This final season of Game of Thrones has had its moments of incredible highs and crippling disappointments. Trying to finish up this massive series in just six episodes has resulted in a season that can’t afford to waste any time and is running towards its finale at full tilt. All of our theories have come to this.
Many anticipated that the battle with the Night King would be the big episode of the season, but that conflict was dealt with in one extremely dimly lit episode. There’s still Cersei and her armies at King’s Landing left to tackle in two episodes. While most would imagine that all the biggest moments would be saved for the last episode, I’d argue that we should be most mentally prepared for episode 5, which will be the second-to last episode of the series.
After all, Game of Thrones’ history has shown us each season that it’s the penultimate episode where things really go crazy. To anticipate the show’s future, it’s best to look at its past.
Season 1 – Episode 9: “Baelor”
The episode that traumatized us all and showed us that there’s no such thing as a “main character” in Westeros. “Baelor” subverted expectations by starting off tamely enough. In the Riverlands, Robb Stark marched his army to the Twins and accepted a marriage proposal from the Freys so he could rush south and save his dad.
Jaime Lannister is captured by Robb Stark’s main forces as Tywin, Tyrion, and the bulk of the Lannister army soundly defeat Robb’s splinter army.
At the Wall, Jon Snow is given his Valyrian steel sword by Lord Commander Mormont and learns that Maester Aemon is in fact Aemon Targaryan, who lectures him on duty over family.
Khal Drogo is weakened by his infected wound and Daenerys offers to do whatever it takes to save him, allowing the witch to perform blood magic to spare his life.
All of these are pretty major plot points, but it comes to the show’s first shocking conclusion when Ned Stark, lying that Joffrey is the true king in order to spare his daughters’ lives, is executed anyway on Joffrey’s orders. We were led to believe Ned was the main character, that he was too important to kill off.
We were wrong.
Season 2 – Episode 9: “Blackwater”
“Blackwater” was Game of Thrones‘ first major battle sequence and focused entirely on Stannis Baratheon’s forces laying siege to King’s Landing. We had characters on both sides that we cared about and there was no side that we clearly wanted to win. Stannis’ victory would surely mean the execution of Tyrion and maybe even Sansa, but Stannis’ defeat would mean Joffrey would still be king.
It was the show’s most expensive episode to date as well, costing over $8 million to produce, but it cemented the show as something that went far and beyond anything television had done before.
Season 3 – Episode 9: “The Rains of Castamere”
Do you remember where you were when you watched the Red Wedding? I remember being at my old apartment with friends who hadn’t read the books like I had. I remember my heart sinking when the Frey soldier barred the doors to the hall and the band began playing the Lannister song, “The Rains of Castamere,” knowing what was about to happen. I also remembered my friends screaming in horror as Robb, Catelyn, and all the Stark men were butchered by Walder Frey and Roose Bolton.
Ned dying was one thing, but we assumed that his son and wife would get revenge. The show was surely leading toward justice dealt by the Starks, right? In one sequence, the “good guys” were pretty much entirely taken out of the equation.
Season 4 – Episode 9: “The Watchers on the Wall”
Even-numbered seasons were the ones with the big battles and season 4 was no exception. “Watchers on the Wall” saw Mance Rayder’s wildling army finally march on the Wall. There were mammoths and giants and plenty of soldiers killing each other and the episode upped the ante over Blackwater by costing nearly $10 million to produce.
Sadly, Ygritte died in Jon’s arms and the episode ended on a cliffhanger as Jon walked beyond the Wall to try and kill Mance Rayder and certainly die in the process.
Season 5 – Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”
One could make the argument that the episode prior to “The Dance of Dragons” was a bigger episode, but I disagree. Though “Hardhome” ended with the Night King’s armies descending on the wildling village in a terrifying sequence no one was expecting, “The Dance of Dragons” contained more important plot points.
Jon leads the wildlings south of the Wall and foreshadows his betrayal and death at the hands of his own men. Daenerys is attacked in the fighting pits of Mereen by the Sons of the Harpy, but is saved by Jorah and Drogon, who lets Daenerys mount him for the first time and fly out of the city.
We also witnessed Stannis burn his daughter Shireen alive at the stake, which was probably the most traumatic scene in the show’s history. Yikes.
Season 6 – Episode 9: “Battle of the Bastards”
Even-numbered season, so we got another big battle. This time it was the clearly good vs evil fight of Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton in the “Battle of the Bastards.” This was the show’s first open field battle and contained the most extras, horses, and moving parts than any battle in the series thus far.
Sansa saved the day with her Knights of the Vale and we finally got to see Ramsay killed by his own blood thirsty hounds. One of the more satisfying episodes.
Season 7 – Episode 6: “Beyond the Wall”
Determined to convince Cersei to pledge her armies and defeat the Night King, Jon and his motley crew of grizzled fighters travel north to capture a wight and show King’s Landing the true threat of the undead. On the way, Thoros of Myr is wounded by a giant undead bear and eventually dies from his wounds. Jon and friends are surrounded by the entire undead army and only survive when Daenerys arrives with her dragons to rescue them. Jon falls through the ice before he can escape, and the Night King throws an ice spear that kills one of the dragons. Oh, he also raises that dragon from the dead.
Meanwhile, in Winterfell, Arya straight up threatened to kill Sansa and cut off her face. A lot was going on in this episode.
So, what does Season 8 – Episode 5 have in store for us?
Daenerys’ armies are at the gates of King’s Landing. Cersei just murdered Missandei in front of an already enraged Daenerys, which means all talks of a peaceful resolution are very much off the table. Cersei has her Lannister forces as well as 20,000 members of the Golden Company, a mercenary force from Essos.
The episode is billed at an hour and a half and is sure to see the deaths of many more characters. Jon, Davos, Tyrion, Daenerys, Arya, Gendry, the Hound, Grey Worm, Drogon, and Varys are facing odds that are stacked against them and their frustrating plot armor from “The Long Night” has probably run its course. Expect some deaths.
While this episode will definitely be climactic and offer up plenty of spectacle, I wouldn’t expect it to answer who ends up on the Iron Throne. That’s surely going to be resolved in the finale.
Either way, you’d better listen to your Queen:
By the way, all my money is on Gendry.