NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of, “Game of Thrones”, including multiple major character deaths, are present in this review
After the sprawling, massive and violent confrontation with the Night King and his Wights, which unfolded and wrapped up entirely within one episode, Game of Thrones deals with the immediate fallout in the following episode, “The Last of the Starks.” Giving us another break from action for the most part, this entirely character-focused episode continued to set the stage for the show’s true final confrontation, specifically with Cersei and Euron now remaining as the only surviving antagonists to Daenerys and the Stark siblings.
Frustratingly though, “The Last of the Starks” didn’t entirely manage to improve the shaky storytelling that also dragged out the narratively unsatisfying battle against the Night King from, “The Long Night” during the previous week. The episode begins pretty well, showing a morose funeral for fallen heroes like Jorah and Theon, before moving into an extended feast sequence that has the characters enjoying some well-earned fun and merriment. As the story goes on though, it begins to feel more rushed and contrived, with the show clearly forcing questionable character decisions so that it can set up its true finale over the next two weeks.
The fun and revelry of the celebration feast once again represents Game of Thrones at its best, being rich with character intrigue, shifty politics and dark humour. Even some sequences later in the episode manage to impress as well, such as Tyrion and Varys beginning to notice Daenerys’ increasing desire for violence and destruction, and Varys even going as far as to suggest assassinating her! Of course, this also has to come with the inevitable revelation of Jon’s parentage, which does make it to the ears of Tyrion and Varys, though it does so in one of the show’s more idiotic turns. This turn results from Jon simply blabbing to his siblings out of a misguided sense of honour, with Sansa then blabbing Jon’s secret to Tyrion simply because she doesn’t like Daenerys, who then tells Varys because… I don’t know. Yeah, the way Jon’s secret comes out is pretty stupid, and only seems like it occurred to keep provoking Daenerys for what’s sure to be a violent confrontation at King’s Landing.
Some of the character hookups and alliances also feel a little too close to fan-fiction, even during the feast sequence. The one that makes sense is Arya refusing to marry Gendry after Daenerys makes him Lord of Storm’s End, restoring him as a proper Baratheon and not a bastard, but Jaime and Brienne hooking up never truly lands as anything more than a fangasm moment. Jaime ditching Brienne at the end of the episode equally doesn’t make sense, and it just feels like the eventual development of their romance was completely pulled out of the show’s ass. There wasn’t even any opportunity explored with a potential Jaime/Tormund rivalry either. Tormund just bitches about Jaime hooking up with Brienne for a bit, then just goes back North with Ghost, after Jon decides to join the march to King’s Landing. That’s it? Sure, Tormund is a ton of fun in this episode, especially when we get to see him incredibly drunk, but it’s rapidly starting to feel like Game of Thrones’ final season is beginning to rush its storytelling, and that’s definitely not good for the coming finale.
Where this episode feels most rushed however is during a potentially promising surprise confrontation with Euron’s forces at Dragonstone. Somehow, Daenerys and the other ships don’t notice the Iron Fleet, despite them pretty much being visible to the naked eye (yet another storytelling contrivance), which results in Rhaegal being shot down and killed by ballista bolts. Oh come on, what was the point of Rhaegal surviving his injuries from the Wights, if the show is just going to kill him so unceremoniously in the very next episode?! Regardless, Daenerys moves to attack Euron, then Tyrion’s, Grey Worm’s and Missandei’s ship is hit by a bunch of bolts, and then… Tyrion and Grey Worm wash up on shore. Somehow, someway, Missandei ended up captured (which doesn’t make a lot of sense), Daenerys I guess abandoned her charging of Euron (huh?), and soon after, the show cuts to Daenerys’ army at King’s Landing. You see what I mean when I say that the storytelling feels rushed here?
Inevitably, this is all to set up another key catalyst for the decisive confrontation at King’s Landing, despite Tyrion’s best efforts to negotiate with both Qyburn and Cersei. The moment of Tyrion walking into the open, knowing that Cersei’s archers won’t shoot him, is a pretty good one, but said catalyst to spark Daenerys’ wrath also doesn’t feel like it flows with the story very well. Missandei’s unlikely capture is simply to bait Daenerys and Grey Worm from a narrative standpoint, after negotiations inevitably turn sour, and Cersei decides to execute Missandei as a show of force. The Mountain thus decapitates Missandei in front of Daenerys, Grey Worm, Tyrion and their soldiers, leaving the episode ending with no chance to avert bloodshed, and Daenerys seemingly more determined than ever to see Cersei dead. As horrifying as it is to see Missandei killed in such a fashion though, it doesn’t really explain why she of all people was captured, how Cersei was that familiar with Missandei’s significance to Daenerys and Grey Worm, and why Cersei saw fit to provoke Daenerys in the first place. Even the characters themselves are pointing out that it’s like Cersei wants to die, even considering the not-insignificant force of the Iron Fleet and the Golden Company at her disposal!
“The Last of the Starks” is beginning to show signs that Game of Thrones is excessively hurrying towards a conclusion, a conclusion that’s starting to feel like it’s in serious danger of disappointing audiences. We do at least have the stage set for a big climactic battle in King’s Landing, something that’s sure to punctuate the following episode before the series finale sees to all of the narrative resolution, but it’s tough not to feel a little checked out when the show has just started to go through the motions. Missandei’s capture and death both feel contrived and exceptionally cruel, some of the character moments at Winterfell feel very forced (especially the tragic Jaime/Brienne romance), and the way that Jon’s secret begins to spread feels both stupid and illogical. It all just seems like bad decisions for the sake of bad decisions, so we can force along the coming conflicts for the finale. This is a huge let-down when Game of Thrones has spent so many years being one of the smartest, if not the smartest show on television, and I really hope that this prestige doesn’t fall away during the remaining two episodes.
Game of Thrones' storytelling continues to struggle in, "The Last of the Starks", which offers some great character moments buried within a lot of contrived drama.
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THE GOOD STUFF
Fun, mirthful feast sequence
Jon's success and parentage beginning to provoke Daenerys
Tyrion's awesome negotiation effort, even if it fails
THE NOT-SO-GOOD STUFF
The way Jon's secret spreads is really stupid
Incredibly rushed, contrived Dragonstone ambush
Jaime/Brienne and Arya/Gendry romances are rushed and pointless