A happy dragon moment for Emilia Clarke as Deanerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 4.
A happy dragon moment for Emilia Clarke as Deanerys Targaryen in “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 4. (HBO / HANDOUT)

Ladies and gentlemen, restart your engines. After a couple of “Games and Thrones” seasons spent preparing for what we were told would be the ultimate fight against the ultimate enemy, the Night King is all of a sudden gone, and we have to regroup, retool, and refocus our attentions southward, on King’s Landing, where Cersei rules not with love or wisdom but with inertia.

What this meant in terms of Sunday’s third-to-last episode ever of HBO’s dragons-and-armor epic was -- spoiler alert -- another TV hour-plus ratcheting forces and motivations into place, with especially deadly results for two loved characters.

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On the bright side, this episode was on the bright side. Rather than last week’s murky night battle that tested TV sets’ ability to distinguish charcoal gray from in-the-gloaming gray, this one happened mostly in daylight or before roaring fires.

On the dark side, Daenerys appeared to lose another dragon, the one called Rhaegal, for the stupidest of reasons. The Mother of Dragons and all of her, um, brain-trust have apparently still failed to realize that beyond breathing fire in battle and impressing parents of mere human offspring, these magnificent flying machines could be used for this crazy little tactic called reconnaissance. But what general would want to know ahead of time what her enemies are up to?

And, second, we lost Missandei, too, ultimately for the same reason. She was captured after Daenerys’s fleet, like her dragon, was surprised by Euron’s armada of ships. If only there had been a way to spot big vessels out in the water ahead of time!

And at the big doomed peace summit at episode’s end, Daenerys, Grey Worm and Tyrion all had to watch as Cersei signaled her unwillingness to agree to terms by having the Mountain separate Missandei head from torso.

“Dracarys!” was Missandei’s last word. Burn them.

The look on Dany’s face suggested it is on in the Battle for the Iron Throne. It is also on here as we dig deeper for 5 thoughts recapping “Game of Thrones” Season 8 Episode 4, the One in Which Sansa Posthumously Awarded Theon the Stark Family Distinguished Letter Opener of Valor:

1. Another week, another not-quite-central character down. We should have known Missandei was a goner when we watched her talk a couple of episodes back about wanting to see her homeland again, after all of this was over. In plot terms, that’s about as sure a sign of imminent demise as a cop saying he’s only got a week to go before retirement.

Losing her was a big blow, of course, and for no one more than Grey Worm, who seemed to share with her the show’s purest example of love, with the possible exception of Arya Stark and killing. Loyal to Dany, the queen who freed her from slavery, in love with the Unsullied leader Grey Worm, she was much adored by “GoT” fans, who shuddered to see her back in chains before she was felled.

But she wasn’t a core character, one we got to know on a deeper than superficial level. Which means that once again, the showrunners pulled punches. “Game of Thrones” in the first season told viewers no one would be safe here by offing the ostensible hero, the Warden of the North Ned Stark.

But in the last couple of seasons, and the last couple of episodes especially, the rules seem to have changed back to more standard TV-drama regulations. Despite the horrible fury unleashed by the Night King and his hordes of White Walker soldiers during last week’s Battle of Winterfell, central characters kept on surviving with mere flesh wounds.

And this week, at the summit meeting, Tyrion walked alone toward sister Cersei to try to talk her into surrendering to avoid bloodshed. This was almost as foolish as his earlier failure to suggest Dany scout ahead on the dragons. All of Cersei’s archers were aiming at Tyrion, alone. Her hand was raised, ready to give the “kill” command, an echo of when she had her hand raised last season to have brother and lover Jaime killed as he walked out on her.

It would have been the perfect moment to let Cersei redeem her failure to act against Jaime, to once again show her true evil nature, and to signify that “Game of Thrones” hasn’t gone soft on us in its waning days. Tyrion dying would be awful, of course, but it would be entirely logical considering the bets he keeps placing on Cersei’s honor and considering the kind of show we thought we knew “Game of Thrones” to be.

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Instead, the series had her decide once again not to execute the “execute” command against a brother. And Missandei, in the broader sense of the show, took the blow for Tyrion.

2. The “Game of Thrones” virginity ranks are rapidly thinning. This time, it was Brienne of Tarth putting her first notch in the old bedpost — and several more after that, from the looks of all those rumpled wildlife pelts.

Her first lover was not, surprise, the puppy dog Wildling Tormund Giantsbane, whose uncouth ways apparently did nothing for this battle-hearty but high-bred woman. Instead, it was Jaime Lannister, on the rebound from abandoning Cersei, who charmed Brienne out of her shirt and other garments after a drinking game she only pretended to participate in.

Jaime was even prepared to stay behind at Winterfell with her as she fulfilled her sworn duty to protect the Stark daughters.

Alas, once a sister-lover, always a sister-lover. Near episode’s end, word came to Winterfell that Cersei’s forces had taken out the dragon, meaning Daenerys would surely come after Cersei hard. And Jaime, after a speech about what a terrible person he is, suited up to head south to warn her or protect her or something. Brienne pleaded with him not to leave, but he and his metallic hand jes’ kep’ a-ridin’.

We know that Podrick isn’t a virgin; heck, we even saw him heading off with two women during the big party after the Battle of Winterfell toward the beginning the episode.

This leaves Brandon Stark, I’ve gotta believe, as the last main character who still has not known someone in the biblical sense. Unless he and Meera ...? No, never mind.

3. Will the real Daenerys Targaryen please stand up? And also not roast everyone in King’s Landing to a crisp? Really, the episode was about Dany’s character. Is she the natural and justice-leaning leader witnessed across the Narrow Sea by Jorah (who went out as he had lived, in the Friend Zone); by Tyrion; by Missandei and Grey Worm; and by the late (and apparently now relegated to footnotes) Dothraki?

Or is she the self-pitying heiress lamenting that nobody in Westeros loves her, especially not the way they seem to love Jon Snow, whom she now knows is actually her nephew, Aegon Targaryen, and the rightful Iron Throne heir?

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“I wish you had never told me,” she told Jon, as he pulled away from kissing Auntie D. “Many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Not on this side of the sea.”

Jon says he believes in her and does not want to take the throne. But he couldn’t not tell his sisters about who he really was, and this only added fuel to Sansa’s dislike of Daenerys. And Sansa, despite her promise to Jon, couldn’t help but tell Tyrion of Jon’s royal parentage, and he couldn’t help but tell Varys, which is the “GoT” equivalent of getting it into the town crier network.

And each new person who learned this seemed to find fresh ways to doubt Dany’s suitability to the task, mostly because she seems to want the throne too much and will do anything to get it, including burning the innocent civilians taking pre-battle refuge in King’s Landing.

Tyrion says, wait, wouldn’t you feel destiny if you walked into a fire with three fossils and came out with dragons? And couldn’t maybe Jon and Daenerys rule together?

Varys isn’t buying it anymore, although he suggested that very thing a couple of episodes ago. Now he seems ready to scheme to bring her down, and he wants Tyrion to join him.

4. Cersei, so far, is the leading tactician. We’ve seen bad guys take early, unsustainable leads in “Game of Thrones” before. But Cersei was smart enough to sit out the battle for humanity, figuring, rightly, that if Dany’s forces survived they’d be depleted.

This won’t make Cersei look great in history books, perhaps, but mostly she seems to want to retain power so she can continue her quest to deliver the ultimate imperious look. Her enemies’ forces are about cut in half, it sounds like, and she did her best facial pose yet from up on the platform where Missandei died.

Cersei was smart enough to send Euron out to sea to ambush Dany’s ships and her dragons as she flew around. She was an absolute genius in predicting Daenerys would be flying in easy super-arrow range, rather than cautiously surveilling surrounding territory from way up high.

And she’s been smart enough to bring all the commoners inside her palace, in hopes that Daenerys will kill them all in an indiscriminate battle-rage, thus costing the Dragon Queen popular support. That, too, is working. Dany seems inclined to do some ravaging, especially after the Rhaegal and Missandei killings. And her advisers, in trying to restrain her, are beginning to have the aforementioned doubts about whether her benevolence impulse outshines her power lust.

But I wouldn’t let it ride on Queen C just yet. Jaime is riding south, and who knows what his real plan for dear ol’ sis might be. Arya Stark, savior of her species, is also riding south on an unexplained mission. And Dany’s forces may well talk sense into their queen, or depose her, or otherwise regain some battle smarts.

5. Who will come with me to attend the Night King’s funeral? I know it’s not fashionable to mourn for a fellow who tried very hard to ensure I and other humans never would be born. But we spent most of eight seasons being told the point of the show was that winter was coming, meaning the Night King and the existential threat to our species he represented.

More than just a kind of ultimate bad guy on the horizon, he represented “GoT’s” big allegorical point, that humanity needs to band together and make sacrifices in order to fend off our own ultimate threat, global climate change.

Vanquishing him in just one battle episode was satisfying in the moment, to be sure. But the morning after and since, it felt a little too sudden, maybe even a little too easy. How are we supposed to get thrilled about fighting mere Cersei again when we’ve already bested the greatest enemy of all time? Will the Golden State Warriors be excited if, should they beat the Houston Rockets this round, they have to defeat, say, the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA Finals?

And what does quick defeat mean for the climate-change metaphor? That if we really, really try, and employ squads of highly trained teenage girls, we’ll be able to handle it in a weekend or so? I mean, STEM education is important and potent and all, but that doesn’t seem to fit what is known about global warming.

Even worse, all those funeral pyres of Battle of Winterfell dead bodies at the episode’s outset, seem to suggest the show is so over worrying about the climate that it is now willing to spew pollutants into the air with zeal.

So who will join me in mourning the sudden passing of the Night King, who, perhaps more than anyone else who’s ever had an obituary written about him, leaves no survivors? I hope you’ll agree with me that wearing white is appropriate, and bundle up, because it will surely be cold.

sajohnson@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @StevenKJohnson

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