Game of Thrones is on the home stretch, and this week's episode, entitled The Last of the Starks, set many wheels in motion.
Spoiler alert for anyone who has not seen the episode!
Quite a lot happened on Game of Thrones this week, but the emotional pay-off that some of those moments should elicit never really came due to major pacing issues.
The opening two episodes of the season were all about build-up for the Battle of Winterfell. Two episodes were given over to this, and each had some great moments. But when you contrast the time spent across those two instalments - where the order of the day was relishing the dialogue between different characters and tying up some loose ends - with this post-battle episode, it had so much plot progression shoehorned in, and threw the concept of time out the window once again, that it was out of balance.
It drew a parallel with the series as a whole, in the sense that the opening seasons of Game of Thrones took the time to develop characters and move people around the map at speeds that made sense, and how as the later seasons aired, travel time, and the passing of time generally, were excelled to such a degree that a character could move thousands of miles in the space of a scene. I didn't mind it so much then because it was happening across whole seasons and I understood that certain players needed to be in certain places for the plot to proceed with the end hurtling towards us, but in this episode they really pushed it to its limits.
I'm all for feature-length episodes, but this one felt like two squished together as opposed to one extended, cinematic experience like last week's. Today's felt rushed and panicked, despite its runtime.
Pacing issues aside, the script provided some of the better lines we've seen this season.
A moment between Sansa and The Hound was particularly moving. Sansa is getting some of the best scenes this season and I'm loving that. She really isn't a little bird anymore; The Hound is right.
Sansa, while obviously very affected by what she has been through, is the only leadership character not being overly run by their emotions; she can step back and analyse, always thinking what is best for the North. She doesn't trust Daenerys, and why should she? If anything she's the first person to really see her for what she is, or at least what she has become.
Daenerys finding out that Jon has a better claim to the Iron Throne than her was always going to mean big drama. With the army of the dead arriving so soon after she found out the truth initially, we never got to see how badly she was taking the revelation, but this week she really spiralled.
The episode opened with a funeral to burn those who died in battle, and then a feast of celebration was held, during which everyone got a bit drunk and Daenerys began to feel isolated from those she holds dear. Jorah has died; Tyrion spent his night drinking with his brother who famously killed Dany's father; Jon was being hailed as a war hero and king with Tormund even marvelling at how he can ride a dragon, and Dany sat alone, watching on.
When she speaks to Jon alone, she begs him not to ever tell anyone about his true identity, not even his family. She essentially gives him an ultimatum that if he ever does breathe a word of it, they can't be together, but if he keeps his secret and continues to bend the knee, they can be. She does all of this rather hysterically, showing the sharp descent she has taken towards becoming a Mad Queen, following in her father the Mad King's footsteps.
Of course Jon can't keep the secret, so he allows Bran to tell Sansa and Arya that he is actually Aegon Targaryen. I liked that this happened off-screen as I feel like the previous reveals of this news have been somewhat of a letdown. He swears them to secrecy.
Sansa, however, tells Tyrion, which sets in motion all sorts of treasonous talks. Ones I fully support. I used to love Dany's storyline, but I am so over her now at this stage.
Tyrion wants to still believe Dany can be a good ruler, even suggesting she and Jon could marry and rule together. But Varys is a lot less hopeful, and says he's ready to step in to protect the realm when he needs to, which is looking like it could be very soon, with a few keys moments towards the end of the episode really tipping her over the edge.
As Dany arrived back at Dragonstone, atop Drogon and looking happy to be home and away from the Northerners that never really accepted her, Euron launches a surprise attack, taking down Rhaegal in the process and destroying her fleet.
Euron is then back in King's Landing straight away, telling Cersei of his success and presenting her with Missandei as a hostage.
Missandei is later beheaded by The Mountain as Cersei and Dany face off at the walls of the capital, with the episode closing on an enraged Dany marching towards Drogon. Will she burn them all, as her father once wanted to do?
A moment that really did hit in the emotion department was Ghost's goodbye to Jon. Ghost has just been in the background of scenes this season, and this week more than likely marks his last appearance. With Tormund, who was brilliant for the entire feast scene, deciding to bring his people back home, Jon asks him to take Ghost further north too as it will be better for him. A battle-worn Ghost just looked so sad as Jon left, and I mean, could Jon not just have given him a little hug, told him he's a good boy and been a bit nicer? I know he has a lot going on, but come on.
Jaime and Brienne got together this week, in what was quite awkward to begin with, but just really sad by the end. Jaime has come so far from season one, but he doesn't see it that way. He could be happy with Brienne but he thinks he deserves Cersei because "she's hateful and so am I". He lists everything bad that he has done to protect Cersei, and yeah they're bad, but that's not who he is anymore. As he rides off to King's Landing I just hope the new Jaime wins out.
Love just isn't working out at all this week, with a newly legitimised Lord Gendry Baratheon of Storm's End having his proposal of marriage to Arya rejected. This is true to her character though, so I approve. She later sets out with The Hound again to get her list mission back on track. I love their dynamic. Maybe she'll get to close another set of eyes next week...
Parts of the episode were great but its flaws really stood out. I hope the final two episodes don't feel as rushed. I hope they're the best the show has seen. I hope we're all happy with the ending; it's getting so near. I'm afraid to hope too much.
Game of Thrones continues on Sky Atlantic, Monday's at 2am and 9pm.