Wow. The show writers dealt us a serious twist in episode three. It necessarily marks a significant split between the first half of the finale season and the second half. We knew what to expect in the first half. Now we don’t.
Aaaand the results aren’t good. The dialogue is snappy, but the plotting isn’t great, and the laziness the show writers have put on display since they passed the events of the books majorly hampers “The Last of the Starks.” The good news is that plenty happens (more than in the first two episodes), even if much of what does happen is predictable.
“We may have defeated them, but we still have us to content with.”
FULL SPOILERS below the cut.
First the previously on. We see Cersei, Jaime, Euron, and get a mention of an unborn child. We are reminded of Bronn and the assassination plot, as well as Jon and Dany’s competing claims to the Iron Throne. We get a mention of the family ties among Sansa, Arya, and Jon. But the writers haven’t forgotten the Long Night, with shots of the five major deaths so, uh, I hope nobody watched it by accident before they could watch The Long Night.
There are no apparent changes to the title sequence to signify the shift in focus for the second half of the final season.
The actual episode opens on Jorah on his pyre. He will live forever in Dany’s heart. In the friendzone of her heart. Sansa weeps over Theon, placing a Stark pin on him. Later, Arya, Sam, and Jon light the fires for Beric, Dolorous Edd, and Lyanna Mormont, respectively. It is a nice touch, and there is a pretty incredible shot of dozens of pyres, thick with dead men.
Oh hey, Ghost survived the battle!
Like all momentous events, last episode’s win calls for a feast.
Gendry is stuck drinking with the poors (i.e., the Hound). Gendry has Arya on his mind for . . . some reason. “You can still smell the burning bodies and that’s where your head is?” When he gets up, Dany calls his name and starts her “maybe I should burn you for a dubious reason” routine, but she is actually offering Gendry Storm’s End, legitimizing him on the spot. Now he just needs to help take Storm’s End and the rest of the South.
Tormund starts singing Jon’s praises. Dany is crestfallen to hear Tormund mention the dragonriding, but he also spills the beans on Jon’s resurrection. Dany learning this has no apparent relevance.
We get a nice scene with the Hound and Sansa. Arya and the Hound spent so much time together that we forget about the history with these two. They bond over Sansa’s cruel justice in killing Ramsey (I still say it should have been a dire wolf).
Flush with legitimacy, Gendry runs straight to propose to Arya. But lady of a castle still isn’t Arya. He should have offered her another sweet weapon.
Brienne and Jaime finally have sex. The scene is oddly unaffecting, comparing unfavorable with the scene by the pyres.
Dany goes to Jon’s chambers. Jorah’s remains are still smoldering, but Dany tells Jon she could never love Jorah the way she loves him. The whole incest thing, though, is awkward. Or maybe it is just the rival claim that bothers Dany. Jon insists he won’t pursue it, but she insists he must keep it secret. Jon won’t keep it secret from his sisters.
Grey Worm reports half the Unsullied are dead. Jon that half the Northmen are dead. Apparently there are Dothraki left too. Given what we saw in the last episode, the good guys did pretty well. But, regardless, the balance between forces is now even.
Dany wants King’s Landing. Tyrion pushes her to squeeze the city, causing the people to rise and overthrow Cersei. This would definitely not count as destroying King’s Landing.
Sansa doesn’t want the Northern forces heading south. Not yet. But Jon overrules her.
This causes Sansa and Arya to pull Jon aside. They lean hard on the ties of family. Bran says it is Jon’s choice. He chooses to tell the truth, making Sansa and Arya first swear to never tell another soul.
Jaime is staying in Winterfell because Brienne is staying to guard Sansa. Bronn walks in with a loaded crossbow. Apparently security isn’t real tight post-existential threat. Bronn wants to cash in on an old offer by Tyrion. What’s double Riverrun? Highgarden. Jaime isn’t so interesting in dealing, putting the lie once again to the adage that the Lannisters always pay their debts. Bronn doesn’t want to fight for his payment though. He says he will be back after the war is done. Bronn also reloads his crossbow in literally three seconds because nothing matters.
The Hound and Arya are headed to King’s Landing on some unfinished business. Neither plan on coming back. Neither explains why they needed to ride separately when everyone else is heading to King’s Landing too (except Jaime).
It wasn’t clear at the end of the last episode, but we now learn both non-undead dragons survived the battle, if not unhurt. For now.
Sansa makes it what, a couple hours, before spilling the beans to Tyrion. Tyrion shortly tells Varys, who points out that it isn’t a secret anymore. Varys also comes out as anti-incest.
Tormund is leaving, and Jon sends his dire wolf with him, because the show people really, really hate the dire wolves.
FUCK. Another dragon (Rhaegal) goes down when Euron ambushes Dany and her small fleet. The dragon going down surprised me, even if the ambush by Euron was the most predictable plot twist possible (it ought to be impossible to sneak up on a fleet with a couple dragons, but no). I bet Jon wishes he hadn’t left his dire wolf now. Oh, and Euron has magic ship-exploding ballistae.
Cersei tells Euron the child is his. She also lets much of King’s Landing into the Red Keep to serve as a human shield, Hamas-style. Like Hamas, Cersei too inexplicably has her defenders.
Tyrion and Varys scheme. Varys suggest the “problem of Jon Snow” is “actually a solution.” Varys asks who would make the better ruler. Tyrion doesn’t point out the obvious: probably not Jon. He also doesn’t point out that Cersei obviously wouldn’t. Their talk is premature.
Jaime reacts to the news from the south by fleeing Winterfell. Brienne thinks it is to save Cersei. You would think that ship has already sailed? But no. Is it too late for Brienne to catch Tormund?
Dany’s army is now somehow in King’s Landing despite losing its fleet off of Dragonstone, which is an island. Cersei took advantage of the reprieve offered by the first three episodes to put ballistae on the walls as well as on her ships. Qyburn and Tyrion meet and exchange competing demands for unconditional surrender. Every archer draws and holds for an extended period of time when Tyrion walks up to the walls, because why not at this point. Tyrion attempts to reason with Cersei, as if the events of the last four episodes didn’t happen. Cersei kills Missandei anyway.
I defended the lack of realism in the last episode. The Long Night had its issues, but they were relatively minor and they were more than balanced out by sound TV storytelling choices. Realism is a storytelling tool that can be throttled back when it serves the story. This episode, though, is just lazy. There are so, so many issues with this episode and not much payoff.
I was already skeptical coming in. The politics isn’t as interesting as the existential ice zombie crisis and, probably more importantly, the show writers aren’t as good at it. It shows here.
I will say something nice: there were several scenes or lines that didn’t add anything to this episode but that could wind up enhancing the final two episodes.
Jon gives a nice speech. I’m not sure that he is a worse choice than Dany. You know who is a good choice? Nobody. Everybody in this show sucks. This is very different than real life, where we can solve all of our problems if we finally elect the right person.
There has been a lot of talk about Dany arcing toward becoming the Mad Queen. But she really doesn’t have a character arc at all. Dany doesn’t seem to have learned anything over the course of the last seven seasons. I have dragon
s; point dragon at anyone who disagrees. At this point I have to admit that I wouldn’t be a fan of Dany if I hadn’t read the books. She has been written terribly in the show.
If Jon isn’t strong enough to prevent Dany from bending him to his will, how is he going to prevent someone else from doing the same? Lack of will isn’t a very good weakness for a ruler.
The show skipped over it, but a major factor in the mutiny that led to Jon’s death in the books was Jon stupidly pushing away his closest, most loyal allies. He may come to regret giving up Tormund and Ghost so easily.
Cersei is worse, which people keep seeming to forget. She burned down a church full of people; she already is the Mad Queen.
Some Mormonts are getting the fuck down in Valhalla tonight.
Remember Lord Glover, who skipped the fight? He doesn’t show up, but fuck that guy.
The scene of Dany patting herself on the back for her own cleverness in legitimizing Gendry is illustrative of her weakness as a ruler. She has limited range. She usually just goes straight at a thing. Adding a second tack isn’t nearly enough. What she did with Gendry was . . . not that clever a move. A good move, to be sure, but hardly the completion of a grand Xanatos gambit.
Jaime has never had as effective a redemption arc on the show. He is too much of a jerk in general and leaving Brienne after taking her virginity doesn’t show nearly enough character growth from taking Cersei by force several seasons ago.
I’ve seen several people mention that Missandei could have tempered Dany’s worst impulses had she lived. But her final word, “dracarys,” is a reminder that that is wishful thinking. The former slave has stood beside Dany through harsh measures before, and she didn’t have the personal connection to King’s Landing that many of the other characters have.
The dialogue in this episode does crackle. It’s right up there with the dialogue in episode two.
“I don’t know how to be lord of anything. I hardly know how to use a fork.”
“I owe them the truth.”
“Even if the truth destroys us?”
This says something about Jon and what he thinks it means to be Ned Stark’s son. But Ned never told even Catelyn the truth about Jon.
Sansa is still an idiot. All that pain was for nothing. “Without Littlefinger and Ramsey and the rest, I would have stayed a Little Bird my whole life.” You know, some people can figure shit out without all that. And Sansa still hasn’t demonstrated that she has learned much beyond how to be vicious and cruel. She isn’t any smarter than she was when she started. “You understand we’d all be dead if not for her” is a pretty good argument. But Sansa only learned to dishonor obligations and screw people over at the drop of the hat from Littlefinger and Ramsey. Who are dead now, apropos of nothing.
Dorne remains loyal to Dany. I believe Dorne has the last remaining full strength army of any of the seven kingdoms. But it will be tough to pull them back into the story without any Dornish characters left (unless we see Ellaria Sand again alive and out of the Red Keep dungeons).
Post-Night King, there should be plenty of room for Tormund to wander in the North these days. Is there a role for the Night’s Watch post-Night King and with the “real North” depopulated? Will the Wall melt now because the Night King broke its magic?
Did everyone forget that winter is here? Or maybe it isn’t now that the White Walkers have been defeated. The biggest problem with Sansa’s recommendation they wait is that waiting means staying in Winterfell for a winter that could last years. That could be her play since she doesn’t want the Northmen to march south at all. But if it is she isn’t thinking more than one step ahead. If Dany stays too that means more mouths to feed, and it means Dany cements her hold over the North, preventing #Nexit.
It was egregiously stupid for Dany to split her forces and fly/sail a small force to Dragonstone when (1) her hold over her Westerosi forces is tenuous and (2) the other side has a known superior navy.
Euron’s magic fleet has gotten to be a pretty lame plot point. Especially since everybody knows it’s a magic fleet at this point. You wouldn’t just go sailing around with a small fleet and valuable cargo for no good reason. But then Dany has magic projectile dodging skills. She dives toward Euron’s fleet on her dragon. It is only after she somehow dodges a dozen ballista bolts that she decides to flee. There is a limit to the shortcuts you can take, even on television.
Jon’s claim isn’t nearly a strong without a dragon (although, to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if we learn Rhaegal survived). All of the discussion of the strength of Jon’s claim, though, is a tacit admission that Cersei has magic plot armor when it comes to the never-mentioned extreme weakness of her own claim.
Bad storytelling, especially in television, tends to be recursive. There is no good reason for Jaime and Tyrion to take their turns back toward Cersei. Not after everything that has already happened, including most recently learning that Cersei hired Bronn to kill them.
It does at least fit with Tyrion’s biggest weakness: his overconfidence in his own abilities. He thinks he is the only person who can make Cersei see reason. Not only is the list of “people who can make Cersei see reason” blank, Tyrion is the last person who would be on the list. He is conveniently forgetting how much Cersei hates him.
I don’t have high hopes for the last two episodes. But then I’ve long accepted Game of Thrones for what it is: a shiny, high production value fantasy that is by no means a great show.
 Also Jaime.