Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones season 8, episode 4, “The Last of the Starks”
The fourth episode of Game of Thrones‘ final season was distressing in more ways than one. Viewers witnessed two deaths (one that came shortly after the other), a long-awaited romance scene that was ruined just a few scenes later, and a moment of abandonment that broke a million hearts. Suffice to say, Thrones fans were none too happy with episode 4 — and things might get even worse when they realize why the episode was titled “The Last of the Starks.”
Proceed with caution: spoilers are ahead.
As Game of Thrones enthusiasts know, episode titles are kept secret until after each installment airs. HBO does this in efforts to seal off any leaks and prevent any wild ideas regarding the events of the episode from stirring up on social media. This said, many may have been shocked to see that season 8, episode 4 of the series, which aired on HBO on Sunday, May 5, bore the title “The Last of the Starks.” Is House Stark in danger of being killed off completely? Will the Starks as we know them die before the series concludes? What does the episode title mean?
Watching the latest Game of Thrones installment back, the answer seems obvious: The episode takes its title from a line of dialogue Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) gives during a conversation with Sansa (Sophie Turner), Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright), and Jon (Kit Harington). “We’re family, the four of us,” she says. “The last of the Starks.”
Easy explanation, right? Sure, but the folks at PureWow have offered up a deeper significance to Arya’s words and to the title of episode 4.
Arya, Sansa, and Bran do represent the last living members of House Stark that fans know of, but Jon isn’t technically a Stark — not in the way that he would be if he was the true-born son of Ned Stark (Sean Bean) or another Stark male. Though his mother is Lyanna Stark, Jon belongs to House Targaryen, having taken the last name of his father Rhaegar Targaryen. And if Jon has children, they too would be Targaryens. Patrilineality rules in Westeros.
It isn’t long after Arya’s mention of the four of them making up the surviving pieces of their Stark family tree that Jon and Bran exchange knowing looks. Jon asks Bran to tell Arya and Sansa of his true parentage, which happens off screen.
With Jon out of the count for the last of the living Starks, that leaves us with the three true-born children of Ned and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) who have survived the brutality of political warfare over the course of the series. But some pretty big issues arise here.
As PureWow notes, Bran isn’t really a Stark anymore. Now that he’s assumed the mantle of the Three-Eyed Raven, he’s stripped himself of his mortal titles and no longer possesses the same desires he did when he was a boy. Bran explains this to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) when he makes a comment about Bran becoming Lord of Winterfell.
“You know our history better than anyone. That will be useful as Lord of Winterfell,” Tyrion says during episode 4. When Bran says he’s “not Lord of Winterfell,” Tyrion notes that Bran is “the only surviving true-born son of Ned Stark,” which means he essentially is Lord of Winterfell. Judging the look on Bran’s face, Tyrion quickly realizes that Bran’s response didn’t come from a place of confusion over who would rule Winterfell but that it came from Bran’s genuine disinterest in the lordship. To drive home his point, Bran adds that he doesn’t “really want anymore” — not anything that other humans do.
Bran has made it clear that he may be a Stark by blood, but he is no longer a Stark by choice. He won’t serve as Lord of Winterfell, and will likely never have an heir who would eventually oversee House Stark’s ancestral seat. That leaves just Arya and Sansa as the last of the Starks — two women who, if they do marry, will probably take their husbands’ last names. If the women have children, they will be heirs to the houses of their fathers, Arya and Sansa’s husbands.
PureWow sums it up perfectly: “If Bran isn’t going to have an heir, and Sansa and Arya’s future potential children would take their husbands’ last names, and Jon’s really a true Targaryen by way of his father Rhaegar, then it really is the ‘last of the Starks.'”
Pretty heartbreaking, isn’t it — House Stark seemingly on the verge of being snuffed out completely? Of course — but before anyone starts preparing for one of the great houses of Westeros to die out, remember that there are a few ways out of this unfortunate situation.
PureWow theorizes that Arya could get married to Gendry (Joe Dempsie) and retain her last name, as he’s still the bastard son of Robert Baratheon despite Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) naming him Lord of Storm’s End during this recent episode and she’s still the true daughter of Ned Stark. This seems plausible, since Arya initially rejected Gendry’s proposal to become the Lady of Storm’s End. Maybe Gendry will become the Lord of Winterfell if they do ever tie the knot. The same can be said for Sansa, who might remarry and hold on to her Stark surname to honor her family and the memory of her parents.
Then again, maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse and freaking out a little too much over these characters representing the last of the Starks. Perhaps there are other Starks in the Seven Kingdoms that are tucked away in places viewers just haven’t been to. Maybe they’ll get word that the Dragon Queen has stormed King’s Landing and has who they believe is Ned Stark’s bastard rallying behind her, and perhaps they’ll come rushing to assist the Starks and support Daenerys in the impending battle against Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). After all, stranger things have happened on Game of Thrones than a surprise family reunion.