Game of Thrones: 8.04 The Last of the Starks
Once again, spoilers inside as we delve into this week's Game of Thrones...
Perhaps the biggest surprise of last week's momentous episode was how quickly the war with the dead was resolved. For so long the infighting of Westeros was all distraction for the real threat coming from the North. And now the Night King has been defeated, Game of Thrones has turned things on its head as the final three episodes head into the final battle for the Iron Thrones.
The Last of the Starks was another epic episode in scale and storytelling, while tonally different to last week's The Long Night. After the build up to the dramatic night-long battle, this episode turns its attention south, setting up the pieces for the final showdown at King's Landing while spinning an astonishing amount of different plot threads. From proposals of marriage, romantic entanglements, lordships, farewells, plots, schemes and yes - more deaths - the episode certainly made the most of the extended running time. What might have covered two or three episodes in the past was dealt with in the hour and fifteen minute running time without ever feeling rushed or neglected.
You could really feel the emotion of the opening scene, as the dead were laid to rest. It was a final, bittersweet sight of the fallen heroes before the fires were lit, amid another rousing score by composer Ramin Djawadi. His music for this show is as astonishingly good as any script, direction or performance. Like A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, this was another deft display if rich charterisation before we say goodbye to the characters we love and the show itself.
While it was perhaps a little unbelievable that so many characters survived the battle with the dead, but that resulted in some lovely scenes this episode. Gendry was made Lord Baratheon of Storm's End and immediately rushed off to declare his love for Arya. It was a little heart-breaking to see her turn him away, but then her path has always been harder and it was a delight to see her ride off with the Hound to continue her path to King's Landing, paused rather dramatically back last season. Whatever bloody victories Cersei might have, she surely has to be the last on Arya's hit list. Just remember the reference to the coloured eyes last episode? And are we going to get the long rumoured Cleganebowl between the Mountain and the Hound? We can only hope so.
While you have to feel a little sorry for Tormund, losing Brienne to Jamie was something we had long hoped might happen. Their journey has come such a logn way since season three, and despite miraculously surviving the battle of Winterfell, it was great to see them together at last. At least for half an episode - I suspect Jamie riding off to deal with Cersei is the last we'll see of them together. Gwendoline Christie was mesmerising in her performance as Jamie revealed all his dark secrets and rode away.
The deaths aside, this might also have been the last we have seen of certain characters. Tormund looked set to go back beyond the Wall and Ghost with him, who thankfully had survived the battle. Oddly, it was Jon's farewell to Tormund that carried the most emotional impact; Ghost has barely been part of the show since the beginning of season six and that longing glance from Jon as he left Winterfell didn't quite carry the weight it should have. Sam and Gilly may have also played their final part in the story; again their survival was somewhat unbelievable but at least they go their happy ending, complete with baby in tow. It was nice to see at least one couple surviving the episode,
Because as soon as the celebrations were over and the time for reflection done, things started to go downhill fast. Jon's decision to tell Sansa and Arya his true heritage seemed to come at a cost; her renewed connection with Tyrion in the crypts last episode saw her immediately break her promise to keep Jon's secret. And with that, Game of Thrones was back into the murky territory of schemes and machinations. The scene where Tyrion and Varys debated the allegiance to Daenerys and even the possibility of treason was intense, Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill carrying the weight of the world in their performances as their characters debated the weight of the world on their shoulders.
With the very inhuman monsters gone, attention turned right back to the human monsters and the suggestion that Daenerys's Targaryen heritage might be her undoing was quickly raised. As much as she might want to be the benevolent rule of the Seven Kingdoms, her ruthless, vengeful nature still threatens to raise its head and just the hint that she would burn King's Landing to the ground was enough to frighten even her most loyal advisors. Emilia Clarke can be truly unsettling in her performance; one minute she is kind, wise and generous, the next moment she is giving her true love Jon a death gaze the moment his friends suggest he should still be king, At least the episode acknowledged the twisted nature of Jon and Daenerys's romance - can he really marry his aunt?
If audiences were missing out on Game of Thrones' blend of action, death and destruction, they soon had it in the shocking attack at Dragonstone. Euron's surprise attack spun everything on its head , resulting in a shocking demise and an added threat to Daenerys's plans. We hadn't seen Cersei since the opening episode of season eight but her presence was very much felt here, as her forces dealt not one but two devastating blows. The pace of the episode ramped up significantly the moment Daenerys was attacked as Tyrion desperately scrambled to hold off the bloodshed to come.
That final scene outside King's Landing really cemented Cersei's villainy; of course Tyrion's plans to demand his sister's surrender was never going to come to fruition, but the added capture of poor Missandei was a cruel twist late in the game. I desperately hoped that Grey Worm and Missandei were going sail off into the sunset to Naath, but alas it was never going to be. Those final closing moments set up another dramatic battle to come. The battle of Winterfell might have been the most epic of all the conflicts shown in Game of Thrones, but the final battle for King's Landing and Westeros itself might become the most emotionally wrought battle of all. Our heroes have come so far and the greatest tragedy might not be those that died in the battle with the Night King, but those survived the greatest threat to the world and then fell battling Cersei.
The emotional stakes are higher than ever and I'm as angry as Daenerys about that final death. Next week can't come soon enough.