This article contains spoilers for the series finale of Game of Thrones.
"All men must die," as the saying has it on Game of Thrones — some just go sooner than others. Or bloodier. Or better cooked.
Much of the anticipation leading up to the final season was about who would live or die, and whether the show would return to its signature habit of taking out major characters in shocking fashion. In that respect, at least, the divisive Season 8 did not disappoint, even if the execution of the executions occasionally inspired lamentations from Thrones devotees. (Even if you weren't a fan, it was hard to avoid hearing about the deaths of the Night King in Episode 3; Missandei in Episode 4; or the Dragon Queen herself, Daenerys Targaryen, in Monday's series finale.)
Here, we look back at the notable deaths of the final season, ranked from gut-wrenching to gratifying, and hear from some of the actors who portrayed them.
Missandei, Episode 4
A kind and thoughtful translator and former slave, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) was captured at sea and once again clapped in chains — and then beheaded when Daenerys refused to surrender to Cersei. If only Dany had valued her friend's life more than her supposed birthright! Missandei's murder threw a switch within both Dany and Grey Worm, who apparently took her last word, "Dracarys," as permission to go on a killing rampage. (Going out on a limb here, but Missandei probably meant that they should torch Cersei, not thousands of innocent people in King's Landing.)
Lyanna Mormont, Episode 3
During the Battle of Winterfell, a child took down a giant. Even as little Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey) was being squeezed to death, she used her last breath to stab a giant wight through the eye, saving countless others. "I wasn't expecting to even come back for Season 8, so the fact that I got to come back and die, and the death I got, it was insane," Ramsey said in an interview.
Theon Greyjoy, Episode 3
Theon Greyjoy struggled with his identity, torn between two families. This caused him at one point to betray the Starks and take Winterfell on behalf of the Greyjoys. But after much torture and soul-searching, he endeavoured to redeem himself by protecting the Starks. He gave his life to defend Bran in the godswood from the Night King, who in turn stabbed him. In a touching tribute, Sansa attached a Stark direwolf pin to Theon on his funeral pyre; he was a Stark when it mattered most.
Jorah Mormont, Episode 3
Disgraced and exiled, Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) found his mission in life serving Daenerys. He lived and died for Dany, defending her against multiple wights during the Battle of Winterfell. More than anyone, he believed in Dany's gentle heart, and that belief might have helped quell her less-gentle impulses.
Melisandre, Episode 3
The witchy woman Melisandre (Carice van Houten) turned up at the Battle of Winterfell to aid Team Living with flames and pep talks. But as she told Davos, she knew she would be dead before the dawn. Whether it was because her sudden power surge came at a high cost or she just finally succumbed to old age, Melisandre's death was eerie, elegant and poignant. She took off her glamour necklace, walked out into the field and collapsed. "In a way, it's a sort of sacrifice," van Houten said. "I mean, suicide sounds a bit too strong, but it is. She's old. She's done."
Sandor Clegane, Episode 5
Sandor (Rory McCann), better known as the Hound, lived through a lifetime of violence, starting when his older brother, Gregor, pressed his face into a fire. It ended with the Hound finally facing that brother — and the fire, too, as he pushed Gregor through a crumbling wall of the Red Keep and into a fiery blaze. But it was the Hound's touching moment with Arya beforehand, when he urged her not to follow in his footsteps, that gave his final moments emotional weight.
Beric Dondarrion, Episode 3
Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer) died and was resurrected many times. No wonder he didn't feel like himself anymore. That made him sometimes hard to relate to (to say nothing of all his Lord of Light proselytising), but Beric sacrificed his life in the end to save Arya, allowing himself to be mauled by wights in the halls of Winterfell. "He knows he has to die," Dormer said. "Beric is tired of fighting, but he knows he needs to do one last thing before he goes."
Dolorous Edd Tollett, Episode 3
One of the first to die during the Battle of Winterfell, Edd gave his life to protect his onetime Night's Watch brother Samwell Tarly, who despite his earlier incarnation as Sam the Slayer, collapsed under pressure and was easily overwhelmed by the army of the dead. Poor Edd was stabbed in the gut and was briefly resurrected as a wight later on.
Ned Umber, Episode 1
While trying to ensure the safety of his household and vassals at the Last Hearth, little Ned Umber (Harry Grasby) was waylaid off screen by the army of the dead and turned into a wight — and the centerpiece of a creepy body-parts art installation by the Night King. Beric set fire to Ned's reanimated corpse, which means that Ned technically died twice.
Varys, Episode 5
If all he had done was spread the truth about Jon's lineage, Varys (Conleth Hill) would have died a tragic death. But our favorite Spider wove a poisonous web, and it seems very possible that he was trying to poison into Dany's food. She was within her rights to execute him for treason. Still, dragon fire is an awful way to go.
Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Episode 5
Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) came into this world together as twins, and they exited the same way, cradling each other as they were crushed by the collapsing Red Keep. As icky as their incestuous union was, they did love each other, against all odds. Not even the love Jaime felt for Brienne, his better half, could keep him from Cersei's side; and as Brienne realized, he died protecting his queen — an evil queen to be sure, but Jaime loved her anyway. And Cersei loved him back, apart from the bit where she sent an assassin to kill him.
Euron Greyjoy, Episode 5
The mad pirate king Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) went out with a smile on his face, thinking that he had killed the Kingslayer. There was no need to quarrel with a romantic rival, not when the war for Cersei's heart had been won in the womb. But we'll say this for Euron: He was never boring in battle. "The final scene, I wanted some kind of poetic justice for him," Asbaek said. "Something elegant, like a ballet dance."
Daenerys Targaryen, Episode 6
We have now known two versions of Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) — the girl we watched become a feminist icon, and the tyrant she became in her final act. By the time Jon Snow stabbed her during their last embrace, we knew she had to die. And like Tyrion and Arya, we knew it had to be now, before Dany kicked off her world tour. But like Jon, we were conflicted: Couldn't she be reasoned with? Sadly, no.
Gregor Clegane, Episode 5
Does it count as a death if the subject is already dead? Up until his final moments, we had no idea whether the reanimated Gregor (Hafthor Julius Bjornsson), better known as the Mountain, had a mind of his own anymore. But disobeying and killing his creator, Qyburn (Anton Lesser), signalled to us that some of the original Gregor was inside somewhere. And that remaining bit of Gregor had to pay for all his cruelties, which included killing a man for snoring.
Qyburn, Episode 5
Dr. Frankenstein was the true monster, and so was Qyburn. Despite his kindly veneer, the would-be maester directed most of his efforts to propping up an evil queen. And so when the Mountain did his signature conk smash with Qyburn's head against a wall, it was a moment of pure joy.
The Night King, Episode 3
He never spoke, so we never got to really understand him. But when Arya jumped out of nowhere to attack the Night King (Vladimir Furdik), we thought she was done for — until she startled us by suddenly catching her falling blade and stabbing him. And thus she took out the entire army of White Walkers and wights. The world's greatest existential threat, destroyed by a fiercely competent woman.
FOR MORE THOUGHTS ON THRONES, LISTEN TO THE NZ HERALD PODCAST.