“The Last of the Starks” Or, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Game of Thrones
It was all leading up to this…whether we like it or not.
NOTE: Sorry for the delay in getting this review written, but a little movie called Avengers: Endgame got in the way of me writing it up. But, if you were some strange person itching to read my rants about “The Last of the Starks”…here they are. Oh boy, here they are.
When last week’s big “The Long Night” came to a close, there was a litany of responses from the fandom about what it meant for Game of Thrones’ final season. Yes, a polarized, outspoken reaction from fans is not exactly a shocker, but it was interesting to frame the different sides in the debate over whether or not the story of the White Walkers came to a satisfying conclusion. For some, the swift conclusion to the series long story left them scratching their heads, confused and ambivalent about the future ahead (this was me, mostly.) For others, it was a godsend: finally, all that silly zombie nonsense could be dispatched in order for the show to return to the meat-and-potatoes of its storytelling: a focus on the fight for the throne, and the political machinations therein.
It was a relatable impulse, and one that I desperately wanted to indulge in. After all, I too believe the show is at its finest when focused on the political intrigue, and hold the first few seasons closest to my heart for that reason. But I was apprehensive about the show’s return to the Battle for the Throne, primarily for one reason: in its later seasons, the show has struggled big time in presenting (and in many ways, advancing) this overall story. The fight for the Throne just wasn’t as interesting as it was in the past, and despite all the mostly strong work the series has done in building up the White Walker threat, I was worried a return to the political would bring the show back to the bad habits it had formed ever since, quite frankly, it ran out of book material and was forced to start developing stories on the fly.
“The Last of the Starks” proves that I was right to be worried.
I will begin with my typical preface to something that could easily be read as a take-down post: I didn’t completely hate “The Last of the Starks.” It has some solid moments, and certain developments I remain very interested in seeing (primarily, at this point, everything to do with Arya and The Hound.) But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I came out of this episode with a bitter taste in my mouth. You know, due to the mixed feelings.
…Wait, do you guys not taste your hot takes as they start to develop? Huh.
Anyways, where to even begin with this. I guess I should lead off with the most unforgivable sin committed by “The Last of the Starks,” the one element in the entire episode that pissed me off to such an extent I almost throw my remote at the screen in fury. The kind of series destroying decision that makes me want to burn all my T-shirts and shred all my posters. The slow-motion train crash of story decisions, occurring in real time, that makes you question ever loving the show in the first place.
I am, of course, talking about Jon Snow BEING THE FUCKING WORST and just getting rid of his beloved pet wolf, essentially banning him to a farm upstate.
UN. FOR. GIVEABLE.
I am only being like 25% sarcastic here, by the way. Look, I get Ghost is an expensive CGI model (for some reason) and the series has leaned off of him in the years because of it, but you can goddamn show MINUTES UPON MINUTES of dragon footage, but a big dog is too fucking hard? Give me a fucking break. After getting so pumped that we would at least get to see one (ONE!) more sequence in which Ghost actually mattered on this show, to have him written off in such a flat, causal way seriously bugged me. In a season full of fan service, you couldn’t have given people what they want. YOU COULDN’T EVEN LET JON SNOW PET THE FUCKING DOG, FOR GOD’S SAKE?! Seriously — it felt spiteful, at this point. He could have had one final, badass moment during the “The Long Night.” He could have come in and saved Jon or Arya or someone, before leaving the show forever. It wouldn’t have been so hard. But no — he’s just gone. Like he’s nothing. And the show loses a bunch of points for that, in my book.
But oh yeah, the rest of this…thing. “The Last of the Starks” kicks off with a rather long, arduous sequence in which our heroes mourn (and then celebrate) the battle in the episode previous. It fails to live up to the hangout, rewarding character work of the similar “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” in addition to suffering pretty hard from some tonal consistencies when the episode stumbles into full tilt madness in its final half hour. This is the first time all season I’ve felt like the show is rushing itself, as it creates conflict out of whole cloth and has characters make the dumbest decisions possible just to create some drama (and get the show where it needs to be for the damn thing to come to an end.) Frankly, a lot of this has already been addressed by better commentators, and this recap is very late, so I doubt any of this will come as very refreshing additions to the discourse. So I’ll just quickly break them down into the most annoying things:
Brienne/Jamie: Wait, Really? What?!
What a whirlwind of a storyline, and in the worst way possible. On the one hand, seeing Jaime and Brienne end up together is legitimately charming and, in the right hands, I can see tearing them apart to be a powerful, pivotal plot point. But here? It’s a disaster. You just can’t get across the huge switch necessary for Jaime to so quickly return to Cersei, even if it is in a mission to end her life (which, frankly, I don’t trust the show enough at this point to be confident that’s where this is leading.) We have spent season after season seeing Jaime make this transformation and proceed down his path towards redemption and, look, I get it: these things are not clean. There are relapses. There are false starts. That’s just how humans work. But the problem is we’ve seen this shit before, and its tiring. I just can’t get excited about Jamie throwing away his life for Cersei, again.
But what turns this from a non-starter into a down-and-out failure is how poorly the show presents Jaime’s big switch. Him taking off to King’s Landing comes out of freaking nowhere, to the point I have to question why they even had him decide to stay in the first place. Couldn’t he have gone back with Jon and the rest of the army, and everything would have been the same? Why did we have to wait for him to leave until sometime after, especially with little reason more than a catty comment from Sansa? And while I am okay with Brienne being heartbroken over this, and think Gwendoline Christie did the best with what she had (pretty much this entire cast is doing so, really), Brienne’s reaction just didn’t ring true, and occasionally felt downright insulting in an episode that, for reasons unclear, hates it’s entire female cast. I just can’t. Let’s move on to a plot point that should hopefully be — oh. Oh no.
Tyrion/Jamie/Bronn: What Is This Nonsense?
By god, what the fuck is going on in this scene, guys? Like it’s weird: everything occurs much how I imagined it (Bronn doesn’t kill them, gets a better deal, everyone has a good laugh), but the timing and execution is just horrendous. Not for the last time in “The Last of the Starks,” I felt like I was in the midst of a fever dream. Is this it? Is this the entire reason Bronn came back this season? If so, what a disaster. As I’ve said for years now: he should have just died in “Spoils of War.” Why they kept him alive is beyond me.
Tyrion/Cersei: Give Me A Fucking Break
WHY DO YOU KEEP DOING THIS.
YOUR SISTER IS A PSYCHOPATH.
SHE DOESN’T CARE ANYMORE.
YOU CAN’T BARGAIN WITH HER. SHE CAN’ BE REASONED WITH. SHE DOESN’T FEEL PITY OR REMORSE OR FEAR. AND SHE ABSOLUTELY WILL NOT STOP, EVER, UNTIL YOU ARE DEAD.
SO. STOP. MONOLOGUING.
DINKLAGE IS VERY GOOD AND WILL PROBABLY GET HIS EMMY FOR THIS, SURE, BUT ITS NONSENSE. ALL NONSENSE. LET’S MOVE ON, BEFORE I BREAK THE SHIFT KEY WITH ALL THE CAPITAL LETTERS.
YES, I DON’T PUT ON CAPS LOCK WHEN I DO THIS SHTICK. I DON’T KNOW WHY EITHER. MOVING ON!
Here’s my thing about this: I don’t care about Missandei. I’m sorry, I just don’t. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her, and
Nathalie Emmanuel seems like a very lovely person, but she’s like a C- character to me. The show just hasn’t done much with her to make me feel at all attached, which is a bummer considering how she’s the only female minority character on the show to speak of (The Dai Li enters the room: There is no Dorne on Game of Thrones…)
I know there’s that whole adage about judging art by what it is, not by what you want it to be, but it’s so frustrating how Benioff and Weiss (who are credited writers for the episode) seemed to stir into the skid of their decisions at every turn, when opportunities were presented NOT to make the most problematic choices possible. Like if Grey Worm died last episode, than Missandei’s death wouldn’t be seen as yet another example of a female character being fridged simply so that a male character can be motivated to do revenge things (I included a link to what that is, just in case the Deadpool writers are reading.) And then Missandei’s death would represent the death of literally every single person in Team Daenerys, further isolating her and leading to, well Mad Queen shenanigans. Instead, Grey Worm has to stick around, to more likely than not pursue vengeance for his slain lover! or some such nonsense.
Even better, how more impactful would it have been if the character up there was Jorah, a character who we’ve actually seen have a deep and meaningful relationship with Dany, and who would be a lot more heartbreaking to witness get Ned Stark’d? Yes, Jorah’s death last week was a strong way for him to go out…but this is Game of Thrones. Once upon a time, “a strong way to go out” was not the modus operandi of any of its characters deaths. The opposite was true, in fact. And Jorah’s death at the hands of Cersei would be enough to convince me that she’s about to lose it…which the show very much seems to be doing, in its effort to set up the big Jon/Daeny vying of the thrown.
Which, look: isn’t super shocking: I figured that would be a big part of the end game to the show for a LONG time now. But living with the knowledge it was coming versus actually seeing it unfold is a very different experience, and very little about the beginnings of that brewing conflict, or anything within “The Last of the Starks” really, genuinely excites me to even close to the same level as the previous three episodes.
I still love this show. I’m still rooting for it to succeed, and for it to prove me wrong as we enter its final hours. But the slapdash, rushed, and just sloppy construction of “The Last of the Starks” will not cut it if they want to end this series in as strong a way as possible…something that, more and more, is looking like an unwieldy proposition.
HOLD THE LOOSE ENDS:
- Didn’t even talk much about the Jon/Daeny thing really, because…I’m tired, reader. Really tired. But yeah, it’s generally not very good at this point, and the way in which they’ve laid out the pieces for this final struggle just isn’t very compelling, or rewarding. And yup: having all the women be crazy is really bad, even if it’s something that (once again) I expected to happen. But not like this. I didn’t expect it like this.
- And here’s another thing I hate about “The Last of the Starks,” on a similar “we hate female characters” note: It’s kind of making me side with the folks who railed against Arya being the one to kill the Night King last episode, which is irritating. Because as satisfying and cool as it was to see Arya take the hero moment, at the end of the day, did it impact the story whatsoever that she was the one who do it? Everyone just seems so casual about the whole thing, which is crazy. And if Jon was the one to slay the universe ending threat, it would at least feed into the idea of people wanting him to be their king: he would literally be the man who saved the entire Seven Kingdoms. Putting him in charge would make a lot of sense, with a title like that (and the adulation that goes with it.) But instead, people are jazzed about him because…he rode a dragon, I guess? Even as a fan of the character, Jon being a strong pick for king is a hard pill to swallow.
- The cut between Jon telling his sisters his true heritage, and Arya leaving forever, is insanely abrupt. And weird. I imagine we’ll figure out more about how Arya and Sansa reacted at some point, but leaving it out here was the most bizarre decision. I guess who needs drama when you can have MYSTERY and FUTURE TWISTS FOR THE FUTURE. That’s sadly been Game of Thrones m.o. for a few seasons now, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where things are headed.
- Consider me not a fan of that whole Sansa “rape is good, actually” dialogue here. Regardless of if Sansa in the show would believe it or not, it read to me like the series is giving itself a pat on the back for all the rapey shit it has done in the past, basically saying “See! We had a reason, whiners!” Even as someone who wasn’t as outraged about the Ramsay/Sansa scene as others, that’s an irritating look here, GoT writers. Just let it be subtext!
- Why are big crossbows suddenly OP now? If you’re going to introduce a cool dragon killing weapon this late in the game, can you at least make it more interesting than “bow, but bigger?” My long-held theory to “even the odds” was Qyburn falling his way ass-backward into the discovery of gunpowder, and creating some type of rudimentary Westerosi cannon. But…nope. Just big arrows. What a punk way for Rhaegal to go out. As I’ve questioned about a lot of the show’s decisions between the two episodes, why even let Rhaegal survive the Battle of Winterfell if he was just going to die with so little fanfare here? That episode needed the body count more than this one.
- Speaking of bodies: the opening scene was an episode highlight (primarily for Our One True King Ramin Djawadi’s score), but I just couldn’t help but think about how the hell these massive, seemingly dozens of pyres were built, and all the work it took to haul the likely hundreds of bodies on to them. I know, TV show. But to think: that seems like such a minor nitpick compared to what the rest of “The Last of the Starks” would bring.
- Grey Worm’s foreshadowed demise was clearly something of a red herring now, that’s obvious. So you got me, Game of Thrones. You got me.
- “You’re not a monster…you’ve always loved your children.” Loving your offspring is enough not to make you a bad person. You heard it here first, folks. It’s Age of Ultron Black Widow logic, I guess.
- Very perplexed why they played “Shall We Begin?” over the closing credits. It’s one of my favorite Game of Thrones tracks, sure, but like its whole thing is inspiring feelings of awe and triumph over the audience, you know? And that final scene was certainly not doing that, not at all. Could they have at least done a more sinister arrangement, if they were going for the whole reversal of fortune thing? Or why not play “Dracarys,” one of Daeny’s other defining tracks, which also is triumphant in a way, but already has a layer of malice and foreboding built in? And, you know…it’s phonetically relevant.
- On that note: I don’t buy that Missandei would say “Dracarys” in that final moment, as cool of a line as it might be. Then again, maybe she would: I have very little grasp on who she is as a person, so it’s hard to say, really. Whatever, it’s all just forcing square pegs into round holes. “The Last of the Starks,” everybody!
Originally published at Freshly Popped Culture.