The Game of Thrones is a deadly one, and like all good games, it has winners and losers. Welcome to Game of Thrones: Winners & Losers, where we take in the latest episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones and determine the top MVP’s as well as those who were handed a healthy dose of defeat.
Below you’ll find the winners and losers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 5, “The Bells.” If you find your favorite character listed as a loser, just remember that the tides on Game of Thrones are always shifting; I swear it by the Old Gods and the New.
*Spoilers for the latest episode of Game of Thrones below*
1. Daenerys Targaryen
Like the late Ramsay Bolton once said, if you thought this was going to have a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention. Adhering maybe too closely to George R.R. Martin’s ethos, Daenerys becomes The Mad Queen, the queen of the ashes. I’m not going to get into whether I feel like the showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss earned this particular moment, but it’s certainly in line with Martin’s disinterest or skepticism toward heroes, messiahs, or other fantasy “legend” tropes. Regardless of how you feel about the execution, conceptually, Dany’s heel turn works. Does going full bad guy make you a loser if you technically win The Last War?
Daenerys fulfills her destiny and completes her father’s mission to burn them all. The caches of wildfire exploding, the former Mad King’s chosen weapon of mass destruction, pop like cherry bombs compared to destruction that Drogon can cause. In one episode’s time, Dany figures out how to out-maneuver giant crossbows, turns the Golden Company into golden crisps, and goes full scorched earth on King’s Landing. If she can’t inspire love, she’ll inspire fear. If she can’t break the wheel, she’ll spin it off the track. This could make her seem like a loser if we think about all of the hope and promise that Dany represented, but she destroyed her enemies entirely and will presumably start the next episode as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, achieving the only goal that she’s ever known.
Are those bells ringing? Sorry, Dany can’t hear them over her burning, white-hot rage. No matter the cost, Dany’s a winner this week. All of the people that have been rooting for the Mother of Dragons since Season 1, especially the people that took their fandom far enough to name their children Khaleesi, after a character that is now nothing more than a genocidal, incest-loving tyrant? Those people? Not so much.
2. Sandor Clegane
Don’t dehumanize my guy by calling him The Hound. My gruff, foul-mouthed rogue got the ending he deserved, honoring both sides of his character and completing his arc in probably the most satisfying fashion imaginable. On the one hand, he persuades Arya from following him down a path of empty hatred and vengeance. Whether she liked it or not, Sandor looked after Arya; he taught her brutal truths of human nature, how to look after herself on the road, and how to kill long before the Faceless Men schooled her. In his final moments, he teaches her his most important lesson, that a thirst for revenge leads to a life of nihilism and unhappiness. But on the other hand, the Hound embraces the nihilism that defined his character and marches up the stairs to brawl with the brother that he’s hated for a lifetime.
And let’s be brutally honest here: even though he dies in the process, The Hound defeating The Mountain in the Cleganebowl is probably more impressive than Arya killing the Night King. Out of the two mute brutes, all you had to do to kill the Nigh King is slash him with some dull obsidian or stick him in the ribs with magic steel. Tough, but obviously not impossible. The Mountain? This dude took a dagger to the face and was still like, “What’s good, fam? You want these hands?” No dragon glass was stopping this big S.O.B. Sandor avoids the skull-crushing finisher that popped poor Oberyn’s dome and makes the metal-as-hell decision to J.J. Watt the Mountain off the tower and down into the flames, returning them back into the fire where their blood-feud began. The Cleganebowl lived up to the hype, even if Season 8 has been struggling to do the same.
3. Arya Stark
Uh, congrats on surviving? Arya stumbled around King’s Landing in the midst of chaos like Tom Hanks in the opening of Saving Private Ryan. She’ll probably have PTSD for years and be plagued by dreams of that woman and her daughter clutching each other as they were roasted like chickens. Covered in soot, ash, and blood, Ayra likely isn’t feeling like much of a winner. Yet, it’s significant that Arya chose life and not to let her thirst for revenge win. Had Arya followed Sandor up those stairs to kill Queen Cersei, she would likely be lying dead under a pile of rubble. Instead, she can now enact a far greater revenge against another green-eyed tyrant. Arya rides out of King’s Landing on a white horse, long the symbol of the “hero” on this show, and despite the series’ ambivalence toward hero types, something tells me this is the champion we’ve been holding out for.
4. Grey Worm
Is turning into a raging murder machine a good thing? Uh, probably not. But like Arya above, surviving this week is pretty much enough to get you listed as a winner. Grey Worm is seriously lucky to be alive. I mean, while Dany was spitting flames down every street and alley, how did she avoid killing most, if not all of her men? Anyway, Grey Worm goes postal, takes no prisoners and starts slaying enemy soldiers like John Wick with a spear. Using Missandei’s death as motivation, Grey Worm transforms into the kind of hate-fueled monster that the Hound was actively trying to keep Arya from becoming. My guy makes quick work of the Golden Company’s Harry Strickland and goes on to slay surrendering Lannister soldiers. It’s an ugly turn for Grey Worm, but we’re not here to play moralist. Grey Worm led the sacking of King’s Landing and can declare Mission Accomplished. Now, I expect that Jon Snow may have words for the Unsullied leader, but we’ll save that for next week.
Sure, Varys got the Tarly treatment and was scorched like the end of a Cuban cigar, but the Spider is delivering a massive “I told you so” from the grave. Though he prayed that his view of Dany was wrong, Varys was right about the Targaryen girl, too caught up in her own messiah complex to consider the lives of the people that she wore to protect. Maybe Varys could have been a little more sly with his treasonous efforts, but his intentions were good and his reasoning confirmed. Varys would probably be relieved that he didn’t live to see the slaughtering of so many innocents and have a smug smile about the fact that Tyrion miscalculated things so greatly.
1. Tyrion Lannister
Dude, when did you become such a naïve rube? Tyrion has been ineffectual and borderline useless for two seasons, but this episode is just an embarrassment of fuck-ups. First, Tyrion sells out one of his only true friends in misguided allegiance to the Queen that’s about to kill thousands of innocents. Then Tyrion thinks that freeing Jaime will lead to the city ringing the bells of surrender, which definitely happens, but Jaime has nothing to do with it. Also, returning the favor for Jaime, while a nice gesture, will probably be the final straw for Tyrion should the Mad Queen discover his betrayal. Finally, Tyrion has to watch helplessly as Daenerys ignores the city’s surrender and burns it all down like she’s WWE’s Seth Rollins. His calls for tact and benevolence fell on deaf ears. You could maybe even argue that if Tyrion had just let Daenerys immediately take King’s Landing once she reached Westeros that a lot of this death and destruction could have been avoided. Sure, there likely would have been some collateral damage, but nothing compared to this absolute carnage. Now Tyrion is stuck sworn to an insane, murderous despot, the last Lannister standing. You’re not as clever as you think, half-man.
2. Cersei Lannister
After spending the season doing little more than staring out the window and suffering the company of Euron Greyjoy, Cersei anticlimactically perishes in the crypts of the Red Keep. Actually, Cersei death is a bit fitting. After being a sneering, petulant authoritarian with a heap of unearned confidence, Cersei is reduced to a scared, sniveling child hiding in the basement, afraid to die. It was Cersei’s city to lose, and she lost it. She tries to remain confident in the face of sure defeat, essentially channeling Han Solo and telling Qyburn never to tell her the odds, but once she realizes that all of her cards have been played and promptly set on fire, she’s off hopelessly searching for the nearest exit. As a consolation, she gets to die in the arms of her lover/brother and hey, I suppose if we’re playing the “I never saw a body!” game that Cersei and Jaime could potentially be safe in a little rubble pocket, but let’s just be honest with ourselves and accept that Cersei succumbed to Maggie the Frog’s (TV show) prophecy. May her fierce outfits continue to inspire Sansa’s wardrobe.
3. Jon Snow
Jon, you selfish mopey prude. Consider this karma for not petting Ghost goodbye. If Jon Snow just sacks up and sleeps with his sad, horny, hot aunt none of this goes down this way. All Jon needed to do was lay the good pipe and he would have brought Dany’s craziness back down to manageable levels. We all think more clearly after a good boning; it’s just science. I can’t believe that I’m advocating for fictional incest in writing, but here we are. This show does strange things to people. Anyway, Jon spends the sacking of King’s Landing haplessly yelling at his bloodthirsty allies in much of the same way that he defeatedly yelled at the zombie dragon two weeks ago. Jon reminded me of a Wal-Mart greeter pleading with frenzied Black Friday shoppers to stop running and form an orderly line while they stampede toward the electronics section. I’m not just saying this because mans is comically short, but Jon was in way over his head. The horrors of this massacre are going to haunt Jon possibly more than all of the other fucked up shit that he’s witnessed. That’s saying a lot.
4. Jaime Lannister
The stupidest Lannister really lives up to that nickname. First he gets captured on his way back to King’s Landing because he doesn’t think to put a glove on his highly recognizable, infamous golden hand. His reasoning for failing to do so? “Cause I’m stupid, lol.” Then he tries and fails to get into the Red Keep in a timely fashion and ends up the last victim of one of Euron’s random, highly convenient drop-ins. Jaime manages to best the kraken, but suffers some gnarly stab wounds in the process. When he finally locates Cersei, he leads her to a dead end, then has to play brave before they both get squashed like bugs. More so than the actual L’s that he takes in the episode, Jaime is a loser because his character arc is the most unsatisfying thing that Season 8 has dropped on us thus far. Having Jaime regress and go back to Cersei after consummating his relationship with Brienne and fighting for the living happens so suddenly, with only one ham-fisted scene highlighting this series-long reversal. But hey, at least he grew his hand back in his final minutes!
Highly debated putting Euron Greyjoy in this spot, but we’ve spent enough time in this column talking about the Hot Topic Van Helsing. Instead we’ll clown on Qyburn, who got the episode’s most embarrassing ending. Dr. Frankenstein gets offed by his own monster. Have you ever smashed a watermelon by throwing it on the ground? Yeah, Qyburn’s death looked a lot like that. Qyburn has the unenviable task of telling Cersei that they’re essentially fucked, then gets caught in the crosshairs of the Cleganebowl, sort of like when a referee takes a bump in the NFL after getting too close to the action. Maybe condition your zombie creature to never lay hands on his master. Just a thought. Also, how about Scorpions that spin? That would have been helpful.
Euron Greyjoy – Sure, bud. YOU killed the Kingslayer, not the weight of the Red Keep. – LOSER
Harry Strickland – I don’t know if elephants would have helped, but they couldn’t have hurt. – LOSER
The Mountain – Your turn to face the flames. – LOSER
Sansa Stark – To quote the wise prophet OG Maco, “Bitch, you guessed it! Hoo! You was right!” – WINNER
Director Miguel Sapochnik – Thanks for leaving the lights on. – WINNER
The White Horse – Bran, is that you? (It isn’t, come on, people.) – WINNER
Nick Harley is a tortured Cleveland sports fan, thinks Douglas Sirk would have made a killer Batman movie, Spider-Man should be a big-budget HBO series, and Wes Anderson and Paul Thomas Anderson should direct a script written by one another. For more thoughts like these, read Nick’s work here at Den of Geek or follow him on Twitter.