The Last of the Starks

“The Last of the Starks” – Game of Thrones Season Eight, Episode Four Ups the Stakes

Spoiler Alert: This review contains critical spoilers for Game of Thrones Season Eight, Episode Four.

There’s a Maya Angelou poem called When Great Trees Fall and it perfectly captures what most fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones are currently experiencing as the seminal show, based off of George R.R. Martin’s series of novels, races to the Finish Line with only two episodes left (sob!) before the curtain comes down for good.

“Our senses, restored, never

to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed. They existed.

We can be. Be and be

better. For they existed.”

Game of Thrones

On Sunday night’s antepenultimate of Game of Thrones in an episode hauntingly titled “The Last of the Starks,” loyal fans of the show were tested again with the death of major player Missandei of Naath (played with subtle brilliance by Nathalie Emmanuel). The steadfast adviser to Daenerys Targaryen was the casualty of a botched negotiation after being entrapped by Cersei’s army. We all held our collective breath as things went from pretty bad to utterly god-awful when, at the command of Cersei, Missandei was beheaded by Mountain in full view of her heart’s true love, Grey Worm, and Daenery’s. Goodbye any hope now for a hoped for return to the Beaches of Naath for our beloved character.

It was a particularly brutal moment in a show that has become well known for ratcheting up the shocking character exits even as the show begins the inevitable run down of the clock. With Missandei’s departure, however, a new sense of urgency and of reckoning between the two warring factions has come to the fore. As she watched the brutal execution, Daenerys’ soft features turned stone-like and her eyes – always any real actor’s true gift, ultimately – narrowed as if to say, ‘This will end and not well for Cersei and her followers. Soon.’ Although wracked by the death of another player in this drama, I couldn’t help but feel my own bloodlust and need for justice manifest itself in that moment.

The Last of the Starks

The character of Missandei in Games of Thrones has always been rather one note, even with such a talented actress as Emmanuel working her magic. It occurred to me while watching last night’s episode that perhaps the truth strength in her character has now come through in her demise. Her death has in a sense acted as a device to bring everything to a charging head. Some of the more memorable characters in narrative fiction have been lent new dimensions and layers of pathos and depth by the sheer virtue of sacrificing themselves for the so-called Greater Good. I’m thinking now of Dominic Monaghan in the much-missed show, “Lost.” A sort of harmless goofball in the first two seasons of the show, Monaghan’s character of Charlie Pace was granted almost Saint-like proportions when his desperate ‘Hail Mary’ attempt to save his fellow castaways at the end of season three cost him his life. His very sacrifice was the perfect device to push the remaining characters further down the rabbit hole which eventually led to their own character conclusions. Ditto, sadly enough, Missandei. Her death has given her a new life among some fans who before were at best indifferent to her storyline. In short, there is now an added weight to the final proceedings that would not have otherwise been there. Translation: Things are about to get real in our final two episodes of Game of Thrones.

This episode continued the struggles for Daenerys Targaryen twofold. Along with the death of Missandei came the end of the road, too, for her beloved dragon, Rhaegal (also courtesy of Cersei who seems to be vying with the Boston Strangler and Jack the Ripper in the Likability Contest). With each tragedy that Daenerys has had to endure throughout this season of Game of Thrones, she seems to get closer and closer to becoming unhinged, unmoored from role as the Dragon Queen and perhaps inching closer, ever so closer to becoming the Mad Queen, much like her father and his own loss of sanity as he became the Mad King. Major kudos should be given here and now for the subtle and brilliant work of Emilia Clark this season. Her face in last night’s episode as more and more of her world crumbled away in front of her was a portrait study in anguish, steely eyed determination and vengeance.

Game of Thrones

And never was there a better coda not only to this episode, but perhaps the entire series when, goaded by Cersei to say any last words that might occur to her before her own death, Missandei defiantly and unflinchingly gasped but one word: “Dracarys.” Hearing what amounts to her final epitaph and wish, Daenerys is now prepared to unleash all hell on her enemies who have cost her so very much.

So it goes to the earlier quoted Ms. Angelou to bookend the whole affair and perhaps prepare us for what might await us in the final two episodes of one of the best ongoing narrative programs of the 21st century:

When great trees fall,

rocks on distant hills shudder,

lions hunker down

in tall grasses,

and even elephants

lumber after safety.

About Ryan Vandergriff

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