Disappointed by the lack of story movement in the first two episodes of "Game of Thrones"? Upset by the surprisingly low number of meaningful deaths in the big Battle for Winterfell? Well, do I have the episode for you! Let's talk about the five biggest takeaways from the third-to-last episode, "The Last of the Starks."
1. Oh, so THIS is the episode where the exciting stuff happens
Remember last week how everyone threw out their Hot Takes about how "Game of Thrones" had lost its edge, that it no longer had its nerve and that not enough of importance happened in last week's big White Walker-based Battle for Winterfell? Much like Missandei and Grey Worm's post-war plans, those did not age well!
Ironically enough, for an episode that begins with a long scene mourning those who died in Winterfell – a sequence that feels like it's more emotionally impactful than it really is considering, yeah, only a few B-listers biffed it – "The Last of the Starks" proceeded to actually outdo last week's big death body count.
For one, we lost Rhaegal as Dany, Jon and the good guy army sailed its way down for the next big war in King's Landing and were given a rude greeting by Euron Greyjoy, who shockingly and rather bloodily brought down the dragon with his big crossbow. It was a loss that packed a more meaningful punch than just about every supposedly massive death the previous week – a big strategic loss for Dany and company, as well as stark evidence that Cersei will not be an easy foe to vanquish.
But that's not all! Euron also obliterated a few ships along with Rhaegal – including the ship Missandei was riding on, as she gets picked up and taken prisoner by Cersei. And hold on to your seatbelts because Cersei – shocking no one except for Tyrion – turns out to be a trash human and knocks her head off during some for-show peace negotiations.
Now, it's not a great look that "Game of Thrones" killed off its lone black female character – one that the writers seemed disappointingly indifferent about this season, giving her just a few lines and a short, rote scene per episode – but Missandei is given the closest thing this show has to a noble death, standing tall and defiant even in the face of certain doom and even while placed back in chains. (The latter, again, maybe not the best look for the show). Plus, Missandei and Grey Worm committed the cardinal war movie sin of making happy plans for after the battle is over. Ask any World War II or Vietnam movie character; the minute you start talking about your plans for life back home, you're guaranteed dead, at best maimed.
But still, between Missandei and Rhaegal, we unexpectedly lost two significant characters in blazing fast time – characters that mean something to the audience and mean even more to now boiling Dany. (That can't bode well for the human shield of people Cersei's packing into King's Landing.) We were all set for last week to smash our hearts into pieces, but it turns out we were looking at the wrong episode for our heart-breaking carnage.
2. A tale of two episodes
Boy, have pity for those who went to the bathroom in the middle of this episode. By the time they came back, they returned to a completely different show.
The first half of the episode was mostly a breather, a little time to mourn the dead from last week's battle and a lot of time to celebrate the living – which meant the "Game of Thrones" equivalent to a drunken rager. Dany's tossing out titles to Gendry. (Speaking of which, congratulations to the new Lord of Storm's End.) Gendry's tossing out marriage proposals to Arya, who doesn't have time for ladyship when she's got more championship-level murdering to do. Tyrion, Jaime and Brienne are playing Ye Olde Never Have I Ever – then Jaime and Brienne are getting busy while Tyrion plays proper wingman and blocks Tormund. But don't worry because he still got lucky – and so did Pod, who definitely had a threesome. I'm just saying nine months from now, Winterfell will be all repopulated again.
Even Dany and a hammered Jon almost got back in business before Jon remembered that whole "You're my aunt" thing and Dany remembered that whole "You could steal my throne from me" thing.
Eventually they get around to planning and plotting the next battle, but the general vibe of "The Last of the Starks" is yet another low-key hangout episode where relationships are deepened and political alliances are assembled or tested. Even Bronn's assassination mission doesn't cause much drama, just leading to Tyrion and Jaime negotiating him a better deal for after the battle. See, everything's fine this episode!
That is, until Euron shows up out of the blue and obliterates Rhaegal out of the sky. Then it's like the show realized its class project was due the next day and shoves ALL of the plot developments into the backend of the episode – Missandei captured, troops assembling at King's Landing, possible treason behind the scenes with Varys, hot political gossip making it around all of Westeros in a minute, Jaime's redemption arc taking a hard U-turn. It was all very eventful and exciting in a rock rolling downhill gaining speed kind of way – but it also was a little messy, less of the methodical politicking of the classic "Game of Thrones" episodes and more of season seven's issue of hitting George R.R. Martin's basic bulletpoints without thinking much of how linking them together.
The move from 10 episodes to just seven last season and now six to end the show has not been kind to the pacing of "Game of Thrones" – and definitely not people who were enjoying the calm, drunken celebrations and political behind-the-scenes emotional chess of the first half of "The Last of the Starks." Because the episode certainly didn't end the same show it began.
3. Huh ... crossbows, eh?
I get that dragons shouldn't be impenetrable, that in the name of drama the show needs to level the playing field a bit when a character has two medieval nukes. But ... big crossbow is what we've got? I had such fond memories of mocking Qyburn when he unveiled his master strategy of jumbo-sized crossbows – but now we have to take it seriously since it ripped Rhaegal out of the sky with little struggle? That's the master plan against these incredible machines of scorched earth? I can't help but feel unimpressed; the time and power given to these dragons doesn't seem equal to the time or thought given to the source of their downfall – aka a big spear-chucker.
Worst of all, you just KNOW Qyburn is being so smug about his "genius" solution to the dragon problem. Every character on this show should pull a Tyrion and just walk past that weirdo while he's in the middle of talking. Nobody likes you Qyburn – and nobody likes your dumb mega-crossbows either. I look forward to Drogon burning those things in two second flat and Cersei murdering him with a death glare of disappointment.
4. R.I.P. Jaime Lannister's redemption arc
Of all the deaths Sunday night, the brutal killing of Jaime Lannister's redemption arc was arguably the most painful.
We've spent a few seasons now shifting him toward the side of good as he watched his sister and love give more and more into her egomaniacal tendencies. This season, he fully became one of the good guys, abandoning Cersei to join the army in the North and fight off the White Walkers – plus even sticking a middle finger up to sexism, knighting a very deserving Brienne and helping inspire one of the few full-grin smiles "Game of Thrones" has ever summoned. Then Sunday night, he and Brienne, awkwardly outed as a virgin during their post-battle drinking game, even had sex! But apparently Jaime still prefers his sex life with some incest-y spice, so he snuck out in the middle of the night, spurned a tearful Brienne and galloped off to Cersei.
Now, maybe he's doing this on some ill-advised one-man assassination mission – or perhaps to make one last stab at convincing Cersei to make peace, which HA HA HA have you people met Cersei? But no matter the case, leaving Brienne in sad shambles makes us want to take Jaime's other hand. Maybe another appendage too.
5. Stuck between a rock, a hard place and Jon Snow
Now that the Night King and his undead army have literally melted away, we currently have three people making claims at the Iron Throne. (Gendry's not bothering with it ... for now.) And frankly all three are miserable leaders.
First there's Cersei, who obviously nobody wants to win the game at the end of this all. She may be cunning and smart – considering the battle against the dead wasn't as impossible of a fight as Jon Snow originally pitched, she seems pretty genius to hold back and let her enemies tire themselves into smithereens – but she's also a big ol' jerk who murders her prisoners, brings her subjects into the center of King's Landing as a human shield and *points at the past seven seasons of television* all of that. So pass.
Then there's Dany, but even her own advisors seem uncomfortable with her single-minded and reckless ambition for the throne. The series has been slowly hinting at Dany evolving into and embracing her Mad King roots – from the handling of Meereen to her killing of almost all of the Tarly line last season – and now that she's lost one of her children, one of her closest friends and her love, she seems fully ready to burn it all down in the name of ruling a King's Landing of ash. Heck, she was ready to do that before Missandei and Rhaegal took one for the team before Tyrion and Sansa nudged her toward an attempt to make peace – a knowingly ineffective one, but at least one that could put the blame on Cersei for King's Landing's wartime misery.
But also Dany's not exactly been a worthy queen in recent weeks. Remember when she spent most of the Battle of Winterfell lost in the sky? And then fell off her dragon, only surviving because Jorah happened to be around and a limited number of White Walkers were? And now this week she's driving her tired army already into another battle against the sound advice of Sansa? Maybe you would've seen Euron's ambush coming if everyone wasn't tired from fighting the literal embodiment of death and winning two nights ago. And why didn't you proceed to destroy Euron's ships with your fire-belching dragon once you dodged all those crossbow shots? It's weird how this show sometimes forgets to use its dragons. (This is what happens when you create a mega-weapon that tilts the scales too much; the script has to just make up reasons why you don't use it. Or it comes up with a big crossbow.)
I get how devastated and frustrated Dany must feel hearing Tormund and company heap praise on Jon Snow – her former lover turned reluctant rival – for climbing on a dragon and winning battles when she's been doing that for a few seasons now. (That was a nice, subtly tense sequence.) And she's suffered plenty on her journey. Ambition doesn't make her villainous – especially in a misogynistic world where, as put succinctly by Tyrion, "c*cks are important." It's the de-evolution into fascist and murderous tendencies while craving ultimate power no matter the cost to innocent lives that do that. Now more than ever, it seems like her quest for the throne is more adding another spoke in the wheel rather than breaking it as she promised.
Plus: Who brings Starbucks to a post-battle party?
Then there's Jon Snow. Sweet, sweet, stupid Jon Snow. I think the audience is meant to root for him to triumph at the end of this all, but he's just such a doof – and one of the dumbest people in the seven kingdoms. Last week wasn't exactly a display of his strategic prowess, but then this week he goes off and tells Sansa about his secret parentage – despite just the night before promising Dany that he'd keep that between them. He doesn't even technically tell Sansa; he chickens out and makes Bran drop the big reveal – which, of course, Sansa then takes to Tyrion and soon the entirety of Winterfell knows. Jon, you gossipy little drama queen!
In general, he's a noble person but also such an ineffectual wet blanket, routinely proven to be less impressive and capable than the show would like viewers to believe. In lighter, funnier hands, the saga of Jon Snow could be written as a comedy about a guy consistently failing up despite not wanting the promotions. Instead, he's positioned as the rational, level-headed choice to win this game of thrones – despite not having the passion nor the brains to deserve the win, even as some kind of commentary on the ineptitude of monarchy rule.
And worst of all, he just abandons Ghost without even a goodbye pat on the head. WHO DOES THAT?! Disqualified from the crown.
Anyways, somebody's gotta win the throne in two more episodes – and right now, the three leading candidates all appear to end "Game of Thrones" on a grim note. And I'm not sure if the show realizes it.
As much as it is a gigantic cliché to say that one has always had a passion for film, Matt Mueller has always had a passion for film. Whether it was bringing in the latest movie reviews for his first grade show-and-tell or writing film reviews for the St. Norbert College Times as a high school student, Matt is way too obsessed with movies for his own good.
When he's not writing about the latest blockbuster or talking much too glowingly about "Piranha 3D," Matt can probably be found watching literally any sport (minus cricket) or working at - get this - a local movie theater. Or watching a movie. Yeah, he's probably watching a movie.