Updated May 7
Game of Thrones, Episode 804: "The Last of the Starks"
Original airdate: May 5, 2019 on HBO
Spoiler warning: This page may contain descriptions of events in this and previous episodes. Watch before reading.
For this final season of the HBO hit Game of Thrones, we are collecting reviews and impressions from professional TV writers for each individual episode, continuing with "The Last of the Starks," directed by David Nutter. Check this site each Sunday night for reviews of the latest episode.
While we won't try to assign an overall score to each episode, we have grouped the reviews into rough categories based on critic enthusiasm, beginning with the most positive. Scores for individual reviews are displayed only in those cases where a reviewer has specifically indicated a score. (Those scores have been converted to a 0-100 scale when necessary to facilitate comparison.) "Recaps" are not included if they merely discus the plot details and fail to assess the episode's quality in any way. Click on any publication name to read the full review.
Extremely positive reviews
Forget Long Nights and large-scale battles, this was an epic episode in the true sense of the word: raw with emotion and high on intrigue, filled with a sense of impending doom and featuring a final scene that was both heartbreaking and inevitable.
With just two episodes to go, "Game of Thrones" suddenly doesn't feel like a series that's getting ready to wrap, but a series on the threshold of something new, something thrilling.
This is my Game of Thrones. This is what made me fall in love with the show in the first place. Not giant, sweeping battles, but scenes of two people whispering in dark rooms about treason.
This might be one of my new favorite episodes of the series.
“Game of Thrones” has picked up a step in its final season — and the third-to-last episode of the series was proof of “Thrones’s” ability, still, to toggle between plotlines and tones elegantly even as the story winnows down to a few key characters.
The episode recaptured some classic Thrones qualities, really. With the tedious army of the dead turned to powder, the show can, in its final run, get back to what once made it great: very tense feasts.
["Experts" reviews for people who have read the books] It’s a transitional episode that feels perfunctory, a cursory going through the motions of wrapping up the Battle of Winterfell and lining up some somewhat boring logistics to get into the Last War. And perhaps after last week’s breathless episode this quieter one feels subdued in comparison. But “The Last Of The Starks” is grounded in some classic Game Of Thrones political intrigue.
Birth. Movies. Death.
There’s something delightful about how complicated everything remains with so little time left in this massive story.
Consequence of Sound
It’s an episode filled with plenty of fine pieces that don’t always fit together.
Den of Geek!
“The Last of the Starks” is so compressed that moments which should breathe (like the blossoming life and death of Jaime and Brienne’s romance), and dawning epiphanies that needed to be gradually accepted (such as Daenerys’ ambition and pride are driving her mad), were conveyed in unsatisfying shorthand and the type of cliché that Game of Thrones and its literary source material are so good at avoiding.
Shifting back to a talkier mode for the show was a smart move played well; while some are chomping at the bit for massive battle action, keeping the characters front and centre makes us care.
A highly emotional and often devastating episode.
It was beautiful, flawed, stupid, amazing, shocking, and boring. It was so perfectly itself that how you felt about it almost reflects how you feel about the series as a whole.
In many ways, "The Last of the Starks" is the most solidly “Game of Thrones” episode of Game of Thrones we've had in a long time, full of political machinations and whispered schemes. In others, it suffers from the same storytelling frustrations that have plagued this season (and, arguably, every season since the show began outpacing George R. R. Martin’s books).
Like the much of the show’s final season thus far, “The Last of the Starks” had its problems, but it was also pretty riveting. ... Even though the story was told at lightspeed again, even though Jon made a tremendously dumb choice just to generate conflict, even despite those dumb gating-crossbow-cannons, “The Last of the Starks” was weirdly satisfying in a way last week’s battle against the White Walkers wasn’t.
“The Last of the Starks” was Tyrion’s best episode in several seasons, allowing him to trade barbs with old sparring partners and give voice to some of the series’ most crucial ideas. Unsurprisingly, it was also the best episode of the season. “The Last of the Starks” was still marked by some of the haphazard pacing that’s defined Thrones’ late period but the episode also, at times, recalled the nuance and pleasures of the series’ peak.
Sean T. Collins
The show has a visual confidence that seems way more impervious to criticism than dragons are to scorpion bolt, with last week’s symphony of flame and darkness replaced by madness in broad daylight. It hasn’t missed a step thematically, moving from humanity’s need to stop killing itself and face a common threat to its compulsion to annihilation even after seeing what it can accomplish as a united front. And as two Queens threaten to destroy everything around them, the focus is on individual relationships: family, friendship, love. That’s how you play the game.
Some may quibble with the execution – the dialogue was often creaky; could Euron Greyjoy truly have crept up on a fully-operational dragon etc? – but as a game-changer this was GoT at its rawest and most riveting.
Admittedly, this episode has a few bumps, among them the fact that everyone immediately intuits like a bunch of Bran Starks that Missandei has been captured, rather than understandably assuming she may have drowned.
The Washington Post
I suspect that when we all look back on the final season of “Game of Thrones” with the benefit of some hindsight (and when some of us are not in the position of speed-writing recaps late on a Sunday night), the pacing of these final six episodes is going to seem at least a little off. We’re really whiplashing between lovely emotional send-offs to these characters and these relationships and a lot of extremely fast-moving plot. But in the moment, I was delighted to see all of these characters loose and wonderfully, vitally alive — and very much aware of it.
The way they’re handled, Missandei’s death, as well as Rhaegal’s, amount to chess pieces being removed from the board. They deserve better than being a means to an end, even on a show that’s often treated death (and life) as a game to be beaten.
This erratic pace can be easily waved away – there are only a few episodes (and dollars) left and showrunners David Benioff and DB Weiss have to be selective with what they focus on – but there’s no denying that it doesn’t feel right.
Once again, the showrunners pulled punches.
The episode is really trying to get back to how Game of Thrones used to be several seasons ago; plenty of drama combined with moments of levity before some shocking deaths to motivate characters to do something reckless later down the line. And although it nails the dramatic side of things, some of the logic in the episode doesn’t quite work.
[An] occasionally effective, but often clumsy installment.
“The Last of the Starks” is an oddly structured and not hugely satisfying episode, but it does set-up the discord within the ranks of the allied forces that must be the drama of the final two episodes.
In true “Game of Thrones” “one step forward, two steps back” fashion, though, this episode finds so much effective potential in looking at what comes for these people after the fight of their lives, but uses that power to curious ends.
Game of Thrones was so concerned with setting up another spectacle it didn’t concern itself with its characters making sense. In the first hour of “The Last of the Starks,” the characters drove the story, and it was compelling, rewarding, and honest. In the last 20 minutes, the characters’ actions were driven by where the show wanted them to end up, regardless of how they got there. It was silly, frustrating, and dishonest. In other words, it was Game of Thrones at its best before it was Game of Thrones at its worst.
We knew going in that this was going to be a bit of a comedown from The Great War and a bit of a set up for The Final War, but this episode was mostly one frustration after another. It served its purpose, I guess, but that doesn’t mean it was particularly fun to watch.
Ultimately, I think, that was my frustration with this episode. It’s meant to show the eventual winning side unraveling, but there’s just no cohesion. I think more than any other time this season, I just left confused. I promised myself before season eight began that I wouldn’t complain about the convenient timing and the teleporting and the plot armor, but come on, writers, at least give us some rhyme or reason beyond people making awful decisions over and over in order to level the playing field and sow doubt in the viewer’s mind!
The seduction by Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) of Ser Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) was, yes, heartbreakingly lovely, but also the stuff of romance novels. It’s like we can’t kill this guy until he’s done every single thing his fans want, and this was just another thing to check off.
It sure seems like the writers have erased several seasons’ worth of character evolution for the sake of injecting tension.
What has always been so arresting about Game of Thrones is its ability to subvert the tropes of fantasy and genre. It’s rare that someone on the show (or the Song of Ice and Fire books) has ever been truly good or evil. But the final episodes seem to have simplified historically complicated characters
I’m afraid I wasn’t impressed by “The Last of the Starks.” If it were a character, it’d be Gendry: It got down on its knees, drunkenly updated me on its latest victory, then tried to make me buy into the fact that moving on after fighting a battle against actual ice zombies is fairly easy to do.
By the end of the episode, the story was in the right plotting spot, previewing a big showdown between Cersei and Daenerys. But it got there by having irrelevant nincompoops like Euron magically crash through everything.
For Game of Thrones to feel this narratively chaotic with only two episodes remaining is an odd place to find the show. ... Even the key character moments that has made the show so good in the past were tainted by uneven storytelling.
This lackadaisical attitude to their craft has been knocking about since the showrunners ran out of books to adapt, but it’s come in force this time around. In the past I’ve always said that if nothing else the production values are worthy of praise, and now that’s come tumbling down, since – as you may have already heard – ‘The Last Of The Starks’ gave us a shot which included a disposable coffee cup. But the writing – ah, the writing – the best way I can possibly describe it is that they’re no longer writing Game of Thrones, they’re simply writing A TV Show, according to HBO’s Big Book of Hour-long Drama. Which, again, has been a trend for a while.
With the bar set so low, Episode 4 was always going to seem better in comparison. And sure enough, it wasn't the worst episode so far in Season 8. But there's just something off about the way Game of Thrones' final conflict--the one between Cersei, Dany, and Jon/Aegon--is taking shape.
The Globe and Mail
The battle of wills between, say, Sansa and Dany, or Cersei and Dany, or Jon and Dany, or Anyone Else and Dany fell far less significant (both narratively and dramatically speaking) than the battle between the dead and the living. Especially since Weiss and Benioff, who co-wrote this episode, have turned many of their leading characters into unrecognizable caricatures.
Like much of Season 8, Daenerys’s arc is being rushed, and her competence as a leader is being undermined by poor strategy that feels like it’s only happening because the plot requires it. ... What’s frustrating about Game of Thrones right now is that I can’t tell how much of this is intentional.
Los Angeles Review of Books
This is the best thing you can say about last night’s episode: it was a Game of Thrones episode and it did Game of Thrones-y things like have Arya say Arya things and the Hound say Hound things. Beyond that…what a mess.
Los Angeles Review of Books
The episode was sort of just one Starbucks cup after another, literal ones and other more figurative ones, like all the unearned emotional beats and the perplexing lack of battle strategy. I still love this show, but it’s hard not to feel the let-down; the fall from the grand battle of last week to this week’s weird serving of a mass-produced faux narrative delicacy, of which the Starbucks cup is a perfect symbol.
That was a long, frustrating episode that seemed designed to grind everything you enjoy about the show straight into the dirt.
You have two of the show’s most vividly-etched figures (played by two of the best actors in the whole ensemble) arguing over which flavor of vanilla would be the most exciting to serve at the end of this 73-episode meal.
Personally, I have no problem with Daenerys becoming the kind of tyrant she’s always sworn to overthrow. My problem is with the way the writers have handled it. It seems far too abrupt. ... It all feels very rushed, and awkward, and unconvincing. It’s not so much a twist, as a swerve, or a lurch. ... Even setting aside the bits about Daenerys, this was, in general, a weaker episode.
"The Last of the Starks" tried to get us back to a place where who's lord of Storm's End or Riverrun or Highgarden matters and where giant crossbows are more dangerous to dragons than ice zombies, but it soundly failed at that task. It was a clumsy and overlong episode that tried to do far too much with far too little.
Season 8 continues to have a problem with ignoring time, space, and some significant plot movement. Despite the longer episode run times in season 8, Game of Thrones has regularly felt crowded and clipped in a way that doesn’t suggest urgent action, so much as corner-cutting. The latest episode, “The Last of the Starks,” is particularly bad about skimming across events in a way that confuses the action.
The script ... was a mess, making for the weakest episode of the final season so far and an inauspicious preview of the show’s remaining few hours. ... The death of Missandei is the latest example of how much Game of Thrones has suffered the further it gets from George R.R. Martin’s books. There is raw pain in what happens to her, but little else. It’s an adequate cover version of something you once loved, but it has so little of the original soul.
Nobody grows. Nobody gets better or more interesting. The story of Game of Thrones right now is a story of regression, of spectacle over humanity.
What do you think?
What did you think of Sunday's episode? Let us know in the comments section below.