Brains Over Brawn: The Thinkers, Schemers, and Plotters in Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4
Aside from dragons, ice zombies, and massive onscreen battle set pieces, a core facet of Game of Thrones that keeps viewers hooked is its intricate game of political chess and all the players who play it. If the first half of the season was all about defeating the supernatural, the fourth episode titled The Last of the Starks (which officially marks the start of the second act) goes back to show's dilemma on who gets to rightfully sit on the Iron Throne and all the scheming and plotting that comes with it.
For this episode, we list down the show's crafty players who are still very much in the game of thrones—the men and women who will do anything to forward their agenda of putting in power their preferred ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.
Loyal to: Daenerys
The show has made it quite clear that Tyrion Lannister's loyalty and devotion is unequivocally with Daenerys Targaryen, even if we've seen glimpses of touching moments between him and Sansa Stark.
Despite his recent shortcomings and lack of savvy, Tyrion remains an expert at talking, negotiationg, and scheming, of which we're going to see more now that the show's narrative focuses on Westerosi politics. The only kink in Tyrion's armor is his soft spot for his sister Cersei. But Tyrion is not naive, as he's perfectly aware of how much of a monster Cersei can become while also acknowledging the potentially despotic tendencies of Daenerys. He's playing the dangerous game of coming up with a perfect, peaceful solution to the conflict without ruffling the feathers of his sister and the woman he serves, while also saving his own skin. The last thing he wants to happen is a full-blown confrontation between the two queens in their fully-unhinged selves. He will play politics to keep that from happening.
Loyal to: Jon Snow
Sansa Stark has never been trusting of Daenerys Targaryen, which we saw the moment the Mother of Dragons set foot in Winterfell. Tensions further arose a few episodes back when Daenerys couldn't promise independence to The North should she claim the Iron Throne. This only reinforced Sansa's skepticism; her brother Jon Snow's assurance wasn't of much help either.
When Sansa (and Arya) finally learned the truth about Jon's true heritage, she broke her promise not to tell anyone, and quickly "weaponized" the information by telling Tyrion about it. As showrunner D.B. Weiss points out on the latest Inside the Episode, "Sansa knows what will happen if she gives Tyrion this information. She's a student of Littlefinger, and she knows how information travels, and she can think many steps into the game, the way Littlefinger did." Weiss also added that Sansa knows Tyrion will turn around and tell Varys (which he already did). True enough, Sansa is now become a master manipulator in her own right.
Loyal to: Herself, of course.
Aside from being a master plotter herself, Cersei Lannister is also an underrated but ruthless military tactician. She has a few, but notable military and political victories to her credit: the sacking of Highgarden; the withdrawal of Lannister forces from Casterly Rock, forging an unlikely alliance with Euron Greyjoy; and hiring of the 20,000-strong Golden Company. But her most recent win was orchestrating an ambush on Daenerys' forces at sea, successfully killing the dragon Rhaegal with Qyburn's ship-mounted Scorpion ballistas, and capturing her best friend Missandei.
The surprise attack not only evened out the odds between the two Queens' forces; it also served its other purpose of provoking and tricking Dany into making impulsive, irrational decisions. Anticipating this, Cersei in an unprecedented move, surrounded the Red Keep with civilians as a human shield. When negotiations for a surrender at the gates of King's Landing broke down, Cersei fanned the flames even further by executing Missandei in front of Daenerys. She's bent on keeping the crown at all cost, and will do anything to rule the Seven Kingdoms.
Loyal to: The small folk
The Spider, and also known as the Master of Whisperers, has been relegated on the sidelines in the last few seasons, but it now looks like he will play a huge role in the show's conclusion. He's mostly misunderstood as a habitual defector, but to those who have followed his journey through the series, all the scheming, plotting, and manipulating he did were for the best interest of the common folk.
Varys immediately saw Jon as a viable alternative when he learned about his ancestry from Tyrion. After realizing that Daenerys couldn't see past her self importance (She was almost ready to sacrifice innocent lives when she wanted to take King's Landing by force!), Varys only reinforced his belief that the Dragon Queen is a risky choice for the throne. He had quite implied to Tyrion during their private meeting that he could mastermind a plot to have Daenerys killed. The idea troubled Tyrion, but we have yet to see if what Varys is working on actually gains traction or if he'll be just another casualty of the game.
Loyal to: Like Cersei, Herself
Like the Night King, Game of Thrones has spent the last 7 seasons presenting Daenerys as a sympathetic but remorseless hero. But it looks like everyone's favorite heroine is slated to take a dark turn, if fan theories are right.
Daenerys thrives when she's pushed back into a corner, like that time when she emerged from that fire with her dragons or when she burned all the Khals who held her captive. Despite those defining moments, Daenerys still gives off small doses of Mad Queen vibes (like when she burned Samwell Tarly's father and brother back in Season 7). Her recent losses weren't of much help to her state of mind either as she already lost two of her dragons, two of her closest advisors, and nearly her entire army. Also adding to her paranoia is knowing the truth about Jon's lineage. Dany begged Jon not to reveal his true identity, in a desperate attempt to maintain her claim on the Iron Throne. This is unprecedented for Dany, as this is the first time we actually see her try to manipulate someone she loves, just so she can forward her agenda. Dany started out as someone wanting a world free of tyrants, but in the process of possibly becoming one. As Varys warned her, "Do not become what you have always struggled to defeat."