Game of Thrones has a long history of shocking twists, and this weekend we may see the biggest one of the season.
Warning! Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4 lie ahead!
Game of Thrones is built on subverting viewer expectations with unpredictable, brutal twists. However, there is a pattern for those that pay attention. In the past, the show has always saved its most shocking moments for the second to last episode of the season.
Obviously, this is not an exact science so much as a pattern in the way Game of Thrones tells its stories. It is pretty reliable, however, and in recent years fans have even tensed up as the penultimate episode approached. They knew that either a battle or a death or some other heinous surprise was awaiting them, and they have not been disappointed yet.
This year, Game of Thrones will have to deliver more than ever. Not only is it the final and most climactic season, but fans now expect the second to last episode to be the biggest of all. That means that everyone is expecting the unexpected this week, and somehow the show has to deliver it.
Of course, we can't put all of our hopes on this week's episode. There are sure to be a few major moments left for the finale, otherwise there would be no reason for it. Still, looking back on the show's history, we can reasonably expect Season 8, Episode 5 to be the most heart-pounding 80 minutes of the season — and perhaps the series as a whole.
Here is a look at how Game of Thrones has consistently delivered surprises in the penultimate episode of each season.
Game of Thrones began as a relatively straightforward — if brutal — medieval fantasy. There were knights, castles and magicians spread across a fictional map, as well as the strong hints that we would see dragons somewhere down the line. However, in Season 1, Episode 9, the show threw all expectations out the window with the sudden death of Lord Eddard Stark, who appeared to be the main protagonist.
Ned Stark was the most heroic character we had in the series early on, and his beheading was a shock that few fans saw coming. This same event is what sucked fans into George R.R. Martin's book, A Game of Thrones. There, Ned was a perspective character, so hsi death seemed highly unlikely — until it happened.
In Season 2, Game of Thrones showed its other means of driving our blood pressure up in the second to last episode: a battle. "Blackwater" the first episode ever to take place entirely in one location, depicting the battle where Stannis Baratheon's fleet attacked King's Landing.
There were popular characters on both sides, leaving fans unsure of who to root for. All they knew for sure is that there were some people they did not want to see die. On that score, they got off pretty easy by Game of Thrones standards. Tyrion, Bronn and Podrick all made it out alive inside the city, while Davos, Shireen and Stannis lived outside.
Meanwhile, the episode saw Sandor "The Hound" Clegane flee King's Landing at last, heading north. He offered to take Sansa with him, and in a major moment for her character, she turned him down.
After "Baelor," Game of Thrones fans thought nothing could ever shock them again. Enter Season 3, Episode 9, formally titled "The Rains of Castamere" but known more widely as "The Red Wedding."
It was a simple trick for both Martin's novels and the HBO series — they upped the ante. Where before one major character death shocked us, this time they gave us several all at once. An entire storyline was diminished in one fell swoop, in a way that we had been led to believe was not even possible in Westerosi culture.
This was the end of Robb Stark, the King in the North as well as his mother, Catelyn, who was a perspective character in the books. However, while we never saw through her eyes again, she rose from the dead in the novels as Lady Stoneheart, a fire wight with a slit throat who roamed the countryside taking revenge on Lannister men.
Again, Season 4 gave us an impossible battle with no favorable outcome in sight. The 100 men of the Night's Watch did their best to throw back the 100,000 wildlings led by Mance Rayder. Fans did not want to see either side die, but at the time it seemed like the two would never come to an understanding.
Beloved characters including Jon's love interest, Ygritte, died in the battle, along with his sworn brother Pyp. When it was over, Jon showed true heroism by stepping out beyond The Wall alone to negotiate with Mance Rayder.
Season 5 doubled down on the shock factor, or perhaps even tripled or quadrupled down. Each storyline hit an emotional high note in the penultimate episode, starting with Stannis Baratheon's. The would-be king sent Davos away, and with him gone, he allowed Melisandre to burn his young daughter Shireen at the torch. The little girl was sacrificed to the Lord of Light, and in the end Stannis still fell.
Meanwhile, Jaime and Bronn were able to rescue Myrcella in Dorne, and Arya checked a name off of her kill list in Braavos — Ser Meryn Trant.
Finally, the episode ends on a huge moment for Daenerys: her first flight on dragonback. The queen seems doomed as her enemies converge on her in the fighting pits of Meereen. Just as all hope seems lost, Drogon descends from the sky, allowing Daenerys to climb on his back and fly away. This is significant, as Daenerys thought she might have lost control of her dragons at the time.
Rhaegal and Viserion were chained up beneath her pyramid, but this showed us that they were still loyal.
Season 6 was the first to take the story beyond that laid out in the books, and it did not disappoint. The second to last episode of the season saw the Battle of the Bastards between Jon Snow's force of wildlings and Ramsay Bolton.
In one of the most visually stunning fights of the series, Jon took back Winterfell once and for all, while Sansa put her greatest abuser down at last.
Season 7 was shortened, much like this season is, but the sixth episode was still a thriller. In it, Jon took a small force north of The Wall in the hopes of capturing a wight to show to Cersei, proving that the Army of the Dead was real and rallying her to help fight them.
Jon and his friends were trapped on a small island in the middle of a frozen lake, with White Walkers and wights all around them. Only Gendry got away to send word to Daenerys, who flew north with her dragons to save Jon. However, in the climactic battle she lost Viserion to a spear thrown by the Night King.
The episode ended with the Night King touch Viserion's snout. The dragon's eye opened, deep blue, showing that he now fought for the dead.
With all that in mind, what kind of shock is in store for us this Sunday? It could be a political twist, an unexpected character death, an epic battle or all of the above. As the second to last episode of the series as a whole, it seems likely that we will get more than one surprise.
It seems all but certain that Season 8, Episode 5 will be a battle. This is because the director is Miguel Sapochnik, Game of Thrones' preferred director for action episodes. Sapochnik directed "Battle of the Bastards," as well as "The Long Night" earlier this year.
In addition, we saw the seeds of war in this week's episode. By killing Rhaegal and Missandei, Cersei not only refused surrender, but she gave Daenerys great reason to hate her. However, the Dragon Queen can't unleash her fury on King's Landing in earnest, otherwise she will kill all of the small folk inside and likely alienate the rest of the country. On top of that, Cersei's massive Scorpions make it uncertain whether Drogon would even survive an attack on the city.
Still, Daenerys' fiery temper will surely play a part in this episode, especially as it continues to concern advisers like Tyrion and Varys. Jon Snow has pledged to serve his queen, but how much danger will he put his men in to fight her war after they just survived a supernatural threat to the north?0comments
The trailer for the episode shows us a few things, including the Golden Company apparently leading a hooded hostage through the gates, and Grey Worm with murder in his eyes. It ends on Euron looking up into the sun, his expression changing as he hears the screech of a dragon, so one way or another, it looks like Daenerys will bring Fire and Blood to this episode.
Game of Thrones airs on Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.