Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4: The Last of the Starks
I am so angry.
Like the Game of Thrones of old, there was some good stuff in here, but gods, I am furious.
Sansa Stark, Queen of Everything
I said I was basically ignoring some of the bullshit Game of Thrones did in earlier seasons in order to enjoy the finale. I was handwaving over it like it didn’t happen, just like the show seems to want to do. So now, of course, the show has to bring it back, and say, very strongly, “Oh no, we meant that. And all those implications you were concerned about back then? We meant them too.”
In this episode, Sansa finally has her conversation with the Hound. He tells her she’s changed, and honestly, I was waiting for her to say that she hasn’t changed, not really. She’s still the girl she was in Season 2, just more older and more cynical. But no, we then have to have this exchange:
“None of it would have happened if you’d left King’s Landing with me.”
“Without Littlefinger and Ramsey and the rest, I would have stayed a little bird all my life.”
Seriously, show. Fuck you. First, because it is saying that Sansa’s abuse, rape and torture were essential to her becoming a badass. The show is basically saying that Sansa was weak and naive before she left King’s Landing, and then she married Ramsey and suffered horrific abuse and she learned to be a tough, insightful badass instead.
This is very different from the other times the show has said “well, all the bad things that happened brought you here, where you are supposed to be.” Theon chose to attack Winterfell, and then later he chose to rescue Sansa and protect Bran and die to try and defeat the Night King. Sansa did not choose to be abused and manipulated by Littlefinger. She did not choose to be abused and raped and tortured by Ramsey. She did choose to retake the North and become an absolutely badass Lady of Winterfell, but instead of saying “hey, your bad decisions brought you here, and that’s good,” it’s saying “hey, you’re a badass because men put you through so much trauma.”
Without her trauma, she’d be an idiot? Are you kidding me?
Especially since Sansa has not changed in essence. Sansa’s badass-ness is not her willingness to have Ramsey torn apart by his dogs while she watches. Sansa’s badassness is her smarts and her empathy. She strategises. She thinks about people’s needs, from food when winter comes to rest after the battle. She will not abandon her people. She is still the same Sansa who comforted the women in the Red Keep during the Battle of Blackwater, the same Sansa who managed to manipulate Joffrey into saving Ser Dontos’s life, despite the risk she put herself in by trying. She played at loyalty in King’s Landing, and she had some savage subtle put-downs dressed up as kindness even then. Sansa Stark, Lady of Winterfell, is still the same Sansa as Sansa Stark, Betrothed to her Beloved Joffrey. And although it makes sense that her trauma had an impact on her character, and that she wants to own that, the show is literally saying that the only reason she’s “cool” now is because of what she went through.
The show even has Daenerys repeating that line later. She tells Jon he doesn’t understand Sansa “after what they’ve done to her.” The abuse defines her.
The show also seems to be trying to frame Sansa as petty and unreasonable in her fight with Daenerys. I understand the way that Dany and Sansa clash. Sansa considers Dany a threat to the North’s sovereignty, and southern leaders haven’t really led to good things for her family in the past.
But instead, Sansa’s totally reasonable suggestion that Daenerys let the armies rest after fighting hoards of the undead is treated as an excuse. Cersei isn’t going anywhere. She isn’t getting any more soldiers at this point. They are exhausted and unprepared. Sansa’s advice was good for both the North and for Daenerys. But both Jon and Dany shoot it down (and we’ll talk about that more in a minute).
And then we come to Sansa’s scene on the walls with Tyrion.
Sansa’s motivations here do not make any sense. They’ve shown her distrusting Daenerys because she threatens the sovereignty of the North. That makes sense. She doesn’t want Jon to go south, because that tends to go badly for Starks. That also makes sense.
So instead she… wants to put Jon on the Iron Throne instead of Daenerys? Where he would living in the south and at more risk than ever?
She has no reason not to trust Daenerys except for the sovereignty of the North. Dany has never done anything bad in front of her. Dany risked her life and the lives of everyone she loves to help protect the North and the Seven Kingdoms in general. Sansa surmises that Tyrion is afraid of her, but why, other than her excellent deduction skills? Sansa doesn’t know of a single terrible thing that Daenerys has done. Why would she want to put Jon at risk and put him on the throne? Why would she do anything other than say “hey, Jon is a Targareyn too, so maybe leave the North alone”?
Why does she think Jon is better for the Seven Kingdoms as a whole? Why would she want him to be? And as a Stark, why would she break a vow, made in front of a heart tree, like that? I know she feels like she’s supporting her family, rather than betraying them. I know Sansa Stark is a serious player in the Game of Thrones now. But the moment just set her up to be the untrustworthy scheming female figure, instead of the kind badass that she is.
Jaime and Brienne and being careful what you wish for
I would like to thank the show for that drinking game scene, where Brienne got to smile and laugh and be adorable. And for nothing else.
So Jaime and Brienne got together. Yay. Except what was that scene in Brienne’s rooms? It was pretty anti-climactic. It was not at all romantic or cinematic. The kiss looked terrible — just Jaime being all forceful and Brienne getting swallowed. And, as we find out later, this isn’t even a romantic moment. It’s just Brienne getting set up to have her heart broken.
Then we have to listen to Jaime and Tyrion talking about Brienne in a totally disrespectful way, because that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?
And then we have the conclusion to this three episode “Jaime and Brienne” arc. Jaime finds out about what happened to Daenerys’ fleet, and he sneaks off in the middle of the night. He doesn’t say goodbye to Brienne or anything. And when she runs after him, he makes her absolutely break down crying. She tells him he’s a good man, and begs him to stay in the North with her, like he said he would, and… he breaks her heart in response. He tells her that his love for Cersei makes him hateful, and that he’s going to continue being that way. And then he rides off without another word.
Just… why, show? It seems possible that Jaime is going south to kill Cersei, after hearing that she might win after all. But does he really have to treat Brienne that way to achieve it? I feel as though his speech was for us, not Brienne. “Hey, I’m a bad person. Remember when I shoved a kid out of a window? I’m a villain!”, so that when he gets to King’s Landing and turns on Cersei, we’re surprised. They haven’t undone his entire story arc! He was good after all!
But that doesn’t mean he has to make that speech to Brienne. He doesn’t have to break Brienne’s heart and leave our badass female knight sobbing alone in order to maintain that narrative pretence. What, will he come back later, like “lol jk” and everything will be fine? Or will he die taking down Cersei, and that’s Brienne’s final moment with him? Will she think about how he’s a hero and was truly a good man, after the show showed him acting this way to her?
God fucking dammit. I always said show!Brienne was way too good for show!Jaime, but I got swept up in my book-inspired shippiness. And this is what it gets us.
Jon the Idiot
OK, Jon, I’ll give you one thing — your speeches are getting better. That one at the beginning was a pretty good one. But you are still an absolute idiot.
Once again, we have a female character — Daenerys — speaking sense to our Warden of the North. A secret told is no longer a secret. It doesn’t matter whether Jon wants to rule or not. When people find out who he is, they will turn on Daenerys, and Dany will lose all that she has. Dany begs him to keep it a secret. But honorable Jon, who loves her and his family so very much, knows best. Just as he knows they shouldn’t let their men rest before marching them a thousand miles and attacking King’s Landing. Of course.
Even Ghost gets a ranting section this week! That’s how bad things have gotten. I’ve made an angry section about the direwolf.
In this episode, Jon leaves Ghost behind — or, rather, he sends him to the Wall, where he “belongs.” And look. I get that this is symbolism. Ghost belongs in the North, at the Wall, ranging, and so does Jon. But Jon has to go south, weighed down by promises and destiny.
But if he puts aside Ghost, he’s putting aside his identity as a Northerner and a Stark. And also… Ghost is his direwolf. Ghost was sad to be left behind! He needs to be at Jon’s side. And not to go all “but in the boooooks,” but it’s a pretty clear point that the Starks need their direwolves by their side, or bad things happen to them. And Jon is just like… nah. The direwolves are supposed to be as important to the Starks as the dragons are to Daenerys. WHY.
Arya has more on her list
I actually don’t have a rant about Arya, but she deserves a section anyway. I think everything that happened here is true to her character. She cares about Gendry, but she doesn’t want to be a wife or a lady. She saved everyone, but she doesn’t believe in heroes, and she doesn’t want to be celebrated. She loves her family, but, like Nymeria, she needs to keep moving. And despite everything, she still has her list, and she has one name in particular that she needs to cross off.
OK, let’s talk Missandei’s death. At the end of the episode, she was beheaded by Cersei, driving Dany into fury.
It’s Game of Thrones. Characters are viciously and randomly killed. I understand that. But did they really have to kill off the only non-white woman in the cast, to contribute to Daenerys’ pain?
Narratively, I completely understand why they wanted to kill Missandei. This episode looked a lot at Dany’s loneliness and isolation, and Missandei was her closest friend and advisor, especially now Ser Jorah is dead. If they wanted something to throw Dany over the edge of sanity, this was it.
Yet this is the problem with a lack of representation. If the series had other non-white female characters, then this wouldn’t be a case of Killing Off The Non-White Female Character, but just a case of killing off Missandei specifically. But it doesn’t have anyone else. In fact, unless I’m forgetting someone, the only named non-white character left alive at all now is Greyworm.
That’s really not a good look.
Meanwhile, when Missandei knows she’s about to die, her final act is to tell Daenerys: “dracarys.” Burn them all. And so Dany resolves to do so.
Yes, it’s epic, but is it Missandei? Is it the character from a peaceful people, unable to defend themselves, who has seen suffering and slavery all of her life, and who supported Daenerys because Dany offered hope? Would that character make her final action be to tell Daenerys to burn everyone in retribution for her death? It doesn’t make any sense.
Daenerys, the Mad Queen
I can get behind a plotline where Daenerys goes power-mad. But this?
I will say that Emilia Clarke knocked it out of the park with her acting this episode. I really felt Daenerys’ journey, and I felt so incredibly heartbroken for her.
She is alone. Everyone she’s ever loved has left her or died. While everyone is celebrating, she sits alone at the high table, her heart broken.
Of course, the show had to make her grief over Ser Jorah’s death about how she didn’t love him in the right way. He deserved to be loved back by his queen who was about thirty years younger than him. Her love and respect for him wasn’t good enough. I thought we’d abandoned the whole “piney Ser Jorah deserves Daenerys” thing, but I guess not.
This episode also really highlighted the sexism that Daenerys faces, and somehow… the show seemed to be condoning it? A shrug of the shoulders, a “what can you do”? Dany has to watch Jon Snow getting praised in Winterfell for things that she also did, and did better. He’s celebrated for riding a dragon for five minutes, when she literally brought them back to life and has been riding Drogon for ages. Daenerys actually tried to kill the Night King, which is farther than Jon got.
Jon is a fighter, a leader, and a survivor, like Dany. But Dany sits alone, while he gets all the praise.
Even her own advisors perpetuate this nonsense. Varys comments that Jon Snow is a war hero, and that makes people likely to support him. Again, so is Dany. She fought in that same battle, and she’s fought in many before. And then we have her advisors saying that the lords will support Jon better than Dany, because he’s a man, and even though Tyrion gives lip-service to “that shouldn’t matter,” Varys just shrugs his shoulders and says that it does.
And after Dany’s sympathetic, emotional start in this episode, she suffers from a lot of gendered character assassination this week. The show literally says that Jon would be a better ruler because he’s “temperate and measured,” while Dany is irrational. When they consider pairing them up, Varys dismisses the idea, because Dany is “too strong for him.” She’d “bend him to her will.” So Dany is angry and irrational and controlling and worst of all female, and Jon is calm and rational and good and male, so we should all support Jon.
The thing is, I know she’s going off the deep end. But the show is doing that by literally shattering her heart into pieces and taking away anyone she ever loved and everything she ever wanted, except the possibility of the throne. In the space of this episode, she burns Ser Jorah, gets rejected by Jon, loses another dragon, and loses her best friend and advisor. Her other advisors have turned on her and are considering murdering her, although she doesn’t know it yet. Greyworm is still with her, but he was planning on leaving with Missandei, and who knows what he will do now? She is alone and broken and desperately fighting for survival. And then the show turns around and says, “See? She’s a tyrant. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself!”
I’m not here for a show that sets up its potential female leader as insane and pits her against a calm, rational male leader. I’m not here for a story where Dany loses everything. I’m not here for a story that suggests that Sansa’s only strength comes from being raped and abused.
If all Daenerys’s male advisors turn on her to put Jon on the throne, that is not subverting fantasy tropes. It is being as cliche and predictable as it is possible to be. All my joy and goodwill from the past couple of episodes have been burned away, and all I can think about the final two episode is… please. Not again.