After the anti-climatic battle of last week’s “The Long Night,” the White Walker threat is officially gone. We’re now at a point where Game of Thrones’ final boss is in clear view, as Cersei is prepped and ready to take on the remaining good guys who held off the Night King’s advances.
As written by showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, there was a whole lot of messiness in last night’s episode to set the board for an evenly-matched fight between Cersei and Daenerys. At 80 minutes, “The Last of the Starks” feels like two episodes squeezed into one, with a slow, sauntering start where our characters get a well-deserved reprieve before they’re rapidly whisked across the map to get them where the show needs them to be, both physically and politically. We spend a large chunk of the episode at the Battle of Winterfell afterparty, watching Gendry get turned into a lord and turned down by Arya Stark, Ser Jaime taking the virginity of one Ser Brienne much to the short-lived heartbreak of Tormund Giantsbane, and setting up a lot of tension between the North’s war hero, Jon Snow, and his increasingly less-popular Dragon Queen.
Then, there’s the issue of Jon Snow’s Targaryen secret, which remained a secret for all of ten minutes, coupled with the ongoing distrust between the Stark sisters and Daenerys Targaryen. And from there, Daenerys gets one of her two remaining dragons killed in an ambush, and Tyrion gives a dumbass speech to get Cersei to surrender, to which she responds by executing Daenerys’s friend and advisor, Missandei. (A well-directed scene by David Nutter, who shows the execution from Grey Worm’s perspective—the show’s most stoic warrior, who can’t bring himself to watch.)
This all feels a bit too much like last season, where Lots of Stuff is Always Happening—which is admittedly what happens when you’re speeding towards the series’ end. But the downside of all this action is that no one—except maybe Varys and Bran—is taking any time to consider what the hell anyone is actually doing. Understand, that this was a show that built its notoriety on human-on-human conflicts and unforeseen consequences. Characters grew with a complexity that was shaped by both personal traumas and the world around them. Heroes turned into villains, villains into heroes, and the decisions made, while imperfect, at least made narrative sense.
While last week’s episode was a series of character judgements that produced more questions than answers, “The Last of the Starks,” was an acknowledgement that characters are getting dumber by the episode. The following is a list of people who don’t seem to be learning a damn thing.
Hasn’t learned from Targaryen history
Did Daenerys just up and forget her last name? Is this not the same Daenerys Targaryen who entered the GoT picture by being re-told the same tired story of her father, the Mad King Aerys II Targaryen? The same volatile Targaryen who burned his enemies like it was a bad habit? And she’s been retold that fateful story by every advisor she’s ever known, correct? Being so on-brand about fetishization of her legitimacy, can’t be all that healthy. In one scene, Daenerys straight-up begs Jon Snow to keep his Targaryen identity a secret—especially from his family—in the interest of her claim. In another sequence, her obsession with overtaking King’s Landing sidesteps Sansa’s advice of waiting for the troops to charge, given half her forces were depleted an episode earlier, for god’s sakes.
This was the same Daenerys who in season seven, stated that she no longer wished to be seen as the “queen of the ashes,” and rejected a direct attack on King’s Landing. But now she’s lost another dragon and her trusted advisor, Missandei—the only black woman on this show, who is now headless—due to her lack of patience. Forget the quieting influence of Jorah Mormont, or advice of Tyrion. She’s ready to break mad.
Hasn’t learned from Ned Stark
You’d think that Jon could learn to lie with Ned Stark’s execution as a legacy. Yes, it’s great to root for the honorable guy with cat eyes, but for the love of the old gods, take a lesson in not telling hard truths for a minute.
In one of his more Ned-like moves, Jon promises Daenerys that he won’t reveal his Targaryen identity in support of her claim to the throne. Just a scene later though, he does just that with his Stark sisters—who both trust Daenerys as they would a Lannister—because he can’t lie I guess. Considering the Stark legacy self-kills through big mouths. Then its Sansa who told Tyrion about Jon, and Tyrion has told Varys with his side-switching ass. Yes, I’m sure this won’t have any effect on the fate of Daenerys at all... You know nothing, Jon Snow.
Hasn’t learned who Arya has become
Imagine that you defeated the OP-level Night King boss, and you’re basically asked to be a housewife as a grand prize by a dude whose ass you can kick. Gendry has learned nothing about who Arya has become, and it’s never going to happen. I’m sure there’s a fine lady in the Stormlands for you, bud.
Hasn’t learned from being a Lannister
Take Sansa’s word for it from earlier this season in “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”—“I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” These are words she tells Tyrion for believing in a Cersei “promise.” And no, she doesn’t have to elaborate, because we’ve all thought the same thing about our dear Tyrion; he’s no longer the smartest man in Game of Thrones. Over the years, we’ve seen Tyrion survive among the Lannisters, Littlefinger, Varys, and others who manipulate and betray like the best of them. By now, history would imply that he’d be an expert in the art of playing people off of each other. Maybe it was the wine, but it looks like our guy Tyrion forgot how to play his old games—or worse, is adopting some Jon Snow-style naivete.
It’s hard to imagine for example, that Season One Tyrion, would tell the Varys—the spy chief who has served five, or six, different rulers—about Jon being the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. It’s also hard to imagine that Tyrion would neglect to warn the Daenerys about the spreading of that information. And lastly, Season One Tyrion would never expect his sister Cersei to surrender to anyone with a depleted army, especially someone who sends a brother who she absolutely detests as its spokesperson. (At least he remembered how to negotiate with Bronn.)
At least he negotiated well with Bronn, which truly did feel like a throwback to season one.
Hasn’t learned from Cersei
This is more about what Jaime hasn’t done versus what he’s hopefully going to do (kill a queen). Let’s be honest here, Jaime understands Cersei better than most. He’s shared a bed with her, fathered children with her, and spent the better part of the last season by her side. As a man who fought in battlefields on behalf of his sister (and, as he reminded us, pushed a kid out of a window for her), there’s no reason for his ass to be absent from the planning stages of a Lannister attack. In an effort to redeem himself and stop his sister, you’d expect him to remind Daenerys of Cersei’s most cunning strength, the consistent habit she has for ambushing her opponents. I mean, at least remind Daenerys of the dragon-killing weapons the Lannisters have clearly put in an industrial-sized order for.
If we’re talking about a lack of learning, it’s truly evident in a Jaime who still believes that Cersei is as terrible as he is. That he alone can stand next to her and tame her in some way. Because yes, he’s come so close to being that kind of anti-hero, but the tragedy is that he still can’t see how far gone his sister truly is.
The Targaryen army
Haven’t learned from episode 3, The Long Night
Game of Thrones has made it known that it’s never good to rush into any sort of war. Hell, Leeroy “Jon Snow” Jenkins could tell you that time and again. With episode four, featuring low visibility rushes into nothingness, the Targaryen army came away with a near depleted force built on strategic blunders. And you’d think that an army would heed the advice of Lady Sansa and take things slow right after that sort of loss, but nope. Apparently it was a good idea to head back to an unguarded Dragonstone without the thought to use scouts, knowing that the enemy is a literal pirate with a superior sea fleet. Let’s also not forget that Daenerys already lost one dragon, with an injured second. If they were truly her babies, safety would be a priority. She’s faced giant arrows before, so why forget about them in that context now?
Bran ‘The Three-eyed Raven’ Stark
Hasn’t learned from his time as a “Bran”
He’s the Stark with access to every story. But he still sits idly as friends live and die, only occasionally choosing to use his abilities warn some and hold others accountable. For all that he’s capable of doing for the good of humanity, he’s still the same past and future kid who opts to sit around talking cryptic, while offering occasional hints of purpose and intelligence. Kinda like Game of Thrones in its current state.