Game of Thrones S08E04: The Last of the Starks – After last week’s divisive heroics, the last war begins

Endings are hard, especially within the fantasy genre when the journey makes up the bulk of the storytelling. Game of Thrones has given itself an especially hard job to do in this final season as it concerns itself with a war on two fronts against to entirely different enemies. The Long Night is over and most of the main players survived the fight that has been hinted since the show’s first scene. Now attentions turn south to Kings Landing as Dany gets back to her main goal of ruling the Seven Kingdoms. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of different problems in her way.

For some The Long Night was a letdown, maybe even this season has been a letdown but, for me at least, The Last of the Starks got back to what the show does best. It has some major issues, mostly plot-related, but with one enemy down, this episode sets up the far more complex battle that has to come. As Tyrion so rightly said to Davos, they survived the dead, now they have to deal with the living, and the living has their own priorities and agendas.

Just ask Bronn, as he makes the smartest play available to him under his present circumstances. While no one thought that he would just do what Cersei told him and kill the men who helped raise him up to his position, he now has a promise of wealth and reward from whatever Lannister manages to make it out alive once this fight is over. The same goes for The Hound. With the dead defeated and the Lord of Light apparently done with things, he’s only got one other thing to live for: destroying his older brother. The great hero of Winterfell Arya joins him as being a Lady of Winterfell was never who she was, no matter how good the newly minted Gendry Baratheon is with his hammer. The Last of the Starks is about moving the pieces into place for the most final of final acts, and what that comes down to is choices.

Good characters and stories are built on choices. Think what Westeros would have been like if Jamie hadn’t pushed Bran out of the Broken Tower, or if Robb had fulfilled his oath to the Freys, or if Sansa had left Kings Landing with The Hound, so much loss, bloodshed, and heartache could have been avoided. Yet that’s the beauty of these choices, when they are made it’s impossible to know how they will affect the future.

The Last of the Starks is the show at its best when it focuses on these choices. Dany gives Jon a choice to keep his true identity a secret, to uphold her own claim to the throne, but Jon can’t hide who he is from his family. This is a choice that could affect the whole war as Sansa spills the beans to Tyrion, and he to Varys. A secret is now information, and Jon Snow is the man (which is tellingly the most important part) with the greatest claim to the throne and a better temperament than Dany or Cersei. Frankly, I think Dany deserves a break. She took her armies north to help in the great war, helped the North survive, and lost most of her armies and Jorah for her troubles. Then, to make matters worse, she is once again blindsided by Cersei’s tactics as the Iron Fleet are waiting at Dragonstone to ambush her as she is coming home, costing her Rhaegal and Missandei. I’d be feeling extremely vengeful too.

It’s here that I believe the show has made the right decision making the war with Cersei the grand finale. We all adore Cersei as a villain, and the Night King couldn’t even be her cupbearer. Cersei keeps proving that she is her father’s daughter as she uses better tactics than both Dany and the Night King combined. Cersei once said that power is power, but she’s not giving herself enough credit. Dany thinks she can fall back on her dragons; The Night King had a huge disposable army of the dead which he could constantly add to. Cersei has money, which wins every time. The decision to make an example of Missandei, a show of strength and attitude and a death that had a bigger impact than any of last week, shows that Dany, Jon, and everyone has to play this game by Cersei’s rules. With poor besotted Jamie coming back to her (when Brienne is sad, I’m sad), her citizens acting as a human shield in the Red Keep, and a very angry Dragon Queen, Cersei is either going to win or, by losing, turn Dany into a ruler just like her.

It’s not all good tactics and drunk Tormond though, The Last of the Starks does still have problems that are becoming increasingly apparent as this season goes on. For one thing, the episode is far, far too long. I get the need for the WE SURVIVED celebration but that felt as long as the bloody wedding in The Godfather. There’s also the repetition of Euron popping up out of nowhere to steal a female character, a character who could have drowned for all Dany knew. Seriously, how did they know that Missandei was captured, at least show us a raven’s message or something?

8/10 – Even though it was bloated, The Last of the Starks felt more complete, cohesive, and meaningful than most of this season’s episodes.

Another quick theory. The show’s creators have hinted that we might not have seen the last of the White Walkers. What could this mean with the Night King defeated? Well, what about Craster’s sons. By my count, he gave 100 of them to the Walkers over the years. How fast do they grow, and would they have been affected by the Night Kings Death since they were turned while they were alive?

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