By James Hibberd
May 05, 2019 at 11:44 PM EDT

Game of Thrones wasted no time following the Battle of Winterfell. There was a mourning of the dead and a celebratory feast, but very quickly the drama ramped into high gear. Character-driven errors were committed and the war for the Iron Throne ignited in a highly emotional and often devastating episode — have there ever been so many tears and kisses and hugs on this show?

Star Kit Harington previously teased that the episode, titled “The Last of the Starks,” is “Shakespearian.” Accurate. The 80-minute episode was a medieval fantasy tragedy. As Tyrion neatly put it: “We may have defeated them but we still have us to contend with.” After successfully uniting under the single purpose of defeating the Night King, the characters began quickly to fall victim to their most destructive impulses.

Daenerys was far too eager to push her forces into battle. Jon was — I would argue — far too honest and too soon with his family about his parentage. Jaime fell into bed with Brienne, then couldn’t resist returning to his sister. And Cersei had a chance to avoid war and her own possible destruction, and instead let her resentment, pride, and ambition consume her. This was an episode of scorpions being carried across rivers by frogs and then getting stung anyway because, of course, that’s the nature of scorpions (that’s perhaps a confusing metaphor choice because it was also about those giant crossbows which are likewise called scorpions).

First, there was a beautifully shot funeral sequence. Sansa weeping as she pinned the Stark pin on Theon got me. Daenerys leans down and whispers something to Ser Jorah. We don’t hear what she says (but have an interview with actor Iain Glen about this very moment). Even poor Ghost looks sad. Do you think anybody argued over who got to burn which body? 

Afterward, there is a feast with a dangerous-looking number of candles. The director of this episode is David Nutter of The Red Wedding fame. Were you nervous? There are some cheers and shared smiles, but they don’t last long. Daenerys elevates Gendry to lord of Storm’s End but does so with the most terrifying-sounding speech possible. While Jon Snow gets heavy praise from Tormund that Daenerys, naturally, notices. It’s quite clear if people knew that Jon was the rightful heir, they’d back him in a second.

There are a number of small moments, subtle exchanges here, that settle you deep into this world and all these characters that are probably never going to be so united and happy again.

There’s also a lot of drunken carousing and flirting and grabbing and accusing people of being virgins. I suspect Winterfell doesn’t have an HR department.

Love teary-eyed Tormund Giantsbane, though. The Wildling can’t believe Brienne left the party with Jaime Lannister. She picked that scrawny one-handed dude over me? Bro, do you even lift?  

Jon and Dany: The lovers attempt to make out and it’s rather awkward. Dany wants one thing of Jon: To keep his beautiful damn mouth shut. Just don’t tell anybody he’s the Iron Throne heir. Why would he have to?  She reasons that the only way it’s going to work is if they never tell anybody else. It’s a logical request. If Jon doesn’t want to be king, truly has zero desire to be king, there is no reason to tell anybody else who he really is.

Except … except … there is a reason.

Because going around pretending to be Jon Snow when you’re actually Aegon Targaryen is living a lie. A lie to the Northerners who follow him and a lie, most of all, to his family. Jon would feel like he’s impersonating their brother.

But also c’mon. Jon is fully capable of making sacrifices. He’s all about service and sacrificing himself for the bigger good. Keeping this secret is just another kind of sacrifice, yes? But it’s also precisely the kind of sacrifice Jon can’t make. Jon Snow has a dishonesty allergy. The man is lie-intolerant. So was Ned Stark. Usually, a fictional character’s tragic flaw is a negative quality. What makes Jon Snow such a great character is his tragic flaw is something that’s usually so very positive — his honesty. But being honest in a world where people are selfish and cruel and life is unfair is a potentially fatal liability. Storytelling-wise, this episode is a perfect dilemma for the character.

“I’ve never begged for anything. But I’m begging you. Don’t do this, please.”

“I love you and nothing is going to change that and they’re my family and we can coexist,” Jon tells Dany.

Oh, Jon. What show do you think you’re on?

Arya and Gendry: Gendry professes his love for Arya and even proposes in a very touching way. His feelings make sense. Arya’s smart and cool and highborn and slept with him and just killed the Night King — what’s not to love? Plus she can magically change her appearance so that would definitely keep things lively in a relationship.

Arya tells Gendry to cool his iron, she isn’t ready to settle down and doesn’t picture that kind of life for herself. She lets him down as sweetly as she can. “I’m not a lady, I never have been, that’s not me.” Sorry, Gendry. Not today.

War meeting: We learn the forces at Winterfell lost half their troops during the Army of the Dead battle.  Sansa rightly suggests their troops are exhausted and they should take some time to catch our breath and rest before we go into another battle.

Daenerys isn’t hearing it. She feels that every minute she waits, Cersei gets stronger (besides, there are only three episodes of Game of Thrones left).

Except, Cersei already has her army. There’s no evidence waiting will help her. Dany and Sansa’s forces are certainly exhausted. They just spent 55 nights shooting the longest consecutive battle sequence ever put on film, can’t they give the poor GoT extras a break?

Daenerys is adamant. Jon, trying to throw his girlfriend a win, sides with her. I dislike this decision from Jon. Because going into war before your armies have rested will probably cost lives. He should have done it the other way around: Agreed not to tell his family about his parentage, but pushed back on the troops resting.

Then again, everybody just went through hell. Having spent the battle in the crypt, perhaps Sansa and Tyrion are the only ones able to think clearly. And after you’ve defeated the Night King and Army of the Dead, Cersei must look like an extremely easy foe to topple by comparison.

Jaime and Brienne: Speaking of post-battle decision making, let’s check in on Jaime and Brienne. The duo are on a post-battle and post-feast high. They’re like two coworkers at a business conference. They respect each other and enjoy working together, then after landing that next round of funding they go drinking at the hotel bar and now this happens.

Jaime goes to her room and there’s the awkward banter that’s familiar to anybody who’s ever reached the end of a first date and it’s not clear if somebody is going to kiss somebody, babbling about firewood maintenance and such things. It’s fascinating to watch Brienne try to understand what’s going on here — and trying to decide what she wants to happen.

Jaime is unable to undo his own shirt buttons (if Bran can get a wheelchair surely somebody can make one-handed buttons for the poor Kingslayer). Brienne helps. Yes, this is actually happening. Shippers everywhere rejoice. For the moment, at least…

Much later, Jaime hears Dany has lost another dragon and she’s about to go roast Cersei. His old loyalties resurface. I hate that Jaime leaves Brienne for Cersei, yet also get it. The man has always been frustratingly obsessed with his sister. And who hasn’t been in a toxic relationship they couldn’t break free from? Also, for Jaime, his loyalty to his family is a keystone to his nature, drilled in by his late father, and his love for his twin is so eternal, that in his mind “the right thing to do” is to bolt.

The core to Jaime’s character: The things … we do … for love.

Jaime also makes an argument that he’s not actually a good man. “She’s hateful and so am I.” Jaime’s strongest point is the one about Riverrun when he reclaimed the castle in season 6. He made a threat to Edmure Tully about killing his newborn son. At the time, it was unclear how far Jaime was actually willing to go during that scene to get what he wanted. Jaime says he would have killed everybody in the castle to get back to Cersei. It’s quite sad. Because we’ve witnessed so much character growth, or so we thought. Have most of Jaime’s changes been largely superficial? Has Jaime’s core been the same all these years?

I read some online who took Jaime’s declaration as saying he was planning to go to King’s Landing to kill Cersei. But the most obvious way to hurt her is to stay right where he is. Regardless of what happens next week, I read Jaime’s motive in this scene, at least, is to try and save Cersei — just like Tyrion, to some degree, is trying to save her during the standoff at the gates.

Brienne’s tears are heartbreaking. Tormund would beat Jaime so hard if he saw this go down.

I don’t want to say much more about Brienne and Jaime because we have an interview with Gwendoline Christie about this and her insights on the episode are far more entertaining and interesting. It’s one of my favorite final season interviews and I hope you’ll read it.

Sansa and The Hound: Speaking of The Hound, the Good Clegane had chat with Sansa too. He tells the Lady of Winterfell, “I hear you were broken in rough,” which is firmly not the best way to put that. Sansa says that Ramsay got what he deserved. The Hound says if she had just agreed to come with him in season 2 when he offered to sneak her out of the Red Keep during the Battle of the Blackwater that all her pain would have been avoided.

I get the nice point The Hound is trying to make: I care about you, I would have protected you, I’m sorry that happened to you. But I cringed a bit because there’s also the subtext of suggesting what happened to Sansa was her fault. Sansa was faced with a very difficult choice in that chaotic moment and decided to stay with the devil she knew rather than the devil she didn’t, and I suspect most people— especially if they’re that young — would have done the same.

But this is The Hound trying to connect with another human and it’s perhaps the nicest he can be. We get the sense that he’s perhaps a bit infatuated with Sansa? “Without Littlefinger, Ramsay and the rest I would have stayed a Little Bird,” she says. This exchange is definitely going to inspire some debate.

The Hound leaves Winterfell with Arya to head south on “unfinished business.” We assume for The Hound that means his brother The Mountain and for Arya that means Cersei, who’s been on her list a very long time.

The Starks: At the godswood, there’s a Stark family meeting about Dany and it goes about as well as you might expect.

Jon sticks up for Dany, pointing out that she came here to save everybody. Sansa snarks that Arya was actually the one to kill the Night King, which is unfair — without Dany sacrificing thousands of her soldiers to hold the wights at bay for as long as they did, there’s no way anybody would have survived.

Bran looks at Jon and says, “This is your choice.”

BranBot translated: I know your secret, but I don’t have to tell them your secret and, hey, maybe you shouldn’t either. Given Bran’s knowledge of all and time and space, Jon really ought to sidebar with Bran for a moment and see if the kid can give him a few hints about what to do.

But Jon tells his secret. Of course, he tells them. But first, he makes them solemnly swear they absolutely won’t tell anybody the most spectacular royal family gossip anybody has ever heard. They agree. If they didn’t like Dany before, they’ll like her even less now.

Later, Sansa chats with Tyrion and makes another anti-Dany comment. Tyrion says, “You’re determined to not like her,” which is true enough. But now Sansa has ammo to fire back. She manages to keep Jon’s massive secret for a least 15 minutes. At first, I thought this was a rather impulsive move on Sansa’s part given how Sophie Turner plays it. Later I realized this could be quite tactical on Sansa’s part — she’s firing a poison arrow of intel straight into Dany’s inner circle.

Then Tyrion talks to Varys, and he can’t resist telling him too. It feels like we’re watching an episode of Winterfell High. Varys does the gossip math (and they tell two friends, and they tell two friends…). This isn’t a secret, he points out, this is information. And when news gets out the entire North will insist on Jon being king. Probably most of Westeros, especially when the alternative is an invading Targaryen (and, let’s face it, a woman — these folks ain’t woke).

Also, I now want to see HBO’s Winterfell High spinoff.

Winterfell Goodbyes: Jon says goodbye to Tormund, and Sam and Gilly, and even his direwolf Ghost. Tormund is returning to North of the Wall and Jon tells him to take Ghost with him (Ghost looks at Jon like: You’ve totally been neglecting me for several seasons, so whatever).

Gilly reveals she’s pregnant with Sam’s child, which they say they’ll name Jon if it’s a boy, so modest Jon naturally hopes for a girl (also, you know, that’s not his real name).

You get this funny feeling, in this scene … that Jon might never see Winterfell again.

Dragonstone Bay: Daenerys is escorting her ships. I love the little camera jugger as the dragons fly past, as if we’re rocked by their turbulence.

Dany flies on Drogon. Suddenly Rhaegal is pierced by a spear. It’s an ambush and it’s so shocking in its abruptness. It’s dastardly Euron Greyjoy and his fleet. They were apparently hidden in a cove around the point from Dragonstone. Rhaegal is gone and Dany looks like she can barely comprehend what’s just happened. Euron is operating one of those giant scorpions we first saw last season and managed to score a bullseye on his first shot. Every ship is outfitted with one. If he lives through this, Euron is going to annoyingly bragging about this for the rest of his life.

Dany furiously divebombs Euron’s fleet, which is exactly what he wants. She smartly turns away and flees when she sees all those scorpions pointed right at her, but you can see her fury as she realizes she’s lost a dragon and has to leave her fleet defenseless.

In the lead ship, Grey Worm tells Missandei to flee to one of the skiffs. The fleet is devastated by Euron’s ships and survivors swim to shore.

War Meeting II: Cersei has packed the Red Keep with thousands of human shields to play on Dany’s reluctance to kill innocent civilians. She also tells Euron she’s pregnant, leading him to believe it’s his child instead of Jaime’s. Cersei must hope Euron is pretty bad at math, but that’s a problem for another day. Tyrion and Varys warn Dany not go into King’s Landing with dragons blazing and she seems to reluctantly agree.

Tyrion and Varys have a treasonous chat in the Dragonstone throne room about Dany and whether they should back Jon Snow instead. Varys feels that Jon would firmly make the better leader, while Tyrion is sticking with his queen. “I believe in our queen,” Tyrion says. “She’ll make the right choice — with the help of her loyal advisors.” While Varys says: “I will act in [the realm’s] interest no matter the personal cost. Each of us have a choice to make. I pray we choose wisely.” It’s unclear what Varys is thinking about doing here, but it doesn’t sound good.

I wish Missandei and Cersei would have had a scene together before what comes next. It’s the type of intriguing new character pairing that the show normally takes full advantage of when such an opportunity presents itself, and suspect it would have made what comes next more impactful.

King’s Landing: This all leads to a standoff at the massive gates of King’s Landing.

Cersei, Euron, and The Mountain are on the ramparts up high with a trembling Missandei in chains. Daenerys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and a scarily tiny contingent of surviving Unsullied are below (and presumably out of range of the archers on the wall).

Tyrion steps forward and tries to chat with Qyburn for a little Hand-to-Hand diplomacy. Qyburn is a lackey sociopath so he’s no help. Tyrion then boldly walks to the gates. The framing of this sequence by director Nutter is just fantastic.

Tyrion pleas with Cersei to release Missandei and surrender. We’re all pretty sure this has no chance of working, but Tyrion wants to try. Cersei puts her hand on Missandei and for a moment we think she might actually break, then asks Missandei if she has any last words.

Missandei knows this is it. She yells, loud enough for Dany to hear: “Dracarys!

It’s a last word of defiance and a rather perfect moment for Missandei. She was a slave when Dany met her, and here she shows a force of will even when captured and facing certain death.

Plus, it’s a clear message to her queen: Burn these f—kers.

The Mountain lops off Missandei’s head and it falls down.

And Dany’s reaction …. holy gods.

We have never seen Daenerys like this. She cycles through so much shock, grief, outrage, and finally pure rage. Has the Mad Queen emerged? She’s endured Sansa and the Northerners’ perceived disrespect. She lost so many of her soldiers in the Winterfell Battle and then didn’t get much credit. She lost her beloved Ser Jorah. She’s lost a second dragon. And now she’s lost Missandei. The Mother of Dragons has had it.

Emilia Clarke has been nominated for an Emmy before but hasn’t won. I think this episode is her finest work on the show. Even after a decade of playing Daenerys, she showed so many new colors to the character here.

Also: There’s so much relationship heartbreak here. Jon and Dany are having trouble. Jaime and Brienne came together only to split up again. Lovestruck Tormund is left alone. Gendry proposed to Arya who rejected him. And the happiest couple on the whole show, Grey Worm and Missandei, are now forever severed.

Read our other Episode 4 coverage:
Gwendoline Christie on Brienne’s ‘Game of Thrones’ heartbreak: ‘I was so upset’
‘Game of Throne’ actress Nathalie Emmanuel on that shocking Missandei scene
Ser Jorah actor on what Daenerys whispered to him during that funeral scene
Game of Thrones trailer for season 8, episode 5 teases a King’s Landing battle

This week’s trivia question for a chance of Jon Snow gift bundle from the HBO store: Tweet your answer to @EW along with #sweepstakes and #EWGOTSWAG. Here is the question: What is the name of Missandei’s home continent? 

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