Episode 4 of Season 8 of Game of Thrones, “The Last of the Starks,” finally set up the endgame for the show. The conflict at the heart of the final two episodes will not pit the living against the dead, of course; despite the internet’s best theories, the Night King did not reappear in this episode. And while the forthcoming fight for the Iron Throne between Daenerys and Cersei takes center stage, that is not the true endgame, either. Nor is it a potential Daenerys-vs.-Jon tension, though that will certainly play a major role going forward as the secret of Jon’s Targaryen heritage spreads like dragonfire. At the heart of all of these conflicts is a broader one that will define Thrones’ final chapters: Daenerys vs. everyone.
This episode was a portrait of Daenerys’s increasing isolation. It begins with the first shot: Daenerys standing over Jorah, ready to light his funeral pyre and send him to the Night Lands like she did with Drogo seven seasons prior. Jorah loved Daenerys, and while she could not reciprocate his affection, he was Daenerys’s longest-serving adviser, closest ally, and dear friend. Without him, she is without a rock that she has relied on since the very beginning of the show.
Later, at the feast celebrating the defeat of the army of the dead, everyone has someone to spend time with (even the Hound had a few decent conversations!), except for Daenerys. After making Gendry the new lord of the Stormlands and toasting Arya (who wasn’t in attendance, because of course), Daenerys has no one to enjoy her victory with. There are no drinking games for the Mother of Dragons, who instead leaves the feast early, while nearly every living person in the North celebrates the victory in the Great War with some well-earned sex.
Even when Daenerys finally finds Jon, she can’t help but push him away. The truth that Jon is a Targaryen is eating away at her. “I wish you’d never told me,” she says. “If I didn’t know I’d be happy right now. I try to forget. Tonight I did, for a while. And then, I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you.”
“I know that look,” she continues. “So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.” It’s the beginning of Daenerys seeing Jon as a rival. And when Jon admits that he has to tell Sansa and Arya the truth, Daenerys responds with an icy glare and some harsh words.
As the episode pushes forward, the cracks in Daenerys’s ranks grow deeper. Tyrion, who as Dany’s hand is supposed to be her loyal and trusted second-in-command, can barely bring himself to defend his queen. He can’t answer Sansa when she asks him whether he is afraid of Daenerys; he later jokes to Varys that “maybe Cersei will win and kill us all—that would solve our problems.” Given the amount of anguish Tyrion seems to be in as he tries to serve his queen (as Varys notes, Tyrion is drinking even more than usual), it doesn’t feel like too much of a joke.
Tyrion says that Dany’s worst impulses are par for the course for “every monarch who ever lived,” but by the end of the episode he and Varys are discussing actual treason. Varys tells Tyrion that he’s “served tyrants all his life,” and the dwarf says little in response. They discuss, again, the possibility of Daenerys sharing the throne with Jon, but as Dany’s terse exchange with Jon showed (and as Tyrion and Varys already know), the dragon queen will never agree to such an arrangement. “I’ve spoken as honestly as I can,” Varys concludes. “Each of us has a choice to make.” The Spider, it seems, has already made his.
Tyrion isn’t ready to abandon his queen yet, but he’s more distant from Daenerys than ever. He tells Varys that the two should check Daenerys’s worst impulses, but that will become more difficult as Daenerys’s situation gets more desperate. Now that Rhaegal is gone, Cersei may even have the upper hand.
We have to pour one out for Rhaegal here, who somehow couldn’t spot some boats or avoid even a single crossbow shot despite soaring hundreds of feet in the air. Euron went 3-for-3 even though he was firing from a boat. Meanwhile Daenerys and her army didn’t think to send out scouts and Rhaegal couldn’t perform even one evasive maneuver. It’s a truly stunning defeat for Daenerys, who now has only Drogon left and is attempting to not blow a 3-0 dragon lead. Yikes.
And that brings us to the death of Missandei. Tyrion’s negotiation with Cersei failed (as Tyrion and Daenerys both expected). Missandei was the first person whom Daenerys broke out of chains and has long been the quickest person to defend Daenerys. When Jon and Davos asked her about Dany in Season 7, she responded: “I serve my queen because I want to serve my queen. Because I believe in her.” Jon was a bit skeptical, but Missandei was insistent. “She’s not our queen because she’s the daughter of some king we never knew,” she said. “She’s the queen we chose.”
In the previous episode—“The Long Night”—Missandei is the person who defends Daenerys in the crypts, even as Tyrion hesitates to do so. “Yes, without the dragon queen there would be no problem at all,” she snaps at Tyrion and Sansa. “We’d all be dead already.”
With Jorah’s death last episode and Missandei’s death at the end of this one, Daenerys is now without her most trusted adviser and most vocal defender. Now standing by Daenerys’s side is Grey Worm, who is a loyal general but not exactly a person to eloquently defend his queen; Varys, who is plotting her demise; Tyrion, who seems close to joining Varys; and Jon, whose decision to disobey Dany and tell his secret to Arya and Sansa will soon blow up in his face. It’s not looking great for the Mother of One (1) Dragon.
Missandei’s final words, “Dracarys,” stand as both a roar of support for her queen and a portent for the bloodshed still to come. That could include the burning of King’s Landing, which Tyrion is so nobly against but which Daenerys seems less determined to avoid. Earlier in the episode, when the heroes are discussing battle strategy in the coming war against Cersei, Tyrion reminds everyone that “the objective is to remove Cersei without destroying King’s Landing.” In response, he gets nothing but a chilly look from his queen:
“Thankfully, she is losing allies by the day,” says Varys. He means Cersei, but by the end of the episode, that quote best fits Daenerys, whose allies are dropping like Rhaegal when faced with easily avoided crossbow bolts. Daenerys is running out of friends, and in the war against Cersei, she’s running out of options. The dragon queen once proclaimed that she didn’t come to Westeros to be “queen of the ashes.” It’s looking more and more like her options are the ashes or nothing. How the rest of the characters—from Varys to Grey Worm, Tyrion to Jon—deal with that reality will define Thrones’ final arc.
Disclosure: HBO is an initial investor in The Ringer.