Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 Review: A Shakespearean tease as the Final Battle approaches
Titled The Last of the Starks, this episode deals with the aftermath of the Great War against the dead, and lays the groundwork for the Final Battle
Author George RR Martin is a student of history. In many an interview, he has talked about how Wars of the Roses, a series of civil wars for the throne in England in the 15th century, influenced A Song of Ice and Fire, his series of books. The last two episodes have now shown the influence of one of the most famous wars of all time, Pyrrhic War.
In this war that occurred many thousands of years ago, King Pyrrhus of Epirus was asked by the people of Greece to help them in their war against Romans. Pyrrhus used war elephants, and won against them twice but at the great cost of losing much of his army might. This caused his allies in Italy to become indifferent towards him, and he realised that one more battle, even if victorious for him, would spell ruin. The term, pyrrhic victory, entered the English lexicon, and more relevantly in this review, sums up the story of Daenarys Stormborn.
Dany has had to deal with loss from the first season, when her husband, Khal Drogo, died. The birth of three dragons imbued her life with purpose, a destiny. But how do you deal with repetitive loss? How much can you take before you begin, as they say, losing it? After the traumatising events of episode four, it has become a real possibility that Dany, who has shown hints of reckless violence, might just go full Mad Queen on us (her father, remember, is the Mad King).
Curiously though, her big rivalry is against someone more insane, more dangerous: Cersei Lannister. Episode four shows though that Cersei is also a far better tactician. Her character's consistently acted to protect self-interest, and with two equally mad and dangerous supporters in Qyburn and Euron Greyjoy, she seems as invincible as ever.
In this episode, they aren’t the only plotting advisors. Tyrion and Varys’ conversations have always been delightful, and their exchange in today's episode adds to this. The show's writers haven't exactly covered themselves in glory in the seasons after the book material ran out, but these conversations are glimpses into the sort of writing people love George RR Martin for – perhaps it’s drawn from material from his future books? Tyrion learns of his own shortcomings in a painful way, while Varys, after years, shows what made him such a powerhouse – by repeating a line he has previously said to Eddard Stark, Littlefinger and Tyrion. It all seems to lead to an almost Shakespearean betrayal.
While Dany suffered loss, the Starks gained. For a family that has lost so much, the celebrations following the Great War provided a bit of respite. And yet, some melancholy continues to haunt them. They have all grown though. Sansa understands suffering; Arya understands mistrust; and Jon, reminiscent of Eddard, gets the importance of honor. Bran is something else entirely. The Starks seem to have enough to do with war, but the latter won’t leave them. With two episodes left, I wonder if this pack will survive. The episode’s titled The Last of the Starks, and I am dreading the worst.
Can we expect Game of Thrones to end on a truly happy note? So far, the shocks have been underwhelming, this season. The urgency to wrap things up doesn't allow losses to linger. Character decision-making has been inconsistent. Perhaps, just perhaps, the season will pull through, and secure a pyrrhic victory.