Game of Thrones 8.4: The Last of the Starks

Subtitle: I am emotionally compromised.

The next-to-next-to-last episode of Game of Thrones starts and ends with my tears. It begins on dead Ser Jorah’s boots and I immediately said, out loud, “oh, this is going to hurt”.

In Winterfell, the remaining main characters lead us all in one last farewell to those who died last week. Daenerys whispers something private to Jorah. Sansa, openly crying, pins a Stark sigil on Theon. Arya looks solemnly towards Beric Dondarrion and Sam to Edd. Fire flickers in their faces as Jon gives a stirring speech of gratitude to the fallen and a promise to make their sacrifice matter for generations. They set fire to the bodies, Jon gazing at little Lady Lyanna Mormont, who shared a name with his mother and made him king.

After the funeral, everyone moves inside for a feast. The pacing is really strange in this episode: this scene feels endless but then towards the end everything is happening at breakneck speed. Anyway, the head table is occupied by Queen Daenerys, Warden of the North Jon, and Lady of Winterfell Sansa – with Jon in the center seat.

Now, it makes sense that since Jon ostensibly commanded the allied armies against the Night King, he should make the communal eulogy at the funeral. And it makes sense that since Daenerys and Sansa can’t stand each other, Jon should sit between them at the feast. However, the two motions combine to present Jon as their leader more than Daenerys.

Sansa spends the entire feast rolling her eyes and looking imperious exactly like Cersei did in the first episode of the series. And later on Arya tells Jon that their family is all that matters in a line that parrots Cersei almost word for word. It’s disturbing and it’s fascinating. And it’s not an accident, both Sansa and Arya have been parallelled to Cersei before in story and in text.

Daenerys spends the entire feast, and episode, isolated. As has been obvious since she arrived in the North, she doesn’t fit in. And whatever the Starks think, she has made some efforts. It’s not explicit but I imagine Jon giving the speech and sitting in the center chair was a conversation that included her agreement, if not her decision. The first thing she does at the feast is legitimize Gendry and make him Lord of Storms End. As she tells Tyrion, this is a smart move to gain his support, but it also positions him in line for the throne. And later she calls out Arya as the hero she is, the only one to even mention her defeat of the Night King publicly. But nothing Daenerys does warms the hearts of the North, and she’s not handling it well. Particularly when she sees how they embrace and celebrate Jon and each other.

The rest of the feast, and basically the first half of the episode, is taken up with drinking and sex. The Lannister Bros play a drinking game with Brienne and Podrick until Tyrion makes it about Brienne’s virginity and she leaves embarrassed. Jaime follows after – he’s briefly stopped by Tormund but Brienne has never actually shown any interest in Tormund so the triangle fizzles almost immediately and almost immediately Tormund moves on to Random Norther Girl(s). RNGs also surround Pod, and one even approaches the Hound but he tells her to leave him to his misery.

Sensing a kindred spirit, and/or ticking off her checklist of previous/potential love interests, Sansa drops in opposite Sandor and they have a terribly uncomfortable conversation. Sandor suggests she might have avoided the horrors of Littlefinger and Ramsay if she’d trusted him years ago and Sansa tells him those horrors made her the Strong Woman™ she is today. On one hand, that is absolutely something Sansa would tell herself, adopting a ‘what didn’t kill me made me stronger’ survivor mentality is wholly understandable and in fact is what helped her get through her seven seasons of suffering. And she just lost Theon, the only person who understood without her having to talk about it. In this context, I think Sansa’s response is a kind of shield. Against Sandor’s interest, against her sense of loss, against the truth even. Sansa refuses to be a victim or an innocent, even for a moment. But it’s still painful and basically rage inducing to hear a woman outright call her rape and torture character development.

Gendry finds Arya, who he was looking for before Daenerys made him a Lord, and drops immediately to his knees to propose she be his Lady. Even Arya finds this adorable and endearing and she awards him a kiss and a smile before shattering his heart with another call back to the very beginning: “that’s not me”. Despite this, I think of all the couples remaining these two have the best chance of making it out alive and happy? Maybe I just desperately don’t want Arya to end up an assassin and nothing else.

Next Jaime and Brienne finally give in to their smouldering attraction and it probably makes them even more doomed. But they deserve this brief shining moment of true happiness and lust and if only they’d admit it, love. They are exactly as awkward as expected, both tentative and assured, and they are going to break all our hearts.

Finally Daenerys finds Jon, drunk and happy to ignore incest, but she can’t. This scene is painful because Daenerys tells Jon how she feels, that she can see the throne that has defined her life slipping away and he’s like “nah”. Jon thinks, because he’s drunk and in love and happy for the first time in years because the end of the world happened and they survived, that everyone just needs to get to know her the way he does. He doesn’t understand the threat that he poses, thinks that his not wanting the throne is all that needs to be said. Daenerys knows better and begs him to keep his lineage secret. But Jon is too much of a Stark to live that lie. Daenerys sees the writing on the wall and she’s in the wrong but she’s desperate and alone and he’s telling her to stay that way.

And with that we leave sexy/angsty times for another War Council, one with much more room around the table – and much more room on the table once they remove half the tokens representing their forces. Sansa suggests they wait to attack, to heal and prepare, but Daenerys is tired of waiting, and especially tired of the North. Jon, trying to prove to both how much he supports his queen, intervenes on her behalf and pledges his armies to her plan. A plan that again involves them splitting up to get home, in addition to not resting or recuperating and I want the AU where Sansa and Daenerys work together and come up with a better strategy because this one is bad. And Jon’s attempt to show support for Daenerys not only doesn’t work, it sets his family and allies against her even more.

The Starks head to the godswood for a family meeting and I kinda hate it. This is the scene in which Arya paraphrases Cersei and claims family trumps all, and then Jon tells Sansa and Arya the truth about his lineage. The subtext of both statements is family first and blood is best and I’m over it. If, as is being projected, this is going to come down to Jon Aegon Stark Targaryen versus Daenerys Stormborn, with potential spoilers Gendry Baratheon and Cersei Lannister, well let’s look at that.

From the beginning Cersei has represented pureblood values. Her children were 100% Lannister and she has said outright on more than one occasion that no one else matters.

Blood only ever mattered to Gendry because it represented what he couldn’t have: a name, a father, a legacy, a lordship. Now he has all of it, thanks to the secret of his blood.

Jon grew up separate but equal in the Stark household. He had and has the same hang ups as Gendry, but he also had and has a family that loves him, that tells him, in this scene, that he is theirs regardless of his history because of family, because of blood. And it just so turns out he is also heir to the throne, thanks to the secret of his blood.

And then there’s Daenerys, whose family was killed before she was born. Who grew up with a brother who only cared about his crown. Who spent the last seven seasons building a coalition of people the world abused: criminals, slaves, savages, women. A found family. Her claim to the throne is based in blood and she’s the first to say so, but her power is based in something else, and that’s what she’s losing. And not because she’s suddenly gone ‘Mad’ – something pinned to her only because of her blood! – but because she doesn’t have a family.

So I hate that scene and I hate that the episode is named after it.

Anyway, Jon swore Arya and Sansa to secrecy but as Daenerys predicted, Sansa almost immediately tells Tyrion, who then immediately tells Varys, and at that point there is no chance it won’t be announced to the masses next week. Sansa is a player in this game and it makes sense she wants Jon on the throne. I like that she trusts Tyrion and I also like that Tyrion spends the rest of the episode supporting Daenerys, particularly in his long scene with Varys, who all but switches sides for Jon then and there.

Varys claims his only allegiance is to the realm and I believe him. I also believe that Jon is a good person, who would want to be a benevolent ruler, and would surround himself with people who are smarter than he is, and respect the kingdom. He’s a fine choice for the job. But Varys’s arguments are One: Jon/Aegon has the best claim because of blood and also the best temperament because of blood to which I say please see my rant about blood a few paragraphs up. Two: He has the best chance to be accepted because he’s a man, and one thing I definitely never need to hear again is a lesson on the electability of men. And Three: The best ruler is the one who doesn’t want to rule. Which is hardly a new concept in stories about government but it doesn’t actually make sense. You need to want power to wield it effectively.

To drive home the Stark-Lannister family connection, the godswood scene is immediately followed by Bronn telling the Lannister Bros their sister sent him to kill them. Bronn being Bronn, he’s willing to negotiate for a better deal instead. Tyrion offers High Garden, Jaime posits that’s too much so Bronn shoots at him and then all in agreement he bounces. I feel like Bronn is going to survive this story and be the Lord he’s wanted to be and I can’t tell how I feel about it.

As part of the plan, the band breaks up. Sam and Gilly give Jon the good news that she’s pregnant and if it’s a boy they’ll name him Jon. He’s all “hope it’s a girl then” which is hilarious because in our universe Jon is a laughably popular name and because his other name is Aegon which is legit terrible.

Tormund leads the free folk back to the “real” North and Jon elects to send Ghost with them. Ghost got pretty rocked in battle, he’s beat up and missing an ear, poor baby, and he definitely deserves to go be free. But it’s still super sad to say goodbye. In a better timeline Jon rules the free folk with Ghost and Ygritte at his side. In this timeline he sets off to King’s Landing with Davos.

Also off to King’s Landing: the Hound, out to settle his score with his brother (we assume) and Arya, out to murder a queen or two (we assume). I’m sad that due to the short season we won’t get to see any of these road trips.

And here’s where things go terribly bad terribly quickly.

Daenerys and her fleet arrive at Dragonstone. She’s smiling from her perch on Drogon, Rhaegal swooping at her side, so happy to be somewhere that feels like home when Euron’s fleet appears on the horizon and shoots the smaller dragon out of the sky. BOOM, Rhaegal is down and dead and I am heartbroken.

Daenerys flies straight at Euron’s ship but he’s reloaded his scorpion and shoots. Drogon drops some evasive maneuvers and gets himself and Daenerys to safety but Euron and his fleet destroy hers. Grey Worm, Tyrion and the rest wash up on the beach, near drowned and near defeat, and in a panic to find the missing.

Across the sea in King’s Landing, Cersei watches her fleet return from her balcony, as she is wont to do, and welcomes Euron with an evil grin and the news that she’s carrying his baby. I keep going back and forth on this but I think we’re supposed to believe she really is pregnant – by Jaime – and she bedded Euron and sipped wine to sell the story that the baby is his. In any case, he’s thrilled with this news and she’s thrilled that he brought her Missandei.

The news of Rhaegal’s death and the fleet’s defeat gets back to Winterfell and Sansa goes full on Mean Girl to complain to Jaime that she’s most upset not to be there when his sister dies. And thus Jaime makes the decision to head to King’s Landing, too. Finding him absent from her bed, Brienne rushes into the dark to tell him not to go, that he’s a good man and Cersei doesn’t deserve his loyalty. Jaime lists off all the terrible things he’s done for Cersei and says “she’s hateful and so am I”. He rides off and Brienne is left behind, sobbing.

This scene can be read a few different ways. The surface read is Jaime leaves to protect Cersei from the fire and blood coming her way and his confession to Brienne is a confession – he hates himself and he hates his sister but he also loves her and she needs him. The popular read is Jaime leaves to make sure Cersei is stopped, even if it means killing her himself, and he breaks Brienne’s heart because he doesn’t want her to follow. He’s protecting her. There is also the unborn baby – his baby, who is innocent and doesn’t deserve to die (or be raised by Cersei and Euron tbh).

I think it’s all of the above. I think Jaime, who only ever wanted to be a knight, wants to protect whoever he can. And I think Jaime knows he doesn’t deserve to stay safe in Winterfell with the woman he loves when his twin sister is destroying the world. Maybe he can stop it from happening, he needs to try. But if Brienne is there she’ll just be Cersei’s target and this is the way to stop that from happening.

OR he could trust her enough to tell her that instead of manipulating her but I guess that would be healthy and undramatic.

Back in King’s Landing, the two Hands meet to negotiate. If Cersei abdicates Daenerys will let her live, says Tyrion. Cersei will not, says Qyburn. Tyrion, knowing Cersei is shielding herself with innocent people and that Daenerys is ten seconds away from burning them all down, walks past Qyburn to address his sister directly. Cersei allows this, waving off the hundreds of soldiers ready to shoot him for her, and Tyrion attempts to appeal to the part of Cersei that loves her children, begging her to think of the baby and step down before they are all destroyed in fire and blood. But his pleas can’t get through to her and instead she kills Missandei, further isolating and enraging Daenerys – but it’s Grey Worm’s pained expression that really haunts me.

I have a lot to say about this last scene. Euron hears Tyrion use the baby to try to appeal to Cersei’s better side and I wonder if he’s smart enough to be suspicious that Baby Greyjoy is a Secret Lannister. I still find Euron to be a pretty shallow character and I don’t really know what his motivations even are. But I wonder.

I find the choice to behead Missandei interesting. Queen Cersei has traits of all the recent terrible Kings: her turn toward King Robert’s drinking and whoring is more pronounced in the books but it is there, she blew up the Sept Mad King Aerys style, and now she’s beheaded an enemy just like Joffrey. Cersei’s story is one of identity crisis, too, and she’s losing hers. In season one Cersei was against the beheading of Ned Stark; she preferred to use her enemies, manipulate them, like a Lannister. I’m not sure she has a better side for Tyrion to appeal to anymore.

All the old Houses are crumbling, dead already or on life support. I hope that’s actually the point of all this family and bloodline talk. I wanted Missandei on the throne. She didn’t have a House. Grey Worm barely has a name. Cersei asks Missandei for her last words and she answers, “Dracarys” and I wanted Drogon to light them up right then and there. Imagine.

Missandei, in chains again, a pawn in the battle between queens for control of a country she’s not a part of, and doesn’t want her, says “Dracarys.” Drogon leaps into the sky and sets fire to Cersei and everyone around her. Her soldiers attack Daenerys and everyone around her. Everyone in the scene is dead, Jon rolls into King’s Landing already king — and we have two full episodes to set up a better system.

I want that to have happened so badly I’m preemptively disappointed in the next episode.

SO. Who will finally kill Cersei? How much destruction will Daenerys cause before someone gets her, too? Will Sansa and Brienne join the party down in King’s Landing? Is there a possibility that Jon/Aegon will ride Drogon because I don’t think I’m okay with it at all? Do I care about Cleganne Bowl even a little (no)? Was Daenerys always destined to be destroyed by the narrative because she’s my favorite? Probably. But oh well, she’s still my favorite, Team Dragon forever, burn them all.

Winning: Cersei Lannister, the Free Folk (they got the hell out and good on them)
Dead: Rhaegal, Missandei

Next Week: armageddon

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