It would be remiss of me, as an enormous Game of Thrones fan, to let the final season go by without sharing some thoughts week on week.
I’m conscious, however, that full and in-depth critical analysis won’t truly be possible until the finale has aired, at which point I’ll be going back and starting to tackle Season 2 and working back toward the end. I have already deep dived Season 1, as you may remember, and they will probably get a polish once the entire show is completed.
My plan then, in the spirit of George R. R. Martin’s books, is to write up thoughts on each character journey and use them as a prism to explore each episode. With a show like this, built heavily on theory, escalation and payoff, this feels like one of the best ‘in the moment’ methods of reviewing the show – indeed I did just that for Season 6 in my days writing for Flickering Myth.
Okay, grab a crossbow (or a massive ship-mounted bolt) and lets dive in… BEWARING HEAVY SPOILERS!
Let’s start with Jon-boy, given the fittingly ominous title! Some may have expected a Stark-slaughter this episode on the basis of that but in reality, Jon is central to where the remaining Stark family go from here – assuming they beat Cersei, of course. Weighed down by the secret of his true lineage, Jon is stuck between a rock and a blonde Targaryen.
To his credit, Jon is naive enough as ever to do the right thing. If he was smart enough to think of the greater good, he never would have gone against Daenerys’ wishes and told his siblings (or, well, cousins) the truth about his claim to the Iron Throne, because it was obvious Sansa was never going to keep schtum. Jon is crippled here by the conflict between duty and love – he rejects the power about to be thrust upon him, determined to back the Dany horse, but he is fully torn at this stage by whether he follows a Stark or Targaryen destiny. Don’t bet against the former – Jon says a suspicious amount of goodbyes to people he may yet see again (Tormund, Sam, his direwolf Ghost) if his true destiny lies in the icy north where he began. This episode also pointedly reminded everyone of the fact he died and was reborn, so there’s a chance a beat or two may yet end up being played with Jon that we can’t predict.
One thing is for sure – Jon is likely leaving Kings Landing with or without that throne, with no in-between…
If Season 8 has been pushing Daenerys Stormborn closer to a point of no return, then The Last of the Starks is the tipping point. Dany’s destiny seems absolutely assured now – she is going to have to become Cersei in order to beat her, and she is rapidly losing people who can pull her back from the brink.
Her faithful Ser Jorah is smoking up Winterfell. Her loyal handmaiden Missandei has suffered a defiant head-lopping. Not that she knows it yet but Jon has spilled the “soz everyone, I shagged me auntie” beans, despite her literally begging him not to (surely the only time she’ll ever beg anyone for anything). Varys is actively suggesting they may need to do her in ‘for the realm’ (he’s toast when she finds out), Rhaegal has been (in perhaps the episode’s most WHOA! moment), gutted by arrows and turned into fish food, and maybe worst of all, Tyrion—the man who championed her above all others—is having second thoughts. Dany doesn’t fit the north and nobody *really* believes in her in the way she hoped. She is very much alone and she knows it, and this makes her incredibly dangerous, to pretty much everyone.
Even if she does beat Cersei (and with only one dragon and a depleted army, she hasn’t beaten her yet), Daenerys is not going to be the same woman she was when she went in. Dracarys, indeed…
TYRION & VARYS
It’s a dark night of the soul for these two in the kind of scene we haven’t seen them share in quite a while – Tyrion and Varys talking about the bigger picture and quite what the geopolitical landscape may look like when the war is all said and done.
Tyrion and Varys in many ways represent two ends of the spectrum. Tyrion grew up surrounded by loathsome people who (Jaime aside) hated him and, much like a wandering drunk finding God, he found a belief system in Dany and her cause; if he was truly honest, his belief was probably as much for himself as anyone else. Varys, conversely, holds true to a philosophical, altruistic belief in the *people*, who often can feel like an afterthought in Game of Thrones with its highborn tet a tets. He backs the horse who can best serve the masses and that horse is looking more and more like Jon by the day. Tyrion is fighting the inner demons that know—once Sansa brings him in on The Secret, and Tyrion inevitably tells Varys ‘cause, hey, who keeps their mouth shut in Winterfell?—that Varys is right. Daenerys is not the great white (haired) hope he wanted. She’s just another ruler, at least right now, prepared to kill those masses to gain what she considers her birthright.
Though Daenerys is the lesser of two evils (proven by Cersei at the end after Tyrion’s entreaty to her soul), Tyrion needs to find a reason to keep believing in her, and fast.
SANSA & ARYA
What becomes apparent in The Last of the Starks is just how fiercely determined Sansa seems to be in playing her own game of thrones. She is very much a distinct fusion of Cersei’s manipulation and Daenerys’ contained fury, with some Stark nobility thrown in.
Sansa has also begun to find a way to come to terms with the harrowing saga that has been her life across her teenage years, as he confides in a brief but touching moment to the Hound – the trials she went through forged who she is now, and it’s key that Littlefinger gets a mention for the first time this season because he’s left his mark on her. Why else would Sansa tell Tyrion the truth about Jon? She knows that will likely explode the revelation bomb that Jon left about to detonate and ultimately reverberate back, negatively, on the biggest threat she now considers, Cersei aside – Daenerys. Arya, too, feels much the same, though the newly-minted hero of Winterfell understands her destiny doesn’t lie playing these games. Poor Gendry (sorry Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End – assuming they beat Cersei, of course). It was obvious Arya would turn his proposal down though. Like Sansa, she can never go back to who she was, or her life before.
Given she’s heading with the Hound to King’s Landing, the question is quite what Arya is up to. Surely she can’t kill the Night King *and* Cersei… can she?
Welcome back, cheery chops! We haven’t seen Cersei since Winterfell, given she’s been supping wine and playing ‘hide the sausage’ with Euron Greyjoy while the north has been fighting an apocalyptic war with the dead, and while we don’t see much of her here, we see enough to be reminded she’s the last major player to deal with.
Honestly, the odds are now much more in Cersei’s favour. She has a massive army. She only has one dragon to contend with. She has a metric fuckton of dragon-killing bolts lining her huge fleet and Kings Landing defences. Yet there almost feels like a defiant lack of reality to everything she’s doing. Part of me wonders if Cersei knows she’s beaten and doesn’t give a crap anymore, and just wants to go down fighting. Euron—given he’s batshit insane—follows the lie that she’s pregnant with his child (in a nice bit of mirroring given she made Robert Baratheon believe his children were his and not her brother’s too) and believes they’ve already won, but given how Tyrion *almost* penetrates Cersei’s defences by invoking the tragedy of her lost children, you wonder if Cersei has reached a point she just has little more to lose. After all, Maggy the Frog did tell her she would lose *all* of her children, so the odds aren’t good for little Not Euron, are they?
There is of course one wrinkle on the way which could complicate things for Cersei, though…
JAIME & BRIENNE
Which I think we can all agree has become the *real* romance of Game of Thrones, and maybe always was. Sod the boring ice and fire (doomed as it is). Jaime finally making love to Brienne in a wonderfully half-drunk, awkward yet passionate way, is one of the best payoffs to one of the quietly best relationships the show has ever done.
It was always bound to end in tragedy, though, wasn’t it? Either Brienne would die or Jaime would die or Cersei would come between them, which is what has happened. The Jaime/Cersei story has one beat left to play so its right Jaime goes back to King’s Landing. He needs to face the woman he loves and reviles, quite possibly facing his death in doing so. It’s hard to imagine Jaime getting back to Brienne now after this. Jaime has had, probably, the best all-round character arc in Game of Thrones – he has convincingly gone from heartless, dashing warrior to noble, selfless hero, but we have to remember he has done some truly irredeemable things. Jaime knows this and is right to remind Brienne and us of this, lest we forget and enjoy their happiness too much. A bittersweet ending is right for Jaime, and it’s one that has to involve Cersei, and maybe Tyrion too.
Just don’t follow him, Brienne. Please. Because I really worry for your future if you do…
Blimey! Where to start? So many people get a few little moments developing them here and there.
The Hound naturally is heading off for CLEGANEBOWL (oh yes! Next week, surely!) and while he’ll almost certainly die, touching moments with Arya and Sansa mean you’re still rooting for the uncouth brute (you have to love a man who calls people “you twat!” with abandon); Sam and Gilly thankfully are ok but maybe Jon you could have said to them “maybe call the baby Aegon instead?”; Poor Tormund! His savage love for Brienne was never to be, but it looks like he does alright in the end…; and poor Grey Worm! Everyone thought he’d die before Missandei I guess, but I imagine he’ll go down fighting now against the Golden Company ‘cause, well, what else has he left to live for? Oh and Bronn, you wonderful bastard – see you when the war is over!
The big final battle, it seems! Dany vs Cersei. Jon vs Cersei’s army. The Hound vs the Mountain. Euron vs Drogon (it looks like) and Arya vs… who knows? Should be suitably epic.
I expect a heavy death count here. This could be where Cersei goes down before an epilogue episode, much like The Return of the King, which fully concludes the bigger story of the Iron Throne, who sits it, and where everyone ends up. Assuming they beat Cersei, of course…
The Last of the Starks is both a come down from The Long Night and a rev up for the last war to fight, and benefits from the extended running time to double down on certain character beats and crucial moments as revelations fly around. Will it work as a piece of TV with distance? Maybe not. It’s shuffling lots of narrative cards around with a lot of characters but it places everyone where they need for the climax of the story.
Two more to go. This is going way too fast!
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