After spending a good chunk of last week defending the controversial “The Long Night” episode and insisting it will be seen as a classic in months and years to come, we think this episode did a very good job of pissing all over our efforts. We went into “The Last of the Starks” confident that the show was at a creative high and excited to see where that creative energy was going to take us. Imagine our disappointment to find out it was taking us to Starbucks. Joking aside, this one was a mess; stocked to the rafters with really weird character turns and a series of writing choices that come off more and more problematic when put in short succession.
It started off well. The funeral scene was appropriately touching and served to make the somewhat minor and B-list character deaths of last week seem more important than they felt at the time. The drinking celebrations and the Jaime/Brienne tryst were fun and felt like the show paying off years of work. After such a massive, game-changing battle, it made sense to give the characters some room to breathe – even if the first two episodes of this season did nothing but give the characters that same room. It’s what came after those first twenty well-directed minutes that left a sour taste.
Brienne went from a Knight of the Seven Kingdoms to a heartbroken woman weeping in her bathrobe for her man to stay. Jaime tossed out years worth of character development to announce that he’s irredeemable after all. Varys and Tyrion spend years supporting Daenerys and singing her praises as the One True Queen only to decide they’d rather have the first person-with-a-cock available for the job – even though he doesn’t want it and has a history of abdicating. Tyrion utters the completely ludicrous sentiment “I know you’re not a monster” to Cersei, after eight seasons of her proving the exact opposite over and over again. Sansa tells The Hound that her years of rapes, beatings and being terrorized were ultimately great for her. Arya leaves her family with the intention of never seeing them again without so much as a goodbye after several episodes of tearful reunions and intense family bonding. The only black female character on the show (and one of only two people of color in the cast) is put in chains before she’s beheaded so that other characters can feel mad and take action. After several seasons of the show course-correcting from its beating-the-whores early seasons and elevating most of its female characters into becoming more fully rounded, it seems the show is heading into its final hours having settled on the theme of “Bitches be crazy.”
A lot of these actions are mildly explainable. Jaime and Arya, for instance, are probably heading off to kill Cersei. That still doesn’t make the nature of their harsh and abrupt goodbyes make any sense. Brienne has cried before – and even over a man she loved. It’s not the crying that bugs us, but that the scene in the courtyard didn’t feel remotely earned and it upended years of character development. Give us the Brienne who defiantly and angrily stood completely naked in front of Jaime as she confronted him; not this weeping, shy and needy schoolgirl. Give us back the Sansa who learned and grew from her trials out of necessity; not this oddly vindictive person who breaks promises and claims her beatings were good for her. Give us a reason why Arya would turn her back on her family after spending years avenging them and finding her way back home.
The optics of putting a black woman in chains in order to behead her was a terrible creative choice and one that smacked of ignorance and blindness on the part of the writers. It’s not wrong to kill Missandei in a show with a body count as high as this one, but that image was unfortunate to say the least; even more so because the only narrative purpose of her death is to make other characters angry and heartbroken heading into the final battle. Daenerys as the Mad Queen is a development that her entire arc has been – if not “heading toward,” then “playing with” – since she first grabbed power for herself. We won’t be upset if that’s her final character turn – especially since it’s been set up well by all of her recent losses and frustrations. It’s just unfortunate that the ultimate showdown in this game of thrones – a game played exclusively by men through most of the story – will be between two mad, murderous queens – with another jealous, plotting queen in the north and a semi-bumbling ersatz king waiting in the wings to sweep in and take over when it all goes bad.
Does it say something that the previous episode was executed in such a way that many if not most home viewers had trouble seeing it and this episode treated us to the highly uncharacteristic carelessness of a Starbucks cup in the great hall of Winterfell? Shrug. Maybe it’s facile to come to any sort of conclusion over these random events, but it’s not difficult to come away from these last couple of episodes of Game of Thrones thinking there’s a distinct carelessness to be found in the end product as the show sprints toward the finish line.
Gendry took his shot but the poor boy clearly doesn’t know Arya all that well.
Is this the last of Tormund? Because that was a big nothing of a goodbye for such a central and beloved character. Still, he got more than poor Ghost ever did.
That poor pup lost an ear and all Jon could do was nod at him from across the courtyard.
Previous seasons exhaustively explained that the running of the Seven Kingdoms requires an entire council of advisors and an active and bustling court. Now we’re supposed to accept that Cersei is such a mastermind that she can do it almost entirely on her own in an almost entirely empty castle, outsmarting every other power in the world. Her turn from complex character toward supervillain has made her far less interesting.
Similarly, it’s really hard to accept a dork like Euron as some sort of untouchable military master that no one in Westeros can beat.
Granted, it helps both Cersei and Euron that Dany and Jon seem to have sustained several blows to the head in recent seasons. The amount of mistakes they both make on a regular basis has us puzzled as to why anyone would consider them viable rulers going forward. Give it to Sansa. She may be cold and psychically damaged (who isn’t in this world?) but at least she’s shown herself to be consistently smart.
Is it us or did everyone collectively sort of gloss over the amazingness of Arya’s feat? She got a toast after saving all of humankind. No wonder she left without a goodbye.
What was the point of not showing us the Stark siblings’ response to the shocking news that Jon isn’t one of them? It’s one of the most important facts of the entire series and it personally impacts them more than anyone but Jon and Dany. Why skip that scene?
[Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO]