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Thronespotting examines the penultimate episode of the final season of “Game of Thrones” for clues regarding how the beloved series will conclude.

This article is full of insights, predictions, sorrow, and spoilers. 

Last week’s episode saw the fracturing of the Northern Alliance, Daenerys pushed to the breaking point, and the first exchange of hostilities in the Last War. “The Bells” tied those three threads together in the most brutal and heartbreaking fashion possible. This week’s shockingly brutal installment also wrapped up a number of the show’s ongoing plotlines and set the stage for next week’s series finale.


When a Targaryen is Born, the Gods Toss a Coin

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“Game of Thrones’” last few seasons have quietly pondered the question of whether or not Daenerys would make a good queen. The program’s early seasons focused on her struggle to build an army while seasons six, seven, and eight asked what she’d do when she finally reached Westeros. “The Bells” definitively resolved that question and the answer was quite horrifying.

Once one of the show’s most decent and well-intentioned characters, Dany is now the show’s final villain. Hammered by the betrayals and deaths of her closest advisers, she succumbed to her worst impulses. She broke her vows to be a conscientious and merciful leader and embraced her heritage as a destroyer. “The Bells” was an exhausting episode of television but not because it was too long or badly produced. The installment felt that way because of how thoroughly it snuffed out Dany’s potential.

Sadly, she will not be a noble, compassionate ruler like her ancestor Aegon I. Instead, she proved to be like her father Aerys the Mad King, paranoid and ruthless. Her sacking of King’s Landing was so monstrous, it ensured the Seven Kingdoms will never follow her willingly. If they bow to her at all, it will be out of sheer terror and it will be brief. One of her many allies, friends, or lovers will almost certainly kill her next week.

Everything Burns

This week’s episode began with a relatively small burst of dragon fire. Tyrion told Dany that Varys was planning to betray because he favored Jon as king. In turn, Dany ended his life with a single word. But the fires didn’t stop with Varys’ death. The Dragon Queen called “Dracarys” and obliterated the Iron Fleet, the Golden Company, and most of the Lannister army. She also brought down fire on the civilian population of King’s Landing, slaughtering untold numbers of men, women, and children.

Clearly, whatever mercy Dany had left after her long journey home died with Missandei. The Mother of Dragons continued to raze the city her ancestor founded despite the surrender of Cersei’s army. In fact, given how Grey Worm launched a ground attack as soon as she began the air raid, it seems she was always set on committing an atrocity.

While both men have seen their share of horrific violence, the Siege of King’s Landing deeply affected Tyrion and Jon. They reacted to the wanton slaughter of the innocent in a way that indicates they are no longer loyal to their Queen. Additionally, Tyrion’s misguided effort to prevent the siege by freeing Jamie and Jon’s early attempt to stop the slaughter will likely be viewed as acts of treason.

As the “Game of Thrones” enters its last round, its most important rule holds true. Players either win or they die next week, Tyrion or Jon will claim the Iron Throne for themselves, or they will burn.

At Long Last, Cleganebowl

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Although astoundingly bleak in places, “The Bells” was not without its bits of long-awaited satisfaction. The episode featured the battle between Sandor and Gregor Clegane, colloquially known as Cleganebowl. As opposed to many of the final season’s anticlimactic resolutions to long-running subplots, there was no last-minute subversion to the battle between brothers.

The Hound and the Mountain had it out in a grisly and satisfying brawl as the Red Keep crumbled around them. The conflict was not one of the shows more elegant duels. The pair punched, stabbed, and pounded each other to point of exhaustion. In the end, Sandor jumped Gregor and plunged them both into the fires below. It was a glorious and fitting end for two of the show’s most fearsome and formidable warriors.

Destiny Arrives and Prophecy is Fulfilled

With the fall of the Red Keep came the fall of House Lannister. Her forces devastated by Dany, Cersei hoped to make a last minute escape with Qyburn and her Queensguard. Unfortunately, she waited too long to evacuate and died in the castle she believed would never fall. However, she did not die alone as she was reunited with Jamie, her brother and love of her life.

For a second, it seemed like Cersei and Jamie would get away. Tyrion had Davos prepare a dingy for them and they nearly made it to the vessel and freedom. But Dany’s attack left the Red Keep too damaged and fallen rubble blocked their path. The Queen of the Seven Kingdom’s died childless with the arms of her brother wrapped around her neck. Despite her best efforts, her life ended exactly as a witch told her it would when she was a child.

In death, Cersei was a surprisingly sympathetic figure. She wasn’t the fiery tyrant who blew up the Sept of Baelor. She was just a human being who was desperately afraid to die in the darkness. It was unexpected but appropriate for the show to give its most complex character such an emotional sendoff. As a result, it’s likely the series’ second most complex character, Daenerys, will also be given a muted exit.

Arya the Queenslayer

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The Hound had a moment of grace before meeting his destiny. Sandor told his former protégé, Arya, to abandon her quest to kill Cersei. The young Stark took his advice and fled before the Red Keep could crush her. But her escape from King’s Landing was not easy. Arya raced through the city as Daenerys firebombed it and almost died several times.

She also witnessed the horrific nature of the siege up close and personal. She saw large swathes of smallfolk wiped out and for all her skills, couldn’t save even one little girl. In the past, Arya made it clear she didn’t trust Dany. Having breathed in the ashes of her victims, she presumably hates the Dragon Queen now. Consequently, there’s a good chance the hero of Winterfell will attempt to commit regicide in the finale.

As things stand, Arya makes the most sense as the show’s Queenslayer. Tyrion has the motive to do it but in light of his betrayal, he won’t be allowed close enough to kill her. One of Varys’ Little Birds could do it but that would feel anticlimactic. Jon might do it but sharp, decisive action has never been his strong suit. Conversely, Arya has the skills and motivation to end the Targaryen line.

Image: HBO

Furthermore, the program has set her up as the person to make Dany answer for her crimes. She saw firsthand how cruel and deprived the Breaker of Cities has become, so it only makes sense that she would seek justice for the dead of King’s Landing.

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