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Watching 'Game Of Thrones': Fear And Love In Westeros

Lena Headey in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloane/HBO)
Lena Headey in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloane/HBO)

Editors' note: Joanna Weiss is writing weekly recaps of  HBO's "Game of Thrones." Here's her season previewepisode 1episode 2episode 3 and episode 4 recaps. Beware of big-time spoilers below.

Dear People of Westeros: Does your next ruler have to be “likable”?

This is the question vexing Daenerys, whom we find puffy-eyed and paranoid at the start of this week’s episode — and her frustration is understandable. Here she is, the one with the resume (Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, etc.), but Jon Snow is the guy everyone wants to have a beer with. And that’s before people learn he’s a secret Targaryen with a compelling claim to the throne.

So Dany decides to tear up her standard playbook, wherein one frees downtrodden people and earns their respect and love, in favor of a new, 11th-hour campaign tactic.

This one can be summed up as, “fire.”

It’s worth noting that Dany is not in as desperate a predicament as she thinks. True, she just witnessed the beheading of her last true friend, and Varys is doing his best to undermine her, whether by encouraging a small child to poison her or playing the patriarchy card with Jon. (“Men decide where power resides, whether or not they know it,” Varys says, forgetting to add, “… and we won’t do the laundry, either!”) But Grey Worm will still follow her every command. Jon remains in lapdog mode. And Tyrion betrays his old friend Varys — that’s how deeply he believes Daenerys to be the just, merciful, caring leader Westeros finally deserves.

Here she is, the one with the resume ... but Jon Snow is the guy everyone wants to have a beer with.

Dany responds with the opposite of mercy, burning Varys alive with a spray of dragon fire. To be fair, in Westeros, that’s not an out-of-scale response to treason-level betrayal. Then she sends her troops into battle, which feels a little more outrageous.

At first, the 16 remaining Dothraki and the tired-out band of Unsullied seem no match for the Lannister soldiers and the Golden Company, with their surfer-dude hair and their straight-off-the-runway armor. And that’s not mentioning the band of insane mercenary pirates led by Euron Greyjoy, who stands confidently on the deck of a ship, readying his Scorpion crossbows, and looking suspiciously like he’s wearing a smoking jacket. Meanwhile, Cersei looks serenely outside the window of her palace, feeling good about her odds.

But while Euron’s surprise attack killed a dragon last week in three lucky shots, this time the dragon is ready. Drogon flies overhead, puffs out his cheeks, and burns the Scorpions, just like that — the ones on the ships and the ones on solid ground. Next, he destroys the city walls. The Lannister soldiers take one look at the Dothraki, with their minimalist clothes and punk eye makeup, and drop their swords. Someone manages to ring the bells of surrender.

Liam Cunningham and Kit Harington in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloane/HBO)
Liam Cunningham and Kit Harington in "Game of Thrones." (Helen Sloane/HBO)

This is the moment Tyrion has been waiting for, the culmination — he thinks — of a multi-pronged effort to thwart Dany’s potential rage. He tried to persuade her to take the throne with as little bloodshed as possible. (“Think of the children!” he tells her, which worked so well with Cersei last week). He dispatched Jaime — who had been captured by the Northern army — to sneak back into King’s Landing and persuade Cersei to sacrifice the crown. He even arranged for a dinghy on the beach, so Jaime and Cersei could slip away and live the rest of their days in anonymity on Incest Island.

Alas, a plan laid out so confidently in the first half of a movie-length episode is destined to fail. And so, hearing the bells, Dany pauses atop her last remaining dragon, takes a deep breath, then strafes the whole city with fire.

Jon Snow watches, then sees the same rage overtake his on-the-field allies. A thought washes over his face: “I think my queen — who is also my aunt — is maybe, actually, a little crazy.”

Well, yes, she is, and that doesn’t feel entirely right.

Some of the people in this penultimate episode ever were acting according to character. The Hound, who died fighting his brother The Mountain, was always nursing revenge. Grey Worm was enraged over the death of Missandei. And much as the viewing public might have been Team Ser Brienne, Jaime always loved Cersei. Next to her, nobody stood a chance.

[GoT] could end by declaring [Jon Snow] the Beto O’Rourke of Westeros — losing until he wins, staring off into the distance ... embracing his destiny.

Indeed, while Cersei’s death was, in some ways, anti-climactic — no Cersei-Dany showdown, no dagger-stab from Arya — it feels fitting that Jamie and Cersei should die in each other’s arms, the rubble of all they had clung to falling around them.

But since when does Tyrion truly care about the welfare of the unnamed extras of King’s Landing? Or Varys, for that matter? And is Dany so scarred by the deaths of Jorah and Missandei — so fixed on the idea of getting what’s rightfully hers — that she’s lost not only her mercy, but her mind? Yes, torching the entire population of King’s Landing is one way to inspire fear. But would she really destroy the castle that she’s pined for? Burn the city indiscriminately, even if it meant she’d likely be hitting some of her own men? Kill every single one of her potential subjects?

After this week’s extended disaster flick, next week’s series finale will surely be about cleaning up this mess, and declaring who the final ruler of Westeros will be. If the show wants to abandon hope of Dany and still prove Varys wrong, there are several women candidates remaining. Arya is alive, perhaps the last living person in King’s Landing, riding out of town on the last horse. Sansa is still leader in the North. Yara Greyjoy is a wild card, waiting on the Iron Islands.

Or, if the men are still to rule, there is Jon Snow. And yes, given everything we’ve seen so far, "Game of Thrones" could end by declaring him the Beto O’Rourke of Westeros — losing until he wins, leaning against a dragon, staring off into the distance, embracing his destiny.

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Joanna Weiss Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Joanna Weiss is the editor of Experience Magazine, published by Northeastern University.

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