After last week’s massive battle between the forces of good and evil (or rather, morally grey and evil), Game of Thrones returns to its old ways with “The Last of the Starks.” Plotting. Intrigue. Backstabbing. Bargaining. And yes, the brutal deaths of characters we love.
/Film’s resident Westeros experts Jacob Hall and Ben Pearson sat down in a dark room to talk about treason. And this episode.
Brienne and Jaime
Ben: So…am I alone in kinda loving this plotline? Brienne and Jaime have long had one of the show’s best relationships, and things are finally heating up again in season 8. After that touching knighting ceremony and surviving the Battle of Winterfell, it only makes sense that these two consummated their smoldering romance. But try as he might, Jaime can’t escape Cersei’s grasp.
As its headed toward the series finale, this show has fallen into a far more traditional storytelling style than the one it started with, so it’s not surprising that Jaime is heading back to King’s Landing for one more confrontation with Cersei. But I’ve seen several people online react negatively to the way the show chose to depict Jaime’s departure, with Brienne asking him to stay and then bursting into tears when he chooses to leave anyway. Brienne is a badass warrior, and the idea of her breaking down crying doesn’t align with the audiences’ ideal image of her. But I’d argue that her tearful reaction gives us more insight into how she’s dealing with the heavy emotions of the past few days/weeks. Jaime is an emotionally complex character with twisted motivations, but Brienne also contains multitudes, people!
Jacob, does if feel like I’m just making excuses for the show here? How did you react to this development?
Jacob: You are most certainly not alone here, Ben. This felt like a natural progression for both characters and Brienne’s tearful reaction to his departure was not a lovesick girl crying because her man was leaving her. She was weeping because a man who had revealed himself to be good and decent and reformed at his core is reverting to his old ways. Those tears weren’t about a lost a boyfriend – they were being shed over an addict returning to his old ways. In Jaime, Brienne had placed her trust and her belief that we can all rise to her level. Now, that trust has been betrayed. Tears were the right response.
In any case, I’m still rooting for these two (even if Jaime seems incredibly doomed at this point). The show has been literally setting up this relationship since season 2 and they’ve always shared an unlikely chemistry and bond. Opposites attract. Or rather, opposites allow you to share your deepest secrets. More so than perhaps any other duo on this show, Jaime and Brienne have had every reason to become intimate. And of course it doesn’t last long. Good news never lasts long in Westeros.
When Secrets Become Information
Jacob: Well, Jon’s secret didn’t last long, huh? It seems like barely five minutes have passed before Sansa has betrayed her promise to her brother/cousin and informed Tyrion of his Targaryen heritage. And as Varys points out, soon more people will know, which means that a well-hidden secret has been transformed into information. And information is currency for the spiders of the world.
Okay, Ben: this is my Game of Thrones. This is what made me fall in love with the show in the first place. Not giant, sweeping battles, but scenes of two people whispering in dark rooms about treason. It’s been far too long since Tyrion and Varys have been alone in a room together and this episode was proof that there are few better pairings on the entire series. Two smooth-talkers, two masters of intrigue, who use their powers for the genuine good of the people, both talking about a late-game pivot after their current Queen starts to look more unstable than usual. Their dilemma is one that we, as show-watchers, have had for quite some time. Who is the best choice for the Iron Throne? And while we can have that conversation in jest, it’s literally life-and-death for these two, the only characters on the show who genuinely care about what the Seven Kingdoms look like when the war is over.
Quite frankly, this is what I’ve been missing. Sansa and Tyrion and Varys and Jon and Daenerys all maneuvering around one another, dropping secrets and trading information and plotting about whether or not they should plot in the first place…this felt like classic Game of Thrones to me, even if the pace is now at permanent fast-forward. We’re barreling toward a messy conclusion and the “good guys” are prepping for their own internal civil war, even as Cersei looks as prepared as ever in King’s Landing. This is good stuff. What do you think, Ben?
Ben: No surprise here, but all of this is extremely my shit. Before the episode started, my wife and I were lamenting the fact that Varys has been awfully quiet over the past season or so. But now that the Great War is over (Varys was never much of a fighter), I’m thrilled to see him get back to what he does best – and to see the show take a hard pivot back to the way it all began. I also love how the show’s once-massive scope is becoming increasingly narrow, with the focal point being on the Iron Throne. As Cersei holds her ground and the walls continue to close in around Dany, the idea of Jon ultimately sitting on the Iron Throne seems like a bigger possibility than ever. We can talk later about whether that specific outcome would be satisfying, but I am unquestionably on board with all of the maneuvering and scheming that’s allowing us to have this conversation in the first place.
Jacob: “The Last of the Starks” opens with a mass funeral that gives us one last chance to say goodbye to Jorah, Theon, Edd, and Beric, but there were seemingly other departures peppered throughout the episode. Following that uproarious and hugely entertaining victory celebration (I could watch those folks party forever!), the episode seemingly bid farewell to characters who have outlived their usefulness to the plot. There was Tormund, taking the surviving Free Folk back north. There was Sam and Gilly, revealing that Gilly is pregnant. There was Ghost, given to Tormund as Jon has apparently decided his doggo belongs in the true north. We may catch glimpses of these characters again, but these scenes felt definitive. They had survived the game of thrones and they were saying their final goodbyes to Jon, the character that has connected them all. I’m sad to see them go, but I’m relieved they have found a happy ending.
Of course, there were other departures as well. Gendry is now officially Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End, which is big news! Hopefully, his newfound power will help heal that broken heart he received after Arya flat-out rejected his marriage proposal and rode out with The Hound to get her hands dirty again (CleganeBowl, anyone?). While things are heating up down south, this episode did a fine job of cleaning up in the North, sending characters to happy and bittersweet endings as the more central characters marched toward an uncertain future. What did you think of this? And do you think Arya is going to get to cross Cersei off her list?
Ben: I’m totally fine with the way Sam and Gilly and Tormund left the show, but can we talk about how this show has completely crapped the bed when it comes to the direwolves? Jon and Ghost were inseparable for seasons on end, and Jon hasn’t said a damn word to him in years. Ghost just lost a freakin’ ear during the Battle of Winterfell. You’re telling me Jon can’t even take a minute to pet him goodbye before dumping him off with Tormund? I’m sure dog owners everywhere are furious with Jon, who seems to have found a new favorite pet in the form of Rhaegal. (Guess what, buddy – that ain’t gonna pan out too well for you.)
The Gendry/Arya situation struck me as totally plausible, and Arya riding south with The Hound just feels right. I’m convinced Arya is going to use her Faceless Men skills one more time before the show’s end, and yes, Cersei has been on her list since the queen ordered the death of Nymeria back in season 1. But with Dany as pissed off as she is at the end of this week’s episode, I’m not sure Arya will have the chance. (Also, would the show actually let her kill both Cersei and The Night King?)
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