. It might not even be clear to Jaime. What is clear is that those nice moments and teases of a happy life with Brienne were a brutal bait and switch. Nothing gold can stay — quite literally, in the case of Jaime’s hand, now rapidly headed down the King’s Road away from Brienne.
Jaime and Brienne weren’t the only happy couple Thrones paraded in front of us just to stab us in the heart. Missandei has been captured, and Cersei tells Daenerys that she’ll only spare her life if the Dragon Queen surrenders, unconditionally.
Tyrion tries to appeal to Cersei’s only redeeming quality — her love of her children. Now, if Euron were smarter, he might wonder how Tyrion knows that Cersei is pregnant, given that Euron only just learned a little while ago, and they first slept together well after the summit in the Dragonpit.
But Euron doesn’t pick up any hints from Tyrion’s plea. Cersei is unmoved too, despite the tears. She orders the Mountain to kill Missandei, who proudly screams “dracarys” as her last words. Just like that, another one of Daenerys' most trusted advisors is gone.
So, in the span of a little more than an hour, we’ve gone from mourning the dead of the Battle of Winterfell and celebrating victory over the Night King to mourning the death of beloved friends, the death of trust, and anticipating new levels of death now that raw conflict between Cersei and Daenerys is finally here. It’s enough to make you yearn for the days when death at the hands of a zombie army seemed inevitable. That was easier to deal with, emotionally.