Iain Glen and Emilia Clarke in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Last of the Starks" | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Iain Glen and Emilia Clarke in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Last of the Starks” | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Stars: Peter Dinklage, Nicolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Gwendoline Christie, Nathalie Emmanuel, Jacob Anderson, Conleth Hill, Rory McCann, Isaac Hempstead Wright, John Bradley, Hannah Murray, Joe Dempsie, Daniel Portman, Jerome Flynn, Kristofer Hivju, Pilou Asbaek, Hafpor Julius Bjornsson, Anton Lesser
Writers: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, series created by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss, based on George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire”
Director: David Nutter
Network: HBO, Sundays @ 9 PM
Original Airdate: May 5, 2019

Even though the casualty rate is relatively low in this episode – we physically lose only two beloved characters to death (or one, if for some reason you never warmed toward Rhaegal the dragon) – “The Last of the Starks” is devastating. We seem to be saying goodbye to quite a few friends who are not going to the war at King’s Landing. That’s actually not so bad, since it would seem they’re safe. Seeing relationships we cherished come to cross-purposes or even actually break apart is heartbreaking.

Daenerys (Emilia Clark) grieves over Ser Jorah’s corpse through the morning; Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) similarly mourns Theon Greyjoy. Later, when the many, many, many corpses have been laid out in many, many, many orderly piles, Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) is sad over Beric Dondarrion, who died saving her. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) looks sorrowfully upon young Lady Mormont’s corpse. Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) is stoic, but obviously is anguished by the sight of so many of his slain fellow Unsullied. Jon makes a stirring speech honoring the sacrifice of all of the dead before the pyres are lit.

That night, in the Great Hall of Winterfell, there is a feast that is relatively quiet until Gendry (Joe Dempsie) gets up to try to talk to Arya (Maisie Williams) – after all, they did make love the night before the battle. Daenerys sees him, and notes that he is the (out of wedlock) son of the late Robert Baratheon (ruler of the Seven Kingdoms at the time of his death). At first, it seems that Dany may hold a grudge, but then she declares that Gendry shall henceforth be Gendry Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End.

This puts everyone in a better mood, and real celebrating begins. Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) urges Jon to drink too much, prompting this memorable exchange – Jon: “Vomiting is not celebrating.” Tormund: “Yes it is.” Tormund toasts the Dragon Queen, then salutes Jon’s achievements, including making friends of enemies, getting murdered for it, and coming back from the dead. Daenerys also toasts to Arya, “Hero of Winterfell.” Well, yes.

In private conversation with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), Davos (Liam Cunningham) is in a cranky mood. He’s not sure what to make of Melisandre’s death, or the fact that he didn’t kill her in the end – she killed herself. And what’s with the Lord of Light, sending his emissaries in to win the battle and then buggering off? Davos actually doesn’t want to feel better. Tyrion tells him that in this case, Davos is in luck – they’ve defeated the dead, “but we’ve still got us.” One look at the head table, where Sansa is not looking at Daenerys, and Daenerys is not looking at Jon, sums that up.

GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Last of the Starks" | ©2019 HBO

GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Last of the Starks” | ©2019 HBO

Tyrion gets Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau), Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) to play a kind of drinking Truth or Dare game. Tyrion deduces that Brienne is a virgin. Brienne refuses to drink, and instead gets up, claiming she needs to relieve herself. Podrick drinks. Tormund, who has harbored an enormous crush on Brienne since he first saw her, starts to go after her. Jaime blocks his way, then follows Brienne. Tormund claims his heart is broken, but he cheers up when one of the serving wenches approaches him. Another wench approaches Podrick. A third approaches Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), but he chases her off, so she joins her friend and Podrick.

Sansa talks to Clegane, who notes that she’s changed. If she’d come away from King’s Landing with him (way, way back when), none of the horrible things that happened to her would have occurred. True, but Sansa notes, she’d still be an innocent, the implication being she’d never have been able to defend the North as she has otherwise.

Jaime and Brienne get together. He says he’s never slept with a knight; she says she’s never slept with anyone and, well, yay. Brienne deserves to be happy, and she only really knows Jaime as a good man. Also, anything that keeps Jaime far away from Cersei is probably good.

Gendry finds Arya alone, tells her he’s been made Lord of Storm’s End, and proposes to her. Arya kisses him passionately, says any lady would be lucky to have him – but she’s not a lady. That’s not a life she can live.

Jon and Daenerys confer. It’s pretty clear from how they kiss that neither of them cares that he’s technically her nephew. Jon insists that he doesn’t want the Iron Throne, that Daenerys is his queen, but he’s got to tell Sansa and Arya that he’s really Aegon Targaryen. Daenerys begs him not to do this, because even though Jon may truly not want the Iron Throne, there are others who will want it for him. Jon is sure it won’t cause a problem. Jon is an idiot.

There’s a battle council. They’ve lost half the Unsullied and half the Dothraki. Only half? Evidently, casualties looked twice as bad as they actually were in the previous episode. Sansa wants the soldiers to rest up before confronting Cersei’s forces, but Jon overrides her. Jaime declares he’s staying in the North (because Brienne is still here, protecting Sansa and Arya).

Sansa and Arya talk to Jon in the weirwood, with Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in earshot. Sansa completely distrusts Daenerys. Arya respects Daenerys and appreciates her role in defeating the White Walkers – but still doesn’t trust her. She does of course trust her brother Jon. They’re all the last of the Starks, they have to stick together. Jon, clearly torn, swears them to secrecy as to what they’re about to hear, then tells Bran to tell them. Again, not to beat the point to death, but Jon is an idiot.

As the troops begin to head south, Daenerys takes off on Drogon, while Rhaegal goes riderless. Jon will go on horseback. Jon says this is because Rhaegal needs time to heal from his wounds will do better without someone on his back. Jon is probably right about this. While Tormund points out that a dragon probably wouldn’t notice Jon’s weight, it must be tough for the creatures to fly straight enough to keep passengers from falling off. The real reason is that Jon and Dany are currently not really on speaking terms.

Tormund says that he’s taking the Free Folk (aka Wildlings) back beyond the Wall once the way is clear. This isn’t their home. Jon asks Tormund to take Jon’s direwolf Ghost with them. Jon should at least say goodbye to Ghost (you still know nothing, Jon Snow), but at least he’s keeping the animal out of the battle danger in the south.

Pilou Asbæk and Lena Headey in GAME OF THRONES - Season 8 - "The Last of the Starks" | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Pilou Asbæk and Lena Headey in GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Last of the Starks” | ©2019 HBO/Helen Sloan

Jon also bids farewell to Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), who is pregnant with Sam’s baby. Gilly says if it’s a boy, they’ll call him Jon. Jon says he hopes it’s a girl. He and Sam embrace, each the other’s truest friend.

Tyrion is trying to pry sex-with-Brienne details out of Jaime – since Tyrion hasn’t had sex in years (poor fellow), he wants to live vicariously. The discussion is interrupted by the arrival of Bronn (Jerome Flynn), previously friend to both Tyrion and Jaime, currently employed by Cersei to assassinate them. Bronn is practical. Tyrion once promised Bronn that if anyone offered Bronn money to kill him, Tyrion would pay Bronn double not to do it. Bronn thinks that Cersei will probably lose, so Tyrion and Jaime have a better chance of paying up – but if Bronn kills Tyrion, the odds may tilt in Cersei’s favor. The upshot is that Tyrion offers Bronn Highgarden (previously the domain of the now-empty House of Tyrell) to let him and Jaime live. Bronn accepts.

Tyrion finds Sansa wordless on the battlements, watching as Daenerys flies away. Tyrion is trying to understand why Sansa is having such a hard time. Yes, Jon will be Warden of the North, but since Jon is likely to be spending most of his time down south with Daenerys, Sansa will in effect rule the North. Sansa doesn’t have to like Daenerys, but surely they can be allies? Sansa finally asks Tyrion what if there were a better choice for ruler. So much for her oath of silence. Oy gevalt.

Arya and Clegane encounter each other, each riding alone, heading for King’s Landing. They both agree they don’t like crowds or heroes, that they both have unfinished business in the south (he wants to kill his undead brother, she wants to kill Cersei, or maybe Daenerys – who knows?), and neither expects to return to Winterfell. Apparently having one less Stark in the family is one too many losses for Arya. Clegane is curious what Arya felt when she killed the Night King. She says it felt better than dying. That Arya didn’t experience a sense of triumph is rather sad – she seems to be almost as divorced from human experience as brother Bran, but of course, she’s just learned that she’s lost a brother (albeit Jon is still her blood kinsman and foster brother).

At King’s Landing, Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Aesbek) is in command of the fleet from the Iron Islands. When Daenerys flies in on Drogon, ranked by Rhaegal, Eoron fires dragon-killing arrows at Rhaegal, who falls into the sea. Daenerys flies out of range on Drogon, but her ships are not as lucky. The dragon-killing arrows are now aimed at Daenerys’s fleet, sinking several. Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) are among those who have to swim to shore. In the melee, Missendei is kidnapped by Euron’s men.

Cersei is delighted with this outcome. She praises Euron, saying that the Lion (House Lannister, i.e., her) will rule Westeros, the Kraken (House Greyjoy) will rule the seas, and that their child will rule both. So Euron happily thinks he’s gotten Cersei pregnant. We know that Jaime is the father, but this is hardly the first time Cersei has told this specific kind of lie.

At Dragonstone, Daenerys is furious beyond measure at the loss of Rhaegal, whom she considered to be her child, the deaths of her people, and the taking of Missendei. She is ready to burn King’s Landing to the ground, claiming it is her “destiny” to rule the Seven Kingdoms and free the people, no matter how many have to die for this to occur. Tyrion is dismayed and counsels that Daenerys at least give Cersei the chance to surrender. Jon and his troops won’t arrive for another two weeks, and the attack against King’s Landing can’t proceed without them, so they might as well try diplomacy in the meantime. The audience is in agreement with Daenerys on this point – Cersei isn’t going to surrender. However, Daenerys thinks it would be good p.r. to make the offer, so the people can see she did try to make peace.

Tyrion and Varys confer. Tyrion has shared the secret of Jon’s actual parentage with Varys. Varys concludes that since at least eight people know now (Jon, Daenerys, Sam, Bran, Sansa, Arya, Tyrion and Varys) this is no longer going to remain secret and now is simply information. Varys starts talking about his lifelong devotion to the good of the realm, and how all the tyrants he’s served talked about destiny. A ruler who doesn’t want the throne (like Jon) might be better than one who does (like Daenerys). Tyrion is horrified and says this is treason. He suggests that Daenerys and Jon marry.

Varys says that Jon won’t marry his aunt, even if as a Targaryen, this wouldn’t bother Daenerys. Furthermore, if they ruled together Jon would simply accede to Daenerys’s wishes. The Northern Lords will be happier to support a man, especially one who’s part Northerner.

Tyrion is still on Daenerys’s side. Varys suggests without saying it that he’s willing to engineer Daenerys’s death if it comes to that. Tyrion is even more appalled. Varys says they both have choices to make. Since there’s a frightening moment in the scene where it seems that Varys may kill Tyrion or vice-versa, it’s a relief that they both at least leave the room alive.

News of Daenerys’s setback reaches Winterfell. Sansa doesn’t seem entirely displeased.

Daenerys and her forces, including Tyrion and Grey Worm, approach the closed gates of King’s Landing on foot. Cersei is on the battlements with the captive Missendei, the reconstituted Gregor Clegane (Hafpor Julius Bjornsson), Euron Greyjoy, and Cersei’s Hand of the Queen, Qyburn (Anton Lesser).

Qyburn comes out to the field to parley with Tyrion. Tyrion says Cersei will be allowed to live if she surrenders unconditionally. Qyburn says that Daenerys will be allowed to live if she surrenders unconditionally. Otherwise, Missendei will be killed. Tyrion tries pleading directly with his sister, telling her that he knows she’s not a monster. He’s seen her love for her children. Cersei just smirks and tells Missendei if she has any last words, now is the time to speak them. Missendei yells, “Dracaris!” In other words, Queen Daenerys, please burn this horrendous people to the ground. Gregor uses a sword to decapitate Missendei. There will be no peace.

In Winterfell, Jaime attempts to slip away in the dead of night, but Brienne wakes to find him missing from their shared bed and comes outside to confront him. She begs him not to leave, saying that he’s a good man. Jaime cannot bear Brienne’s approval. He tells her of shoving Bran out the window and crippling him, strangling his own cousin and other things he did for Cersei. “She’s hateful. And so am I.” He rides away into the darkness, leaving Brienne sobbing behind him.

Arya departs from Winterfell and her sister. We lose another dragon. We see Missendei murdered. We see Brienne, normally a tower of stoicism, sobbing. Maybe most wrenching of all, we see Tyrion and Varys at odds, which in some ways is sadder than Daenerys and Jon at odds. Hey, we like Daenerys and Jon, but they’re not nearly as entertaining together as Tyrion and Varys, nor do they give us such a sense of perspective. This fragmentation of what has been a wry, witty fellowship underscores a sense of impending doom the way that almost nothing else could. GAME OF THRONES is coming to an end, but many of its pleasures may be gone before the series itself disappears.

Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “The Iron Throne” – Series Finale
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Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 8 – “Winterfell” – Season Premiere
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “The Dragon and the Wolf” – Season Finale
Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Beyond The Wall”
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Related: TV Review: GAME OF THRONES – Season 7 – “Stormborn”
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