This post contains spoilers for GAME OF THRONES season eight, episode four and everything before it. Proceed with caution.

For all its women problems in the past, GAME OF THRONES deserves credit for making its female characters the powerhouses in its final season. From the culmination of Daenerys’s journey since season one to Sansa’s political awakenings to Arya’s coming up clutch last episode, the most interesting characters to watch are without a doubt the women of GoT. But what became — pardon the pun — starkly obvious in “The Last of the Starks” is that GAME OF THRONES fails in one major arena: female friendships.

I can count on one hand how many female friendships exist on the show. That number dwindles quickly when you take out relationships that also entail some kind of service or political alliance. And it isn’t just a failure of representation that matters. In “The Last of the Starks,” in particular, our characters all could have benefitted from that confidante, that person who understands what the men in your life just can’t, that friend who isn’t afraid to say, “Girl, you’re being a whole idiot.”

Celebrating Life in “The Last of the Starks”

“The Last of the Starks” opens with a touching tribute to those who fell in “The Long Night.” We finally get a sense of the magnitude of that loss: bodies several tiers high on pyres practically as far as the eye can see. Our main characters get a moment with their loved ones, like Sansa and Theon, Sam and Ed, Dany and Jorah. Moments like these are the benefit of the 80-plus-minute long episodes. Both the characters and the audience get a chance to mourn beloved characters. (Hold onto that thought in your back pocket, we’ll talk about it again later.)

the last of the starks
Courtesy of HBO.

But nevertheless, the party must rage on. They did just beat death, after all. The wine flows freely and we get some snapshots of what our characters think their lives will be like next.

First of His Name

Daenerys shrewdly legitimizes Gendry and names him lord of Storm’s End, thereby securing a loyal lord and earning some goodwill from those who fought with him. Gendry, understandably walking tall from the promotion, decides its the time to shoot his shot with Arya. Female or otherwise, Gendry really could have benefitted from any friend here. Even a slightly woke bro could have helped him workshop this proposal to be something less than embarrassing. Saying it out loud certainly would’ve made Gendry realize that Arya would never accept an offer to be a lady. But he certainly gets points for enthusiasm, even if he was ultimately rejected in favor of a suicide mission and the Hound.

The Bird and the Hound

In what I was very afraid would take a sexual turn, Sansa and the Hound finally have their reunion moment. Despite his gruffness, the Hound always looked out for Sansa, including her best interest alongside his own. But their “look how far we’ve come” conversation points out just how much GAME OF THRONES has not come. The Hound feels responsible for not being able to guard her against Littlefinger and Ramsey. But Sansa says no, in fact, it was a good thing she was brutalized, manipulated, and raped because otherwise, she’d still be a “little bird.”

the last of the starks
Courtesy of HBO.

There is no evidence that GAME OF THRONES ascribes to anything other than this philosophy. That their own bad behavior is justified by how it turns out in the end. Within the story, Sansa really needs another strong woman in her life to sit her down and tell her that all that stuff that happened to her is not OK and that she is smart and savvy in her own right and she owes nothing to her abusers. She needs a peer, someone her own age, to break her out of her isolation. And outside the story, the GAME OF THRONES writers room could benefit from a strong female best friend telling them when they’re being problematic. Out of love, of course.

Ser Brienne’s Shrinking Circle

Brienne decides to have fun for once and plays Tyrion’s drinking game with her boys. There’s no denying that she, Pod, Jaime, and Tyrion have a valuable friendship. But Brienne desperately needs another woman in her life. It’s understandable that she wouldn’t have made friends growing up, given what we’ve heard about her past. But she has come so far and the people around her have come around with her. She is beloved by fans and GAME OF THRONES characters alike. By only surrounding her with men, her character becomes structured around how those men relate to her. And that is only ever as a woman, not as an equal.

the last of the starks
Courtesy of HBO.

We see that in “The Last of the Starks.” But Tyrion brings up her sex life in a way that he had to know would make her uncomfortable and, ultimately, allow his brother to finally sleep with her. It’s very creepy and exposes the judgment they hold for her, even as her friend. She needs a girl friend to a) slap some sense into those men for being dumb and rude and b) to confide in and release everything she bottles up without fear of judgment, to learn about herself and unlearn the toxic parts of her past.

That’s not to say that a woman in this universe would be Gloria Steinem or anything, but we’ve glimpsed what can happen when strong women are in the same place at the same time. They better each other, like Brienne and Arya or Sansa and Margery. And when Jaime leaves her in the middle of the night to return to Cersei, she’ll need a friend to remind her who she is and how she deserves so much better than a man who only uses her to “find himself.”

The Last of the Starks and the Targaryens

We finally circle back to the bombshell from two weeks ago: Jon is a Targaryen, in case you haven’t heard, and has a strong claim to the throne. After Jon’s moving memorial speech and the overwhelming support of the people in “The Last of the Starks,” Daenerys is unraveling. She is torn between her genuine love for Jon and her love for power. Despite Jon’s assurances that he doesn’t want the throne, his populist appeal is undeniable. He will always have the will of the people behind him in a way Daenerys can’t get by blood and fire.

She isn’t without cause to be mad, either. They praise Jon for literally the same things that she has been doing the whole time: riding a dragon, befriending enemies, being small but strong. The only difference is that she is a woman. Jon is a threat to her power is and her whole game is eliminating threats. But neutralizing Jon isn’t so easy — tactically or emotionally. Daenerys wants to protect their love in the face of adversity, until her whole demeanor changes. She flips that “Mad Queen” switch that appears throughout “The Last of the Starks.” Her face hardens and her tone darkens. Her initial begging for Jon to keep his secret to himself turns to a command, a thinly veiled threat.

There Are No Secrets In Westeros

But Jon has his father’s (well, uncle’s) fatal flaws. His sense of justice is very literal. He doesn’t think about the large-scale repercussions of his actions. He only thinks in terms of, “Lying is wrong, so I will not withhold the truth.” He assumes that any secret will stay a secret if you label it as such.

the last of the starks
Courtesy of HBO

But the world doesn’t think that way. They didn’t when it was Ned Stark’s head on the chopping block and they don’t when it may be Jon’s. Sansa isn’t Cersei, but you can’t say she doesn’t think like her. She graduated from the school of Lannister and Littlefinger. She knows how to use the information to her advantage. And, as Varys points out when word spreads from Bran to Sansa to Tyrion, once that many people know, it’s not a secret. It’s information.

The discussion of legitimacy turns to the discussion of who deserves the throne pretty quickly. Luckily, we have our Greek chorus of Tyrion and Varys to keep us apprised of all the different viewpoints on the matter. Did that exact same conversation need to happen twice in one episode? No, but it’s obviously important. Tyrion, loyal to Daenerys, argues that her temperament, lack of a positive reputation, and her gender don’t outweigh the strength of the ideals she’d bring to the realm. Varys, as the voice of the people, argues for the virtue of stability in the popular, Nothern- and Southern-bred, male Jon. If consensus isn’t even possible within Daenerys’s own council, then it certainly doesn’t bode well for a unified anti-Cersei coalition.

Daenerys’s Descent in “The Last of the Starks”

With every failure and challenge to her power, we can see another part of Daenerys’s impulse control snap. She becomes more reckless to cling to what she has. This, of course, only leads to more failure and challenge to her power. Her descent is not unlike Cersei’s in earlier seasons, but in “The Last of the Starks” Cersei’s grip is tightening. She’s really the only one making smart decisions this episode. She’s finally understanding the importance of public opinion, especially when you can use the public as a human shield, too.

the last of the starks
Courtesy of HBO.

Daenery’s council is too concerned with protecting her ego and preventing in-fighting to make the right calls, like letting their armies and dragons rest before entering another battle. There are plenty of ways to win this war in the long-game, but Daenerys wants to get this done now, so they’ve made the same mistakes they’ve made in the past. They rush into war and get ambushed by Euron’s fleet again. Was it accidentally the best PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN movie of the last ten years? Yes, but the whole thing could have been avoided had anyone been willing to learn from their mistakes.

The whole battle felt both out of place and too repetitive. We’ve seen this before: Euron’s fleet attacked Yara and Theon before and took her hostage. The only difference now is that its Missandei they took and they also killed a dragon, which in itself felt far too clean and simple. Can it really be that easy to shoot a dragon out of the sky? The whole thing was over too quickly for an episode of this length, even with a seemingly low death count, and had little consequence other than Missandei’s capture.

Awakening the Dragon

It did reignite Daenerys’s “blood and fire” side, though, since she is ready to storm the castle no matter the civilian casualties. And she’s not the only one acting brand new to this game. Tyrion, for some reason, thinks that a summit with Cersei will work this time when it has failed every other time. There is no evidence that anything will come from it, but Daenerys is willing to engage in the charade if it means she can be seen as a diplomat by the people of King’s Landing. Something tells me when they are being burned alive by dragon fire, they won’t really care who left the bargaining table first.

Again, we’ve seen this scene before. Daenerys and Cersei stare menacingly at each other. Diplomacy fails. Tyrion tries to pry some kind of humanity out of Cersei only for it to blow up in his face. The whole scene feels like a rehashing of old material until it gets so much worse.

Dracarys

So Missandei was captured and executed. That happened. And it was awful for a number of reasons.

Obviously, there’s the emotional impact. We’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for the last few episodes. Grey Worm and Missandei were so happy together and making plans for the future, which means that something tragic had to happen. So, yes, it was incredibly sad that Missandei died. That was the whole point and there’s no denying that. But it doesn’t make it less cheap.

Courtesy of HBO.

But the issue is deeper. We’ve talked about fridging before because it happens a lot on this show. But it hasn’t happened like it did in “The Last of the Starks.” Missandei got fridged to further Grey Worm’s story, that is certainly true. But it was mostly to further Daenerys, which is not usually how it works. It’s not usually the best friend that gets underdeveloped and martyred for the hero’s story.

No New Friends

Which brings me to the next issue at play here. Daenerys and Missandei were the only lasting female friendships on GAME OF THRONES. They even use the phrase “best friend” within the show. And yet we know nothing about them. We know about five things about Missandei’s entire life. The only scenes of the two of them talking like friends are when they talk about Grey Worm. Missandei is still in a subservient position, despite being “freed.” And with every new character that joins Daenerys’s circle, we get less and less screentime of the two of them together.

The one opportunity that GAME OF THRONES had to do something great with two female characters — two strong, smart women freeing slaves and toppling monarchies, becoming stronger for each other’s friendship –didn’t seem to matter to the show at all. And now Missandei is dead. The only black woman on the entire show is dead.

Courtesy of HBO.

She’s got a little more fanfare than any unnamed character slaughtered throughout the series. She got in a good last word, sure. But we only get a few seconds before she is brought out for imminent death. Missandei is one of the smartest characters on the show. She speaks nineteen languages, has been by the side of rulers of all kinds, and is in the room for every one of these world-changing meetings. Yet we’re left imagining what a real scene between her and Cersei would’ve been like. Missandei isn’t afraid to speak up in defense of Daenerys. Cersei would be forced to just sit and take it since she needs Missandei alive.

“The Last of the Starks” Needs More

This was another feature-length episode and yet those minutes didn’t seem to go anywhere useful. We got repeat scenes from episodes past and within the same episode but we couldn’t get a meaningful send-off for Missandei, a thoughtful arc for Brienne, the Stark girls’ reaction to Jon’s secret, or even the answers to some pressing questions. (How did Daenerys not react to finding out that Jon died?) To whoever is making poor — though admittedly difficult — decisions, allow me to be the female best friend that everyone on and behind this show so desperately needs: You can do better, you should do better, and we want you to do better.

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