Spoilers for the entirety of HBO’s Game of Thrones will follow.
In what was a fairly Daenerys-centric episode in “The Last of the Starks,” Game of Thrones found itself falling back into some of the same old habits that have plagued the show in past seasons. Following the battle episode “The Long Night,” this week’s episode sought to live in the aftermath of said battle while also forcing the story along towards the finale. Unfortunately, there was far more of the latter.
After a very promising start to the season and one that frankly exceeded expectations, the show featured its biggest battle ever, the one with the White Walkers and the Night King that the series had been building towards since its very first episode. That episode ending with a thrilling finale in Arya slaying the Night King, leaving one to wonder what that would mean for the remaining three episodes. As this week’s episode would proclaim, the fight for the throne in King’s Landing is now the final battle. This gives us two conflicts front and center. The first one being that of Jon and Daenerys, which was already alluded to in their conversation over Jon’s heritage a couple weeks ago. Now that the battle for Winterfell is over, this episode expanded on that further, dedicating more time to this idea and featuring a scene dedicated to the two of them arguing over their intentions. Not only that, but other characters have become invested in this as well, namely Tyrion and Varys, who also got into a war of words over the debate. This whole dynamic for the throne, which the show seems to be pitting Daenerys as a de facto villain and Jon as the “prince that was promised,” feels very forced and unnecessary. Merely two episodes ago we were lead to believe that these two were madly in love. Suddenly, Daenerys appears to be a blood-thirsty hound that will settle for nothing but the throne and complete power. Not enough time has been given towards making this turn in her character feel earned or sincere, just like not enough care was given towards making her relationship with Jon feel earnest in the first place. Much like season seven, we have now got to the point where plots and arcs are being rushed along and hand-waved into existence because there are only two episodes left and we need to get this over with. For a show that started off with such an acute attention to detail, this rushing along of the plot is highly noticeable and very disappointing.
The second major plot point of the remaining episodes for the show has now been set up to be a rift between Daenerys and Cersei. The final scene of this episode featured Cersei executing Daenerys’ righ-hand woman Missandei. Before cutting to black, we got to see the look of fury in Daenerys’ eyes as she walked away from the scene, preparing for battle. Now, one would expect that next week’s episode will be a battle for King’s Landing with Cersei, followed by somewhat of a prologue-type episode to determine who will be sitting on the throne, among other things. This does not at all spell for a promising end to this gloriously rich and developed series that we have come to love over the course of nearly a decade. Going straight from the Battle for Winterfell, to two episodes later with the Battle for King’s Landing, followed by one episode to conclude this story that has been fleshed out over seventy-plus episodes, simply feels incredibly rushed and uninspired. Of course, this being a television show, there are constraints that the medium simply can’t transcend. Ideally, you could see this show easily having the material to have been stretched out over at least ten full-length seasons. Unfortunately, actors are aging and are ready to move on, so it’s understandable that this thing needs to be wrapped up. However, this is not doing our beloved story any favors.
Aside from these main plot points to the episode, other smaller character moments were equally ineffective. We got to see Jaime and Brienne finally hook up in a scene exponentially less affecting than theirs a couple weeks prior, a scene where Arya turns down a marriage proposal from Gendry because she is not a lady, and Jon admit to his Stark siblings the true story of his birthright. None of these scenes worked, either because they felt like blatantly forced fan-service or needlessly forced in an effort to drive home a character arc and move the story forward. Coming off the high of one of the series’ most intimate and emotionally rewarding episodes ever two weeks ago, this really felt like the opposite side of the coin in terms of character work and emotional payoffs. Following last week’s massive battle episode, we needed time to sit in the aftermath of that, deal with the ramifications and see how these characters were affected by the trauma. Instead, all we got was the very first scene with the characters setting fire to the bodies of the fallen. This provided nothing in terms of closure for the cataclysmic events of the last episode. Even more concerning, not only was this a disappointing follow-up to that, but it provided much cause for distress about how this will be wrapping up in the next two episodes. But hey, at least we met our quota of having several meme-worthy moments.