Spoilers ahead about ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 episode 5.
In its eighth and final season, Game of Thrones has gone from unexpected farewells to false goodbyes. The lack of serious casualties in the highly anticipated battle with the White Walkers in the season’s third episode suggested that the show’s creators had lost their appetite for destruction. But as the adaptation of George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels have frequently reminded us, all men must die (and women too). In its final moments, Game of Thrones finally slaked the bloodlust of fans thirsting for the sudden and brutal slayings for which the HBO series had been reputed since 2011.
The second-last episode came after The Last of the Starks, which was criticised for reasons that included shoddy writing, cruelty towards the direwolf Ghost, and a misplaced takeaway cup. After the episode, titled The Bells, was aired in India on Hotstar on Monday, GoT cultists lit candles for Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Varys (Conleth Hill) and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). Some deaths were on expected lines – and, some observers might argue, had been far too long in coming.
In the hands of Miguel Sapochnik, a veteran of battles, The Bells had deaths that were as tragic as they were spectacular. The superbly cast actors who inhabited their characters for so many years were given fitting send-offs as Twitter turned into a downward scrolling tissue box.
Jaime Lannister: ‘The things I do for love’
Early impressions are always deceptive in the adaptation of Martin’s resolutely anti-heroic books. Jaime did not initially endear himself. After being spotted having sex with his fraternal twin Cersei, Jaime shoved Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) out of the window and crippled the boy for life. Jaime was partner to much of Cersei’s power-mongering and could not prevent her or their son, Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), from committing various murders, but his arc leaned towards redemption in later seasons. Jaime parted with Cersei in demonising their younger dwarf brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and took the side of Jon Snow’s armies in fighting the White Walkers.
Jaime was considerably humanised by his encounters with the future knight Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and even shared her bed in a fan-friendly moment in The Last of the Starks. This Lannister finally paid his debts, even if it happened in a manner that contradicted some of his previous statements and his act of killing Daenerys’s father, Aerys, to prevent the Mad King from setting his people on fire. And what about Brienne?
Sandor Clegane: ‘Man’s got to have a code’
Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) was one of the most riveting characters in the series. His half-burnt face was a testament to the violence he suffered at the hands of his brother, Gregor “The Mountain”, but his scars obscured the large heart that lay beneath the armour. Although in the employ of Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) and, briefly, the psychotic Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), Sandor soon discovered his true destiny: to save the surviving Starks. He rescued Sansa (Sophie Turner) from gang-rape but failed to persuade the one he called “Little Bird” to flee. He later formed a gruff paternalistic relationship with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and whisked her away to safety from the massacre of her mother and brother. Arya initially hated Sandor, but he proved to be one of her mentors in the art of ruthless killing, whether or not she liked to admit it.
Left to die by Arya at the end of season four, Sandor near-miraculously reappeared in season six. His travels reunited him with the Brotherhood without Banners outlaws, and he travelled with them all the way to White Walker territory and eventually back to Winterfell. Brusque in manner (when asked why he was always in such a foul mood, he said, “Experience,”) salty of tongue (a master of the C-word) and brutal in conflict (why merely kill when you can eviscerate), The Hound shed his notoriety by the eighth season. His final minutes were dedicated to killing his brother in the highly awaited “Cleganebowl”.
Fans also lauded his relationship with Arya, who finally made her peace with the man she had once threatened to kill.
Varys: ‘I didn’t do it for you. I did it for the Seven Kingdoms’
The eunuch “Master of Whisperers”, who stored his tormentor in a box, was one of GoT’s most charismatic schemers. Acting in the interests of “The Realm” and shifting allegiances from one monarch to the next, Varys (Conleth Hill) spied on allies and rivals, carried messages and hatched plots for the Baratheons/Lannisters and the Targaryens. His conversations with Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gilen) helped express the realpolitik in which the series trafficked before the White Walkers took over. Varys was as compassionate as he was hard-nosed, and he formed his most enduring friendship with Tyrion Lannister, rescuing him after he killed his father Tywin and patching him together with the Dragon Queen.
This one-man Mi5 underwent a character turn in the final season that was more a result of plotting exigencies than character development. The brilliant spymaster began to doubt Daenerys’s sanity and urged Tyrion to turn on her in favour of Jon Snow. In an interview to Entertainment Weekly, Conleth Hill said he took the death “very personally”, as “a person, not as an actor or an artist”. He was also critical of how Varys had become “more peripheral” of late, and admitted that “it was kind of frustrating”. He told Entertainment Weekly, “As a whole it’s been overwhelmingly positive and brilliant but I suppose the last couple seasons weren’t my favorite.”
Varys was always ahead of the curve, but in the death throes in which the series has found itself, he had no place in the new world that he had partly helped create.
Euron Greyjoy: ‘If I kill you, who can I talk to?’
Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) appeared out of nowhere in season six and killed his brother Balon (Patrick Malahide) within minutes of showing up. He also prevented his niece Yara (Gemma Whelan) and nephew Theon (Alfie Allen) from inheriting the Iron Islands and took off soon after to offer his services (which included his sexual prowess) to Cersei. The Greyjoy story arc has been one of the most underplotted on the show, and Euron’s demise was arguably a relief.
Even in his death, Euron managed to get a few laughs out of Twitter. Some fans suggested better alternatives for Euron.
Qyburn: ‘Happy to help whenever I can’
Game of Thrones is filled with the ironies that are a part of power games. Qyburn (Anton Lesser) met Robb Stark (Richard Madden) in the third season, but shifted his loyalties to the Lannisters, tending to Jaime Lannister’s severed hand and later designing a gilded prosthetic replacement.
A disgraced maester (scholarly healer) with a Frankenstinian interest in human experimentation, Qyburn proved to be Cersei’s most valuable ally. He helped her kill the official maester, Pycelle (Julian Grover), and incinerate the Faith Militant religious order, converted Gregor Clegane into his own version of The Creature, and came up with a massive artillery weapon to slay dragons. Qyburn’s loyalty to Cersei was matched perhaps only by Missandei. He stood by and smirked as Missandei was killed, and finally, it was his turn.