Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 4 Deconstructed

ATM’s GOT Guru (#GOTGuru) picks up the pieces following the epic Battle of Winterfell, and guides us through an episode entitled “The Last of The Starks,” where more beloved characters were lost and the focus dramatically shifted to King’s Landing…

by: Geoffrey Golia (#GOTGuru) and Michael Shields

MCS: I’ve always appreciate the episodes after the bigger moments and battles on Game of Thrones, where the characters are picking up the pieces of all the action before, and so “The Last of The Starks” was a real treat to me (although I might be alone in this assessment, according to my Twitter feed at least…). I enjoyed how they took the time to mourn those lost in The Battle of Winterfell, truly driving home the exorbitant toll the of the war with the Night King. But since we are in the home stretch of the series, that time spent in bereavement could only last so long…and now we have even more of our heroes to grieve. The climax of the episode found Missandei going out like a boss, urging those left to bring hell upon Cersei and Co. How does her public murder change Dany’s approach moving forward? I assume this up’s the ante a great deal.

G.G.: Well, there’s bereavement (and I think we are supposed to see the survivors of the war in the North as mourning if not incredibly traumatized) and then there is Sansa’s point about giving the troops a rest before pushing them into another war with a fresh foe. It’s hard to say whether it would have really mattered in the context of how the episode ends, as the biggest losses were Rhaegal and Missandei, both of which seem to be testing Daenerys’ distress tolerance and coping skills. Remember, Targaryens have a propensity for paranoid and authoritarian madness, including Daenerys’ father, and with Jorah’s death, her disappointment with Tyrion, and the growing mistrust between her and AeJon, many of her moderating influences are absent. Not that “moderating influences” can really help a potential tyrant — just ask all the former staffers and aides who worked for the current Presidential administration, but I digress…

It makes sense that the episode ended on that note, with the viewers not knowing how Dany will react, and how that reaction with help her strategically and in terms of her image and legitimacy. Already furious with the maritime defeat of her forces and, more importantly, the death of another dragon, the public execution of Missandei, in front of her, during a parlay, is sure to test her ability to keep it together and act in a way that befits a liberator, rather than a butcher. Not that I’m sold on the liberator angle — if we’ve learned anything from this series, it’s that there are no liberators nor any rulers who can consistently prioritize the needs of the people of Westeros, or any other place for that matter. Dany is demonstrating the old trope of the idealist who is in danger of becoming that which she hates — a supposed liberator who seeks to free people from bondage and death, only to bring those two things out of wrath and sense that the ends justify the means. This was only too clear in the episode.

My sense is she will be persuaded, one way or another, to take a more prudent course. But she also may just light the motherfucker up…

MCS: Jamie, near the episode’s conclude, triumphantly broke Brienne’s heart with her decision to ride South. Brienne tries to convince Jaime that he can’t save Cersei, but I wonder if that is what he is setting out to do. Jaime might not be a good man as defined by many of his actions he recounted, but we’ve seen a true change of heart in him…and I am curious if you have a take on what his mindset on route to King’s Landing?

GG: You’re right. It’s not clear what Jaime’s true intention is. But I think it’s unlikely he is acting on a desire to reconcile and reunite with Cersei. In the books and on the show, there is the ever-present threat of the Valonqar — Maggy The Frog’s prophecy, told to Cersei Lannister, that, among other ominous portents, “…when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.” Volanqar is High Valyrian for “little brother” though, as any nerd will tell you, there is a strong evidence that Valyrian is a gender-neutral language, which does open the door for female volanqar. Though, clearly, Cersei’s complicated relationships with both of her little brothers point to the prophecy being fulfilled by one or both of her brothers. If in fact it is just one of them, then it looks like the showrunners are ramping up the drama and mystery prior to the reveal. Jaime is heading to King’s Landing; Tyrion is laying siege to the city. Both are in proximity to the fulfill the prophecy. Cersei has, at least for the last few seasons, believed that Tyrion is the volanqar…and he does have both of his hands, unlike Jaime. While the show is not shy about disregarding prophecies and theories (though they definitely listened to all those people who have been shipping Brienne and Jaime for nigh on the last fifteen years), I think it’s likely the show is setting up a final showdown between the Lannister kids.

So, yeah, at the end of the day, I don’t believe Jaime is acting on a desire to reconcile and reunite with Cersei.

MCS: Loose lips sink ships (someone PLEASE tell Sansa that!), but so do big ass arrows. The scene with Tyrion dodging those arrows amid Euron’s ambush was riveting to behold, but Tyrion did manage to make it out alive, and his conversation with Varys about his loyalty to Dany was telling. It is clear Varys is scheming, but to what end do you think? And what are the ramifications of word beginning to spread about Jon’s authentic lineage?

G.G: I’m frankly surprised that Tyrion didn’t have Varys taken into custody. Varys went right up to the line and, by the end, basically crossed it. Tyrion’s too deep now not to put all his effort and energy into Dany’s cause — he said as much in the conversation with Varys. But, for the life of me, I don’t know what Varys end game would be. His loyalty to the realm must recognize the need for administration of the Seven Kingdoms. Power is, for the time being, vested in the monarchy and, in that game, there are only two players. So what choice does he have?

The question of AeJon’s “authentic lineage,” I think, is a more pressing matter. One reason there has been so much dynastic instability, both recently and during various periods of Westeros’ past, is that true identities have been hidden, parentage has been questioned, secrets have been revealed. The history of the Targaryens in Westeros is full of examples, of which the Dance of the Dragons and the Blackfyre Rebellion (not to be confused with the Blackfyre Festival, where various Westerosi influencers ended up stranded on an ill-equipped island in the Blackwater Rush) are merely the most dramatic. One of the most disappointing parts of the episode was Daenerys’ command that AeJon keep his lineage, and thus his claim, a secret. This conflict was clearly intended to raise concerns among those who think Dany might have left the conspiratorial madness of her father behind — maybe, as Sansa and Varys claim, she is temperamentally unfit for the job.

The foreshadowed conflict between rival Targaryen claims would be more effectively (and peacefully) handled with a little transparency and some strategic thinking. They could marry, for instance. AeJon could send ravens to all the loyal Houses of Westeros, abdicating his claim. Secrecy, or attempted secrecy, is a recipe for disaster, but I suppose it makes good television. Will the show’s finale be a deadly conflict between AeJon and Dany? Perhaps …

MCS: Dany, in a moment of benevolence, hooked Gendry up, naming him the Lord of Storm’s End. This is surely something that doesn’t happen in Westeros, a bastard getting some respect like this? 

G.G.: Oh my dear, sweet child, it was not benevolence. At least not wholly. There was a real-time game of power politics and alliance-building going on all over that feast at Winterfell…which, to be honest, was a little too on the nose; it was a literal tit-for-tat. It’s clear that the Northerners and the Wildlings revere AeJon and are extremely loyal to him. Dany, noticing this and feeling insecure in her claim, decides to create not just any Lord, but a Lord of a Great House, who will be, as she and Tyrion agree later, extremely loyal and have access to wealth, resources, and a near-impregnable castle. This was almost completely a strategic move to sure up her support across the Stormlands, one of the Seven Kingdoms.

Here’s an interesting fact: Lord Gendry Baratheon is now the liege lord of both Ser Brienne of Tarth and Ser Davos Seaworth.

MCS: Can you tell us some about Highgarden, is this the sort of prize that will keep Bronn from using that crossbow on Jaime or Tyrion?

G.G.: Highgarden is the Seat of the Great House of the Reach and it’s regional capital. Most recently, Highgarden was held by House Tyrell, which is now — at least on the show — extinct. (Prior to the unification of the realm under Aegon the Conquerer, Highgarden was held by House Gardener, whose line was ended during the Conquest.) The Reach is the breadbasket of the Seven Kingdoms, and one of the wealthiest and most resource-rich areas in the kingdom, making its rulers among the most powerful and influential in the realm…and, currently, there doesn’t seem to be Great House ruling the Reach, so the implications of Tyrion promising Bronn this castle are huge. It’s a little like being promised the State of Iowa, which you could run as your personal agri-business.

Another interesting fact: if Sam Tarly returns to Horn Hill and takes his father’s seat, and Tyrion keeps his promise, Sam’s liege lord will be… Lord Bronn of the Blackwater!

MCS: The long-awaited reunion of Sansa and the Hound was fascinating. What do you think Sansa’s next move is? I feel her decisions moving forward will play a huge roll in who eventually sits upon that Iron Throne!

G.G.: If I had my way, Sansa would be sitting on the Iron Throne at the end of the series. But I don’t have that power, and it probably won’t end that way, but I do think that Sansa will have a part to play by the end. Unless the showrunners have dispensed with any thoughtfulness when it comes to tying up loose ends, and are just shutting down certain characters, it’s hard for me to believe we won’t see Sam and Gilly or Tormund and Ghost again, and it seems even more unlikely that Sansa won’t have another chance to make an impact.


Circle back for next week’s deconstruction of Season 8 Episode 5, “TBA,” at Across the Margin!

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