The Last of The Starks
What can be done of consequence after a great storm, except rebuild? Drink, apparently. In “The Last of the Starks,” the final season of “Game of Thrones” chases the hard liquor of its triumphant 90-minute battle episode with another hour and a half of callbacks ad set up, most notably an extended feast sequence which echoes a similar sequence in the first season. The show takes this opportunity to showcase in broad strokes the way its characters have evolved or failed to do so. A reserved, nearly gothic Sansa stark seems lightyears away from her naive younger self. Meanwhile, Sandor Clegane remains as miserable and lovable-in-spite-of-himself as he ever was.
Taken scene by scene, it’s a quiet table-setting episode, one that hammers the final nail in Dany’s coffin as a lovable character without tightening any serious screws.
Taken in whole, “The Last of the Starks” does a half-decent job of setting up what looks to be another 90 minutes of violence without adding a whole lot of stakes to the table. As such, it’s tough to discuss the episode without divulging a great deal of the plot, or lack thereof, which seems fine, since at this point “Game of Thrones” is happier to make commentary about its own plot than to advance it in a meaningful way.
As in the past, “Game of Thrones” seems unafraid of meta-textualization, or dealing with its fans — their wants, needs, desires and fantasies — on an explicit level. Multiple times during “The Last of the Starks,” characters seem to break the fourth wall and become a stand-in for the audience at the conclusion of “The Long Night,” cheering for Arya Stark, either for her heroic victory against The Night King or for her sexual conquest the week before. It’s a credit to Masie Williams’ depiction of the character that her Arya is uninterested in self-congratulation and would rather practice her bow and arrow. She’s geared up for another eight years of narrative, even though the rest of the cast seems content to indulge in long-withheld temptations: Jaime and Brienne, now a knight, finally consummate their nearly decade-long streak of odd sexual tension. In this writer’s estimation, such indulgences fail to satisfy.
Thank the seven, then, for Bron of the Blackwater, who shows up with repeating crossbow in-hand, to surprise Tyrion and Jaime in the best scene of the season so far, upending a dead-on-arrival-subplot in twenty seconds in favor of witty repartee and Machiavellian scheming — the two great pillars on which the series was built. This scene, along with one of the better advisors-sitting-around-a-map sequences in the series, makes up the highlights of the episode.
For all these little victories, though, the series tips its hand toward a serious loss, that of a compelling villain. In honesty, the plot feels gloriously unburdened without The Night King. His True Norwegian Black Metal menace lent a gothic dread to the series, not to mention its greatest subtextual and literary metaphor, but in practice, his grimness and silence didn’t an iconic baddie make. He and his wights could have been pop culture’s great ode to the oncoming climate apocalypse, instead they are scarecrows.
The show’s best foil to its main characters remains Petyr Baelish, and the seasons without him have suffered for his passing, Cersei Lannister, aided by Euron Greyjoiy, makes the most of her wicked crown by decapitating a likable B-list character and unceremoniously annihilating another of Dany’s dragons with mass-produced siege bows. The unexpected loss of a dragon lends “The Last of the Starks” some weight, but it doesn’t really add anything to Cersei or Euron at all — it’s just more impossible odds and more nihilism to be channeled into CGI rather than realpolitik and one-liners.
The single biggest blind spot in the show remains the long-awaited romance between Dany and Jon Snow. The fact of Jon’s claim to the Iron Throne remains a bogeyman bandied about by supposedly clever characters, but they’re retreading old ground without giving the actors something new to chew on. That neither Dany nor Jon themselves have brought up a seemingly inevitable (and anticlimactic) marriage proposal themselves seems absurd at this point.
For a fantasy series that supposedly treats politics with a degree of seriousness, it’s a marvel that the dream team that took down a frigid necromancer seems to have no political IQ at all. Instead, it’s up to Cersei, starved for screen time but not fine wardrobe choices, to take “Game of Thrones” out of the grip of soap opera and back into the realm of the epic, even though her motivations seem stretched to the breaking point. She deserves better than this, but she’s still proving that “Game of Thrones” has legs without its longest-running metaphor to sustain it.