In “The Last of the Starks,” Game of Thrones allows a quiet moment to mourn the dead, and the rowdy grasping of life’s joys that follows. Once the threat to mankind fades into the background, splinters are revealed. A thought becomes a whisper, a whisper turns into an idea, and an idea has the potential to develop into a plan. “The Last of the Starks” might have worked better as two shorter episodes as the center stage moves from Winterfell to King’s Landing. The sadness and anger the Dragon Queen experiences from her losses during “The Long Night” is compounded by a new attack, leaving some questioning her suitability to rule Westeros.
Grieving the dead
At Winterfell, those who have fallen in battle to save the world of men are being remembered. As Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) grieves over Jorah Mormont, Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) cries for Theon Greyjoy. Clarke and Turner give moving performances, making the weight of the loss feel significant.
Daenerys whispers something into the ear of Jorah on the funeral pyre. Despite having sent him away for failing to disclose that he was sent to spy on her, Jorah returned to his Queen again and again. Eventually, he proved her most loyal companion. The loss of Jorah, as well as much of her army, leaves Daenerys feeling alone.
Sansa cries as she pins her Stark family sigil on Theon’s body, a boy who was like a brother to her as they grew up in Winterfell. After Theon betrayed the Starks, he and Sansa both found themselves captive at Winterfell through a combination of manipulation and force. Theon eventually overcame his own fear to help Sansa escape, creating a unique bond between the two.
Jon Snow (Kit Harington) speaks of sacrifice of those who died at the Battle of Winterfell:
“We’re here to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters, to our fathers and mothers, to our friends, our fellow men and women who set aside their differences to fight together and die together, so that others might live. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and our honor to keep them alive in memory, for those who come after us, and those who come after them, for as long as men draw breath. They were the shields that guarded the realms of men, and we shall never see their like again.”
Sansa and Daenerys aren’t the only ones saying goodbye to those that meant something to them. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) lights the pyre where Beric Dondarrion lies, a man whom the Lord of Light brought back to keep her safe so she could kill the Night King. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) looks at Eddard Tollett, last Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, who saved his life in battle. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) honors Lyanna Mormont, the fierce Lady of House Mormont who helped him gain support in the North. Greyworm (Jacob Anderson) lights the pyre of the many Dothraki and Unsullied who died in the battle. Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) represents the Free Folk who joined Jon to fight the dead. The funeral pyres hold the thousands who died in the Battle of Winterfell. Did they burn the army of the dead who fell after the Night King’s death separately? We’ll probably never know.
Living it up
Inside Winterfell the survivors eat grimly, remembering the dead. As Gendry (Joe Dempsie) attempts to leave the hall in search of Arya, Daenerys stops him. Just when it seems the vengeful version of the Dragon Queen is about to punish Gendry, she declares him a rightful Baratheon and makes him Lord of Storms End. Davos toasts to Gendry, and the hall fills with conversation. They feel the relief of survival and the joy of victory through food, wine, laughter, and each other. As Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) tells Gendry, “The dead are dead. You’re not.”
Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) comments about her Storms End appointment, and Daenerys responds that he’s not the only clever one. Sansa watches their conversation and Tyrion notices her watching. “The Last of the Starks” is full of sidelong glances and observant looks.
Tyrion is everywhere during the festivities. He chats with Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) about the Red Woman. He discusses Winterfell with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). Then he joins a drinking game with Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), and his brother Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Is he playing politics or just having a good time?
Tormund is celebrating. He toasts the the Dragon Queen and the room cheers. Daenerys toasts “To Arya Stark, the hero of Winterfell” and the people in the room stand and cheer even louder. Sansa watches the smiling looks between Daenerys and Jon, scowls, and leaves the table. She really hates Daenerys.
Tormund talks about Jon. “That’s why we all agreed to follow him. That’s the kind of man he is. He’s little, but he’s strong. Strong enough to befriend an enemy and get murdered for it. Most people get bloody murdered, they stay that way. Not this one.” Tormund continues, “He keeps fighting. He climbed on a f*cking dragon and fought. What kind of person climbs on a f*cking dragon? A madman or a King!” Daenerys listens as Jon is celebrated for something she’s done for years, and watches Tyrion as he laughs alongside his brother. Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) observes Daenerys until she leaves the room, noticing her frustration.
Tyrion manages to make the drinking game awkward by calling out Brienne of Tarth for being a virgin, and that awkwardness is compounded by the arrival of Tormund. He’s definitely not winning Brienne over by making jokes about who sh*t in his pants. Do the more free-spirited women from beyond the Wall enjoy Tormund’s potty humor? Brienne leaves and Tormund attempts to follow, but is stopped by Jaime who follows after Brienne himself. Tormund seeks consolation from Sandor Clegane, but finds it in a friendly Northern girl (though he would probably describe her as Southern).
When Sansa sees Clegane’s rejection of a friendly offer, she comes over to speak with him. We haven’t seen these two interact since The Battle of Blackwater. He notices how different this Sansa is from the scared girl in King’s Landing.
Clegane: “You’ve changed, little bird. None of it would have happened if you’d left King’s Landing with me. No Littlefinger, no Ramsay, none of it.”
Sansa: “Without Littlefinger and Ramsay and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life.”
Gendry finds Arya practicing with a bow and arrow. He shares the news about Storms End, tells her he loves her, and and proposes. He clearly knows nothing about Arya Stark. Arya kisses Gentry and tells him, “You’ll be a wonderful lord, and any lady would be lucky to have you. But I’m not a lady. I never have been. That’s not me.”
Jaime has followed Brienne to her room. When he complains of the North, she tells him it’ll grow on him. But Jaime doesn’t want anything or anyone to grow on him. He asks her if she’s getting used to Tormund (we’d guess no). Brienne points out that he sounds jealous (he does). Jaime is hot and wants to take off his shirt. Brienne takes charge and they begin to get undressed and end up in bed. Drinking games and their outcomes appear universal. It nice to see them get together without it being schmaltzy and over-romanticized.
Daenerys has gone to Jon’s room, and they end up in a passionate embrace until Jon suddenly pulls away. Almost like he just remembered they’re related. Daenerys wishes Jon had never told her he is Aegon Targaryen, but for different reasons than Jon.
“I try to forget. I saw them gathered around you. I saw the way they looked at you. I know that look. So many people have looked at me that way, but never here. Never on this side of the sea.”
She asks Jon to keep his lineage a secret, but he feels he must tells his sisters. Daenerys warns Jon that Sansa will use the information against her, which she most certainly will. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Jon is certain Sansa will support Daenerys. Is he naïve, idealistic, or a dangerous combination of both? Daenerys tells him, “She’s not the girl you grew up with. Not after what she’s seen. Not after what they’ve done to her.”
The next day they meet to discuss strategy for the Last War. Daenerys wants to rip Cersei out, “root and stem,” but Tyrion reminds her the objective is to remove Cersei without destroying King’s Landing. They come up with a plan to lay siege to the capitol. Sansa claims the men need to rest before moving South. Daenerys is understandably upset: “I came North to fight alongside you at great cost to my armies and myself. Now that the time has come to reciprocate, you want to postpone.” Looking at Sansa, Jon says, “The Northern forces will honor their promises and their allegiance to the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.” He turns toward Daenerys and adds, “What you command, we will obey.” Daenerys looks pleased with Jon’s declaration. Arya glances up at her sister when Jon turns away. When the others leave, they tell Jon they need a family meeting.
In the godswood, the Stark siblings talk. Sansa doesn’t want to kneel to Daenerys. Jon reminds them that he swore himself and the North to her cause. Arya acknowledges that they needed her as an ally, but expresses a mistrust of Daenerys and of outsiders. “We’re family. The four of us. The last of the Starks.” Jon makes his sisters swear an oath of secrecy before revealing the secret of his true parentage. You’d think the blow-up in the War Council, as well as his sisters outright telling him they don’t trust Deanerys, would have affirmed her warnings from the night before. For some reason, Jon feels he must tell his sisters, even if he never intends to claim the throne.
As Jaime and Tyrion sit and talk about women, Bronn of the Blackwater shows up wielding the Lannister-killing crossbow. Bronn tells them Cersei is giving him Riverrun to kill her brothers, so Tyrion offers up Highgarden as a counter (once they win the war, of course). Bronn figures the Dragon Queen is still the odds-on favorite, so accepts the offer and leaves them both alive. Before taking his leave, he tells them his fighting days are over, but he’s still got a few more killing days in him. We miss Bronn.
Sandor Clegane is heading south from Winterfell when Arya arrives on the road. He teases her about being the hero of Winterfell and she tells him, “I hate heroes.” They’re both headed to King’s Landing for some unfinished business. Neither plan on returning. It seems that Clegane is going after his brother, while Arya intends on killing Cersei.
As Jon leaves for the South, his friends come to say farewell. Tormund is taking the Free Folk north of the Wall, where they’ll have room to wander. Apparently the women of the true north do appreciate his humor. Jon asks Tormund to take Ghost, who he claims will be much happier there than in the South. No pats for Ghost from Jon before he leaves. Perhaps being so battle-weary, Ghost has outgrown that puppy stuff. At least Ghost has survived, and he will hopefully be out of harm’s way. Our hearts couldn’t take another direwolf death.
Through a hug, Jon learns Gilly is pregnant (the nights are long and there’s only so many books to read). They plan to name the baby after Jon if it’s a boy. The heartfelt goodbye between Sam and Jon leads us to believe these two won’t see each other again.
Sam: “You’re the best friend I ever had, Jon.”
Jon: “You too, Sam.”
Greyworm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) hold hands on deck, revealing a rare moment of happiness in Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, below decks, Tyrion has revealed the truth of Jon’s parentage to Varys. Sansa shared the secret with Tyrion before he left, knowing it could undermine the Dragon Queen. As Varys points out, it’s no longer a secret, but information. When Tyrion contends that Jon has no interest in the throne. Varys unknowingly echoes what Daenerys herself said to Jon, telling Tyrion, “I’m not sure it matters what he wants. The fact is people are drawn to him—wildings, northmen. He’s a war hero.” Tyrion suggests Jon and Daenerys could get married, as marriage between family members isn’t unusual for Targaryens. Varys is quick to point out it isn’t the custom in the North. Their dialogue plays out some of the potential outcomes that viewers have long pondered. Varys expresses concern about the Queen’s state of mind. Tyrion responds, “We’re her advisors; it’s our job to worry about her state of mind.”
The dragons are thrilled to be back at Dragonstone. Just as joy creeps back into Daenerys’ face, Rhaegal is pierced with a huge bolt, then another. In a moment, Rhaegal falls into the sea, dead. It’s a shocking and confusing moment. There’s barely time to process what has happened when the ships of Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) appear, hidden between the islands, each with a scorpion on deck even bigger than those at the Battle of the Gold Road. In anger, Daenerys rushes towards the ships, but turns back just as the scorpions release their bolts. When Drogon is out of range, Euron turns his attention to destroying their ships. They must abandon ship. Varys and Tyrion make it to Dragonstone. Greyworm searches the shore and sea for Missandei, but she’s been captured by Euron. We’re stunned over the loss of Rhaegal, and frustrated they hadn’t scouted ahead or prepared for a potential attack. Clearly, Cersei learned strategy from her father while Tyrion was off getting drunk. Of course Euron had plenty of time to prepare, as Daenerys, Jon, and the forces at Winterfell were busy saving Westeros from the dead.
Cersei has offered her protection from the usurper, bringing people from across King’s Landing into the Red Keep. She intends to force Daenerys to kills thousands to get to her, which could very well happen. Cersei reveals to Euron she’s pregnant, leaving out the part about it being her brother’s baby. She tells him, “When the war is won the Lion shall rule the land, the Kraken shall rule the sea and our child shall someday rule them all.” Cersei can barely contain her disgust with Euron. At least he’s not making jokes about someone sh*tting in his pants.
Daenerys and her advisors meet to discuss what steps to take next. Greyworm offers to storm the city. Varys warns if Drogon, the Unsullied, and the Dothraki attack King’s Landing, tens of thousands of innocents will die.
Varys: “I beg you, your Grace, do not destroy the city you came to save. Do not become what you have always struggled to defeat.”
Daenerys: “Do you believe we’re here for a reason, Lord Varys? I’m here to free the world from tyrants. That is my destiny. And I will serve it, no matter the cost.”
Since her armies are still a fortnight out, Tyrion suggests Daenerys demand that Cersei surrender the throne in exchange for her life. Daenerys agrees:
“Speaking to Cersei will not prevent a slaughter, but perhaps it’s good that people see that Daenerys Stormborn made every effort to avoid bloodshed and Cersei Lannister refused. They should know whom to blame when the sky falls down upon them.”
After the war council, Tyrion and Varys talk privately.
Varys: “I’ve served tyrants most of my life. They all talk about destiny.”
Tyrion: “She’s a girl that walked into a fire with three stones and walked out with three dragons. How could she not believe in destiny?”
Varys: “Perhaps that’s the problem. Her life has convinced her that she was sent here to save us all.”
Tyrion: “How do you know she wasn’t?”
Tyrion isn’t ready to give up on Daenerys: “I believe in our Queen. She’ll make the right choice—with the help of her loyal advisors.” Varys warns that he will act in the interest of the realm, and those in it, no matter the personal cost. It seems that they have chosen sides.
At Winterfell, Jaime learns of the attack and realizes it means that Daenerys will attack the city. In the dead of night, he prepares to leave for King’s Landing. Brienne begs him not to go, telling him he’s a good man and that he doesn’t need to die with his sister. Jaime responds, “You think I’m a good man. I pushed a boy out a tower window, crippled him for life, for Cersei. I strangled my cousin with my own hands, just to get back to Cersei. I would have murdered every man, woman, and child in Riverrun, for Cersei. She’s hateful, and so am I.” He rides south, for what purpose is unclear. Maybe he wants to help Cersei, or maybe he intends to kill his sister.
Outside of King’s Landing, Daenerys and what’s left of those who arrived on ships have come to parley with Cersei. Tyrion and Qyburn speak, each demanding the other’s queen’s surrender. Tyrion tries to appeal to Qyburn’s better nature, to prevent the city from burning. When that fails, Tyrion walks up to the gate and addresses Cersei directly, telling her surrender is a chance for her and her baby to survive. He doesn’t think his sister is a monster, but we’re not so sure. Missandei’s final word, “Dracarys,”calls on Daenerys to burn the city. Cersei executes Missandei and Greyworm turns away, but Daenerys’s furious gaze never leaves the terrible scene.
The Last of the Starks Review
The first half of “The Last of the Starks” reminds us of the terrible cost of war, providing a warning for what’s to come. Though she cares deeply about her own people, it’s not clear that Daenerys has come to think of anyone in Westeros as her people. She remains an outsider, which was only reinforced to her at Winterfell. She may have helped win the battle against the dead, but she hasn’t won any Westerosi hearts. Even Arya says to Jon, “She’s not one of us.” She means Daenerys isn’t family, but it speaks to the larger issue of Daenerys and her army being perceived as outsiders. In Season 7 when Randyll Tarly refused to kneel to Daenerys, he told Tyrion, “Say what you will about your sister, she was born in Westeros. She lived here all her life. You, on the other hand, you murdered your own father and chose to support a foreign invader, one with no ties to this land—and an army of savages at her back.”
Hostility from the people of Westeros, along with the killing of her dragon and best friend, only paves the way for Daenerys to carry out her vengeance against King’s Landing. Cersei is laying a trap, and Daenerys may be falling right into it. Tyrion and Varys are trying to figure out how to protect innocent people caught between these two powerful Queens, with Jon Snow as King being a potential answer.
When Cersei burned down the High Sept and all those in it, she revealed the lengths she will go to in order to keep her throne and exact vengeance. Cersei’s plan to assassinate her brothers is further evidence of her ruthlessness. Daenerys has shown she can be merciless as well. She executed the Tarlys with dragon fire after they refused to kneel, and crucified the Great Masters in Meereen, despite her advisors suggesting leniency. Daenerys uses fear as a tool. Tyrion tells Sansa, “Every good ruler needs to inspire a bit of fear.” But how much is too much and at what cost?
“The Last of the Starks” reveals the war between these two powerful queens is a matchbox waiting to be lit. Jon Snow has allowed his Targaryen heritage to be exposed, making him part of the equation, whether he it likes it or not. Expect things to heat up in the Game of Thrones.