Here there be spoilers (and really bad puns). You’ve been warned.
If “The Long Night” was a godsend for struggling optometrists worldwide, then “The Last of the Starks” is a therapist’s worst nightmare (or wet dream, depending on the integrity of their practice). Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been running Game of Thrones since 2011, but in 2015 they passed the source material they’d depended upon for years. Since then, they’ve floundered, their efforts to keep enthralling and enticing viewers well-intentioned but ultimately futile. Seasons six and seven suffered from erratic pacing and an inconsistent narrative. So far, season eight has taken that mediocrity to astounding new heights. The show is becoming less and less interesting and this season reinforces that.
Bereft of logic but damn good at keeping viewers angry and invested, “The Last of the Starks” is a powerful testament to the show’s ability to continue to suspend disbelief even as ludicrous creative decisions and blatantly stupid characters have become part of its identity. “The Last of the Starks” is a fairly solid episode bolstered by strong performances and raised stakes, making it one of the best, most tense episodes we’ve seen in years. Not a high bar, but still notable. It’s still bogged down by all kinds of problems, but compared to what we’ve gotten so far it’s exciting stuff.
Say what you want about the seventh season, but it’s difficult to deny that the build-up to the Jon-is-a-Targaryen reveal proved more compelling (and more emotional) than the fallout that follows. And, as a journalist, I’ve gotta say: Bran is both a primary and a secondary source. When Bran revealed Jon’s true identity to Sam last season, it felt more credible and weighty than Jon going around volunteering that information based on the word of his best friend. “If your mother says she loves you, check it out.”
I really could not care less about it plays out for him from here because he’ll probably end up becoming the Bad King if I get too invested in a particular outcome.
All that said, this episode is chock-full of developments big and small. Brienne experiences the Fist of Her First Man. Jaime proves he’s still a spineless cock. Missandei’s circumstances at King’s Landing take a harrowing turn. Grey Worm nearly pukes. And Jon Snow? He’s just as clueless and irresponsible as ever. The “Psst, listen” exchanges between Jon and his not-really-sisters play out like those of middle-schoolers trading secrets during recess. The conversations lack maturity, depth, and emotion. Of course, there’s some sophistication to the goings-on. Unlike middle school politics, Westerosi gossip has the potential to get your loquacious ass killed. And obviously, that comes with significant risk. It wouldn’t be proper Thrones without those stakes. That potential is ever present, but here the risk plays second banana to the immediacy of the petty drama.
Pilou Asbaek’s turn as the homicidal Greyjoy usurper is as convincing as ever, but why is he even here? Last season, he left King’s Landing with no intention to return. The dead terrified him, and he resigned himself to the Iron Islands to wait out the imminent conflict with the Night King. Within the first half hour of this season, he’s back and ready to party with Cersei Lannister. It makes little narrative sense and softens the impact of Theon’s now-fulfilled mission to save his sister (which happened far too quickly and with little fanfare). Now Theon is a charred corpse and Euron still breathes that sweet southern air.
If there’s anything to take away from “The Last of the Starks,” it’s that the storytelling that once elevated Game of Thrones has devolved. Those hoping for a solid ending to the series are probably already disappointed. I know I am.