REVIEW: Game of Thrones, S8 Ep4 – The Last of the Starks

Game of Thrones 6

Game of Thrones delighted, thrilled, and shocked us in a jampacked episode that starts with the aftermath of the great battle and a race to King’s Landing for a final confrontation between queens.

Game of Thrones 3Now, that’s more like it. And also, be careful what you wish for. After last week’s episode that focused solely on the battle against the White Walkers, Game of Thrones returned to its roots and delivered an episode filled with political intrigue and scheming that was reminiscent of earlier seasons. With the supernatural threat resolved neatly, the characters could go back to the business of winning the Iron Throne.

But since this is the final season of the show, the Game of Thrones team made sure to cram in as much action and events as they could into this episode after devoting a whole chapter to an epic battle. The result is yet another episode weighed down by frenetic pacing and seemingly implausible character interactions because everything has to be so condensed. There was enough plot in this episode that could have been properly fleshed out over three to four normal episodes. But we’re in the race to the finish line so the writers have to tick every box in their checklist of significant story developments.

Game of Thrones 1The first section of the episode is a somber affair that occurs in the immediate aftermath of the great battle. Even if only a handful of named characters perished, there were still many Northmen, Unsullied, Dothraki, and others who fell to protect the world from the White Walkers. Jon gave a fairly rousing eulogy as each of the main characters bid an emotional farewell to those they had lost before lighting hundreds of funeral pyres. As mentioned before, it’s not clear if burning the bodies is purely ceremonial or is some additional precaution to prevent the dead from rising.

The scene then switched to festivities, as those who survived celebrated this fact and reveled in the knowledge that they had defeated death. A toast is made to Arya, hero of Winterfell, but the assassin is nowhere to be seen. It’s a busy affair as Dany tries to prove she’s clever by legitimizing Gendry and naming him lord of Storm’s End while watching in dismay as everyone gathers around Jon Snow.

One realizes how lonely she has become without Jorah and the Dothraki and how out of place she still seems even in the land of her birth. The Starks are reunited and the Lannister brothers have each other. Everyone belongs to a community of sorts while she remains alone.  She lost a great deal of her army and she is still processing the fact that her lover is also her nephew and her rival for the throne she feels she is destined to take. After all that she has endured, she feels entitled to the throne though her actions of late have made her look like a questionable contender, especially in the eyes of Sansa and the North. A study by Vox even suggests that Dany’s current behavior may lead to her becoming a tyrant.

A whole episode could have been devoted to the feast, one of the few in Game of Thrones that does not end in bloodshed. Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, and Podrick play a drinking game. Tormund and the Wildlings laugh with Jon. Sandor and Sansa finally share a moment together as they reflect on how much they have changed, the latter especially. He reminds her of that moment that he had invited her to escape King’s Landing and Sansa gently holds his hand in grateful acknowledgment. But Sandor will always be close to a Stark. He later leaves Winterfell with Arya not far behind, the odd couple back together again and off to their unfinished business (Cleganebowl, PLEASE.)

Bronn makes a surprise appearance and has a tense reunion with the Lannister brothers as he threatens to kill them but bides his time to see who of the Lannisters will survive the coming massacre. Gendry proposes to Arya and while it saddens me to see them separated so soon after they got together in episode two, Arya’s gentle rejection makes sense in terms of her character.

We also find out that Gilly is pregnant, a fact Sam tries to awkwardly explain. But it doesn’t matter. Here’s hoping that this family survives what’s to come. The first half of the episode was pretty much fanservice but I’m not really complaining.

Game of Thrones Jaime Brienne

FINALLY.

What truly made my shipper heart cheer was finally, finally witnessing Brienne and Jaime sleep together after years of building up their relationship. We’ve seen over the course of several seasons on Game of Thrones how these two have come to trust each other completely and with Jaime’s arrival at Winterfell and Brienne’s knighting, it was clear to all that they loved each other. Their first kiss was passionate and heartfelt and the love scene was cut too soon, in my opinion (and transitioned to an icky Jon and Dany makeout scene.) For one brief moment, all was well with these two.

Game of Thrones Jaime Brienne sadBut this is Game of Thrones, so all JaimexBrienne shippers hearts had to be shattered as Jaime chose to leave Brienne to head towards King’s Landing. It was excruciatingly painful to watch a tearful Brienne beg him to stay and you could see in his eyes that he wanted to, but his self-loathing got the better of him. He enumerated the hateful things he had done for Cersei, probably to convince Brienne not to follow him. But I am confident that he intends to kill his sister himself, and that he believes that he does not deserve that glorious moment of happiness he shared with Brienne. Thanks, Game of Thrones, thanks for that.

Celebration is cut short by the needs of the plot. Dany and Jon are still very much in love but conflicted because of what they know. Strangely enough, it’s Jon’s claim to the throne that bothers them more than the fact that they are aunt and nephew. Dany begs Jon to keep the secret but he says he must tell his family, even if he does not want the throne and would gladly bend the knee to her. But Dany is not convinced and neither are we. Jon has been extremely lucky in the course of his journey, to have survived so much in spite of his naivete. He mistakenly shares the secret with his sisters and while Arya keeps mum, Sansa knows the value of such information.

Game of Thrones 7It’s a pity that the episode moves so quickly that we don’t know that Sansa struggled with this knowledge for weeks before she decides to share it with Tyrion, fully aware of the consequences. Tyrion then shares the secret with Varys and it officially is no longer a secret. Dany’s two advisers then discuss the future at length and consider the various options for the realm. But they know how complicated the situation is, exacerbated by Dany’s recent tyrannical behavior and knowing that Westeros is still very much a patriarchal society that would easily choose Jon, no matter how reluctant a leader, over a headstrong dragon queen. At one point, Tyrion quips that it would be simpler if Cersei just killed them all so they wouldn’t have to deal with the situation.

Game of Thrones 2Getting back into the Game of Thrones element, this episode featured two major shocking deaths. As Dany’s fleet sails towards Dragonstone, they are met in a surprise ambush by Euron Greyjoy and his fleet, complete with giant crossbows designed to take down dragons. Rhaegal falls, still reeling from his injuries from the previous battle and defenseless against a barrage of giant arrows. Dany watches in horror as another of her children perishes and Cersei wins a point. Not only does Dany lose a dragon but many of her remaining ships are also destroyed. Grey Worm, Tyrion, and Varys survive through the power of plot armor but Missandei is not so fortunate.

The gentle translator from Narth becomes a pawn in the game as she is captured by Cersei and used as a hostage. Cersei also opens the gates to the Red Keep so that she can use the people of King’s Landing as a human shield. Varys and Tyrion see through this and caution Dany against massacring the people she came to save and she considers negotiating with Cersei, but there is still the troubling hint that she is willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Both queens come face to face outside King’s Landing as Tyrion makes a last ditch attempt to appeal to Cersei’s better nature. (How much Euron will suspect about Cersei’s pregnancy after hearing about it from Tyrion will be another matter.) But the Lannister queen is ruthless and poor Missandei pays the price. Her last word is “Dracarys” as if encouraging her queen to burn down all her enemies and considering all Dany has lost lately, it’s not too much of a stretch to think that rage and grief will drive her to become a Mad Queen.

But more than anything, Missandei’s death is a heinous development on the show because she is one of the two main characters of color on Game of Thrones (the other being poor, heartbroken Grey Worm) and the only woman of color. For her to be reduced to a catalyst for plot action is an insult. The show has never done too well with diversity and representation (calling to mind the travesty of Dorne and everyone in Essos) but this death, more than the loss of dragon, is truly horrible.

Game of Thrones is heading for a bloody finale but I’m hoping that all of this will not simply boil down to a clash of two Mad Queens. This would be a disservice to Dany’s character arc and it is increasingly worrisome that the writers are trying to show Jon as the rational, male heir to the throne. With the next episode being the biggest in Game of Thrones, all bets are off and anyone can be killed.