Spoilers for ‘Game of Thrones’ season 8 episode 4.
“We don’t have time for all this.” So said Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) in the first episode of the eighth and final season of Game of Thrones. And it is as Bran decreed, with plot developments coming in thick and fast in the fourth round that was aired in India on Hotstar on Monday.
Is Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) a bigger threat than the Night King? The HBO series, which is in firm death throes mode, gave its reply in The Last of the Starks, written by showrunners DB Weiss and David Benioff and directed by David Nutter. Some scenes were leaked in advance on the internet, indicating the hunger for updates and the need to find out how it all ends and move on to the next pop culture juggernaut.
The Last of the Starks explores the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell, in which Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) slays the Night King and vanquishes the White Walkers. Sombre farewells are bid to the departed, including Theon Grejoy, Dolorous Edd, Jorah Mormont and Lyannna Mormont. The nagging question of the true occupant of the Iron Throne returns to the table as the survivors celebrate their victory and drink themselves silly. “We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with,” Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) wryly tells Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham).
Back at the Westeros capital King’s Landing, Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) lies in wait with her enforcer Qyburn (Anton Lesser) and ambitious pirate Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbaek), secure in the knowledge that she faces a depleted and exhausted army.
Despite positioning the White Walkers as the biggest threat to humanity right from the inaugural episode in 2011, DB Weiss and David Benioff have recently shifted back the focus to the power struggle for the Iron Throne, currently occupied by Cersei. The act of tying together complicated and interlocking strands has nudged the series based on George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels towards a much-needed conclusion. The end had to come, valar morghulis and all, but the speed with which major plot turns are being lobbed has led to clumsy contrivances and short-cuts, such as the overnight destruction of the White Walkers, the tensions between twins-and-lovers Cersei and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) – even though Jaime pledged his fealty to Cersei not too long ago – and the awkward coupling of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke).
The elephant in the room about Jon’s secret – that he is actually half Targaryen and Stark, Daenerys’s nephew and the “true heir” to the Iron Throne – finally got an inelegant walkaround. Did it work? There are only two more episodes to go, so it will have to do.
Much of The Last of the Starks was about treading water, with the better scenes serving as reminders of the reasons Game of Thrones became a global phenomenon in the first place: the complex character studies, crisply written conversations, and the ability to up-end expectations. Among the better moments was the evolving relationship between former adversaries Arya and Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) and the suggestion that the ruthless former bodyguard is among the wisest and most humane characters in the series.
One of the most powerful scenes came in late, and took us back to Daenerys’s early campaigns to marshall an army for her conquest. Apart from walking through fire and nurturing dragons, this involved a mastery over languages and the ability to reveal a secret at just the right moment (unlike some others in The Last of the Starks, who behaved as though they were at a school reunion).
The endgame is clearly in sight: another big, and final, battle, which will consume King’s Landing and dispense with, in short order, the Jon-Daenery question and the fate of the Lannisters. Generations will remember the ones who laid down their lives in the Battle of Winterfell, Jon Snow declared during the mass funerals in The Last of the Starks. As Game of Thrones winds down, its fans too will not be able to forget just how messy endings can get.