Spoilers ahead for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4, “The Last of the Starks.”
Eight years ago, Game of Thrones began as a story about a mediocre man sitting on the Iron Throne. It’s set to end as a ferocious battle between two of the most badass women in television history: Cersei Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen. That is, of course, if the writers don’t mess it up. Two weeks ago, that wasn’t a concern. After last night’s episode, however, when recently knighted Brienne of Tarth turned into a pile of tears because her boyfriend was leaving town to see his twin-turned-girlfriend and Missandei was killed off as a war prop, I have a little bit of hesitation.
It’s not that Game of Thrones has jumped the shark, but there’s an eerie sensation gurgling in the pit of my stomach. I’m afraid Jon Snow — sorry, Aegon Targaryen — is going to somehow stumble his way onto the Iron Throne. Yes, I do mean accidentally bumbling his way onto it, like he bumbles absolutely everything else, and everyone will just yell, “King in the south!” If that happens, I’m going to riot.
Still, that’s for Future Julia to fuss over. This Game of Game of Thrones installment is all about “The Last of the Starks.” The best word to describe what went down in this episode is “bizarre.” The episode starts in Winterfell where the survivors of the Battle of Winterfell are celebrating their victory after paying their respects to fallen soldiers. The scene in the dining hall is like something out of fan fiction. People are drinking merrily, hitting on each other, and tearing into delicious food. Life is about consumption, after all, and everyone is looking to consume whatever they can get their hands on.
It’s unclear exactly who was eating and who was packing their bellies with strictly wine and ale calories, but points to Podrick, Gendry, Brienne, the Hound, Jon, and Sansa for digging into some meat on camera. (+10) The same rules apply for drinking. There’s a good chance that every single person in that room was drinking, especially after the night they had, but points are only being doled out to those who took a swig on-screen: Daenerys, Jaime, Tyrion, Davos, and Tormund. (+10) Some characters, like Brienne, were seen both eating and drinking, but it’s the same category. Your character got 10 points, reader. Don’t be greedy.
That was a lot of partying — enough that I’m concerned about the amount of vomit that will stain Winterfell’s grounds by morning and how long the line for hangover potions (I assume, in a world of magic, that there are hangover potions) will be. Even Jon Snow, my go-to choice for this episode’s Least Valuable Character, comments on the possible barf tidal wave situation: “Vomiting is not celebrating.” (+5 for wit) Despite everyone trying their damnedest to get as drunk as possible and retire to bed (a big mood), some good comes out of the celebration. Gendry is promoted to Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End (+25 for a promotion) by Daenerys, who brags to Tyrion that he’s “not the only one who’s clever.” (+10 for a brutal put-down)
Caught up in the excitement of Gendry’s new promotion and the fact that they’re not dead, the rest of Winterfell is feeling pretty horny — and I do mean everyone. Podrick attracts two women’s attention (+5 for a bold come-on), and random newcomer Willa manages to hit on Tormund. (also +5) Gendry uses his newfound lordship to ask Arya to marry him (+5), and while Arya gives her young love a sweet kiss, she rejects his proposal. “Any lady would be lucky to have you… but that’s not me.” (+10) Go off, Arya! We stan a true queen who knows what she wants out of life. My therapist would be so proud of her.
Gendry wasn’t the only one who got turned down, either. Tormund, everyone’s favorite cheery drunken giant-milker, stumbles toward a table where Brienne, Jaime, and Tyrion are engaging in a friendly game of “confession time.” It’s like “Would You Rather,” but instead of suggesting an odious circumstance for the players to choose from, this drinking game seems to be about guessing details of other people’s lives. It’s all fun and games until Tyrion guesses that Brienne is a virgin. It’s a gross question, asked as if it’s something to be ashamed of when it’s not, and it gets under Brienne’s skin. She stands up, declaring she’s going to take a piss (+10), only to be stopped by a drunk Tormund joking about which “coward shit in my pants.” (+5) Brienne isn’t amused (probably because she isn’t a 10-year-old boy who finds poop jokes funny), and she walks right past him.
It’s only when Jaime goes after Brienne, blocking Tormund from doing so, that we get to the most satisfying hookup of the evening: Brienne and Jaime. (+15 sex points to both) There’s a term for this kind of long buildup to two characters finally getting together: a slow burn. Their relationship has been chugging along at glacial speed, but whenever we were ready to give up on them, they’d decide to go for a swim in a lake or something, and the anticipation came rushing back. It’s addictive. That’s what Brienne and Jaime have worked with for far too long. With a little light banter out of the way (“I’ve never slept with a knight before,” +5 to Jaime), our favorite OTP finally cements their love, or at least their lust. While I’d love to take all of Tyrion’s points away for being caustic and obnoxious during their game, I’m just happy Brienne and Jaime finally got their moment.
One last interaction from the dining hall needs to be addressed: a short but important conversation between the Hound and Sansa. It’s been a while since they’ve seen each other, but the Hound is aware of everything she’s dealt with since their last encounter. Sansa has survived some monsters, and when he comments on the list of men she’s had to fight — and beat — to reach the current stage of her life, she declares, “Without Ramsay, Littlefinger, and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life.” (+10) It’s a remarkable line from an absurdly powerful woman, but the writers’ decision to have Sansa seemingly attribute her sense of worth to a man who raped her is upsetting. There’s a possibility that Sansa’s words were supposed to inspire a sense of the power she’s reclaimed by killing the men who made her feel powerless, but that doesn’t come through clearly.
The common throughline of this Game of Thrones season is powerful woman fighting for what they deem to be theirs. Cersei is ready to defend her place on the Iron Throne after conniving her way there. Daenerys is ready to take back her birthright. Arya is on the road to becoming the warrior queen she’s always dreamt of being. And Sansa is holding down the fort as Lady Stark of Winterfell. It hasn’t been an easy road for any of them, but Daenerys keeps adding to her pile of anxieties. She wants to be with Jon, her nephew, but the only way that can happen is if he doesn’t tell his family about his true heritage. When he asks how they can be together, she spits, “I just told you how,” then walks away. (+10)
Damn, girl! Ice ice, baby! Does Jon listen? Nope! That would require Jon doing anything sensible, and as he’s proven time and time again this season, that’s just not his style. Jon calls for a family meeting out by Bran’s favorite tree, which seems like such a long way to hike when they own an entire castle filled with private meeting rooms, but I digress!
During this meeting, Jon asks Bran if he should tell Arya and Sansa about his actual lineage, and Bran stoically replies, “It’s your choice.” (+10) This scene makes me think we’ve all read Bran wrong. He may have appeared to be a sociopath, but the more I see the little games Bran plays, the more likely he’s just a messy kid thriving on his family’s interpersonal drama. My therapist wouldn’t be proud of him, but I am. Jon swears Arya and Sansa to secrecy, and Bran proceeds to tell them everything he knows. It’s a good plan, except that it sucks. Sansa tells Tyrion everything practically five minutes later, betraying her brother (+15). You know what they say about secrets: just don’t.
Back at Winterfell, in the warm rooms that make more sense for cool private meetings, is another family therapy session. Tyrion and Jaime, my two favorite brothers, are just hanging out and chatting about girls like a couple of 14-year-old boys waiting for dinner. Tyrion acknowledges that he’s happy Jaime and Brienne are finally together, joking, “I’m happy you’ll finally have to climb for it.” (+5) All these years of people making short jokes, and now Tyrion gets to return the favor while his handsome, perfect brother laughs in front of a crackling fireplace. How do we get 90 minutes of just this? Who at HBO should I send my strongly worded fan fiction to?
Unfortunately, their harmonious drinking session is interrupted by Bronn, who is wielding a crossbow and looking for a fight with a “pair of gold-plated cunts,” as he calls them. (+5) Before long, his threatening presence turns into actual fisticuffs. Bronn punches Tyrion in the nose (+10) and shoots an arrow behind Jaime’s head just to prove he can take them out whenever he wants. Whoever said testosterone wasn’t an issue clearly hasn’t walked around Winterfell in the last few centuries. Just as quickly as their fight begins, however, it ends. Bronn partakes in a little drinking himself (+10), then makes a proposition to Tyrion and Jaime. He’ll join their alliance (+15 to Bronn for joining it, +15 to Tyrion for forming it) if they can secure him a noble title once they defeat Cersei. Did he just betray the wickedest queen of the south? Hell yes. (+15 betrayal points)
After a handful of secret meetings, confessions, booty calls, a random declaration that Dorne has joined Daenerys’ alliance (+15 to Daenerys), drunken party nights, and I imagine an inevitable amount of vomit on the hallway floors, people are ready to move on out. Arya and the Hound are off on their own spinoff-style adventure (I’m calling it The Wolf and The Hound — it’s all yours, HBO), kickstarted by Arya joking that she’d probably leave the Hound for dead again if they got caught by the wrong company. (+5) The rest of Winterfell’s soldiers (those who weren’t killed by the undead wights and my Ice Baby Boyfriend, the Night King) are traveling to meet Cersei head-on. Daenerys hops on her dragon (+20) and takes to the skies.
With everyone leaving home, it’s time for last goodbyes at Winterfell. It wouldn’t be a proper send-off without a backhanded compliment from Tormund, who tells Jon he “weighs as much as two fleas fucking,” (+5) when the latter insists he can’t ride Rhaegal because the dragon needs to heal. What a good friend! How do I get a friend like Tormund when I’m feeling bloated and need someone to tell me I weigh as much as “two fleas fucking”?
This scene really is an excellent reminder of how many people love Jon Snow, a useless man I feel nothing but contempt toward. After talking to Tormund, Jon says goodbye to Sam and Gilly (who will forever be Cassie from Skins to me) — and learns she’s pregnant in the process! (+15 pregnancy points to both Gilly and Sam) A beautiful day, indeed! The White Walkers are dead, and Jon Snow is going to be a godfather — if he survives the great war with Cersei, that is.
It feels like they just survived one war (because they did), and now they’re already anxious about getting through another. It’s enough to drive anyone to self-deprecating comments, like Tyrion, who suggested to Varys that maybe “Cersei will kill us all. That will solve all our problems.” (+5) He may have meant it jokingly, but just a few minutes later, Euron Greyjoy and his band of merry goth pirates appear to showcase just how much damage they can do. Euron, decked out in a Joy Division-inspired outfit, uses a souped-up scorpion to shoot down Rhaegal (+150 dragon-killing points, +25 for named character). Rhaegal takes three large arrows to the body and crashes into the blue sea below. (+25 for memorable death)
If that doesn’t scream, “Don’t mess with me,” I don’t know what does. Maybe the dramatic overuse of eyeliner? Either way, it’s much better than, say, Jon Snow standing behind a wall and yelling at a dragon like he did in the last episode. Between taking down Rhaegal and orchestrating an attack on Daenerys’ armies arriving by ship, Euron claims a battle victory (+25) no one could have seen coming — not even Dany, even though she was soaring high in the sky and assumedly could see everything below. It’s enough to send a message from Cersei. As she says to Euron: “So much for the ‘Breaker of Chains.” (+10)
Just a quick note: it’s mildly infuriating that these dragons are going down without much of a fight. Aren’t they supposed to be near-invincible? Aegon the Conqueror took all seven kingdoms with three dragons, but Daenerys can’t seem to keep hold of her children. How did she not see a fleet of ships coming from the side before Rhaegal fell to his death in the sea below? I’m not saying this is careless war planning, but I’m a little concerned about the outcome of their fight with Cersei if Arya isn’t there to stick a dagger in someone’s heart at the last second.
Almost as if to prove my point, Daenerys is ignoring all of Tyrion’s suggestions for the upcoming battle. Instead, she wants the people of King’s Landing to see just how much of a tyrant Cersei is by letting her evilness seep into their everyday lives until they have no choice but to revolt. “They should know whom to blame when the sky falls upon them.” (+10) It’s one thing to ignore randoms hollering at you (kind of like Twitter, but somehow even less traumatic), but it’s another to disregard what your inner circle is telling you.
Even Tyrion and Varys have some concerns. The two have a secret meeting to debate the merits of Daenerys versus Jon Snow on the Iron Throne. Varys, who is now in on Jon’s real identity, astutely points out that “if a handful of people know now, then a hundred people will know soon.” (+10) Imagine! Jon Snow finally sitting on the Iron Throne would be the definition of a mediocre man failing up into a position of absolute power. That point even comes up in their conversation. Varys recognizes that because Jon Snow is simply a man, he’ll be taken more seriously. Finally, someone is speaking to reality’s sad truths.
“Joffrey was a man,” Tyrion returns. “I don’t think a cock is a true qualification.” (+5)
“Because he’s a man, yes, cocks are important, I’m afraid,” Varys argues. (+5)
Good lord, I love the back-and-forth between Varys and Tyrion. I could watch that all day, too. We could call it The Imp and the Spider. (HBO, these are all free, but if you wanted to introduce me to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, I wouldn’t exactly say no.)
Speaking of my favorite Lannister, all is not well back home. Jaime learns about the attack on Daenerys’ ships from a sassy Sansa, who wastes no breath declaring, “I always wanted to be there when they executed your sister. Seems like I won’t get the chance.” (+10) It’s enough for him to walk back his decision to live peacefully with the woman of his dreams and instead return to King’s Landing to kill Cersei once and for all. Or maybe sleep with her again? I can’t tell with Jaime, but he’s trying to be a good man these days, and that makes me believe he won’t fall back into his incestuous ways with the female embodiment of pure evil. Even though I see him that way and a teary-eyed Brienne tries to convince him that he’s a good man, Jaime can’t stop the guilt wrecking his mind. “She’s hateful, and so am I.” (+10)
That’s just not true, Jaime! It hurts me that you think of yourself this way! Where’s Tormund when you need him to say something nice, possibly about your weight! “True hate” Cersei’s actions down in King’s Landing. She’s gathered her army behind the city walls where she’s holding Missandei hostage. It’s time for negotiations to begin. She sends Qyburn out to meet Tyrion to discuss their queens’ demands. Both Daenerys and Cersei are stubborn, and neither is willing to submit to the other. Tyrion, in a moment of desperation, moves past Qyburn and pleads with Cersei directly. This is still his big sister, after all. Sure, she’s partially responsible for making his life hell, and she’s partially the reason Bran is paralyzed, and she’s a malevolent tyrant, but family is family. It’s an incredibly brave move for Tyrion to take, especially with a line of archers pointing arrows at his head. It’s also what makes him this week’s MVP. (+20) Tyrion doesn’t want to see anyone hurt, and he does the only thing he can think of: speaks to her maternal side.
“If not for yourself then for your child. Your reign is over, but that doesn’t mean your life has to end,” Tyrion pleads. “It doesn’t mean your baby has to die.” (+10)
Cersei, however, doesn’t care. She’s a coldhearted queen. But she needs to prove what she’s capable of to Daenerys. Cersei commands the Mountain to behead Missandei (+25) who says “dracarys” before falling over the edge of the wall. (+25 for memorable death) Daenerys is practically paralyzed at the sight of her trusted friend and ally, but the rage on her face says it all: the true battle for the Iron Throne has arrived.
THE VERGE FANTASY LEAGUE STANDINGS
Andy Hawkins, 495 points
Top scorer: Euron Greyjoy (200 points)
Note: Andy’s bet on Euron Greyjoy certainly paid off. There’s only one dragon left, and if Euron kills him, too, well, it’s game over.
Chaim Gartenberg, 475 points
Top scorer: Bronn (55 points)
Note: Bronn may have been otherwise useless in this episode, but sauntering over to the Lannister brothers and making his demands while yielding a crossbow was a good decision.
Shannon Liao, 475 points
Top scorer: Sansa Stark (45 points)
Sarah Bishop Woods, 425 points
Top scorer: Rhaegal (25 points)
Note: Rhaegal may no longer be with us (RIP you magnificent beast), but at least his death helped Sarah move up the rankings.
Tasha Robinson, 420 points
Top scorer: Gendry (40 points)
Julia Alexander, 380 points
Top scorer: Jaime Lannister (35 points)
Note: I’m just happy that my sweet baby boy finally made love to his dope girlfriend, even if that’s not me. I’m totally fine with it. Yep.
Elizabeth Lopatto, 365 points
Top scorer: Daenerys Targaryen (75 points)
Adi Robertson, 150 points
Top scorer: Davos Seaworth (10 points)
Note: Adi really wants to take last place, but even the characters she didn’t think would do too much for her continue to show up and, like, eat or drink. Their merriness is ruining her plan!
T.C. Sottek, 125 points
Top scorer: N/A