Game of Thrones, Season 8, Episode 4: “Last of the Starks”
I wrote in April about Season 5’s “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” and how it was considered to unanimously be the show’s worst episode. Now, I think, we can safely say that “Last of the Starks” gives it a respectable run for its money.
The scenes at Winterfell have a few things that I like. The massive funeral pyres make for impactful visuals. Gendry being made Lord of Storm’s End is really cool! And I like watching the way the R+L=J revelation has effected Jon and Dany’s relationship – people say that R+L=J didn’t mean anything in the grand scheme of the story, but think of how it drives a rift between Daenerys and Jon. I think that that frustration, followed by Missandei and Rhaegal dying, does ultimately lead to Daenerys going off the deep end. And that’s not insignificant.
I would also say that I liked Jaime and Brienne finally getting together, but I refuse to say anything positive about the decisions regarding Jaime in this post. Every ounce of goodwill that I get from watching the two finally get together is lost when Jaime says “Cersei’s hateful, and so am I,” and gets on his horse.
This episode has Rhaegal’s death by Iron Fleet, which was received very poorly. I wrote a post about this scene and ways to improve it, which were basically “make this scene longer and add more tension/stakes, don’t make it just happen suddenly.” The episode is long, obviously, but not everything in it is essential – I would particularly cut the scene with Bronn, because I don’t think it particularly adds anything.
One thing I didn’t say in that post but should have was that the sound effects of the dying Rhaegal are a nice touch because of how disturbing they are. He gasps for air with the spear through his neck and it makes this eerie sound similar to the sound of a straw sucking at the bottom of an empty cup. Agonizing stuff, really great.
The inside-the-episode from the showrunners had the infamous quote “Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet.” And like, come on. Okay, fine, I don’t believe Dany would have forgotten about the Iron Fleet, but go ahead, let’s say she would have forgotten about them. Well, that’s why she has an entire council of advisers. Dany kind of forgot about the Iron Fleet, but would Dany, Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, and Missandei kind of forget about the Iron Fleet as well? No. Not a chance.
Favorite Scene: Funeral Pyre – I like that Jon gives a variation of Night’s Watch eulogy.
Favorite Line: Drunk Tormund is the best Tormund – “Which one of you cowards shit in my pants?!”
Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”
This is the big episode; Daenerys and the dragons take King’s Landing, Jaime arrives back at the Red Keep, the Hound confronts his brother, Euron dies. Big stuff happening!
This episode starts with the treason and execution of Varys, Master of Whispers. Other than returning to the side of Iron Throne, I don’t know exactly what end I had in mind for Varys. Outside of that, this is probably the only ending we can hope for for him. Varys has always been one of my favorite characters, because I always admired how he fights for the people no matter what. They kind of telegraph his loyalty to the people over Daenerys in the Season 7 conversation where he tells Dany that she must always be worthy of his loyalty. To have him finally take a stand and try to covertly take down a ruler who is right for the land feels like a satisfying ending.
The possibility of Daenerys’ descent into madness is frequently referenced, and I think that her execution of Varys makes it something of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But something about it doesn’t feel right. Especially since her true turn happens moments after the battle is all but won. It somehow feels like too much of a jump, which says something about the pace of the episode; in just a few episodes, her dragon (ostensibly her child) has died, her friend has died, a close adviser has plotted against her, her lover now threatens her claim to the throne. This should be enough to tip her into madness, but it just feels wrong. And I’m not alone on this, by any measure.
Given this episode’s gimmick, the action in this episode shouldn’t be particularly exciting. It’s just Daenerys as she flies over the city, destroying it. The scenes with Arya as she does her best not to be destroyed do end up being exciting, as does the Unsullied charging the city. But Daenerys’ destruction of the city only had one thing that provided any tension; I wondered why she was doing it and when she would stop.
Cersei has had just about nothing to do during this season, and that’s especially frustrating. The show tells us that Cersei is a cold emotionless monster without her children. I really held to the idea that Cersei wasn’t pregnant, and that she was just lying to play all the men in her life. The way Season 7 seemed to frame it, she was just lying about it, especially in this scene with Tyrion. I’m not sure how much of this plot point comes from expecting one thing and getting another, but I was certainly disappointed. Cersei not being pregnant would have been more interesting than what we got – tame Cersei, like a dog with no teeth. Cersei’s last words are “Not like this, not like this…” which I couldn’t agree with more, Cersei deserved to go out in some villainous blaze of glory.
But I especially hate Jaime’s last words to Cersei – telling her that they are the only two people who matter, which is a callback to some of their dialogue from Season 1. In Season 8, Jaime’s exact words are “Nothing else matters, only us.” In Season 1, he says “[I will kill the whole bloody lot of them until you and I are the only people left in this world.” It shows the failing of how both characters were treated; Jaime knows that innocent people matter and Cersei, on the verge of death should be learning that her hatred of innocent people is what made her a despised tyrant in the first place. Having their dialogue looping back to the beginning like this might make sense if the show were trying to prove that they hadn’t changed. But we know they have.
But hey, I guess it’s time to talk about Jaime. Literally, going into this season, I said often and loudly, “If Jaime kills Cersei, I will be happy.”
The theory that Jaime would kill Cersei was almost unanimously accepted. (Because the foreshadowing was so thorough, unlike what we saw with Dany.) His redemption arc through the series shows how he makes himself a better man to atone for his kingslaying and for pushing Bran out the window. He’s hated by many for killing King Aerys, but when he makes his confession to Brienne in Season 3 (indisputably one of the show’s best moments) we realize that his crime was justified.
I’ve defended the showrunners David & Dan in the past, but what they did to Jaime Lannister is truly unforgivable. I just can’t understand how they can justify Daenerys’ heel turn as being foreshadowed, while not using a plot point which was much more clearly foreshadowed with Jaime.
Last post, I mentioned how Game of Thrones can make one forget that not every moment of satisfying narratives come from villains getting comeuppance. Sometimes we feel audience satisfaction when our hero makes the right decision. So if Jaime, a knight who had sworn to defend the weak and innocent, came face to face with his sister, a dictator who had endangered the lives of the innocent, what would the right thing be? Well, we’ve seen Jaime’s arc, we already know.
The show seemed oddly focused on having a fight between Euron and Jaime. I usually hate most things that have to do with Euron, but I actually don’t hate this – on paper, at least. It gives Jaime a nice little boss-battle before he gets to top of the keep, and it does make sense, given their mutual love of Cersei. In my little rewrite, I’d give Euron more clear reasons for fighting Jaime – Euron would say that he wants to punish Jaime for his disloyal trip north, and eliminate his only romantic competition. And maybe Jaime would say something about Cersei being pregnant, and Euron would say that she isn’t, because, yknow, the show has given us just about zero evidence to indicate that.
But here’s my sequence of events:
- Jaime infiltrates the Red Keep
- Fights Euron who says that Jaime isn’t loyal, but Jaime insists that he went north to do what is right
- Finds Cersei, asks her to escape with him to give their baby the life he or she deserves
- Cersei refuses to leave, insisting that King’s Landing is her home
- Cersei, in a rage, admits she was never pregnant, and that she did that just to win sympathy.
- Jaime, realizing that Cersei is lost, kills her for endangering the innocent population of King’s Landing, just as he did to the Mad King.
- Jaime, feeling vindicated and guilty at the same time, embraces whatever death comes for him
Whether or not the showrunners insisted on making Daenerys evil, then that is the chain of events that should have played out.
Making the right decision wouldn’t even necessarily need to be killing on Cersei. I would love if we had a scene like Jaime’s last in A Feast for Crows:
‘Come at once,’ [Cersei’s letter] said. ‘Help me. Save me. I need you now as I have never needed you before. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come at once.’
“Does my lord wish to answer?” the maester asked, after a long silence.
“No,” [Jaime] said. “Put this in the fire.”
Jaime choosing not to go to Cersei wouldn’t be quite as perfect of an ending compared to if we got to see him realize that he did the right thing 20 years ago, and that he had to do it again, but to someone he loves.
Or hell, what if after Cersei’s death, which he was unable to prevent, Jaime found his way to the ash-covered throne room, and finds Daenerys, the Mad Queen, and kills her, just as he did to her father in the same spot twenty-odd years before.
Out of all the characters David & Dan short-changed, perhaps Jaime was shortchanged most of all. Let’s look back at Jaime’s best moment; his confession to Brienne.
You might notice I haven’t had anything to say about Cleganebowl – that’s because I don’t really know how to feel about it, honestly. I’ve heard people say that the Hound and the Mountain was one of their favorite things of the episode, and just as many having said that the Hound should have stayed away from King’s Landing, because he had gotten over his trauma. As much as I can agree with the latter, I do like the Hound tackling the Mountain off the crumbling building into fire.
Let’s wrap this episode up with my favorites.
Favorite Line: Varys – “I hope I deserve this. Truly, I do. I hope I’m wrong.”
Favorite Scene: There were action beats I liked – Lannister soldiers dropping their swords, the Unsullied charging the Golden Company, Jon killing his own man for attacking an innocent woman. But this episode’s best action was seeing the destruction from Arya’s perspective, as she runs through the streets, trying to survive.
Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”
On it’s own, this episode isn’t terrible, but it clearly suffers from the poor set up of the one before it.
First, let me get this out of the way; this episode has a lot of tasteful fan service for people – like me – who remember every line. When Sam shows that the book about the past eight seasons is called “A Song of Ice and Fire,” we remember last season when he told Archmaester Slughorn he didn’t like the title of his book. When it’s pointed out that said book doesn’t mention Tyrion, we remember Season 2, where Varys told him that history would not remember him. Davos corrects grammar just like Stannis used to, Brienne is writing in the same book Jaime read from in Season 4, Podrick is knighted, Tyrion references his “I once brought a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel” story one last time. These little tidbits make me smile.
But perhaps the best fan service payoff comes from the Daenerys at the Iron Throne. Seeing Dany’s Season 2 vision come true is great – because of the way we were tricked. We get the same imagery, but we learn that it was not snow on the throne, but ash. That’s actually awesome.
And I do like all of the cinematography during the approach to the Red Keep. Everyone talks about (and riffs on) this shot:
Which is great, but I think I actually prefer this shot, which shows the scope of the damage and makes one realize what a pyrrhic victory this is:
She conquered the city, but there isn’t much of a city left. The opening of Tyrion walking the streets and seeing all the damage is sufficiently harrowing, and really illustrates that. If there’s one thing that didn’t dip in quality during this final season, it was cinematography.
I wish I had more to say about Jon killing Dany. It seems like the logical conclusion to the previous episode, but it shouldn’t. Since the Starks are such honorable people, there should be more deliberation as Jon decides to do this. But Tyrion talks him into it pretty quickly. What would Ned have done? What would Jaime have done? Would he have stood by his queen, no matter what she did?
One thing that baffled viewers was the fact that Drogon then burns down the Iron Throne, rather than inflicting any punishment on Jon. (I didn’t watch the Inside the Episode, did they explain this?) And I can see how some viewers would find it surprising or satisfying to see Drogon destroy what everyone has been fighting for. But I think what would be even more fulfilling would be if Drogon did try to burn Jon and the Iron Throne – but couldn’t because Jon, as a Targaryen, could be impervious to fire. It gives Jon a badass moment and reminds Drogon that Jon is technically his cousin. “But!” The most astute fans object, “He doesn’t have that ability, he burns his hand in Season 1, Episode 8, when he touches a hot lantern! That goes against CONTINUITY!” To which I’d say, yeah you’re right, but the showrunners can justify it as “Oh, he earned that ability by realizing he was and proving he was a Targaryen Dragon.” But also, if we’re sticking to the story that Dany and all if her world-class advisors spontaneously forgot about the Iron Fleet when sailing in the Narrow Sea and Jaime doesn’t care about innocent people, saying that Jon can’t survive fire seems like an arbitrary place to split hairs.
One element that doesn’t anger me but instead just confuses me is – why didn’t we get a fight between Jon and Grey Worm? The show definitely seemed to be building toward it in Episode 5, and with Jon being charged with Dany’s murder, one would think that a trial by combat would give a reason to have the two fight. Jon would want to fight for his life, and Grey Worm would definitely want to kill him. And how awesome would it be? I just really don’t understand.
But I do love Jon being sent to the Night’s Watch, even if there isn’t a really good reason for the Night’s Watch to still exist, really. To me, it just feels right. Everything has come full circle.
I’d be remiss to not talk about Bran being made king. I don’t hate it. I think there’s some interesting things there, but it could have certainly used more setup. I like the idea of having a king who learns from history, but that isn’t mentioned as a reason for his coronation but it should be. (Side note, why does King Bran point out that they don’t have a Master of Whispers? Did you learn nothing from Bloodraven?! You ARE the Master of Whispers!)
I like the fact that the omnipotent character becomes king, with many speculating he used his powers to manipulate people, a la Hodor. It’s what the internet is calling the “evil Bran” theory. Did Bran manipulate Dany or Drogon to destroy King’s Landing? Did he manipulate the lords of Westeros into supporting him when they otherwise wouldn’t? Maybe we could have used more hints about that.
While I don’t hate King Bran, it has the taint of a lot of Season 8’s decisions; separately, they’re not bad, but together they look desperate. Arya killing the Night King, King Bran, Mad Queen Dany, Jaime trying to save Cersei, Rhaegal dying… some of these things aren’t bad in a vaccuum, but at a certain point, they begin to look like decisions which were made to deliberately shock, rather than being the earned resolution. In that way, Season 8 was a bit of a disappointment.
During my first few posts in this series, I wrote about how Ned Stark’s death was unexpected by the conventions of most stories, but was perfectly set up in the narrative of Season 1. Back then, the show earned its surprises, but still managed to make them surprising. Season 8 seemed to forget that being surprising isn’t as important as having a story that is well-earned. It is certainly a sad conclusion to what is likely my favorite show all time, but I can still forgive it.
Favorite Line: “Why do you think I came all this way?” – a slight hint at the Bran we should have gotten, a manipulative one.
Favorite Scene: Brienne writes in the book about Jaime’s deeds – I wish we didn’t see what she was writing, but it’s still a beautiful scene.
Other moments I adore:
- Edmure Tully getting laughed at
- Tyrion’s small council
- Sansa being made Queen in the North
- Jon riding into the sunset.
So much of the reaction to this show right now only addresses the finale, and perhaps that rightfully should be the case. But these last few episodes are just the asterisk on what was and is genuinely an amazing television show. These episodes generally sucked, and call into question just how good or worthwhile a story is if it ends poorly – and I’m genuinely not sure. I think that’d be an interesting topic for another post. but is definitely too large to address now.
Anyhow, if you’re disappointed by Season 8, patiently wait for the books – I don’t think that they are going to be quite as similar to the later seasons of the show as we’ve been lead to believe. A Dream of Spring is far, far in the future, but I’m going to say here and now that Winds of Winter will come out by the end of middle of next year.
Until then, we can only appreciate what we have, and remember the joy it has brought us. Not every journey to Westeros was perfect, but if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet that this series has had a positive impact on your life, just as it has on mine.
Truly, thank you so much for reading.
- What was your favorite Game of Thrones moment?