After the mixed reaction to “The Long Night,” “Game of Thrones” returned for the latter half of its final season. Creators and Writers Benioff and Weiss set the table for their penultimate episode, and the results are mixed at best. There are some great moments tonight, but there were also some frustrating ones. Let’s jump into our recap of “Game of Thrones,” Season 8 Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks.”
- With the Battle for Winterfell over, we open on a shot of Jorah Mormont, dead after defending Daenerys Targaryian from the Wights. Sansa weaps over the body of Theon Greyjoy, and she pins a Stark lapel on his body
- Many funeral pyres are arranged, and Jon gives the eulogy for the mass funeral. Several in the group light the pyres. The score from Ramin Djawadi was as excellent as ever for the sequence. It’s a dour scene, and the music adds to the emotions that are clearly present for our heroes
- Back in the Winterfell, the survivors eat in a mostly silent hall. After a short exchange between Gendry and the Hound, Gendry gets up to leave. However, he’s stopped by Daenerys, who legitimizes Gendry as Gendry Baratheon and gives him Storm’s End
- The crowd continues to drink and be merry. They celebrate their victory and we check in on our character in scattered conversations. As Daenerys surveys the room, she realizes she has few allies
- Tormund realizes that Jaime and Brienne might be in love with each other, and he finds comfort with a girl from the North. The Hound and Sansa discuss what could have been, but Sansa reminds him that she would not have grown without the experiences she learned from Littlefinger and Ramsey
- Gendry seeks out Arya and proposes. The two embrace, but she declines his proposal
- Jaime and Brienne drink in private. They finally succumb to their feelings for each other, and the two sleep together
- Daenerys meets with Jon in private and she professes her love for him. After they initially embrace, the two break apart. They discuss Jon’s parentage and Daenerys asks him to not reveal the truth. If he does it will make it impossible for her to rule. She begs him not to tell anyone, but Jon reveals he will tell Sansa and Arya. Daenerys leaves, angry at Jon
- The next morning, the minds of the North meet with Daenerys to begin battle strategy. However, Sansa and Arya begin to push back against Daenerys’ plan. The North needs to recuperate and Jon undercuts them in the meeting. We also find that Yara Greyjoy retook the Iron Islands and “the new Lord” in Dorne will also support her choice
- Afterward, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran talk by the Weirwood tree. Jon reveals his parentage to his family
- Jaime tells Tyrion that he and Brienne will stay in the North. Bronn shows up and tells Tyrion and Jaime about Cersei’s offer. He demands something larger than Riverrun, and Tyrion counters with Highgarden. He agrees and then walks away
- The Hound and Arya depart Winterfell alone, with their eye on completing their unfinished business
- Tyrion and Sansa discuss Daenerys’ as the Queen. Sansa raises the possibility of there being another to lead.
- Tormund tells Jon that he and the Wildlings will head back beyond the Wall. Jon asks Tormund to take Ghost with him. He then says goodbye to Sam and Gilly before riding South
- Tyrion reveals Jon’s parentage to Varys. They discuss the potential fallout
- Daenerys is flying on Drogon and with her dragons back to Dragonstone when Euron Greyjoy attacks. He kills Rhaegal and then turns his weapons on the remaining ships. As they sink to the ocean floor, Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm and others wash up on the shore. Missandei is taken prisoner
- Cersei brings the people of King’s Landing into the Keep, and “reveals” to Euron that she is pregnant with his child
- Back on Dragonstone, it is revealed that Daenerys will head to King’s Landing with the Unsullied. Varys tries to tell her it is a bad move, but she won’t listen. This ignites a discussion between Varys and Tyrion about who should be the ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. It is clear that Varys’ belief in Daenerys has been shaken
- Upon hearing the news of Euron’s sneak attack, Jaime prepares to ride south. Brienne asks him to stay in Winterfell with her. He rebuts with a list of the horrible things he has done and rides South
- Daenerys’ forces ready at the gates to King’s Landing, and Tyrion meets Qyburn outside the walls. The two briefly discuss the terms of surrender.
- Tyrion walks past Qyburn and pleads for peace and reason with Cersei
- Cersei has the Mountain decapitate Missandei on the ramparts of the city in front of everyone
- Random sailors
Discussion of the Episode
Like the season before it, this episode of “Game of Thrones” falls victim to a Benioff and Weiss trying to glaze over pieces of the storyline. Oddly, this episode falls into two divergent parts. The first half of the episode was excellent and took its time with character moments. This gave the feeling of a real celebratory dinner, which have not been common in the world of Westeros.
The second half of the episode, however, moved at a breakneck pace to tell a lot of story very quickly. After Jon reveals his parentage to Sansa, and she in turn reveals it to Tyrion, there is a whole episode’s worth of philosophy, fights, and character moments squeezed into thirty minutes of screen time. This episode feels off once Jon’s truth is revealed, and it feels like audiences are being rushed into one more battle sequence for the sake of having one.
Perhaps most frustrating is the series continues to struggle with storytelling for many of our favorite characters. Rather than add meaningful characters in instances where death is upon them, the show deliberately finds ways to send its characters away. The decision Jaime makes is the most confounding, and makes little sense given the incredibly personal moments he just had with Brienne. The death of Rhaegal (for real this time) felt meaningless in the context of the story. Maybe Daenerys shouldn’t have dragons after all.
Having Tormund, Sam, Gilly, and most shockingly Brienne, hang back makes little sense. It also undercuts the purpose of Jon telling Daenerys he’ll be riding south if anyone who feels like it isn’t in their best interests can just back out. This also directly undercuts arguments about why Jon should be King, which populate the back half of the episode. If Jon is a unifying force, than he should be able to get these people to follow him into battle. What makes the issue so frustrating is that the episode shows Tormund’s love for Jon as an integral reason why there is a rift between Daenerys and Jon. Again, the episode is at odds with itself.
Why is the show trying to justify everything that happened to Sansa? She was brutalized for several consecutive seasons, yet Benioff and Weiss make the argument that she wouldn’t have become the character she has without Ramsey and Littlefinger. It’s disappointing the show has to double down on the abuse whenever this subject has come up. In this case, the show openly volunteered to have this conversation by awkwardly bringing it up in the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell.
Speaking of brutalized characters, let’s pour some wine out for the cats and dogs of Westeros. Rhaegal’s death was extremely disappointing and gratuitous. It felt so anticlimactic after the events of last week, where Rhaegal’s death would have at least meant something. The fact that Euron Greyjoy and the Night King have anything in common feels odd. Yet the real disservice here comes in Jon’s total disregard for Ghost. The Starks have always had unbelievably strong ties to their dire wolves, so for him to freely give up Ghost doesn’t really track. It is also disappointing that Ghost is so torn up from the battle, simply for the sake of showing violence. Again, what was the purpose? It’s the saddest shot in the show this season, and Ghost deserved better.
Predictions for Next Week
Get ready for the final episode to be directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who not only directed “The Long Night” but also “Hardhome” and “The Battle of the Bastards” in previous seasons. He has a tall order ahead of him, with the stage set for the final battle between Cersei’s forces and the remaining free armies. Sapochnik will shoot in daytime for this one, so expect the visuals to really click into place.
The penultimate episode of many great series have been the most integral to landing the plane. At this point, Season 8 has felt like a mixed bag, with back-to-back episodes feeling out of sync. Can this one put the series back on track?
Will Daenerys charge into battle before Jon arrives? Has she lost her mind like her father? The death of Missandei might have been a bridge too far for her state. Watch out for her to become every bit the mad man her father became.
Who survives the last battle? It appears that many of the characters we cared about are simply moving away from the narrative. It’s not unreasonable to be disappointed. If that really is the last we see of Tormund and Brienne in battle, that feels anticlimactic.
How many Lannister’s perish this week? Do any? It’s tough to say, but setting the number at 0.5, I’m taking the over. I think at least Jaime or Cersei meets their death this week. Perhaps both.
Cleganebowl appears to be on, with Arya and the Hound riding south. We know the Mountain is there, so expect one of them to take him down. My money is on the Mountain winning the battle, but Arya delivering a killing blow after the fight seems over.
Other deaths to watch for:
- Euron Greyjoy
- Grey Worm
- The Mountain
- The Hound
The naming of Gendry as an official Baratheon should make him safe, but don’t be shocked if he sacrifices himself to save Arya. However, we’re beginning to see a potential new world take shape as well. Sansa should rule the North, Bronn in Highgarden, Yara in the Iron Islands, and Gendry in Storm’s End. Also there’s a random dude in Dorne that was so important, we didn’t even get a name.
Depending on how the Lannister situation shakes out, there’s a fair chance that Brienne could take Casterly Rock. I wouldn’t put it past the show to have Brienne become pregnant after sleeping with Jaime (it would be lame, but I can’t trust the writers at this point).
This is another episode that feels like it will have little impact on the Emmy race. David Nutter should get a director nomination for “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” so expect that one to receive the push. However, there is one actress who once again proved she is worthy of an Emmy nomination. Gwendoline Christie has simply owned this season as an emotional performer. There’s not a single moment she’s been on the screen that she’s felt underserved. She’s the emotional heartbeat of the show right now, and it’s crazy to me that she has not been one of the focus of a campaign yet. The HBO team should very much push her in the Supporting Actress category because up to now, she still has three of the four standout moments of the seasons (Her knighting, begging Jaime to stay, standing up for Jaime in the hall).
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was also spectacular this episode. He likely has his nomination episode on the horizon, but he’s been outstanding. He deserves his second nomination for the show and should contend for the win. He’s been great in every episode so far (yes, even his 30 seconds in episode 1). Another emotional lynchpin of the series deserves his time in the sun.
Another fringe contender will be Emilia Clarke. One would hope she has a better episode to come. Yet this one brought a lot of emotion out of our Queen. Clarke should have showy moments in the upcoming episode, but this might be the best showcase of her skills in a few years.