‘Game of Thrones’ looks at the aftermath of one war as it dives into another

This story contains spoilers.

The brief appearance of a modern coffee cup in a scene featuring a cameo from the Game of Thrones showrunners overshadowed just about everything that came out of its latest episode, “The Last of the Starks,” which deals with the aftermath of the Battle of Winterfell.

It’s something a lot of viewers didn’t notice the first time, has gotten laughs and a good-hearted response from HBO, and then was digitally removed from the episode. It’s silly, of course, but it highlights just what might get addressed in the aftermath of the episode. A coffee cup? Sure! But not so much with a character’s fridging or a tone-deaf line from Sansa where she mentions that she wouldn’t be who she is without Littlefinger and Ramsay. As Jessica Chastain tweeted late Monday, “Rape is not a tool to make a character stronger. A woman doesn’t need to be victimized in order to become a butterfly.”

Fighting the Great War against the Night King and the Army of the Dead had been, up to that point, the hardest thing that the living had to do on Game of Thrones. It required their full selves and great sacrifice, but at the end of the Long Night, the Night King died at the hands of Arya Stark and the living survived to tell their stories. What followed presented itself in strange, head-scratching, and intriguing ways—the dead are the least of their problems.

True to her word, Daenerys Targaryen has set her sights on King’s Landing now that the Night King is dead. True to how she’s always been, Cersei Lannister delivers a cruel sense of justice to an enemy. True to his own moral code, Jon Snow has absolutely no game when it comes to playing the game.

Some of the decisions that characters make in “The Last of the Starks” are regressions, some are frustrating, and others make perfect sense. Some characters push forward while others fall back on old habits. We see characters that have been missing from the story for a couple of episodes but also watch what feels like the last time we’ll see certain characters.

game of thrones missandei Helen Sloan/HBO

What “The Last of the Starks” showcases in all of its messy glory is that essentially, the characters who are still alive at this point are all human. They’re going to eat and drink to excess (because vomiting is celebrating, according to Tormund Giantsbane) and fight and fuck and screw up what little they’ve gained until people and creatures alike that they care about are hurt, heartbroken, or killed because of it. One way or another, they’ve pretty much all got blood on their hands. That’s the story of Westeros, after all.

Perhaps, by the end of all this, they’ll wish they were still fighting the Great War. At least the Night King’s M.O. was much simpler to understand than the ever-changing whims of the living.

A Night’s Watch-inspired tribute, followed by plenty of celebration

After an episode full of carnage that took out some of our favorite characters and a lot of nameless soldiers, the survivors took the time to mourn everyone they’ve lost, as they should. It’s easy to dismiss the deaths in the Battle of Winterfell as toothless because we didn’t lose bigger-named characters—the biggest characters we lost were Theon Greyjoy and Jorah Mormont, who both have been on Game of Thrones since the beginning—but we believe that the living cared.

game of thrones theon Helen Sloan/HBO

Dany and Sansa, who said their final goodbyes to Jorah and Theon respectfully, were especially inconsolable. Dany lost the person who had been with her the longest. Sansa essentially lost a brother, someone who had survived the hardest time of her life with her and probably understood her more than most. Dany whispers a final message while Sansa places a hairpin with the Stark sigil onto Theon’s body as one final indicator that even if Theon wasn’t a Stark by name or blood, he was one at heart. (That point will come into play again later.)

Jon, who reiterated throughout the episode that he wanted nothing to do with the Iron Throne even though he has a better claim, unintentionally makes some great arguments (for those who are starting to doubt Dany) for why he should rule anyway. He first gives a rousing eulogy for the dead, one that has a basis in at least one Night’s Watch eulogy we’ve seen before.

“We’re here to say goodbye to our brothers and sisters. To our fathers and mothers. To our friends. Our fellow men and women who set aside their differences to fight together and die together so that others might live. Everyone in this world owes them a debt that can never be repaid. It is our duty and our honor to keep them alive in memory for those who come after us and those who come after them for as long as men draw breath. They were the shields that guarded the realms of men. And we shall never see their like again.”

Once the festivities begin and the wine flows freely, even Dany’s well-intentioned move to legitimize Gendry, the new Lord of Storm’s End, and to toast Arya Stark as the hero of Winterfell, is overshadowed by Jon. Tormund, who’s both the best and worst hype man, starts to rattle off one of his tall tales. But he’s not talking about his alleged encounters with a bear and a female giant this time around.

game of thrones tormund jon dany Helen Sloan/HBO

He’s spinning a tall tale about Jon Snow, the man who befriended his enemy, literally died for them, united the living together, and hopped onto a dragon without a second thought. If we haven’t watched all of Game of Thrones, we might think it was a bit far-fetched too. But it’s the kind of story that could easily catch on and entice the people to support Jon to rule the Seven Kingdoms. No wonder Dany wants Jon to keep his Targaryen ancestry to himself.

The ships that sank and sailed (and then sank)

With the wine flowing freely—apparently someone had the wherewithal to keep some of it hidden away from Tyrion—things quickly got rowdy, leading to lots of games and hookups. The Hound turned a woman down, Tormund finally got the message that Brienne wasn’t interested (but was quickly consoled), and even Podrick seemed to walk away with two women.

Not everyone was celebrating in the Great Hall. After killing the Night King, Arya took up her bow and arrow again. Gendry, who was fresh off his legitimization, bent the knee to her and proposed marriage; now that he was a lord, there would be no issues with him and Arya getting hitched. Arya, however, turned him down. As far back as season 1, Arya has said she doesn’t want to be a lady, and even though it’s Gendry, who she does seem to feel something for, she won’t change that to stay by his side. Besides, she’s got a queen to murder and a travel companion with as much of a drive for revenge as she does.

game of thrones jon dany Helen Sloan/HBO

Neither was it paradise for Jon and Dany. Things started to get heated, but Jon quickly stopped her; he couldn’t really get past the incest factor of their relationship. Plus, Dany wants Jon to keep his Targaryen ancestry to himself while he wants to at least tell Sansa and Arya.

What started out as a drinking game between friends quickly turned too real as Tyrion, who’s one of the world’s worst wingmen, stated (and basically reminded the audience) that Brienne was still a virgin. Which felt more like a setup for Jaime and Brienne to finally do something with the sexual tension that had been building up between them for several seasons. It was messy and imperfect—and the episode did feature Tyrion grossly asking Jaime about Brienne’s body as the Lannister boys drank in a nearby tavern later on before being confronted by Bronn and his crossbow—but it’s one of the relationships that suffered from the less-clear passage of time.

It’s evident that time did pass throughout the episode because the cuts, bruises, and black eyes have disappeared from their faces by the time Brienne, Jaime (who stayed at Winterfell to be by Brienne’s side), and Sansa learn about the attack on Dany’s fleet. It’s at that moment that Jaime decides to return to Cersei again because he still thinks he’s a bad man for all of the sins he committed (and possibly thinks he can stop her). Brienne, who opened herself up emotionally in a way she hadn’t with anyone else, is gutted. It’s easy to both understand where they’re coming from and be completely frustrated with them both.

game of thrones jaime brienne Helen Sloan/HBO

Then there’s Cersei and Euron, the latter of who learns of Cersei’s pregnancy but seems to think that the baby is his. Having given Cersei another gift by killing Rhaegal and capturing Missandei, he goes down on one knee in front of Cersei.

And that’s before Cersei orders Missandei’s execution in full view of Dany, her advisers, and her army (including Grey Worm), which became controversial for how it was framed.

The seeming finality of those farewells

With the barrage of death on Game of Thrones lately, it’s easy to forget that sometimes, characters are able to exit the main story and just live. Tormund, after being rejected, is getting that exit. Now that the Night King is gone, he’s done with fighting and just wants to return north with the rest of the surviving free folk. Tormund and Jon say their goodbyes—and Jon also argues that a direwolf like Ghost doesn’t belong south.

Ghost has been with Jon since the beginning, so even if this goodbye doesn’t involve death, it still feels cheap. Direwolves have always been a struggle for the show—with some fans joking that Game of Thrones’ CGI budget can’t afford them—so this exit feels more like a practical one than a character moment. (Not to mention that fans focused on Jon not petting his direwolf before departing rather than the departure itself.)

game of thrones tormund ghost Helen Sloan/HBO

As did Sam and Jon’s farewell, even though both characters live (for now). Jon’s off to fight Dany’s war in King’s Landing—as planned out in a battle room scene that will absolutely go off without a hitch—while Sam stays behind. But it’s not a sad departure for Sam; he’s going to be a dad! (Still no word on whether the Night’s Watch will punish him for breaking his celibacy vows, though.)

Winterfell’s game of telephone might start to drive a wedge in the Seven Kingdoms

Despite Dany begging Jon not to tell his family about his parentage, Jon did so anyway after he told his siblings that he’s not really a Stark. (He is through his mother Lyanna, but Jon already acknowledged to Theon in season 7 that the name alone doesn’t restrict you from being one.) And despite Jon making Sansa and Arya swear not to tell a soul, Sansa told Tyrion anyway. Who then told Varys. And then a seed started to form in the minds of the men charged with advising Dany.

game of thrones stark kids Helen Sloan/HBO

In revealing the truth, Jon chose his family over the Seven Kingdoms. But in telling Tyrion, Sansa chose the Seven Kingdoms over her family.

Which leads to a rather interesting, albeit frustrating, conversation about Dany’s likability. Although even dreaming of trying to put Jon on the Iron Throne is treason, Varys argues that Jon is “temperate and measured” while Dany is emotional, rash. The show makes an effort to show that they’re not just vouching for Jon because he’s a man (although that’s certainly part of the appeal for Westeros’ sexist lords). It doesn’t matter to them that Jon doesn’t want it, and marriage isn’t really an option. Not because Dany is Jon’s aunt, which finally is acknowledged by Varys, but rather because Varys believes that “she’s too strong for him” and that “she’d bend him to her will.”

But it kind of is: Jon is just as rash and emotional as Dany has been at times; just look at his actions in the Battle of the Bastards! Jon has also proven himself to be a terrible politician. But any of his outbursts are overlooked for being able to be a man of the people who can rally the people of Westeros and free folk alike. Dany and Cersei are both judged for their outbursts, and while they’re both flawed characters—burning people isn’t exactly a great policy, nor is using your own citizens for collateral damage from said flames—they’re also held to a much higher standard than Jon will ever be. Dany, in particular, has been in a holding pattern of being talked down from burning everything, listening to her advisers, and getting angry when all of their advice goes to shit.

game of thrones dany dracarys Helen Sloan/HBO

So when Dany witnesses Missandei’s death her anger and outrage is something to behold. Will she go full-on Mad Queen in the final two episodes? By many of our standards, her thirst for revenge might be justified, but in the eyes of the men already questioning their loyalty? The damage might already be done.

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Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.