SPOILER ALERT: This article contains details of tonight’s fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth & final season.
The Night King is dead on Game of Thrones, but long live the true ruthless ruler of the Seven Kingdoms … whoever that may turn out to be.
Swiveling off last week’s long, dark and seemingly defining battle of Winterfell and the victory over the Army of the Dead and its blue-eyed leader, tonight’s “The Last of the Starks,” the fourth episode of the eighth and final season of the HBO blockbuster series, validated that much-repeated expression of Ronald Reagan’s: You ain’t seen nothing yet.
The inferred braggadocio came with the return of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) to the Emmy-winning drama executive produced by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss after a total absence last week. However, unlike the Great Communicator, the queen came looking for blood and to send a message.
That message was conveyed sharply to rival Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) via the killing of her trusted interpreter Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) in the episode’s closing minutes.
In a concise episode that saw a number of characters ride off the narrative battlefield, the current and perhaps future queens of the Iron Throne faced off with mutual demands of total surrender. Into that no man’s lands stepped Cesei’s hated brother Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) with an appeal to let her unborn child live in peace and not be part of a slaughter. The statement left the Headey played character’s latest lover, and the likely soon to be disposed of, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) shocked as he thought only he and Cersei knew of the child the pirate was told was his.
Put it this way, the epic end is coming for GoT, a true fury has been unleashed and nobody’s safe — like it should be on a drama true to itself.
With the menace that King’s Landing will be destroyed like a real-life Carthage by one army or another, war takes flight as Daenerys attacks her enemy from the sky on the back of Rhaegal, one of her two remaining dragons.
At the same time, the Episode 5 trailer shown at the end of “Last of the Starks” tonight makes the Winterfell battle appear to be a dust-up compared to what’s coming next week. We got more than a hint of that when carnage breaks out on the sea with the brutish Euron ambushing and sinking many of the ships of the army from the North — and the Targaryen Queen’s Rhaegal.
Pulling the strings of power, Cersei forges ahead with what might be called a kamikaze tactic – hold on to the Iron Throne or scorch the earth behind her if her reign of terror falls.
Knowing her enemies’ next moves, Cersei seems to have a spy in or close to the House of Stark. A fact made more ostensible by the heartbreaking artifice of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), once again for his “hateful” sister and longtime lover, after taking the long unrequited affection and virginity of Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) — just sayin’.
Or could it be Tyrion, who is increasingly doubting Daenerys’ stamina to rule justly, Would he prefer to go with the Mad Queen he knows the best?
Also, from one bent knee to another, the already extremely complicated relationship between lovers Daenerys and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) went one step further literally and figuratively into palace intrigue. The Mother of Dragons in this evening’s episode tried to convince the man who she now knows is her nephew to let things be the way they once were and not let the “truth destroy us.”
“You are my Queen and nothing will change that, and they’re my family,” the often-naïve Snow passionately tells Clarke’s character. “We can live together.” Restating her plan that they pledge to keep the true lineage of the once-assumed bastard son of Ned Stark within a very tight circle, Daenerys leaves Snow standing by a raging fire alone. He soon is headed to reveal who he truly is to his half-siblings via the Three-Eyed Raven, aka Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). It is a truth that Sansa is and obviously will be struggling to not use to cripple Daenerys’ claim to be monarch of Westeros and Essos.
Then again, asserting that he means what he promises in private in public too, Snow overrides Sansa in a later war council and tells Daenerys that “if you command it, we will obey” when it comes to attacking Cersei, armada chieftain and Cersei’s current lover Euron and her financial backers in the Golden Company.
With the long-looming threat from beyond the Northern Wall apparently eradicated thanks to the determined knife work of Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), Daenerys has taken her victory to King’s Landing, but there was no TKO to be found.
Instead, in the 80-minute “The Last of the Starks” episode that opened with Daenerys, ruler of the North Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and the bruised and grizzled vanquishers grieving over those they lost fighting the Night King, the worst nightmares of warfare are surely to come.
“We are here to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters,” declared the haunted Snow at the beginning of the David Nutter-directed episode as a near endless multitude of butchered fallen lay on pyres in the snow of the North before him, Daenerys, the Stark clan, Kingslayer Jaime, Daenerys’ weakened right-hand Tyrion, the recently knighted Brienne, more GoT regulars and other survivors of the self-described greatest army ever assembled.
“To our fathers and mothers,” continues Jon, the past King of the North and perhaps true heir to the Iron Throne, in classic war-movie mode. “To our friends, our fellow men and women who set aside their differences to fight together and die together so that others might live. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and honor to keep them alive in memory.” Fires are struck to burn the bodies and Sansa, Arya and Bran look on with deep feelings, and potentially plans of their own.
Of course, with Snow’s true parentage now known among select royals of various stripes, there is a telling look at the funeral between Clarke’s and Harington’s characters as the former is now no longer the latter’s lover and queen, but his aunt as well.
To prove a greater point (and with or without the odd oversight of letting in a Starbucks cup cameo), Daenerys makes a political point of raising the heroic Gendry, one of the illegitimate children of once-King Robert Baratheon, to master of Storm’s End, one of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros – a fact the Joe Dempsie-portrayed character bragged as he woefully and unsuccessfully later asks Arya to marry him.
Amid much drink, hookups, deflated dalliances and feast toasts to the Dragon Queen, and then from Daenerys herself to the absent “hero of Winterfell” Arya and a biting look to Sansa, tonight was a fitting start to the end of a threat that has consumed GoT from the very beginning and a launch of another in what is now the Game of Queens. The bacchanalia was also telling of the alliances and deceits to come in next week’s penultimate episode and the series finale to follow.
In the tradition of past seasons and smart storytelling, this last round of GoT has used what would be a finale for any other show as its benchmark far from the end once again. Getting the great clash of the Miguel Sapochnik-helmed “The Long Night” out of the way April 28, tonight’s Benioff- and Weiss-penned episode turned quickly to the political onslaught to come through more bloodshed and bloodlines.
However, in another more recent tradition, leaks and spoilers have emerged this final season. To that end, Episode 4 appeared online hours beforehand Sunday’s airing with proclamations of a major death. As in the past three weeks, Sunday’s leaks emerged to the frustration of both the premium cabler and the secretive EPs of the series based on George R.R. Martin’s writings.
At the same time, if last week’s the all-time series high of 17.8 million viewers and the previous episodes of Season 8 are to be seen as precedent, leaks aren’t hurting HBO one bit where it counts.
At this stage, the real drama on both sides of the screen is what strategy Benioff and Weiss (who are directing the final episode of the series and writing the last two) are scheming to cross the finish line, and who will be the last of the last and ruler when we get there in two weeks — if an inexplicably slow Jon Snow ever makes it King’s Landing.
BTW – I’m sticking with my last prediction of Sansa. However, it looks like the newly elevated Gendry could be the dark horse — again.