*Warning: Spoilers ahead*
After episode five of the final season of Game of Thrones, we all know King’s Landing has been burnt to a crisp, Cersei and Jaime have been reduced to rubble, Daenerys has descended into madness, Arya has become fueled by a different kind of vengeance, and Jon is fighting with regret.
This was the outcome of this week's episode, which included the epic battle at King’s Landing. It was big and bold and showcased the deaths of many major players: Cersei Lannister, Jaime Lannister, Lord Varys, Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane, Euron Greyjoy and Qyburn. On paper, this was everything we could have asked for…So why did it feel so devoid of the emotion it deserved?
The answer: pacing. It's well-known at this point that showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss had a story summit with George R.R. Martin a few years ago where they spent numerous days going over the major plot points that exist within Martin’s head for the epic finale of his A Song of Ice and Fire series. By all accounts, the showrunners took the ending of Martin’s series and devised their own way of getting to the same ending the books will have.
SO HOW DID WE END UP HERE?
In my estimation, pacing is the reason for the final season's issues. This and this alone is the reason for the tepid reaction to this entire season of Thrones. The problem isn’t with what is happening. It’s with how it’s happening.
On paper, it looks great to say Daenerys will become fueled by jealousy, just like her older brother Viserys became in season one when he saw the Dothraki idolizing his sister instead of himself. It looks great to say she’ll descend to “The Mad Queen” status much like her father. It looks great on paper to say Cersei and Jaime will die in the cells of the Red Keep, with the castle they fought and schemed for literally and metaphorically collapsing atop them. And it looks great on paper to say that, in the end, the real war won’t be between the living and the dead or between Daenerys and Cersei, but instead will be between aunt and nephew.
The problem is, each of these transformations of character weren’t given the time they deserve to occur naturally. We the viewers have spent almost ten years with these characters, watching their slow and methodical development and transformations from what they were in season one to what they became at the end of season seven.
Every change we saw in Jon and Dany and Jaime and Arya was motivated. It all made sense. They saw things, reacted to things and changed in a natural, human way. That was the beauty of this show: It married a fictional and magical world with true humanity that we all could relate to. But with 13 episodes left to tell one third of George R.R. Martin’s epic tale, it genuinely feels like the show lost touch with that humanity.
Time became the antagonist. Where the characters have ended up with one final episode left is fine. It’s believable on paper. However, in execution, it’s hard to believe that Daenerys would transform from liberator and hero to malicious murderer over the course of two episodes. It’s hard to believe that Jaime would be fueled to do what’s right in episode three of the final season, abandoning his evil sister to defend the living, and then go running back to her in episode four. It’s hard to believe that Varys, the most meticulous and schematic character on the show, would hear a rumor and then basically tell everyone that he was willing to commit treason. And it’s hard to believe that Cersei and Qyburn, who have been merciless from the start, wouldn’t have a plan in place to blow up the city with wildfire once the gates fell and all of the Northern army was in close proximity.
The show broke down the fundamental elements that make each character who they are in the viewers' minds, but they did so without explaining or motivating those breaks, leaving everyone confused and underwhelmed.
HOW WOULD YOU HAVE SOLVED THIS PROBLEM?
It seems all but certain that the last episode will focus on a divide and feud between Jon and Daenerys, but just imagine how much more powerful that would've been if Rhaegal hadn’t been killed in episode four.
Let me paint an alternative picture for you: Rhaegal and Drogon are both alive and well as Dany and Jon plan the siege of King’s Landing. Dany will ride Drogon while Jon will ride Rhaegal. The battle ensues and everything goes as planned: The Lannister forces surrender and the bell rings. Jon pulls Rhaegal up into the sky while Daenerys descends into madness and begins her massacre on the people of King’s Landing. Jon watches in shock and disgust and flies Rhaegal toward Dany and Drogon. He pleads with her to stop but she won’t listen. Finally we see Jon attack Dany on dragon-back. The city watches in shock as the two dragons and their Targaryen riders fight in the sky. Cersei watches from the window of the Red Keep with a smile on her face. This has always been her plan: to bait Dany into becoming evil and getting her and Jon to turn on one another.
Meanwhile, Jaime and Euron fight at the foot of the cave, and the fight ends with both of them looking as if they’ve died, but Jaime continues to crawl towards Cersei. Euron says his now infamous line: “I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister.” Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Arya and The Hound can’t get into the city as the doors have closed, but Arya (from her days running around the Red Keep back in season one) knows of the same hidden entrance Jaime had found at the foot of the cave. We finally see Jaime reunite with Cersei inside the crumbling Red Keep. Cersei runs and hugs him, and then Jaime starts choking her, before pulling off his face to reveal that it’s Arya Stark. Arya found Jaime’s dead body at the foot of the cave, harvested his face and used it to kill Cersei, fulfilling both the prophecy that said Cersei would be killed by her younger brother, and providing the biggest check mark on Arya’s kill list. Back in the air, Daenerys and Jon battle it out, with Daenerys killing Rhaegar, and sending Jon tumbling to the ground. Seeing her dragon die sends Daenerys into even more of a rage as she obliterates the people of King’s Landing, setting the stage for the final battle between the two Targaryens.
SO WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT EPISODE?
Since Dany’s behavior in the Battle of King’s Landing, Jon, Tyrion, Arya and everyone in Westeros knows who she truly is, and it seems likely that Arya will be the one to put an end to The Mad Queen’s reign. “Brown eyes, green eyes, and blue eyes,” is the prophecy Melisandre told to her. Daenerys is the last remaining character with green eyes, so it seems that murdering Daenerys will fulfill Melisandre’s vision for Arya’s future.
It also feels more likely now that Jon will see the carnage that ensued last episode and abandon his claim on the Iron Throne. Perhaps he’ll go up North to live out the rest of his life with Ghost and Tormund, rejecting the crown in the same way that one of the only other Targaryen characters Jon knew did: Maester Aemon.
The thing that pains me about this ending is that I genuinely think it makes sense. It’s a good ending to a series that has never given us what we want. The problem is we haven’t been given enough time to see it blossom into a satisfying ending.