“The Last of the Starks”: Game of Thrones Episode 4 Review
For a minute there, the fourth episode in Game of Thrones 8th and final season was reminiscent of a college kegger. There were drinking games, hookups, unexpected and faux-profound statements and the very real possibility of vomiting. There was Tormund, and his drinking horn, and his lack of any discernible tact. There was a lot of bro behavior in general (Tormund singing Jon Snow’s praises while ignoring the fact that Dany also fought atop a dragon and nearly died was peak bro). By the time the party was over, Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth had slept together, Gendry was no longer a bastard (and had been sweetly but sternly rebuffed by Arya), and Dany was on the brink of what appeared to be some kind of crack-up. Good times! (?)
In fact, there were not-so-subtle hints that Dany was perhaps showing signs of Mad King-ism, as evidenced by the way they filmed a bit of the party scene from her POV. The faces of the drunken survivors were made to look a little crazy, and the sound design was jacked up so that the laughing and general merriment sounded menacing. Dany fled, Varys made a mental note, and what should have been a celebration awash in relief and gratitude was instead painted as the beginnings of Dany’s mental decline and a possible unbridgeable rift with Jon. Not so good times!
Another shock—Arya Stark was cheered but was decidedly not feted like the Seven Kingdoms saving super-assassin that she is. I believe I’m not alone in wishing we got to see everyone, every rough northern boy and proud northern lord and all the surviving Dothraki horse-lords and also Jaime and Brienne and Podrick and the freakin’ Hound—all of them—bend the knee to her. But this desire to see Arya celebrated is precisely the opposite of what she wants. She’d rather practice her already perfect arrow shooting and gently, but with considerable chutzpah, break Gendry’s heart. She’s the absolute best.
The night ended with Westeros’s two most vexed lovers once again returning to the minor issue of their blood relation. Jon recoils from Dany, and for a second we think it’s because she’s his aunt. Nope, it has to do with his nobility—again. Jon doesn’t want to be king or sit on the Iron Throne, but Dany wisely, and with notes of understandable frustration in her voice, points out that what he wants hardly matters. If the news of his actual parentage ever got out, the northerners who were just falling all over themselves to praise him (and ignore her) would demand he take the throne. Dany’s right, of course. But she’s dealing with Jon Snow here, a man who somehow still believes his core nobility is a shared trait in Westeros. She begs him to not tell another soul, and swear both Bran and Samwell to secrecy. It’s the only way they can be together, she says. But this means lying to his family, a big no-no for Jon. Can he keep the secret? Of course not!
The morning brought the requisite hangovers and the always risible reality of Cersei Lannister’s existence. Cersei is the living embodiment of Monday; she’s always there, looming, and when you’re forced to deal with her you can’t help but wonder what’s the point of even going on. Another war strategy session is called. A lot of people died during the Battle of Winterfell, but Dany and Jon still have two dragons, Yara Greyjoy’s mini-fleet, and their surviving soldiers. What they need, Sansa argues, is time to let their exhausted soldiers recuperate. Dany’s not having it, however, and Jon backs her up. He’s trying to prove to her that she’s his queen and he’ll directly oppose his own sister on her behalf. It works! For nine seconds.
The Stark sisters, plus Bran, gather Jon at the good old Godswood (so many memories here!) for a chat. They want to know why he trusts Dany, and remind him that the four of them represent the last living Starks, hence the episode’s title. Jon shares a loaded glance with Bran, who tells him “it’s your choice.” Well, we know where this is going. There was never any way Jon was going to lie to his sisters—er, cousins—and so he tells Bran to reveal who his true parents are. The dire wolf is out of the bag now, as they don’t say in Winterfell, but should.
Speaking of direwolves, Ghost made it through the big battle! He’s lost part of a right ear but otherwise looks in tip-top shape. Jon immediately sends him off with Tormund to the “true” north without so much as a single pet. WTF? Hug your wolf, Jon.
Back to Jon being half Targaryen—you could make an argument that watching the most coveted piece of gossip in Westeros in a thousand years spread from one pair of lips to another could make for gripping viewing. In this case, it felt a little silly. Jon immediately telling his sisters is of a piece with his general inability to think or behave strategically, as well as his deep-seated moral aversion to lying. Fine. But Sansa telling Tyrion? She’s become the smartest Stark (possibly of all time) by a mile, and there’s a lot to be said, tactically, for her attempt to drive a wedge between Tyrion and Dany. Sansa is primarily concerned with the safety of her family and the protection and independence of the North. Dany threatens all of these things, in one way or another. Yet Tyrion has made it fairly clear he’s a true Dany believer, or, at least, he wants to be. The moment Sansa tells him about Jon’s rightful claim on the throne is the moment she puts her brother at mortal risk.
Tyrion has a few drinks and then of course immediately tells Varys, who seems as concerned as the Stark sisters about Dany’s state of mind. Varys reveals a surprisingly strident position on Dany’s fitness for the Throne; in short, he’s worried she’s not. What’s more, Varys tells Tyrion that he would do whatever it takes (and “whatever” in Westeros almost always means murder) to keep the blameless, powerless people of the Seven Kingdoms safe from any would-be tyrant. How quickly Dany has gone from savior and wheel-breaker to someone who might need to be killed by her own people. Couple Varys’ concerns with the Stark sisters’ concerns and the suggestion that Dany’s losing her mind, and you could make a case that the fix is in against her, both in Westeros and in the Game of Thrones writer’s room.
And all of this happened before the episodes big twist—a very questionable plan to present Cersei with the option of surrender (one they knew she’d never take) ends up costing Dany her dragon Rhaegar. Have they never heard of scouts? Dany flies Drogon, with Rhaegar flying Jon-less, along with her fleet to meet Cersei for their formal and obviously never-gonna-happen demand of surrender. Instead, they’re all surprised by Euron’s fleet and the now dozen dragon-killing scorpion guns he’s got. Rhaegar is shot out of the sky and plummets to his death in the sea. Dany just manages to get Drogon out of there, but her fleet is decimated and Missandei is (somehow) captured.
What follows is the obviously doomed and dour showdown with Cersei. She’s got Missandei in chains, atop a parapet. Insanely, Dany is out in the field in front of the castle, Drogon grounded some distance behind her, with Grey Worm, Tyrion and a small contingent of the Unsullied. Why Cersei didn’t train her scorpion guns on them right then and there is beyond me. So, too, is watching Tyrion once again to try reason with his unreasonable sister. He begs her, for the sake of her unborn child, to surrender. Has he never met her? Are we having this same conversation that we had in last season’s finale, “The Dragon and the Wolf,” in which Tyrion probes for some faint glimmer of warmth in his icy, diabolical sibling? For a second there it seemed like Cersei might rain arrows down on her brother’s head. Instead, she has the Mountain cut off Missandei’s head.
It was a brutal, gut-wrenching end for a character who didn’t get a ton to do this season. It also didn’t tell us anything new about Cersei. Instead, Dany stormed off in an understandable rage. Cersei, inexplicably, let her do so. Tyrion was once again outplayed by sister. And back in Winterfell, Jaime readies a horse. He’s scampered out of Brienne’s bed in the middle of the night so he can ride off and once again fight on behalf of his sociopathic sister. “She’s hateful, and so am I,” Jamie says, unconvincingly, to a tearful Brienne.
A Lannister always repays his debts, Tyrion used to be fond of saying. Perhaps the debt Jamie is riding off to repay is to the rest of us. We have only two more episodes to see if someone, anyone, can finally rid the Seven Kingdoms of Cersei Lannister. And to think, only a week ago our biggest concern was the silly old Night King and his army of the dead.
Featured image: Season 8, episode 4 (debut 5/5/19): Kit Harington. Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO