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Game of Thrones: Another One Bites the Dust

A TNR roundtable discusses “The Last of the Starks,” the fourth episode in the final season of the HBO fantasy series.


Each Monday, members of The New Republic staff will discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones, now in its eight and final season. Join Josephine Livingstone, Alex Shephard, and Ryu Spaeth as they contribute their little drop to the ocean of Game of Thrones content, which this week will feature torn allegiances, love spurned, and cruel beheadings.

Ryu: Boy, these episodes are getting long. But I suppose there is a lot to pack in, as this enormous series finally crashes, with all the lumbering grace of a dragon, toward its denouement. Last night’s episode had to do several things: Set the chessboard, post-Battle of Winterfell, for the final fight with Cersei and her army of giant crossbows; squeeze in some major plot developments, such as the sudden death of Rhaegal mid-flight; and start to tie up the show’s numerous loose ends. Goodbye, Sam. Goodbye, Ghost. Goodbye, Tormund and your amazing eyebrows, which have done some of the most expressive acting of this entire series.

And goodbye, perhaps, to the alliance of convenience between the Starks and Daenerys Targaryen, who is looking increasingly isolated and vulnerable. Even Varys, it seems, has turned against her. Is it only a matter of time before Tyrion wises up?

Alex: Goodbye, Daenerys, change candidate. She came to Westeros promising to upend its political structure. “I’m not going to stop the wheel,” she famously said. “I’m going to break the wheel.” Dany was cast as the show’s ultimate idealist. If anyone could end the titular game of thrones, it was her.

I miss that Dany. All that’s left is her seemingly ever-growing lust for power, as if the show is setting her up to be the Mad Queen. She has retained a bit of her former self, promising to end tyranny in Westeros by, uh, slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocents. But for the most part, her character has lost complexity and shading, pitching her as an antagonist in the two fights to come, one against Cersei and then another against Jon, when he arrives at King’s Landing with an army of Northerners in two weeks.

The show’s study of power, meanwhile, has been reduced to a very simple dynamic. Cersei is murderous and desperate. Dany is power-hungry and ruthless. Jon doesn’t want power, a rare display of modesty that, the show keeps reminding us, may actually be his ticket to the Iron Throne.

Ryu: Joining them all at some point will be Jaime, who consummated his love for Brienne in this episode, only to ditch her because ... well, their whole affair seemed rather rushed didn’t it. Do we really believe he’s so “hateful,” as he puts it?

Alex: Jaime always goes back to Cersei. The question is going to be how much he’s really changed. The show spent seasons on Jaime’s arc, turning him from the demented Prince Charming who throws a child out of a damn tower of the first episode, to the remorseful, nuanced Jaime of the past couple seasons. But I do wish we had a bit more time with him and Brienne before he packed his bags for the capital.  

Jo: You don’t think Jaime’s departure was a red herring, in advance of him killing Cersei? I read this scene as Jaime hurting Brienne’s feelings on purpose so she won’t follow him. I have high hopes for Jaime. He spent eight seasons managing to become attractive—he can’t fall at the final hurdle!

I couldn’t believe it when he pulled that “gosh, isn’t it hot in here?” line.

Ryu: The best line of the whole episode was Jaime saying, “I’ve never slept with a knight before.”

Alex: Jo, I also read that scene that way! As for killing Cersei, there is now a crowd of candidates. The valonqar prophecy has always suggested that Jaime was the leading candidate, but also points to Tyrion. Dany wants vengeance, as does Grey Worm. Arya and the Hound are heading to King’s Landing to kill Cersei and the Mountain, respectively. All of these people can’t kill Cersei, though, I suppose it would be nice if they could.

Jo: Or a mystery candidate! There’s a line of thought out there that questions whether Tyrion is her biological brother at all. If I were making bets, I’d put about $2.50 on the killer being some previously unguessable entity.

I’m also curious how Dany’s character will unfurl in the final episodes. Like you, Alex, I think she’s lost detail and complexity, especially now that she is on a burning-eyed mission to avenge Missandei. But this can’t be her final form, surely? Will love win the day, or something else equally contrived?

Ryu: Should we talk about the dragon death and the crossbows a bit? For being supposedly invincible death machines, the dragons seem to have a huge Achilles heel, namely flying sharp projectiles.

Jo: Indeed: the Achilles dragon. This leads us to the munitions question. Why are Jon and Dany not spending all their time developing equally enormous torpedo crossbow devices? Where is the wildfire brewing industry? I just don’t understand why they’re relying on that one dragon when there is so much technology out there.

Alex: We need more big crossbows! Also, like, why didn’t anyone ask Bran what Cersei and Euron were up to? Instead of providing Jon and Dany with useful military intelligence, Bran is apparently scraping time and space for wheelchair designs. What use is having a creepy time lord if he’s not going to warn you about an ambush that will kill one of your two nuclear weapons?

Jo: Nobody is asking Bran anything. He knows everything! Literally what is he for if not telling the future and then planning around that information.

Did you guys notice that pang of longing on Jon’s face when Tormund spoke about the North? He misses his dead ginger girlfriend.

Ryu: It’s not like he can shack up with his aunt.

Jo: Why not?

Alex: All of Jon and Dany’s problems would be solved by ... getting married! The whole “she’s too strong for him” bit makes no sense. Just get married!

Ryu: This show has turned people into monsters.

Jo: I have another question. Is Sansa about to become Cersei Two? That was some frosty posturing on that wall.

Alex: I generally think she’s the smartest character on the show, but they haven’t done enough work on her knee-jerk opposition to Dany. Seems to me that pledging fealty in exchange for tens of thousands of soldiers and a couple of dragons that help you defeat a freaking undead Night King is a ... fair trade?

Jo: Good point. Though Arya did rather a lot.