WARNING: FULL SPOILERS FOR GAME OF THRONES SEASON 8 EPISODE 4 “THE LAST OF THE STARKS” AHEAD
There’s an old adage that states “The fastest way from point A to point B is in a straight line”, and as The Last of the Starks shows us, the quickest way isn’t necessarily the best.
In a very politics-heavy episode, we are taken from the aftermath of last week’s massacre all the way to the gates of King’s Landing, ready for the final showdown with Cersei Lannister (Lena Heady) in an entertaining episode crammed with scheming, farewells, celebrations, death, romances and revelations zooming past so quickly that it will make your head spin.
Much of the show’s discussion surrounded Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) reveal from two weeks earlier, when he told Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) the truth of his parentage. Despite Daenerys pleading to keep this a secret for both their sakes, Jon Snow’s trust in his family once again led to seemingly poor decision-making when he, after swearing them to secrecy, explained the truth to his sisters, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) who, despite the help they’ve had from Daenerys and others this season, have adopted a “Starks vs The World” mentality.
Naturally, Sansa broke her promise within minutes in a bid to get her own way and turn people against “The Dragon Queen”, resulting in lengthy discussions between Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleith Hill) about Jon Snow’s aptitude for rulership, the likelihood of a marriage and possible treason. With The Spider and The Imp enjoying more of the spotlight than they have in some time, their political play-making throws up a lot of questions for the upcoming battle and its fallout.
This installment also saw Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) finally act on his feelings for Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) before almost immediately ending the romance to return to his sister Cersei. Brienne’s tearful appeal to make him stay in Winterfell fell on deaf ears. Jaime listed his misdeeds committed in Cersei’s name, and concluded that he is just like her – “Hateful”. Rushing through this romance and ending it on a sour note was disappointing for those following their dynamic for so long, but at the same time, Jaime’s feeling that he doesn’t deserve a “happily ever after” and his draw to Cersei are completely understandable for the character, so the question remains: Is Jaime falling back under Cersei’s control, or is he riding south so that he can finally atone for his sins?
The biggest shock came in the death of Rhaegal, when the dragon was shot down by the ballistas of Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) and his fleet in an ambush that devastated Daenerys’ forces. So enraged by the loss of another one of her “children”, Daenerys has started to let the moral high ground slip away as she seriously considers burning King’s Landing to the ground to get her throne.
Rhaegals’s sudden demise highlights a strange conflict in the story as it’s conveyed to us – Daenserys’ forces are vulnerable. She is down to one dragon and we’ve seen how they fare against Cersei’s many ballistas, she’s lost the Dothraki and the Wildlings who previously fought with her and has a fractured, wounded army still recovering from a battle with death itself…Yet, Daenerys’ attack is still treated like Cersei’s death sentence. Not just by Daenerys’ followers but by Cersei herself who is using her subjects as human shields, hiding away and is treated like an underdog, whereas it feels as if she should have the upper hand.
So as it stands, all roads lead to King’s Landing. Jaime is on his way south, as are the brilliantly reunited Arya Stark and The Hound (Rory McCann), with Arya looking to cross the last few names off her now very short list and The Hound chasing the “one thing that will make him happy”, which we assume is revenge against his brother. Jon Snow’s men are marching south to meet up with Daenerys and her Unsullied, who ended The Last of the Starks with a tense ultimatum – giving Cersei the chance to surrender her crown to prevent any bloodshed. She of course refused and beheaded Daenerys’ long-time confidant Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) in a brutal declaration of war.
Missandei’s last word for her queen resonated through the episode’s conclusion, as she yelled out “Dracarys”, which (evoking the spirit of WWE Universal Champion Seth Rollins) called on Daenerys to “burn it down”. With Missandei’s death stoking the flames of rage already ablaze in her Khaleesi, we were left with the lingering question: Can one of her advisors or friends calm Daenerys’ seething bloodlust or will the loss and anger win over, leading her to become the “Queen of the Ashes” she said she would never be.
In contradiction to the amount of care and cost that goes into each Game of Thrones episode, there were some glaring flaws in The Last of the Starks that go beyond the usual debate over the motivation and wisdom of a character’s decisions. Most notably, the question of how Euron Greyjoy managed to pull off his ambush when Daenerys was flying high overhead and would have been able to see for miles around, as well as the already infamous Starbucks coffee cup in the feast scene. Follies such as these embolden the feeling that this episode was given less attention than others in the series and was seen as a hurried necessity in order to get from one grand battle to the next.
The Last of the Starks is an entertaining and compelling episode that blends action, political intrigue and tense, dramatic moments, but also comes across as a hasty way to squeeze in so much story progression in such a short time that it deprives some parts of the weight they could have had.