Television review: “Game of Thrones – Season Eight, Episode Four – “The Last of the Starks” (2009-2019)
Created for HBO by: David Benioff and D. B. Weiss based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin
Featuring: Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie
Daenerys Targaryen: “We have won the Great War. Now we will win the last war.”
There can be fewer television shows going today that are more closely watched than “Game of Thrones” (2009-2019), especially as the production has been cloaked in secrecy that has only increased from year to year, this has been magnified by the fact that there has not been a new episode in almost two years. Another reason that there has been so much secrecy is that this eighth season is also the shows last which has only heightened expectation as well as fans and news outlets offering their own theories about how it will all end, who will live, who will die and what will be the fate of the seven kingdoms of the fictional Westeros.
“Game of Thrones” (after a reportedly terrible pilot) has introduced new actors as well as directors and writers while at the same time blending them with more experienced and veteran talent which ten years felt refreshing but now in this final season it could be said that the entire cast (those that are left) are all now strong veterans who are on a victory lap of sorts no matter how the plot unfolds and resolves itself.
The Battle for Winterfell saw the Night King and his army of the undead take on the living in a massive battle that while making a huge dent in the armies of both the North as well as Daenerys, it was actually light on main characters deaths which may have irked some audiences. Not only that but the dispatch of the Night King by Arya has also left some people a little cold (pun intended) in terms of the undead storyline being over, of course that means with three episodes left we are faced with how the battle against Cersei will unfold. The first indication of how that will play out as well as the question as to what the armies at Kings Landing has been doing over the past few episodes is made very clear with this new episode.
This weeks episode titled “The Last of the Starks” follows on from the battle with a funeral pyres lit as well a a brief catch up to not only the surviving characters but also some goodbyes to them as well. I have to admit I was expecting a more low key episode, especially following one so massive of scale but while this does begin as a melancholy conversation driven story we are soon thrust into some action as well as some significant losses for Daenerys who at times is seething with anger. More of that later though as we are still witnessing a divide that is only growing between this Queen and the Lady of the North, Sansa.
There are many elements of this episode that were outstanding, first and foremost is the performance of Sophie Turner as Sansa who this season has been a revelation, not just for her character, but her performances have been nothing short of revelatory. Interestingly as Sansa has gained more recognition and personal strength, as well as ageing from the young girl we met in Season One to the young woman we see in Season 8, it is Turner who has turned out to be the one to watch, she has gained exceptional skill in her acting which is reflected here. That is really saying something as she is playing fourth (sometimes fifth) fiddle to the rest of the main cast, but each week I look forward to her scenes more and more, I hope she is not sidelined with only two episodes now remaining.
Of course “Game of Thrones” has been known not only for its action but also for the machinations of all the characters as well as their motivations in either ascending to the throne or helping others in their quest for the iron chair. This week much time has been spent with Tyrion and Varys who are now at odds in regard to who should inhabit the throne, Jon or Daenerys, especially with Jon’s true family history now being revealed to many of the main players, which is something that is now happening off camera, as well as something that Daenerys wanted to keep secret.
Speaking of Daenerys we are as expected witnessing a testing of her character as not only did she suffer major losses in “The Long Night”, but her most trusted friends and advisors, not to mention her dragons are falling around her in front of her eyes while she remains unable to do anything about it, this is the most powerless we have ever seen her since her introduction in Season One. It is not difficult to see cracks forming in her psyche, her pain is written all over her face, the only questions are will she crack, becoming like her father? Will someone have to either stand up to her or even take her down? Who will that person be, and how will her armies and her dragon react to that? It would be easy at this stage to say it would be Jon as the opposing force but I believe that Torman has hinted at Jon’s future in his farewell to him, I believe that if Jon were to survive he may end up in the very North with people he feels at home with.
This weeks episode is also striking for its crisp as well as cold cinematography as we see that Winterfell is not the only one feeling and looking tired and broken. Every single one of the characters look, as they should, worn out from not only the previous battle, but their entire journey from the very beginning to where they all find themselves now. Not only that many look older than they should which is a testament to not only the make-up but to each of these actors as well. It has been a long journey for many and there have been numerous deaths to contend with, it is not surprising that with the end now in sight, that with so much riding on any outcome that mistakes will be made from people who are completely exhausted.
Of course this episode ends with the promise of another battle to come, there is no doubt that there will only be one winner in the war to come between Daenerys and Cersei, it remains to be seen what collateral damage they will incur, but it will be heavy. Of course the bigger and more interesting question is how will the other characters make their intentions known, we have had a small look into what some think, as well as what we see as another fracturing of the main cast into either smaller groups or seemingly heading off to start new lives. The most enticing of these groups is the one made up of Arya and ‘The Hound’ who are off to Kings Landing to settle scores, I for one expect both to die meeting their own goals, which will close out their own arcs as well as the series in episode six.
This is not perfect television but the difficulty factor on “Game of Thrones” is extremely high, so it seemed shoe horned that we are reintroduced to Bron who was tasked with killing Tyrion and Jamie. Bron’s storyline seems almost wound up with a brief conversation as well as the promise of a bribe for reneging on his promise to Cersei which seems off hand as well as dismissive while tying his narrative arc up, which is unfortunate for someone who has been around from Season One.
Looking forward we know there is going to be one more major episode that will be devoted to a massive battles clocking in at around an hour and a half so outside of that we will possibly have one more narrative based episode which will be good counter programming as well as hopefully sorting out storylines from previous seasons.
Episode Four: “The last of the Starks”
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss Directed by: David Nutter
The North mourn their dead, burning them on funeral pyres. During a somber feast, Daenerys legitimizes Gendry as a Baratheon, and names him as Lord of Storm’s End. Gendry proposes to Arya, but she declines. Jaime and Brienne become lovers. To protect her claim as queen, Daenerys asks Jon to conceal his true parentage, though he wants Sansa and Arya to know. Tormund tells Jon he and the Wildings will return north. Bronn arrives to kill Jaime and Tyrion, but spares them in exchange for Highgarden. During a war council, Daenerys wants to immediately attack King’s Landing with their depleted forces, but Sansa prefers to wait. Jon reveals his Targaryen claim to Sansa and Arya, swearing them to secrecy. Wanting Jon as king, Sansa tells Tyrion, who informs Varys. Daenerys and her fleet set sail for King’s Landing, while Jon leads the Northern army. Arya leaves Winterfell with Sandor Clegane, heading for the south. Euron Greyjoy ambushes the fleet, killing Rhaegal with a more powerful “scorpion” weapon, and capturing Missandei. Daenerys considers seizing King’s Landing using Drogon’s fire. Varys believes Jon would be a more tempered ruler than Daeneyrs, who may be growing mentally unstable. After receiving news of Cersei’s victory, Jaime leaves Winterfell. Daenerys arrives at King’s Landing, and Tyrion conveys her demand that Cersei surrender, but a defiant Cersei instead executes Missandei.