Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 Review
The Battle May Be Over…
But the war has only just begun. With the Long Night averted, possibly forever, attentions now truly turn to the Iron Throne. Daenerys believes herself the merciful liberator of Westeros, but Cersei is defending her claim with a merciless grip. Then there’s the issue of Jon, his even more rightful claim to the throne and his popularity in the North. Daenerys’ resolve is about to be tested in “The Last of the Starks”.
The Night Before
First however, Winterfell mourns. The characters who lost their lives in the previous episode, along with the others who gave their lives, are cremated in a mass funeral pyre. The combination of acting, music and a wide shot of just how few remain is an early gut-punch. We bet there were a few tears in the audience as this scene played out into the next, a feast of celebration where no one feels like celebrating. It doesn’t take long for things to kick off though as Gendry is legitimised and made the Baratheon Lord of Storm’s End. His signature “surprised and thoroughly confused” face begins working overtime as he finds Arya and the smitten kitten proposes marriage. Right on que, Arya refuses, giving a nice call back to season 1 where she told Ned that she would never lead the life of a Lady. Consistency in a female character arc. I feel like this should be more common than it is.
From here on out both the drinks and laughs are plentiful. The Hound gets a few choice lines, but a lot of praise and criticism goes to two moments. Jaime, Brienne, Tyrion and Podrick stick together as they drink and play Tyrion’s “game”, even fitting in a season 2 call back. The questions are being asked to Brienne of course, because they want her to drink, but as usual Tyrion pushes his luck too far. To the audience, Tyrion stating Brienne is a virgin is like stating the sky is blue and the grass is green. It’s obvious, hurtful and uncomfortable for the audience. Although it does lead to a very tender moment between Brienne and Jaime as he forgoes his usual manipulative charm and they choose to go to bed together. Do the ends justify the means? Somewhat, as it shows just how deep their mutual respect is, but the scripting could’ve been more subtle.
Meanwhile, at the Lord’s table, Tormund once again proves he can’t hold his drink by cuddling up to Jon and awkwardly screaming his praises. Once again, the scripting could be subtler (but it is Tormund, so it works better here), but it illustrates just how much of a leader Jon is. There’s plenty of seasons evidence of his skills and qualities, and the show really wants you to remember that as he becomes a more viable candidate for the Iron Throne. This especially comes into focus as several shots show Daenerys sitting alone behind him. Isolated and with less allies after the battle, she looks lesser by comparison, but we’ll get to her later.
The Morning(s) After
After a night of merriment, and plenty of implied love-making, the episode sobers up and the political intrigue that many fans love the show for makes its triumphant return. Daenerys’ impatience to march on King’s Landing causes the Stark sisters’ mistrust to deepen, prompting Jon to tell them of his true heritage before taking to the Kingsroad with Davos. The secret does not remain secret for long of course as Sansa tells Tyrion and he tells Varys. The two advisers to the queen get a few scenes mulling over this revelation and they delightfully hearken back to the early scenes of shadowy plotting. Tyrion wants to take a chance on Daenerys while Varys is concerned for the people who may fall to her building wrath (again, a topic for later). Who will get their way? The fact that the audience doesn’t quite know brings back some of the mystery this season has been missing so far.
The Lannister siblings also have their fair share of plotting going on this episode. Bronn finally shows up to kill Tyrion and Jaime in a scene that is an excellent example of why he is such a stand-out character. He’s bought off with the promise of becoming Lord of Highgarden after a fabulous “I’m in charge here” speech, However, could Tyrion even put that past Daenerys given her crumbling patience (don’t worry, were nearly there)? Then there’s Cersei housing the innocents of King’s Landing in the Red Keep to ensure her enemies cannot launch an all-out assault. If we needed more evidence that she cares so little for anything but her place on the throne, this is it. It also foreshadows the moment Daenerys is finally pushed over the edge.
Yes, now we can finally talk about Daenerys…
The Madness of Queen Daenerys
Now, this reviewer is about to share a controversial opinion: Daenerys is not the best acted character in Game of Thrones. Don’t get me wrong, Emilia Clarke is fine as an actress. However, against established British actors like Lena Heady, rising stars like Maisie Williams and stand-out performers like Peter Dinklage, she is weaker by comparison. Now I’ve felt like this through all 7 seasons, but this episode has finally turned me on her performance.
Let’s go back to the celebration feast. She is the one who initiates the two big cheers of the night when she legitimises Gendry and toasts to Arya, yet no one is talking to her in-between. She sits alone, surrounded by strangers having lost the one person who made her feel safe, compounded by the love Jon is being given by Tormund. This then leads her to attempt to control Jon by asking him to keep his heritage secret. Ultimately, her pleas fall on deaf ears and things just keep getting worse.
After barely getting her way with Sansa to start the assault on King’s Landing, she rides half her forces and her two remaining dragons back to Dragonstone. Now if you’ve been paying attention, Cersei has Euron and the Golden Company sailing the waters of the East coast. So, when one of the dragons is killed and half the Targaryen boats are decimated by anti-dragon arrows, it comes as no surprise, but you feel Daenerys’ pain as she forced to watch a second child die. Clarke sells it here, far better than she did when she lost the first one in season 7 and with Missandei captured the final straw is set to fall.
Arriving in King’s Landing (okay, does everyone in Westeros just have fast travel turned on now?), Tyrion tries to appeal to Cersei’s humanity and release Missandei after both Queens demand each other’s surrender. This is the culmination of everything Daenerys has been facing. Having to trust a Hand who has been failing her. In a weaker position thanks to lost power and support. At the mercy of an obsessed “wannabe” royal who just wants to use her. She wants to make the big, violent decisions but can’t. However, being temperate and merciful fails her again as The Mountain takes her best friend’s head. Clarke’s face, for the first time, shows true anger. Daenerys is done and you see it in all its glory, but is it just anger? Could the Targaryen madness be setting in? Only time will tell…
A big mixed bag of intrigue and blunders. Poor decisions are beginning to take their toll on the plot and characters, but we still care about the characters we love. This reviewer personally hopes that the writing will tighten up next episode, but otherwise it does well to set the stage and stakes for the upcoming battle.
Our Stand-Out Moment
Now its often the job of an extra to disappear into the scene and help establish the atmosphere, so big props to the Starbucks coffee cup in the feast scene. Despite its modern appearance, it did it’s best to blend in and it took the fans a few hours to notice. Well done little coffee cup, you get a gold star for effort. However, I really do hope the production assistant who forgot to sweep the scene before shooting gets to keep their job. Accidents happen.