Winter has come. After almost two years of waiting (and over 70 hours of screentime), “Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 4 has revealed itself on HBO.
Here at Super, we wish to share our excitement by re-watching the episode with you. But instead of a recap, we will detail all the Easter Eggs, little references and how all the little clues tie in to the great story that George R.R. Martin—and by extension, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff—are telling. We will tie in every little thing in these episodes with the events that have happened in the past.
Yes, we will turn everyone in Three-Eyed Ravens, able to see the events on Westeros from season 1 to season 8 all at once. We will share and savor the Maester-level intelligence. This is the best, and we believe, the only way to truly appreciate for what the most anticipated season of TV ever.
So massive, SUPER SPOILER warnings on a level never seen before.
Location: Winterfell, King’s Landing
After the tumultuous events of last episode, “The Long Night,” episode 4 has a lot to do in order to set up the Battle of King’s Landing in episode 5.
The episode opens with funeral pyres for the dead. The long shot revealing just how many pyres there are hints at just how many comrades the heroes lost in the battle. To the far end of the shot, you can see a huge pile of what appears to be discolored bodies and body parts. We can assume these are the remains of the wights who were part of thearmy of the dead that came to Winterfell.
We know this because the episode goes out of its way to differentiate between those wights and the dead of Winterfell, who have been cleaned, dressed and put on the pyres. This is the episode’s way of saying goodbye to these characters.
We get our last look at Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen), Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey), Qhono and Dolorous Edd (Ben Crompton).
Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) gets a particularly emotional moment with Jorah, who has appeared at her side since the very first episode, “Winter is Coming” back in 2011. Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) slips a Stark pin unto Theon as a reminder that they consider Theon a Stark.
Burning the bodies is a Northern tradition that began simply as a means to make sure their dead were not reanimated as wights. But this funeral encompasses their allies as well. We know the Dothraki practice burning their dead because Dany had to do just that with Khal Drogo in season 1. This funeral is a Viking-style send-of their heroic dead.
It also serves as a quick survey of the survivors as the camera pans to show the battered but living characters. The big reveal of this scene is that Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) direwolf Ghost did indeed survive, minus an ear.
The fact that Jon delivers the eulogy ties into the episode’s theme of Jon being the Northerners’ preferred leader. His speech recalls Samwell Tarly’s (John Bradley) comments prior to the battle that the death is being forgotten or erased. Jon ends his speech with a bit from the Night’s Watch oath. “They were the shields that guarded the realms of men.”
With the death of Edd (and probably the few who came down with him from Castle Black), the Night’s Watch has, tragically, been erased. It should be noted that their mission—to keep threats from crossing the Wall—is also moot, considering the Wall has fallen, the Night King is dead and the Wildlings now live among them.
The feast is significant both for thematic reasons and a very unthematic one.
Dany’s decision to name Gendry (Joe Dempsie) Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm’s End, lawful son of Robert Baratheon is fascinating. It is a sign of Dany’s wielding of her power of the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, allowing her to make a bastard legitimate and naming someone lord of something. Also Gendry now owes her.
It also brings to an interesting point Gendry’s own story, introduced as Robert’s bastard in Flea Bottom, surviving the purge of Robert’s bastards ordered by Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), torture at the hands of Melisandre and several engagements with the wights. Storm’s End, the home of the Baratheons, has been mentioned several times but never shown, so the reference may puzzle some. It remains, together with the Reeds’ moveable stronghold of Greywater Watch.
The second thematic development is Dany’s growing unease at how much the Northern allies have embraced Jon but not her. To be honest, this is expected as she is not only from somewhere else but is an actual Targaryen, something ironic considering Jon’s true parentage.
Let’s talk about the unthematic revelation.
In the scene where Dany is looking on as Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is toasting Jon, a paper coffee cup is clearly seen on the table in front of Dany. This led to an online ruckus that linked GOT with Starbucks.
The show played this both straight—producers said there was a mistake because Dany actually ordered an herbal tea—and also acknowledged the goof, noting that their set decorators are usually good with things like this, even joking that Westeros was actually the first place to have a Starbucks.
While the cup was in the premiere of the episode—screenshot by quick-witted viewers—the cup was digitally removed from the episode afterwards.
Starbucks took advantage of the goof by saying that they’re mystified why Dany wouldn’t order their Dragon Drink, a tropical drink they offer. There are even those who noted that the cup—the visible side of which is unbranded—may not even be a Starbucks cup but one from another chain, but the public perception of the popular coffee chain made people assume it was from Starbucks.
It is a sign that the people who work on the show are human.
Speaking of human, the famous showrunners D&D made cameos in this scene as Wildlings celebrating.
The drinking game that Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage), Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman, yes, he counts) is hilariously a Westerosi take on the drinking game “Never Have I Ever.” This lighthearted scene actually touches on some fairly dark things, most notably Tyrion’s doomed marriage with the prostitute Tysha.
Tormund gets some great scenes here as he tries to bed Brienne. The showrunners clearly love the actor as they even give him a subsequent scene where Tormund accuses Jaime of coldheartedly stealing Brienne away.
The Brienne-Jaime coupling is a logical end point to the subtle flirting the two have been engaged in since they first met. This is a genuine moment of affection for Jaime, as he had previously been lustfully bedding his sister Cersei.
When Jaime finds out about the ambush and the death of Rhaegal, he decides to return to King’s Landing. Some have speculated it’s because he wants to be with Cersei again but the show clearly indicates he is returning to kill her. This ties in with the Valonquar prophecy, which indicated Cersei will be killed by her little brother. It’s easy to speculate that it’s Tyrion (who is younger and hates her, rightfully so) but it makes more sense for this to be Jaime, with “little brother” being a term of affection.
In the process, Jaime has to break Brienne’s heart, an inevitable bit of drama that kind of brings Brienne’s own arc to an end in three season 8 episodes. There’s great acting in that farewell scene from both Christie and Coster-Waldau here.
The war meeting is of course an echo of the episode 2 meeting but now their forces are much fewer, something reflected by how few of them are left to attend the meeting. There’s a bit of narrative piece-pushing here as Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and the others have to not only say out loud but show with the tabletop tokens how decimated their forces are. This culminates in the placing of the Golden Company token on the table.
It’s worth mentioning that, between the exposition here and the clear shot in the opening scene, that there are a lot more Northern forces left that many assumed after “The Long Night.” If you re-watch that episode, it felt like there were only a handful (if at any) of the Dothraki and Unsullied left. But here it’s clear there are several battalions left of both. It can be explained that the survivors simply weren’t shown, but it felt like an overly convenient revision. After all, there’s discussion that they were now “even” with Cersei, but it just didn’t feel like it at the end of episode 3.
It’s been pointed out that Jon’s plans are terrible, and this plan follows that example as well. The fleet sailing out with the dragons to get there tactically makes no sense because they would have to hold the city and wait for Jon and the majority of their forces, on horseback and foot, to arrive.
Another long running theme of the show is how honor and truth are dangerous disadvantages. Ned Stark proved it. Jon remained burdened by this disability and his discussion with Dany reinforces it. It’s clear that he doesn’t want to be king, but his insistence of revealing the truth is greatly inconvenient for that end. Dany knows it and calls him out on it.
It is interesting that Jon manages to tell his siblings without technically breaking his promise to Dany because it is Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) who actually tells the truth. This meeting of the Stark siblings is a good moment, as it wasn’t clear which one or any of them were going to survive the Battle of Winterfell. Now here they are in the Godswood. Bran is being Bran. Arya’s (Maisie Williams) observation on the Jon-Dany alliance are consistent with her new personality as well. By the way, the episode title, “The Last of the Starks,” is actually spoken aloud by Arya.
Viewers were disappointed when they didn’t show the immediate reactions of the sisters to Jon’s parentage. Show-wise, it is an elegant and a brave choice considering how GOT has gone the easy way so often in season 8. It leaves the viewers wondering and must now piece together the reaction by how Sansa and Arya act in future episodes.
Sansa obviously had no intention of keeping her promise to Jon. Sansa “trained” at the foot of Cersei and Littlefinger; there was no way she wouldn’t use it to her advantage. Sansa isn’t doing it to benefit her own position; she is doing it deliberately to marginalize Dany. Sansa simply doesn’t believe in her. She believes Jon is the correct choice.
Sansa remains behind in Winterfell (“There must always be a Stark in Winterfell,” and no, Bran doesn’t count) and is protected by Brienne. That’s as safe a position as one can imagine.
So it makes sense to see how quickly Sansa spreads the information by telling Tyrion. Tyrion then tells Varys (Conleith Hill). By that time, Tyrion says eight people already know and that is enough to indicate people will find out. Tyrion is troubled by this, but Varys has already moved to the position that Jon is the better choice. Tyrion still believes in Dany, but for how long, it isn’t clear.
“The Last of the Starks” commits the sin of showing the producers’ hands. There is way too much onscreen manipulation going on.
The worst offender is the goodbye scene in Winterfell. The show was writing out Tormund, Sam and Gilly (Hannah Murray). The show literally has them line up in the courtyard to say goodbye to Jon. They literally wait around for Jon to finish talking to the others before lining up together in a final shot.
This is made worse by the whole Ghost business. One gets the feeling the showrunners didn’t realize how much the fans loved the last remaining dire wolf. As a result, they had to write him into scenes to pacify fans. But it all feels like an afterthought, and it is proven by this ridiculous shunning of Ghost. As fans have pointed out, dire wolves bond with their Starks, so you can’t just pawn off Ghost to Tormund like that. It’s not like they had much to do for Ghost but surely it could have been done better.
By the way, Tormund said the Wildlings would return to Castle Black, so now the installation meant to keep them out is their home, at least until they go back out into the wild.
We also get the reunion of Arya and the Hound (Rory McCann). Cleganebowl is in the air as the Hound literally (saying a lot of that) says he has unfinished business in King’s Landing. It is seems clear that Arya is leaving Winterfell for good. That meeting in the Godswood was her last with her siblings. She now returns to her own path, one that leads back to King’s Landing. She is in competition with Jaime to kill Cersei, the last living person on her list.
So that brings us to the dragon in the room.
Fans wondered if Rhaegal had survived the Battle of Winterfell after being taken down by the Night King and zombe Viserion. The show goes out of its way to show his wounds before killing him. Again, this is more onscreen manipulation by the show; two dragons is one too many for the Battle of King’s Landing.
The twist itself is fine; it’s again the manner that rankles. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek) and his fleet appear out of nowhere with personalized (check out those Kraken sigils) and amplified Scorpion dragon-killing weapons and take out not only Rhaegal but Dany’s fleet. This overt act of making the sides realistically even is unsubtle to a fault.
The King’s Landing scenes brings back Cersei now vamping around in her red super-villain outfit. Cersei was much missed in episode 3 and she returns with a force for this episode. The act of bringing the population into the Red Keep as human shields is very Cersei. The dragon ambush is very Cersei, though it has been asked, was it an inside job? It makes more sense that Cersei is simply outmaneuvering them at every turn. She did it by promising to send troops (not happening) to reinforce Winterfell. She did it by planning the ambush. And she did it again by assuming correctly that Dany would not simply raze Winterfell to the ground because her advisers would counsel Dany against it. Yes, those persky personalized (check out the Lannister sigils) and amplified Scorpions on the battlements may deter Dany from a dragon attack, but it’s obviously more because Tyrion and Varys oppose it. Jon is on the road and thus unable to give his input (how convenient). Or many it’s scary because Cersei doesn’t give a sh_t, no matter the misdirection provided by her pregnancy. By the way, Euron will really have to be thick to not get by now that the baby isn’t his. Please address this, show.
The Tyrion-Qyburn (Anton Lesser) meeting is fascinating because they are mirror images of each other. True believers who are powerful intellects, they differ because, deep inside, Tyrion is a compassionate man and Qyburn is a full-on mad scientist.
The show gives us a genuine moment of uncertainty when we feared Tyrion was going to get shot by the archers. Tyrion has now become an all-out liability to Dany. His speech to Cersei, by the way, didn’t work. Nice job.
The best part of the show, craft-wise, is the worst part of the show, heart-wise. After saving her (improbably) from wights in the Crypt, Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) shocked people because they suddenly realized how much they cared for her. She actually had very little to do on the show ever since escaping Astapoor, but being the second Dany element to be killed off in the episode proved to people they cared for her. Her beheading echoes that of Ned Stark in season 1’s episode 9, “Baelor.” This is the best acting Emmanuel has done on the show and her last word, “Dracarys,” will live on. She goes out like a boss.
To be clear, “Dracarys” in High Valyrian means “dragonfire,” but the Mad King Aerys used it to mean “burn them all.” Dany obviously uses it to trigger her dragons. But here it all means the same thing. With her last breath, Missandei is telling Dany to burn King’s Landing to the ground.
The single best performance in this episode is obscured by how spread out it is, but man, Clarke kills it as Dany in “The Last of the Starks.” She starts off by mourning her most trusted adviser, pleads with an obstinate Jon, loses Rhaegal, fights with Varys and then loses Missandei. That expression she has at the very end, angry and wounded, has everyone calling her the Mad Queen for real.
It surprised viewers, but many went from “Save the people of King’s Landing” (Tyrion, Varys, Jon) to “burn them all” (Dany, Missandei) in one episode.
“The Last of the Starks” is the most divisive episode in a divisive season. The problem is not the content, but the pacing, which felt forced and unnatural. Pity poor director David Nutter who gets all the non-Miguel Sapochnik episodes and has to make something from this clunker of a script. It felt like they were just going through the motions to get to next episode’s Battle of King’s Landing, which is weird for an episode that was almost as long as last episode; this one is just over 70 minutes.
There is every indication that GOT put a lot of its resources and attention into episode 5 (it should be amazing) but, for a show with such high expectations, “The Last of the Starks” feels like a missed opportunity.
Deaths: Rhaegal, Missandei (and the people on the boats).
Best line: Missandei: “Dracarys.”
“Game of Thrones” season 8 episode 5 airs on HBO on Monday at 9 a.m. with a primetime replay at 10 p.m.