TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 ‘The Last of the Starks’
***WARNING!!! BELOW THERE BE****
Episode Plot: The survivors of the Battle of Winterfell bury their dead. Dany begins to plot her next move on King’s Landing. Jon reveals his true parentage to Arya and Sansa. Tyrion and Jamie get a visit from Bronn. Varys and Tyrion counsel Dany. A standoff occurs at the gates of the Red Keep.
Review: If you told me at the beginning of the season that any episode other than the one involving the Battle of Winterfell would be my favorite, I would have said you’re nuts. But here we are. This week’s episode “The Last of the Starks” is by far and away my favorite of the season, primarily because it’s a throwback to the OG Game of Thrones episodes. There’s a lot of political manuevering, deceit, and intrigue, which to me is the lifeblood of this show.
We begin with an elaborate funeral service outside the walls of Winterfell where some of our favorite characters are finally put to rest. The most poignant moment I thought was when Sansa put a direwolf pin on Theon’s chest. There’s always been this question of his loyalties being split. Is he a Stark or a Greyjoy? A direwolf or a kraken? In the end the pin symbolizes that Theon became a true man of the North and it was touching to see Sansa give Theon a teary goodbye. Sansa’s become somewhat of a hardened leader over the last season so it spoke volumes to see her have that human moment.
Jon then gives a rousing, almost Braveheart-like speech, stating how the men and women who died didn’t die for nothing. That their ultimate sacrifice would reverberate down through the centuries. In that moment you could see the true king hiding in Jon, even if he’s repeatedly stated he doesn’t want it.
It’s almost a prerequisite that after any great battle a feast ensues and of course that’s what happens. Yet what begins as a somewhat dolorous affair sparks up when Dany surprisingly gives Gendry a trueborn name and names him the Lord of Storm’s End. I was not expecting this at all and it was a smooth move on Dany’s part. At this point she needs as many allies as possible with both half of the Dothraki and half of the Unsullied destroyed in the previous battle. Unfortunately for Gendry his happiness is short lived when Arya turns down her marriage proposal. It makes sense though and it’s a callback to Arya’s conversation with Ned in season one. Arya restates that she’s not a lady and never has been. It’s not the life she wants. She’s an assassin now and there is no going back.
There was a brief exchange between Davos and Tyrion that I thought was extremely significant. Despite the Night King being vanquished, Tyrion states how “we still have US to contend with.” Things may be safer now that the legions of the dead are gone but are they really? Are the people like Ramsay Bolton, Tywin Lannister, Walder Frey, Cersei, and potentially Dany any better than an undead demon? I’d argue that they are just as deadly if not moreso. The Great War may be over but the Last War is still far from settled.
One of the best scenes of the entire episode occurs when Tormund champions Jon. Ever the life of the party, Tormund is quick to point out all of Jon’s accomplishments. He’s a war hero and people are drawn to him. It was an excellent visual to watch Dany glance around her and see it. You can watch the paranoia dance across her face, something her father the Mad King was all too familiar with. Varys seems to be the only one who notices and since he once dealt with her father, it’s a good bet that he suspects what’s in her mind.
With the gathering together of our various heroes in Winterfell, it’s surprising that it’s taken until episode four to have a reunion with the Hound and Sansa. That moment was everything I was hoping for. You really get a sense of her evolution as a character. The Sansa of seasons past would never be able to look the Hound in the eye, yet that’s not the case anymore. Indeed when the Hound suggests that she would have been better off if he’d come with her back in season two, Sansa rejects this because she knows despite all the pain she’s endured, she wouldn’t be the strong woman she’s become without those experiences. It’s a solid life lesson.
If people thought that Arya and Gendry hooking up in episode two was out there, that’s nothing compared to Jamie and Brienne getting together. I did not see this coming and if I’m being honest I don’t know if I like the choice the showrunners made here. There’s no question that the two love each other but I think it’s more about respect than anything physical. However, I think in some ways that Jamie sees Brienne as a lifeline, the chance at a better life. Yet as later events transpire, Jamie and Brienne’s relationship becomes undone. More on that in a bit.
Dany and Jon finally broach the subject of his true lineage again. Although Jon swears his allegiance to her and states he doesn’t want the throne, Dany wants him to keep the information secret. Jon being Jon it’s something he can’t do. In spite of all the tragedy that’s befallen him, honor and honesty still hold sway, that’s why he feels compelled to tell the truth to Arya and Sansa even if the truth destroys his relationship with Dany. This is where I get pissed off with Jon because he still labors under the delusion that everyone can play nice. How does he not see that the North, and the sanctitity of the North is just as important to Sansa as the throne is to Dany? Sansa is bound to support Jon’s claim because she knows the value to the North of him sitting on the Iron Throne. At this point I just can’t see an outcome where one if not both of these characters dies.
Just as he said he would do, Jon tells Arya and Sansa the truth. Or rather Bran does. Jon swears the two to secrecy but you know how good people are at keeping secrets on this show. At the first opportunity, Sansa divulges the information to Tyrion just as he’s about to leave for King’s Landing. It’s a fascinating moment where Tyrion tries to convince Sansa that Dany can be a good ruler. I wondered during that interaction, and later with his conversation with Varys, if Tyrion is trying to convince HIMSELF of this as well. Sansa says that Tyrion is afraid of Dany and I think she’s absolutely right. There’s a madness in Dany that’s starting to come to the forefront. Sansa telling Tyrion the truth is a brilliant bit of political maneuvering. It shows she’s learned from Cersei. There’s no way Sansa tells Tyrion that information not knowing full well that Tyrion will tell Varys. She’s really setting the direwolf amongst the sheep here hoping for the best outcome for the North which will be Jon sitting on the Iron Throne.
Just before Dany leaves Winterfell, Jamie and Tyrion are “treated” with a visit from Bronn. As I said before, Bronn does what he always does which is look for a better deal. Tyrion always said he’d double anything anyone offered to betray him and boy does he up the ante by offering High Garden. Whether or not he’ll be able to deliver on the promise remains to be seen. I love Bronn but this scene felt very manufactured to me. I mean what significant action is Bronn going to play in the end? He’s checked out from the fighting. The whole scene, entertaining as it is just feels very useless.
On the flip side a much better reunion ensues when Arya decides to join the Hound on the King’s Road to King’s Landing. Both have “unfinished business” to attend to. The writers are clearly setting up “Clegane Bowl” and I hope the battle between the Hound and the Mountain is as epic as possible. Clearly, Arya also intends to kill Cersei because let’s not forget she’s on the list. As a Faceless Person she could easily get into the castle to accomplish this task. However, Arya’s already killed the Night King and I doubt very highly that Arya will be the one to take down two Big Bads in the same season. It’s great to see this dynamic duo back again as their relationship in the third and fourth seasons was spectacular. The two have great chemistry. Hell I’d watch a spinoff show with just the two of them!
Jon, Sam, Gilly, and Tormund all say their final goodbyes. It’s an interesting moment for Tormund to tell Jon that he belongs in the “true” North beyond the Wall. I can’t help but wonder if that might be Jon’s ultimate fate. Meanwhile, Sam has apparently gotten Gilly pregnant. Presumably the two are heading back to Horn Hill where Sam will take up his seat as the head of House Tarly. Somebody needs to have a happy ending and it might as well be those too. This felt like a real goodbye between best friends and I can’t help but wonder if this is the last time the two will see each other. My one gripe about this scene: Jon ya done did Ghost dirty. I mean seriously, the direwolf is sitting there cut to shit with half an ear missing and you can’t even given him a farewell pat!!?? What the Hell is up with that?? Hopefully Ghost will be safer beyond the Wall.
Just as Sansa wanted, Tyrion tells Varys the truth of Jon’s parentage. This scene and the later one after Dany’s defeat at Blackwater Bay proves to be two of the most tense of the entire episode. It’s clear that Varys doesn’t serve any one master, he serves the realm. He makes it clear without outright saying it that he will kill Dany if he feels she’s a threat to the realm and if Tyrion stands in his way he may suffer the same fate. Marrying the two isn’t a viable option either because Varys rightly points out that Dany will bend Jon to her will. (Also…and I can’t stress this enough…HE’S HER NEPHEW!!) I have to say I’m with Varys on this one. Is Tyrion blinded by his loyalty to Dany? Can’t he see what she’s becoming? Dany had a ton of goodwill built up in Essos but not so much in Westeros, despite Tyrion’s attempts to curry favor for her. Tyrion always seems like the smartest of the bunch, but in this instance it feels like he’s being willfully ignorant. The excess wine isn’t probably helping either.
In true Game of Thrones fashion, just when things seem somewhat safe, everything goes to Hell. Dany and her fleet are descending on King’s Landing when out of nowhere, Euron and his fleet appears and decimates Dany’s fleet. Not only that, they kill Rhaegal in spectacular fashion. To me this may have been the most shocking death since Hodor in season six. Now Dany has lost two of her “children,” most of the Dothraki and the Unsullied, her fleet, and Missandei is taken prisoner. It’s a fantastic military manuever on Cersei’s part who by the way also tells Euron she’s pregnant with his child. (LIES!) What’s sickening is how Cersei uses the common folk as a poker chip, pulling most of them into the Red Keep. Cersei knows Dany will have to kill thousands of innocents to get to her. The fact that Cersei does this just reinforces what a cuthroat, ruthless, and evil person she is. Please someone take this bitch out already.
In spite of Cersei’s obvious tactic, Dany seeks to press the advantage. This blows my mind because just last season Dany said how she didn’t come to Westeros to be “Queen of the Ashes” yet if she does this that’s exactly what she’ll be. Varys tells her she’s making a mistake. Tyrion councils Dany to request Cersei surrender, to demonstrate she did everything in her power to prevent innocent bloodshed. Dany relents but it’s pretty obvious she doesn’t care one way or the other. Her goal is the throne and nothing but the throne. If she has to burn them she will.
Back at Winterfell Jamie discovers what happened to Dany’s fleet. Feeling that Cersei is now in danger of Dany’s wrath, he tries to steal off in the dead of night. Despite Brienne trying to tell him he’s a good man, Jamie restates all the terrible things he’s done just to try to get back to Cersei. People may wonder why Jamie’s being this thick-headed when it comes to Cersei but I get it. For one she’s carrying his child so that’s a major factor. More importantly though, Cersei is like heroin to him. She’s addictive and ultimately he knows she’s bad for him. Yet Jamie can’t deny Cersei, even when presented with an opportunity for a better life. Anyone who’s ever been in a toxic relationship can understand this. How it ultimately plays out is anyone’s guess however.
The showrunners save the best for last as the closing scenes of “The Last of the Starks” are frought with tension. The phrase “on the edge of your seat” gets thrown around a lot but it was definitely the case here. The two individual hands of the Queen, Tyrion and Qyburn meet at the gate to discuss terms of surrender. Cersei’s demands are for a complete surrender or she will kill Missandei right there. Not content to speak with Qyburn, Tyrion boldly steps to the gates and addresses Cersei directly. For a moment I thought that was it for him as Cersei was poised to turn him into a human pincushion. Tyrion plays the only card he has left, appealing to Cersei’s unborn child. He doesn’t want to hear the screams of burning children or see Cersei killed along with her child. Her reign might be over but maybe not her life. But Cersei is too far gone and his appeal falls on deaf ears. Cersei said it herself to Ned Stark in season one, “When you play the game of thrones you either win or you die. There is no middle ground.” It’s a mandate she’s lived by. There’s not a shred of humanity left in her. Cersei commands the Mountain to kill Missandei but not before Missandei’s last word which is “Dracarys.” I think that’s High Valyrian for “Burn these fuckers.” It was heart wrenching to watch Grey Worm’s face when Missandei is killed. Yet it was terrifying to see Dany’s facial expression. I think the word “mercy” has officially been scraped from her vocabulary. Yet again I’m conflicted about Dany! Part of me now wants her to take revenge on these fools when two episodes ago I was ready to write her off. Damn you Game of Thrones!
Whoo boy! Another intense episode with a lot of emotional twists and turns. Next week is going to be a bloodbath and it’s anybody’s guess as to who comes out on top. With only two episodes left we are in for a wild ending. Just don’t expect it to be happy.
Season 8 Episode 4 “The Last of the Starks” rates: 9/10 Severed Ned Heads