Warning: This post contains spoilers for this week’s Game of Thrones.
At its best, Game of Thrones creates tense and gripping television by way of complex characters with competing desires and interwoven histories. At its worst, the show sacrifices logic and reason to reverse engineer big spectacles and forced excitement. (Usually by having everyone act stupidly.) The fourth episode of the final season, “The Last of the Starks,” featured a lot of the best and worst habits of the series.
Once the somber mood of the fallout of the Battle of Westeros had lifted, we got a full helping of classic Game of Thrones. Amid everyone enjoying the miracle of being alive at a post-funeral feast, Daenerys named Gendry a Baratheon and rightful heir to Storm’s End, weaving together many of the the show’s best threads. This was a cunning move by a savvy politician; it rewarded a likable character with a well-earned title; and it drew on the history of Robert overthrowing Daenerys’ family in the first place, all while pushing the story forward.
The first hour of the episode was full of character-driven scenes that reminded us of the best installments in the show’s first six seasons. Jaime and Brienne finally let their real feelings for one another be known. Arya turned down Gendry’s proposal before heading back on the road with the Hound to cross off the one name they each have left on their lists. Even Bronn threatening to kill Tyrion and Jaime was riveting because it felt honest. Despite the show opting to save so many major characters during the Battle of Winterfell, it still felt like Bronn was really going to kill Jaime in that moment, because that’s something Bronn would do.
When you you let your characters drive your story, a lighthearted moment like old friends playing a drinking game can evoke something far larger. On the same token, Jon’s farewells with both Tormund and Sam (congrats Sam and Gilly!) took on a bittersweet tone because we know this could be the last time they ever see each other; Tyrion and Varys debating who is best suited to sit on the Iron Throne (after a major new wrinkle had been added to the equation) made for maybe the most intense scene of them all. But then, everyone started acting dumb.
Throughout the first hour of the episode, Daenerys’ fury rose as she watched her power wane, specifically when her pleas to Jon to keep his lineage a secret fell on deaf ears. Before we could even stop to think about whether or not she might actually go full Mad Queen, the show went into hyperdrive, packing an entire episode into 20 minutes of bad decisions.
Apparently no one in Westeros has ever heard of an advanced scout. Despite Dragonstone having been empty for months, and Cersei having stayed behind to improve her position in King’s Landing, no one from the Unsullied and the Targaryen fleet thought it wise to make sure they weren’t sailing into a literal ambush, even though a first semester cadet would be wary of one. Also, dragons can fly. Really, really high. So high no arrow could ever hit them. Daenerys could have been her own scout, and should have seen the Iron Fleet waiting.
Even if we excuse that terrible lack of foresight (the same dumb thing Jaime Lannister forgot to do before the Loot Train Attack, another big show moment that only happened because otherwise smart generals were suddenly stricken with stupidity), what followed reeked of plot convenience and more inanity. Euron’s army’s arrows did hit and kill Rhaegal, but conveniently missed Daenerys and Drogon, even when they flew straight at Euron’s ships.
And why did Daenerys fly Drogon right at the ships? To burn them? To fly behind them and attack them from the rear? Nope, she just flew at them to fly at them, turning away entirely as she abandoned her own fleet to be destroyed.
What happened next was even stranger. For some reason, Daenerys decided she needed to offer Cersei the chance to surrender in person, with a tiny force, outside the well-defended gates of King’s Landing. Daenerys was just standing there, out in the open, with a few dozen soldiers and a dragon who couldn’t come close to the city’s walls, lest it be instantly fired upon by giant crossbows. It was like she was trying to get killed.
But Cersei didn’t kill her! Why? Why didn’t Cersei send out a few thousand men to murder the dragon queen, the single greatest threat to her life and rule? What was anyone doing during that moment? (Well, besides needlessly killing the only woman of color on the show.)
Just like the show came up with the harebrained wight-capturing scheme in order to get the Night King a dragon, it forced pieces into play to give us a tense showdown outside King’s Landing. Game of Thrones was so concerned with setting up another spectacle it didn’t concern itself with its characters making sense. In the first hour of “The Last of the Starks,” the characters drove the story, and it was compelling, rewarding, and honest. In the last 20 minutes, the characters’ actions were driven by where the show wanted them to end up, regardless of how they got there. It was silly, frustrating, and dishonest. In other words, it was Game of Thrones at its best before it was Game of Thrones at its worst.