"If you think this has a happy ending, you haven't been paying attention." Ramsay's warning has never felt more appropriate, as several characters took tragic turns or met tragic ends in the penultimate episode of Game Of Thrones, "The Bells." Fans have been waiting for Jaime to fulfill the valonqar prophecy for years, and may have been disappointed when his arc didn't end with Jaime murdering Cersei as expected, but rather dying with her as the Red Keep collapsed around them.
After subverting expectations around the Azor Ahai prophecy a few episodes ago — when Arya killed the Night King instead of Jon or Daenerys — this seemed to be yet another case of the show discarding a theory readers had spent years obsessing over and waiting to see play out. But was it discarded? Or was it perhaps fulfilled after all, only in a way nobody expected?
The valonqar prophecy wasn't the only Game Of Thrones prophecy that came full circle during the Sack of King's Landing. The fiery episode also tied up other plot threads that have been dangling for years, some since as far back as Season 2. Here are all the prophecies, pieces of foreshadowing, and hidden references that were paid off in "The Bells."
"When your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you." That's what the woods witch Maggy the Frog told Cersei Lannister when she was a young girl, with valonqar being the Valyrian word for "little brother." For years, Cersei assumed that meant Tyrion would end up murdering her, which is why she hated him for so long. On the other hand, fans have assumed that meant Jaime would end up murdering her.
In the end, neither of these scenarios came to pass — but that doesn't mean the prophecy went unfulfilled. When Cersei and Jaime found their escape route from the catacombs blocked by fallen debris, they resigned themselves to death. Cersei hardened herself after her traumatizing Walk of Shame in the Season 5 finale, and this was the first time since then she'd let herself show any vulnerability. She broke down in Jaime's arms, sobbing; he comforted her by cradling her head, placing his hands around her neck. Then the Red Keep collapsed, burying them under rubble. Cersei died as her tears drowned her, with her brother's hands wrapped around her throat, and the life choked out of her by the weight of her own failure.
2. Varys' Death
Before she departed for Volantis in Season 7, Melisandre told Varys that she would return because she had to die in Westeros — and so did he. Half of her prophecy came true in the third episode, "The Long Night," when she collapsed and died after the Battle of Winterfell, her purpose in guiding Arya to kill the Night King having been completed.
The second half of that prophecy came true in "The Bells" when Tyrion turned Varys in for his treason… and Daenerys promptly executed him for it. The dragon queen also fulfilled her own prophecy of sorts, keeping her promise to burn Varys alive if he ever betrayed her.
3. Bran's Vision
Back in Season 4, Bran had a vision at a weirwood tree during his travels beyond the Wall, which included glimpses of his own fall from the Broken Tower, the three-eyed raven, and the Night King. Even more notably, it also included a look at the ruined throne room as first seen in Dany's vision in the House of the Undying (more on that in a moment), as well as a lingering shot of the shadow of a dragon flying over the red tiled roofs of King's Landing.
That shot finally came to pass in "The Bells," as Dany swooped over the capital on Drogo's back. (The fact that there was only one dragon in Bran's vision probably should have clued fans into the fact that something bad would happen to the other two.)
4. Dany's Vision
Speaking of Dany's strange journey through the House of the Undying… Back in Season 2, the Mother of Dragons ventured into the stronghold of the Warlocks of Qarth to rescue her kidnapped children, and found herself wandering through a series of tableaus including a trip beyond the Wall and a reunion with Khal Drogo.
But the most striking — and most theorized-about — vision she received was of the Red Keep in ruins and covered in what looked like snow. Fans thought this vision teased the coming of winter and the Night King laying waste to King's Landing. But now it's clear that what covered the Iron Throne wasn't snow, but ash… and that Dany herself was the one who brought the destruction, not some existential force of evil.
In the Season 7 finale, as the factions of Jon, Dany, and Cersei faced each other across the Dragonpit, Sandor and Gregor Clegane came face-to-face for the first time since Season 1. "You know who's coming for you," Sandor told his hated older brother, the one who gave him his scars when Gregor shoved his little brother's face into the fire when they were children. "You've always known."
This promise was fulfilled in "The Bells" when the Hound and the Mountain finally crossed swords in the epic death match that fans had been anticipating for years. In the end, Sandor found the strength to overcome his lifelong fear of fire, sacrificing himself to the flames to take his abomination of a brother down with him.
6. Arya's List
With the deaths of both Gregor Clegane and Cersei Lannister, Arya's kill list was finally completed. (Walder Frey, Meryn Trant, Polliver, and Rorge are dead by Arya's own hand; Joffrey and Tywin were crossed off by others.) The queen and the Mountain were the last two names on the list the young Stark has been reciting to herself over and over for years, and now her quest for vengeance is complete — only, in a twist, it wasn't Arya herself who finished them off.
In the eleventh hour, Arya chose to reconnect with her humanity rather than let herself be consumed (and doomed) by vengeance. Sandor urged Arya to abandon her mission lest she end up like him and, thanking him, she literally turned her back on revenge.
7. "Burn Them All"
Robert Baratheon's war against the Targaryens ended when the Mad King Aerys commanded that his pyromancers "burn them all" with wildfire and Jaime Lannister slay the king on the steps of the Iron Throne. Now, so many years later, Daenerys Targaryen finished what her father started and ended her own war against Cersei Lannister by setting fire to King's Landing. The devastation wrought by Drogon on the capital was so complete that it even ignited the long-dormant caches of wildfire that Aerys had planted beneath the city.
Dany's descent into villainy also fulfilled the many warnings about the Targaryen family that have been uttered over the years. It's been said that, whenever a Targaryen is born, the gods flip a coin; fittingly, of the four Targaryens viewers have met, two have been good (Rhaegar and Jon) and two have given into their worst impulses (Viserys and Daenerys). Maester Aemon warned that "a Targaryen alone in the world is a terrible thing," and Dany's desperate actions were clearly driven by her increased isolation, as her various friends, advisers, and children were stripped from her one by one. And Daenerys finally fulfilled both the advice of Olenna Tyrell ("Be a dragon") and Missandei's final word ("Dracarys") when she let Drogon lose on King's Landing.
8. The Battle Of The Bells
The penultimate episode also brought a storyline from George R.R. Martin's books full circle. Readers might recognize the events of "The Bells" as a direct reference to the Battle of the Bells. Toward the beginning of Robert's Rebellion, the Baratheon lord was being pursued by Aerys' forces, led by his Hand, Jon Connington. Robert took shelter in the town of Stoney Sept and, despite Connington's best efforts to find the rebel, the townspeople remained one step ahead of him, constantly moving Robert from hiding place to hiding place. Robert eluded Connington long enough for Ned Stark to ride to his rescue; the bells of the sept were rung to warn the townspeople to stay indoors out of harm's way while Ned Stark's forces routed Connington's in the streets and sent the Hand running from Stoney Sept in disgrace.
Aerys exiled his Hand for his failure to capture Robert. Connington's defeat at the Battle of the Bells was largely seen as the turning point of the Rebellion; if Connington had managed to kill Robert then, the war would have been over almost before it began. Instead, Robert lived to kill Rhaegar on the Trident, turning the tide of the war, leading Aerys' former hand, Tywin Lannister, to turn against him and lead the sack of King's Landing. It is said in the books that, if Tywin had still been Hand, he would have displayed none of Connington's restraint: he would have burned Stoney Sept to the ground to find Robert, killing all of the innocent townspeople in order to win the war on the spot.
In this episode, Daenerys fulfilled this exact scenario in her attack on King's Landing. Rather than showing Connington's restraint, she decided to exercise Tywin's cruelty. If she couldn't rule Westeros with love, she decided to rule it through fear; only fear would prevent the people from turning against her like they turned against Cersei. Only fear would keep them from ringing the bells and throwing the gates open if (or when) another would-be usurper came to challenge her for the throne.
With only one episode left in Game Of Thrones history, we'll soon see whether that strategy of shock-and-awe will pay off for Daenerys in the long run.