Book-Reader’s Recap—Game of Thrones Episode 804, “The Last of the Starks”


This post is intended for those who have read the books in the Song of Ice and Fire series, not because we’re going to be discussing spoilers from the books — that’s not a thing anymore — but because we may make comparison’s between what we get onscreen and George R.R. Martin’s original vision. If you’d like the perspective of someone who has never read the books, check out our Unsullied recap. Thanks!


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First things first: I enjoyed this episode a lot more than “The Long Night,” and I liked “The Long Night.” To me, this is what Game of Thrones has always been about, as its core: people trying to get or keep power, family ties being tested, and people revealing who they really are, even if it’s not who they wished they were. It was just juicy.

We open at Winterfell, at the funeral for the thousands who died in the battle against the dead. Yes, a couple more named characters should probably be among the fallen, but this is still stirring stuff. You’ve got Ramin Djawadi’s mournful strings, the muted color palette, wide shots of bodies piled like cordwood…Dany kissing Jorah on the brow (what do we think she whispered?) was very effective, as was Sansa pinning a Stark hair clip (I think that’s what it was) on Theon’s outfit. Every moment those two have had together this season has been killer. The fact that he’s dead makes no difference.

Jon Snow makes a stirring speech about togetherness that I immediately pegged as foreshadowing. “Our fellow men and women who set aside their differences to fight together and die together, so that others might live!” Yeah, people aren’t gonna stay together. I also loved the Night’s Watch callback. Ride into Valhalla with your heads held high, you beautiful heroes!

And after the death comes celebration. We get a long scene set in the Winterfell Great Hall, as the characters who survived the Battle of Winterfell celebrate still being alive. It’s pretty delightful throughout. In fact, if this episode were divided in two, the first one would be a raucous good time, even if Dany is sitting at the head table screaming internally for the first few minutes.

There are just a lot of good character moments here. Among them:

  • Gendry wants to find Arya, because of course he does. The Hound: “You can still smell the burning bodies and that’s where your head is at?”
  • Dany, wanting to win over the room and maybe make a new ally, announces that Gendry is now the legitimized son of King Robert Baratheon, and the lord of Storm’s End. And I do mean “announces.” She does not ask, which might have been nice, but it does seem to please him, and it gives him the confidence to ask out Arya. Davos toasts him, and the Hound hilariously doesn’t bother rising for it. All in all, a winner. (The Hound at least smiles when Dany toasts Arya later.)
  • Tyrion and Davos talk about Melisandre’s death. Davos seems upset that he didn’t get to execute her himself, and worried about what will happen between the camps now that the Great War is over.
  • I think Bran reveals how he got his hands on a wheelchair: he remembered the one Dareon Targaryen built for his nephew over a hundred years ago, and I assume told Maester Wolkan how to design it from there..
  • Jaime, Brienne, Tyrion and Pod play Tyrion’s drinking game from the first season, and Brienne smiles as widely as the sunrise. Pod doesn’t have any lines, but his facial expressions are priceless. God, it’s nice to have Tyrion be fun again, isn’t it?
  • Tormund is almost as funny as the Hound. “Now which one of your cowards shit in my pants?” I like how he’s sloshing his ale around the whole time, and how despondent he is when Jaime follows Brienne out of the room after Tyrion gets weird and tasteless about her sexual history. Since pretty much his introduction, I’ve never thought the show quite got Tormund right — Kristofer Hivju often played him very somber, even when he was telling a story about fucking a bear. But this Tormund, this boisterous ale-swilling party animal, this feels right. Season 8’s been good to him.
  • Sansa sits down with the Hound, and they have a nice chat about how much they’ve both changed. Naturally, the Hound is amused to hear that Sansa fed Ramsay Bolton to dogs. Because he’s a total sucker for the Stark girls, he tells her that if she had left King’s Landing with him, none of the horrible things she went through would have happened to her. “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life,” she tells him. Put a pin in that.

In terms of the plot, the most important moment happens when Tormund toasts Jon Snow for being awesome, and for coming back from the dead, and for riding a dragon like a boss, and Daenerys gets a horrible look on her face as she realizes she’s the only one at the party not having fun, which I can relate to.

As she explains to Jon later, when they’re alone, she’s upset because the people of Westeros haven’t accepted her like people of Essos did, not in the way they’ve accepted Jon. She’s right, of course. Whether she could have changed that by altering her approach is up for debate, but the fact is that the people of the North have been resisting her from Day 1, whereas Jon is something of a hometown hero.

Dany’s concerns seem a little petty here, but Clarke completely sells them. She and Harington have gotten better as acting partners as time has gone on.

This is a well-written argument. Jon and Dany want to stay together, but there are obstacles. Jon wants to tell Sansa and Arya about his true parentage, which okay, yeah, they should probably know. But Dany is dead-on that Sansa will want Jon to become king in place of her, which will drive them further apart. That is, if the fact that they’re aunt and nephew hasn’t done that already, which isn’t clear, because they make out pretty hard at the start of this scene.

In any case, she begs him to keep it a secret. Clarke really kills it here, and I feel for Dany, particularly as this is happening so soon after she’s lost Ser Jorah Mormont, her most unequivocally loyal advisor and always someone she could lean on in times of crisis. Basically, I’m not sure whose point of view to share here, which is how I like it.

In other complicated talks between couples, Gendry walks out of the feast to find Arya practicing archery, which really should have been all he needed to know what he’s about to do is a bad idea. He proposes. He fully gets down on one knee and asks Arya to be the Lady of Storm’s End. He is painfully earnest. It’s rough. Arya kisses him and turns him down. “That’s not me,” she says, which is the same thing she told Ned when he told her she’d grow up to become a lady in a castle one day.

Later, we see Arya riding south for Winterfell, running into the Hound along the way. Neither of these characters are ready to let go of their vengeance. Will they get there by the end of the series?

And in other OTHER complicated talks between couples, Brienne and Jaime get it on. He comes into her room, drunk and nervous and kind of mean, jealous of Tormund’s infatuation with her. It’s not the best approach to take to the woman you haven’t been able to admit you’re in love with for the past several years, but he hasn’t had much practice at being in a mutually respectful relationship, which unfortunately dooms this romance before it starts.

But for now, things are tender. Brienne removes their clothes, and Jaime’s bluster melts away as the two of them embrace their very real, very powerful feelings for each other. I’m instantly reminded of their bathtub scene in season 3. I probably could have done without Jaime’s final one-liner, but this is still a well-acted scene.

Okay, we’re done with the talking and growing for now. It’s time for a scene with people standing around a map and planning how to kick Cersei off the throne. There are two options: 1) Surround King’s Landing and cut off supplies until the people rebel from the inside, which was basically Tyrion’s plan from last season, or: 2) Light ’em up! Clearly the latter is on Dany’s mind, but for now, she agrees to hold off on becoming Queen of the Ashes.

It’s the right call, but Sansa and Arya aren’t having it. They ask Jon for a private word in the godswood. Arya and Sansa’s position is, basically, that Daenerys cannot be trusted. Jon says they don’t know her yet, and Arya gets kind of xenophobic when she says that she will never know her, because she isn’t family. “[We’re] the last of the Starks,” she says. And there it is.

I’m trying to suss out why the Stark girls have such a hard time trusting Dany. They’re both decent people at bottom, but they’ve also both been through a lot. Sansa’s line about her experiences with Littlefinger and Ramsay shaping who she is today is instructive, I think. Both Sansa and Arya spent the first two-thirds of the show essentially powerless, whether it’s Sansa being held prisoner in King’s Landing and then Winterfell or Arya being shuffled around Westeros by Yoren and the Brotherhood and the Hound, getting incredibly close to seeing her mother and brother again but not being able to stop their deaths at the Red Wedding. Their experiences have made them strong, but also insular. They don’t trust easily. They’ve learned to rely on themselves and an exclusive circle of people around them, the last of the Starks.

Still, bowing to Dany could have advantages, as Tyrion points out to Sansa later. If Dany is queen and Jon is with her, that would make Sansa the real power in the North. But Sansa also has a point that Jon probably wouldn’t do well in King’s Landing. If anything, Jon’s even more honest that Ned was, and Ned’s forthrightness and honest was what eventually got him killed. Ned, if we’ll recall, kept the secret of Jon Snow’s parentage for over a decade to avoid causing problems with the king. Jon can’t even do it for a day.

I feel like the show underlines how unsuitable Jon is for courtly life in his farewell scene with Tormund, who’s returning his people to the lands beyond the Wall. Tormund offers to take Jon with him, and Jon seems up for the trip. You get the idea that Jon would much rather go north than south, north where things are simpler and there’s lots of room and no one asks him to be Lord Commander or King in the North or Protector of the Seven Kingdoms. But as multiple people in this episode point out, it doesn’t really matter what Jon wants. People put responsibility on him and he takes it. How long until it crushes him?

Anyway, as predicted, Jon tells Arya and Sansa his secret. (To be fair, Tyrion sets her up really nicely when he says Jon isn’t a Stark. What is she supposed to do, not spike the ball?) He swears them to secrecy, but so much does Sansa mistrust Daenerys that she tells Tyrion later, hoping to plant the idea in his head that Jon would be the better ruler. Now it’s out there. Let’s see what will become of it.

Okay, so that’s the first part of the episode, the longer and the better part. I pretty much loved everything about it, give or take Tyrion and Jaime being dicks to Brienne about her virginity. It had the quiet grace of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” which is a very good thing.

For the second part, we join with the Targaryen fleet as it nears Dragonstone (Jon and Davos are leading the remainder of the armies down the Kingsroad.) We get a glory shot of Dany riding Drogon with Rhaegal beside her. The music swells, Dany looks happy, and then…BAM! A giant bolt hits Rhaegal in the breast. And then the wing. And then through the throat. He falls into the ocean and dies.

It’s Euron Greyjoy, who has mounted his ships with a bunch of Qyburn’s scorpions. There’s a good bit where Dany gets her furious face on and tries to dive-bomb Euron’s ships, but ultimately judges it too dangerous and pulls back. Seeing an opening, Euron turns his attention on what remains of Dany’s fleet. They fire the scorpions through the ships, tearing them up but quick. Euron grins like a psycho.

You know what? I’ll give Euron credit for lasting longer than I thought he would. He’s got some fight in him. I looking forward to seeing someone stab it out.

There’s some fun action as people abandon ship. Particularly neat is Tyrion making a swim for it, since Peter Dinklage doesn’t get to do many action scenes. We then cut to a bunch of the survivors washing up on a beach, including Tyrion, Grey Worm and Varys. Missandei is missing. Grey Worm freaks out.

And then we get…Cersei Lannister! Oh, how I’ve missed you. Lena Headey is charismatic as always as she watches civilians pour into the Red Keep, her idea being that Dany won’t light up the city if it means killing thousands of innocents. She really is turning into Lex Luthor.

Cersei assures Euron that “when the war is done, the lion shall rule the land, the kracken shall rule the sea, and our child shall one day rule them all.” It’s strange that we’re this far into the season and I still don’t know quite what the deal with Cersei’s baby is. Is it Jaime’s and she’s passing it off as Euron’s? Did she lose Jaime’s and it really is Euron’s? Is she pregnant at all? They keep bringing it up, so I imagine we’ll get the full truth from Cersei herself next week.

Oh, and Cersei took Missandei prisoner after the sea attack. Shock and awe!

OKAY. So a lot happened there really quickly. It’s interesting that the show is willing to slow down for the first chunk of this episode and explore how characters were feeling in the wake of the Battle of Winterfell, but almost the second we get down south, it’s BAM! Rhaegal’s dead. BAM! Missandei’s captured. They should have eased off the gas here. The most egregious bit was Rhaegal being shot out of the sky from out of nowhere. I know David Benioff said Qyburn upgraded the scorpions since Bronn used them in “The Spoils of War,” but still…how did no one see the Iron Fleet coming? Dany’s on a damn dragon!

I know I’m being one of those would-be screenwriters who edits the show, but the scene wouldn’t take much to render it easier to swallow. Maybe the Ironborn could have met Dany’s fleet on the open water, with Dany thinking she could take them with her dragons? And then, once she gets in shooting distance, the Ironborn reveal a bunch of scorpions hidden under tarps and fire away?

Basically, it seems Benioff and Weiss are more interested in interpersonal relationships and questions about power than they are the mechanics of the battle plans. And that’s fine — I’m more interested in that stuff, too, and this episode was chock-full of it — but I wish they gave us a bit more than what they did.

Also, dick move by giving Missandei and Grey Worm this little moment of happiness before disaster strikes:

When you look this happy on Thrones, one or both of you is a goner.
When you look this happy on Thrones, one or both of you is a goner. /

Moving on, Dany and her counsel are talking about how to handle this. Grey Worm, understandably, wants to rush in and kill ’em all. Varys, making good on his promise from last season to tell Dany if he thinks she’s going wrong, points out that acting on her anger and invading King’s Landing will mean slaughtering innocent citizens. And Dany, who is getting pounded left and right these days, stares into the middle distance and gets that angry glare she gets when she’s contemplating doing something drastic like sacking Astapor or crucifying slavers or feeding a couple of Meereenese noblemen to dragons. Still, she agrees to at least ask for Cersei’s surrender before doing the worst.

This is a rich vein to mine. Is Dany right to want to burn the Red Keep to the ground? After losing her second child, you could certainly make the argument. And it’s not like her righteous quests haven’t worked out for her before. But if she’s willing to kill civilians in the name of achieving her goals, does that disqualify her from the throne? As Varys points out to Tyrion in a scene in the Dragonstone throne room, those people have a right to live. But then again, Dany has talked about burning the Red Keep but hasn’t actually done it, and as Tyrion points out, thinking something and doing it are different things.

And what about Jon? Should he be king instead of Dany? He’s more temperate, and the true heir, and a man, which means the lords of the realm will be more amenable to him, because sexism. Could the two be married? Would Dany contemplate burning civilians anyway, or would Jon reign her in? And circling back, does she even need to be reigned in, particularly after what happens at the end of this episode? Is removing monsters like Cersei and Euron from power worth it, whatever the cost?

Tyrion and Varys bounce these ideas back and forth in what is their best scene together since Varys opened his mail. Varys seems like he’s leaning towards pushing Jon for the throne, even if that means killing Dany. Watch this space. Watch it close.

Back at Winterfell, Sansa gets news of what’s happened. Jaime, who sees her from across the courtyard, asks what’s up. Sansa seems to think this seals Cersei’s fate, and it probably does, but it’s never a good idea to underestimate Cersei Lannister. Honestly, I’ve been getting way more nervous about that ever since the show killed the Night King unexpectedly last week. In any case, Jaime seems to agree with her: his sister killed one of Dany’s dragons. She’s crossed the Rubicon. She’s gonna die.

And now comes the heartbreak. Jaime contemplates the shape of his life as he sits on the edge of the bed while Brienne sleeps. He makes a decision and saddles up his horse. He’s going back to Cersei.

Brienne pleads with him not to go and it’s insanely painful. Brienne is such an open-hearted character, and Gwendoline Christie such an emotive actress, that making her sad is the show’s one sure-fire way to draw tears from the audience. She tells Jaime that he’s a good man, and that he’s better than his sister, and that he can’t save her, all of which are true things. Choose Brienne, Jaime! Choose life!

But he doesn’t. He’s too deep in. His dependency on Cersei started when he was young, and he can’t just wish it away, or kiss it away, not yet, not when her life is in immediate danger. To make it easier on both of them, Jaime lists off some of the horrible things he’s done — pushing Bran out a window for Cersei, killing Alton Lannister to get back to Cersei — convincing himself that he’s as bad as he once was and is as little worth saving as his sister. Jaime leaves, and Brienne weeps, and the actors crush it, and it’s wonderfully horrible.

Jaime’s decision to go to King’s Landing is similar to Arya’s. In both cases, the characters can’t let go of their pasts, even if they would happier for it. Arya can’t let go of her need for vengeance, represented by her list, and Jaime can’t leave Cersei to die, even if she’s the worst thing that ever happened to him. In both cases, we could be heading for tragedy. What stories does Game of Thrones want to tell? We’ll find out soon. I hope at least one of these characters gets a shot at a happy life.

The last scene is a doozy. Daenerys, Grey Worm, Tyrion and Varys are arrayed outside the walls of King’s Landing with a pretty small contingent of Unsullied. Up top, Cersei, Euron and the Mountain look down on them, with Missandei in chains on the edge of the ledge. Drogon prowls in the background. There are a bunch of scorpions on the towers and I wonder why Cersei doesn’t just shoot them, but we’re gonna have to set that aside, because the scene is put together fantastically. Oh my god, the editing. They focus on the faces here — Tyrion, Dany, Grey Worm, Missandei, Cersei — all of them wrought with emotion. It’s like a series of portraits; beautiful stuff.

Things kick off with when Qyburn exists the walls and talks to Tyrion Lannister. Each tries to draw out the unconditional surrender of the other until Tyrion just brushes past him to talk to the woman herself, which made me laugh. Fuck off, Qyburn.

More great portentous shots as Tyrion approaches the walls. Cersei considers shooting him dead, but as she did last season…doesn’t. Why? Probably because she wants to boil him alive in wine later or something. You can’t rush this stuff.

Tyrion, never saying die, tries to appeal to Cersei’s “better side,” specifically the sliver of her that’s capable of empathy for her children. You’d figure he’d know this doesn’t work after trying it in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” but I suppose the circumstances are different, because then Daenerys wasn’t a hair’s breadth away from torching her and her unborn child.

Lena Headey gives ALL THE FACE listening to Tyrion, and for a second I think he might be reaching her, but in the end this is Cersei we’re talking about. “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” She walks over to Missandei and tells her to speak her last words. Missandei, showing some mettle, has but one: “Dracarys.” Oh shit.

On the one hand, I didn’t think Missandei had it in her to call for that kind of violence, but on the other, I’ve never been held hostage by a power-mad queen who beheaded me in front of my boyfriend even though she’d been offered a way out, so what do I know? And that’s one hell of a final line. Chills up the spine.

The Mountain beheads Missandei. It’s wretched. Dany is pissed enough to set the world on fire. End episode.

This was quite the hour and change. I didn’t like the quick and dirty way they handled Rhaegal’s death. Like, I get where they were going, but I think that deserved to be a bit more fleshed out. But I can’t deny the power of a lot of these scenes, from the easy breezy ones in the beginning to the magnificently tense standoff outside the walls of King’s Landing.

I know a lot of fans disagree, but I think killing the Night King off sooner than expected is already paying dividends. This was always the story I always wanted! I can’t help it!

Next. Build your own Small Council!. dark

Game of Bullet Points

  • So what happens to Bran now that the War for the Dawn is over? He’s still here, still kind of creepy and off-putting, still not wanting much of anything.
  • Gendry says he’s not “Gendry Rivers” anymore. If he was born in King’s Landing, he should technically be “Gendry Waters,” so I dunno if “Waters” just doesn’t exist in the show or if Gendry was born in a barn somewhere in the Riverlands or what.
  • Apparently Yara has retaken the Iron Islands in Dany’s name, as she said she would. I’m still hoping we see her one more time but I’m not holding my breathe. AND there’s a “new Prince of Dorne.” Will Quentyn Martell may a surprise 11th hour appearance?
  • I didn’t quite find a place for this in the main recap, but I enjoyed the scene with Bronn, Tyrion and Jaime. Bronn is as delightfully opportunistic as ever, not to mention incredibly profane. “You boys are a pair of gold-plated c***s.” He slaps Tyrion, reveals to us his extensive knowledge of breaking noses, assures us that he never for a second believed Cersei could win this thing, breaks down the Westerosi pecking order, gets the boys to promise him Highgarden once Daenerys takes her throne, and sees himself out. I’m hoping that’s not the last we see of him, but if it is, it’s a fun exit.
  • “Must have felt good sticking your knife in that horned fucker.” Man, the Hound can dress down anybody. It was good to see him riding with Arya again now that the two of them are on more equal terms.
  • Probably Tormund’s last joke about Jon being short: “You weigh as much as two fleas fucking.” Also, Jon leaves Ghost with Tormund, saying that the direwolf belongs in the far north. Probably true, but that’s not going to please the fans who still want to see Ghost rip out a throat or three.
  • Is this the last time we see Sam and Gilly? I have to believe no, but that scene in the courtyard felt like a goodbye. Maybe it’s the last time Sam will see Jon? And good for Gilly’s baby on the way. At least one couple deserves to end this series happy.
  • “Joffrey was a man. I don’t think a cock is a true qualification, as I’m sure you’d agree.” Holy crap, one of Tyrion’s dick jokes was actually relevant and funny.
  • Wait a minute, Arya is the solution to all of this! Dany doesn’t need to burn down King’s Landing if she can send in a surgically precise assassin like Arya Stark to kill Cersei for her. Jon’s right: these folk need to work together.

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