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[This story contains spoilers for season eight, episode five of HBO’s Game of Thrones, “The Bells.”]
As the occasionally wise and frequently wicked Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) once famously said: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die; there is no middle ground.” Throughout the final season, the longtime King’s Landing resident has put her philosophy to the test, especially as it pertains to Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), the Mother of Dragons — or dragon, singular, after the death of Rhaegal in the antepenultimate episode of Game of Thrones, “The Last of the Starks.”
Enter: “The Bells,” the penultimate episode of Thrones, directed by “The Long Night” veteran Miguel Sapochnik. As the Emmy-winning epic closes in on the finish line at a shocking speed, creators David Benioff and Dan Weiss chose the final season’s penultimate installment as the battleground to test out Cersei’s theory. Does the game of thrones require its participants to achieve victory or death? Is there middle ground? There are still 80 minutes left to fully answer the question in the form of the upcoming series finale, both written and directed by Benioff and Weiss themselves. For now at least, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and other major characters made equally major strides toward their final destination — while other major characters have officially reached the end of the line.
As the veritable doomsday clock hits one minute to midnight, which of the Seven Kingdoms’ most heroic and villainous men and women died in the race for the Iron Throne? The answers reside beyond the Golden Company below, but consider this one last final warning: major spoilers are ahead.
Still here? Then you’re doing better than the following fictional characters, all of whom died with only one episode remaining in the series — wiped from the board just shy of appearing in the series finale:
Victim No. 1: Varys (Conleth Hill). The Master of Whispers whispers no more. After attempting to rally forces behind Jon Snow as the rightful heir to the Iron Throne (an attempt that included a direct, failed pitch to Jon himself), Varys’ actions are discovered by Daenerys, thanks in no small part to a confession from Tyrion, still loyal to his queen. Varys is subsequently executed at Dany’s command, burned alive by Drogon, but not before delivering these final words to Tyrion: “I hope I deserve this. Truly, I do. I hope I’m wrong. Goodbye old friend.”
Victim No. 2: Harry Strickland (Marc Rissman). The Golden Company was heavily hyped heading into the final season. So much for them. Daenerys decides to invade King’s Landing and use her dragon-fire liberally. First, she torches the Iron Fleet. Next, she destroys the city’s main gate and the Golden Company standing guard outside. The lone named player in the Golden Company, Harry Strickland, the golden-haired Jaime look-alike then flees from an oncoming assault from the Dothraki and Unsullied. He doesn’t make it far: Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) throws his weapon into Harry’s back, symbolically and effectively ending the Golden Company’s time on Game of Thrones.
Victim No. 3: Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek). The pirate king of the Iron Islands survives Drogon scorching the Iron Fleet, but only for so long. He crawls upon a beach and spots Jaime Lannister, who is trying to get into the Red Keep to save Cersei from Dany’s wrath. Because Euron is the worst, he tries to kill Jaime, promising he’ll bring his severed head to his sister for one last kiss. They fight to the death; Euron badly wounds Jaime, but Jaime delivers the final killing blow. The mortally injured Jaime walks away, with Euron shouting after him: “Another king for you. But I got you! I’m the man who killed Jaime Lannister.”
Victim No. 4: Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser). As Daenerys destroys the Red Keep, Cersei and her company try to escape. Enter: the Hound, here to kill the Mountain. Cersei tries to get the Mountain to continue his job as her bodyguard. He refuses. Qyburn tries to intercede, which leads to the Mountain tossing his maker down a set of stairs. Qyburn dies on impact, his head exploding against the rubble.
Victim No. 5: The Hound (Rory McCann). Qyburn’s death serves as the opening act to the highly anticipated event: the Clegane Bowl. The Hound and the Mountain brutally battle it out in the midst of a crumbling Red Keep. We see the Mountain’s bloated head for the first time since his undead comeback. He tries to use the same trick against the Hound as he did in the battle against Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) so many seasons ago. The Hound’s ruined eyes are still good enough for him to see the only way to kill his brother: fire. The Hound throws himself into the Mountain, pushing the two of them out of the castle and into a burning pit below. In one move, the Hound combines his fear of his brother and his fear of fire, killing himself in the process.
Victim No. 6: The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson). If a dagger through the face isn’t going to do the trick, then maybe a severe fall into a pit of fire won’t, either. But we will almost certainly never find out. For all intents and purposes, the Mountain is dead.
Victim No. 7 and Victim No. 8: Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). It would be wrong to break up the Lannister siblings’ deaths. They came into the world together, and that’s how they leave it. Jaime tries his best to save Cersei from the Red Keep, but Daenerys’ rampage ruins their exit strategy, collapsing the tunnels that lead out to the beach where a boat was waiting to take them away. Cersei’s tear-soaked final words: “I want our baby to live. I want our baby to live. Don’t let me die. Please don’t let me die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. Not like this. Not like this. Not like this.” Jaime’s calm response: “Look me in the eyes. Just look at me. Nothing else matters. Nothing else matters. Only us.” They hold each other as the tunnel collapses all around them, the two of them buried beneath the King’s Landing carnage.
Of course, these major deaths don’t speak to the large swaths of bodies dropped all over the series’ penultimate episode: the residents of King’s Landing. Men, women and children alike are brutally killed in a wide variety of ways. Many of them are burned alive by Daenerys. Others are raped and murdered by soldiers. Much of this action is filtered through the perspective of one person deeply familiar with death: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who tries to kill Cersei, but is discouraged by the Hound, who all but begs her to choose life. She obliges. In the process, Arya tries to save a mother and daughter she encounters on the streets of King’s Landing. Sadly, it’s to no avail. When the dust clears, Arya sees the mother and daughter have been burned alive, innocent victims of Daenerys’ wrath. The episode ends with Arya finding a white horse in the midst of the ruins. She approaches the elegant creature, mounts it and rides away, her future uncertain. The good news: there’s only one more episode left until we find out where she’s going.
Read all of THR’s Final Path series, featuring character-by-character predictions:
1. Jon Snow
2. Daenerys Targaryen
3. Tyrion Lannister
4. Cersei Lannister
5. Jaime Lannister
6. Sansa Stark
7. Arya Stark
8. Bran Stark
9. Samwell Tarly
10. Theon Greyjoy
11. The Hound
12. Brienne of Tarth
15. Davos Seaworth
16. Jorah Mormont
18. Tormund Giantsbane
19. Beric Dondarrion
20. The Dragons
21. The Night King
22. Across the World of Ice and Fire
23. Final Predictions
Follow THR.com/GameOfThrones for continuing coverage all season long.
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