“We may have defeated them, but we still have us to contend with.”
Which is the problem, isn’t it? The various factions camped out in Winterfell can agree that the end of the Night King is a victory and that the loss of their people is a tragedy but that’s about it. With that distraction and the memorial service out of the way, they have no more excuses not to confront their issues, both with each other and themselves.
Not that a feast is a bad way to start doing that, but the increasingly (and justifiably) paranoid Daenerys can’t even have a party without an agenda since, as she’s all too aware, it’s very much not her party, these are not her people, and no amount of dispensing titles and toasts is going to change that. Begging Jon to keep his secret is desperate, arrogant and doomed to fail, as is just about everything else she does this week. She should have listened to Sansa, she should have listened to Varys, and she should have got over herself, but this is Dany we’re talking about, so instead she loses her (bizarrely easily-dispatched) dragon, her best friend and any chance of keeping it together for the rest of the season. As Varys points out, every tyrant talks about destiny and, as far as I can see, the only difference between this one and the others was dragons and Jon Snow by her side. Two down, two to go.
As well as being a bad week for Team Dany, it’s a terrible week for Team Love and Romance, with shippers’ hopes and hearts being stomped on all over the place. Lord Gendry Baratheon, drunk on happiness and legitimacy, asks Arya to marry him, because he might well love her, I don’t know, but he certainly doesn’t know her at all. Ouch. Tormund Giantsbane fares somewhat better – he insists that Brienne’s broken his heart but he finds someone to mend it thirty seconds later, so I think he’s fine. (I’ll miss him if he really does head up north with Ghost and we don’t see him again, but his farewell to Jon is lovely.) Grey Worm has to watch Missandei die in credulity-and-patience-stretching fashion. And Jaime? Jaime gives Brienne joy, love and the chance of everything she ever wanted, and then he rips it all away.
Of course, the idea that Jaime could stay behind and live a happy, quiet life with her was only ever a fantasy, and it’s no surprise when he does go. For what it’s worth, I don’t believe he’s going back “for” Cersei in the same way he tries to convince Brienne he is; I think he’s going back to rip his sister out of the world, root and stem, and he‘s deliberately cruel about it to try and stop Brienne from following him, but it’s still awful to watch this strong, magnificent woman who has come so far over the past few years, reduced to sobbing and begging this man, who hasn’t come quite far enough, to stay.
It’s a bad week for women in general, too, though. I’m largely indifferent to Missandei as a character but, as plenty of people have pointed out, putting the only woman of colour in the main cast in chains and killing her to give her boyfriend and his white lady boss something else to be angry about isn’t a great look for the show. Sansa essentially telling the Hound that she wouldn’t be this awesome if it weren’t for all the horrors she’s gone through isn’t entirely inaccurate – our experiences shape us all, absolutely, and yes, Sansa wouldn’t be the same if she’d just stayed at home and maybe married a Tully – but it does seem like a) an unfortunate attempt to justify the show’s terrible treatment of women over the past few years, and b) a very old-fashioned, borderline misogynist view of character development. After all, there are many ways for women to grow and evolve which don’t involve repeated rape and torture at the hands of various men. It’s just a shame they didn’t write any of them for her instead.
A curiously unsatisfying week then, which, despite the two “shock!” deaths, ends with the principal cast almost exactly where we all expected them to be. Daenerys, angry and spoiling for a fight. Tyrion and Varys wondering if they’ve backed the wrong Targaryen. Jon and co on their way to Kings Landing for the show’s last big battle. (This week’s skirmish was something of a surprise, but not a massively impressive one, given its consequences – I’d have saved it till next week). Arya, the Hound and Jaime not far behind. Cersei and Euron smirking away in the Red Keep. And Sansa and Bran at Winterfell waiting for whoever wins. Hm. For all it was a bad week for so many, ”The Last of the Starks” wasn’t bad in itself, exactly, but whatever comes next really does need to be better.