Monday, May 13, 2019

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: Final Season Episode 5

I am Daenerys Stormborn and I will take what is mine with fire and blood!
Well true to the series the penultimate episode had some shocks, thrills, and many character deaths. 

In the unlikely event that I am ever fortunate enough to read the completed series or hear GRRM speak on how he intends to handle the storyline in his books it will be interesting to compare the show and books. For now though the show is all we have. 

Although I do believe that the show suffered somewhat from being rushed this season given that similar character left turns that I thought were show-only actually allegedly came from GRRM, i.e. Stannis' sacrifice of his daughter Shireen, I'm not that outraged at some of the events depicted in last night's episode. It's important to remember that GRRM has generally been anti-war. He has been interested in depicting the muck and filth and grime and crime inherent in war, not just the glory and bada$$ last stands and stirring speeches and righteous anger. More so in the books but also in the show several characters have deplored the savagery that occurs in war. 

As another of GRRM's characters warned us, if you think this has a happy ending you haven't been paying attention. GRRM is on record discussing that Tolkien's settling on Aragorn as the rightful king and everyone living happily ever after wasn't that compelling to him. What if Aragorn was an a$$hole? What was Aragorn's tax policy? How did Aragorn intend to settle land dispute claims between the Haradrim and Gondorians? Or as Monty Python reminded us, who voted for someone as king anyway? Shouldn't supreme executive power derive from a mandate from the masses?


We open up with Varys writing letters stating that Jon Snow is the true heir. One of his child spies reports that Daenerys is depressed and not eating. When Jon arrives Varys reveals his knowledge of Jon's ancestry but Jon again refuses to attempt to take the throne.

Tyrion goes to drop a dime on Varys to Daenerys. Utterly forlorn, Daenerys says that even though it's Varys who is the most recent link in the chain of betrayals, it's Jon who ultimately betrayed her by telling Sansa, who told Tyrion. Daenerys also correctly points out that Sansa played Tyrion like a fiddle and that Tyrion betrayed Daenerys by not coming to her first.

That night, in front of Jon, Tyrion, and Grey Worm, Daenerys executes Varys. Tyrion is man enough to tell Varys that he ratted him out. Later, Daeenrys gives Grey Worm Missandei's slave collar. He throws it in the flames. Jon comes to see Daenerys. She tells Jon what did I tell you not to do? And you did it you big dummy. Daenerys says that Sansa is responsible for Varys' death. Daenerys admits she is tired. She has no love in Westeros, only fear. There's only one man left who might love her. She makes a move but Jon is creeped out by the incest issue and doesn't respond. Gathering herself, Daenerys says let it be fear then.


Before they leave for King's Landing, Tyrion again argues for mercy. He says that the city residents will surrender and announce this, as is traditional, by the ringing of the bells. Daenerys responds that mercy is for future generations but does seem to silently assent that she will halt attack if the city surrenders. She also tells Tyrion that her forces captured Jaime trying to sneak into King's Landing. Daenerys is tired of duplicity. She tells Tyrion that if he disappoints her again there won't be any more conversations. Everyone sails for King's Landing. It's unclear as to why the Iron Fleet doesn't attack them at Dragonstone but ok.

We see throngs of people entering King's Landing. This actually makes little sense as wouldn't you want to get OUT of the city about to be attacked? Anyhow Tyrion asks a favor from Davos. The Hound and Arya reach King's Landing.

Tyrion bluffs his way in to see Jaime. After some brotherly repartee and insults the two cry and hug one another. Tyrion has gotten Davos to set up a boat outside of a secret entrance to the Red Keep. Tyrion will release Jaime. Jaime will ring the bells to signify surrender. He will take Cersei and escape to safety. Tyrion says he would not have survived childhood without Jaime. Tyrion will risk Daenerys' wrath to save Jaime and Cersei's life as well as the lives of the people of King's Landing.


In the morning the opposing forces are lined up mean mugging each other. The Hound and Arya make it inside the Red Keep because the Hound pushes a mother and her daughter out of the way. Jaime doesn't make it inside the Red Keep before it's closed. Tyrion reminds everyone for the umpteenth time to stop fighting if the bells ring. Cersei, backed by The Mountain and Qyburn, looks out over the city.

Silence. Everyone is waiting. The Golden Company is massed in front of the walls. The Iron Fleet is in the bay. Silence. Look. Up above! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's one po'd Targaryen riding a dragon!

Daenerys has apparently figured out how to take evasive maneuvers and attack from behind the ballista/scorpions. She burns the Iron Fleet. All of it. Every last dinghy. Euron jumps overboard as his ship is destroyed. As Grey Worm steps forward,the walls of King's Landing, along with most of the Golden Company are incinerated. Daenerys' forces rush into King's Landing. Grey Worm makes a pit stop to unceremoniously kill Harry Strickland, the commander of the Golden Company. Daenerys flies inside the city and inside the angle of fire of the ballistae, burning them all. Cersei starts to look apprehensive but won't take Qyburn's advice to leave, stating that they just need one good shot. Civilians are screaming and running all over the place as Jaime tries to reach the bells. Tyrion walks thru the wreckage of the walls.

Jon, Grey Worm and Davos reach the bulk of the remaining Lannister army. There's a standoff. At close to the same time the bells start to ring, the Lannisters throw down their weapons.There's a thousand yard stare between Cersei and Daenerys. The bells continue to ring as more Lannister soldiers drop their weapons, raise their hands and tell everyone they were always opposed to Cersei.

But Daenerys does not stop!


She heads for the Red Keep, deliberately burning civilians and anyone along the way. Taking a cue from their Queen, Grey Worm and the Unsullied attack the now unarmed Lannisters, and so does everyone else. Jon tries to stop this but fails. A battle now becomes a massacre. Daenerys continues to burn everyone. Jon and Davos try to protect civilians. Women are dragged off to be raped. Jon kills one of his own men to prevent a rape.

Euron and Jaime have a no holds barred fight and give each other what look like mortal wounds-certainly in Euron's case. Jaime crawls away to the Red Keep. Daenerys continues to burn the city. In fact, just remember that whatever else is going on, Daenerys is burning the city. Men, women and children are being roasted alive, raped, stabbed, robbed, beaten or killed by falling masonry as buildings crumble. The wildfire caches explode, adding to the fire.The Hound and Arya have made it to the crumbling Red Keep. The Hound tells Arya that looking for revenge has consumed his entire life. He doesn't want her to be like him. Touched, impressed, and probably a little scared, Arya thanks him and leaves.

The Hound runs into Cersei, Qyburn, some soldiers and The Mountain. The Hound promptly kills the soldiers and lets Cersei escape. It's The Mountain he's interested in. The Mountain kills Qyburn when Qyburn tries to prevent Cleganebowl. It's on. 


The two brothers have an epic battle. Strength vs. Strength. They fight up and down the staircase as it falls apart. But The Mountain, now undead, is too strong for The Hound. The Mountain shrugs off stabs in the neck, the guts and even a sword through the heart. He is gouging out The Hound's eyes when the Hound returns the favor by stabbing him though the eye. Knowing that The Mountain will not stop, The Hound grabs him and throws them both off the keep into the fires below.

By the way Daenerys is still burning things. Arya is almost burned alive by Daenerys. The woman that she and the Hound pushed aside earlier, saves her. Did I mention that Daenerys is still burning things? If you look outside you might see her. The Dothraki are riding thru the city, killing people just for fun. Arya is knocked out as Daenerys burns a tower behind her and it collapses.

Cersei and Jaime meet and embrace. The Red Keep is done for. Jaime leads her down the secret passageway. Cersei is hysterical. They are almost to the exit and the boat. But it looks like the mason work wasn't meant to withstand dragon attack. The way is blocked off. There's no way to dig through it. And the ceilings behind them are collapsing. This is it. Jaime and Cersei embrace. Jaime says nothing matters but us as they die.

Arya is still alive. The woman who saved her life is dead-burned to a crisp-along with several other of the women and children whom Arya was trying to protect. Arya finds Harry Strickland's horse, improbably alive and rides off. And yes Daenerys is still burning things.

Still think Daenerys will be a good queen?


Impressions

This was going to be a separate post (and still could be) but please remember that Daenerys murdered the Tarlys after taking them prisoner. That has never ever ever been considered a fair, moral, or sporting thing to do. 

They had surrendered. It is evil to kill people after they surrender. Period. Full stop. The Tarlys had sworn her no oaths. I mention that to point out that although the show has rushed this reading, Daenerys has always been rash, emotional, capricious and obsessed with taking what she sees as her birthright. 

It's just that now she's behaving that way with people we are coded to care about-not slaveowners or con men in Essos. It's not THAT far out of character that after Cersei killed her best friend forever AND another dragon that Daenerys would get mad and want revenge. Her patience is at an end! It didn't help that she was rejected by the man she loves, Jon.


Also, consider that the people whom Daenerys relies on to temper her worst impulses are either dead (Jorah, Missandei, Barristan), incompetent and conflicted (Tyrion) or outright hostile (Varys). Daenerys thought that upon returning to Westeros she would be feted by all. Instead people hate and fear her, advisers plot against her, she loses two dragons and has no real allies. 

Her brother and husband are dead. Her mother died in childbirth; her father  and other brother were killed, along with her nieces and nephews. Would that history lead a woman to stability and a gentle nature? Especially someone whose parents were siblings?

In real life it was always a tricky thing for cities to surrender. Rules of war were gradually and fitfully imposed though not always respected. Generally if a city forced attackers to take it by force, the attackers would express their displeasure by sacking it for three to five days. This meant rape, robbery and murder. However history is also full of examples where for religious reasons, other moral reasons or simply the desire for good pr, conquerors prevented widespread attacks on civilians after a city fell. 

If a city surrenders on the other hand it was usually considered remarkably immoral to treat it as if it had resisted. Again, people being people, these things happened. There were some kings, mercenaries, and lords who had a good rep for offering fair treatment upon surrender. And there were some who did not.

I felt a little cheated not seeing Cersei get hers in a more personal fashion but that's life.


Stone doesn't burn until you get to about 2700 degrees. And dragons aren't high explosive concussive weapons. Of course we have no idea of the temperature of dragon fire. And many of the stone buildings probably had wood frames. So I'll accept all the stone falling as Sfx.

Daenerys has been seen as a feminist messiah in some quarters of fandom. So I am sure that some of those folks will see this turn as misogynistic. Balderdash. Women are just as capable of men as evil. From Daenerys' pov her actions, though likely rage filled, will ensure that there is peace as long as she reigns. It's utilitarian thinking. Burn out any thoughts of rebellion or disobedience from a few and save the lives of the many. Jon and Arya won't see it that way though. I think Daenerys just made Arya's list.

Just as Ned could not overlook the wrongness of Cersei's actions, perhaps more justifiably his "son" Jon could not overlook the wrongness of incest with his aunt. It's not utilitarian thinking at all but Ned didn't raise his sons to be utilitarians. Incest is wrong. First cousins may not count but aunts and nephews certainly do. I liked the duel between The Hound and The Mountain and the shoutback to the Hound's fear of fire. If Daenerys tries to execute Tyrion will that finally make Jon act?

To whom was Varys writing? Did he get his message out?
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