After spending the first half of the season mostly setting up and wrapping up the great war with the White Walkers, “The Last of the Starks” needed to pivot hard to move the narrative back to the fight for the Iron Throne. Game of Thrones is strongest when it leans on political drama over fantasy, and the end of the existential threat of the White Walkers should have been a great opportunity for the show to get back to its roots and tell a better story. And while there were some moments that did succeed in ramping up the tension around this more human drama, the overall execution of this episode was a failure.
“The Last of the Starks” started reasonably enough with a mass funeral for those who died during the Battle of Winterfell. But from there, the episode clumsily bounced from scene to scene, dragging on before attempting to surprise us with major action in the final quarter of the episode. Virtually every scene felt removed from the one before it, and consequently, “The Last of the Starks” is probably one of the least entertaining episodes of the series. Structurally, Euron ambushing Daenerys’s fleet could have been the closing scene, but with the burden of this nearly 80 minute long episode, it feels like the entirely new thread of Daenerys plotting and then going to (unsuccessfully) negotiate with Cersei was just tacked on. The quick transition between these scenes means we didn’t even get time to process that Missandei was kidnapped before she was killed. This sort of plot point needs the space to have significance. And for whatever reason, we just aren’t getting this space. These long runtimes consistently ruin the chances of well-plotted and fully-formed story arcs and instead they cause rampant pacing issues and weird narrative and direction choices that seem to exist only to fill the allotted amount of time.
The especially clunky final scene might have worked better at the beginning of the next episode, after we’d have time to understand the gravity of Euron’s attack. Instead, it feels like an afterthought, and a corny one at that. Daenerys facing Cersei with Missandei’s life on the line (and the lives of everyone in King’s Landing) was clearly meant to be tense and nerve-wracking, but where the slow tracking shots and minimal dialogue worked beautifully in the opening scene of “The Long Night,” similar tactics made this scene boring. Half of it was closes-up of Daenerys and Cersei’s faces, both with completely unchanging expressions mind you. Is that supposed to be compelling? It seems like it’s just there to fill up time.
This scene also featured Missandei angrily yelling “dracarys” as her final word, which was actually kind of badass until I remembered she’s a literal pacifist from Naath where they don’t eat meat and don’t believe in war. Daenerys walking away with rage on her face made me think that the writers know that she needs to end up the “Mad Queen,” but now they have to work to set up events to get her to that point. Unfortunately, working backwards like this means you end up with something that seems like a good trigger in theory, but doesn’t make sense in practice. Missandei encouraging Dany to burn down the city and kill thousands of innocents is just illogical if you know who Missandei is, but makes fine sense if you only care about Daenerys’s endgame.
I haven’t minded all of the “Mad Queen” set up though. Daenerys’s reaction to Jon’s reveal was always suspect and her panic over not being the true heir really came to a head in this episode. She’s always been righteous and obsessed with her destiny, and you know how much she reveled in being seen as a savior in the “Mhysa” days. It’s legitimately great to finally see someone notice how power-hungry she can be. (Varys’s “I have served tyrants my whole life. They all talk about destiny.” sums things up nicely.) Honestly, I liked seeing Daenerys’s envy when Jon and Arya were getting the most attention post-battle, and I liked her somewhat frenzied energy when she was trying to convince a drunk Jon to not tell his family the truth about him. It seems Daenerys’s downward spiral is kind of humanizing and is one of the better plot directions we’ve seen recently. The friction between Sansa, Daenerys, and Jon has led to some of the most fruitful conflict this season, and “The Last of the Starks” was no exception. Bringing Sansa, Tyrion, and Varys into the fold was the best part of this episode. Sansa’s “What if there was someone better?” to Tyrion was just spectacular (Sophie Turner is just killing it as Sansa this season) and is the exact kind of drama we want. Though I do want to mention, completely skipping over both the Starks and Tyrion’s reactions to Jon being the true heir to the throne was a choice I don’t understand.
I would happily watch Tyrion and Varys scheme alone in fancy rooms every episode, and it’s no surprise this scene was where the real crux of fight for the throne appeared.
Tyrion: “A wise man once said the true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms.”
In my predictions piece, I suggested that Tyrion was concerned that Jon would get in the way of Daenerys getting the throne. This is sort of holds true, but Tyrion openly expressing that he thinks Jon would be a better leader was unexpected. Like, how crazy is it that Varys is maybe kind of sort of planning on killing Daenerys (or at least making sure she doesn’t get the throne)? Varys has been plotting to get a Targaryen on the Iron Throne since season one. It’s wild that however many years later, he’s switching allegiances. But of course, he’s only interested in a good Targaryen. And it seems like Aegon Targaryen is just that.
-I straight-up fell asleep towards the end of the this episode, that’s how bored I was.
-Jon couldn’t have even given Ghost a little goodbye pet? Come on.
-The Tormund/Jon goodbye was really nice and it makes me miss the days of Jon running around north of The Wall. He was so much more interesting back then.
-How did Bronn just stroll on in with this huge crossbow?
-Jon is truly an idiot thinking that his parentage isn’t going to come out, and frankly, so is Daenerys.
-Gendry proposing to Arya was kind of sweet but also super embarrassing. At least he’s a lord now and Arya can get back to her kill list.
-Ok, I big time hated everything that happened with Jaime and Brienne. Not everyone has to hook up! Brienne had a perfect character arc that should have ended with her dying in battle. And Jaime going to King’s Landing to stand by Cersei seems off, so I’m assuming he’s actually going to be integral to taking her down.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9/8c HBO.
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