Warning: Spoilers Ahead
This hot take about last night’s episode contains spoilers. So, here’s a filler paragraph to give you a chance to look away lest I ruin the episode. Did you know that the giant that allies with Jon Snow, Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun, got his name from author George R.R. Martin’s love of the New York Giants? He’s called Wun Wun because 11 the jersey number of Martin’s favorite player, quarterback Phil Simms.
I assume everyone still here wants to be here.
It really looked like everything was going to work out, you know? Sure, Euron Greyjoy’s* fleet of pirates/’90s industrial band members got burnt to a crisp, and Cersei’s army was routed almost embarrassingly fast. All the peasants were safe in their houses and the bells were ringing and only the ugly extras were dead and this was a good war! The good guys won, the bad guys surrendered, and all that was left was for Cersei to fuck off to lands where no one has ever fucked off to before.
And then Dany dropped the medieval equivalent of a nuclear weapon on King’s Landing, raining down fire and blood as everyone had begged her not to.
Everyone – myself included – was fantasizing about how this was going to go. Maybe Arya sneaks in using Littlefinger’s face and kills Cersei. Maybe Jon and Dany marry and there’s no conflict. Maybe no one has to die but the “right” people.
There are exactly two ways that the sack of King’s Landing could have ended peacefully, and that involved one of the two queens renouncing their claim. Neither of those happened, and so we got a war. This is the most honest Game of Thrones has ever been on the subject, and it’s definitely something that we as Americans should be aware of. I’m sure I’m not the only person who caught all the 9/11 imagery in this episode as towers fell and the survivors were covered in the dust of once might fortresses.
There was nothing else left to do. Cersei could not even be granted the dignity of an execution. Only her ignoble death in a basement would truly serve. The people could not simply be allowed to switch out one regent for another as they had been doing for the past several years. They had to know without a doubt that only Dany was a power next to that of a god’s. Even Varys had to die. Not because he betrayed Dany, but because he spun the wheel one last time.
Change is hard, and on a societal scale it’s damn near impossible. There is no just ending to this series any more than there is a happy one. Game of Thrones has always served as a gritty deconstruction of the fantasy genre. Before it came along the dominant narrative was Lord of the Rings, where even crippling PTSD has a beatific resolve. Game of Thrones has mimicked those films very closely this season, and it allows us to see the contrasts between them.
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I’m all for escapism, but after coming so far with this show it’s a luxury we should probably be denied. The titular game is something that plays out in the modern world around us and in that world the good guys look exactly like Dany did this week. I don’t have it in me to be angry at a fictional woman for doing what my own country does, even as both claim to do it in the name of peace and sanity. I just don’t think we have the right to be horrified or disappointed in Game of Thrones. If you hated the episode – and I did – I guess the question becomes: What are you go to do about it?
Because these parallels between real life and Westeros don’t come from nowhere. They come from us, and we are riding the dragon every day.
*This episode put to rest my favorite fan theory: that Euron Greyjoy is actually the only real person in what is otherwise a medieval version of Westworld.
Game of Thrones has one last episode Sunday, May 19 on HBO at 8 p.m. CST