The battle against the White Walkers may be over, but the fight for Westeros is just beginning.
“The Last of the Starks,” episode four of the final season, begins with a moving funeral scene as the survivors at Winterfell burn their dead. Viewers learn early on that nearly half of the North and Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) armies are gone – a bad sign for the coming fight against Cersei (Lena Headey).
But mourning only lasts for so long as the characters enjoy a whirlwind evening full of celebration, plot twists and fan-favorite couples. After Daenerys makes Gendry (Joe Dempsie) a lord, he proposes to Arya (Maisie Williams), who turns him down. The tension between Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) comes to a head, with the two finally hooking up.
Amid the fanfare, Daenerys begs Jon (Kit Harington) to keep his Targaryen heritage a secret in order to preserve their relationship and maintain her claim to the throne. Jon refuses because he doesn’t want to lie to his family, setting the scene for a tense early morning strategy session the next day.
Daenerys and Sansa (Sophie Turner) immediately clash over their preferred approach for taking King’s Landing – Daenerys is ready to sail and march south, but Sansa wants more time for the soldiers to heal, and Jon steps in and sides with Daenerys. Afterward, Jon decides that it’s the perfect time to tell his sisters his secret lineage. But Sansa takes a secret that her father took to the grave and spreads it like wildfire.
Sansa tells Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) who tells Varys (Conleth Hill), and, as Varys puts it, once eight people know something, it’s information rather than a secret. The two discuss which Targaryen would make a better ruler, and Varys repeats that he is loyal to the realm, rather than to any one ruler. Varys has been a kingmaker for countless regimes and, combined with Sansa’s intense distrust of Daenerys, the stage is set for massive betrayal.
The story takes a shocking turn for the worse once Daenerys and her crew arrive in King’s Landing. The sight of Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) smiling and holding hands aboard a ship feels like a small hint of joy allowed before the carnage. As Daenerys and her dragons fly, Rhaegal takes a spear straight through the heart. Daenerys can only watch in horror as spear after spear tears her dragon to shreds, sending him crashing down into the sea. It’s a shocking rebalancing of forces – the Dragon Queen is left with only one of her most formidable weapons – her sole surviving dragon, Drogon.
Rhaegal’s quick and brutal death surprised third-year physiological science student Daniel Godoy, particularly because the dragon was still healing from the Battle of Winterfell.
“The fact that (Rhaegal) went down, that actually hurt,” Godoy said. “The fact that they actually took him out makes Cersei a lot more dangerous now.”
The insufferably smug Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) leads the ambush, each one of his ships outfitted with a scorpion – a crossbowlike weapon – strong enough to pierce a dragon’s armor. While Daenerys beats a hasty retreat, Euron cruelly decimates her fleet and throws her army into the water, making him an even stronger candidate for the position of this season’s most-hated character. As they wash ashore, Grey Worm realizes Missandei isn’t among the survivors or the dead – she’s been taken prisoner.
Reeling from her losses, Daenerys is ready to storm and destroy King’s Landing, but Tyrion convinces Daenerys to try to negotiate with Cersei, naively believing that there’s some sort of rational compromise or deal to be made.
In a tense showdown, Daenerys approaches with her troops and dragon, as Cersei stands on the city walls, a captive Missandei by her side. Both queens demand the other’s unconditional surrender, and, to no one’s surprise, neither relents. Daenerys and Grey Worm can only watch in horror as Cersei tells Missandei to say her last words before her execution. Defiantly, Missandei growls out a final “dracarys” – which translates to “dragonfire” – before the Mountain beheads her.
Third-year statistics student Anna Lee hopes to see how Missandei’s death will impact Daenerys in future episodes. For her, Daenerys’ anger in the final moments of the episode could foreshadow the Dragon Queen going down a path of vengeance.
“I personally really don’t like Daenerys,” Lee said. “I’m hoping to see that she dies, and she does become the sort of mad queen that everyone was expecting her to be from the Targaryen madness lineage.”
After losing two of her “children” and her beloved advisor, Missandei’s death may be the one to put Daenerys over the edge. Daenerys’ expression as she turns away from Cersei is one of pure, seething rage the likes of which we’ve never seen before – a promise to bring the fire Missandei called for with her final breaths.