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Game of Thrones Review: "The Last of the Starks" (Episode 8.04)

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<i>Game of Thrones</i> Review: "The Last of the Starks" (Episode 8.04)

Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.

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Josh,

“We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”

That was Tyrion’s episode-defining witticism, spawning a comedy of errors from the victors at the Battle of Winterfell, but let me make it more accurate:

“Jon Snow may have defeated the dead, but Jon Snow still has Jon Snow to contend with.”

Has there been a dumber smart guy in the history of television than Jon Snow? He knew enough to bring Daenerys on board to help destroy the Night King and his army, and he brought the wildlings south of the wall for similar reasons (costing himself his own life in the process…or at least his first life), so there’s no arguing that he’s a kind of visionary in a world of straight thinkers.

But then, Josh, then he routinely ruins it all by doing that annoying Stark thing of “I MUSTN’T TELL A LIE OR EVEN JUST BE STRATEGIC BY HOLDING ON TO SENSITIVE INFORMATION FOR MORE THAN TEN SECONDS.”

Will this guy never learn? Will this family never learn?

He never, never should have told Daenerys about his parentage, at least before the Night King and Cersei were both toast, and he for sure should have listened to her in Winterfell when she told him that the only way to stay together, or even prevent an enormous schism in their armies, is by shutting his mouth. Instead? He told the worst people in the world he could have told, the Stark sisters, who are setting new records for ingratitude with every passing episode. And by the way, I’m glad Bran has mentally inherited the entire history of Westeros, and maybe its future too, but the best advice he can offer when Jon turns to him for advice in a rare moment of caution is, “your call, bro.”

Look, Josh, I’m not going to hide it: I’m Team Dany. I know the show did its best to make her seem like the Mad Queen over 76 bizarre minutes tonight, but this is extremely thin narrative gruel. They didn’t do the legwork up until now to make it land in any convincing way, and whether they’re merely “suggesting” her insanity, like the way they “suggested” dissension between Arya and Sansa last season, or they’re actually going whole hog and transforming her into her father, it’s not going to stick. Daenerys saved the north, saved humanity, and lost a great deal in the process. She didn’t have to do it. She could have Cersei’d the world to death, but she knew that joining the fight for humanity was the right thing to do.

Allegiance is the absolute least she could ask. Sansa Stark has absolutely no business being snide or even curt with her, and she should be bending the knee so hard that she snaps a ligament or two.

Ultimately, I think, that was my frustration with this episode. It’s meant to show the eventual winning side unraveling, but there’s just no cohesion. I think more than any other time this season, I just left confused. I promised myself before season eight began that I wouldn’t complain about the convenient timing and the teleporting and the plot armor, but come on, writers, at least give us some rhyme or reason beyond people making awful decisions over and over in order to level the playing field and sow doubt in the viewer’s mind!

I’m sad Missandei died. I’m sad another dragon died. I laughed when Tormund said “which one of you cowards shit in my pants?” The Bronn scene was a breath of fresh air in a confusing and long-winded episode. In other words, there were some emotional moments, some heartrending moments, some classic Game of Thrones material.

But then so much of it made no sense. Varys is going to try to assassinate Dany now? Jaime and Brienne are having sex?

Let’s talk about that last one, Josh. First of all, I’m furious on Tormund’s behalf. I, along with every other human being who has watched this show, have been shipping Tormund and Brienne for about three seasons. And now she’s just going to stonewall him, and he’s going to take all the Wildlings back north of the wall?? Is that really the last we’re going to see of Tormund?

But on a deeper level, this weird new relationship between Jaime and Brienne offends me. The show has done a fine job building up their friendship, and yes, there was always the sense that on some unspoken level Brienne loved him. But what they had was something deeper, a kind of hard-won respect that defied labels. And now they’re romantically involved in a sudden, awkward whirlwind, which is clearly just another plot device designed to make it seem more painful when Jaime returns to his sister?

Sorry, that’s not good. It’s not good writing, it’s not good storytelling, it’s not good decision-making. It felt like this was one of the few times all season that they’ve consciously deviated from fan service, and for once I wish they’d just given the masses their heart’s desire.

But like so much of this season and the last two, the Jaime-Brienne weirdness feels contrived and rushed and shoehorned in. It’s like they brainstormed ways for Jaime to feel torn about returning to Cersei, hit on a new and frankly inorganic relationship, and then force it down our collective throats in about 12 minutes before pulling the rug. They can’t really expect us to feel anything, right?

Clearly, Josh, I’m not so hot on this episode. Do you want to talk me down, or inject some positivity, as we get ready for the throwdown at King’s Landing? Or are you on my wavelength that this one was a bit of a dud?

—Shane

(P.S. to our readers: “Last of the Starks” is the episode title listed on Wikipedia, which has been wrong in the past…like, three episodes ago. For some reason HBO is not releasing episode titles immediately, so the title of this post may be updated later when they finally do.)

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Shane,

As much as I wanted Tormund to get his giant babies, that wasn’t a pairing that would ever make sense from Brienne’s perspective. So I very much could have seen Brienne and Jaime getting together, but not like this. Their connection had everything to do with Brienne seeing the good in Jaime and helping him want to be a better person. But their eventual coupling almost seemed based on Jaime feeling some kind of pity because she was a virgin? Jaime had this beautiful redemption arc, but I never really knew who I was watching on the screen tonight. And when he left, it wasn’t really clear what he was leaving to do—protect Cersei? Kill her? What was it that made him abandon his new lover in the middle of the night?

And I’m with you on Daenerys. She’s somehow a monster for wanting to finally attack her mass-murdering enemy after resisting so many times? I kind of wanted to punch Varys, and that’s not something I’ve wanted to do in eight seasons. If Jon was making a claim to the throne, then you’d have a decision. But don’t manufacture problems for the realm you claim to love.

We knew going in that this was going to be a bit of a comedown from The Great War and a bit of a set up for The Final War, but this episode was mostly one frustration after another. It served its purpose, I guess, but that doesn’t mean it was particularly fun to watch. Podrick seemed to be the only named character enjoying himself, and even he had to endure Tyrion’s dumb and cruel drinking game. Gendry became the Lord of Storm’s End but couldn’t get his lady. The Hound can’t be happy while his brother still lives (and probably even then). The tension between Daenerys and Jon seemed to have everyone on edge. And Missandei…

People complained last week that not enough main characters died in The Great War. But Missandei was one too many for me tonight. If there was any love story in this world of misery that gave me hope, it was Grey Worm and Missandei. When they dreamed of sailing off together last week, that seemed to portend a tragic end, but watching Grey Worm watching his love get beheaded was just soul-crushing.

Even Bronn’s scene was kind of strange and anti-climactic. Was he going to try to kill his friends or join them? Turns out he was just going to be an ass and have them make a promise they obviously can’t keep at the point of a crossbow. Can you imagine Tyrion trying to convince Daenerys to make him the Lord of Highgarden as a reward for not assassinating the Hand of the Queen? That’s just all-around dumb.

I really want David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to stick the landing here, and maybe this episode was necessary for all the forthcoming payoffs, but it didn’t instill a lot of confidence for what’s to come. Like the rest of the final four episodes, they wrote this one themselves but it uncharacteristically felt underwritten.

Miguel Sapochnik returns to direct next week’s episode, which I assume will be the big battle, and may leave us breathless after watching and breathless in our praise. Hopefully, Cersei’s forces will knock some sense into our heroes before Jaime adds “Queenslayer” to his resume and The Hound wins Clegane Bowl. And we’ll forget all about “The Last of the Starks.”

So, let’s look forward, not back (unless there’s something else from this episode we still need to break down). One dragon down makes this much more even of a match-up. If only Cersei had elephants, she might even have the advantage. Will Danaerys slaughter thousands of innocents? Who kills Varys, since we all know he’s not long for this world? What is Jaime really riding south for? And how satisfied are we going to be two weeks from now when our watch has ended?

—Josh

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Josh,

All good points, and you hit at the ultimate question, which is: What is Jaime up to?

If you go by the Nissa Nissa/Azor Ahai prophecy, he clearly has to become the Queenslayer, but my read on the scene when he left is that he was going to protect her. Now, obviously that can morph along the way, but everything is very ambiguous right now. Still, I think it makes sense for him to realize in a fit of agony that killing Cersei is what he absolutely must do.

That said, are you ready to bet against Arya, who seems to be heading south with the sole purpose of killing Cersei and crossing off the top name on her list? Not even Ed Sheeran can stop her this time, and I’ll be interested to see if she uses some Faceless Men mojo to break into the Red Keep and do this assassination Jaqen H’ghar style while the Hound gives us the ultimate CleganeBowl fan service by offing his zombie brother.

You’re 100% right that Varys is on death watch—which, of course, Melisandre told us last season—and it seems almost telegraphed that he’s going to die attempting (and probably failing) to kill Dany. The only thing that can save him, and maybe the only thing that can save Dany, is if she’s pregnant with Jon’s child. But now that Jon has spilled the secret to everyone in Westeros, I don’t see how they can marry even then.

Which brings me to my next point: One of Jon and Dany has to die. Either by circumstance, at each other’s hands, or something. That was the ultimate set-up of “The Last of the Starks”—the revelation that no, there is no squaring this circle, there is no compromise, there is no way these two can co-exist on the same planet. Jon doesn’t want the iron throne, for now, but that doesn’t matter, and Dany is too single-minded to give it up. I wish she could just leave Westeros behind and go be with Daario in Meereen and live happily ever after, but while I don’t buy into this Mad Queen angle they decided to push on us this week, I also don’t believe she’s going to check a lifetime’s ambition because of two dead dragons and a continent full of ingrates.

But will she rain hell and havoc on King’s Landing, killing innocents? It certainly seems that way, but there’s also this: The dragons are looking mighty vulnerable lately. She better attack at night, from on high, and if she wants to spare the people, she better have a targeted strike. (Another thing that confuses me with the constant “you can’t slaughter the people” talk—it’s not like dragon fire is a nuclear bomb, right? It’s pretty limited and directed. Why can’t she just take Cersei out one night while she sleeps? I’ve never understood this, except as yet another plot contrivance to keep a main character from taking some obvious action.)

So, Josh, now that Jon and Dany are almost definitely on the permanent outs and the brief Jaime-Brienne pas de deux has ended almost before it began, a question for you: What are the best and worst love stories in the full run of Game of Thrones. Choose however many you want on either side—which made us feel the best, and which made us squirm with distress and scream “NO, WE DID NOT SHIP THIS!”?

—Shane

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So I guess Jaime was moved by guilt that he was cheating on his lifelong love that had him steal away in the middle of the night? Whatever inner turmoil he’s feeling was poorly communicated.

At this point, in my Great War draft, I think I’d pick Arya over Drogon. But I’m also starting to feel like she might be right that she’s not returning to Winterfell. Arya might not make it out of the Red Keep alive, and that’s going to be a hard death to watch. I also think it’s very possible that either Jon or Dany (or both) dies in the war to come or even in its aftermath.

As far as love stories, there haven’t been a many and they’ve almost all been tragic. There have been some horrible pairings, but most have been forced marriages like Sansa’s string of nightmares or every poor child married off to Walder Frey. If we’re only going to count consenting duos, the most cringe inducing are:

5. Cersei & Lancel Lannister
Cersei certainly has a type. What she did to poor Lancel had him hating himself enough to join a cult. She ended up murdering her former boy toy along with so many others in the Great Sept.

4. Ramsay Bolton & Myranda
How rare is it for two sadistic psycopaths to find each other? Hopefully it’s very rare because these two were terrifying.

3. Stannis Baratheon & Melisandre
Stannis was easy to hate, and he agreed with the rest of us after getting seduced by the Red Witch and birthing a homicidal smoke monster. The Lord of Light could get pretty dark, and this coupling was pretty creepy.

2. Littlefinger & Lysa Arryn
The one-sided love story that kicked off most of the misery in Westeros. Peter Baelish’s selfish ambition began with the seduction of Lysa Arryn, convincing her to murder her husband and set the game of thrones into motion.

1. Jaime & Cersei
First there’s the incest. Then there’s the rape. And we can round it out with the attempted murder of a young boy to keep the affair secret. Cersei has always brought out the worst in her brother. She certainly is hateful. And, despite his wonderful redemptive arc, Jaime can be too. Please let some of that hate finally get directed back towards his sister.

Now for the best. I was tempted to put the fiery passion of Daenerys and Khal Drogo, but I can’t get past the fact that relationship began with a child forced to marry and give her body to a stranger. Credit to Dany for finding love and strength and power in a horrific situation, but it was still a horrific situation.

5. Trystane Martell & Myrcella Baratheon
A fairytale romance between the innocent children of two families who hate each other. We all know how that ends in both Shakespeare and Westeros. It was sweet while it lasted.

4. Robb & Talisa Stark
A forbidden love that tore apart the Northern alliance was still a thing of beauty. Talisa was too lovely, too kind, too exotic and too self-sacrificing for Robb to resist. And their love made The Red Wedding one of the most memorably tragic moments in TV history.

3. Sam & Gilly
Samwell Tarly and Gilly daughter-wife of Craster deserve every moment of happiness they can steal, Gilly especially. They’ve both had a rough go, and the solace they find in each other is the beautiful thing about love. Theirs may not be the most classic love story, but in many ways it feels the most real.

2. Grey Worm & Missandei
The Unsullied were reduced to something sub-human by their masters. Castrated, forced to unflinching obedience, more weapon than man, it’s been a joy to watch Grey Worm reclaim his humanity. And Missandei was such a big part of that process. He couldn’t imagine being loved, and the hesitant blooming of their romance was special to watch. We miss you already, Missandei.

1. Jon & Ygritte
“You know nothing, Jon Snow.” The fiery passion of Ygritte and the quiet honor of Jon Snow made the best pairing north or south of The Wall. A crow and a wildling, captor and captive, a man sworn to celibacy and a woman embracing the fullness of life—this is the storybook romance that Game of Thrones needed. That it led to real-life romance between Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie makes it just that much sweeter.

Of those five couples, only Sam and Gilly still have each other. For the sake of TVs across the world, they better not die. I know I’d throw something at mine.

Also, please don’t die, George R.R. Martin.

—Josh

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Follow Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson on Twitter.

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