Game of Thrones: The Last of the Starks

"We may have defeated them, but there's still us to contend with."

Previously, I'd written reviews for a couple of different episodes centered around epic battles. In this case, I felt fortunate to be reviewing an episode that's all about the aftermath of an epic battle, as well as a prelude for the next one.

Because I really couldn't decide how I felt about the sudden end to the White Walkers, the Long Night and the Great War until I saw how they planned to go forward. I'm still not sure how I feel about it, but I do know that -- as rushed as "The Last of the Starks" was -- there is a lot here that I quite enjoyed. At the very least, taking the zombies and ice demons out at the midway point leaves plenty of room to further explore the joys and pains of these awesome characters as they face an uncertain future.

Celebration of Life

The episode's opening is very bittersweet. We start with the somber mass funeral of those who died defending Winterfell from the Army of the Dead, and neatly segue into a joyous victory feast in the castle's great hall. These people just overcame death incarnate, and quickly realize there is much to celebrate. This leads to some beautiful moments.

Dany surprises everyone by singling out Gendry, son of her lifelong nemesis, and legitimizing him as a full-fledged Baratheon. I especially loved that Davos began the cheers for him, it's a nice vindication of his undying loyalty to the family.

Tormund once again attempts to woo Brienne of Tarth, but this time gets soundly cock-blocked by Jaime Lannister. Watching Tormund tearfully relate this tragedy to the uncaring Hound before shacking up with some horny northern girl was hilarious. Which gives us the scene between Sansa and Sandor Clegane, a reunion I had been waiting for.

Although not quite as intimate as it is in the books, theirs is still a significant connection; he helped inspire her strength, and she helped inspire his chivalry. It was nice to see Sansa gain the Hound's respect, and it's always nice to see this hard man's softer, more vulnerable side.

And we finally see Jaime and Brienne become a thing. That love scene was so cleverly adorable in its execution, these two misfits struggling to approach the act of consummating their feelings toward each other. Brienne's awkward stiffness as she finds herself in a mutually romantic situation for the first time in her life, and Jaime's even more awkward attempt at flirting after a lifetime of ignoring all other women in favor of his twin sister. Very well handled.

Of course, there are still a couple of episodes left and they can't be full of nothing but our favorite characters happily prospering. As Littlefinger previously addressed, and as Tyrion reaffirms here, defeating the mythical White Walkers and saving the world means everyone must now deal with that world and each other.


Moments of Truth

Daenerys is quick to recognize this as well. The celebration only reminds her that she is still a stranger in her own homeland, that Jon Snow is the heroic leader people revere, and that his claim to the throne is stronger than hers regardless of whatever her destiny truly is. Emilia Clarke's performance shines here in a way I haven't seen for a couple of seasons now. This is because for the most part we only see her wearing Dany's queenly mask of superiority, mostly cool but occasionally smoldering. Whereas now we are seeing Dany in a state of palpable desperation.

The scene between her and Jon really brings their circumstances down to earth quite dramatically. They are in love and want to be together, but the truth of Jon's origin threatens to tear them apart and the realm along with them. Dany begs Jon not to reveal his secret identity to anyone else, but he feels compelled to tell Sansa and Arya because they are his family.

I'm disappointed that we don't see Sansa and Arya's immediate reactions to the truth, but their choices later on are just as telling.

Sansa chooses to betray Jon's trust by spilling the beans to Tyrion, hoping to erode Dany's power in favor of Jon. This would almost certainly guarantee an Iron Throne controlled by the Starks.

Arya chooses to join the Hound on a suicide mission to King's Landing, which is a bit more ambiguous. Is she questioning her own existence after learning Jon's secret and refusing Gendry's proposal, finally accepting that she wasn't born to be a subservient sister or wife but an instrument of death? Or is she risking her life in order to protect Jon, who she will always love as her brother, no matter where he came from?

Either way, it seems like a lot of carnage could have been avoided if Arya had just offered to go south and single-handedly assassinate Cersei for Jon and Dany.

The R+L=J revelation also leads to a few great scenes between Tyrion and Varys. Tyrion is clearly distressed, but Varys (rather hypocritically) begins suggesting that they should kick Dany to the curb and put Jon on the Iron Throne. It's been so long since we've seen the serious side to this duo. Now it seems Varys is poised to betray the queen he marked as a savior, in the name of the people. Meaning he's probably got dragonfire in his future. Or maybe not. The way their last conversation ends, you get the feeling that Tyrion's plea for Varys not to threaten Dany is more of a warning. Tyrion did start off his relationship with Varys by threatening to kill him for potentially endangering a woman he cared about.

For once, Tyrion is the character who's really hard to read. He seems to know Jon is a more ideal choice, but he can't bring himself to consider betraying Dany. He fears Dany's potential for madness and destruction, but he also genuinely believes in her potential for greatness.

I still think Tyrion's loyalty to Dany goes beyond just finding a ruler worth sticking with. Part of me thinks he's got some repressed romantic feelings toward her, and another part of me thinks he views her as the sister Cersei never was. Which likely makes the fact that they are at war with Cersei all the more complicated, since Tyrion just can't bring himself to give up on her.

Despite the whacky Stark kids, the legendary warriors and the various schemers and pretenders to the throne, the story really does seem to center around our three main outsiders, Jon, Daenerys and Tyrion. And I think Tyrion is drinking so much because he understands that he is caught in the middle and has the burden of deciding all of their fates and doesn't know the right choice. He is finally beginning to see the long shadow he is casting.

And despite Jon's stubborn optimism that everyone can get along, even he seems indecisive and adrift. He claims to not want the throne or the crown or even his "true" identity, but his departure from Winterfell shows us that he's still leaving behind everything that's been a core part of who he is: the North, the Free Folk, his friends and family, he even asks Tormund to bring his direwolf Ghost beyond the Wall. Whether he knows it or not, he is being drawn toward the Iron Throne, his supposed destiny. But his scenes in this episode drive the point home that he will always be Jon Snow at heart, not Aegon Targaryen VI. His connection to the Starks, the North, the First Men (hell, maybe even the Old Gods) is clearly much stronger than the blood of the dragon running through his veins.


Death of Dragons

And to drive this point home, immediately after Jon leaves Ghost behind, his dragon Rhaegal winds up dead.

Yes, "The Last War" quickly goes wrong for Dany as Euron Greyjoy lays an ambush at Dragonstone, destroying the rest of the Targaryen fleet and capturing Missandei in addition to killing one of her dragons with new souped up scorpions.

It's both frustrating and amazing that Cersei has been allowed to turn the tables like this, though forgivable in that it's largely a result of other people. Euron's unpredictable nature and talent for raising hell is key to her strength, Jaime's theft of the Tyrell wealth is the only reason she could afford the Golden Company, and she likely wouldn't have gotten this far if a crazy resourceful bastard like Qyburn hadn't been backing her up. Gold, cruelty and fool's luck have subsequently left her in a position where she is more dominant than a woman who had previously dominated almost half a continent.

Dealing with an enemy as maddeningly chaotic and power hungry as Cersei is doing the opposite of what Tyrion wants by provoking Dany to be just as bad or worse in her quest for victory. That Tyrion continues to delude himself into thinking Cersei is "not a monster" because she "loved her children" still annoys me. You could argue that he's trying to reason with her simply to avoid any more bloodshed, but Tyrion should be smart enough to know by now that appealing to Cersei's humanity and rationality is hopeless. Which Cersei proves by having the Mountain decapitate Missandei, spitting on Dany's last bit of mercy. Our dragon queen has never been closer to giving the order to "burn them all" than she is now.

Missandei's resolute final words -- "Dracarys", which calls back to the moment she went from enslaved translator to royal herald when Dany began her revolution in Slaver's Bay -- might give us some hope for sweet revenge and catharsis, but I imagine the end result will be more difficult to reconcile. King's Landing is a powderkeg just waiting to go off. I mean, we've got the combined Stark and Targaryen forces about to do battle with the combined Lannisters, Ironborn and Golden Company sellswords, Dany unleashing her wrath on dragonback while Cersei uses the populace of King's Landing as a shield, the Hound facing off against the Mountain, Arya coming to kill Cersei and Jaime possibly on his way to do the same (more on that below), there's a good chance Cersei will use wildfire again to give her more of an edge, all on top of Tyrion and Varys butting heads as they toy with Jon and Dany's lives in the game of thrones.

If "The Long Night" was any indication, we'll likely see most of this resolved in the next episode after much senseless violence. However, unless everyone ends up killing each other, that still leaves a bunch of other unanswered questions. Will our heroes Jon and Dany come to terms with who they are? How does Tyrion go on after the downfall of his dysfunctional family? Can the Stark children ever come back from the tragedies and horrors that have defined their lives? Is what's left of Westeros going to survive the long winter? How long will this winter be? Why are the seasons so long anyway? If the realm does survive, will it and its people learn from this devastation and evolve, or forget and doom themselves to repeat history over and over? What exactly is the Prince That Was Promised, or the Lord of Light? Where does any of this magic come from? Does Bronn get his fancy castle? Was the Three-Eyed Bran the bad guy all along? Will the gallant cat Ser Pounce ever return?

I guess I'll find out, one way or another. Hard to believe this show's almost over.


Schemes & Plots:

* The funeral scene got to me. Guess I just wasn't ready to see characters like Jorah, Theon or Dolorous Edd get laid to rest.

* I love how Podrick casually sets up a threesome in the background as Sansa talks to Sandor.

* Bronn gets a scene with Jaime and Tyrion that, while fun, is basically a retread of most other scenes between these characters. Which pretty much boils down to this: "You fuckers owe me a castle!" I know it's a cute way of illustrating that Bronn would rather not kill the Lannister bros, but realistically he should have cut his losses a long time ago.

* Varys mentions that the "new Prince of Dorne" has declared for Daenerys. Whoever this is, I doubt we'll ever see him. Guess the show chose to forget that Oberyn Martell had eight daughters, which would leave five still alive after the demise of the loathsome Sand Snakes.

* Gilly is pregnant with Sam's baby. Big surprise, they're gonna name it Jon if it's a boy.

* Not long after the Jaime/Brienne ship sets sail, it capsizes when Jaime learns that Cersei is gaining the advantage over Dany. He then apparently abandons his chance at honor, love and peace to go back to Cersei, breaking Brienne's heart. Or so it would seem. I think Jaime is really going back to put an end to Cersei himself, and simply played the villain to keep Brienne from following him to almost certain death. Jaime states the unforgivable things he's done for Cersei as if to affirm that he is just like her, but I think this is him owning up to the fact that loving Cersei made him into a monster, something he doesn't want to be. In this light, Jaime killing Cersei would be as poetic as Tyrion killing Tywin; their struggle to please these hateful tyrants enslaved them both, forcing them to compromise their principles and accept lives of humiliation and scorn. A missing sword hand isn't Jaime's greatest handicap no more than dwarfism was Tyrion's. It's Cersei. She's a chain he needs to break free from.

* Watching Jaime struggle to unbutton his tunic or ready his horse makes me think of all the other one-handed difficulties he must have dealt with during his solo journey north.

* I still really hate that there's no snow in King's Landing. After all the talk about how "Winter is Coming", winter has had far less representation than I imagined.

* Tyrion's parlay with Qyburn reminded me of the deleted scene from The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King where the heroes meet the Mouth of Sauron.

* We see the way this world's history repeats itself through Gendry. House Baratheon was originally founded by a man said to have been Aegon the Conqueror's bastard brother, and they are once again made rulers of the Stormlands by another Targaryen conqueror. It's taken even further when an overjoyed Gendry asks Arya to be his wife and gets rejected, just like his father Robert was rejected by Lyanna Stark. The Baratheons are typically very gifted individuals, but they are woefully unlucky when it comes to love and family.

* Speaking of history repeating, it turns out Cersei really is manipulating Euron the same way she manipulated King Robert, tricking him into believing that her Lannister incest baby is his Greyjoy heir to the throne.

* Rhaegal died at Dragonstone after being unceremoniously impaled by three javelins and sinking into the waters. This was similar to his namesake, Rhaegar Targaryen, the Prince of Dragonstone who was unceremoniously defeated and died in the waters of the Trident.

* Still not enough Ghost.

Quotes:

Sandor Clegane: Used to be you couldn't look at me.
Sansa Stark: That was a long time ago. I've seen much worse than you since then.
Sandor: Yes, I've heard. Heard you were broken in. Heard you were broken in rough.
Sansa: And he got what he deserved. I gave it to him.
Sandor: How?
Sansa: Hounds.
Sandor: (chuckles) ... You've changed, little bird.

Jaime Lannister: You know the first thing I learned about the North? I hate the fucking North.
Brienne of Tarth: It grows on you.
Jaime: I don't want things growing on me.

Daenerys Targaryen: (to Jon) I saw the way they looked at you. I know that look. So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.

Jon Snow: If you only trust the people you grow up with, you won't make many allies.
Arya Stark: That's alright. I don't need many allies.

Tormund Giantsbane: (to Jon) You've got the north in you. The real north.

Sandor Clegane: (to Arya) Must've felt good, sticking your knife in that horned fucker.

Varys: How many others know?
Tyrion: Including us? Eight.
Varys: Then it's not a secret anymore. It's information.

Varys: You know our queen better than I do. Do you think she wants to share the throne? She doesn't like to have her authority questioned--
Tyrion: Something she has in common with every monarch who ever lived.
Varys: I worry about her state of mind.
Tyrion: We're advisors to the queen. Worrying about her state of mind is our job... We still have to take King's Landing. Maybe Cersei will win and kill us all. That would solve all our problems.

Euron Greyjoy: She's coming for you.
Cersei Lannister: Of course, she is. Keep the gates open. If she wants to take the castle she'll have to murder thousands of innocent people first. So much for the Breaker of Chains.

Daenerys: They should know who to blame when the sky falls down upon them.
Damn.

Varys: I have served tyrants most of my life. They all talk about destiny.
Tyrion: She's a girl who walked into a fire with three stones and walked out with three dragons. How could she not believe in destiny?

Though I'm not crazy about the direction these last few seasons have gone in, it was an absolute pleasure to be able to write reviews for this show. Game of Thrones is truly phenomenal. It'll be a shame not to have it to look forward to anymore. Three and a half out of five Starbucks coffee cups.

7 comments:

TheShadowKnows said...

"...it seems like a lot of carnage could have been avoided if Arya had just offered to go south and single-handedly assassinate Cersei for Jon and Dany."

Several people have said this, but it's hard for me to picture Jon accepting assassination as a tool of war, or Daenerys being patient enough to wait for it.

Juan said...

The episode before was: Jon Snow and the Night King, the throw away of an arc years in the making. This was Daenerys Targaryen, the assassination of a character.

I have lost hope for this show. 😔

Anonymous said...

If Jon kills mad queen dany it would be awesome.

Anonymous said...

Never was an over zealous Dany fan. I loved her in season 1 but she imo has been a little Mary sue ish since and has had a distinct lack of danger or threat in her stories as you knew she would come to Westeros. However she has been one of the more interesting characters since arriving. All her flaws and desires laid bare.But the writing to get her to this point this season has been atrocious in terms of making her and everyone around her lose all sense. Emilia Clarkes performance is saving the entire thing.
The 'Mad Dany' narrative is ridiculous in relation to her actions. What has she actually done that can be considered 'Mad' or even cruel. She burnt the Tarlys who eveyone forgots sided with Cersei and betrayed Olenna who Dany clearly had great respect for. Dany should have done what she said 'be a Dragon' should have flown to the red keep and took it by force, only Cersei and her guards would have died. Even with Fire and destruction Dany could have presented herself as avenging Cerceis attack on the sept baelor.
Imagine what Cersei, Stannis or even Robert would have done in that situation. Look at how much restraint Dany has shown. This is why despite Varys and Tyrion making valid points they just pissed me off. Tyrion has tried to keep Cersei and Jaime alive more than he is helping Dany, understandable but dangerous . But because we like Tyrion we dont see how detrimental that actually is. Infact he even gave Cersei vital information on Danys character in the S7 finale. While Dany just learned how Cersei truly operates in this episode. All Dany has done is listen to them, the only time she didnt was when she went North to save Jon. Another terrible Tyrion plan from season 7 to convince Cersei,why? . Tyrion has been trash for seasons.
Yet we have to watch him and Varys act like she never listens to them. Shes crazy but she always takes counsel even when she is being irrational and moments away from burning everything. Another factor we forgot was how Dany was raised. She was never a lady like Sansa but always at the mercy of her brother. Where she became a Khals wife and assimilated there whole being. Dany was a savage Dothraki queen. She is far more akin to Arya in terms of brutality and killing. When she picked up the sword in the prior episode people were surprised and i just thought go watch season 1 again. She had her brother killed with no hesitation or qualms. Taking that part of her personality into consideration her restraint has been impressive. Even in this episode after Rhaegels death she let Tyrion and Varys still come up with another terrible plan to make Cersei surrender. But from a writing perspective were meant to believe that just after they both nearly died Dany would be negligent with her Dragons lives. That they (Tyrion and Varys) would have no sea scouts especially after Eurons earlier surprise attack on Yara and Dorne. That Tyrion believes in Cersei at this point is the biggest plot hole ever. Do you remember season 4 you little idiot.
Then the fact that this better candidate to rule is Jon has absolutely no evidence outside of Jon is a good guy. If the seat of power was in the north fair enough. But its in Kings Landing and Jon does not want it. Could Ned have been a good King? Then Sansa believes Starks dont do well in the south but reveals information that puts him in more danger And will keep him south even if it worked out well. Varys line about Jon bending to Danys will if they were married was just trash dialogue. How can they claim Jon to be a true king if his will can be bent so easily. This and last episode just made Jon look weak and unworthy. Man the fuck up and make a choice. Instead he tried to placate both Sansa and Dany, he even palmed off telling his sisters to Bran...And he just left Ghost. Like that. Asshole.

paivi said...

Out of all the people in this series, I think Jon has the best claim to being called a Marty Stu.
He comes from humble origins and is ostracised, especially by his stepmom. And yet he turns out to be the legit heir to the throne.

He's young and relatively inexperienced, yet he gets chosen a leader of a notoriously gruff and merciless band of warriors. He gets a cool-ass sword and a cool animal companion that's different from anyone eses's.

He's decent, honourable and just from the start. His only character flaw is not a flaw at all: he's too honourable to think that end justifies the means and he won't break his word even if his life depends on it.

Most of the people we like in the story love him. He even gets brought back from the dead...

Regarding this episode and the season in general: I find it ridiculous that those orientals in Essos supposedly couldn't figure out a way to kill a dragon when the beasts were still young and smaller. Yet the minute Dany steps on Westeros, dragons start falling.

Also, I hate Euron Greyjoy. He's not even fun to hate, he's just a deus ex machina character to give Cersei a fighting chance.

Anonymous said...

It's not the worst ep even if Jaime broke Brienne's heart.
The dragon was too easily defeated. Well Euron will get his. As will Cersei.
We'll see where we go with Dany. Missandei's final words clearly affected her strongly.
mazephoenix

magritte said...

I found this episode rather odd and disjointed. The later parts of it, like the dragon's death and the confrontation with Cersei seemed a bit rushed. And shouldn't it be hard to ambush someone flying on a dragon? If you're going to war, you'd think you'd be paying enough attention to see a fleet long before they were in firing range. I was also puzzled by the decision to send Thormond and Ghost off to the north...it seems like a fizzling of their story arcs.

I feel like Tyrion's characterization has been off ever since they ran out of GRRM material. When he was in King's Landing, he was pretty good at predicting Cersei, why has he forgotten who she is now? And I'm not sure why he thought he needed to inform Varys about Jon's ancestry, since he doesn't want to place him on the throne. And his weirdly rude treatment of Brienne in the "game" was just uncomfortable.

And yes, this rush over the past few episodes to highlight Dany's flaws and manufacture the idea that Jon is the ideal king seems awkward. For one thing, if Dany is too strong willed and can push Jon around, doesn't that make him a bad choice for the throne? Maybe Varys wants Jon to rule because he thinks he can manipulate him. And frankly, the decision to tell Sansa about his ancestry was a great example of why he wouldn't make such a great King. Dany at least understands how the world works.

I don't think Jaime intends to go to Kings Landing to kill Cersei. He may see a certain symmetry in defending her when his reputation was forever stained by the "dishonor" of having murdered the last mad monarch. That said, her dying by his hand would fit the prophecy to a tee, so it wouldn't surprise me to see circumstances conspire to have it happen. And that would also give his character arc some symmetry.

I honestly thought Arya would probably do it, and having Sandor on side to take on his brother makes perfect sense. But they didn't use the structure of the larger narrative in the way things played out with the Night King, so they might do something which makes no narrative sense like have Bronn kill Cersei just to surprise us.