Reply All: A Game of Thrones Email Exchange — “The Last of the Starks”

Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

If you missed last week’s Reply All, check it out here. To see Matt’s Top Moments, you can find it here, and here is where you can listen to the podcast of this episode’s breakdown.

KEITH: You know what, Hersh? With Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4—titled “The Last of the Last Starks”—in the books, I’m starting to get worried. It’s a weird thing because, for the first time in all of my Thrones-fan life, I wouldn’t say that I’m worried about any of the characters in particular. Rather, I’m worried that we’re going to leave this season unfulfilled and, this being the final season, with no prospect of a return to form next year. My distaste for “The Long Night” is well documented, so let’s look at some of the things that are getting me wound up in “The Last of the Starks.”

But first, the good. And there’s actually quite a lot of it here—like sixty or so minutes worth. I really, really enjoyed the first hour of the episode. Seeing the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell not only brought to light just how devastating of a fight it was, but gave us one last moment with the four characters that we’ve grown to know and love. I also thought it was rather telling that it was Jon who delivered the final words and not Daenerys. It makes sense, of course; they are in the North and she’s still receiving rather chilly treatment, but I had figured that this would have been a great time for her to showcase how much she cares and how good of a leader she could be. Instead, she’s mourning her own personal loss and it’s her nephew who steps up to the plate (more on this later). I also loved the throwback to Jon’s days as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. We shall never see his like again.

The second major sequence takes place inside of Winterfell and harkens back to the second episode of the season, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms.” Much like that episode, this sequence was truly excellent. As we (and so many other folks around the internet) have pointed out, Thrones shines when it’s focusing on characters, and that’s what we got here. From Dany naturalizing Gendry to Arya refusing his proposal (YAAAAAAAS QUEEN) to—my favorite—Sansa showing The Hound just how much she’s grown, we got a lot of great character moments here. But perhaps the most major one is Jaime and Brienne finally hooking up. What did you think of this long-in-the-making moment? What was your general reaction to the episode? HOW MUCH ARE YOU GOING TO MISS GHOST? Answer me, ser Nick.

Image Credit: HBO

NICK: Jaime and Brienne hooking up has been a hopeful moment for fans since they shared a bath in season three. The chemistry between the two is undeniable. Throughout the series, Jaime has shown change, then fallen back into his old ways. His list of The Bad Things I’ve Done he rattled off to Brienne in the latest episode is a cold reminder in a period where former enemies—and fans—offered forgiveness. He not only realizes that his change isn’t permanent, but that he has a cosmic attraction to Cersei, for better or—probably—worse. She couldn’t care less about him and his decision to fight for the living. Brienne, on the other hand, has genuine feelings for Jaime which causes her to break down when he finally leaves. 

It’s just a shame what the show has done with Ghost. Absent since Jon’s resurrection, he finally returns to no fanfare by his owner. He lost an ear and will forever have the scars to prove his involvement in the battle against the Night King and his army which no one got to see. As Jon starts south, he takes time to say farewell to Tormund and Sam, and all he gives Ghost is the slightest of nods. The image of Ghost whimpering, head down, injuries fresh, will forever be burned into my brain. The mysticism behind the direwolf has been lost on the show, which is tragic. We could hold out hope that Ghost meets up with Nymeria, but I’d be surprised with two episodes left and the action in King’s Landing that we’ll ever see the wolf again. 

Speaking of characters we’ll never see again, the episode bid adieu to another of Dany’s child and her best friend. One seemed completely avoidable, and the other would have been avoidable if the former was avoided in the first place. It’s that simple. It wasn’t a gratuitously violent episode, but the deaths of Rhaegal and Missandei were unexpected and hard-hitting for the Dragon Queen. 

Dany is quickly losing support, and the Stark sisters aren’t exactly helping her cause.

Image Credit: HBO

KEITH: Not only is she quickly losing support, she looks to be quickly losing her grip on the “good queen” persona she’s been building since season one. True, Sansa and company aren’t making things easy for her, but that’s also because they’re trying to actually win the war instead of making a fiery show of force. If nothing else, hasn’t Sansa proved her strategic acumen? Why does nobody listen to her? I wonder if the reason rhymes with shmishogyny.

The real kicker in all of this is the fracturing of Dany’s relationship with Jon. Watching him surrounded by a crowd of people celebrating him for doing the exact same thing that she did during the Battle of Winterfell couldn’t have been fun, and as the feast goes on she retreats further and further into herself before essentially providing Jon with an ultimatum: keep quiet about his real name or else. Now, I watch enough pro wrestling to know the early stages of a heel turn when I see it, and by the time we get to the end of the episode, it looks like she’s walking away about to go full on Mad Queen on Cersei’s murderous little face.

What’s puzzling to me about all of this, though, is that it’s exactly what we’ve been warned about for nearly eight seasons. Are you shocked that this is where we’re going? Do you think she still has a shot of pulling it back together and taking the Iron Throne for herself? Do we spend all of next week’s episode watching King’s Landing burn?

Image Credit: HBO

NICK: “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.” Cersei gave us this quote way back in season one when Ned’s head was still attached to his neck. The quote is the ultimate tweet-length synopsis of the series and is one of the few things that’s remained steadfastly true. Look at all the characters who died because of The Game. As we’ve discussed before, Dany’s life mission has been to regain the Iron Throne in the Targaryen name, and now she’s as close as she’s ever been. It’s not surprising that we’re seeing her attitude shift given what’s just happened to her. She’s been blocking whatever madness is inside her at the encouragement of her advisors, but her heel turn may be her final undoing. I think she has a shot for the Iron Throne, but it’s going to involve lots of burning to get it. 

Dany wants to break the wheel, as we’ve been reminded. The wheel is just house name after house name rolling over each other for power in a continuous cycle. Does breaking the wheel mean no more traditional monarchy? How does she expect to be Queen and reign AND change the entire system? When’s the last time someone ruled the Seven Kingdoms without rebel scum trying to wrest power away? Tyrion tried to talk to Dany about her plan once Cersei was removed, but Dany isn’t one for planning ahead. She sees what’s directly in front of her and remains single-minded. 

Enough about Dany. What’s going to happen with the Stark children and their cousin? It’s no secret that Arya and Sansa distrust Jon’s aunt, so what could the two Stark sisters have planned? We already know Arya is on her way south with the Hound, but her and Sansa have become extremely close since reuniting. The eye exchanges the two have had over recent episodes is quite titillating.

Image Credit: HBO

KEITH: At this point, I’d probably say that Sansa is the most compelling character on the show. She has clear motivations, resources and pull, and is smart enough to see what she wants materialize. That choice to tell Tyrion of Jon’s true heritage was pure calculation—she knows it’s a message that’s not only going to get out to the world, but it’s something that’s likely to create the outcome that she’d rather have: Jon on the Iron Throne. And I’m not sure that this is just about her disliking Daenerys as a person. Rather, this seems to be a Varys-style “for the realm” choice. I like it.

Seeing Arya and The Hound reunited on a path toward King’s Landing warmed my heart. If nothing else, does it point to a Clegane bowl? Does Arya participate? The Mountain is on her kill list, after all. I have a bad feeling like Zombie Gregor is going to kill his younger brother and Arya will come in for cleanup duty. If nothing else, this would make for a stellar setpiece midway through the next episode. I have a feeling like we’ll need it.

Then the question of who kills Cersei. We’ve spent so much time assuming that it was going to be Jaime, but have we been wrong this whole time? Will it be Arya? I wouldn’t be mad, and it would certainly make sense given her dispatching the Night King. Of course, there’s always the possibility that Cersei doesn’t die and that she wins the game of thrones. She has been one of the game’s best players this whole time, so it would only be appropriate. And given how much fan service these last two seasons have been, I wouldn’t mind a thorough subversion of expectations in the final two episodes.

So, is there any hope here? What are you looking to see in the series’ penultimate episode?

Image Credit: Helen Sloan/HBO

NICK: You mentioned it already, but I’m extremely here for Arya and the Hound doing whatever they’re about to do, which likely involves sharp objects, vengeance, and a list. I trust that we’ll get Clegane Bowl, but I don’t trust that Arya will get to kill Cersei, as much as it would delight fans. She already took out the Night King, but will Benioff and Weiss give her the glory of taking down both baddies?

We saw it at the end of this episode, but I think Dany has finally turned. How many times has she held off on burning Cersei because her advisors used her father as a negative example? Losing a dragon and her best friend is enough to push her over the edge I think, and we saw the internal fire rage as she walked away in the closing seconds. 

With another presumptive battle in episode five, perhaps this is when we see a slew of top characters meet their end. You made the right move at the Battle of Winterfell by predicting only a couple of deaths, so what do you see happening here? And which thread holds your great expectations?

KEITH: Part of me feels like the pendulum is going to swing in the other direction and we’re going to get a dozen or so major deaths this week, and I’m probably going to cry like a little baby when The Hound gets cut down. But there’s always the possibility that the commitment to fan service runs so deep that the bloodshed is kept to a minimum and we’re all left going into the series finale thinking that maybe, just maybe, everyone survives. I’m not sure what it says about me, but I’m far more in favor of killing off major characters at this point. I think it has something to do with reinserting actual stakes. It feels like 99% of the named characters have been safe for the past two seasons, and that feeling is pretty much the exact opposite of what Thrones cultivated over its first six seasons. I’d like to see it return.

As far as the threads I’m most excited for, I think I’ve tipped my hand (or my Hound) a few times on that one. Sandor Clegane is easily a top three character for me, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing how his story ends. I’m also really excited to see how Sansa handles things now that she doesn’t have Dany breathing down her neck—it’ll be nice to see what kinds of steps she takes to put Jon on the throne.

And then there’s the spectacle of another battle. We spoke of this briefly on the podcast, but I’m looking forward to Miguel Sapochnik returning to form a little bit, and I think King’s Landing is the perfect location for him to showcase his sensibilities as a director. Not only are we far removed from the dull and dour setting of Winterfell, but I feel like we’re far more likely to get some daytime action. These are humans fighting, after all, and they need to see every bit as much as we do.

But the night is dark and full of terrors, among which Cersei is chief.

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Nick Hershey

The author Nick Hershey

Nick was born and raised in Amish country, has a beard, but isn’t Amish. He’s a fan of winter as long as he’s at the top of a mountain with a board under his feet. He’s an avid sports fan, movie junkie, tv bum, and music enthusiast who still purchases CDs for some reason.