Game of Thrones season 8 episode 4, recap review: Not hugely satisfying as show goes back to basics

A quiet episode that rarely tackles emotional ground but does set up future discord

Nick Hilton
Monday 06 May 2019 11:40 BST
Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 preview

The meat and potatoes of Game of Thrones, as the title suggests, has always been the machinations of monarchies. For seven seasons, the show hinted at a greater war, a greater purpose, beyond these mortal wranglings, but with its latest episode, the show has gone back to basics.

“The Last of the Starks” – a title drawn from extensive, and mutinous, mutterings about Jon’s potential claim to the Iron Throne – shares its DNA with this season’s opening salvo. It is an episode focused, once again, on quiet character moments, ominous discussions in darkened halls, and long-awaited romantic consummations. But where “Winterfell”, this season eight premiere, was a gathering of reunions, “The Last of the Starks” is a collection of farewells. With Jon riding south to confront Cersei, his emotional goodbyes to Tormund and Sam feel oddly final, a reminder that Game of Thrones has just two more episodes before it, like the heirs to House Stark, shuffle off this mortal coil.

“We have won the Great War,” Daenerys tells a room full of increasingly doubtful advisers, “now we will win the Last War.” If people were hoping that Dany’s bloodthirsty obsession with her divine right to rule might have been tempered by losing Ser Jorah at the Battle of Winterfell, they are likely to be disappointed. She starts the episode by awarding Gendry House Baratheon’s titles (she calls him a hero of the battle, though I can’t recall him doing much – perhaps that was what was going on in all the bits of the screen too dark to see) a move that will be popular with fans of the show, if not her loyal subjects. However, she ends the episode an ever more isolated and raging figure. Jon is “temperate”, Varys reminds us at one point; Dany is not.

It’s hard to blame her. In the space of one ill-fated naval voyage (the number of successful naval voyages on this show is small), she loses Rhaegal, Jon’s recent steed, and then Missandei, who is taken captive by Cersei and beheaded by the Mountain. With Tyrion and Varys openly questioning her rule, and Grey Worm now consumed by unsullied grief, the once rather grand coterie of minor characters under her thumb is much diminished. In the episode’s climactic scene, she faces off against Cersei at the gate to King’s Landing, with each wearing their tyranny – Cersei, cold and calculating; Dany, enraged and evangelical – clearly on their faces.

This is an episode of three distinct acts, or perhaps tones. The first is an elegy to the fallen, as we see Ser Jorah and Lyanna Mormont, Edd and Theon go up in flames. But putting grief aside is something that the characters, and show, must do. This middle section of the episode offers a welcome respite, focusing on wrapping up Brienne’s love triangle, as she and Jaime finally act on the flirtations that began in that hot tub in Harrenhal (Tormund is rather poorly served in his disappointment, though his “which one of you cowards s*** in my pants?” line is one of the series’ best).

But at this point in the drama, Game of Thrones doesn’t have time to go romcom (or romzom), and by the episode’s close, Jaime has reminded Brienne of all his wicked deeds (conspicuously leaving off the controversial rape scene that everyone seems to be conveniently forgetting) as he leaves on an ambiguous quest for King’s Landing. Has he realised his love for Cersei? Or is he planning on killing her? He’s not the only kamikaze on the King’s Road: Arya, having passed up the chance to be Mrs Gendry (impertinent whelp!) is heading for Cersei, and the Hound for the Mountain. Whichever way you look at it, we are closing in on Cersei’s reckoning (and #Cleganebowl).

Then, finally, when the episode feels like all potatoes and no meat, Dany and her slice of the Iron Fleet run into trouble off the coast of Dragonstone, in the form of Qyburn’s crossbows (we earlier saw Bronn with the miniature version, being oddly sinister after his redemptive story arc), which kills Rhaegal before smashing the ships to smithereens. All the named characters, not weighed down by their plot armour, survive the wreck and crawl ashore at Dragonstone, but the cost is huge. Dany is down to a single dragon, an exhausted and depleted army, and fewer allies by the minute. Most dangerously, she is still underestimating Cersei.

“The Last of the Starks” is an oddly structured and not hugely satisfying episode, but it does set up the discord within the ranks of the allied forces that must be the drama of the final two episodes. With Miguel Sapochnik (who helmed “Hardhome”, “The Battle of the Bastards” and “The Long Night”) back on directing duties next week, we might be heading for a violent conclusion to the War of the Two Queens (or should that be three? Sansa is looking like the best politician in Westeros right now). Even with its splashy final act, this is a quiet episode that rarely tackles new plot or emotional ground; but a quiet episode usually presages a noisy one.

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