Game of Thrones episode four review: the Last of the Starks

Curveballs, crossbows and celebrations.

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When you win the great war, what happens next? Last week, viewers were shocked when the arch-villain of eight seasons of Game of Thrones, the greatest threat to human life itself, was neatly dispatched with a flick of the wrist from a girl with a dagger. Which means the Iron Throne is once again at the centre of play.

This episode began in mourning and celebrations: the departed were honoured as their bodies were cremated; the survivors gave thanks to Arya Stark, the saviour of the living. In Winterfell’s dining hall, Jon, Dany and Sansa sat at top table: as the room drank and jeered, they exchanged comically dark, suspicious glances, knowingly staring into the distance in anticipation of the growing tensions between them.

I could have watched a lot more back-slapping of Arya this week: though delighted to be alive, the lords and ladies of Winterfell seemed to get over her incredible feat of heroism extremely quickly, even if she did herself retreat from the spotlight, heading south to kill Cersei. I loved that last week the writers managed to merge the cold killer Arya and the human, frightened girl Arya into one complex character: I’d like to have seen more of her human side this week. And I wish I could have seen Jon’s face when he realised what she’d done.

Instead, we got a scene that nobody wanted: Arya being proposed to by Gendry. Has Gendry met Arya? She quickly, unemotionally declined, but this shallow scene seemed utterly misplaced, especially when I wanted to see more of her relationships with so many other characters this week. Sansa, too, was given a bizarre, hollow interaction with the Hound, who taunted her for being brutally raped, before telling her it was her fault, anyway: none of it would have happened if she’d listened to him. She responded with an odd mix of coldness and appeasement, reaching out to take his hand before seemingly thanking her abusers, insisting that it was they who made her strong. It’s clear this moment was meant to carry emotional significance, but it felt creepy, intrusive, out-of-character, and a little too much like the writers justifying everything they put her through. One scene between Arya, Sansa, Bran and Jon showed off the dynamic between the Stark siblings at its best, but it was short and perfunctory, merely a tool to propel the plot forward.

But all this victorious drinking did allow for some great lighter moments: another brilliant comic scene from Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), who merrily guffawed about shitting his pants in fear, and some simmering sexual tension between Brienne and Jaime. It was disappointing that, to tidy up their love triangle, the writers made Tormund shrug off his long-held affection for Brienne so quickly. It was even more disappointing that, after seven series of build-up, Jaime and Brienne’s relationship was initiated and ended during the space of this one episode.

Worst of all was the lobotomy Brienne seemed to undergo during their few days of romance, ending her time on screen this week by weeping and begging Jaime not to fight, as he rode off to protect (or kill?) Cersei. I’ve long though Jaime’s redemption has come too easily (he’s been complicit in every crime Cersei’s committed to some degree), but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the writers struggle to write convincing, consistent women that are simultaneously strong and vulnerable: instead, they veer dramatically between two extremes.

Dany began the episode by announcing Gendry’s Baratheon heritage, and so giving him a strong claim to the throne, and making him a lord: a push to prove she is not the blood-thirsty ruler her father was. But things did not go her way this week, and her newfound diplomacy quickly evaporated. First, her nephew-lover disobeyed her, insisting on telling his sisters of his true heritage and claim to the throne. Her new rival Sansa openly criticised her plan to sail straight to King’s Landing, insisting the soldiers be allowed to rest. Later, Varys too told her she was making a mistake in ploughing forward. And on the voyage, her dragon “child” Rhagar was murdered before her very eyes thanks to a number of surprise enormous crossbows, and her fleet mostly destroyed. As she debated whether or not to incinerate thousands of innocent citizens to win the Throne, a final face-off outside the Red Keep with Cersei saw her only friend, Missandei, beheaded, using her final moments to urge Dany to burn her enemies to the ground.

As news of Jon’s parentage reached Tyrion and Varys, the writers again allowed their intentions to intrude into the characters’ dialogue as the two debated the various merits of both Jon and Dany as rulers: yes, Dany wants it, and believes she has destiny on her side, but Jon, for all his reluctance, would make a more temperate ruler. “He’s a man, which makes him more appealing to the lords of Westeros,” Varys said. “Cocks are important, I’m afraid.” If ever you wanted a sign that the writers, who despite their many missteps when it comes to female characters, seem desperate to seem like progressive feminists at the show’s close, would put a woman on the Iron Throne, then this seemed like it. And as Sansa is proved right again, and notably shares many of the qualities Varys praises in Jon, it seems even more like she might be the middle ground Westeros needs.

This week’s bad bitch points are awarded as follows:

  • “He’s little but he's strong.” +10 to Jon, my short king!
  • “What kind of person climbs on a fucking dragon? A madman or a king!” Tormund blithely summing up the problem of Dany’s character +12
  • Tormund: “Now, which one of you cowards shit in my pants?” +38. True banter.
  • Tormund getting over Briennie in 0.4385 seconds. -18. You lying little horndog!
  • The Hound, suddenly and deliberately mocking a rape survivor for being raped? -67
  • Gendry, getting so gassed up by his new title he immediately gets drunk, professes his love and proposes to a casual fling. +16. He has some stones!
  • BRIENNE FINALLY GETTING LAID!!! +89 TO BRIENNE!!!
  • Both Dany AND Brienne crying and begging their men for promises??? It’s a no from me. -123 from THE WRITERS.
  • Sansa, predicting the failure of the battle. +49
  • “We need a word.” +23 to Arya and Sansa
  • “Do you know how long I've waited to tell tall-person jokes?” +36 to Tyrion.
  • Bronn to Jaime: “I knew you were fucking her. A pair of tall, blond toffs. Must be like looking in the mirror.” +12
  • Sansa immediately breaking her promise to Jon. I can’t decide if I should penalise or praise her for this move, but I think it will probably be necessary in the long term. +14.
  • Tyrion, supporting Dany. What is this, 2015?! -39
  • Varys, caring about the people. +43
  • Varys, being smart. +43
  • Arya, riding off to kill Cersei. +45
  • Tyrion, dropping Cersei in it by demonstrating he knew she was pregnant before Euron even turned up, and provoking her into continuing her fight by referencing her children. -17

This week’s baddest bitches are Sansa and Varys. Just imagine the possibilities if they came together as one.

Anna Leszkiewicz is culture editor of the New Statesman.