Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4, titled “The Last of the Starks,” in a way had it easy: It couldn’t have possibly been worse than the nonsensical Episode 3, “The Long Night,” which many fans feel betrayed the very core of what Game of Thrones is. With the bar set so low, Episode 4 was always going to seem better in comparison. And sure enough, it wasn’t the worst episode so far in Season 8.
But there’s just something off about the way Game of Thrones’ final conflict–the one between Cersei, Dany, and Jon/Aegon–is taking shape. Jon’s explanation that he has no desire to make a claim to the Iron Throne (which apparently took place offscreen at some point) isn’t good enough for the Dragon Queen, and what do you know? This episode proved Dany’s worst fears right: Now that Jon’s secret is out, there’s already talk of how much better he’d be at ruling.
But why? Is that conversation justified? Jon has proved time and time again that he has what it takes, but so has Daenerys. They’re in the endgame, and now is no time to be sowing inner conflict on your own side. Characters like Sansa and Varys should be smarter than this (although they weren’t smart enough to remember that crypts are full of corpses, so who knows?).
The easiest resolution to this whole conflict would be for Jon and Dany to get married, announce his identity to the whole Seven Kingdoms, and be stronger than ever, together, a united front of Targaryens here to take their rightful seat back. Obviously, it’s Game of Thrones, so it can’t be that easy, but the show hasn’t presented an adequate reason why not. Because Sansa and Arya still don’t trust the queen who sacrificed half her forces to defend their home? Because Varys worries that Dany would wear the pants in the relationship? All this scheming and plotting and self-sabotaging feels contrived, because in this case, there’s one clear path that makes the most sense, and no one’s managed to come up with any adequate justification for why they can’t just do this one thing the easy way.
The blame for that falls squarely on this episode’s writers, showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss, who also wrote the previous episode (and the next two, which isn’t a great sign for the rest of the final season). It’s clear what they’re trying to do, and it’s clear that they failed at it–because I just can’t figure out why Jon and Dany wouldn’t just make the smart choice, unite the North and South, and usher in a new age of Targaryen rule.
Elsewhere in Winterfell, “The Last of the Starks” was full of fan service–although much of it was misplaced. Ghost showed up for the third time this season, only to immediately be written off the show, without so much as a pat from Jon. The suits at HBO breathed a sigh of relief for the show’s CG budget, while fans cried out at the injustice of Ghost being treated like he’s just as unimportant as Daario F***ing Naharis. Ghost’s casual dismissal was almost as bad as the episode cutting away from Jon telling his sisters his true identity–a conversation fans have been awaiting for decades. Considering how much fan service this season has featured, it’s frankly shocking that we didn’t get to see the rest of that chat.
Jaime and Brienne got together–but only, it turns out, to make it more of a gut punch to her when he went riding back to Cersei anyway. Jaime knighted Brienne in Episode 2, and it was a beautiful culmination of both characters’ arcs, fulfilling their relationship without needing to shoehorn in a romance. This final twist of the knife was, arguably, unnecessary. The fact that Jaime is most likely riding south to kill his sister himself is the plotline’s saving grace–and leaving his intentions ambiguous does a decent job of keeping that tension going.
And another dragon died. Once again, Game of Thrones put cinematic showiness over plausibility, as it’s hard to believe that Dany somehow failed to glimpse Euron’s fleet hiding behind a rock from her vantage point hundreds of feet in the air. The camera was pointed up toward the sky when the fleet apparently came into view of the dragons, which leaves it just vague enough to be somewhat believable. But even if you buy that, it’s insane that no one saw that attack coming in a figurative sense; they know about Euron’s fleet, they know about Cersei’s scorpions (Drogon caught a bolt back in Season 7’s “The Spoils of War”), and they knew that King’s Landing and Dragonstone are a stone’s throw from one another. Why wouldn’t Euron be waiting to ambush them?
Losing yet another dragon is a massive blow to Dany, and it hurts even more because it could have easily been avoided. Maybe that’s another case of the writing being bad, or maybe all the greatest minds in Westeros really are just that dumb. Who can say at this point?
With two episodes of Game of Thrones left, it feels safe to say that the show probably doesn’t have many big surprises left. Some fans are disappointed the White Walkers were easily defeated in a single skirmish, while others may still hope that Jon and Dany will make peace with each other and figure out that a united Targaryen front is the strongest, easiest, and smartest way forward. Whatever you think, there’s no denying that this season has been surprising so far, and despite all our gripes, there’s something deeply enjoyable about that.
I believe that with the end in sight, what we’re seeing is what we’re getting: Jon and Dany and Cersei will vie for the Iron Throne, and whichever of them is left standing at the end will get it. It’s going to be bloody, there’s going to be fire and blood, and I have no idea how it’s going to end. I have plenty of complaints with the path we’ve taken to get here, but when it comes down to it, I’m looking forward to seeing how this all ends. Once it does, maybe George R.R. Martin can finally write the rest of the books and finish things his way. Until then, let’s just try to enjoy this for what it is.