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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones: “The Last of the Starks”

“The Last of the Starks” was a very solid episode.  There was lots of great character stuff, some heartfelt goodbyes, and a death that landed more powerfully than any of the ones from the previous episode.  It also had some weaknesses, notably more of the lack of attention to any sort of sense of geography and/or actual military strategy that we’ve seen too often in the post-novel seasons of the show.

As I’d expected, it looks like somehow there are still lots of people still alive in Winterfell, even though last week it looked like almost every last fighting man had been slaughtered.  (I’m happy there are more than ten people left alive in the North.  My criticism is really with the staging of last week’s episode.)  There were a few references to the “surviving Dothraki”, which is weird since last week it looked like they were totally annihilated (and we didn’t actually see any remaining Dothraki onscreen this week).  I was glad that we did get some sense, throughout this episode, that Dany’s forces were seriously depleted (rather than being magically restored to full strength).  When they arrived for the parlay at King’s Landing at the end of the episode, it looked like there were only about 50 Unsullied there with her!

The opening funeral sequence was poignant, with a moving speech by Jon.  I’m pleased the show didn’t fast-forward too immediately past the horrors that everyone went through in the previous episode.

The dinner that began silent and solemn and that gradually escalated into rampant debauchery was wonderful.  This is the type of masterful sequence that I have truly loved in the show’s later years.  I love that they took their time with this sequence, showing us one wonderful character moment after another.  I loved Gendry’s becoming a Lord.  I loved Tyrion and Davos’ conversation.  I loved Sansa’s showing kindness to the Hound.  (Though, while I like that Sansa is strong and not spending time weeping over the tragedies that have befallen her, there was something a little unsettling about her suggestion that getting repeatedly raped by Ramsay Bolton was good for her, in the end.)  I loved the drinking game between Tyrion, Jamie, Brienne, and Podrick.  I loved Tormund’s joyful camaraderie with Jon, and his lovesickness over Brienne.  I loved all the tension at the head table between Sansa-Arya-Jon-Dany.

I like that the show has made me unsure who to root for, as the secret of Jon’s true identity quickly spread.  Dany isn’t perfect, but as a viewer of this show I like and trust her more than Sansa and Arya do.  While Jon has many great qualities, we’ve seen his failings as a leader, too.  On the one hand, I love all the tension and intrigue, with the Stark women not trusting this foreign outsider and Tyrion and Varys beginning to wonder if they’ve backed the wrong horse.  On the other hand, after eight seasons of following Dany’s quest, I don’t love this shift towards portraying her as perhaps having “Mad King” like tendencies.  Is Dany really becoming unhinged or is this all a fake-out?  Neither possibility makes me happy.  I am all for real drama — conflict spinning out of these characters having different worldviews and different opinions on how best to proceed.  Dany’s rage can certainly be justified, particularly following Missandei’s death.  But I don’t have much patience for “fake” drama, with the show trying to convince us that Dany is going mad when that’s not really what’s happening.  (Sort of like they tried to convince us that Sansa and Arya were at each other’s throughts last season, when that wasn’t really what was happening.)  OR is her madness real?  Taking this character who, while not perfect, has mostly been honest and well-intentioned and turning her into an evil loony tune at the end would be an even worse move, I think.  I’ll withhold judgment for now until we see how this plays out next week.

Although I have problems with the execution of the big battle with the Night King, I am in support of the show-runners’ decisions not to save that conflict for the finale, but instead to resolve that storyline while leaving Cersei as the big bad for the final there episodes.  But now I am growing increasingly concerned that actually Cersei is going to get finished off next week, and the actual final conflict is going to be between Jon and Dany.  I’m not thrilled by that, both because what I saw in this episode felt like awkward maneuvering by the writers to put those two (and other characters, like Tyrion and Varys) in conflict, rather than a development driven naturally out of character… and also because, while I love both Jon and Dany after following them for eight seasons, those two are probably the two blandest characters on the show.  I hope this all plays out in the final two episodes better than I’m fearing.

R.I.P. poor Missandei.  I wish she’d had more to do this year, but still, her death landed more powerfully for me than any of the character deaths last week.  That was a cold Game of Thrones murder in the classic style.  It was very effective and very sad.  (Though it’s a shame that one of the show’s few main non-white faces was offed so callously.)

I was glad that Varys finally had some meaty scenes this week, after being on the sidelines for quite a while.  I also liked seeing that he does seem to truly care about the people of the realm, rather than this just being about his personal well-being by trying to back whoever is ultimately going to wind up on top.

I was not expecting Jamie and Brienne to sleep together!  While this was a delightful development, it didn’t quite track for me.  I’ve enjoyed following the growth of Jamie’s tremendous respect and admiration for Brienne, but it never felt like romantic love to me.  And his departure scene would have worked better for me had I better understood why Jamie was leaving.  Is he returning to fight FOR Cersei, or is he trying to end her reign of terror once and for all?  The episode left that unclear for me, and I couldn’t tell whether or not that was intentional.  Also, I didn’t like seeing Brienne reduced to crying while Jamie rides off; that didn’t seem to be a development that well-served this strong character.

Overall, I really, really liked the first 45-ish minutes of this episode.  But once we left Winterfell, things got shakier.  One of the cool things about this show in the early years was the sense of timing and geography.  Back in season one, it took characters half the season to get from one city to another.  That went away in the post-book seasons, and for the most part I can live with it because it makes sense for the story to be moving at a much faster pace as we near the end.  But still, how did Tyrion, Greyworm et al magically wind up back in Dragonstone after their ships were ambushed and destroyed by Euron Greyjoy?  (When we saw all the characters wash up on the beach, I thought for sure Cersei’s soldiers would be there waiting for them.  How did that not happen?)  Repeatedly during the last 30-ish minutes of this episode, I had whiplash from things moving so quickly.  We needed more time for these developments to breathe.  (Brienne and Jamie are together — and then just a few minutes later he leaves her.  Dany is planning to finally take King’s Landing — and then after a super-fast disastrous encounter with Euron’s forces at sea, suddenly she’s on the defensive.  I needed more time with these plot twists.  These are cases where I feel the show is suffering from the decision to squeeze this all into six final episodes, even though they are super-sized in length.)

I also wish that Tyrion and Dany wouldn’t continue getting outplayed militarily by their enemies.  We’ve seen this happen again and again for the past several seasons.  I love Tyrion, but he’s supposed to be super-smart and clever.  And yet, we haven’t actually seen him be much use to Dany for quite a while now.  This weakens his character significantly.  That they’d all be totally ignorant of the location of Euron’s humongous fleet of ships seemed somewhat implausible.

Other thoughts:

* The death of Dany’s second dragon would have been more powerful had I not thought that had already happened last week!  It was still a very surprising moment.  It’s disappointing to see our heroes routed so quickly (though of course that’s the emotion we’re supposed to feel).

* Jon’s goodbyes with Tormund and Sam/Gilly were very emotional.  Is this the last we’ll see of these characters??  If so, it’s a shame!  But these were great moments.  I particularly loved all of Tormund’s affectionate patter with Jon, and the tender way Tormund grabbed Jon’s head when they embraced.  I love Tormund Giantsbane!!

* I was delighted that Ghost survived last week’s battle… though surprised and saddened when Jon sent him off to live with Tormund!  That didn’t make much sense to me.  It felt like an excuse for the show not to waste money on the CGI work to show any more of Ghost, rather than this being an action I believe Jon would take.  And Jon didn’t even give his faithful Direwolf a hug or a pet goodbye?!  What’s that about?!!

* It was sweet to see Gendry propose to Arya but, I knew he’d mis-stepped once he mentioned her being a lady.  We all know that Arya does not want to be a lady!  (Does that mean there’s no way they could be together?  Might they still have a future together, just one in which Arya is kicking ass rather than tending castle?  I still maintain hope, though it doesn’t bode well that Arya left Winterfell along with the Hound, without our seeing her say goodbye to Gendry.)

* Bronn returns!!  In a spectacular scene, he negotiates/threatens Tyrion and Jamie and is promised the rule of Highgarden.  Wow!  I love Bronn.  I was a little worried that Cersei had succeeded in turning Bronn against Tyrion and Jamie, but I should have had more faith in my favorite cutthroat.

* I really liked the scene between Sansa and Tyrion on the ramparts of Winterfell.  I love that Tyrion shows that he cares about Sansa at the same time as he is looking out for Dany’s political best interests… and I love that Sansa trusts Tyrion with the knowledge of Jon’s true identity.

Only two more episodes left…!!!  Wow…!!!

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