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How an errant Starbucks cup became a metaphor for Game of Thrones season 8

Many fans are upset with the final season. This Starbucks cup is letting them venti their feelings.

A Starbucks cup appears on Game of Thrones season eight, episode four, “The Last Stark.”
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

The fourth episode of Game of Thrones’ eighth and final season, “The Last of the Starks,” was full of shocking and controversial twists — but perhaps none as startling as a modern-day Starbucks cup left in plain view during the Winterfell party scene.

Fans picked up on a very inappropriately placed coffee cup in the background, just hours after the episode premiered:

And it didn’t take long after that for the shot to spread rapidly across social media, with some fans choosing to celebrate the flub rather than mock it on Monday morning:

Despite their ironic affection for the gaffe, fans have also made sure to call it out as evidence of the show’s sloppy production values and questionable budget:

It didn’t help that astute viewers quickly realized that the showrunners themselves, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, had cameos in the scene, and still no one managed to notice the wayward cup:

As amusing as all this is, it’s also an opportunity for fans to vent their frustrations with Game of Thrones in general, using the Starbucks cup as a sort of synecdoche for their overarching problems with this season of the show thus far:

“I hate where the writing is going overall,” one fan wrote in a Twitter thread (which discusses a major episode spoiler). “Everything is feeling rushed and some of the build up and ideas for the past seasons are just getting overlooked. Just like that Starbucks cup.”

Viewers have increasingly called out the show this season for its sexist and racist treatment of various characters and what seem like the characters’ inexplicable motivations. The Starbucks cup, at least for now, may be the perfect representative of all of these complaints — ironically giving the fandom something to unite around in the series’ final weeks.

Both HBO and Starbucks took the gaffe in good stride — at least at first. Ironically, per an official statement from HBO, it wasn’t even a Starbucks cup, but rather an herbal tea from the on-set craft services. “The latte that appeared in the episode was a mistake. Daenerys had ordered an herbal tea,” the statement read. Starbucks used the opportunity to peddle its new summer drink:

Speaking to Variety, art director Hauke Richter pointed out that the reason this error had garnered so much attention is that Game of Thrones’ production values are usually immaculate. Mistakes like this one “[have] not happened with ‘Thrones’ so far,” he said.

Despite making light of the mistake, HBO quietly edited the cup out of the footage for the episode after social media’s mockery had run its course, as Vox confirmed through replaying the episode on HBO Now on Tuesday morning. It will, however, live on in original bootlegs and DVR recordings of the show.

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