Unanswered questions, Starbucks cup highlight Episode 4 of 'Game of Thrones'
Eagles star Chris Long, will recap Game of Thrones and share his thoughts on each episode every Monday on SI.com. His previous recaps can be read here.
“We’re on to King’s Landing.”
Echoing this Belichekian mantra would serve Winterfell’s population well. All the characters not piled up onto a human bonfire outside of castle walls have no time to waste. Everything feels rushed for the remaining characters, including the task of saying goodbye to the fallen. And it’s almost as if the writers of the show were under the same duress in weaving their Season 8 storyline.
With a multitude of plotlines demanding resolution (and little time to do so), there’s an unsettling feeling in the halls of Winterfell and in living rooms across the world. The series has had eight years to land this plane. With only two episodes remaining, the worried whispers echoing the halls of House Reddit and Castle Twitter Dot Com are that there’s not enough runway left for it to land poignantly. And Episode 4 did little to quell those concerns. In fact, Sunday's "Last of the Starks" has been anything but critically acclaimed, receiving a nearly historic low score of 59 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. It was part de-escalation, part build up. Heartbreak and political posturing were among the headliners. But the episode was mostly comprised of characters choosing sides in an impending fight. Only you can’t help but worry that this next bout may feel out of sequence -- as if Jon Snow and company returned to the dressing room after the main event with an undercard still to go. And it’s almost midnight.
Nearly everyone relevant chose a side in Episode 4 ahead of the impending clash. And in the realm, it’s never a binary decision. Tyrion and Jon pledge allegiance to the Dragon Queen. Dany predictably chooses to preserve and pursue her own power. And Sansa digs her heels in for the North, even if it means choosing betrayal. Bronn makes an appearance and doubles down on his “true north” being strictly material. Jaime sides with hatred and Varys with the realm in general. For Tormund, Sam and ultimately Ghost, the choice was to fade into obscurity. Well, everyone but Ghost. He didn’t have a choice.
After a battle like Winterfell, you bury and you drink. And the show made time for both formalities. About 23 minutes to be exact. The massive burial served as a reminder of what transpired just a week ago. And it took the death of presumably thousands to provide the opportunity for some damn light. According to the show’s cinematographer, “Tune your TVs, you uncultured swine.” Dany and Sansa have a grieve off. Jon Snow gave a speech. Ghost was a well trained, respectful good boy at a funeral (pretty damn impressive). It was a beautifully shot scene and gave the characters the closure they needed before they took to the halls to get blackout.
Happy hour in the bowels of Winterfell begins with an appropriately somber tone, if only briefly. It changes a bit as Dany names picks Gendry Waters for Lord of Storm’s End (some fans have filed this botching of Gendry's last night under a long list of Season 8 blunders). Dany goes on to eventually toast Arya as the “Hero of Winterfell.” She’s trying! Eventually, the mood is lifted and so is the BAC. Inhibitions lower and various unfiltered and more private conversations ensue amid the roar. Tormund is fatally curved by Brienne. (He took it like a champ and changed gears quickly). A very 21st-century drinking game ensues. Even the two show runners make a cameo. But it’s all background noise save for a few conversational gems when compared to one sequence.
MADNESS OR A BAD DAY?
Tormund is the guy at the wedding who gives the best toasts -- that is, unless he’s affectionately manhandling you as he’s heaping on drunken praise. And for a wildling, he wastes a lot of mead, as about 70 percent of it misses his mouth and runs down his beard showering onto gawking onlookers. Other than that, he’s the guy lightening the mood at your function -- unless you’re genetically predisposed to impending, sudden madness. Dany’s potential psychotic break, which has been speculative for years, is now being teased rather overtly. And abruptly. The introduction of this new possible trajectory has garnered mixed reviews, but I enjoyed it. Tormund’s heaping praise on Jon to raucous approval seems fitting in the North. And after all, Dany’s already been toasted. “What kind of person climbs on a f*cking dragon? A madman or a king?” And, boom! A dizzying, emotional flash bang seems to detonate in Dany’s brain. It’s invisible to most everyone enjoying their evening. Except, of course, Varys.
Throughout the episode, Emilia Clarke executes the game plan flawlessly. Her usual resolute, ferociously ambitious confidence plays well, but her performance strikes a different chord in Episode 4. Even if you don’t like the direction, the acting is top notch. Dany emits insecurity and desperation at times. She often seems unstable. Privately, she pleads with Jon, only to quickly switch gears and deliver a threatening ultimatum. In the war room, she powers through Sansa’s very reasonable cautions of fatigue, opting for a full-speed-ahead approach.
Not to miss an opportunity for a football analogy, she's like many of the six or so head coaches I’ve had in my 11-year career. Fighting for Daenerys would be like winning an overtime Monday night game on the west coast. The Toradol’s wearing off as our sleepless red-eye lands. It’s probably 10 a.m. We just want sleep, but the flight attendant comes over the speaker and announces the schedule. We’ll be in for meetings by the afternoon and we’ll be in full pads when we take the field on Wednesday. On a short week. In other words, full speed ahead. Oh, and just like the coaches on a Monday night, Dany didn’t do much of the heavy lifting in last week’s battle. I’m sure the walking wounded rolled their eyes and mumbled at the news just as players do when we get the schedules back in coach. (Don’t get me started on coaches sitting in first class).
Her questionable decision making persists throughout the episode, as she leads her fleet right into Euron’s, whose presence is mentioned to her minutes earlier (The showrunners dubiously claim she forgot). Scorpions rain down on them. Characters are thrown overboard and washed ashore. Her best friend is captured and her “son” Rhaegal is unceremoniously peppered like Ben Stiller in Tropic Thunder (Survive!). And the blood is on her hands.
I’m no General Patton, but I know a few Marines -- one did three tours and gave me his take. Because this is serious business, he’ll remain anonymous. He cites “route reconnaissance” as a failure. Dany’s dragons would’ve been better off staying above “advisement from the ground,” safeguarding her dragons from the range of Qyburn’s scorpions. Besides, you’d think that at that altitude she’d have seen the ships all along. “Dany has seen that anti-dragon weapon before. Someone should’ve brought up the possibility of it being a naval gunfire option against them,” he adds. Even with all of the poor prep, you’d think she’d approach the ships from the rear and reduce the fleet to floating tinder. You don’t need to be a decorated Marine to conclude that Dany wasn’t on her A-game strategically or in the heat of battle.
As obvious as her downward mental spiral appears, she’s sleep deprived and under a tremendous amount of stress. At the start of the episode, she’s lost the Dothraki, Jorah and Viserion. Within the next 80 minutes she’ll lose Missandei and another one of her exotic pets. And perhaps the most frightening prospect looms as well -- losing the throne. You could argue that all things considered, she’s a picture of mental health.
During Tormund’s speech, we’re possibly force-fed what could be a Red Herring, but there are two comments that seem either willfully misleading or significant. Tormund’s contention that only a madman or a king would saddle up a dragon, and this choice of words seems intentional by the writers. Tyrion warns her not to become “what she’s always fought against.” That’s presumably tyranny, even as she shows signs of it lately. Has she also been battling internally against the family tradition of losing her shit? Or is this a tactful false scent aimed at occupying the analytical appetite of viewers? Or maybe she accidentally ordered a Venti and she doesn’t handle her caffeine well. (More on that later).
ANOTHER RED HERRING?
Jaime Lannister has done a host of heartless deeds throughout his life, but swiping Brienne’s V-card and leaving in the middle of the night has to rank up there. The reviews of the hookup are in and they’re divided. Some were happy for the unlikely lovers. Some wished Tormund hadn’t been cast aside. But there was universal disappointment at Jaime’s early exit. Poor Brienne awakens to find her new boo fumbling for his escalade keys in the driveway. He doesn’t have the munchies and there’s no WaWa in sight, so he’s not going anywhere she’s going to like. After reciting her his treacherous bio, he announces that he’s resigned to his hateful nature and rides off into the darkness. Our favorite Knight is left in tears, but should she be crying?
Obviously, Brienne is crushed at what she thinks is a 180-degree pivot by a guy whose character arc just seemed complete. Here’s the thing -- he didn’t pivot. He’s still the new and improved Jaime. But he’s just learned of Euron’s victory at sea. The hate that’s bubbled for so long has now turned squarely on his sister, and the time is now. There’s one problem. He cares deeply about Brienne and she’d insist on joining his suicide mission. He can’t have that on his conscience and she may slow him down. The heartbreak is very real for Brienne, but don’t write off the rehabilitated Jaime just yet.
MORE REJECTION, A HERO TOO SOON?
Arya taking the game-winning shot in "The Battle of Winterfell" was a crowd pleaser. And while most of the victors guzzle Winterfell home-brew and eat big hunks of meat, she's fittingly working on her jumper in an empty gym. Gendry interrupts and promptly proposes only to get the “I’m focusing on my career” treatment. At least he didn’t get rejected on social media or at halftime of the battle, the medieval equivalent of proposing in a packed arena. Never air ball a proposal on the jumbotron. Never. In fact, if you’re reading this, avoid sporting event proposals altogether. Rejection is way more casual in The North, though. With the “What are we” hurdle crossed for Gendry and Arya, the real question is who will feel the sting of her next arrow?
Even amidst rumblings of overt fan service throughout the season thus far, Arya’s feel-good heroics in last weekend’s crescendo seemed generally well received. There’s just one problem. At the start of Episode 4, there are more than three hours remaining in the series. The thing about catering to fans is that they’re fickle, and their infatuations are fleeting. In life (and in sports), the perfect hero won’t remain a feel-good story for long. Before Tom Brady became the NFL’s Night King, he was a feel-good success story. And before his team was a dynasty, they crashed the party of an incumbent, The Greatest Show on Turf. Look no further than Steph Curry. Under fire this week, he's way more criticized now than he was before his dynastic run. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, people like to see people win (but not too much) and novelty wears off quickly.
Arya’s been on a tear, bucket list in tow, but if it continues, the ending will lack the shock value we all hoped for. Before she went Damian Lillard on the Night King, I'd hoped she’d get the opportunity to kill Cersei donning the face of someone provocative. Now, it’d be doubly repetitive following her most recent big moment and her masked killing of Walder Frey. Sunday night, Arya said to the hound, “I don’t like heroes.” Maybe we don’t, either. Or rather maybe it’s that we don’t like them telegraphed. Which is why I’m hoping her remaining green-eyed target isn’t the first one we think of. Arya’s fate should be handled with care. The success of the show's resolution hinges on its predictability in a lot of ways. Ultimately, I hope the options aren’t simply killing Cersei or an untimely death. As much as I love the most popular Stark, the latter would sit better. The next two episodes are shaping up to be anything but a two-horse race, so there should be ways to avoid oversimplifying her next victim.
POLITICS AS USUAL AND A THREE-SIDED RACE
As discussed earlier, everyone picked a team ahead of next week’s episode. And there aren’t just two sides. No one’s decision perpetuates this reality more than Jon’s. In the war room, he makes his allegiance clear. He’s choosing the Queen over the North. That decision coupled with breaking the Aegon news to his “siblings” sets a chain of events in motion that looks to divide the pie of controversy by at least another slice. The news, which is curiously communicated almost exclusively offscreen, isn’t kept a secret. Sansa is following the playbook of an unlikely mentor, Petyr Baelish. (Maybe he’ll reappear and save the show from a predictable, feel good conclusion.) She plants the secret with Tyrion, who turns around and pulls a real head scratcher. If Tyrion’s allegiance is indeed with the Queen, why tell Varys of all people? Unless he’s got his doubts about her after all.
The banter between the two advisers played like two political shot-callers ahead of a primary race. They weigh the strengths and weaknesses of their potential candidates. Tyrion claims he believes in his Queen, while Varys sees her as an impediment to the realm’s prosperity. As for the handling of Jon’s familial revelation, according to Varys, “It’s not a secret. It’s information.” To his point, this may be true, seeing as the nugget has spread like wildfire. Their discussions end uncomfortably, and their relationship is visibly fractured as a result of the disagreement.
Two of the strongest characters remaining are Sansa and Dany, and it seems that due to Sansa’s stubborn distrust of the Dragon Queen, a major rift is on the horizon. How that plays out amid a seemingly more two-sided battle is anyone’s guess. Chances are, blood will be shed among former allies on some level. Whether you believe in the North’s sovereignty, the realm’s well being or Dany’s leadership, there doesn’t seem to be a right answer. And with two episodes left, there’s a lot to resolve.
A THROWBACK ENDING
Episode 4 may have sputtered and spread the storylines thin at times, but the ending was robust. It neatly provided the buildup needed for the impending clash, just as the close of Episode 2 teased the impending "Battle of Winterfell." The standoff and subsequent negotiation went about as you’d expect. Dany makes a ridiculous offer, and Cersei unblinkingly refuses. Shots of Tyrion and Qyburn facing off were well done, and their dialogue was up to standard of what we’ve come to expect. But it really gets good when Tyrion demands to speak to the manager. Waltzing past Cersei’s dumbfounded hand and toward the line of heavily armed men on the rampart, he drops his giant balls onto the ground just below him and stands before Cersei. True to brand, Cersei is unaffected by his pleas. What’s clumsy, however, is that she’s had a hefty price on Tyrion’s head for an entire season and she doesn’t kill him for free right then and there. That is, unless the contract on his and Jaime’s head didn’t come from Cersei herself. I suspect it’s just written with convenience.
It’s no surprise that Missandei isn’t returned to an onlooking Greyworm and Dany. Just minutes ago, Greyworm and Missandei are enjoying a gentle seabreeze, exchanging gazes like a satisfied couple on a ferry to their honeymoon resort. Then came the torpedoes and the kidnap. And now Greyworm is forced to look on (and listen) as Missandei’s dome free falls some 40 feet, hitting the ground with a thud. Greyworm’s odds of squaring off with the mountain may not exceed the Hound’s, but it’s a solid bet. Her death joins Rhaegal’s in providing a taste of what I think a lot of people miss about the show -- unapologetic ruthlessness. And just like that, the episode ends with what it’s been missing -- the beautifully smug look from Cersei that she gives when she just blew up a bunch of unsuspecting people or beheaded your new girlfriend. Welcome back, Queen.
JON SNOW: AN APOLOGY AND A F*CK YOU
Firstly, I owe Jon Snow an apology. Last week, I was frustrated. I was frustrated with a number of things in Episode 3. I questioned his actions in battle. HE WAS BRAVE. He’s stared death in the face repeatedly throughout the series. He’s been deferential when it comes to assuming any power. He’s been honest with his family and with Dany. But having said all this, f*ck Jon Snow.
After weeks of fans clamoring for some Ghost affirmation beyond the dog entering multiple frames, Jon sends our favorite wolf to live with a friend. That’s right, Jon got a nice new job in the city and he’s living at his hot new girlfriend’s building that doesn’t allow dogs. Maybe it does, but he’s on the 67th floor and putting Ghost’s collar on three times a day for a walk and a poop are getting in the way of his new life. So he sends the dog to live with a friend in Albany. And what’s worse, it’s unceremonious. It actually seems to be Jon’s fatal flaw. People asked aloud if Jon was a bad owner, and at this point, we can confirm. Here's one half-assed excuse why the good boy wasn't shown enough affection.
*minor GoT Spoiler*— Daly Heath (@DowntownDaly) May 6, 2019
Who the hell does Jon Snow think he is?! Walked out of Winterfell to likely die and doesn't even give his dog a scratch behind the ear or a pat on the head. Shame on you Jon. You deserve better Ghost. Go be free in the North. #GameofThrones pic.twitter.com/uiP2wpmwUK
My wife, sobbing, to Jon Snow: “YOU’RE NOT EVEN GONNA SAY GOODBYE TO YOUR GODDAMN DOG??”— Nick Rossi (@SammyDavisEyes_) May 6, 2019
I can’t finish my recap without talking about the coffee gaffe. I didn’t catch it at first, but the Internet did. And, boy, are people both entertained and indignant. People point to it as a symptom of perceived laziness and bad writing. Initially, my theory was that it was a throwaway shot added late as a middle finger to the brightness snobs. I figured it was the cinematographer or the writer’s way of saying “Bright enough for you assholes?”
I talked to a prominent writer/director who basically told me that there’s no way it was accidental. The show is too big, and there are too many layers not to catch it. According to the writer, there are upwards of five people dealing with props. There are 20-plus people looking at monitors during shooting, not including two or three camera operators. And most importantly, “the actress sitting right there.” And that’s just pre-production.
During “post,” assistants and managers see scenes more than a hundred times. Then directors, producers and network suits. His best guess: “They rolled on a rehearsal, which is common. Record it just in case. So no one gave a shit that she had her coffee sitting in front of her. But those recordings end up in the editing room and are available to the editors because they want to use something from them. And the editor did use it (for sure, seeing the cup) and the plan was to digitally remove it and the EPs and HBO saw it and thought it would be a funny little easter egg thing and left it in. After making a deal with Starbucks, I’m sure. LOL."
I’m sticking with my theory. What’s yours?
I don’t know what’s harder, sneaking some good bud through TSA in a bottle of Arizona Iced Tea or sneaking a crossbow into Winterfell in wartime as a known enemy? There’s no way Bronn should’ve made his way into the castle, but assuming he’s that stealth, how the hell did he find Jaime and Tyrion? No, dude. You do not have credentials to enter this area of the castle. Too convenient, and probably should’ve entailed some detailing of his route. But there was a lot done offscreen this episode. Almost as if there’s a lot going on.