GOT 8.4: “The Last of the Starks” Recap & Commentary

For what was supposedly a ‘set-up’ episode, “The Last of The Starks” was chock-full of important Game of Thrones moments. In case you missed last week’s episode, the Dead have been defeated and the show now returns to the fight for the Iron Throne.

The first half of the episode sees the Living properly honor their dead, get piss drunk, and begin to disperse for the final chapter. Some, like Tormund and Sam, seem to be returning to their former lives. There’s nothing left for them to fight against. Others (most of the main characters) are heading south for the “Last War.”

The wheels are in motion for the show’s conclusion. This episode had plot reveals, sex, unexpected death, political standoffs, and thoughts of treason. Welcome to our recap of the antepenultimate episode of Game of Thrones, “The Last of The Starks.”

Dany vs. Cersei

The two queens are locked in all out war for the Iron Throne. So far, Cersei has the edge over Dany because her troops weren’t decimated by the Night King. In this episode, she extended her advantage.

Part of Dany’s remaining forces were sailing for Dragonstone, including both Drogon and Rhaegal. Things seem to be going swimmingly, until Rhaegal is peppered with harpoons by Euron Greyjoy and his Iron Fleet. The ambush catches Dany completely off-guard (more on this later), and Rhaegal plummets to his death. Euron then turns his focus to Dany’s fleet. The ships are eviscerated and the survivors wash up on shore. The only person unaccounted for is Missandei, who we later learn has been taken prisoner.

Dany first instinct, as always, is to burn King’s Landing to the ground. Varys and Tyrion warn her of the image this will project to her future subjects, so they arrange a meeting with Cersei. As Dany and her team know, Cersei is unlikely to surrender, but now they can at least say they tried before thousands of innocents die.

The meeting goes pretty much as predicted. Cersei refuses to surrender, instead instructing the Mountain to decapitate Missandei in front of Dany and Grey Worm. The episode concludes with Dany looking resolved to defeat Cersei by any means possible. That’s not necessarily good news for the people of King’s Landing.

Talking Treason

Tyrion and Varys are widely regarded as two of the brightest minds in Westeros. Certainly, they are two of the most politically savvy. Both also happen to know that Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than their Dragon Queen.

Varys, an ardent servant to the Realm as a whole, is weary of Dany. To him, she represents many of the same threats that, not only Cersei does, but that Dany’s father the Mad King did. She’s willing to win at all costs, even if that costs innocent lives, something Varys is, at best, uncomfortable with.

Tyrion likewise is aware of Dany’s instability. Her claim to the throne is driven by birthright and destiny. It leads her to take risks and perhaps encourages some insecurity, especially now that Jon’s true lineage is known. He knows that Varys is right, he just can’t necessarily bring himself to agree to outright treason. Varys ominously states that he’ll do what’s best for the Realm and it’s left there. We shall see, but Dany doesn’t exactly encourage confidence in her mental well-being.

A Very Stark Goodbye

At the Weirwood Tree, the Starks convene for an important conference. Arya and Sansa are annoyed with Jon for committing the Northern troops to Dany, especially over Sansa’s initial objections. They don’t trust Dany, and for good reason.

Jon has Bran reveal the big secret to his sisters, and then it cuts away. This was a really odd choice by the showrunners. You’d think that Arya and Sansa learning about Jon’s true past would be a huge scene, especially considering Sansa’s political feelings about Dany. For whatever reason, it wasn’t, and that’s a shame. One that can’t be explained away by the shortened season.

After that, we don’t see the Starks together again. Arya is riding south with the Hound (presumably to kill Cersei). Sansa stays in the North and will continue to rule, but she also breaks her promise to Jon and immediately tells Tyrion of their secret. Jon rides south as well as commander of the other, non-ambushed half of Dany’s troops. We have no idea what the hell Bran is doing. It’s probably nothing, but there’s a decent chance they won’t all be together again.

Speculation Zone

Who was the star of the episode?

Sam: Arya. Right now, she seems like the most grown-up character in the show. She’s staying true to herself by not marrying Gendry or leading him on but also understanding there’s a bigger picture outside of the North. Unlike Sansa, who didn’t see the need for Jon to bend the knee, Arya realizes that the Night King would’ve easily won without Dany’s armies and dragons. I also think there’s a good chance Arya could kill Cersei when all is said and done.

Nick: Dany. She suffered so much in this episode. It opened with her saying goodbye to her longest ally Jorah. Halfway through, she lost another dragon/child via Euron’s ambush. At the end, she saw one of her closest friends beheaded. I haven’t even mentioned that the man she loves is arguably the greatest threat to her dream. Emilia Clarke nailed this episode, conveying the immense amount of stress and insecurity Dany must be under. She’s going to unload that on Cersei, King’s Landing, and whatever else stands in her way. Can’t wait.

What did you think of the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell?

Sam: I thought it was too short. After losing thousands of men and much of Winterfell, it felt a little too unrealistic for Dany’s armies to march south days after defeating the army of the dead. I realize there are only six episodes this season but it just felt way too rushed considering how brutal the battle was.

Nick: I enjoyed it, even if they move on too quickly. There was a good balance of sadness and joy considering they just defeated death. The party was fun and had some great character moments. I’m shocked that they’re claiming the Night King only killed half of the good guys’ forces. That doesn’t seem possible but whatever, if it makes for a good battle that I can see, I’m  for it.

On a scale of 1-10 rate Jon’s intelligence:

Sam: 6. Jon is the most honorable man in Westeros. Unfortunately, his unbreakable morals doesn’t always conform to what’s best for both himself and his family. While he sometimes doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions, I wouldn’t call Jon stupid. Like it or not, Dany was going to find out the truth eventually and Sansa as well. Also, from Jon’s perspective, it would be pretty uncomfortable to knowingly sleep with your aunt when she doesn’t know who he really is.

Nick: 3. Jon is dense as hell. Honor doesn’t equate to intelligence and he is a shining example of this. He thought Sansa would keep her promise, which of course she didn’t. Dany knew she wouldn’t, and he didn’t even seem to understand Dany’s logic of keeping it a secret. She’s right, if he doesn’t want the throne, he shouldn’t have told her. Jon is certainly as honorable as his adopted father, but he is definitely not as smart.  

How did Dany, Drogon, Rhaegal, and their entire fleet not see Euron?

Sam: No clue. This was a pretty lazy scene for multiple reasons. First, if they wanted to make this even a little believable, the scene should’ve been at night when it would’ve been plausible to sneak up on Dany’s ships. It was strange that absolutely nobody saw them coming when you’ve got two dragons flying high above.

Secondly, the fact that Euron hit Rhaegal from so far away seemed like the writers just trying to build more tension by any means. But lastly, I have absolutely no idea how Missandei got kidnapped. Tyrion was on the same boat as her, yet he didn’t get captured. Tyrion, a dwarf who most likely struggles in the water, also seemed to effortlessly make it to the shore. Wouldn’t Tyrion, Grey Worm or another advisor been a way more valuable hostage than Missandei? I know her and Dany are very close but she hasn’t really done much this season and wouldn’t have been useful for the upcoming battle anyway. Overall, one of the more confusing scenes in the series.

Nick: Euron has become the writers’ tool to even the odds between Dany and Cersei. It’s frustrating that he keeps sneaking up on people. It’s not good writing at all, but at this point that’s sadly not uncommon. I don’t understand how they didn’t see him, especially considering that the dragons had a bird’s eye view of the situation. That the only result of the ambush is Rhaegal getting sniped and Missandei getting captured is definitely contrived as hell, but it at least made for a decent moment.

That said, in the ‘Inside the Episode’ portion, the writers claim that Dany “forgot about the Iron Fleet.” That’s an absurd way to cover your tracks and it’s endemic of the dip in writing the show has endured recently. It began in Season 5, but has really become prevalent in the show’s final two seasons.

Who had the more impactful death, Rhaegal or Missandei?

Sam: Rhaegal. Losing Missandei was tragic, but Rhaegal would’ve changed the entire battle next episode. Now, Dany only has one dragon which means Cersei can concentrate all her fire on Drogon, putting him in a much more vulnerable position.

Nick: Rhaegal. Missandei’s death was brutal, but also predictable. Cersei was never going to let her live. Rhaegal’s death came out of nowhere. When the arrows struck him, his primal screech hurt every fan. The dragons are one of the best parts and to have one basically assassinated is tough. I wish the circumstances of his death made more sense narratively, but his murder was a tough pill to swallow.  

Is Dany going insane?

Sam: No. Dany has been fairly rational throughout the season. Yes, at times she has had some “mad queen” moments, but she’s just rightfully concerned about her future. Sansa is constantly questioning and undermining her in a land she believed her entire life would welcome her with open arms. Much of her previously held perceptions of Westeros and her future have been shattered in the last few weeks. Once things settle down and those around her stop dying in battle, she’ll be the ruler Westeros needs.

Nick: Yes. Consider this: she’s lost some of her most cherished friends recently, has questionable genetics, and her main goal in this world is to sit on the Iron Throne. That’s quite the  mental concoction to tip one towards insanity. It’ll be hard for her to get Westeros to accept her and she likely will take massive risks to conquer King’s Landing. I don’t think she survives to the end. They’re heavily shading towards Mad Queen Dany, and her expressions at the end of the episode indicate that’s her future.

Should Tyrion and Varys commit treason against Dany?

Sam: No. This would be the stupidest thing they could do at this point in the series. I get that some of her actions lately have been questionable but she remains the only one with dragons and the support of Jon Snow, who doesn’t want to be a king. Like previously stated, Jon’s unbreakable moral code would make it very, very, very hard for him to commit treason against his lover, aunt and queen.

Nick: Absolutely. Dany’s just a conqueror. That’s not what the Realm needs. She’s quite hypocritical and perhaps even deluded at this point if she thinks she’s actually ‘breaking the wheel.’ As long as the alternative isn’t Cersei, Tyrion and Varys should force someone like Jon to the throne. How they (at least Varys) commit it should be fascinating.

Is Jaime going to help or kill Cersei?

Sam: Kill Cersei. Since Cersei has taken over, Jaime has realized that the Lannisters his father raised are not good people. I could see him killing Cersei dramatically at the end of the battle in true Game Of Thrones style.

Nick: Kill Cersei. I don’t understand why he was a dick to Brienne, but he definitely left to kill his sister.

Next episode is probably the Battle of King’s Landing. Who wins?

Sam: Dany. Unless she loses Drogon, there’s really no competition here. Dany has experience conquering cities like King’s Landing and has a strategic advantage. But knowing Cersei, it definitely won’t be easy.

Nick: I’m going to guess not Cersei. I don’t believe Dany will sit on the Iron Throne, but her forces probably will win the battle next week.

Who’s on the chopping block next week?

Sam: Grey Worm, Cersei, Jaime, and Dany.

Nick: The Mountain/The Hound, Cersei, Grey Worm, and Dany.

Which episode did you like better, 8.3 or 8.4?

Sam: 8.3. When it comes to Game of Thrones, nothing beats an entire episode dedicated to a single battle. 8.3 was a better Battle of the Bastards which had epic fighting with almost every main character (that’s still alive) in the series.

Nick: 8.4 even though it has its problems. It was a mix of dialogue, action, and shock. You could have dropped in Season 7 and it would’ve made sense. 8.3 was a victim of its own hype for me. The Battle of the Bastards, Hardhome, Blackwater, and the Watchers on the Wall were all better battles. Hopefully 8.5 leapfrogs all of those.

Who do you think should sit on the Iron Throne?

Sam: Jon Snow and Dany should rule together. To me, this seems like a simple choice. This way, the North would be much more open to joining the Seven Kingdoms while also giving Dany power. Dany could handle a majority of decisions but Jon would keep her in check.

Nick: Sansa. She’s level headed, cunning, and understands how King’s Landing works. She, with Tyrion and Varys by her side, would usher in the prosperity Westeros so badly needs. The North would remain a part of the Realm too. Her future might just be Warden of the North, but she would legitimately make an excellent queen and is by far the best option left.

Iron Throne Power Rankings

Sam:

  1. Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen and Daenerys Targaryen
  2. Sansa Stark
  3. Cersei Lannister

Nick:

  1. Jon Snow/Aegon Targaryen
  2. Sansa Stark
  3. Cersei Lannister

-Nick Shiffman and Sam Shiffman

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