This post contains spoilers, reactions, and a recap of Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4, “The Last of the Starks”
The ramped up tone of the final season of Game of Thrones has the show in a unique place. Every scene has the potential to leave a long-lasting impact on the legacy of the series. After two table setting episodes, the series threw the kitchen sink into pitched battle against the Apocalypse. Only its core group of heroes were left to pick up the pieces and figure out who sits on the Iron Throne… and the series still had three episodes to go.
Unfortunately, poor writing and a cluttered pace made Episode Four a major disappointment. “The Last of the Starks” possessed the rapidity and sloppy storytelling of Season Seven.
“The Last of the Starks” Recap
When we last saw Westeros, Arya Stark killed the Night King and wiped out the Army of the Dead. Even though all primary characters survived “The Long Night,” it was hard to imagine what was next. The Battle of Winterfell was 82 minutes of non-stop, intense action that did not leave much on the table.
In quintessential Game of Thrones fashion, the followup to the ambitious battle scene featured political intrigue, one more trip south, and bad decisions. More reminders that this is not your typical series and that there are still miles to go before the show ends.
In an early scene, Tyrion Lannister quips, “we may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”
The contention included politicking from Daenerys Targaryen, who bestowed a highborn title on bastard Gendry Baratheon. It also led to a big reveal of Jon Snow’s true Targaryen heritage to Sansa and Arya Stark. More importantly, seeds of doubt were planted in Daenerys’ camp as her advisers question her willingness to let the end justify the means. At the conclusion of the episode, another secondary character dies as Missandei is executed on the ramparts of King’s Landing.
“The Last of the Starks” Was A Letdown With Bad Writing
The first three episodes of Season Eight were terrific television. The gradual build to the Long Night and The Battle of Winterfell are Game of Thrones at its best. “The Last of the Starks” is Game of Thrones at its worst.
Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss peak when they let show breathe and characters interact with each other. Everything about Episode Four was a return to the haste of Season Seven and a byproduct of mediocre writing.
To start, the recovery from the slaughter at Winterfell had a quick turnaround time. Several shots during “The Long Night” teased a decimation of the Stark-Targaryen alliance. The forces spent little time licking their wounds and quickly returned their focus to the Iron Throne.
It would be more impactful to show the devastation of the battle than a quick funeral pyre. The hasty movement of forces that just survived hordes of snow zombies undermined the momentum of the season. Splitting the story between two episodes would have allowed Game of Thrones to create a more meaningful sense of time without packing quick-moving stories together.
There are numerous plot holes in the episode. How did Daenerys’ fleet not have any advance ships? Who is this new prince of Dorne? Is Jon a bad pet owner? Why not just call on Daenerys’ troops in Esso? Westeros is her primary concern, after all.
The most meaningful interactions occurred during the post battle feast. Sansa and Daenerys’ scheming was so rapid that it gave no sense of relief to be alive. Jaime and Brienne were together so briefly that their separation meant little. Even worse, the Bronn scene was an anti-climatic way to wrap the best wildcard of the season. Can we really believe that Cersei couldn’t beat that offer, anyways?
The only intriguing moments occurred with the characters who split the main army: Arya, The Hound, and Jaime Lannister. Their decisions are more likely to have greater consequence on the final outcome. Unfortunately, poor writing reduced their dramatic impact on “The Last of the Starks.”
What’s Next On Game Of Thrones?
Miguel Sapochnik (who oversaw battle episodes like “The Long Night” and “Battle Of The Bastards”) directed Episode Five. As the standoff in front of the gates of King’s Landing indicated, it will likely to center around a pitched battle for the Iron Throne. The penultimate episode of the series could be a clash to remember, yet like “The Long Night,” there are many stories to resolve before the series finally wraps.