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Well, I guess Missandei and Grey Worm won’t be getting that beach front property after all (too soon?).
There’s a general problem that arises as a series that is as plot heavy as Game of Thrones approaches its end game: characters and story arcs become rigidly stuck along a particular path to get to the ending necessitated by the narrative. And we have certainly hit that point with Thrones, for good and for ill. Game of Thrones is a series that has traded on its reputation for doing the unexpected, and now, in its final hours, there’s not a whole lot of unexpected left to pull out of the hat and still have it make narrative sense.
With last week’s death of the Night King, the show certainly took a major turn away from where the audience thought it would (and, as I argued last week, the series also took a major hit for turning its back on years of plot build-up for one shocking moment in dispensing the Big Bad so quickly). But this time around, everything went according to the expected narrative plan, and that made this episode a bit of a downer in the grand scheme of things (although there were some sensational character beats along the way, which I’ll touch on at the end of the review).
Since Dany and Co. left Dragonstone for the North, I’ve wondered just who was left there to hold the island. After all, anyone could just show up and claim it for their own. I suppose that’s not something that crosses your mind when your Hand assures you that his sister has pledged her army to your cause, but perhaps someone should have suggested some ships or soldiers remain, just in case? But, with no one left on Dragonstone, and Cersei having ample time to plan her counterattack, I had a sneaking suspicion there might be a surprise waiting for Team Dany once they returned (although how Cersei knew that the battle up North had been won and that they were sailing South is a question that I guess will remain unanswered . . . still not sure if Varys is a double agent, or if he was just letting Tyrion know he’s willing to put bets on other horses – namely the King of the North).
While there appeared to be way more surviving soldiers on Team Dany (There were actual Dothraki alive and in numbers that they could conceivably fight? Good god was last week’s episode an utter disaster in terms of conveying who was still alive and fighting at the end.), I’m not sure the show really needed to remove another dragon in the interest of making it a fairer fight (which, let’s be honest, is really what they were doing, in addition to removing Jon’s ability to ride a dragon – thereby making him a less threatening Targaryen when the time comes for him to fight for the Iron Throne – see, narrative pieces just magically falling into place left and right now).
But what the attack at Dragonstone did, more than anything, is put Dany into the role she has been destined to play since season one: Mad Queen. The one thing that jumped out to me the most on my series rewatch was just how clearly she was slated to fall into this role from the end of season one. Dany has never been about compromise. She’s been solely focused on her destiny (and, as Varys said, when leaders start talking about destiny, it’s time to get worried). She’ll certainly allow people to live and even remain “free” (see Yara and the Iron Islands), so long as they are neutered and swear fealty to her. If you disagree with her, she’s more likely than not going to kill you. Varys’s plea to her was a last ditch attempt to stop what is about to happen – the thing Jaime Lannister once killed her father to stop happening: the wholesale slaughter of innocents. It’s a great move on the part of Cersei, who has proven herself once again to be morally bankrupt (which, of course, we have also known for years at this point). But this is the narrative arc Dany has been in for years, and it’s time for it to come to fruition. Perhaps Jon will arrive at the last minute (and not a fortnight) and convince her to stop before burning them all. Or perhaps he will have to kill her to make her stop. One thing is for certain: the Red Keep’s roof will be burnt to ash at some point, matching the vision Dany had in the House of the Undying, and the vision Bran saw on one of his Three-Eyed Raven quests. Chekhov’s Roof and all that.
I also suspect, no matter what happens in next week’s battle (lest we forget, the episode was directed by Miguel Sapochnik, so be sure to turn up your television brightness before watching), Cersei’s death (and I cannot see her surviving the episode) will not come at the mouth of a dragon. Oh no. I suspect another major character is now on his way to his final moments in the series, fulfilling the role he was born to play.
Let’s get into Jaime’s final narrative arc for a minute, shall we? I’m of two minds regarding Jaime’s decision to ride back to King’s Landing despite making it very clear that he loves Brienne and would have been content to spend the rest of his life hanging out in the North with her. Everything up until the final moments of the episode was fully in line with the character growth Jaime has shown over the course of the series. He’s redeemed himself in the eyes of literally everyone in the series, even Bran (although, really, Bran doesn’t care at all about anything as mundane as guilt these days, so I suppose he’s not really a solid measuring stick for redemption). Making the choice to be with Brienne (who may have been a virgin, but we all know the only person Jaime has ever had sex with was his twin sister, so it was a big moment for both of them), to publicly choose her (sorry Tormund), and to make it clear to Tyrion that he genuinely loved her, well, that would, in any other show, be the perfect happy ending and the complete hero’s redemption arc. But, of course, this isn’t any other show, and Jaime still has one final role to play.
And here’s where I think the show messed up Jaime’s arc. Jaime was content with Dany and Co. heading South to take back the Iron Throne. He’s not an idiot. He knows Cersei won’t give it up unless she’s dead. He has to know that if Dany wins, Cersei is dead. Full stop. So, why the hell does he suddenly decide he needs to head down to King’s Landing after hearing she has attacked Dany’s fleet? That makes no sense, aside from us knowing that he needs to be there to either cause her death or die trying. It’s sloppy plotting for Jaime to be content knowing Cersei faces almost certain death one minute, and then suddenly, as if awakened from a dream, realize that she’s marked herself for death and feel the need to immediately run to her side. I also don’t buy the idea that his guilt (which was miraculously gone for a few days) reared its head with such a small nudge. I could buy it if he rode South with Jon and the cavalry, but nothing changed in 24 hours that should have prompted this change of heart. I’m not mad we’re apparently going to get to see the Valonqar Prophecy fulfilled, but I’m disappointed at the sloppy character development and plotting it took to get us there (and I’m also super pissed at Jaime for making Brienne cry).
“The Last of the Starks” was a table-setting episode. Unlike “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms,” it was one bogged down in narrative necessity and not allowed to breath with the freedom that made “A Knight” one of the greatest episodes in Thrones history. The narrative threads are tightening (which is a good thing, don’t misunderstand me), but they are tightening in such a way that the show is ultimately tipping its hand (a necessary evil in some instances, but also the result of some poor writing and structure issues). Several questions remain as we head into the last two episodes of the series: Will the Dornish army arrive? How about Yara’s fleet? (I’m going with an absolute yes on that one – she and Euron have some unfinished business.) Will Dany hold off her attack long enough for Jon to show up? Will Brienne hop on a horse and ride to King’s Landing? Just how will Cersei die – Arya or Jaime? Oh, and Cleganebowl: Get Hyped.
— A big sorry to all the Gendry and Arya shippers, but you had to know that this was how this love affair was destined to end, right? After all, way back in season one, Arya told Ned she’s not a lady: “That’s not me.” Parroting that back to Gendry only cemented just how true that has become. Arya is going to do her damnedest to kill Cersei next week. If she succeeds and lives, who knows what she’ll do next. But I think that might be the last time we see the face of Arya Stark in Westeros . . .
— What a lovely farewell to Tormund, our favorite lewd wildling. Taking his people back North, albeit with a new alliance and respect for those in Westeros, is about as happy of an ending as one could hope for there. Even if he didn’t get the girl.
— I’ve loved the relationship between Brienne and Jaime from the word go, but I’m not sure I love that they consummated it. Yeah, it’s lovely that they both got to experience the happiness of being with someone who loves them for who they are (even if Jaime’s sudden turn to believing he doesn’t deserve happiness was too fast and made little sense at that point in his character development), but I don’t know if it really works within the confines of their characters. That being said, assuming Jaime doesn’t make it out of this alive, I hope Brienne eventually makes it down to King’s Landing to write his good deeds into the Book of the Kingsguard, as he dreamed someone one day would.
— Oh Sansa. Sure, Dany’s going to fly off the handle and rightfully make Tyrion and Varys try to get Jon on the throne, so it’s not really your fault. But why oh why did you tell Tyrion? Yeah, we know you don’t trust Dany (and, it’s certainly looking like you weren’t wrong there), but that was a pretty strategic power play if I’ve ever seen one. Congrats, you have played the game of thrones better than any other character in the show. Look on your works ye mighty and despair.
— The credits this season made sure we remembered that Qyburn created the giant crossbow in the bottom of the Red Keep. For good reason.
— Also troubling in the credits: the blue ice squares, signalling the movement of the Army of the Dead, remained. Not sure if that’s foreshadowing or something else. But it was there.
— Thrones is at its best when we get to spend time with characters talking in ornate rooms. Before the narrative threads began their tightening mid-episode, we were gifted with quite a few scenes of that nature. It was a showcase of what the series does best (that conversation between Tyrion and Varys was the an example of Thrones perfection: characters talking (with wine) in ornate rooms while dealing with crucial plot points in an entertaining fashion). I can’t imagine we have too many of those scenes left in the series, so it was great to get a few more before the end.