For better or worse, Game of Thrones zoomed along in another episode on Sunday night. “The Last of the Starks” was the third-last episode of the entire series, and with the Night King thoroughly (and conveniently) dispatched in the previous episode, the show got back to its normal routine of political maneuvering and shifting alliances. Except it’s no longer doing any of those things with any intelligence, cleverness, or anything that resembles a believable plot.
Before we dive into the summary and analysis of the fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ final season, please be warned that this article WILL CONTAIN FULL SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES! Seriously, if you haven’t watched “The Last of the Starks” yet and don’t want any of it ruined for you, just bookmark this article and read it later this week.
With that out of the way, let’s proceed with breaking down what was good, what was bad, and what was simply wtf.
I want to start out by saying one thing that I feel is important: I don’t hate Game of Thrones. It brings me no pleasure to watch an episode and shake my head thinking “what the hell are the writers doing?” I’m not one of those “it’s cool to hate popular things” kinds of people.
On the contrary, I love this show. I have spent hours and hours of my life consuming this show, discussing this show, writing about this show, researching the history and lore of Westeros, watching extremely details YouTube breakdowns of episodes, fan theories, book prophecies, etc. I have poured through the three most active subreddits dedicated to the show (r/gameofthrones, r/freefolk, and r/asoiaf) to learn every last little tidbit of information I could, because I believe that the show is better when you have a firm understanding of the the character’s family histories and current motivations.
My point is that I don’t tune in every Sunday night, rubbing my hands together and grinning like some sort of cartoonish super villain thinking to myself, “Man, I can’t wait to absolutely trash this episode for Goliath tomorrow.”
No. I don’t want to do that. However, I’m willing to call a spade a spade.
Some parts of this episode were downright insulting to fans. Game of Thrones has built up a lot of goodwill with their fanbase, and for good reason. For most of the show’s existence, it’s been extremely well-written (to the point of winning multiple Emmy Awards) and fans were confident that every mystery or betrayal would eventually end with a legitimate payoff down the road. Clearly, we are well past that being the case anymore. That being said, not all of the episode made me scoff, and some of it was actually very good. That’s right, people, things aren’t always black and white. Shades of grey exist for a reason!
After a somber funeral scene for the fallen warriors of the Battle of Winterfell, the North enjoys a victory feast. Daenerys attempts to earn the admiration of the Northmen by declaring Gendry the legitimate son of Robert Baratheon, and naming him Lord of Storm’s End. She is trumped, however, by Tormund’s enthusiastic speech about Jon Snow riding a dragon into battle “like a king.” Geez, could they be any more obvious about the growing conflict between Jon and Dany?
Dany is stressed about Jon’s claim to the throne, even though he repeatedly says he does not want it. He didn’t want to be Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch either. Or King in the North, for that matter. The show has a history of Jon ending up in positions he does not want. Plus his humble nature and subtle charisma draws people to him, whether he likes it or not. It’s not a quality that Daenerys has ever had, and she’s starting to realize it.
Dany wishes she didn’t know the truth about Jon’s true identity, and begs him to keep it a secret. Jon, who still has many of the Ned Stark teachings in him even though he’s not Ned’s real son, insists the right thing to do is at least tell his sisters. Is this another Stark man digging his own grave by insisting on doing things “the right way?”
Jon tells Arya and Sansa the truth about who he is, after swearing them to secrecy. Sansa immediately blabs to Tyrion (because she still distrusts Dany), and Tyrion immediately blabs to Varys (for… reasons?). The show also purposely doesn’t show us the reactions of the Stark sisters, which felt cheap. Sure, we don’t need another “reveal” scene, but it feels like Sansa and Arya’s reaction to some game-changing news might be important. Then again, perhaps their immediate reactions (Sansa sharing the secret with Tyrion and Arya deciding to ride south on her own) are enough of a clue to how they feel about Jon really being Aegon Targaryen.
Tyrion and Varys have a difficult conversation about who to back for the throne. Tyrion has pledged to back Daenerys, and believes she will be a worthy ruler despite some of her faults. Varys, however, claims to always be working on behalf of the greater population of Westeros. To that end, he not-so-subtly suggests that it might make more sense to prop up Jon Snow as the eventual King. After all, he’s half Targaryen and half Stark — a lineage that could unite the North and the South. He’s honorable, fair, and doesn’t show any of the vengeful dictator traits that are becoming more and more obvious is Dany. Varys might actually be right in his thinking, but acting on it could come at a great cost.
Let’s get to the dumbest part of the entire episode though. Daenerys sails to Dragonstone with the remaining Unsullied and her dragons. Somehow, despite having an extreme advantage in scouting and maneuverability by riding a dragon, they sail/fly right into a trap set by Euron Greyjoy, armed with numerous scorpion crossbows (aka that thing that Qyburn made to kill a dragon). And whattyaknow, they work like a charm. Rhaegal takes three arrows (including a deadly final blow to the neck), and falls dead into the sea. The boats are all destroyed too.
Tactically, this was all pretty brutal. Daenerys knows that Cersei has the Greyjoy fleet. They literally mention it a few scenes earlier when they discuss what troops they have left! Why isn’t Dany flying ahead, scouting for the Greyjoy fleet? Why didn’t she simply flank Greyjoy ships and burn them to ashes? Are we supposed to believe that a bunch of massive wooden ships can turn themselves around before a dragon can swoop in behind and roast them to bits? Daenerys knows she’s at war, right?
The scene ends with Daenerys flying away while her ships get torn apart. Many of her remaining soldiers are killed, and Missandei gets captured. I think this will come up again, as another example of Dany being a poor leader and making poor decisions. The dragons are the ultimate trump card, and she once again refused to play it at the right time. Not only that, but she high tailed it out of there in a hurry and left her subjects to get beat badly. Jon Snow would never run from a fight like that. Or at least, that’s what people might start to whisper.
The next great debate is about how to deal with Cersei. Dany is pissed, and wants to simply set King’s Landing on fire (including thousands or even millions of innocent citizens) and rebuild from the ashes. Her advisers, especially Tyrion, realize this is a horrible plan from a PR perspective. The people of Westeros will never truly accept a Queen who massacred the capital city in order to get the throne. Cersei knows this too, and purposely allows the commoners to mingle in the courtyard of the Red Keep.
Tyrion proposes a final diplomatic attempt. After getting nowhere with Qyburn, he attempts to speak directly to his sister. He surmises that Cersei is pregnant, and tries to appeal to her motherly instincts. That fails miserably, and Missendei is executed. Frankly, I don’t know why Cersei didn’t also simply kill Tyrion on the spot if that was going to her answer. Some fans have theorized that she wants Tyrion to suffer in death (like Cersei’s punishment for Ellaria Sand), but that doesn’t really hold up since she already offered Bronn payment to ride North and assassinate him.
Let’s talk about the bun in the oven for a second. Is Cersei really pregnant? Tyrion believes so, but only because she refused to drink wine in a scene they shared last season. She’s been drinking plenty this season, though, unless those goblets are filled with water. Cersei knows how to manipulate men, and it’s probably to her advantage to allow Tyrion, Euron, and maybe even Jaime to think she’s with child, even if she’s not. As an added note, Euron was just told about “his” child earlier in the episode, but he’s standing right there as Tyrion talks about it like it’s old news. Will he be smart enough to catch on that Cersei has been pregnant (if she really even is) longer that he’s been in the picture?
Missendei’s final words are a grim look at the future: “Dracarys.” If Dany wasn’t already boiling over from the loss of her second dragon, then Missendei’s death (and Grey Worm’s likely urging) is probably the tipping point. She’s ready to go full Mad Queen and “burn them all,” as her dear ol’ dad would say.
With just two episodes to go (roughly 160 minutes of screen time), things are moving fast and furious in Westeros. It appears Varys has made his choice to back Jon Snow, while Tyrion is trying desperately to keep Daenerys on the right track. When Jon arrives in the South, will he be able to see the signs of Dany cracking under the pressure? Or will he stay blinded by love? There’s a growing conflict between the two heroes. Too bad there’s only a couple episodes left to explore it, which is unlikely to do it any real justice.
Other Assorted Thoughts:
-The Hound isn’t happy, despite literally fighting death and winning. He decides to ride South to (presumably) confront his brother. Arya ends up joining him, likely to cross Cersei and The Mountain off her list. If this leads to a few more scenes together for the two, then I’m all for it, as their antagonistic bonding has always been a highlight of the show. Unfortunately, I also feel like Arya may get mixed up in #CleganeBowl and end up dead.
-Jaime finally beds Brienne, after crushing on her hard for multiple seasons. Tormund is gutted. However, nobody gets a happy ending here. Tormund decides to take the Free Folk back beyond The Wall, to their original home. With no undead army (or Night’s Watch) to worry about, they should be free to live in peace — even if Tormund is heartbroken about Brienne. Jaime relapses over Cersei, and tells Brienne is going back to King’s Landing because he is also a “hateful person.” But is he going to reunite with Cersei or to kill her? It’s unclear, but the Jaime Lannister redemption arc might have just taken a left turn. And fallen off a cliff. And drowned in the sea. And been eaten by a shark. In other words, it might be cancelled.
-Gendry, the brand new Lord of Storm’s End, declares his undying love for Arya. She promptly says “thanks for the sex, but you’re more of a FWB type of guy.” So that’s that, then.
-Bronn fast travels North and threatens the Lannister brothers. However, Bronn is a practical man and assumes that any army with two dragons will likely win the upcoming battle. So he bargains for an even better holding (Highgarden) when Dany eventually wins. To be continued, probably…
-Jon says goodbye to Sam and Tormund, because he will presumably stay in King’s Landing with Daenerys after they win the Last War. Unfortunately, he doesn’t so much as look as Ghost before sending him off with Tormund. At least the show didn’t forget about the poor direwolf this time, like they did for a few seasons at a time in the past.