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Game of Thrones: Season 8, Episode 4 (The Last of the Starks) - Review

Game of Thrones

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

FOR my money – and this may be controversial – the fourth episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones, entitled The Last of the Starks, was better than the preceding epic The Long Night.

For while battles are few and far between in general, The Last of the Starks encapsulated the things that have made the series as a whole such seminal viewing. It had drama, emotion, surprises, comedy, tragedy, scheming and camaraderie. It was Shakespearean in scope.

If The Long Night was an assault on the senses [often, quite literally], The Last of the Starks delivered on so many levels.

Early on, there was a sense of melancholy befitting the enormous losses that had been suffered in the episode before. Things began with a mass funeral for the dead, which allowed Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) the chance to deliver another notable speech (the first evidence of masterful writing). His words were a fitting tribute to those who had given so much… none more so than Jorah (Iain Glen), whose grey, lifeless body was mourned over by Dany (Emilia Clarke).

Thereafter, there was revelry, as the survivors got drunk at a banquet. But already, there was so much more at play. Seeds were being sewn via looks and comments (even if a Starbucks cup of coffee eventually stole the focus!).

The tragedy that has slowly been enveloping Dany began to take hold. The enormity of Jon Snow’s confession about his claim to the throne hit hard. Here, in the north, she has never been more alone: her allies dwindling, her bravery and resolve continually challenged. Clarke offered up something of a masterclass as she strove to keep her emotions intact… or rather, a madness at bay.

The spectre of despotic rulers past loomed large on her horizon. Her morals were being challenged. The destiny she once saw so clearly suddenly appears threatened. And yet, the main object standing in her path to the Iron Throne is, ironically, the man she loves. A blood relative.

A scene between Clarke and Harrington in which they discussed their motivations was wrought with tension and potential tragedy. How heavy would the cost of doing the right thing be?

Dany swore Jon to secrecy. But his own moral code guided him to confide in his sisters, Arya and Sansa, whose promise proved shallow. In no time at all, the latter had confided in Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who in turn told Varys (Conleth Hill). It was a revelation that led to yet another great scene between the two advisers to the queen.

For while Tyrion is desperate to find a way forward that allows Dany to rule the seven kingdoms, Varys now has other plans. His assertion that “sometimes the best king is one who does not want to reign” rang painfully true and may yet spell further tragedy for those involved in the battle for the throne. Can Jon abdicate his responsibilities? It looks doubtful.

The growing rift between Tyrion and Varys was beautifully and intelligently played – their arguments focused and, in their own way, admirable. These are two great characters, whose now divided loyalties threaten to play them at odds with each other and very much in harm’s way. It makes for a tantalising prospect.

Similarly, that simmering tension between Dany and Jon. Can their love win out? Again, doubtful. Will one have to defeat the other? Most probably.

And yet, there was still time for plenty more intrigue and character development in this episode… as well as bloody surprises.

On an intimate level, the developing love story between Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was tender, surprising and – in typical Game of Thrones fashion – cut short in its prime. Jaime’s self-loathing compelled him to leave the north and head towards a fateful showdown with his sister, Cersei (Lena Headey). His parting words were devastating: “She’s hateful and so am I.”

And yet, while a tearful Brienne was left to ponder whether Jaime intended to die by his sister’s side, we couldn’t help but think he has decided to go and kill her (as prophesised). His words made it easier for him to leave. The scene offered another great moment.

On a smaller scale, Arya’s rejection of Gendry was no less heart-breaking, if only for the deftly handled realisation, by Arya, that she was no lady. Offered a fleeting glimpse of happiness, she may just have sealed her own fate by turning it down and opting to ride south with The Hound (whose own big battle now looms large with his older brother, The Mountain).

Smaller still, yet every bit as striking, was Tormund’s handling of his rejection by Brienne – a quick look of hurt that showed so much in such little time. Hat’s off to fan favourite Kristofer Hivju for injecting so much sadness and pain into an otherwise larger than life giant of a character.

And just prior to talking about the big shocks that drew the episode to a close, what about the return of Bronn (Jerome Flynn), a soldier of fortune now tasked with killing Jaime and Tyrion, who cleverly looked to double down on his mission and emerge with an even bigger reward for not pulling the trigger. The scene between the three men was witty, tense and juicily played.

And now for the episode’s big surprises. Who didn’t let out a gasp of shock [and begrudging awe] at the downing of another of Dany’s dragons. It was a bravura moment – devastating in its cruel efficiency and sudden weakening of Danys’ armies.

This was followed by the killing of Missandei of Narth (Nathalie Emmanuel) as Tyrion attempted to broker a surrender. Cersei knows how to provoke. She is a master of going to extremes… of doing what is necessary to put her enemies on the back foot.

Here, she not only goaded the devastated Grey Worm, but also the increasingly unhinged Dany. Already determined to avenge the death of her dragon, Dany departed the exchange positively spitting the blood she is now so desperate to spill.

The hatred between these two women is palpable, as is the despair of Tyrion (so desperate to avoid needless death and to save Dany from own bad judgements).

Again, there was so much emotion in these pivotal scenes: so much depth of feeling (both good and bad). And they epitomised the brilliance of Game of Thrones as a whole: its steadfast determination to do its own thing rather than play to the masses.

There is no room for sentiment here. Popular characters die. Good men and women turn bad. Bad men and women make changes for the better. The only certainty is uncertainty. If Missandrei’s death did carry a sense of inevitability from the moment she was taken hostage, it also served to plunge the fate of everyone involved into chaos.

The forthcoming fifth episode promises to be a bloodbath – but few can easily predict who will live and who will die, or what the implications will be thereafter.

The Last of the Starks has set the stage for the endgame beautifully. It was a master-class of an episode.