Second blood wasn't much better as the stage is set for the epic battle for Westeros in the HBO series' final two episodes.
We're closing in on the endgame on "Game of Thrones," and already first blood has tragically been drawn in the final battle for the Seven Kingdoms.
We knew these last few episodes were going to be tough to watch, and we never expected all of our favorites to make it to the finale, but this first death in the strike against King's Landing was still a shot to the heart and surprisingly difficult to take.
The second one was perhaps a little more inevitable, but one that definitely changes the tide of the war, just as loyalties are already shifting. Cersei has an iron hold on the Iron Throne, but she's secured it with a reign of terror not seen since the Mad King.
Her people hate her, and that's what Dany has in her favor. Her people in Essos have loved her. Across the Narrow Sea, though, she's finding a very different reception. These people have been beaten and battered by war for years now, ever since the death of King Robert. And then the Mad King before him.
In other words, they're not looking for yet another claimant to the throne because every claimant brings death with them as they vie for power. And really none of them have succeeded in wresting it from Cersei or her brood, no matter the legitimacy of her claims.
Now, comes an evened playing field (thanks Night King) and a reduced threat in the dragons thanks to the machinations of Qyburn and the audacity of Euron. Yup, the massive crossbows we've been seeing in the bowels of King's Landing in the intro sequence this season have come to fruition with dozens of them mounted strategically around King's Landing and Cersei's forces upon the sea.
Rhaegal was the first to feel their power, and it is potent indeed. The dragons were the biggest threat of Daenerys' army and with them effectively neutered, she's not much bigger of a threat than any of the other upstarts that have come along. In other words, this is going to get very, very ugly in a hurry.
Cersei made sure of that with the episode's final moment, and Dany's response proved the worry that Varys and Tyrion have in her as a queen. Will she prove better than Cersei or is her ambition getting too big. She's willing to bring about a new age on the throne "no matter the cost," how is she better than Cersei? Or even her father?
BIGGEST PLAYER MOVES
Daenerys Honors Gendry
Strategizing over making a genuine human connection, Dany honors Gendry by making him the legitimate heir to Robert Baratheon's holdings and house. Now as Lord of Storm's End, her hope is that he will now be loyal to her. But she's also made him the legitimate heir to the throne in regards to the Bartheon line. Are they setting up a surprise twist ending with Gendry ascending to the throne and Jon ruling the North? Nah, Sansa's got that on lock.
Jaime Seduces Brienne
While it ended in heartbreak when Jaime ultimately left her to go to King's Landing, we think she is in his heart now, and in his head. Brienne's genuine decency and goodness is like an infection and Jaime's caught it. Cersei has a hold on him, but it won't prove to be as strong as it was. In fact, Jaime could prove the difference in the war as he can still get close to Cersei. At least, we hope he doesn't wind up betraying his own redemption arc at the end.
Dany Tells Jon How It's Gonna Be
Honestly, we're not sure if this is a good move or a bad one, as Daenerys continues to show how deep her ambitions run, to the detriment of those around. She says she loves Jon, but then basically demands he keep his true lineage a secret even from his family lest it cause problems to her own desires to rule the Seven Kingdoms. Dany continues a descent into darkness that is alarming. Who will pull her back, or is death to be her fate?
Jon Tells Arya and Sansa the Truth
This will prove to be one of the biggest moments in the whole show, as Jon made a choice that was to betray his queen's wishes. It proves that Jon is not blindly loyal to Daenerys, no matter how many times he bends the knee. He keeps his own counsel and maintains his own honor. If Dany goes too far, Jon is not so far gone that he'll allow it to happen. He may be the only one who can stop her, if it comes to that.
Arya and the Hound Ride Off
It's Arya and the Hound 2.0: Unfinished Business. After rejecting Lord Gendry's proposal of marriage with a very appropriate, "That's not me," Arya heads off with the Hound. The reluctant friendship of these two killers is one of the more delightful aspects of the show, and what a fun spinoff they would give us. The Hound is off on unfinished business, as is Arya, One might think that could take them to the same place, as the Hound still wants to kill his now-undead brother, and Cersei is certainly on Arya's list. For that matter, so is the Hound. Just how cold is she?
Bronn Makes a Deal
Bronn is a cutthroat and his only loyalties are to himself, so it seems totally feasible he would have killed Jaime and Tyrion once he had them in his sights. But he's also an opportunist, and he knows Lannisters always pay their debts. So when Tyrion offered to double Cersei's offer to kill him -- per his earlier agreement -- Bronn found himself looking at lordship over Highgarden. Bronn is playing his own game, and he's killing it!
Sansa Tells Tyrion the Truth
Honestly, Sansa is probably playing the best game of all. Once again, she made a very shrewd and smart move, telling Tyrion the truth of Jon's heritage and that he has a better claim to the throne than even Daenerys. It sows a seed of doubt, and she knew that Tyrion would speak to Varys and within days, Dany's two key advisors are legitimately discussion treason. Dany's actions in the upcoming war will say everything about how fit they feel she is to rule an how her game ends, and Sansa set that in motion.
Euron Shoots Rhaegal
Our hearts are still broke, but this was a huge win for Cersei and for Euron himself, trying to lobby for a kingship for himself. It's also a huge boon for Qyburn, who designed the massive crossbows. But mostly, it's a massive blow to Daenerys' strength and the confidence of her troops. Of course, it also pissed her off to no end. Could that make her reckless or more dangerous? Maybe both.
Cersei Kills Missandei
This was clearly to send a message and hurt Dany. It was also a response to Tyrion trying to appeal to her decency and humanity. Cersei has none of those things left. She has always given in to her worst impulses, and only a lack of true power and the towering presence of her father ever held her back. With all of that gone, we've already seen how far she will go for power. She slaughtered her people already, and she's brought them into the Red Keep as a meat shield. Varys has warned Daenerys that this is Cersei's ploy, but dangerously speaking, Dany doesn't seem to care about those people, either. Missandei's final word was a statement to Daenerys to fight, kill, win and let it all burn. "Dracarys."
Varys Fights for the Realm
Varys has never wavered in his ultimate loyalty, which is to the realm. He finally explains to Tyrion just what that means, and it's why he now has to entertain treason against Daenerys. If the Mother of Dragons is no longer seeing the citizenry as people but rather chattel, then she may no longer be the best person to rule over the Seven Kingdoms. Luckily, there is another who would do quit well ... possibly two if we consider Lord Gendry now.
Rhaegal was shot out of the sky in a truly jarring moment, and our hearts were broken as he fell into the sea and perished. Not only does this leave Jon without a dragon to fly, but it leaves Daenerys smaller in stature and power, with only one dragon left and Drogon just as vulnerable to all those massive scorpions.
Missandei was beheaded by the Mountain at Cersei's order atop the wall of King's Landing. It was a gesture of cruelty and an act of war in front of both Daenerys and Grey Worm, the leader of the Unsullied and Missandei's lover. In other words, Cersei just shifted them from enemy combatants to enraged enemy combatants. This could either make them reckless or even more dangerous.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
A quieter week as the second great battle of the season has yet to get underway -- we anticipate that next week -- but nevertheless a powerful one. Sansa had a great move in undermining Daenerys' claim to the throne and beginning the whispers that could destroy her.
Varys made a bold move in openly speaking treason with Tyrion and maintaining his loyalty to the realm above all, no matter who's making a claim to the throne. If they're not worthy of the people, they're not worthy of his support and he will work to make a change.
But for this week, there can be only one obvoius answer. Cersei made all the big moves and they were all victorious to her cause and her goals. She demoralized and decimated Danerys' power base with the death of one of her dragons, and then demoralized and enraged her personally with the death of her most loyal aide and confidante.
Cersei is in the power position for the moment, and she's proven she's willing to do whatever it takes to stay there, save one thing. She had an opportunity and could not directly order the killing of Tyrion while looking at him. That could prove costly. But for now, Cersei is holding all the cards and feeling confident.
Should be fun to see it all come crashing down around her.
There are only two episodes left of "Game of Thrones," wrapping up Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.
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