Game of Thrones, Season 8 Episode 4: The Last of the Starks
Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Kit Harington, Maisie Williams, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Isaac Hempstead Wright, Lena Headey
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It is a little table setty, to be frank, but we can’t wait to see who triumphs in next week’s battle.
[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]
Can an episode of television be both a satisfying climax and an oddly empty anticlimax at the same time? It’s a paradox, or perhaps a Zen Koan for pop culture obsessives, but that’s how last week’s Game of Thrones feels, the big battle-orientated extravaganza known as “The Long Night”. Because, while it was as dark as advertised, it wasn’t all that long from any objective perspective, and at its conclusion we lost a potentially fascinating antagonist and his army of awesome looking ice zombies. Could this following episode, “The Last of the Starks” live up those lofty heights, now that only humans are left to squabble like the ghastly little monkeys we are? Well, the episode makes a decent, albeit not definitive, case for the affirmative but let’s revisit the concept after the recap.
The episode opens, appropriately enough, with the burning of the honoured dead. And there are a shitload of them! The heroic corpses have been all piled up, with Daenerys Stormborn (Emilia Clarke) having a sook over the corpse of Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen). Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) cries over the body of Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) grunts out a gruff speech about how everyone was pretty grouse, but now they’ve carked it, and it’s a bit of a kick in the tits (not his exact words). Then the bodies are burned and smoke fills the sky.
Later, at an increasingly hedonistic piss up, the survivors get on with their lives. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) really wants to find Arya (Maisie Williams), but balks at Sandor Glegane’s (Rory McCann) suggestion that it’s just for a root. The Hound reminds him that “of course it’s about that, you twat, the dead are dead. You’re not.” Well said, bro, well said. Gendry starts to head off when Dany stops him and makes him Lord of Storm’s End. This makes him, and everyone else very happy, and the party kicks off in earnest. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) admires Dany’s clever playing of the game of thrones.
The party gives rise to a number of interesting, well-observed character moments. Tyrion chats with Brandon Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who claims to “not feel much of anything” and “mainly lives in the past”. Righto, Bran, thanks for the update. Hopefully you’ll actually do something before this bloody show finishes.
Later, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) starts playing drinking games with Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Tyrion and Podrick (Daniel Portman) and boy, there seems to be a bit of frisson with Jaime and Brienne!
Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) gives an increasingly sloppy toast to Jon, and Dany seems to realise that the North loves its heroes but it will never love her. She leaves in a bit of a snit, and Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) follows, sensing trouble brewing.
Tyrion somewhat cruelly outs Brienne as a virgin, which seems a very season one Tyrion move, and leaves after knocking Tormund back. Tormund begins to have a sook about losing his chance with the giant woman but swiftly scores a random groupie and perks right up. A different lady has a crack at The Hound but he doesn’t want a bar of it. He is, however, much more receptive to a visit from Sansa and the pair of them chat about old times. Sansa reckons her trials and tribulations transformed her from a “little bird” into the woman she is now, which is a fairly philosophical way to look at kidnapping, rape and attempted murder. But hey, go Sansa for finding that silver lining.
Gendry heads over to Arya and actually proposes, the big dumb galoot. Arya knocks him back in the gentlest way possible, but makes it clear that she “is no lady”.
Elsewhere, Jaime knocks upon Brienne’s door and after a bit of awkward flirting the pair hook up, launching no doubt endless fan fiction story prompts across the internet.
Jon and Dany have a heartbreaking scene where we see the ultimate way in which their natures are incompatible. Jon may not want the throne, but nor will he conceal his lineage from his family. Dany begs him to reconsider, because she is unwilling to brook even slight amounts of dissension to her rule. Blockheaded honesty and an unquenchable lust for power and control are not traits that gel well, and we get the feeling these two will be on opposite sides before this tale is through.
The next day, the gang plan the battle to come. Tyrion advises slow going but Dany has a lust for blood and wants the battle to commence quick-sticks. Sansa asks that the armies be given time to rest, but Dany won’t have it. Jon sides with her, but the tensions are palpable. Afterwards, in the Godswood, Jon tries to justify his missus to Sansa, Arya and Bran but the ladies are not fans. Jon, in a move that will no doubt set the final moments of this final season into action, asks Bran to tell them the truth of his lineage.
Tyrion and Jaime are shooting the shit about ladies (and “climbing mountains”) ,when Bronn (Jerome Flynn) lobs up and makes them an offer they can’t refuse. He won’t kill them with his fancy crossbow if they make him the Lord of Highgarden. Tyrion agrees, after copping a punch to the nose, and Bronn shuffles off. Hopefully that won’t be his final appearance, but he certainly doesn’t seem inclined to join any battle where dragons are involved.
The Hound is joined by Arya, and the pair of them ride to King’s Landing together, ready to settle their own private agendas. This is a bit of a limp moment in the episode, but no doubt it will pay off next week.
Tormund is buggering off up North and farewells Jon, who wants him to take Ghost. Pets are forever, not just a weekend, JON. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and preggers Gilly (Hannah Murray) bid Jon an emotional farewell and Ghost just sort of lurks in the background. Honestly, the show has never really known how to deal with the direwolves.
The fleet of the Unsullied sail towards Dragonstone with a dragon escort, and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) hold hands on the deck. Oh crikey, one of them is defo about to die, hey.
Tyrion and Varys, having being worded up on the Jon Snow secret, talk about options with Varys leaning towards Team Jon and Tyrion leaning towards Team I’d Prefer Not To Have to Kill Dany. Meanwhile, up in the sky, Dany flies along with surviving dragons, Drogon and Rhaegal and everything is fine until GIGANTIC ARROWS FLY FROM SEEMINGLY NOWHERE AND BLOODY EVISCERATE POOR BLOODY RHAEGAL! In a genuinely disturbing scene, Rhaegal dies horribly and sinks below the water. It’s fucken Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) swaggering onto the scene and mucking everything up. After killing one dragon, Dany attempts to swing down, but Euron’s fleet are equipped with dragon-killing giant crossbows. He also makes absolute mincemeat of the Unsullied ships, wrecking the boats and killing many.
At King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) tells Euron the bun in her oven is his, and then lets the castle fill with civilians so that when Dany attacks she’ll be forced to kill innocents. Boy, she is really leaning into this whole cartoony supervillain thing, huh? Oh also, she’s kidnapped Missandei, so that’s nice.
The next war room meeting is dicey, with Dany becoming increasingly focused on vicious plans of attack. Afterwards, Varys continues to suggest that Dany needs to meet a swift end and Tyrion is learning to love his wine once more.
Jaime buggers off like a thief in the knight, to either save or slice Cersei (it’s not entirely clear) and he leaves Brienne crying, because no matter how much she wants him to be a good man, he is just a man. And, actually, a bit of a shit one at times, to be honest.
The episode’s biggest moment comes outside the walls at King’s Landing. Cersei stands with Gregor Clegane aka The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) and captured Missandei. She also has numerous archers and crossbow peeps ready. Tyrion, standing ahead of Dany’s army, chats with Qyburn (Anton Lesser) about how, maybe, she could surrender and be totally chill. Unsurprisingly, Qyburn gives him very little so Tyrion makes the very risky move of begging Cersei directly. His speech appears to move her a little, but in the end Cersei goes full Cersei by getting The Mountain to decapitate Missandei; who at least makes her last word “Dracarys!” Dany’s facial expression speaks volumes and it looks like we’re about to see just how pissed off a mad Targaryen can be… next week!
“The Last of the Starks” feels, in a lot of ways, like several classic episodes of Game of Thrones smushed together. It’s light on action, but full of intrigue and menace, and is clearly building to what Dany optimistically calls “the final war”. And while it stills feels a little lacking in magic, both literally and figuratively, to have the Night King dispatched so quickly does set up what promises to be a visceral, cathartic and probably quite traumatic climax next week. It is a little table setty, to be frank, but having drunk Tyrion chatting with Varys is always welcome, and we can’t wait to see who triumphs in next week’s battle.
See you in seven days, when SER POUNCE WILL LAUNCH HIS SUPER SECRET PLAN (possibly).