We’ve officially reached the halfway point of the final season of Game of Thrones. Here we are with The Last of the Starks. The Great War is over. The Stark-Targaryen alliance stands, yet the Lannisters remain in power. There’s a collective sigh of relief and yet…
If you missed my reviews/recaps of the previous episodes for this final season, you can find those below:
Now, here’s my Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 – The Last of the Starks review.
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 – The Last of the Starks Review
We open with the assembled survivors listening to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) give a speech, as the dead have been placed on wooden pyres. Dolorous Edd, Beric Dondarrion, Lyanna Mormont, Theon Greyjoy, Jorah Mormont and many, many others are all among the fallen. Jon’s speech includes the line “They were the shield that guards the realms of men and we shall never see their like again,” symbolically commemorating those who died in battle against the Army of the Dead as part of the Night’s Watch. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) places a direwolf pin on Theon’s body, revering him as not a Greyjoy but as a Stark in death.
All in all, it’s a great scene that shows how solemn the victory truly is. Jon hasn’t gotten to say many powerful lines of consequence in the season thus far, so his speech comes as a pleasant surprise. Sansa placing the pin on Theon’s body is also a nice note to end his arc on.
At the feast that night, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) addresses Gendry (Joe Dempsie). At first she seems suspicious, reminding him that his father overthrew her family, creating a tense atmosphere. It quickly mellows as she legitimizes him and names him Gendry Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End. He’s overwhelmed and rushes off to tell Arya (Maisie Williams).
We get a fair bit of fun, lighthearted character moments: Podrick, Jamie, Tyrion and Brienne (Daniel Portman, Nikolaj Caster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage and Gwendoline Christie) all start a drinking game. A drunk Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) praises Jon’s dragonriding, claiming he’s either a madman or a king. Daenerys toasts to Arya, naming her the hero of Winterfell and it is well received (amusingly, it’s the only cheer that gets even a grudging notice from The Hound (Rory McCann)). Still, there’s an uneasy air that everyone in the room is drawn to Jon, not to Daenerys.
The drinking game continues until Tyrion makes the call that Brienne must be a virgin. Clearly uncomfortable, she leaves, with Jamie stopping Tormund from following her before he sets off after her. Tormund tells his woes to the Hound, who is not at all receptive or sympathetic to his plight.
Another nice moment comes when Sansa makes her way to The Hound, who grills her on what happened with her late husband, Ramsay Bolton. “Hounds” she says, finally excising a smirk and a laugh from from the tired old dog. Considering the odd relationship these two had all the way back in Season 2, it’s a nice scene for them to share, with Sansa having grown stronger from what she suffered at the hands of Joffrey, Ramsay and Petyr.
Gendry finds Arya practicing her archery away from the bustle and noise of everybody celebrating the fact they are still alive. He giddily tells her how he’s been legitimized and how he wants her to be the Lady of Storm’s End. While she’s happy for him, Arya doesn’t accept, telling him quite plainly that’s not her.
While it’s sad to see her shoot Gendry down this hard, it makes sense. Arya has always been a wild, wandering wolf. Loyal to her family but not really finding attachments elsewhere. At this stage of her life, to have her eagerly agree would be quite out-of-character.
Daenerys finds a tipsy Jon and tries to proposition him but Jon isn’t quite ready for that after learning of how they are related. Daenerys wishes he had never told her, that she could go back before she knew, noting that people on this side of the sea don’t look at her the way they look at Jon. Jon insists again and again that he’s not interested in the Throne and that she is his queen; Daenerys insists again and again that it doesn’t matter what he wants, others such as his sister Sansa are going to push with this knowledge regardless. Jon says they can live together, Daenerys makes it clear that will only happen if he keeps the knowledge of who he truly is secret.
Jaime tracks down Brienne in her room. Several seasons of tension between them comes to a head as the two fall into each others’ embrace and seeing Jaime finally love another woman besides his sister is warming.
Battle preparations and war planning begin the next day. Jon and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) inform Daenerys that half of the Northmen and Unsullied perished in battle against the dead. A Dothraki general takes half of the Dothraki chips off the board as well (though it seemed at the time like casualties among the Dothraki were far higher. Still, army numbers being consistent have never been a strong thing in this show.) Varys shares the good news that Yara Greyjoy has retaken the Iron Islands and that the new Prince of Dorne pledges his support. Daenerys insists on attacking immediately, Jon backs her up.
I really have to question the logic here. Daenerys insists that Cersei will get stronger the longer they wait but…that’s not really the case. The Unsullied, Northmen and Knights of the Vale are tired, they need to rest. Rhaegal needs to rest and heal. House Glover didn’t take part in the battle at Winterfell, go scare him into coughing up some men. Gendry is now the Lord of Storm’s End, they can use his name to drum up support. The new Prince of Dorne (almost certainly a Yronwood) has pledged his support, so why not leverage it? The Dornish army is the only army in all of Westeros that has yet to be battered by war, so they can easily provide 15,000 spears that would turn the tide. Yes, ownership of the Reach is a mess but would you look at that, a firstborn Tarly son is right here. Varys and Tyrion could at least attempt to install Samwell as Lord of the Reach and get some additional Houses for support.
Now, every time Daenerys has delayed her invasion of King’s Landing, there have been setbacks and losses, so I get her thinking but it still shouldn’t take a backseat to proper planning.
Jon is pulled aside by his sisters and the Three-Eyed Raven formerly known as his brother, who make it abundantly clear that they don’t trust Daenerys, no matter how much Jon pleads that she was needed. Arya admits that they did need her army and her dragons but that doesn’t change the fact that she can’t be trusted. Arya and Sansa only want to trust their family, The Last of the Starks. It’s at this point that Jon cracks. Swearing his sisters to secrecy, he asks Bran to tell them the truth about Jon’s parentage, though we don’t get to see their reactions.
While I do like the way this seen was shot and the discussions that took place, I would’ve liked to have seen Sansa and Arya’s faces when they learned that Jon Snow is really Aegon Targaryen. I also feel like drawing Jon’s internal conflict out over another episode would’ve made the scene more emotional, though with a six episode season that wasn’t really possible.
Tyrion and Jaime have found themselves in a village inn just outside Winterfell, where Tyrion is gleefully taunting his brother about how he’ll “finally have to climb for it.” Unfortunately, the humorous moment is gone when their privacy and happiness is invaded by a crossbow-wielding Bronn (Jerome Flynn), who has a few things to say: in short, he’s sick of Lannisters and he’s sick of their promises. Even with their armies reduced in size, he’s still betting on the Dragon Queen and asks for a payment that could ensure he doesn’t kill them. Tyrion offers Highgarden, which is vacant thanks to Cersei (Lena Headey). Bronn happily accepts, giving a lecture on the bloody history of great houses at the same time.
While it can come across as mean-spirited, I think this scene actually highlights Bronn’s sufferings well. He’s tired and irritable and done fighting wars in the hope of promises.
As everyone in the courtyard of Winterfell is saying goodbye, Jon asks Tormund to take Ghost with him back into the “real” North, as the South is no place for a direwolf. At Ghost’s whimpering, he stops, but moves on. Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) say goodbye as well, though not before revealing that Gilly is pregnant.
While I understand what they were trying to do here, having Jon leave the Northern part of him behind, it really doesn’t work. It would’ve been far better to have Jon give Ghost a heartfelt goodbye. The wolf is not just his pet, it’s an extension of who he is. Still, at least Ghost and Tormund will be safe together in the north Beyond the Wall.
Daenerys checks in on an injured Rhaegal, who with some difficulty manages to fly and hold himself in the air. Sansa watches, then talks with Tyrion, who is trying to quell her fears of Daenerys. It doesn’t take long for Sansa to open up about the possibility of another ruler, revealing Jon’s secret.
As the Targaryen fleet sails to Dragonstone, Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion discuss the revelation of Aegon Targaryen. Since multiple people know, it’s not a secret anymore, it’s information. With people naturally drawn to Jon’s leadership, it’s a problem.
There’s a roaring, bombastic theme as they reach Dragonstone, with the ships laying anchors and the dragons in the sky. Daenerys watches Rhaegal fly with joy…right before a massive ballista bolt hits him in the chest. A second clips his wings and a third skewers his throat, brutally killing him.
The Iron Fleet has arrived, led by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) with new, over-sized scorpions in tow. Daenerys and Drogon are forced to retreat from the volleys, while the ships are torn to pieces. In the aftermath of the attack, the survivors from the boats wash up the shore, quickly realizing that Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) is missing and has been taken prisoner.
Now, there’s a fair few problems here. I’m not going into the details of physics, but someone on TOR.com has. Suffice to say, these new mega-scorpions defy what would really be possible and this whole thing is incredibly unlikely and in fact borders the impossible. I understand if Rhaegal dying is a plot point, then no matter that it is disheartening, so be it. In the lore, the dragon Meraxes was killed with a scorpion shot…directly to the eye. It was a million-to-one shot, never recreated before or after and it was the only thing truly capable of killing an adult dragon (besides another dragon).
This most likely all stems from the fact that Rhaegal dying is a specific plot point told to the showrunners by G.R.R.M. If they had gone the route of the books, where Euron is a dark sorcerer with a worship of the eldritch abominations in the world, then perhaps there would be an alternate explanation for how he kills Rhaegal. To summarize this rant: I can buy Euron Crow’s Eye killing a dragon. I have a lot more difficulty believing that Euron Greyjoy can kill a dragon. Regardless, it is what it is.
Varys tells Daenerys she’s making a mistake and that a direct assault on King’s Landing is not the way. With another of her children dead, she’s really not in the mood to listen but agrees to one last entreaty for peace before bringing down the sky. Varys and Tyrion talk in private, with Varys making it abundantly clear that he is thinking of the realm’s interests by wanting Jon on the throne and is not above deposing Daenerys if need be.
In Winterfell, Jaime seems to be staying as a guest of the Starks, until he learns of what has transpired in the south. Brienne begs him not to leave, yet he insists that his sister is hateful and so is he, recounting the awful things he’s done for Cersei in the process.
If Jaime made it clear he was going to King’s Landing to kill his sister, I’d be alright with this. As it stands, it feels like it goes against all his character growth throughout the past several seasons.
At King’s Landing, there’s a tense standoff, with Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm and Varys standing outside the walls. On the ramparts, Cersei, Euron and The Mountain wait, with Missandei on the edge of the platform in chains. Qyburn (Anton Lesser) approaches the opposing force. With both sides asking for an unconditional surrender, it’s clear no bargain can be reached, so Tyrion pushes past Qyburn to beg Cersei directly, to not let things turn to violence.
Though he tries to reason with Cersei, appealing to her love of her children, it’s not enough. Cersei relishes Missandei’s fear as she asks her to speak any final words. There’s just one: “Dracarys,” Missandei spits out, with a chilling tone set perfectly opposite to what she is asking Daenerys to do. With a nod from Cersei, the thing that was once Gregor Clegane steps forward and Missandei is beheaded.
The camera immediately cuts to Grey Worm, who looks like he’s about to vomit, with facial spasms and frothing rage trying to break through a composed military man’s face. This is an incredible bit of acting work by Jacob Anderson. Daenerys watches everything in horror, then steps away, her face nothing but pure, cold rage.
Whew, there was a lot to go through there.
I actually really enjoyed the first two-thirds of this episode. The character interactions and development was all great stuff. With that said, I’m really, really, really not happy with Rhaegal’s death. Not that he died necessarily, so much as the method by which it was done.
I do want to praise Nathalie Emmanuel’s final scene as Missandei as well. Even facing death, she remains proud and sure of herself, with the imagery of her being decapitated while in chains a sorrowful end for the girl freed from slavery that became one of Daenerys’ closest friends.
Overall, I think this is the weakest episode of season 8 so far, which is a shame given its many highlights. Rhaegal aside, splitting the events here into two or three episodes would’ve vastly improved the pacing.
Regardless though, there’s one final battle coming up. Let’s see how it goes.