The Last Party
Game Of Thrones came back for its eighth and final season three Sundays ago, and here’s Tripwire’s senior editor Andrew Colman with his review of the fourth and anti-penultimate episode. Warning: major spoilers ahead…
The Last Of The Starks
Director: David Nutter
Stars: Peter Dinklage, Kit Harington, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Emilia Clarke, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead Wright
After the grand guignol of last week’s mega-scrap, Benioff and Weiss (doing what showrunners often do, writing key instalments) bring us the aftermath, brimming with overwrought sexual tension, drunken abandon and occasionally facile moralizing. It’s another elegiac entry, and although there are enough excellent lines to elevate matters, it all comes across as contrived – everything now is in thrall to the grand finale, so characters finally fulfil their yearnings, take stock, mutter the odd platitude, or comment yet again about how much they or everyone around them has changed, and how much has happened since the first episode, when all was well up north. It does remind you of George R. R. Martin’s genius, which was primarily about (seemingly) sidestepping contrivance and not allowing determinism to ruin the naturalism of the show.
The players assemble for a massive, raucous candlelit feast, blissed out on survival and the possibility of the end of war. Tormund doesn’t get Brienne, The Hound growls at girls trying to chat him up. For a few cast members, it ends here – Tarly and Gilly, the jilted Tormund. Surprised he didn’t stick around. Jaime, Tyrion and Brienne play drinking games, ending up with the latter running off in a huff as the others learn of her chastity. Meanwhile the heavyweights (Jon Snow, his auntie Dany and Sansa) glare, glower and mechanically go through the motions and power plays, sizing each other up in a rather obvious bit of foreshadowing. And then there’s Jon’s fallibility when it comes to keeping secrets about his lineage – for the narrative to retain direction, he has to spill the beans. The most suspect moment here is when Sansa tells the Hound that all her abuse at the hands of Baelish, Bolton and Joffrey made her the person she is now. Such horrendous rites of passage had a permanent and debilitating effect on Theon for example, and yet Sansa claims that revenge was enough, her steel ample reward for what she went through. Not the best bit of writing there, methinks.
About halfway through, Tyrion and Varys, alone and sequestered, explore all the possible outcomes regarding the Jon Snow / Daenerys / Cersei conundrum. This is probably the best scene in the episode, as the two, having been in survival mode for so long, finally have a chance to revert to Machiavellian type – all the best lines are here, the dialogue crackling as it once regularly did in this series, as our strange bedfellows subtly hint at previously unimaginable perfidy. And make mandatory jokes about genitalia. And speaking of strange bedfellows, there’s Jaime and Brienne, actually getting off with each other, in a plot development that was first breached in series 3. Again, it isn’t really a surprise, and neither is Gendry being made a lord, or proposing to Arya. It’s all soapy window dressing, forestalling the real meat of the plot, that of the face-off between Dany and Cersei.
Not that such presentably played elements aren’t a slightly pointless distraction of course – this is all a drawn out preamble before the shift down south. But there are other, admittedly superior cameos to postpone matters – Bron returns, more feisty and aggressive than before, to parlay with Jaime and Tyrion about Cersei’s offer to have them killed. He then exits stage right very quickly. The Hound and Arya ride off together to their fate, swapping the usual barbs before the action switches to one last lap before the off – Jaime, who having had the ultimate in redemptive arcs in this show, leaves Brienne due to still being plagued by his past (and ancient) misanthropies. Brienne, the woman who defeated the Hound, uncharacteristically cries her eyes out. The scene doesn’t work, but clearly the story demands that Jaime has to follow his own path as we approach the denouement – and besides, who knows Cersei better than him?
And finally, the action shifts, to where Grey Worm and Missandei, all youthful bliss and innocence on board their ship, are ambushed by the gurning Euron and his hordes, killing Rhaegal (one of Dany’s dragons), destroying the fleet and capturing the young Miss. No-one else is caught, despite the nightmarish conflagration, with Tyrion and even Varys avoiding certain death by drowning. It’s a beautifully mounted sequence, with Rhaegal’s death being pure cinema, while Tyrion dodges arrows and explosions before jumping overboard.
You do sense that Dany, Snow and Tyrion’s war room strategies are hopelessly misguided here, a feeling which is somewhat reinforced when they confront the garrison at Kings Landing, absurdly outnumbered, with Tyrion telling the Wicked Witch of Westeros™ that she has lost while attempting to reason with her lickspittle Qyburn – she certainly hasn’t, and cackles away at their effrontery before ruthlessly despatching Missandei (very grim moment there). And so the episode ends, with the baddies firmly on the front foot. At times, especially with the interplay between Cersei and the scenery-chewing Euron, it all gets too pulpy – he’s wandered in from another show, while she is even more unsympathetic than before, if that were possible.
Again, that final scene was too contrived, forced and lacked internal logic, despite working reasonably well on a dramatic level (regardless of my qualms about Euron, who seems more like a coked-up spaghetti western villain each time we see him). Indeed, everything is predicated on what happens in the last episode – expectation is limitless, while surprise remains paramount. It’s a tough balancing act that was handled with relative ease earlier on in this show. But that was before the source material ran out, and the program became the Series of the Decade. Benioff and Weiss have succumbed to the odd overcooked trope here, in service of what comes next, yet somehow you sense they still have plenty of aces up their sleeves – this was still a very watchable episode. Not long to go though.
Here’s the trailer for this episode
Game Of Thrones is on every Sunday on HBO in the US and on Mondays on Sky Atlantic in the UK.