“The Last of the Starks” was bizarrely overstuffed with a lot of questionable storytelling and character turns, making for the weakest episode of the final season.
This Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 recap for the episode titled “The Last of the Starks” contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.
Winter came. And winter went, just like that. As it turns out, all you had to do in order to defeat the show’s persistently encroaching supernatural menace was to stab it; a fittingly mundane conclusion to that lingering existential subplot, I suppose, but one that proved divisive all the same. Luckily, the episode’s cinematographer Fabian Wagner was on-hand to let everyone know it was their fault, not his, which is to be expected. I suppose I left the Starbucks cup on the table at Winterfell, too.
But let’s not worry about any of that, as there’s lots of plotting and characterization to complain about instead, as “The Last of the Starks” attempted to make up for devoting an entire episode to a single battle by instead devoting an entire episode to what felt like two or three entire episodes’ worth of stuff, almost none of which made much sense. Oops!
We began at Winterfell, in the aftermath of the recent battle for both it and all of mankind, where Jon Snow but really Aegon Targaryen gave a rousing speech and the fallen were cooked in remembrance. After, the survivors had a bit of a knees-up in celebration of their success. And for a while, all of this was fine — actually quite lovely, in places. There was a game of Westerosi Never Have I Ever, Gendry got promoted to Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End, and Jaime was finally able to consummate his bizarre romance with Brienne. That’s about the time that it all started going a bit pear-shaped.
Jon revealed his true parentage to Arya and Sansa and swore them both to secrecy, and then Sansa just told everyone anyway. Jaime had to return to King’s Landing to confront his sister, leaving Brienne a quivering emotional wreck, having apparently become a completely different character now. Jon left Ghost with Tormund with barely a goodbye to the loyal hound, presumably because all the CGI budget has been spent on battles and dragons and there isn’t enough cash left over to have him do anything cool anymore. Bronn arrived with a crossbow and used it to threaten Tyrion and Jaime into gifting him Highgarden once the war is over, supposing it goes their way, which contained a great speech but was nonetheless a bit weird because it felt like a pretty cheap way to introduce a bit more drama. How Bronn even got there — and how long it took him — is another issue, and a big one, because at this point I’m genuinely unsure how much time is elapsing between scenes, and how far away certain locations are from others.
This seems like nitpicking, but it isn’t, really — it’s the difference between Sansa agonizing over a world-changing secret for weeks and finally revealing it because the burden of keeping it is too much for her, or simply walking about a hundred yards and spilling it to the first person she sees. It’s the difference between Jaime and Brienne forming a serious romantic relationship or having a one-night stand. These are important distinctions. They’re vital to our understanding of the characters. But “The Last of the Starks” was so concerned with having one thing happen after another that it failed to give us a proper understanding of what was actually happening in each instance.
And then there’s the stupidity, which is rampant as ever, with Dany sailing casually towards King’s Landing as though there hasn’t been a magical teleporting pirate menacing the seas since last season. Naturally, she floats straight into an ambush and one of her dragons — I can’t tell them apart if I’m honest — is unceremoniously skewered by giant arrows and plummets into the ocean. Then Missandei is captured and beheaded while poor Grey Worm is forced to look on as the headless corpse of his young love topples from the ramparts. His days of dry-humping are over already. A shame.
Missandei’s death was, in theory, quite tragic; she’s one of the few characters in Game of Thrones who remained more or less innocent throughout. But yet it means almost nothing because the show has never really done right by her, instead leaning against her implausible prettiness and charming innocence so that a moment like this one would sting a little. But stinging is temporary. Nothing really changes as a result of Missandei having her head lopped off, just like nothing was changed by the deaths of Jorah or Theon last week. Whereas once upon a time this show was willing and eager to kill off major characters in shocking and deeply unpleasant ways, now it’s just culling the secondary cast to cheaply raise the stakes for the remaining heroes that everyone still cares about.
The question, and “The Last of the Starks” failed to answer it, is why we should care about any of them. Dany is undergoing a last-minute heel-turn, with Tyrion and Varys having very ominous conversations about her intentions, which can only mean she’s going to turn on good, noble, reluctant Jon now that he has a better claim to the Iron Throne than she does. And she’s willing to play into Cersei’s hands by sacrificing the innocent and razing the kingdom she intends to claim as her own, thus proving the two aren’t really all that different. And while none of this is a bad idea, in theory, it would have been better had the show ever been consistent about what it wants from Dany as a character. Is she the breaker of chains, the freer of the oppressed, the uplifter of the downtrodden? Or is she just any old conqueror-in-waiting who has just had further to travel than usual? The show has played with both versions at various points, apparently without realizing that they’re mutually exclusive.
And that’s the problem — Jon has it, too. His followers adore him because he’s willing to charge headlong into the fray and sacrifice himself for what he believes is right, but he’s also willing to risk the lives of those followers because it’s more quintessentially heroic to do that than it is to actually sit back and think things through. Almost everything that happens in “The Last of the Starks” happens because the plot needs it to. What was once a sense of events writing themselves on the fly is now an awkward feeling of things being warped and contorted to accommodate a pre-written agenda. The show is so pressed for time, and so devoted to mainstream appeal, that it has lost almost everything that made it great in the first place. And I’m not sure there’s enough time left for it to be great again.