Game of Thrones season 8 episode 5 recap: Daenerys Targaryen sets everything on fire
"They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath."
Claire ReillyFormer Principal Video Producer
Claire Reilly was a video host, journalist and producer covering all things space, futurism, science and culture. Whether she's covering breaking news, explaining complex science topics or exploring the weirder sides of tech culture, Claire gets to the heart of why technology matters to everyone. She's been a regular commentator on broadcast news, and in her spare time, she's a cabaret enthusiast, Simpsons aficionado and closet country music lover. She originally hails from Sydney but now calls San Francisco home.
ExpertiseSpace, Futurism, Science and Sci-Tech, Robotics, Tech CultureCredentials
Webby Award Winner (Best Video Host, 2021), Webby Nominee (Podcasts, 2021), Gold Telly (Documentary Series, 2021), Silver Telly (Video Writing, 2021), W3 Award (Best Host, 2020), Australian IT Journalism Awards (Best Journalist, Best News Journalist 2017)
It's the second to last episode of Game of Thrones ever, and we still have so many questions. How many more of our favorites are going to die horrible deaths? And who will get to finally sit on the throne they've been gaming over for eight seasons?
Let's not lie to ourselves. Last week's episode left a little to be desired. Daenerys has a flying dragon but somehow it didn't ship with "arrow detection" mode? Queen Cersei is unquestionably evil but she doesn't use her advantage to slay her enemies? And Jon revealing to Sansa and Arya his real family lineage -- one of the most integral plot points of the show -- in a conversation that happens off screen? Are you kidding me?
But Game of Thrones has strong form on dropping serious drama in the second last episode of the season (think about the Red Wedding and the Battle of the Bastards). And it certainly delivered.
Get ready for spoilers -- we've got your full recap ready to go.
Drama, drama, drama
The crew has decamped to Dragonstone and the mood is grim. Lord Varys has well and truly chosen sides and is writing a bunch of crow notes revealing that Jon Snow is the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Turns out the Master of Whisperers is real good at whispering.
Varys still wants Jon to take the throne because he's convinced Dany is starting to get a bit iffy.
"They say every time a Targaryen is born, the gods toss a coin and the world holds its breath … we both know what she's going to do," he says to Jon, referencing the increasingly mad Dany. "I still don't know how her coin has landed, but I'm quite certain about yours."
But Jon's not having a bar of it. "She's my queen," he says, clearly not having been briefed on how this episode will end.
Meanwhile, Dany is having a rough time. Anyone who has seen The Bachelor could tell the producers have well and truly chosen a villain arc for her this episode -- she's not eating, she's refusing to join the party and her hair is looking like a before picture in a Garnier commercial. In the diary room, sorry WAR room, Tyrion is trying to talk some sense into her, but it's no use -- the writers have settled on their "mad woman" archetype so Dany won't see sense. She's convinced that Jon has betrayed her by revealing their family bond, and just like a contestant in the Bachelor house, she's seeing enemies everywhere.
Someone is going to have to die for this. And who else but the Master of Whisperers, Lord Varys. Knowing a plot turn when he hears one (it sounds like Unsullied boots marching towards your door), Varys burns his final secret letter, takes off his rings and quietly congratulates himself on making it to the second last ep.
As Dany sentences him to death, Tyrion quietly reveals that he was the one to betray Varys and we get our first goodbye of the episode.
Dracarys becomes Drac-Varys.
Conflagulations! You just burned your ally
Cut to shortly after the burnination, and Dany is very much sticking to her guns. She blames Sansa for sharing Jon's secret ("she killed Varys as much as I did") and bemoans the fact that no one seems to be picking up what she's putting down ("I don't have love here, only fear.")
The cynic in me would argue that burning people from your inner circle is a great way to inspire fear, but that's probably not helpful. Instead, Jon says he still loves her, but his puckered-mouth squint kiss says otherwise.
"All right then," Dany replies. "Let it be fear."
Let's cross now to the Dragonstone throne room to explore that theme! Tyrion is reminding Dany that the people of King's Landing are innocent and should be spared her impending attack. In a great piece of mental gymnastics, Daenerys reminds everyone that she IS being merciful, by killing a tyrant, and if on her way she swings her arms and knocks out thousands of civilians with dragonflame, then it's their own fault.
Um, no, that's not quite what he meant. Tyrion begs Daenerys to call off her armies if the bells of King's Landing ring in surrender. We get the equivalent of a "mumble, mumble, we'll see" but frankly that's probably the best this rapidly disintegrating queen can give us right now.
Watch this: Game of Thrones season 8 episode 5: Everybody hurts
Brothers in arms
Outside King's Landing, the troops are preparing for another battle and mentally calculating the overtime they've been doing since the last time they took up arms against the dead in Winterfell. You'd better believe these guys are looking forward to their days in lieu.
Amidst the preparation, Arya and The Hound ride through the camp -- apparently the password to get through the guards is "I'm Arya Stark. I'm here to kill Cersei." The guard, who was weighing up the benefits of skipping a battle with the overtime he could get for fighting on a Sunday, lets them through.
Meanwhile Tyrion has wheedled his way into the tent where Jaime, who was captured en route to King's Landing, is being kept prisoner (C'mon guards, you're just phoning it in at this point). He just wants Cersei to see sense and to save the lives of the townsfolk of King's Landing -- effectively a "won't somebody please think of the children?" -- but Jaime says she won't give up.
"The child is the reason she will never give an inch," he says.
FINE. So Tyrion unshackles him and asks him to escape with Cersei so the kingdom can surrender, telling Jaime to use the secret passage Tyrion used back in season 7 episode 5 to sneak into the castle. Tyrion has either just saved countless innocent lives, or he's just given his evil tyrant sister an escape route. Potayto, Potahto. Jaime rightly points out he could be executed for this.
"Tens of thousands of innocent lives. One not particularly innocent dwarf. Seems like a fair trade," Tyrion replies.
And with that, Tyrion makes another tearful farewell. The two brothers have what can best be described as a "one of us is going to die" hug, so it's time to mentally add one of these two to your body count list. (Sorry, Ser Bron, you snooze you lose.)
Remember when the night before battle could last an entire episode? We don't have time for that! It's morning and we've got soldiers to kill!
The Lannister armies are loading up their dragon-killing Scorpion crossbows, the Iron Fleet is out singing shanties on the water and the townsfolk, who have just been informed about operation Human Shield, are trying to escape before the impending carnage. Cersei is watching over all this in a snappy new red velvet number she's whipped up for the occasion. Below, Jaime is sneaking into the city like it's Assassin's Creed cosplay day at Comic-Con.
That's the cue to get things rolling, and here's the starting gun: Dany flying in atop Drogon, no doubt pumping some sweet Led Zeppelin tunes through her dragon-mounted Bluetooth speaker to help her psych up. After Rhaegal failed so spectacularly last week, his brother dragon is out to settle the score and that means burning everything in sight.
Goodbye, Iron Fleet! Goodbye, Scorpion crossbows! Goodbye, massive wall keeping out Dany's armies! The Unsullied and Dothraki armies charge through, and just like that, it's on like Drogon Kong.
I'd love to take a pause here to mourn the death of Gavin S. Charming -- the head of the Golden Company and the guy I definitely thought was good looking enough to get a little backstory before he died. But with the flick of Grey Worm's spear, the poor man's Jaime Lannister is dispatched with very little to-do. In the moment he was running away, you could see his entire Hollywood career flash before his eyes.
In the Red Keep, Cersei is convinced this isn't how it ends, but in the streets below everyone is doing a great job of proving her wrong. With Cersei's forces dwindling, Jon, Ser Davos and Grey Worm have come face to face with the Lannister Army. There's a stand off (I briefly hope they will click and sashay their way out of it, Jets versus Sharks style) and the Lannister Army drops their swords.
Excellent! It's over, right? The bells are ringing in surrender and everyone can go to bed! Oh, my sweet summer child...
Daenerys Targaryen, bringer of flames
Until this point I'd been secretly been hoping for a Dany redemption -- I've just finished my second cup of tea and everyone I'm watching this episode with would really like a pee break. But atop the walls of King's Landing, Daenerys Targaryen looks upon our toilet breaks and she laughs. This is the turning point. Dany has shaken her magic eight ball, and the outlook is war crimes.
After a stare down with Cersei that somehow covers about three miles of distance, Dany kickstarts Drogon and flies over King's Landing, dracarys-ing everything in sight. Innocent civilians, screaming women and children, regular people who work in the tanning shops and blacksmith forges of this city. Dany doesn't care about the macroeconomic implications of destroying an entire agrarian society that relies on small business owners. She came here to slay.
Grey Worm, who very clearly hasn't even begun to process his grief over Missandei's death, takes that as a cue to turn bad. He spears a surrendered soldier and we begin the full-blown waste of King's Landing.
Realizing that Dany is trying to beat her in the evil stakes, Cersei has admitted defeat and she's getting the hell out of dodge. Meanwhile, at the secret entrance down by the sea, Euron surprises Jaime (both in the "walking up behind you" way, and the "I was doinking your sister" way). After a good old-fashioned wrassle, Euron stabs Jaime (surely it doesn't end like this?!) before Jaime swords him in the gut.
Just like everyone you've ever had a flame war with on Twitter, Euron tries to get credit for hurting his enemy while completely missing the point. "I got you! I'm the man who killed Jaime Lannister!" he cries as he bleeds out.
I know he lives on the ocean, but damn this guy is salty.
O Brother, where art thou?
The Hound and Arya have made their way to the Red Keep. The Hound has always had a soft spot for Arya, in a mean, battle-hardened kind of way, and he has one last act of chivalry up his sleeve.
Arya was on a mission to kill Cersei and The Hound to commence Cleganebowl, but as the Red Keep crumbles he tells her to return to safety. Revenge isn't worth it.
"You want to be like me?" the Hound barks at her. "You come with me, you die here."
"Sandor," she replies (like that helpful friend at your work mixer, reminding you of your colleague's name). "Thank you."
With Arya bowing out, we're going up into The Keep because The Hound has a score to settle with his undead brother -- it's time for CLEGANEBOWL! Knocking Qyburn out of his way with the old "crush your skull on a rock" move, The Mountain is ready. Cersei takes this as her cue and, with a polite "Excuse me, I've just realized I need to pop behind you there, don't mind me," she is outie 5,000.
It's The Hound vs The Mountain. Brother versus brother. Grudging hero against ... wait, what's this? The Mountain has taken his helmet off and it's like he just pulled off an old Band-Aid -- except in this case, the Band-Aid is covering three seasons of undead Darth Vader face and he's going to need more than an over-the-counter antiseptic to fix things.
The Hound realizes things are a bit off too, because his brother won't die. The Hound quickly thinks, "Hey, I've read the Odyssey!" and stabs The Mountain in the eye. No dice. The Mountain, thinking back to the time he was in an amateur production of Richard III, responds by putting out his brother's eyes with his thumbs. Clearly you can't stab The Mountain to death. Rock beats scissors.
There's nothing left for it. With one last bitter embrace, The Hound spear-tackles The Mountain off the crumbling tower of the Keep and they fall to their fiery deaths.
The end of an era
With all her allies dead, Cersei has been wandering through her ruined castle looking like a Confused Travolta meme, but finally, Jaime is here. The siblings are reunited, and Jaime, who has actually been listening to a lot of Metallica up in the North, reminds Cersei that they only need each other and "nothing else matters."
That is super lucky, because the world is going to hell in a dragonbasket around them, and everyone watching at home has realized the slow piano music is starting up so, narratively speaking, they are running out of options. They flee to the bowels of the castle to the hall where they keep their spare dragon skeletons, ready to make their escape.
But the escape is blocked. Just like that. It's over and the end is somehow so simple and so poignant. The great evil queen, the man who has killed for her -- these two characters that we'd all imagined dying so many times, going out not with a bang, but with a whimper. Crushed under the weight of their own castle, their bones left to turn to dust like the centuries-old dragons around them.
With our Lannister villains destroyed, there's a strange emptiness as we return to the streets of King's Landing, Arya taking stock of the wreckage around her. The burnt bodies of a mother protecting her child, countless people dead at the hands of Daenerys.
As she rides off on the last, magically unhurt horse in King's Landing, the rest of the world is channeling their inner Tyra Banks: Dammit, Dany, we were rooting for you. We were all rooting for you.
Game of Thrones stars, from season 1 through today