Image credit: Creative Commons by Xeworlebi
After what has been a fairly disappointing half season, Game of Thrones returns to what it does best with style.
I can’t say much without getting into spoilers, but there is very little real critizmsm that I can give this episode, it is honestly the best episode of the series since “The Winds of Winter,” way back in Season 6, the reason being that the writers are playing to their overwhelming strength: creating moral dilemmas.
The episode begins with a funeral service for those who died in the battle against the White Walkers and then transitions into a half-hour party celebrating the victory over the dead. The party is filled with character movements and tons of callbacks to previous episodes, with the funniest one being Tyrion’s incredible drinking game.
While this scene does drag for a long time, the individual moments shine through with Arya, Jon, Sansa, Tormund and Tyrion all getting great laughs, Tormund especially.
While most of the scene is just there for jokes, it does feature a great interaction between Sansa and the Hound wherein they discuss Sansa’s evolution from a timid girl to a vicious murderer and respected leader. She, like everyone who plays the game of thrones, has grown stronger through the pain she has beaten, something that we start to see as she starts to scheme later in the episode.
The party ends with Jaime and Brienne hooking up and, more importantly, with Dany worried that Jon will press his claim on the Iron Throne and, with the support of the North, take away the one thing that she has spent her entire life lusting after. She begs that he tells no one, but Jon decides that his sisters deserve to know the truth.
Jon goes through with telling them the truth and, despite swearing to secrecy, Sansa immediately tells Tyrion that there is a better option for the throne than Dany.
As Sansa starts to plot against the Queen, Jon bids his farewell to the Free Folk, Sam and Ghost before they head Beyond the Wall for the final time. Tormund reminds Jon that he has the North in him, something that, no matter how far south he travels, he must remember.
It is this struggle that will define Jon for the last few episodes, the fight between his northern Stark roots, strengthened by his experiences Beyond the Wall, and his southern Targaryen heritage. This is best shown in the melancholy he expresses as he hugs Sam, the love that he has for Sam is so clear and yet they serve very different roles in the wars to come. Jon’s choice to tell Sansa and Arya the truth about his heritage despite Dany’s warnings also show the two worlds that he is torn between.
It is on this note that Jon, Dany and Tyrion head south towards King’s Landing and Cersei Lannister.
While Jon struggles with his torn loyalties, Dany faces the question of how to take King’s Landing and what kind of ruler she wants to be. With Cersei controlling the capital, the only way to take the throne would be to burn the city and rule as ‘Queen of the Ashes,’ something that has long been foreshadowed and which seems more likely than ever.
As the Targaryen fleet arrives at Dragonstone, they are ambushed by Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Fleet who quickly shoot down Rhaegal, decimate Dany’s fleet and take Missandei hostage.
Dany moves with the survivors towards King’s Landing, offering Cersei a final chance to make peace before heading to all out war. Tyrion makes an impassioned, albeit futile, speech begging that Cersei bend the knee and end the war. She refuses and beheads Missandei, destroying Dany’s first and best friend alongside any chance at peace. Dany leaves the capital with a fury that she has never shown before.
Given Dany’s state of mind, her advisors Tyrion and Varys start discussing treason and replacing her with Jon Snow. While both feel that Dany might be a good ruler, the amount of emotion that she has could easily cause her, like her father and brother before her, to go mad. While they understand that Jon may not want the throne, he would likely take it, as he did the positions of Lord’s Commander of the Night’s Watch and King in the North.
Jon is more stable than Dany, and Tyrion and Varys both realize that his unwillingness to rule may be exactly what makes a good ruler, something that many today would agree with and which may cause Varys to commit treason against his Queen to protect the realm.
The debate that these two minds have over tyranny and how to the common good versus personal gain is one of the best political monologues since “The Climb” back in Season 3, Episode 6. These are the scenes that the writers understand best something which shows through sticking power of the famous words: “Chaos is a Ladder.”
The final major struggle is Jaime’s battle against himself. Jaime has changed more than anyone else over the past eight seasons, moving from arrogant to humble, dishonorable to a man who would die for his vows. Despite this, he still is drawn to his sister, who he never stopped loving. The struggle between honor and love has always been a key point of the show with it playing key roles in almost every storyline, and something that is showing up once again in the plots of all of the main characters with Jon and Dany fighting against how they balance who they were born to be with who they are, and Jaime striving to be an honorable man a
This episode brings the show back to its roots, the human fight for the throne and the emotional drama that accompanies it. The fact that I felt the episode should have ended multiple times before it did, something which is present in all of the best episodes, really drives this point home. What I mean by this is that in all of the best episodes of the show, including “The Rains of Castamere (309),” “The Laws of Gods and Men (406),” “The Mountain and the Viper (408)” and the “Battle of the Bastards (609),” all feature multiple dramatic points in the episode where it seems that it ought to end. These points are the most tense scenes, and something I haven’t seen in recent episodes. That they are making a reappearance is a good sign.
While I still resent the choices that the showrunners choose to make in the previous episode, this episode has reinvigorated my investment in the show, something which I was starting to doubt.
With the next episode seeming to promise another battle directed by Miguel Sapochnik, like the last episode, the show is racing towards it’s violent conclusion, one which I hope will feature Jon Snow begrudgingly taking the Iron Throne.
I give “The Last of the Starks” 9.1 Overpowered Scorpions out of 10.