Game of Thrones follows up the Night King's demise with savage blows from Cersei (Lena Headey) and Stark, pun intended, betrayals at Winterfell. The victory over the dead was mercilessly brief. "The Last of the Starks" sees Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) pushed to the edge with personal losses. Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) continues to prove his worth on the battlefield; achieving a feat no man in Westeros had accomplished. The romance between Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) comes to a tragic conclusion. Director David Nutter, who also helmed the brutal "Red Wedding", finishes his show tenure with another punch to the Game of Thrones gut.

"The Last of the Starks" opens solemnly with Jorah on a funeral pyre. Daenerys gently kisses his corpse on the forehead. Sansa (Sophie Turner) weeps over the body of Theon. She puts a pin with the Stark's wolf sigil on his chest. The northern survivors have come to pay respects to their dead. Jon (Kit Harington) addresses his countrymen. In a stirring eulogy for the fallen, "They were the shields that guarded the realms of men." The lead characters walk out into the snow with torches and light the pyres. Jorah, Edd, Theon, Beric, and Lyanna's bodies are engulfed in flame.

That night at their victory banquet, the room is quiet and subdued. Gendry (Joe Dempsie) sits with the Hound (Rory McCann). He's looking for Arya (Maisie Williams). The Hound sarcastically replies that bodies are burning and "that's where your head is." Gendry gets up and walks away, but is noticed by Daenerys at the head table. She reveals that he is the son of Robert Baratheon. Just when she seems to blame him for his father's actions, she rewards him for crucial contributions. Daenerys anoints Gendry, Lord of Storm's End, granting him ownership of his father's lands. Davos (Liam Cunningham) raises a raucous cheer to Gendry's new station.

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Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) drink in celebration. Davos updates Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) on Melisandre's demise. The battle for the Iron Throne begins in earnest. Tyrion addresses Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright) as the Lord of Winterfell, the last true son of Ned Stark. Bran renounces his title, he now "lives in the past."

Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) raises a toast to the Dragon Queen. Daenerys then toasts to Arya Stark, the hero of Winterfell. The mood lightens. Tormund cajoles Jon to drink from his horn. Jon does not want to vomit. At their table, Tyrion joins Brienne, Podrick (Daniel Portman), and Jaime in a drinking game. Tormund affectionately embraces Jon and extols his virtues as a hero, "What kind of person climbs on a f*cking dragon, a mad man!" Daenerys watches enviously as everyone loudly praises Jon. She walks away abruptly with Varys (Conleth Hill) in tow.

Brienne, Jaime, Podrick, and Tyrion have escalated their drinking game. Tyrion asks if Brienne is a virgin. She gets up embarrassed. A drunken Tormund tries to approach her. She brushes past him, Jaime following after her. Tormund complains of his broken heart to an annoyed Hound. Local maidens saunter up to Tormund and Podrick. The Hound has no interest, but to drink.

Sansa sits with the Hound. He's surprised she can look at him. She's seen much worse. He callously replies she "was broken in rough." Sansa isn't fazed, she gave Ramsey what he deserved. The Hound reminds her that nothing would have happened if she'd left with him long ago. Sansa holds his hand, "Without Littlefinger and Ramsey, she would have stayed a little bird all of my life."

Gendry continues to look for Arya in the drunken revelry. He finds her shooting arrows in the courtyard. They share a deep embrace. Gendry tells her of his new lordship. He gets down on one knee and asks Arya to marry him. They kiss again. Arya turns him down. Any lady "would be lucky to have him, but she is not a lady."

Jaime enters Brienne's chambers with wine. He removes his coat while complaining about the heat. He mocks Tormund, than starts to remove his shirt. Brienne helps him. She disrobes. Jaime comments, "I have never slept with a knight before." Brienne's response, "I've never slept with anyone before."

Daenerys visits Jon's chambers. He wobbly pays his respects to Jorah. Daenerys could not love him like she loves Jon. They kiss, before Jon pulls away. Daenerys implores him to keep the secret of his true lineage. The people love him. They will demand he press his claim to the throne. Jon has no interest, he will refuse any overtures. Daenerys begs him not to tell anyone else. Jon must tell Sansa and Arya. They are his family. They deserve the truth. Daenerys leaves, Sansa will never accept her as queen.

In the map room, Daenerys' cabinet reviews their losses and next move. The dothraki are dead, as are half the Unsullied. Cersei has Euron's Iron Fleet and has been reinforced by the Golden Company. Daenerys wants to "hit her hard, root her out at the stem." Tyrion reminds her that the goal is to retake King's Landing without a civilian bloodbath. Varys continues that Yara has retaken the Iron Islands, and Daenerys has the support of the new Dornish Prince. Daenerys demands the capitol and the Iron Throne.

Jon's strategy is to encircle King's Landing. The people will drive her out. Tyrion suggests Jon march south. They will sail to Dragonstone with the dragons. Sansa disagrees. The men are tired and wounded. They need time to recuperate. Daenerys will not postpone her attack. She helped the north and took huge losses. They need to reciprocate. Jon loudly confirms that the northern army will honor their promise. Daenerys tells the room that people will be free of tyranny...and honor their rightful queen.

Arya demands Jon talk with his siblings. Under the weirwood tree, Arya agrees that they couldn't have won without Daenerys. But they cannot support her fight in the south. They don't trust her as queen. She's not one of them. They are the last of the Starks. Jon replies that he's never been a Stark. Arya and Sansa are shocked by that statement. He swears them to secrecy, then allows Bran to tell his true parentage.

Jaime informs Tyrion that he will stay with Brienne in Winterfell. Tyrion can't resist a snide sexual remark. Suddenly Bronn (Jerome Flynn) enters the great hall with his crossbow aimed. He tells them of Cersei's reward for their deaths, Riverrun. Bronn surprises them with a counteroffer, after belting Tyrion in the nose. He's not betting against the dragon queen. But he has a steep price for not killing them. Tyrion offers Bronn Highgarden. When Jaime scoffs, he shoots an arrow beside his head. Bronn will find them to collect when the war is done.

The Hound is on his horse riding away from Winterfell. He's stunned to see Arya riding towards him. They both have unfinished business in King's Landing, and have no plans to return. The Hound asks Arya if she will again leave him to die if he gets hurt. Arya's answers "probably."

Daenerys has fed her rejuvenated dragons. Sansa watches her fly away from the wall. Tyrion approaches. Sansa wonders why he supports Daenerys. He asks why she is so determined to dislike Daenerys. Sansa will be the true power in the north. Sansa accuses Tyrion of being afraid. Before he leaves, Sansa reveals Jon secret. What if there's someone better? Her tutelage under Littlefinger is about to pay off.

As Jon prepares to leave, Tormund says goodbye. He and the Free Folk are heading back north of Castle Black, Jon asks him to take his direwolf, Ghost. He and Tormund hug each other goodbye. Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) have also come to tell Jon farewell. Gilly is pregnant. They'll name the child Jon if it's a boy. Jon laughs and wishes it's a girl. Jon and Davos depart Winterfell.

At sea, Daenerys ships are sailing to Dragonstone. Missandei and Grey Worm hold hands on deck. Below, Tyrion tells Varys of Jon's birthright. Daenerys will lose the north. Sansa will make sure of it. Varys accurately points out that he has the better claim to the throne. The people love him. He is a war hero.

The ships drop anchor near Dragonstone as Daenerys flies above. Suddenly, a huge spear hits Rhaegal in the chest. The dragon shrieks as it's hit again in the wing, then a deathblow through the neck. Rhaegal plunges into the ocean. Euron and his ships have waited in ambush. Each bow now outfitted with Qyburn's (Anton Lesser) mammoth Scorpion crossbows.

A barrage of spears sail past Daenerys and Drogon. She dips to attack Euron's ship. He has her square in his sights, but she smartly veers and flies away. Euron turns his assault on her ships. Grey Worm orders Missandei to get on a skiff. Tyrion and Varys jump overboard as their ships are shredded by spears.

Varys, Tyrion, Grey Worm, and the surviving Unsullied wash up on Dragonstone beach. Grey Worm realizes that Missandei is missing. He screams her name as he runs back into the water.

At the Red Keep, Cersei is gloating. Qyburn informs her of the dragon's death. Daenerys has received her message. She watches as frantic people pour through the gates. Keep them open as long as possible. They are her human shields. Euron kneels before her. She tells him that "our" child will one day rule. A joyous Euron looks at Qyburn for confirmation. Cersei has a terrified Missandei in chains.

In the Dragonstone map room, Grey Worm promises a furious Daenerys that they will storm King's Landing. Varys objects, she cannot slaughter the people in the Red Keep. She will never be accepted as queen, "Do not become what you've always struggled to defeat." Daenerys replies it is her destiny to defeat tyranny, no matter the cost. Tyrion offers an alternative. It will take a fortnight for Jon and his army to arrive. Offer Cersei a chance to surrender. Daenerys agrees, but says, "They will know who to blame when the sky falls down before them."

In the Dragonstone throne room, Varys speaks honestly to Tyrion. Daenerys is convinced of her destiny. Perhaps Jon Snow is actually the solution. Tyrion cautions they are discussing treason. Varys replies that Jon may be the only man to keep the north in the Seven Kingdoms. He will support the ruler that doesn't slaughter the people. Varys will act in their interest. Tyrion asks what happens to Daenerys. They both have a choice to make.

At Winterfell, Brienne updates Jaime on Rhaegal's death and Missandei's capture. After another night with with her, Jaime decides to return to King's Landing. Brienne begs him to stay. He's not like his sister. He's a good man who doesn't have to die with her. Jaime admits all the evils he has done for Cersei, "She's hateful...and so am I." Jaime rides away from a sobbing Brienne.

At the Red Keep's gates, Daenerys has gathered with a small contingent of Unsullied, Varys, Tyrion, and Grey Worm. On the wall surrounded with mounted Scorpions and archers, Cersei has Missandei in chains, Euron Greyjoy, and the Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) beside her. Qyburn walks through the gate. Tyrion steps forward to meet him.

Tyrion tries to convince Qyburn of the carnage to come. Cersei must give up the throne. Qyburn replies that he's just a mouthpiece. Cersei will be victorious. Tyrion brushes past him and speaks directly to his sister. You're not a monster. She still has a chance to leave and survive. Do it for her unborn child. Cersei tells Missandei to speak her last words. Missandei stares directly at Daenerys and says, "Dracarys". Grey Worm looks away as Missandei is beheaded by the Mountain. Daenerys walks back to Drogon. Her face contorted with rage and vengeance.

"The Last of the Starks" brought back machinations, duplicity, and cold-blooded murder to Game of Thrones. Cersei has struck with devastating effectiveness. The death of Rhaegal dramatically reduces Daenerys military advantage. Euron wiped out her ships and killed her beloved "child". But to see Missandei, her most trusted advisor, executed by Cersei, the proverbial gloves have come off. Daenerys is unleashed. She will bring fire and blood to King's Landing.

Sansa's revelation to Tyrion worked as she expected. Varys will move against Daenerys if she becomes like her father. Jon has sworn loyalty to Daenerys, but will he support a massacre of innocents? It's looking more likely that Jon and Daenerys will become conflicted. She swore to roast Varys alive if he betrayed her. Is Tyrion firmly in her corner? Also, Jaime, Arya, and the Hound are all en route to King's Landing. I'd bet they get into the city surreptitiously. They both have scores to settle with the Mountain and Cersei.

Daenerys and Cersei have reached the boiling point. Jon's choices in battle, along with Tyrion and Varys behind the scenes, will be the real test of Daenerys' support. Grey Worm vs. Euron, The Hound vs. The Mountain, four of the mightiest warriors are destined to meet. How will Arya and Jaime factor against Cersei? Sansa continues to manipulate from the north. She could be the last person standing for the throne. But we also cannot discount the newly minted Lord of Storm's End. The penultimate episode 5 of the series is setting up to be a bloodbath, next week on HBO.

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Julian Roman at TVweb
Julian Roman