Spoiler Alert: The following NBC News story reveals key details about the most recent episode of "Game of Thrones."
“Game of Thrones” has been a radical series since its 2011 premiere, both in terms of money spent ($60 million on the first season) as well as the disposability of its characters. The series killed off the most famous actor in the cast, Sean Bean, for god’s sake. Even more surprising, however, was when showrunners killed him. The production used Ned Stark’s death to anchor the penultimate episode of the first season, leaving the finale to set-up a cliffhanger for the next.
Since then, “Game of Thrones” has stuck with this format, putting many of its biggest shocks (the Red Wedding, Shireen’s murder, Viserion’s death) and the biggest battles (Blackwater, Castle Black, the Battle of the Bastards) in the second-to-last installment. No matter how long the season, the penultimate episode is the moment the show crescendos.
Season eight is the shortest season thus far, but this narrative formula still holds. Despite the “Battle of Winterfell” episode breaking records a few weeks ago, the penultimate episode arrived promising another massive fight sequence, as the forces of King’s Landing prepared to battle Daenerys Targaryen, her one remaining dragon and her forces from the north.
Most fans also assumed the evil Queen Cersei Lannister would finally be pried from her position ruling the Seven Kingdoms on Sunday night. Cersei’s one humanizing trait over the years has been her love for her children, making a Mother’s Day death feel even more appropriate. (After all, the end of season four, which saw the death of Cersei’s father, Tywin, aired on Father’s Day — presumably an unplanned happy accident.) Jaime Lannister’s leave-taking from Winterfell last week also forewarned an untimely death. Both Jaime and Cersei's passings came at the end of the episode, in one of the show’s more tender moments. Their deaths ended one of the most complex relationships in the series.
But even with so many loose threads starting to come together, showrunners still managed to shock fans as the world of Westeros seems to have finally driven Daenerys Targaryen insane. Despite the intimating might of her dragon, Daenerys decides to methodically burn King’s Landing to the ground, massacring the citizens she’s spent so many seasons claiming she wants to save. The moral here is that war makes everyone look bad. But it's unfortunate that the showrunners had to turn a female lead into the stereotypical “crazy woman” to get this message across.