Review of Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4: “The Last of the Starks”
Well, if the previous episode 3, “The Long Night”, was the style of the episode that one prefers from Game of Thrones, then last night’s episode, “The Last of the Starks”, was probably a bit too arid for such a viewer. However, we are watching a show called Game of Thrones, and for the first time this season, the show returned to an actual game of thrones, which is the style of narrative that originally made this show popular. So as you can tell from this opening, I loved it!
I consider season 4 to be the strongest season of the entire show, and what season 4 thrived on was the intricate maneuvers made by the key players in their vying for power and the throne. Players like Littlefinger, Varys, Cersei, Tywin, and Tyrion all had their hooks in the development of the plot of season 4. But one of the most memorable characters from that season was Sansa Stark. See, it was in season 4 that she took her tutelage under Littlefinger and began to carve out a piece of the game for herself. Fast forward to last night’s episode: here Sansa showcases exactly what she learned from Baelish, as well as her time with other characters, such as Tyrion, Cersei, and Margery.
However, before I dive into the depths of Sansa’s “betrayal”, there is a great amount of dialogue and information to unpack from earlier in the episode. The episode begins with the funeral send-offs for the characters who died in the previous episode, yet quickly transitions to a lighthearted and jovial scene in the dining hall of Winterfell, where the victors of the battle toast and revel in her their triumph through the Battle of Winterfell. For the first twenty minutes or so, the spirited bliss of the scene felt refreshing and new to a show that had been somewhat morose for the past, umm, 5 seasons. But this is Game of Thrones, and I was keenly aware that this moment of felicity would be fleeting and the narrative would return to form.
A storm was on the horizon!
The storm began with Daenerys, as she tried her best to win over the North by giving a lordship to Storm’s End and Baratheon birthname to Gendry, and then cup-raising and drinking to the hero of Winterfell: Arya Stark (who was already back in game mode by ditching the feast and practicing her archery). Yet, Daenerys’ demeanor quickly mutated to a sense of jealousy, paranoia, and self-loathing as she watched the room celebrate Jon more than their “rightful” queen. This continues into a later scene as Jon and Dany discuss what to do with the knowledge of his true lineage. She begs him to keep it a secret; he promises to do so; no one watching thinks this will happen.
It was at this moment that I realized that the showrunners had completely decided to put the supernatural and mystical elements of the show behind them, and they fully intended to move on to a more cerebral battle of various man vs. man conflicts….thank you! In the following scene, Arya and Sansa plead with Jon to not surrender the North to Daenerys’ rule, and Jon finally relinquishes his promise and releases his two-hour-or-so secret to his family: he is Aegon Targaryen and the rightful heir to the Seven Kingdoms. Now, he swears both Arya and Sansa to a secret, and it was at this moment that the show returned to its former political glory. Soon after, Sansa decides to break her promise to Jon and reveal this secret to Tyrion. Here’s where the show gets it right! See, Sansa is hell-bent on doing what she can to see Jon arise to the throne and the North to be ruled by someone who is not an outsider. Sansa takes her lessons from the past–primarily her teachings from Littlefinger–and understands that by letting Jon’s ancestry and rightful claim out to Tyrion, it will spread through the upper ranks of the ruling class. This truth will create chaos. And as we all know from Littlefinger, chaos is a ladder! A ladder that Sansa wants Jon, and even herself and her family–the last of the Starks–to climb. It was a brilliant move by Sansa if you want to see turmoil and politicking unfold. As Arya told Jon in episode 1 of this season, Sansa has become “the smartest person [she knows].” The softness of Sansa from the crypts from the week before during the battle turns into a cunning and somewhat wicked plan of usurpation. And I love it!
However, with a 70-minute episode, this was only a little past the halfway point. Sure there were some other great moments in the first act or two: Jaime and Brienne do the deed, Arya rejects Gendry’s marriage proposal with zero fucks given, and The Hound continues his vulgar repartee with any character he encounters. Still, some of the most moving moments at Winterfell came when Sam and Jon say farewell to each other. As Jon goes South to fight with Daenerys (a plan no one else but Daenerys seems to support), Sam’s arc as a character is basically done and they have a touching farewell. The same goes for a moment with Jon and Tormund. I doubt that we will see these great characters again unless it is in some final montage of the series finale.
Moreover, we do get an interesting scene between a surprising Bronn and the Lannister brothers. Bronn has come to claim his bounty on the brothers from Cersei, but in true Bronn fashion, he allows Tyrion to make him a better offer he can’t refuse. Tyrion offers Bronn the lordship and claim to Highgarden if and when Daenerys has defeated Cersei…to which Bronn accepts. Something tells me, this confrontation isn’t over yet.
The third act of the episode culminates with Daenerys moving her remaining Dothraki (yes, some apparently lived during the last battle) and Unsullied forces South. However, she is quickly ambushed by the always-omnipresent-on-the-seas Euron Greyjoy. Stunningly and without warning, Euron kills the dragon Rhaegal with a barrage from updated scorpions. Euron then turns his arrows to the destruction of the ships, and everyone is forced to flee or abandon ship. In this abandonment, Euron has captured Missandei and brought her back to Cersei. Therefore, Tyrion, with the guidance and pleading of Varys (who seems to have made up his mind that he no longer wishes to see Dany on the throne–he is now Team Jon), sets up one last meeting and delivery of an ultimatum between Daenerys and Cersei.
At the meeting, both Hands of the Queen–Tyrion and Qyburn–offer the other side the chance to surrender. Tyrion side-steps Qyburn and speaks directly to Cersei. As he beseeches her to surrender and bend the knee to Daenerys, playing to both her emotional and pragmatic sides, Cersei will not capitulate. This leads to the final tragic ending to episode 4. Because Daenerys refuses to surrender, Cersei demands that the captured Missandei speak any last words before she is executed. Missandei, probably one of the purest and most innocuous characters on the show, lets out a biting “Dracarys!!!” before losing her head via The Mountain.
This final scene is key to the progression of both the plot and Daenerys’ character. Basically, Missandei’s words are a command to Daenerys, “Unleash Dragonfire on Cersei and all of King’s Landing!!! Fuck ‘em all” Missandei is telling her, “Do not be anything but a dragon from this point on.” Nevertheless, what makes this moment even more tragic is not just the fact that one of the most innocent characters on the show dies, but it is how she dies. She dies with her hands chained, and as a former slave who was saved by Daenerys, to die in a state of bondage in such a dehumanizing way to end her life. Even more, Grey Worm and Daenerys are there to witness the closest person in both their lives be executed so brutally.
The final shot is of Daenerys’ clearly enraged disposition as she walks away from the scene with both pure ire and pure devastation on her face. This sets up the tone of the next episode as Daenerys is clearly going to take Missandei’s final words and do what she can to ‘burn them all’ with her one remaining dragon and her remaining army. Will it be enough? Cersei has seemingly been one step ahead of Tyrion and Dany since their arrival at the beginning of season 7, so something tells me it won’t. And as Emilia Clarke said on a recent late-night show, “Episode 5 is bigger” than episode 3. By bigger, I assume she means in terms of the plot and in terms of big deaths.
Other moments of notable mention:
1. Upon hearing of Cersei and Euron’s victory over Daenerys on the seas, Jaime pulls a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am on Brienne and heads back to King’s Landing. Although he crushes Brienne with his parting words and his ghosting back to Cersei, it appears that he might not be completely honest about his intentions for leaving. Is he going back to try to save Cersei one last time? Or is he truly going back to put an end to The Mad Queen once and for all?
- Arya and The Hound seem to also be on the road together once again, as they both journey back to King’s Landing to complete their individual missions. The Hound: to face his brother. For Arya: to cross Cersei’s name off her list.
(Side note: the framing of the last shot was incredible. Cersei and her men stood on a rampant high above Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and the few Unsullied men brought to the meeting. This framing shows Cersei’s current position as she currently holds the power; moreover, Daenerys is seen mostly from a high angle shot, emphasizing her weakness…one of the first times we’ve seen this view of Daenerys in the show)
Written By – Cory Gasaway