WARNING: The following article contains spoilers for this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, "What's Past Is Prologue," which premiered Sunday on CBS All Access.
Sonequa Martin-Green's Michael Burnham is the clear, stated star of Star Trek: Discovery, but Jason Isaacs' Gabriel Lorca emerged over the course of the season as something akin to co-lead. Although he wasn't introduced until the third episode, the enigmatic starship captain has driven much of show's plot, from enlisting in his crew convicted traitor Burnham and prisoner of war Ash Tyler to pushing for the implementation of Discovery's experimental spore drive, all supposedly to ensure victory over the Klingons. When it was finally confirmed in last week's episode that Lorca is from the Mirror Universe, and that his every action was fueled by a desire to return there to overthrow the Terran emperor, he still remained central to the season-long arc -- even if it was difficult to imagine how the other characters could recover from that revelation.
It turns out they won't have to, say, pragmatically reinstall him in the captain's chair in order to escape the Mirror Universe, because in this week's episode, "What's Past Is Prologue," Lorca dies a spectacular death.
The parallels to HBO's Game of Thrones are inescapable, even if Gabriel Lorca is no Ned Stark. Portrayed by Sean Bean, the honorable Lord of Winterfell and Hand of the King was established as one of the fantasy drama's protagonists, and his beheading in the first season came as a shock to viewers unfamiliar with George R.R. Martin's novels. The blow of Lorca's execution is no doubt deadened by the revelations of his true identity, motives and (shudder) dimension-crossing obsession with Burnham, but it's nevertheless surprising, and a major moment for Discovery.
Of course, the series notably killed Michelle Yeoh's Captain Georgiou in its second episode, only for her to return as the Terran emperor in the Mirror Universe. But it doesn't appear Lorca is coming back from this. (For what it's worth, Isaac isn't contracted for Season 2.)
Following his escape at the end of last week's episode from the Emperor's agonizer, Lorca frees his imprisoned followers (most notably the Mirror Landry, played by Rekha Sharma) and renews his coup aboard the city-sized Terran flagship Charon. Considering they've undergone months of torture, and that they're far outnumbered by imperial forces, Lorca's troops soon seize the throne room, placing the reign of Emperor Georgiou in jeopardy. However, the stakes are far greater than the political future of the Mirror Universe, as the Charon's energy core is killing the mycelium network, which will eventually lead to the destruction of the entire multiverse. Luckily, though, the Discovery crew has a plan that requires the assistance of Burham, and Emperor Georgiou, to pull off.
Georgiou places her faith, and her fate, in Burnham, and the two surrender to Lorca's forces so they'll be brought to the throne room, where they can access the controls to the containment shield protecting the ship's core. As Discovery moves into position to fire upon that core, Burham and Georgiou leap into action, resulting in a smartly choreographed fight that results in the deaths of both Mirror Landry (doomed in any universe, it seems) and Lorca.
The latter is of course the most meaningful, with Georgiou first thrusting her sword through his chest and then kicking him through a door in the floor of the throne room to burn up in the Charon's energy core. It's a fitting end for someone who flew too close to the sun, and more than a little reminiscent of the Moon Door at the Eyrie on Game of Thrones ("Make the bad man fly," indeed).
There's no time for celebration, or for mourning, however, as Lorca's remaining troops are about to breach the throne room. Now a "defeated emperor," Georgiou's future looks short and grim, and so she offers to provide Burnham cover so she can escape to Discovery and destroy the core. But as she's about to be beamed aboard her ship, Burnham embraces the "ghost" of her former mentor, ensuring that they're both whisked away to safety.
It's a last-second decision triggered by sentiment -- take that, Vulcan education system -- and, no doubt, by Burnham's desire to make amends for her betrayal of Captain Georgiou, which not only led to the death of her mentor but ignited the war between the Federation and the Klingons. While it's unlikely Burnham will feel a similar guilt over her role in Lorca's execution, his death -- like that of Ned Stark -- will have far-reaching consequences, not only for the part it plays in Discovery's escape from the Mirror Universe but also on the effects his actions and compounded lies will have on the ship's crew, and the Prime Universe.
Airing Sundays at 8:30 p.m. ET on CBS All Access, Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Anthony Rapp, Shazad Latif, Mary Wiseman, Wilson Cruz and Mary Chieffo.