Welcome to Just a Game of Thrones, the column singing backup vocals on the Song of Ice and Fire.

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Down Pat

A few hours before the show, my buddy Pat texted me to ask if I thought “we have a shot at being surprised tonight.”

My reply: “I’ve had so many possible endings and things running around in my head I don’t know if they can come up with something coherent I haven’t already thought of. But I’m keeping my fingers crossed they’ll at least do something unconventional.”

Which, I think, they tried to do.

Director Miguel Sapochnik, for his part, sure did his absolute darnedest to balance “surprising,” “shocking,” and “stunning” throughout the penultimate episode…

An exceptionally bedraggled Dany immediately jumping to the conclusion it was Jon who betrayed her? Surprising.

Harry Strickland and the Golden Company’s explosive decimation? Shocking.

That shot of Drogon flying over King’s Landing? Stunning.

Euron’s second vital organ stab? Both surprising and shocking.

The fiery end to CLEGANE BOWL!!!? Both shocking and stunning.

Cersei and Jaime’s death scene? Surprising, shocking, and stunning all in one.

But alas, upon seeing the end credits grace the screen, I, like many of the Game of Thrones fans I follow on Twitter, couldn’t shake the distressing feeling that last night’s 120-minute long penultimate episode was so narratively conventional and unsubtly procedural it was downright boring at times.

I even went to pee during (one of) the (many) supposedly incendiary “fire raining down from above” scenes because I knew I wasn’t going to miss anything not worth missing. A(nother) fairly incoherent battle plan had led to a(nother) series of far-fetched situations that allowed our favorite characters to do (even more) things that were seemingly implausible in the name of entertainment value and/or thematic justification and/or visual grandeur.

To borrow Dany’s own words from the season six finale, “I felt nothing. Just impatient to get on with it.”

Really, the most affecting moments of the episode were those scattered instances when our combatants either chose or were forced by circumstance to deviate from their typical modus operandi. Grey Worm, incensed by his lover’s recent beheading, defying the Unsullied’s reputation as emotionless warriors and going on a full-on rage-filled stabbing spree. Arya, the detached assassin who adherently worshipped the Many-Faced God, becoming petrifyingly disillusioned by the mass death around her.

Cersei, who only two seasons ago proudly hissed that she chose violence, finding herself at a loss for words for the first time in her life.

Nevertheless, it was fire and blood that ultimately ruled “The Bells.”

Which in and of itself still didn’t have to be a bad thing. “Violence is a disease” after all. And as the two armies who came face to face on the streets of King’s Landing can attest, it only takes the sudden charring of a few countrymen to initiate an epidemic. There just has to be some kind of emotionally condoling heat behind that wild of fire and some sort of compelling passion coursing through that much blood; otherwise it’s simply exploitative immolation and ineffectual gore.

As our favorite not-so-trusted Hand once elocuted, “It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it, other people dying?”

Before Season 8, this former English major got a little OCD with his research, to the point I actually published a Hall of Fame of “Game of Thrones” Quotes post that chronicled all the quotes, quips, and quizzical bits of foreshadowing peppered through the series. At the very least I thought it might be a handy guide for my fellow reviewers/recappers if they needed to reference a specific scene, but I also thought it could possibly serve as a roadmap that articulated how the show’s scores of narratives were fastidiously resolved.

Instead, at this point, it reads like a tome of unrealized potential.

We can blame the shortened seasons all we want, though the agonizing reality is that some of the professedly crucial snippets of foreshadowing we were given along our 71-episode way were rendered practically moot by the choices the show runners David Benihoff and D.B. Weiss have made over the past two seasons. Especially when one considers the vast multitude of fan theories floating around the vast multitude of GoT forums out there that would have better elucidated the series’ various storylines.

In choosing to extinguish nearly all magic from this fantastical world, Benihoff and Weiss have effectively extinguished some of the series’ magic as well.

Now, with one episode remaining, the only truly impactful questions we’re left with are who’s going to be the one to slay the Dragon Queen (my bet is on Tyrion, though I’m also hedging my bet by putting a stack of chips on Grey Worm), who will be in charge at the 1:20:00 mark of next episode, and what in the Seven Hells are we going to do with the Three-Eyed Bran; all of which are important to the story, none of which are able to be as realm-shattering as they might have been had this penultimate episode played out differently.

A few minutes after the episode ended, my phone buzzed with another text from Pat:

“Not good man. But two more seasons would have done it. Instead of this shit show.”
 

Break The Wheel of Hot Takes

The Death Watch list that usually comprises this section is essentially inessential at this point, with only Grey Worm and Gendry left on it, so allow me to pivot to my latest smoldering take:

Qyburn was the smartest person in the show.

Since his introduction, this man who didn’t even receive his Citadel degree was able to deliver Cersei the “like Uber, but for giant crossbows” weapon that took down a dragon, personally handle all the wildfire logistics, and, let’s not forget, BRING SOMEONE BACK FROM THE DEAD without the Lord of Light’s help.

British science fiction writer Sir Arthur Charles Clarke famously penned that “magic is just science that we don’t understand yet.”

Qyburn understood it all.
 

“It Is Known”

To keep quoting myself, “Holy crap how are we going to tackle the litany of remaining prophecies, conspiracies, and far flung fan theories in only five four three two one episode?!?! Even with extended running time, I just don’t see it happening.”

I do think some loose ends are more likely to be tied into bows than others, though…

HAS to happen:
  • Jaime = the valonqar
  • Bran = the voice inside the Mad King’s “Burn them all!”-filled head
  • CLEGANE BOWL!!!
  • An explanation as to why Bran was in warg mode throughout the entire battle
  • The end of Tyrion’s “honeycomb and jackass” joke
  • SHOULD happen:
  • A Night King defeat by no later than Episode 4
  • A Valyrian steel sword and/or Unsullied Spear though Dany’s back, courtesy of Tyrion or Grey Worm, respectively
  • A Daario update
  • An appearance by Howland Reed
  • An on-target shot by Chekhov’s Scorpion
  • An acknowledgement that a throne you can ride (e.g. a horse, a dragon, a ship) is better than a stationary one made of iron
  • COULD happen:
  • Tyrion = a Targaryen
  • Syrio Forel = Jaqen H’ghar
  • Arya = Dany’s killer
  • Tormund = Brienne’s rebound
  • PROBABLY WON’T happen (but it would be cool if it did):
  • Varys turns out to have been a merman who can send messages via candles
  • Westeros becomes so uninhabitable all surviving Westerosi are forced to join Arya in exploring “what’s west of Westeros,” thus becoming a mysterious Other ‘invading’ a foreign land via a once-impenetrable barrier
  • Elephants
  • * I’d like to think that when Maegor’s Holdfast collapsed Jaime ended up getting pinned on top of a still-alive Cersei with his arms/hand(s) still around her throat, meaning he effectively choked the life out of her and thus fulfilled the valonqar prophecy

    ** One could also argue Tyrion unintentionally valonqared Cersei when his promised escape route became an impenetrable “choke” point
     

    “My Name, My Real Name…”

    I personally like Beric the best.


     

    Ba Dum Tssshhh

    “I need to ask you a favor. You’re the greatest smuggler alive, aren’t you?” — Tyrion
    “I’m not gonna like this favor, am I?” — Davos
     
    “I drink to eat the skull keeper…I want to eat the skull keeper…I want to see the…” — Tyrion
    “We speak the Common Tongue.” — Unsullied
     

     

    “Happy Mother’s Day, Cersei”

    Everyone and their mother made the same “Happy Mother’s Day, Cersei” joke as soon as the episode ended. However, as you’ll see from the timestamp on this plagiarized tweet, I’m fairly confident my wife was one of the first:
     

    Sorry, Jake Tapper.
     

    The HoF of GoT GIFs

     * My fellow recappers/reviewers, feel free to pilfer from these, or any other GIFs from the Just a Game of Thrones archives, anytime

    In addition to the multitude of GIFs in the first section…

    Varys Dracarysed:

    Spear Campaign:

    Of the Ashes:

     

    Sword to my Throat, I’d Bet _____ Wins the Game of Thrones

    (this is subject to, and will most likely, change each week)

    A Poorly Thought-Through Installation of Democracy, Instituted by Sansa and Tyrion!

    If Westeros really is going to suddenly transition into some sort of quasi-democratic collection of nation states after eons of adherence to a feudal system, as many speculate it will, then Sansa and Tyrion (fingers crossed) should expect a realm’s worth of unforeseen repercussions.

    There is a reason even the United States didn’t provide for the direct popular election of senators until 1913.